Captain Elle Ekman is a US Marine Corps logistics officer; in a New York Times op-ed, she describes how the onerous conditions imposed by manufacturers on the US armed forces mean that overseas troops are not permitted to fix their own mission-critical gear, leaving them stranded and disadvantaged.
Instead of fixing their equipment as armies have done since the time of the Caesars, US armed forces personnel ship their faulty gear back to the USA for warranty repair, waiting months to get it back into service. She describes maintenance bays full of broken equipment and idle 3D printers, water-jets cutters, and lathes that were once used to effect field repairs. Now, the gear just waits to be shipped stateside.
She traces this to monopoly power among manufacturers, which has allowed them to erode the historic right to repair, and to impose onerous conditions on their customers -- even the Department of Defense.
Last year, a coalition of large manufacturers led by Apple killed 20 different state level right-to-repair bills. Apple and ag companies like John Deere are currently lobbying the federal government hard to head off any federal right-to-repair bill, promising that allowing independent repair would open up a floodgate of counterfeits, unsafe equipment, and cybersecurity problems.
With every engine sent back, Marines lost the opportunity to practice the skills they might need one day on the battlefield, where contractor support is inordinately expensive, unreliable or nonexistent.
I also recalled how Marines have the ability to manufacture parts using water-jets, lathes and milling machines (as well as newer 3-D printers), but that these tools often sit idle in maintenance bays alongside broken-down military equipment. Although parts from the manufacturer aren’t available to repair the equipment, we aren’t allowed to make the parts ourselves “due to specifications.”
How pervasive is this issue for the most powerful military in the world? And what does it mean for a military that is expected to operate in the most austere and hostile environments to not possess the experience, training or tools to fix its own very technical equipment?
Here’s One Reason the U.S. Military Can’t Fix Its Own Equipment [Elle Ekman/New York Times]
Lack of Right to Repair Limits Ability of US Military to Maintain its Own Equipment [Jerri-Lynn Scofield/Naked Capitalism]