Monday, August 7, 2017

How To Build A Better Aircraft

As we discuss terminating the F-35 and why it’s a good/bad idea, I continue to hear the notion that we have no choice but to continue because stopping and designing a new aircraft would take too long and cost even more than the F-35.  Given today’s badly broken military development and acquisition practices, that is undoubtedly true.  However, it doesn’t have to be.  In previous posts and comments, I’ve described how to design a new aircraft, put it into production in five years, and do it for less than we’re paying now.  I’d like to pull all those comments and posts together into one post.

Here’s how to build a better aircraft.

To begin, we have to define what we even need in broad terms.

The first key recognition is that there are two main “theaters” of operation for aircraft:  Europe/land masses and the Pacific/oceanic region.  All other likely regions of conflict (Iran, North Korea, Africa) are subsets.  This recognition immediately leads us to the second recognition.

The second recognition is that a new aircraft must not be a multi-service aircraft.  The F-35 has proven the folly of this approach.  The requirements for a European/land mass aircraft will be radically different than for a Pacific/oceanic aircraft.

See?  We’ve already saved money by not trying to build a gargantuan, one-size fits all aircraft!

Being a naval matters blog, this post will now discuss only the Pacific/oceanic aircraft.  The Air Force can design their own European/land mass aircraft.

The third recognition is that the aircraft will perform one main role and only one.  Focus is the key.  Secondary functions are fine as long as they don’t impact the primary function or contribute more than 2% to the cost.  Thus, a fighter that has a mechanism to carry and release a bomb is fine as long as the capability in no way negatively impacts the main role of being a fighter.

See?  We’ve saved money by not trying to make our aircraft a combination strike, fighter, AEW, ISR, EW, tanker, drone controller, arsenal aircraft all rolled into one.

The fourth recognition, closely tied to the third, is that focus comes from a coherent, well thought out concept of operations (CONOPS).  This will tell us exactly what our aircraft requirements are.  Note that I’m not going to offer what I think the aircraft should be/do.  That would just bog us down in technical specifics that are irrelevant to this discussion.  Besides, if you’ve followed the blog, you already know what kind of role I think Navy air should play.

So, we’ve now got a clearly defined aircraft with a very specific and narrow functional role.  At this point, our aircraft program breaks down into two major sections:  technical and program management.

Technical Aspects

Airframe.  Choose an existing airframe.  There are many to choose from.  There are all different wing shapes and sizes, there are stealthy and semi-stealthy airframes.  There are single engine and multi-engine.  And so on.  The point is to pick an existing, proven, debugged airframe, if at all possible.  I suspect the F-22 airframe is a pretty good choice.  Maybe not perfect but perfect is the enemy of affordable.

See?  We’ve saved a gazillion dollars in basic airframe developmental costs by simply using an existing airframe!

Technology.  Choose the most advanced existing, proven technologies for sensors, engines, and weapons.  If it isn’t already in operation somewhere in the world, then it belongs in Research & Development and not on our aircraft.  With only existing technology, we eliminate development altogether and only have to deal with packaging of the items into the airframe and integration through the software.

See?  We just saved a boat load of money by completely eliminating technology developmental costs.

Complexity.  Don’t make it unnecessarily complicated.  The F-35 “do everything” ALIS maintenance, inventory, logistics, and mission planning software is needless complication and is racking up huge costs.  We don’t need sensor fusion unless there’s an existing, debugged, proven software package already out there.  We just need a basic “sense and shoot” level of complexity.

See?  We’ve just saved a bundle of money by keeping everything simple.  KISS is alive and well.

Management Aspects

Design.  Production cannot start until the entire design is 100% complete.

See?  We just saved a ton of money by completely eliminating concurrency costs.

Change Orders.  Design modifications are the enemy of affordable – affordable has a lot of enemies, doesn’t it?  We’ll establish our requirements from the CONOPS, embed them in concrete, embed the concrete in titanium, and not change a single, tiny item.  The inevitable changes can come down the road in the form of upgrades, after the aircraft is in service.

See?  We’ve just saved a ton of money by completely eliminating change orders, alterations, and concurrency costs.

Managers.  Program managers must be appointed for the duration of the program until the aircraft is in full production.  To do less is to lose accountability.  Managers must be held accountable.  If the program misses schedules, runs over budget, or otherwise fails, the managers must pay the price in the form of loss of pay, loss of benefits, possible court martial, and automatic discharge from the service.  This may seem severe but it’s exactly what private industry does with their managers.  Besides, would we really want to retain in service a manager who demonstrates that they can’t successfully manage a program?  Now, the flip side of accountability must also be applied.  If the program comes in on time or early, on or under budget, and meets all technical specifications then the managers should be given significant bonuses, raises, benefits, and promotions.  Together, the threat of punishment and the promise of reward are as powerful a motivational tool as we can provide.

Authority.  Hand in hand with this degree of accountability goes authority.  If we’re going to hold managers accountable to this degree, they need the power and authority to execute their program as they see fit.  Once we commit to a program, no one but the program manager can make decisions about the schedules, funding uses, technical issues, etc.  Yes, there are statutory requirements and milestones that must be met and which are decided by other people but all the program specifics must be under the control of the manager.  No more can some outside Admiral insert his pet feature into a program.  No more can outside forces impose schedule adjustments.  And so on.

