Untangling the Pentagon's craziest PowerPoint slide

In this blog post, defense technology reporter Noah Shachtman tries to make sense of a Powerpoint chart "which documents the Defense Department's bazillion-step process to developing, buying, and maintaining gear."


  1. Hahaha…. I made a chart that looked very similar to that and sent it to a VC when some business “partners” pissed me off. I wish I could’ve seen the expression on the VC’s face when he opened it.

  2. Hahaha oh wow.

    When I tried to click the link in the article to https://ilc.dau.mil/ my firefox got all scared, saying the issuing certificate authority is unknown.

    Wait, so THE FUCKING MILITARY doesn’t have valid SSL certs? Has the whole world gone mad? I thought these guys invented the internet!

    1. The US government is acting as its own certificate authority — no doubt government computers are set to trust it. You get the security exception because your browser doesn’t know and trust their certs. It’s a pretty common route, even in large organisations. Verisign et al aren’t cheap.

    2. Actually, DoD certs are valid. The problem is that DoD has its own Certificate Authorities (CAs), which is not issued by any of the standard (eg Verisign) top level commercial CAs. And DoD CAs are not part of any browser’s default configuration. If you would like to load the DoD CAs into your browser, you can visit the DoD’s PKI page here: http://dodpki.c3pki.chamb.disa.mil/rootca.html

  3. I like how “Economic Analysis (MAIS)” is near the last step, and isn’t included in the beginning or end of the process at all.

    Although the complexity is somewhat justifiable; not only because our millitary is almost as large as the Walmart workforce*, but also because it’s expected to be in production for 10+ years typically, and they are going to have to train hundreds of thousands of people to use, maintain, and kill other people (and not themselves) with it over the course of that time.

    *Yes, that’s right; go look it up. They aren’t kidding when they say “army of employees”.

  4. Ha! I love this sentence from the top right-hand corner of the chart: “Defense acquisition is a complex process with many more activities than shown here and many concurrent activities that CANNOT BE DISPLAYED ON A TWO-DIMENSIONAL CHART.” (Emphasis mine.)

  5. Oh and PS: if you do actually click through to the military site, confirm the security exception, etc, you can see they go into a lot of detail with every single point. Naturally, I guess.

    Here’s the full PDF version of the poster, print at 34″ x 22: https://ilc.dau.mil/pdfs/Front_Ver_54_June_15_2010_34x22.pdf
    The poster has an ISBN number. It’s #9780160858741. You can order packs of 5 prints from the Government Printing office bookstore at http://bookstore.gpo.gov

    If you actually want to try and make sense of it, they have extensive breakdowns of every panel. Here’s a guide to acronyms I found, that would prove most helpful, if anyone would ever want to make a full time job of trying to figure this shit out… Oh wait.

    1. egon this reminds me of the time you tried to drill a hole through your head

      That would have worked if you hadn’t stopped me.

  6. Complex stuff is complex.

    I guess it’s human nature to want things to be simple; but the real world rarely obliges. It’s useful, and often essential, to be able to explain a complex phenomenon in simple terms (whether it be with the parsimonious theories of modern science, the allegorical stories of ancient myth, or the insipid slogans of partisan politics); but it’s important to keep in mind that all abstractions (be they scientific, mythological, political, or whatever) are necessarily, and by definition, simplifications. The real world is complicated.

    1. Sadly, nothing in life is actually this complicated. Even quantum mechanics and modern relativity can all be described in far simpler terms than this. DAWIA intentionally tries to convolute very simple principles in order to justify their own meager and parasitic existence. If they weren’t constantly trying to pull off an intellectual filibuster, by running in a perpetual loop, with all of sorts of obscure and ridiculous blocks and bubbles, people would quickly realize that they aren’t actually doing anything at all (of any definable substance/merit).

      You know you have constructed the perfect labyrinth when vigorously trying to find your way out of a maze is just as productive as doing absolutely nothing at all. DAWIA has obscurely mastered this concept.

      1. Sadly, everything in life is actually this complicated — if not more complicated. The human brain is just really good at abstraction (i.e. selectively paying attention to regular patterns while ignoring irregularities and “trivial” details), so we aren’t usually consciously aware of just how complex everything in life really is. Science is also really good at abstraction, which allows it to produce simple, elegant descriptions and explanations for natural phenomena. Science is really just a refinement of our innate ability (and desire) to abstract. That’s why scientific descriptions (laws) and explanations (theories) often make the world seem a lot simpler than it really is.

        We abstract because we have to: The world is far too complex to understand without simplification. But we also abstract because we can: Many phenomena are regular enough so that we can focus only on the regularities and can safely ignore the irregularities (i.e. the error component of our equations).

