The Buzz

100,000 Bayonets Cut to the Core of the Pentagon’s Spending Problem

Just the other day, I noted how outgoing Air Force procurement chief Bill LaPlante has been insisting that the Pentagon’s business of buying weapons has been improving over the past few years. Not everyone, however, is equally moved. On November 18, at our event on “The Space Race in Business,” Jay Gibson of XCOR told of how he had recently brushed off entreaties from the access-to-space-vexed Pentagon. “I’m not interested in doing business with you,” he told the Building, “but after I’m commercially successful, call me, and I’ll do business on a FAR 12 basis with you.” Gibson was referring to the chapter of the Federal Acquisition Regulations on commercial items, and space flight increasingly qualifies. That got me thinking about three recent cases of procurement and non-procurement of much more quotidian systems—bayonets, pistols, and armored trucks—and what they tell us about the relative burden of administrative overhead for companies big and small in military procurement.

Bayonets. Back in 2010, the U.S. Army stopped training with bayonets. Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, head of Training and Doctrine at the time, said that he was just seeking to make training “relevant to the conditions on the modern battlefield.” After all, as his spokeswoman put it then, the “last time the US had a bayonet assault was in 1951.” When the Army announced its change, a spokesman for the Marine Corps insisted that its recruits would continue to “have to go through a whole checklist of bayonet drills, including slash techniques,” because the blade was “still relevant for us in Afghanistan.” The Marines may have remembered how, in May 1982, the Scots Guards had assaulted the Argentines on Mount Tumbledown with bayonets. Indeed, in 2002, the USMC launched a program to procure new bayonets. After testing 33 entries over the next year, the Corps selected the OKC-3S, and bought over a hundred thousand. Bayonets continued to be occasionally vital, at least for the British Army. In May 2004, a few soldiers of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment relied on their bayonets to break up an ambush in Basra. In July 2008, an officer of the Royal Regiment of Scotland killed a Taliban fighter with his bayonet. In Afghanistan in 2012, a patrol of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment would again successfully charge through an ambush with theirs.