Decision Point.  A death point is necessary.  A death point is a go or no go decision point and comes at the 2 year point in a program.  At that point, any competent program manager will know whether the project is viable.  If it isn’t, then we terminate with no further expenditures and no penalty for the manager.  If it is viable, we proceed as described.  Only the program manager can make the go decision.  Thus, he can’t be forced into moving ahead with a project that isn’t viable.  Conversely, the program manager or any outside person or agency with sufficient authority can make the no go decision.  This allows outside agents to terminate the program due to budget, changes in strategic or operational need, or any other reason.

Conflict of Interest.  Employment restrictions will forbid the project manager from ever working for a company that had anything to do with the project.  This eliminates any conflict of interest, delayed bribery/kickbacks, etc.

Contract.  A fixed price contract with cost reduction incentives will be the only type of contract allowed.  With the iron-clad, unchangeable specifications we’ll use, there will be absolutely no unknowns for industry and, therefore, no reason to need any kind of squishy, cost-plus contract.  There will be no separate contracts for multiple lots of aircraft.  There will be only one aircraft and one lot.  The last aircraft built will be absolutely identical to the first.

A side effect of this policy might be that instead of committing to production quantities of thousands, which inevitably get cut to hundreds, perhaps we’ll scale down our production programs to more reasonable quantities that can actually be built.

The entire quantity of aircraft will be specified in the contract.  The contract will specify that the manufacturer gets paid the full contract amount whether the government terminates or reduces the aircraft quantity or not.  Thus, there is no risk for the manufacturer and, therefore, no reason not to accept a fixed price contract.

So, let’s sum up, shall we?

Timing.  We’ve completely eliminated development, leaving only packaging and integration.  Requirements will be unchangeable.  All technology will already exist.  With all that in mind, there is no reason we can’t begin production within 5 years, quite likely less.

Cost.  I’ve noted many instances of huge cost savings.  With no development, existing technology, an existing airframe, and no modifications, there is no reason we can’t build the cheapest aircraft in modern history and cheaper by a huge amount, too!

The interesting thing about this concept is that the vast majority of it could be implemented by the Navy with nothing more than internal policy changes.  Yes, there would be a few aspects that might require legislative involvement but those are relatively minor, actually.

Note:  I don’t want a single comment telling me why this can’t be done under the current reality.  I know it can’t be done under the current reality.  This blog is partly about describing current conditions but also, partly, about describing the way things should be.  This post is one of the “should be” ones.  Let’s treat it as such.

And there you have it.  If we dropped the F-35 today, we could have a fully developed, fully combat capable, state of the art aircraft in production within five years and for a fraction of the cost of the F-35.

That’s how you build a better aircraft.


  1. I once argued for legislation to require major programs to be managed by volunteer "career enders". The officer chosen would agree that it will be his last military assignment, so no more promotions or other jobs. But then he need not move every three years and no more deployments and would serve 8-20 years until the work is done, so time in service limits are waived, unless he is fired by the DecSef.

    So he need not worry about upsetting Congress or various Admirals with the truth since he is "tenured". He will not arrive and want to keep things steady and not make waves until his next assignment or promotion. Contractors will not get to snow the new guy every 3-4 years. This program will be his life and reputation.

    1. Interesting concept although I'd much rather have successful program managers stay on and run other programs and teach other managers how to be successful. This is how BuShips used to run and they, in conjunction with the General Board, were quite successful in producing excellent warships.

  2. All airframes are new at some point, develop of new airframes and sensors is the only way to maintaing a technical superiority.

    If not, US navy would come back to ZERO vs Brewster Buffalo.

    Also, if you try to use an existing naval airframe, again, the main naval fighters would be HARRIER III and F18H "Mega Hornet". Both airframes already reused or re developed.

    Now it is turn of a new airframe, mainly because stealth.

    The same can be applied to sensors, US armed forces are stronger than their enemies mainly because high tech systems, not in numbers, willing to fight or people support or capacity to suffer casualties and maintain the will to fight.

    1. There are two acceptable ways to find an existing airframe:

      1. Find an existing airframe
      2. Develop an airframe WITHIN THE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT REALM and when it's fully developed, use it.

      So, your snarky comment is not really relevant.

      As far as what existing airframes are available to choose from, the list is quite extensive and a Harrier or Hornet are unlikely candidates for a state of the art aircraft. As I suggested, the F-22 might make a good choice as would a couple of foreign aircraft.

      The same applies to sensors. You pick the best of existing ones while you separately develop even better ones.

      Very poor comment.

    2. Brewster Buffalo wasnt the only choice at the time. The Grumman F4F, also known as Wildcat was in many ways an adaptation of Grumman Bi-plane design
      " The XF4-F1 had been proposed as a biplane but in 1936 Grumman was directed to update it to XF4-F2 monoplane'"
      'Americas 100 Thousand- US production fighters of WW2- Francis H Dean'
      He said it 'looked like' they had taken the bi plane wings off and put a monoplane wing through the centre of the fuselage'

      A successful use of the principle of re-using an existing structure which then led to the further developed production F4-F3.

  3. Other navalized airframes useful for US Navy?, IMO only the Rafale.

    Sthealt airframes available? Only F-22, we know cost of the same and anyway lets see the cost after navalization. Proper and succesfull naval fighters are naval since design stage.You cannot repeat F-111 mistake.