        But there’s a limit to how far we can abstract without oversimplification. If we abstract too far, our understanding is superficial and naïve. It may be fine for a child to think of the sun as a great big ball of fire in the sky; but, if you’re a professional astronomer or physicist, that highly simplistic description just won’t cut it. How far can we abstract without glossing over important details? It all depends on what we’re trying to describe and explain, and how thorough we want our description/explanation to be. I noticed you drew both of your examples of simple scientific descriptions from physics. Physics is somewhat unique among the sciences in the simplicity and elegance of its equations. But if you look at some of the other sciences, such as biology, you’ll find some extremely complex descriptions of, for example, how the cell functions, or how the blood clotting process works. These descriptions can’t be simplified any further without glossing over essential details of the process. Abstraction is essential in science (as in life); but if you abstract beyond a certain point, you lose too much information for your description to be of any practical value.

        So, what about this chart? Sure, you could produce a much more abstract version of this chart — one that is less complicated, less detailed, less cluttered. But would that simpler version be better than this one? Would it be more useful to the people who need to understand the details of how this complex process works? I don’t think so. As I said in my previous post: Complex stuff is complex. And sometimes you just gotta accept that, and deal with the complexity of it all.

        1. There isn’t anything in your response that I blatantly disagree with…it’s just your definition of “needing” to having excessive complication and abstraction that I find troubling.

          DAWIA can and should be handled so much simpler. If you don’t believe me, then you obviously have never watched “The Pentagon Wars” before. This current system of Acquisition is so incredibly inefficient, excessively bureaucratic, and absurdly cumbersome that it literally crushes itself under the weight of it’s own stupidity.

          Is life complex…absolutely…without a question….but this does not mean that we should promote and advocate complicating simplified matters more than they “need” to be.

          Just as I wouldn’t use a spectrometer, nor an interferometer, to see if the sun is up in the morning…I would most likely just look out my window.

          And while some people might advocate the “necessity” of having a Rube Goldberg machine around to char the surface of their bread in the morning…I’d be much happier just using a toaster.

          Tomato…Tamato arguments I suppose. Life is hard…and I find it silly to make anything harder than it “needs” to be.

          1. Well, if all you’re saying is that the process is less efficient than it could be, I agree. But keep in mind that bureaucracy tends to be the product of evolution, not intelligent design. If a genius systems engineer sat down and designed the process from scratch, he or she could probably come up with something a lot more efficient than this. But bureaucracies are rarely designed this way. Instead, they evolve over time as the organization adapts to changing needs. Instead of redesigning the entire process whenever the needs change, the organization usually just makes incremental adjustments. Thus, over time, the process becomes more and more complex, and less and less efficient, though still quite functional. It would be really hard for an organization as large and complex as the Pentagon to go back to the drawing board and redesign a process like this from scratch.

          2. I’d argue that the term “genius systems engineer” is entirely oxymoronic…anyone openly pretending to be a jack of all trades is usually a master at nothing…

            In Systems Engineering terminology, everything they don’t understand simply ends up falling into another black box…and is redundantly referenced with millions of feedback arrows.

            Working in this field, I have learned that if you make a big enough Systems Acquisition blockset that you can trick people into believing all sorts of absurd garbage…even time travel and perpetual motion seem plausible when you convolute WTF you are talking about with superfluous wording, references and acronyms…lol

            And I agree with you that every living organisim evovles over time…even parasites….hence my original complaint about all this DAWIA bureaucracy in the first place.

  7. Is “materiel” a mis-spelling that got trained into their spell check?… or is it an actual term??… or is this for the french foreign legion?

  8. Wow, it even includes an element in comic fucking sans.

    I wonder if any single person at the DoD can actually recognize all of the acronyms on that chart?

    1. I wonder if any single person at the DoD can actually recognize all of the acronyms on that chart?

      Depends what you mean by recognize. When you work in an acronym-rich field like that, you tend to pick up on what acronyms mean as units without having any idea what stand for.

  9. this chart haunts my everyday life. Anyone in the program managemet field of the govt can relate. It’s a complicated chart when looking at it as a whole, but it is very helpful in small bits. Made me laugh to see it here on BoingBoing. I have a copy hanging in my cubicle right now.

  10. You may mock or even lambast the evil bureaucratic government behemoth, but as a researcher on workflows and business processes I can tell you that a development process like this is pretty much average.
    You have to remember that you are dealing with complex systems here and there is a lot of capital involved. Sure you may just want to change to a different type of light bulb in a tank, but now you have to check whether all the stuff will still physically fit, make sure the heat of the bulb does not blow up the ammo and so on.
    Sure, you can just build it and see if it works, if you are willing to spend a billion dollar on what could easily be a failure.
    This isn’t just a government thing either, the same goes on in any large corporation that makes highly complex products (automobiles, trucks, planes, tanks, ships, …). Some things are just complex and so expensive, you better be REALLY sure you know what you are doing and one way of doing it is passing it past a lot of eyeballs.

