The Death Star As An Example Of Bad Defense Contracting

Via Instapundit comes this Adam Rawnsley piece at Wired’s Danger Room about the greatest failure in the history of fictional military contracting:

Meet the biggest cautionary tale in the world of defense procurement: the Death Star. Thanks to the Pentagon’s in-house acquisition journal, Defense AT&L Magazine — not usually a venue for fan fic — we have a detailed explanation as to why. Air Force Lt. Col. Dan Ward provides a nerdy-but-accurate examination of the Empire’s acquisition flaws in building the moon-sized death ray:

In the Star Wars universe, robots are self-aware, every ship has its own gravity, Jedi Knights use the Force, tiny green Muppets are formidable warriors and a piece of junk like the Millennium Falcon can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But even the florid imagination of George Lucas could not envision a project like the Death Star coming in on time, on budget.

It’s embarrassing enough that the galaxy’s supposedly most fearsome weapon was felled by crappy duct work.

But it was entirely predictable. A project so big and complex, Ward writes, will invariably stretch the oversight capabilities of acquisition staff. In this case, it led to manufacturing delays and prevented the Empire from realizing that one of its thermal-exhaust ports was a de facto self-destruct button.

It didn’t stop there either. Some four years later, the same Empire is building a new Death Star. They’ve taken care of that pesky thermal duct problem, but they’ve created a design that allows ships to fly inside the station while it’s being built to destroy the reactor, and the entire station with it. And they protected the entire thing with a shield based on a Moon inhabited by a disturbingly intelligent race of furry monkeys that they apparently didn’t bother to subdue before building THE MOST IMPORTANT SHIELD GENERATOR EVER.

Makes you think those Sith Lords weren’t particularly smart after all.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dan Nexon says:

    Isn’t this an “Evil Overlord” rule or something: that they have to risk everything in a poorly thought-out climactic battle, thus given the inferior and overmatched Forces of Goodness a chance to win?

  2. Neil Hudelson says:

    Of course there’s also the issue of the morality of the contractors working on the death star:

  3. Ben Wolf says:

    I see no criticism of the Emperor for cutting corners on labor procurement. Remember how the Death Star’s site manager asked Vader for additional construction crews? My guess is the CEO Emperor decided to save on labor costs in order to pump up share prices shortly before the quarterly board meeting. Fortunately he didn’t live to collect his executive compensation package.

  4. Just nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Ben Wolf: Don’t you remember? The Emperor either got away or was never on the Death Star. He fought with Luke in the third episode.

  5. chris says:

    There’s a Death Star novel in the Expanded Universe that gives a bit more background on the “duct work” you speak of, in that brass wanted to save money but the actual engineers (who were basically slaves) wanted to fix the problem.

    But the destruction could have been avoided had Grand Moff Tarkin launched a larger defense against the admittedly small Rebel fleet. Tarkin thought the station impervious to damage, which is why he only used the turbolaser mounts on the surface to defend at first. Vader’s small TIE force was launched on Vader’s command only.

  6. Jeremy says:

    Best political post EVER.

  7. Lit3Bolt says:

    The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force good intelligence work.

  8. mattb says:

    The prequels really establish how pathetic the Empire’s reign was. I mean, the Empire lasts only about 2 decades (assuming that Luke and Leia are in their early 20’s in Jedi).

    And given all of these contracting issues, the fact that pretty much the only people your chief enforcer successfully kills are children and the occasional foot soldier (oh and your glorious undefeated emperor), and that your most advanced tech is repeatedly taken out by stone-age weapons/tactics (this goes back to at least Empire where the most effective strategy against the walkers was to… umm… trip them?) … it’s kinda amazing that they lasted even that long.