    As you said The second recognition is that a new aircraft must not be a multi-service aircraft.

    So, the use of F22 airframe is something like multi service and F22 was designed for AA combat in european skies, now must be modified to be navalized and suitable for AS operations against chinese navy.

    Also, you said that there are to ways to find an existing airframe, find existing one and develop one. F35 is a new airframe being developed, and meanwhile you redesign F18 and harrier airframes...

    1. There is nothing inherently wrong with the F-22, as one example airframe, as a naval fighter. Yes, the landing gear would have to be beefed up, different materials would have to be used for some mechanisms to deal with salt water corrosion, a tailhook would have to be added if it doesn't already have one (some land aircraft do), and so on but the basic airframe is fine. Perhaps there is something inherent about the airframe that would preclude its use, like too high a landing speed, but I've never heard of any such limitations.

      The Rafale would be another candidate. It is designed as a naval aircraft though it lacks a bit of stealth.

      The aircraft I'm describing would not have to be the world's greatest aircraft. It would just have to be very good, very affordable, and very quick into production. Such an aircraft would dominate the skies for many years while research on a superior airframe could be conducted, if necessary.

    2. "suitable for AS operations against chinese navy."

      ???? Are you reading the post? This aircraft is a fighter, pure and simple, not a strike aircraft.

      The same production principles would, of course, apply to a purpose-built strike aircraft but that is not the particular focus of this one.

  4. Insert "Ship" vice aircraft in your title, insert "Hull" instead of airframe and then insert "Arleigh Burke" vice F-22. Not happy? Give me an "F"..

    Nah, I ain't buying it CNOPS...yet. After observing the MQ-25 apparent buffoonex, the new navy Frigate-floater strawman, and after seeing the F-35C issues to date... The US Navy acquisition team/leadership aren't ready to design anything "new/developmental", yet... especially a new "aircraft", off the shelf...ugh..

    What will be its purpose? Fighter, attack, ASW, EW. It starts there first.

    Nope. F-18 EFG-X, Seawolf, Burke-like platforms, only please mantra... No imagination here.


    1. You caught this paragraph in the post, right?:

      "Note: I don’t want a single comment telling me why this can’t be done under the current reality. I know it can’t be done under the current reality. This blog is partly about describing current conditions but also, partly, about describing the way things should be. This post is one of the “should be” ones. Let’s treat it as such."

    2. I don’t understand why full contract price would be paid if valid justification exists to cancel the build.

      Each aircraft produced creates a profit margin that the manufacturer earns. With a fixed price contract that profit should remain the same for each unit or increase as production efficiencies are generated by the company. Should this not be the guaranteed payout in case of contract termination or reduction? The manufacturer must be paid their agreed profit for the full contract but not paid for costs they don’t actually incur if aircraft are not built.

      Can we save some tax payer money for the next strike fighter?

    3. Boy, you're not grasping the idea of this at all! There is no justification for cancelling a build once it's been ordered. We will have done our homework, we'll have an outstanding aircraft, we'll put it into production in five years or less so requirements won't have changed that much, and the aircraft will have been tied intimately into our military strategy so we'll know it's a valid need. THERE WON'T BE ANY REASON TO CANCEL THE CONTRACT!!!

      If, for some unfathomable reason, we feel we need to cancel the contract then that's our problem, not the manufacturer's. He signed the contract in good faith and we are honor bound and legally obligated to complete it.

      This kind of squishy, "a contract is not really a contract" mentality and legality is what leads to manufacturers hugely inflating bids in anticipation of cancellations.

      I would also remind you of my remark in the post about this kind of contract perhaps providing the impetus to no attempt contracts for thousands of aircraft (too big to fail) and instead issue a contract for fifty or a hundred or three hundred aircraft that can actually be built in the agreed upon numbers and the agreed upon price.

      When you, personally, sign a contract, you and the other party are legally obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract. Why should the government be any different? That you would even raise such a possibility shows that you are a product of a badly screwed up procurement system and have come to believe that horrible procurement and contract practices are "normal" and "proper". Fortunately, you have me to remind you that our system is flawed and to remind you how it should be.

      You're welcome!

  5. Like your ideas for sure reminds me of the F14 A7/A6 combo for strike S3 for anti sub and tanking never understood why there easy follow up development for these birds as all were very capable proven designs the navy in its unfininite wisdom to discard them for the (all) in one F35 that may or may not do anything good at all time will tell in that one the F18 although good was never a total all or nothing design but it's developed into a decent platform none the less being wasted in the tanker role IMHO S3 or A6 worked just fine for those just weren't sexy in the navy's eyes

  6. It seems to me that you have failed to demonstrate how to design and build a new aircraft in 5 years. What you have done is shown how you might produce a navalised f-22 in 5 years, without much detail on how to actually achieve that (the navalisation), the devil in this case obviously being in the financial detail. And you haven´t given any reason to believe that a f-22 would be cheaper, or more capable overall when considering all mission sets, than an f-35. It seems to me that the f-22 would at least need an FLIR ability to be a decent attack aircraft, since I cannot think of another attack platform in the last 20 years that did not have this capability. Since an IRST capability was deleted from the f-22 on cost grounds, how much would a stealthy FLIR cost?