  11. I don’t understand why this is being called a “PowerPoint slide.” Did I miss something? It looks like a chart. It’s a very complicated and hard-to-understand chart, which is probably just as bad as a very hard-to-understand powerpoint slide, but we should call everything that’s hard to understand about the military a “powerpoint slide.”

    On another note, the article says that this is way more complicated than the Afghanistan Spagetti Monster chart. I beg to differ. While this is an incredible amount of bureaucracy and detail, it takes the form of a simple flow chart. Probably each person only needs to know a tenth of it at most. The ridiculous Spaghetti Monster chart, on the other hand, is an incredibly interknotted network, where almost every single node exerts an influence, directly or indirectly, on every single other node. It is almost certainly of a complexity many orders higher than this fairly linear diagram, mathematically speaking.

  12. The slide is indeed nuts and I can’t imagine anyone looking at it in a glance and really comprehending it. However, I have always admired the military for what they do on the ground. If there’s a good model that businesses should follow for reuse and recycle, it’s the military. They are consistently doing what they do with equipment that is 20+ years old, and still functions well because they take care of what they own.

    The original design for the F-15 aircraft was developed in 1967 and the planes originally went into use in the mid 70’s. The last F-15A in use was just retired two years ago.

    The M-1 Abrams Tank has been in use for 30+ years now.

    Examples abound.

    It breaks my heart when I go into a modern office building and see so much waste go into daily operations.

    So yes, the slide is crazy. But the reality it fails to reflect is a culture of constant recycling, reuse, and repair. It is at its very heart the spirit of the maker.

    (Then they go blow stuff up.)

    1. You’re right about the durability. I saw a documentary about bombers where it was pointed out that the planes are older than the flight crew.

    2. The “durability” example that always floors me is the B-52. The things have been flying since the early 1950s, which means they’ve already been in continuous use for most of the history of powered flight. And they aren’t slated for retirement until at least 2040(!).

  13. I had to make diagrams on how to produce a newspaper from MS arrival to delivery. The paper comes into a job shop in pieces staggered over the night, both electronically and in hard MS, and then has to be assigned to presses according to how the signatures breakdown and other factors that vary widely from day to day. The diagram looks very much like this. When you detail anything down to the “decide which signature to run first” level, it’s complex.

    Nevertheless, theirs makes my eyes give up.

  14. The best is that the akronym of the Defense Acquisition University is DAU, which is the German ecquivalent of Luser (it translates to dumbest assumable use).

  15. This is probably a document of existing systems that have developed over time in separate departments, purposes and goals. They have then been linked together with some common standards, in an attempt at standardization and aligning common goals – which can only have so much success in a huge constantly-changing system.

    In other words, this is not a proposed system; it’s just how it is, and any large system will probably look about as complicated.

    Don’t hate the player or the game.

    1. “This is probably a document of existing systems that have developed over time in separate departments, purposes and goals. They have then been linked together with some common standards, in an attempt at standardization and aligning common goals – which can only have so much success in a huge constantly-changing system.”

      The chart is a graphic depiction of the DoD acquisition policy published in the DoD Directive 5000.1 and DoD Instruction 5000.2. The Federal Acquisition Regulations. It is regularly updated and I believe that the most recent update was at the end of 2009. The top level view in the chart is just that. The Defense Acquisition University (DAU) provides career force training in dozens of specialties that contribute to the performance of duties depicted in this process diagram. The long history of failed acquisition programs prompted Congress to mandate training and certification of acquisition personnel under the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA) which is why the DAU exists. The chart is certainly not a PowerPoint slide but a reference for where one’s current work fits into the bigger picture of an acquisition program.

  16. Calm down take a deep breath and actually read the chart. It is not as bad as you think it is. I understood the points after a couple of seconds and was amazed that they even think about disposal. I wish all consumers had to think about that when buying their newest gadget.

  17. Thursday is my final exam for the year-long course built around this graphic. The course is required to manage projects greater than $100 mil. The chart is a great way to show the WHOLE thing. The part that will make you crazy is when you look at all the projects that are in trouble (Nunn-McCrudy breach), and you see the same issues repeatedly – the cost estimate was too low, the technology was immature, the vendor took the job knowing they would fail, the Congressman wouldn’t allow cancellation because it brought jobs to his district.

  18. quote:”Wait, so THE FUCKING MILITARY doesn’t have valid SSL certs? Has the whole world gone mad? I thought these guys invented the internet!”

    Actually, the DoD uses its own Root CA Certificate and doesn’t pay Verisign for the privilege of commercial certificates. You may download and install the Root CA Certificate for DoD websites from the following link if you like.



  19. Hey, if you burn through as much money as those assholes do, you better at the very least be making some damn impressive powerpoints.

    Seeing how they don’t really do anything else that’s actually useful for the country. Loosely organized guerilla bands, for instance what has worked so well in Afghanistan, also knows as “militias” which were the founding father’s idea of what should defend the country, could do the job for about .001% of the cost.

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