Those who manage the weapons acquisition process are often frustrated by barriers to change posed by military services, which generally prefer buying weapons that perform traditional missions in traditional ways. This essay explores the way in which large organizations adapt to innovation by focusing on the U.S. Army's purchase of the M16 rifle. Because the M16 represented a break with the Army's rifle tradition, the service resisted Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's efforts to introduce it in 1962. Yet by 1966 the Army standardized the piece, replacing the very traditional M14 rifle in the process. The essay concludes that this adaptation is best explained by the existence of a declining Army-wide consensus concerning the Army's rifle tradition. Although policy remained traditional, many in the service were unhappy with the M14. McNamara's initial efforts and the M16's performance in Vietnam convinced others of the rifle's utility, and this freed the organization from its attachment to tradition.
This report is part of the RAND Corporation paper series. The paper was a product of the RAND Corporation from 1948 to 2003 that captured speeches, memorials, and derivative research, usually prepared on authors' own time and meant to be the scholarly or scientific contribution of individual authors to their professional fields. Papers were less formal than reports and did not require rigorous peer review.
Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.
The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.