    As I said before, if you wanted a cheaper all-round alternative to the f-35, the Rafale is pretty much the only choice except for continuing to buy Super Hornets, which would be the least capable option.

    1. Did you read the post? While the principles would apply to designing any type of aircraft, this specific example was geared at the Navy's primary need which is an air superiority fighter. As such, IT DOESN'T NEED A FLIR OR ANY OTHER ATTACK EQUIPMENT - THAT'S HOW YOU KEEP IT CHEAP AND PUT IT INTO PRODUCTION QUICKLY!!!!!!!!!!!!!! READ THE POST.

      As far as choice of airframe, I don't care whether it's the F-22 (which seems the best to me), the Rafale (probably my second choice), or any other airframe. The engineers can determine the best choice. The concept is what's important.

      I already discussed navalization. It's not very difficult. Beef up the landing gear, add a tailhook if it doesn't already have one, substitute some materials for corrosion resistance, and you're pretty much done.

      You also missed the main concept - we're not going to design an aircraft - we're going to assemble and integrate existing equipment. THAT'S HOW YOU GET TO PRODUCTION IN FIVE YEARS.

      Seriously, read the post!

  7. Ah, I just saw your comment about it being a fighter. So what would happen to the strike mission? If you were proposing a capable UCAS to perform that part, it might make sense, otherwise your strike groups will be rather light on strike.

    1. With all the huge amounts of money we save on the fighter, we can turn around an do the same for a dedicated attack aircraft. Don't even begin to tell me it can't be done because we did it from the start of naval aviation until just recently (F-14 and A-6, for example).

      I would also refer you to my many posts and comments which state that deep penetration strike is NOT a naval aviation function. It's a cruise missile mission. We only need a medium range strike aircraft. This goes back to my statements in the post about the need for a coherent CONOPS.

    2. So, your argument is, if we can save money by replacing the strike fighter element of the carriers air wing with fighters, there would be more money to spend on strike? It seems like the 2 capabilities would cost more than the single capability, regardless of which platforms you chose (since you will be manning two squadrons instead of one).

      And I disagree about deep penetration strike. I think the CSBA study was correct in identifying the need for more range when it comes to carrier strike. That´s why I think a satisfactory replacement for the f-35 would be a stealthy long-range UCAV, in fact I think such a force would actually be more capable in a high-intensity conflict.

    3. "So, your argument is, if we can save money by replacing the strike fighter element of the carriers air wing with fighters, there would be more money to spend on strike?"

      Huh????? Where did I say anything like that? Seriously, did you read the post? Where did I discuss replacing specific squadrons or elements?

      The post is about terminating the F-35 and producing an affordable, state of the art fighter in five years.

      Regarding costs, yes, a hugely cheaper program like I proposed would save enough money to construct a similar, dedicated strike aircraft. Don't bother saying it can't be done because we've done it routinely in the past.

      Reread the post.

    4. Suggesting a naval f-22 would be much cheaper than an f-35 isn´t very credible. And suggesting that a cheaper aircraft is purchased without talking about overall numbers (and factoring in the cost of providing the strike function) isn´t very credible either. Who cares if it (and the f-22 wouldn´t be) cheaper per aircraft if the total capability cost (including the strike fleet) is more expensive?

    5. I don't know if you're being deliberately obtuse to provoke an argument or if you just can't grasp the concept. I'll take one final shot at helping understand the fundamental concept and if that fails I'll simply delete your comments.

      The fundamental concept is to use existing equipment. The airframe, whether F-22, F-35, Rafale, F-18E/F, or something else, is just an empty shell. The empty airframe costs little. It's what goes into it that is the major cost. The F-22, for example, already has all the production tooling completed. Simplistically, it would cost only the sheet metal to build the airframe. Adding in existing sensors, weapons, and avionics adds the bulk of the cost and winds up being just an exercise in physical packaging and software integration. This is where the enormous, staggering costs savings occur.

      I'm not talking about a navalized F-22, I'm talking about an F-22 airframe shell filled with existing components and, yes, that approach would be immensely cheaper than the current F-35 as well as far more capable for the intended role.

      Read the comment policy page and consider your comment carefully should you wish to comment further.

    6. Ok, it´s your blog so I will respectfully leave alone.

  8. The A-10 went from Requirements Action Directive in Dec 1966 to prototypes flying in May 1972, introduction in 1977. And that was with a new gun being developed. See

    The F-16 went from Study in 1969 to first flight in 1974 and introduction in 1974. See

    It can be done, even with prototyping a new airframe. It only takes LEADERSHIP, something which the Services have not figured out how to buy now that they have forgotten how to grow it internally.

    1. The F-14 went from request for proposals in 1968 to first flight in 1970 and entered squadron service in 1974.

      We used to know how to build aircraft. What I'm proposing isn't radical by any standard other than today's utterly dysfunctional standards.

      Good comment.

  9. Not to be snarkey, but if we're using an existing airframe, make sure it's producible. After its manufacturing run, the production tooling for the F-22 was destroyed.

    Second, naval aircraft need better low-speed handling qualities compared to land-based aircraft since they usually land at lower speeds and at higher AOA.

    Third, make sure your existing airframe can accommodate new technology and equipment to meet future threats.

