Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Defense Acquisitions: Where Should Reform Aim Next?

An alternative title for this GAO report might be, "Defense Acquisitions: Constantly Reforming." We've been "reforming" for decades with such little variation in results that "Acquisition Reform" has become nearly impossible to take seriously:

Let's just skip the acquisition reform charade... Another blue-ribbon study, more legislation and a new slogan will not make it happen at last...
Prof. H. Sapolsky, MIT

Luckily, this latest GAO report on the problem has no sweeping "blue ribbon"-style reform suggestions. There seems to be a pretty pragmatic recognition that perverse incentives are largely the reason that many of the grandiose reform efforts of the past were doomed to failure:
Reforms that focus on the methodological procedures of the acquisition process are only partial remedies because they do not address incentives to deviate from sound practices. Weapons acquisition is a complicated enterprise, complete with unintended incentives that encourage moving programs forward by delaying testing and employing other problematic practices. These incentives stem from several factors. For example, the different participants in the acquisition process impose conflicting demands on weapon programs so that their purpose transcends just filling voids in military capability. Also, the budget process forces funding decisions to be made well in advance of program decisions, which encourages undue optimism about program risks and costs. Finally, DOD program managers' short tenures and limitations in experience and training can foster a short-term focus and put them at a disadvantage with their industry counterparts.

Drawing on its extensive body of work in weapon systems acquisition, GAO sees several areas of focus regarding where to go from here:
  • at the start of new programs, using funding decisions to reinforce desirable principles such as well-informed acquisition strategies;
  • identifying significant risks up front and resourcing them;
  • exploring ways to align budget decisions and program decisions more closely; and
  • attracting, training, and retaining acquisition staff and managers so that they are both empowered and accountable for program outcomes.
These areas are not intended to be all-encompassing, but rather, practical places to start the hard work of realigning incentives with desired results.


Monday, October 28, 2013

Open Source Aeronautical Engineering Tools

I was reading through some of the papers and cites related to OpenMDAO and stumbled across a couple interesting papers[12] on open source software in aeronautics.
Abstract: Open source software has become an alternative to commercial software for industrial users. Industrial users adopting to OSS and the underlying concepts need to consider changing their software development practices and organization in order to benefit from the OSS model. These changes may involve both technical and non-technical aspects. Openness and collaboration with a community are two non-technical concepts that may require such changes, while evaluating OSS products or evaluating different strategies for integrating OSS products are two technical aspects that may require adoption.
The objective of this paper is to create an awareness for the adoption of OSS in an industrial context. OSS can be used in different ways. Four categories of using OSS are presented by discussing motivation, implication and experience for each category. The main conclusion from this work is that organizations should have a realistic expectation of both the designated benefits and extension of organizational changes necessary to adopt to OSS. This conclusion is based on observations from industrial organizations using OSS, including OSS in the aeronautics industry, as well as from observations reported in the literature on open source.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Funding for US Government Launch-Related Activities

As part of a broader effort looking at impediments to launch services procurement, the GAO summarized US government-wide budget requests for space launch-related activities (pdf). The purpose of the GAO's broader effort is to provide short- and long-term assessments examining impediments to economical procurement of government launch vehicles and launch services across government.

GAO reviewed FY14 through FY18 space launch-related President's Budget (then year dollars) request by NASA, NOAA, and DOD including military services and other offices.
US Government Launch Procurement Budget Requests
(then-year $M) FY14 FY15 FY16 FY17 FY18 Total
Procurement 4981.4 5819.7 5816.2 5914.4 5915.5 28447.2
RDT&E 2469.0 2473.0 2414.6 2073.9 1834.0 11264.5
Other 1053.5 774.3 770.7 790.0 762.5 4151.0
Total 8503.9 9067.0 9001.5 8778.3 8512.0 43862.7
Total funding seems pretty flat accross the five years examined. Both DOD and NASA are acquiring launch vehicles by launch services contracts. Procurement is about evenly split between DOD and NASA (slightly more by DOD). The bulk of RDT&E dollars are spent by NASA: $10.5 billion over the five years vs. $718 million.

On the slide detailing the RDT&E spending this report cites another GAO report about the FY10 National Defense Authorization Act requirement for the Department of Defense and the Director of National Intelligence to issue a space science and technology strategy every 2 years. GAO recommends DOD coordinate more with NASA and NOAA to leverage their significant RDT&E investment.

I am interested to see what "impediments" GAO finds as a result of their broader effort.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Starcraft, Jaynes, and Bayesian UQ


Interesting content covered on Nuite Blanche of a recent Paris Machine Learning meetup. The work on applying Bayesian Programming and Learning for Multi-Player Video Games was really neat. It's about developing a bot for playing Starcraft. Some additional related presentations:
This problem is real enough to be interesting, and simple enough to tackle. I really liked how this work dealt with the separation of strategic/tactical level decision making.

Monday, October 21, 2013

BRLCAD: Archer Alpha

Archer is an interface update to the graphical geometry editor for BRLCAD. The BRLCAD developers have done a significant refactoring of the code for this release:
A lot of work has gone into refactoring and restructuring MGED code into library form so that we could develop new interfaces on top without losing functionality. We now have a newly developed GED "geometry editing" library that contains the majority of our commands in reusable form. Archer was built on top of GED and the interface has been significantly extended.
It is nice having everything in one window. There's a tree view for the shapes, regions, and combinations in the database on the left, a command window at the bottom, and the main visualization window in the middle.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Drone Swarm Photogrammetry of the Matterhorn


senseFly mapped the Matterhorn with a bunch of little UAVs. Pretty impressive photogrammetric point cloud: 300 million points!

Friday, October 18, 2013

Commercial Model Aircraft Use

22nd IMR Meshing Contest Model
There are some interesting commercial uses of model aircraft listed in Pirker's motion to dismiss an FAA civil penalty for commercial drone use. The motion provides examples in four broad categories: Cinema and Television, The Model Aircraft Industry, Model Airplane Operators Who Are “Sponsored” or Compensated at Competitions, and Media Coverage and Entertainment.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fedora OpenMDAO Install

OpenMDAO is "an open-source MDAO framework written in Python." It is an easy install (though not packaged for Fedora yet as far as I can tell). The only odd thing in the system requirements is the Chrome web browser for the GUI. They say things should work with Firefox (not Internet Explorer), but who cares? GUIs are for quiche-eaters anyway ; - ) The other requirements (Python, Scipy, Numpy, Matplotlib) are commonly packaged for a wide range of operating systems.

OpenMDAO features,
  • Library of Built-in Solvers and Optimizers
  • Tools for Meta-Modeling
  • Data Recording Capabilities
  • Support for Analytic Derivatives
  • Support for High-Performance Compute Clusters and Distributed Computing
  • Extensible Plugin Library