It’s human nature to begin to take things for granted after a period of time. For example, without the occasional Hitler or Stalin we forget how precious our freedom is and why it’s worth fighting for. I think we may be seeing this phenomenon play out with the JSF (F-35) program. Once upon a time, we understood that a successful acquisition program requires clearly defined and reasonably limited design criteria, the demonstration of any new technology prior to committing to construction, and the strictest management attention possible. As time passed, however, we forgot those lessons. The LCS, LPD-17, F-35B/C, Ford, etc. acquisition programs have become testaments to how not to run a program and that’s just from the Navy side. The JSF, itself, is the biggest example of a failed program. There is nothing about this program that has been executed properly.
The greatest value of the JSF program may be that it is going to leave an indelible stamp on the military mindset regarding the management of acquisition programs. The almost unimaginable amounts of money being poured into this program, the almost inconceivable delays, the dozens of other acquisition programs that are being sacrificed to pay for JSF, and the inexcusable mismanagement are hammering home lessons once learned and now forgotten in an exceedingly painful fashion. Hopefully, this is producing an ingrained cultural reaction that will shape future programs for the better.
Consider how the
war produced a generation of culturally ingrained commanders who took those lessons, hammered into their military souls, and produced Desert Storm as a result. It took a debacle to produce a stunning success. Viet Nam
If future acquisition designers and managers approach the next major program with a “never again” attitude, the JSF may yet wind up serving a useful purpose. If the JSF accomplishes no more than that, perhaps it will have been worth the buckets of wasted money.