    1. You made three statements.

      1. You are completely, factually, wrong about the F-22 production line. Read the post F-22 Production Line Restart Costs. Besides, even if we had to start completely over, don't you think we could rebuild a production line in five years? Don't make statements that you haven't verified to be true.

      2. Naval aircraft also need wheels. What's your point?

      3. You utterly missed the point of this post. By producing aircraft this cheaply and this quickly, we don't need to try to design in future growth - we can simply build a new batch of aircraft if/when technological or operational needs change sufficiently. Minor upgrades can be done at any time. Instead of attempting to build 3000 aircraft that will last a hundred years, we only need to build 50 or a hundred or three hundred and then in fifteen years or whenever, we'll build another 50/100/300 with the latest tech and requirements. See how much more sense this approach makes?

      Read my comment page. You're in danger of being deleted for multiple reasons. Step up your game.

    2. 1. A study earlier this year put the cost to rebuild the production line at $7 to $10 billion with each aircraft at about $200 million.

      2. My point was that carrier aircraft have requirements different from land-based aircraft. In your F-22 example, in addition to beefing up the airframe and landing gear, you'd have to include the capability to fold up the wings to park and maneuver the aircraft around the flight deck.

      3. I see your point, but I don't see the cost of an aircraft dropping to the point it can be replaced every 15 years. Besides, combat has a way of changing your plans and you may need to muster every aircraft you have. My point is that you might not have the time to build the next batch with better tech.

    3. 1. Did you bother to read the linked article in the post I referenced? Or, did you choose to believe the AIR FORCE report written by an organization that has a vested interest in NOT bringing back the F-22? What conclusion did you think they'd reach? Do those production line costs seem realistic to you considering that we have all the tooling and jigs in storage? The Air Force doesn't want to restart the F-22 so it wrote a report that is absurd. You have to use a little common sense when you read conflicting reports (you did read the referenced post and linked article, right?). If not, you didn't do your homework.

      2. So what? We've built folding wings for umpteen decades. We know how to do it. It would be a trivial matter and a trivial cost. Also, given that the air wing has shrunk from 90+ aircraft to 60+ and we're now building even bigger carriers, it's not at all clear to me that we even need folding wings anymore! You're trying to nitpick minor details that are absolutely trivial. Focus on the overall concept.

      3. You need to study your history. Historically, we've CONTINUOUSLY developed new aircraft so that we ALWAYS had a replacement aircraft in the works when needed. That logical progression began to fall apart with the cancellation of the A-12 Avenger and has worsened to the point now where we can only produce one aircraft every 30 or so years. That's absurd. I've just described how to produce cheap, state of the art aircraft QUICKLY. With that model, we can return to a process of continuously producing new aircraft just as we historically did. You've experienced horribly flawed aircraft procurement for so long that you've come to believe that's the way things should be. IT ISN'T!!!!! We need to find a better path and I've described one. You can focus on trying to pick apart trivial aspects or you can consider the overall concept and recognize the need for change. If you have an even better way, by all means offer it but don't sit back and defend a horribly flawed system just because that's all you've known. Learn from history. Learn from me.

    4. 1. I read your post from 2 years ago and part of it follows below.

      “Bringing back the F-22 line would take less than $200 million, "a fraction of the costs seen in previous line restarts of other weapons systems," Alison Orne, a Lockheed spokeswoman, said by email, citing preliminary analysis.”

      First, this is what the supplier says, something you've warned us, and rightly so, from trusting. Plus, as mentioned, the $200 million is a preliminary estimate.

      Second, the article I linked is from June 2017 and the numbers are based a study the Air Force conducted. My money is on the Air Force study. They may have overestimated some costs, but rebuiding the entire production line, including all the sub-tier supliers (and their suppliers) is easily a multi-billion dollar effort.

    5. You're free to believe what you like. The logic, however, is inescapable. It would cost far, far less to bring back a production line for which all the tooling and jigs already exist than to create a new one from scratch for some new design aircraft. That's just elementary logic. Don't get so caught up in trying to win a pointless argument that you allow yourself to be blinded to simple logic.

      Even if you're right about the cost of restarting a F-22 production line, it's still immensely cheaper than creating a brand new line for a new design aircraft for which nothing exists.

    6. Agree with that point. But you see, the reason the military is working so hard on a multirole strike fighter is simply because, multi mission aircraft are far more efficient than single mission jets.

      Let's look at what everythingman987 or everythingman said. "Let's say we go back to 1968, we has the F-4, F-8, A-4, A-6 and a bunch of others, Now look at the airwing today, we have the F-18 legacy hornets F-18 super hornets and EA-18G growlers, that's it." Basically, everythingman is stating the advantages that multirole jets have over single mission jets.

      Another thing stated in the video is that if your airwing is comprised of multirole aircraft and your squadron transitions from let's say, F-18C's to F-18E's then you won't have to spend time re-training them because they are in an aircraft they are familiar with. Now the main reason the F-35 as a program is so much more expensive than the F-22 is simply because the F-35 is destined to a multitude of countries, not just the US.

    7. "multi mission aircraft are far more efficient than single mission jets."

      From a business perspective, yes, multi-role is more efficient and more cost effective. From a combat perspective, multi-role is significantly inferior to single role. For example, the single role F-22 is a far better air superiority fighter than the F-35.

      When combat comes we'll quickly remember why designing combat platforms around business cases is a poor idea. This has been addressed repeatedly on this blog and I'm not going to readdress it.

