by wjw on September 13, 2011

When I wrote my one and only Star Wars book,  I gave some thought to the Empire’s military procurement procedure, something I suspect had not actually been done before.  I put my thoughts into the mouth of Han Solo, as he contemplates the Empire’s response to the invasion of a bunch of blue meanies called the Yuuzhan Vong:

“What the Empire would have done was build a super-colossal Yuuzhan Vong-killing battle machine.  They would have called it the Nova Colossus or the Galaxy Destructor or the Nostril of Palpatine or something equally grandiose.  They would have spent billions of credits, employed thousands of contractors and sub-contractors, and equipped it with the latest in death-dealing technology.  And you know what would have happened?— it wouldn’t have worked.  They’d forget to bolt down a metal plate over an access hatch leading to the main reactors, or some other mistake, and a hotshot enemy pilot would drop a bomb down there and blow the whole thing up.  Now that’s what the Empire would have done.”

I find my thoughts echoed in, of all things, the latest issue of Defense AT&L, where Lt. Col. Daniel Ward asks the question, “Should we build Death Stars?”  Not Empire-type Death Stars, necessarily, but our very own Death Star-equivalents, like F-22 Raptors, carrier battle groups,  and Littoral Combat Defense Ships.

An article in Project Magazine titled “If His Day Rate Is Reasonable, Get Darth Vader” commended Vader’s ability to turn around an ailing project. Another program management professional wistfully wrote, “If only most project managers could have the presence and command the respect that Darth Vader did…” Um, have you seen these films? I don’t think we really want PMs to walk around in capes and black armor. Sure, I’ve known people who thought they were on par with Vader, but I assure you, his path is not one we should follow. I’m pretty sure it leads to suffering. . . .

More than one writer inexplicably complimented Vader’s leadership style, conveniently overlooking his use of telekinetic strangulation as a primary motivational approach. One misguided soul described Vader as “an authoritative figure who commanded respect.” A more accurate description might be “a murderous tyrant who commanded obedience.” There’s a difference.

Happily, a blog commenter with the unlikely nom de net of Luke had the wisdom to point out, “All projects developed by Dark Lords will end up like the Death Stars.” By that I presume he meant “glowing fields of space junk,” but it’s possible he also meant “over budget, behind schedule and blown-up before Act II.” Online Luke is probably right: Dark Lords build Death Stars. I suspect the inverse is also true—building Death Stars makes program managers end up like Dark Lords. If so, that’s one more reason not to do it.

The truth is, Death Stars are about as practical as a metal bikini. Sure, they look cool, but they aren’t very sensible. Specifically, Death Stars can’t possibly be built on time or on budget, require pathological leadership styles and, as we’ve noted, keep getting blown up. Also, nobody can build enough of them to make a real difference in the field . . .

Lt. Col. Ward concludes— much as I did in Destiny’s Way, in fact— that it’s far better to build lots and lots of little droids.  But I won’t spoil the article for you by quoting too much.  Just read and enjoy.

ianmorris September 13, 2011 at 8:21 am

saw the quote on a while ago, i thought it was funny.

DensityDuck September 13, 2011 at 9:59 pm

The problem happens when someone says “we don’t need Death Stars, we need Star Destroyers, because a Star Destroyer is much cheaper and is certainly good enough to handle any threat the ill-equipped and untrained Rebel Alliance can pose!”

Then they say “we don’t need Star Destroyers, we need lots and lots of TIE fighters, because a squadron of TIE fighters is much cheaper and is certainly good enough to handle any threat the ill-equipped and untrained Rebel Alliance can pose!”

Then they say “we don’t need 500 squadrons of TIE fighters, we only need five, because five squadrons of TIE fighters is CERTAINLY good enough to handle any threat the ill-equipped and untrained Rebel Alliance can pose!”

Then they say “what do you mean Seinar Fleet Systems went out of business and we’ve been buying all our spare TIE fighter parts from the Mon Calamari? Aren’t they part of the Rebel Alliance?”

wjw September 14, 2011 at 12:48 am

What you actually need are lots and lots of droids. Because droids can

1. Build factories which
2. Make more droids which
3. Build more factories which
4. Make any war machine you want cleanly, cheaply, and efficiently.

Unfortunately, here in the 21st Century USA, our droid technology does not quite equal that of the Lucasverse. Which is great if you don’t want to be followed around by animated garbage cans going “bloop bloop” all the time, but sad if you don’t want someone to make the tea, answer the telephone, and delete the spam.

S. Hutson Blount September 14, 2011 at 3:13 am

Citing the LCS as an example of a “Death Star” project is doubly painful considering what it was originally intended to be: a little gunboat cheap enough to be risked in combat.

Bruce Cohen (Speaker to.Managers) September 17, 2011 at 10:13 pm

The entire F-22 Raptor fleet has been grounded by safety concerns for 5 months now, leading to the possibility that all F-22 pilots (including flight instructors) will have to be re-qualified before they can fly any missions again. This is a perfect time for the Rebel Alliance to strike.

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