Perspectives on defense systems analysis *

By Ben-Menachem, Mordechai**
Monday, May 23rd, 2016 @ 5:18PM

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A review of Perspectives on defense systems analysis; The What, the Why, and the Who, but mostly the how of broad defense systems analysis. Delaney W.Atkins R.Bernard A.Boroson D.Ebel D.Feder A.Fleischman J.Shatz M.Stein R.Weiner S., The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2015. 288 pp.  Type: Book (978-0-262029-35-3)

This book describes the evolution and history of the processes of systems analysis for defense systems, and in this, I am somewhat disagreeing with the book’s subtitle. “The how,” if it can be called such, begins only on page 93. Anyone wishing to understand the evolution of the discipline will do well with this book, though I have some minor reservations concerning non-American readers; the processes described (and some amount of slang terms used) may make it slightly less applicable outside the US. Someone wishing to use this book to learn really about defense systems analysis may, I think, have certain difficulties here.

A good case in point is the description of the Patriot missile system, described in Section 5.8, on pages 64 through 68. Our author here, Stein, said previously (page 59), “keep one’s eye on the forest when dealing with details in the trees.” A very apropos issue, I think. But I also think the operative word for this book is “defense.” At the end of any such process of “defense systems analysis,” one must ask whether lives have been saved. Stein describes the process of upgrading the Patriot missile system to deal with Scud missiles, from 1979, finally culminating in the PAC-II upgrade, just before the First Gulf War in 1991. Twelve years of effort. Unfortunately, Stein does not provide the end of this useful and interesting story. What was the result of this 12-year upgrade process? That, after all, must be the final test. Did the system function as planned? Did it save lives?

Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Germany’s military leader in WW I, said that “no plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force.” I opine that a similar statement applies to weapons systems, whether defensive or offensive.

In the Gulf War, the Patriot system was installed in Israel and Saudi Arabia. (By the way, the system was “sold” to the Israelis as an antiaircraft system that had been specially modified for anti-missile, which Stein disagrees with.) During the War, 39 Scud missiles were fired at Israel. The Patriot system intercepted exactly zero incoming Scuds. In one case, there was estimated to be a ten percent chance that a missile’s course was affected by the Patriot. Falling Patriot missiles caused more economic damage than Scuds. (I was a senior defense systems analyst at the time, specializing in quality and reliability.)

The system was a total failure, bordering on disaster. After 12 years of development to upgrade an existing system, this is rather beyond disappointment. Bottom line message: in defense systems analysis, if you do not receive real data from the actual war situation, you still know nothing conclusive about your system. That is a lesson that this book, unfortunately, neglects to discuss. “War stories” must come from war.

The book describes the concepts of “red teaming” and “blue teaming,” which may be useful in some circumstances, though again, they may need to be “acculturated” to non-US environments.

What I think may be the most valuable statement in the book occurs at the bottom of page 103. “The problem is that systems analysis involves more than merely manipulating variables and inverting matrices; it involves thinking.” Pardon my bluntness, but the statement sounds “obvious,” and it is not. If the book were otherwise of no value, and I think it is of great value, the book would be worth reading to imbibe this statement to its very dregs.

The section ends with another priceless quote: “Compared to finding a good systems engineer, it’s comparatively easy to build a factory, an insight I’m not sure was so widely shared 20 years ago as it is today.”

As to the question raised above concerning “the how,” I would place this chapter, chapter 8, at the head of my list of what this book can teach; perhaps a touch late, but that is the reason that I would define it more as a depiction of “the history and evolution of” rather than a textbook from which to study to become an analyst.

I believe I have the privilege to say that I recommend this book, albeit with the minor reservation that I have discussed. It is relatively well written and it is eminently readable. All in all, I liked it and thought it is a useful addition to a professional library.


* Ben-Menachem Mordechai, is a researcher and adjunct lecturer at Ben-Gurion University, Beer-Sheva, and at Sapir College in Sedarot, both in southern Israel.

* This review was first published by Computing Reviews, on May 23, 2016 and reproduced here with the author’s permission. 

Categories: Defense systems, Latest News, Patriot System, Scud missles

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