      Transition training time is an absolutely insignificant time and cost in the life of a pilot.

      Claiming the reason the F-35 is more expensive is because it's going to many countries is idiotic. If anything, that would drive the cost down, not up.

      Improve the quality of your comments or stop commenting.

  10. Not sure if I got this right.

    What you are proposing is for US govt to have a list of equipment, radar, engines,etc that are fully developed and have use a developed air-frame probably F22 or Rafale?

    I like it but I think I would prefer to let go of the F22 air-frame or Rafale and stick with the list and LET ANYONE develop a new air-frame. I think one big problem is US is stuck with BA or LMT. That's it! If US govt is honest broker, than let's open up the competition, not be afraid to buy an air-frame outside of duopoly and every 5 years we could get a small new batch of air-frames. If we are buying smaller quantities anyways, smaller firms could team up to produce the airframes and further kitting up could be done by big OEMs or depot level maintenance centers.

    1. You've completely missed the main premise. If you opt to develop an airframe instead of using an existing one, you'll add a decade of time and a gazillion dollars of R&D costs - exactly what we don't want.

      Now, you might think that only using existing airframes is a deadend path because you'll never have another new airframe but that's not the case. While we develop our aircraft from an existing airframe, we also develop new airframes through R&D programs. If and when one of those developmental airframes proves out then it can be the basis for the next existing airframe and next new aircraft program.

  11. It really is a shame that this "too big to fail" mentality has become normalized within the defense community. It's also saddening to me that the stealth only mentality is so universal as well. As much as I like the idea of a navalized stealth platform (like an adapted f-22), we should also be asking ourselves two questions: "Is this needed for a majority of roles?" and "is stealth still viable?" as stealth does tend to make an aircraft heavier and vastly more expensive.

    There has been much talk of potential threat nations developing successful methods for tracking stealth aircraft and potentially eliminating them, and even the Navy seems to be banking on developing more advanced and capable ECM rather than stealth to counter it.

    As for the aircraft and roles, I have heard from some that for the fleet defense and escort role, it may not be the best option, as ensuring you have a capable platform, making it visible to the enemy may prevent them from attacking in the first place. Secondly that any stealth platform would have it's advantage immediately negated if needing to refuel from a tanker or carry external tanks for a long range mission (which is frequently the norm for naval aircraft).

    In the CAS role, most stealth designs sacrifice performance and payload in favor of a smaller radar signature, but how does this do any good if in order to perform CAS, we need to rollback air defenses (SEAD) first, and a majority of threats at that point are infrared or laser based, which "stealth" does nothing to counter.

    I will admit however, that for the SEAD and select deep strike missions there is likely a good argument for having a SMALL number of purpose built strike aircraft to fill these roles. I small in that once enemy air defenses/sensors are suppressed or destroyed, the need for stealth is once again minimized.

    So for the previously mentioned roles there are a plethora of older airframes that still have plenty of life left and haven't reached their full development potential that would still save us money over the F-35, but also allow for a more robust air wing. For example, the F-14's tomcat 21 would allow for better radar, range, speed, acceleration and payload capability in both A2A and Strike then the Lightning and Advanced Super Hornet for a price that would be very similar to the latter.

    The A-7F and A-6F would utterly demolish the F-35 and Super Hornet for range/time on station and payload while still being just as adaptable for more muti-role uses if need be for a fraction of the cost of either.

    It's a shame to see that we having to waste so much money developing a failed airframe (f-35) when we have others that would perform at 85 to 90% capability for likely nearly half the price or less.

  12. Interesting string of comments ... In Naval Aviation, there is no longer a role for a pure Fighter A/C. Strike is the mission and the A/A role is mainly for self-protection and/or mutual support. So, building a pure Fighter is not plausible and really serves no purpose, no mission for it.

    1. You could not be more right. On the other hand, you could not be more wrong. It all depends on what your military strategy is. I've stated that the role of the carrier (meaning the air wing) is to provide escort for the cruise missile shooters, establish local air superiority for amphibious ops or other military operations, establish and protect transit lanes for Air Force bombers, and conduct anti-surface strikes in support of submarine operations. You'll note that I do not list long range, deep penetration strikes. That's a job for cruise missiles. Thus, there is no need for a naval long range, deep penetration strike aircraft but there is an overwhelming need for a long range air superiority fighter - the complete opposite of your view.

      Within my view of a desired military strategy, my views on carriers and aircraft are logical and consistent. If you have a different desired strategy then you may well have a different need for carriers and aircraft.

      If you've carefully thought through, say, a war with China and have a strategy in mind that requires only strike and no need for a fighter then that's fine. You're wrong, of course, but if you've thought it through then I'll grant you a difference of opinion.

    2. AJF, Not true. The F-4 phantom and the F-14 were designed as air superiority fighters designed to defend the fleet.

    3. LB725, AJF was not describing history, he was offering his opinion about the need for fighters versus strike in future procurement and strategy.

