Lesson 4: Maximize Efficiency

No person, company, or nation would be opposed to doing more with less. Successfully meeting goals on time and on budget is the goal of every organization in existence. No one wants to wait forever. No one wants to spend unnecessary money. No one wants to fail. McNamara’s fourth lesson is to maximize efficiency.

To support this lesson, McNamara takes us back to his time with the Army Air Corps during World War II. The United States was determined to strike the Japanese Home Islands with their new B-29 bombers. US transports flew fuel from India over The Hump to US airfields in China. When McNamara and his team analyzed the data, they discovered that they were actually using more fuel than they were delivering to the airfields. As a result, they moved to the Marianas Islands to strike Japan from the east.

Efficiency is important in modern operations as well. Things must be done quickly and reliably. In Afghanistan, the US struggled to build roads and provide promised services. In Iraq, the US failed to quickly restore power, rebuild infrastructure, and reopen schools. As a result, Iraqis and Afghans lost faith in the United States, leading to our inability to curb local militias and insurgents.

However, one’s pursuit of efficiency must not be single-minded. Efficiency was on McNamara’s mind when the M-16 rifle was rushed into combat far before it was ready. Many M-16’s frequently jammed, putting its users in extreme peril.

The Joint Strike Fighter program is another example. Its idea is to maximize efficiency by mass producing an aircraft for all three branches of the US military. Unfortunately, all three branches have different needs. The Marine Corps needs one with V/STOL capabilities. The Navy requires one carrier-capable. At some point, we’re better off designing different aircraft to suit each service’s needs.

It’s not completely about the money either. If the Marines don’t have a V/STOL-capable aircraft, they will struggle to support amphibious landings. The Lightning has an alarmingly short range when compared to the US Navy’s current aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet. Use of the Lightning will require carriers to get closer to shore, leaving them more vulnerable to ground-based aircraft and anti-ship ballistic missiles.

In all of these scenarios, people die unnecessarily. It’s important to balance the desire for efficiency with our needs and goals. It’s probably better to spend the money and take the time to do it right. We should, however, eliminate waste whenever possible.

Jump to a lesson:
Lesson 1: Empathize with Your Enemy
Lesson 2: Rationality Will Not Save Us
Lesson 3: There’s Something Beyond One’s Self
Lesson 4: Maximize Efficiency
Lesson 5: Proportionality Should Be a Guideline in War
Lesson 6: Get the Data
Lesson 7: Belief and Seeing Are Often Both Wrong
Lesson 8: Be Prepared to Re-examine Your Reasoning
Lesson 9: In Order To Do Good, You May Have To Engage in Evil
Lesson 10: Never Say Never
Lesson 11: You Can’t Change Human Nature

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