This is a photograph of the A-10 airplane on the ground.

What distinguishes affordable winners from costly losers in military hardware? Can the “high tech” moniker mean that a weapon is a step forward, or simply more complex? What design and acquisition approaches will likely lead to expensive failures? What physical characteristics and bureaucratic behaviors will enhance the likelihood of an affordable, effective weapon?

Some of the people involved in the military reform movement have been intimately involved in the design and acquisition strategy for weapons that have been both extremely effective and exceptionally low in cost. These programs include, but are not limited to, the Air Force’s A-10 close support attack aircraft, shown here, and the F-16 fighter, both of which the in-house Pentagon aviation bureaucracy adamantly opposed. Elements of that opposition continue today, even though these planes constitute the vast majority of USAF tactical aircraft—and have demonstrated themselves in recent conflicts to be highly available, extremely effective and adaptable to multiple roles.

Employing the available lessons, military reformers and others have authored analyses of controversial—and hugely expensive and disappointing—hardware programs, such as the F-35 and F-22, the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship and Aegis air defense system, the Army’s M-1 tank and Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle and the new high tech wave of the future, drones. Analyses on these and other defense systems follow in the materials presented here.