  13. The genesis of going from Fighter (fleet air defense/air to air, etc.) and Attack (overland power projection, war at sea, etc), warfare oriented, purpose-built aircraft (F-14 VF/VAM/VAL A-6/A-7 medium attack/light attack) airwings in the 1970/80's to what we have today-VFA.. was simply "it's the economy stupid".... In 1997 the Cold War was over, we had no viable real enemy (Serbia/Saddam were considered lightweights then..) and we were spending the "peace dividend" on other things... Amphibs, Sand Pebbles Navy visions like "From the Sea",and other BS strategies ruled...check out USNI archives of the period.... All officer fitrep bullets above 0-5 had to show "cuts" (metrics) and efficiencies if you wanted promotion. "How much did you save?" As a result the bean counters told us we could get by with multi-functional" and the fix was in. All the "FAGs" (Fighter Attack Guys-lol) rejoiced. The F-18 Hornet TMS would be the future of Naval Aviation because it was so dam efficient supposedly.. As a result "Hornet Sharia" ruled at N88 where even the poor S-3 was thrown under the bus because they had to "have it all and do it all" the gluttons... Their rationale? Look at that simple bearded enemy called GWOT/OCO- we will have air supremacy forever or them SOBs, right? Who needs air to air..I mean really, since when has OBL mustered up a bogie? Since the late 90's and past 9-11 having "VFA" vice VF and VA community specialists became the status quo (group think) and everyone bought into it. If you wanted to be in the Naval Aviation business you had to buy in to this premise and it become status quo.... Why? Because Officers in leadership positions during the late 1990s to today consider those that go before them as stupid or didn't have it right... it's that simple. As a result what's supremely ironic is that the "Hornet Sharia" that gave us the Hornet/SuperHornet for the past 35 years, actually looks better today than what we have apparently fielded with the F-35 A/B/C.. That is why the staus quo resists you in your own blog Cnops!

    As a specific example making the F-14 into a Bombcat was simple expedience and following suit, the USAF called the F-22 an F/A-22 (attack also..) after (-11 to today, and even engineered it to carry mini-bombs.. But what they did was too late because they didn't grasp the group think early enough and got cut back to a 175 jet acquisition vice 350 by the Bush administration...

    The bottom line is: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try,... sometimes you'll get what you need.." Problem is nobody has been trying. They are being so "transformational and offsetting" (the present status quo)lately, they have simply lost sight of what we really need...and they are not capable of rediscovering it..

    That's why I don't trust them to build ANYTHING new, but that's you where you come in right, CNOPS? ;-)


    1. Anonymous, Come to think about it, I personally feel the Navy made a foolish decision to retire the tomcats. Why? Because the threatens that the Tomcats were designed to negate have come back. These threats are anti ship missiles that can be fast enough to evad our defenses (if we are not careful enough) and hit the carrier. And as far as I'm concerned, out carriers are not exactly armoured.

      The loadout I prefer on the F-14 is 4 aim-54, 2 aim-7, and 2 aim-9 sidewinders. The Phoenix was originally designed to counter anti ship missiles built by the soviets.

    2. When the decision was made to "retire" the Tomcat (2005 end date) was made when the US Navy, in August 1998 (CNO- Jay Johnson F-8/F-14 fighter pilot who came down to Pax to fly in it)chose the F-18 SuperHornet (E/F) over a new F-14, as many here discuss without detail..

      Officially the US Navy chose the SuperHornet for a lot of "valid reasons" associated with the "status quo groupthink" reality I discussed above. Those did not discuss much on performance, payload, range etc but because of cost-cost-cost especially logistics/life cycle costs and mantras. Plus, the SuperHornet was "good enough" at the time. We had no real enemies it seemed...Right? ;-)

      That same reality we find many of us here in CNOPs blog are challenging....


    3. P.s I'm sorry for the quality of my comment, I'm not quite used to making long comments hence why I don't comment often, but u will try to improve.

    4. One of the [many] things we have forgotten over the decades is that you select combat equipment because of combat effectiveness, NOT COST. Cost is a secondary factor and might be the reason why you choose not to buy something but it can never be the reason why you choose TO buy something. You choose to buy for combat effectiveness. That was the problem with the Hornet. It was conceived, designed, and acquired for cost reasons, not combat effectiveness. We're now paying the price.

      You buy for combat effectiveness with cost as a secondary factor.

      You may decline to buy due to cost.

      You never buy due to cost.

  14. One of the key issues at play, and that I believe that you are tyring to address is that R&D, product development and mass production have been all kind of rolled together leading to all of the concurrency idiocy that we see now. If each of those sections happen correctly and consecutively it then becomes a simple exercise to contract for the production of a reasonably small (hundreds) batch of aircraft, because you aren't trying to amortise a massive R&D cost as part of a numbers game in mass production.

    We need to have a sensible discussion around what we are willing to pay for R&D work. And get people doing R&D work in skunkworks style environments where the research has value in and of itself as it grows our knowledge base. Once the findings of this are known, then begin the development and integration process to determine if this can be used effectively to achieve desirible combat effects. If it can then do the development needed to be able to mass produce a system that is able to achieve the combat effects required as per the CONOPS.

    This means that everyone involved has to be willing to stump up significant amounts of money to do R&D to begin the process, not knowing if it will directly lead to a new aircraft. This is the problem, too many decision makers are only willing to fund R&D that is 100% successful everytime, and leads directly to a mass production product. Not being willing to risk at the R&D phase, means that the risk is moved later in the process, in the case of the F-35 into the mass production phase, hence why we are seeing problems being discovered and rectified once mass production has begun rather than before.

    This represents are overall failure in society to understand the differences between experimental scientific research, applied science research, prototyping, engineering development and mass production efficiency

    1. "decision makers are only willing to fund R&D that is 100% successful"

      First, very nice comment, overall.

      Second, you've touched on an aspect of new product development that is problematic although I don't know to what degree. In WWII, aircraft manufacturers did their own R&D and produced many new aircraft designs and flying prototypes that were then presented to the government in hopes of obtaining a production contract. Some were accepted, many were rejected. The point is that the private companies provided the bulk of the R&D right up through prototypes.

      Today, we have to pay companies to even do paper design research. Companies want to be paid every step of the way and that's flat out wrong.

      Yes, companies do some unpaid R&D and that's where I stated that I don't know the extent of the problem.

      By narrowing our defense companies down to a very few, we've all but eliminated the incentive for a company to do unpaid R&D. If we would widen the industrial base and even open it up to foreign competition we would greatly increase the incentive for all companies to conduct their own R&D. Look at the explosion in company paid prototypes in the AAV/APC/IFV industry. It's because there are many companies vying for contracts so they have incentive to pay for their own R&D.

      Excellent comment.

  15. CNO ... you have successfully developed a healthy conversation above and looking over the myriad of comments, made me think. It is a tough problem, a very tough one. Long gone are the days when a Carrier Strike Group could sail into an AOR and almost immediately dominate it and launch strikes at will. Problem is, most of the people making CONOPs an investement decisions are not of the mindset of what an Air Wing should be; long range air superiority. The other problem is that without an air wing that can provide strike mission after strike mission, by reloading airborne assets; ships and subs have a finite amount of land attack / ASuW weapons and CAN NOT reload at sea. So, you surface / sub surface fleet may pave the way in the early stages, but the enduring fight, will be carried out by the air wing. If all you have is long range fighters, not much they are going to do when the shooters are Winchester ... Tough problem.

    1. Factor this thought into your thinking ... Historically, war is not continuous. It ebbs and flows from one major engagement to the next with significant lulls in between. War at sea, even more so. Task forces sortie, conduct a single mission, and return to base.

      Thus, the perceived "limitation" of lack of reload-at-sea-capability is not really much of a practical limitation. A naval force is not going to stand in one area and fire off missiles 24/7 for months on end. So too, with aircraft from carriers. The carrier will execute a mission for a relatively brief period and then return to port.

      So, the fact that an air wing can't provide strike after strike on an unending basis is not really that much of a practical drawback.

      Consider the history of WWII naval operations. It was vanishingly rare for a naval force to fight more than a single engagement without returning to port. There is no reason to believe we would conduct operations much differently today.

      Finally, even if we had some magic way to instantaneously reload every weapon and aircraft on an unending basis, we'd deplete our national inventory of weapons in a week!

  16. Fair points CNO ... But WWII was based more on Amphibious landings. How many did we conduct in the Gulf War? Maybe one ... Not trying counter point everything you say, you make good points. What I am trying to say is, Carrier Air Wings are based around the Strike Mission. Fighter support to other assets contributing to the Strike mission is important, but the notion of a pure fighter with no strike capability does not float in todays CONOPS and will not float in tomorrows. Designing a dual mission mult-role A/C is not the problem, we know how to do that, if decision makers wanted to do it faster they could. The problem lies, as you properly call out, is with being unrealistic and wanting every bell and whistle known to mankind included on each aircraft. Define a baseline of reqs, stick to it best you can, do not try to mature new technology just in time for A/C delivery and things will be much better. Tough problem, but could be managed with fiscal restraint and reasonable expectations. We are our own worst enemy ...

    1. "WWII was based more on Amphibious landings"

      Actually, I wasn't really even considering the sporadic nature of the amphibious landings in the Pacific. I was considering the overall naval campaigns (Midway, Coral Sea, Leyte, etc.) and the land war in Europe. Even on land, with armies in "continuous contact" with each other, there would be extended periods of maneuver, resupply, recon, etc. culminating in a battle for a city or strategic location followed by a repeat of the cycle. Ebbs and flows.

    2. Regarding strike versus fighter, the notion that any strike aircraft can successfully go up against a modern, peer, enemy and penetrate many hundreds to thousands of miles, evade all the sensors and weapons, dodge all manner of surface to air missiles, hit a defended target, and then successfully return through the same gauntlet of defenses is just suicidal. We have an alternative - cruise missiles. As I've stated, the modern role of the carrier is to escort the cruise missile shooting ships and support various operations by establishing local air superiority.

      If you believe otherwise, then you have a different view of how to conduct a war. If you've carefully thought through how to do that and still see a need for manned strike aircraft then you're welcome to your opinion. I know I wouldn't want to be the one to tell the pilots what kind of mission they would face!

  17. Good report on why aircraft development and procurement programs fail or succeed.
    The author analyzes both bad and good programs and what makes them different.

    Randall Rapp

    1. Thanks for the link. I just skimmed the report but my initial reaction is that it is methodologically flawed, filled with pre-conceptions, and borders on useless.

      For example, it does not consider success/failure factors such as concurrency, size of program, degree of technological risk (though it does address evolutionary versus revolutionary), linkage to CONOPS, software complexity, etc. - all factors that I consider at least equal to or greater than the factors that the author identified.

      I assume you read the report. What do you think?