Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Pencil Whipped

You’ve all heard about the Marine’s recent operational assessment of the F-35B, the results of which formed the basis for the Commandant’s recommendation to declare Initial Operating Capability (IOC) for the aircraft.  You’ve also heard, here and elsewhere, that the assessment was barely able to achieve 50% aircraft availability.  What you haven’t heard is the rest of the story.  It’s far, far worse.

You’ll recall that the Michael Gilmore, DOT&E, the Pentagon’s weapon tester, wrote a memo describing the assessment in which he noted the lack of aircraft availability.  You can follow the link at the bottom of the post to see the actual memo (1).

Note:  Thanks to reader AltandMain for the link.

Let’s look a bit closer at what else was in the memo.

For starters, despite the Marines calling it an operational test (Operational Test One was the Marine’s title), Gilmore points out that it was not an operational test.  He presents a long list of reasons why it was not a valid operational test in any sense of the word (his assessment, not mine).  Let me sum up his reasons by saying that it’s clear that the aircraft involved in the test were not operationally representative nor were the conditions surrounding the test.  You can read the particulars yourself.

The memo documents in great detail, on a day by day, mission by mission, and aircraft by aircraft basis the availability issues that plagued the exercise.  What has not been reported but is documented in the memo are the additional factors that in a real world operation would have made the availabilities even worse.  Because the assessment was not an operationally realistic one, many of the aircraft systems that were or became inoperable were ignored.  In an actual operational setting their failures would have resulted in additional “downs”.

Of the six initial aircraft for the test, one had to be replaced part way through due to a fuel system maintenance issue that could not be fixed.  Again, in an actual operation, that aircraft would have been permanently unavailable (or, at least unavailable for an extended period).  Instead, the aircraft was replaced with a fresh one – certainly a distortion of the availability data!

Here is a summary of the daily aircraft operations and availabilities.  The memo describes the operations and specific availabilities in complete detail.  Again, follow the link to read the details.  Remember, there are 6 aircraft that should be fully mission capable each day.

May 18 – fly aboard six aircraft;  1 Not Mission Capable (NMC)
May 19 – daytime carrier qualifications;  1 NMC
May 20 – day/night carrier qualifications;  3 NMC
May 21 – day/night carrier qualifications;  4 NMC, 1 Partial Mission Capable (PMC)
May 22 – day/night carrier qualifications and misc training;  4 NMc, 1 PMC
May 23 – tactical training;  3 NMC
May 24 – tactical training;  4 NMC, 1 PMC
May 25 – tactical training;  2 NMC, 1 PMC
May 26 – media demo and replacement aircraft swap;  4 NMC, 1 PMC
May 27 – tactical training;  2 NMC

As you can see, the availabilities were poor and would have been poorer if many of the system failures hadn’t been ignored.  The stated 50% availability would have been on the order of 20% if this had been a real operation or real operational assessment.  Only one aircraft managed to fly each day throughout the exercise.  This is grim – all the more so for aircraft that were undoubtedly carefully selected for good performance and tweaked prior to the assessment.  Even this summary, grim as it is, does not convey all the failures.  Some aircraft were unavailable for scheduled missions but were eventually fixed in time to be counted mission capable by the end of the day.  Again, worse than presented.

Beyond availability, there were other problems, some not previously reported.

The flight mission data from the cockpit multi-function displays (MFD) and helmet mounted displays (HMD) were found to require large amounts of time to download.  The MFDs required 1 hour of download per hour of recording while the HMD required 4 hours of download per hour of recording.  It was noted that those kinds of time frames would adversely affect mission sortie rates.  I have no idea what the technical issue is but in the commercial world we can transfer gigabytes of data in moments.  This kind of problem seems incomprehensible.

Communications were also an issue.  Link 16 comms to the carrier were generally unworkable with the F-35 and carrier unable to send or receive target tracks.  Comms between aircraft were occasionally troublesome, also.  The memo notes that comms were not the focus of the exercise and the pilots did not write up the problems for maintenance – another example of potential aircraft “downs” that were not taken into account.

Radar and Electro-Optical systems were generally considered positive despite minor problems that should not be present after two decades of development and impending IOC.

Numerous problems were noted relating to the Autonomic Logistic Information System (ALIS).  Workarounds had to be deployed to transfer maintenance data.  Data files were found to be missing, corrupted, or incorrect.

Many more problems were cited in the memo although, to be fair, many were of the “to be expected” variety resulting from first time operations at sea.

Remember that this demonstration was carried out with extensive contractor support and ready access to shore based spares and equipment - conditions that would not be present in either a real operation or a real operational assessment.  Again, the availabilities would have been even worse without these aids.

Overall, the memo paints a far more serious and damning picture of the F-35’s readiness for operations than the Navy led us to believe.  Frankly, it’s baffling that the Marines would conclude that this was in any way a successful demonstration of the F-35’s readiness for IOC.  Calling this a successful demonstration is pencil whipping of the highest order!

So, if the demonstration wasn’t a valid operational assessment and the aircraft resoundingly failed from an availability perspective, what was the purpose of the "test"?  It’s pretty clear that it was intended as a media justification for declaring IOC regardless of the outcome.  Since it was not a valid test, nor even a DOT&E sanctioned test, there were no criteria and, thus, no possibility of failure.  The demonstration was just an exercise in justifying a predetermined decision to declare IOC.  My last shreds of respect for the Marine Corps as an institution are flying out the window.  We all had high hopes for the new Commandant but those hopes have been crushed with this demonstration.  Very disappointing.

[Update:  I see that the excellent Snafu website has a similar post up.  Rest assured that this is just coincidence and/or great minds thinking alike!  Go here to see his article:  Snafu]


  1. This is infuriating. I don't see how this can be viewed in any other way except thta they (The Corps and LockMart) are lying.

    I'm not virulently anti-F-35. I think a rational, professional force could take its strengths and weaknesses and make a useful jet out of it; as we have in the past. Its biggest killer to me is the cost and the support costs. Still, given its range and stealth I was edging towards 'Lets just finish this and get some new jets to the fleet'.

    But this program is now so mired in misinformation that I honestly don't think we can trust anyone involved to give us the straight dope. And that makes me mistrust the whole damned thing.

    What makes me really angry is that way back when I had family in the Corps. It was hammered into them to tell the truth! Lying to a superior could get them in major trouble. But now the Corps seems to have no problems lying to Congress.

    I've been told that if we cancel this thing LockMart gets $10 Billion. At this point, given all the misinformation like this (50% availability!) out there I say we sue for breach.

    I read something on Foxtrot Alpha yesterday:

    " has been eight years, eight months, and 30 days since the F-35A’s first flight.

    It has been 15 years, five months, and 21 days since the X-35 first flew.

    It took 7 years, 1 months, and 25 days from Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon to landing on it. How much more time (and money) does the F-35 get?"

    It seems the Lightning II has become the poster child for the MIC Ike warned us about.

  2. Looks like it is gonna take another recording like with the V-22 to get the Brass to take off the blinders on this A/C.

    Where has my Corps gone? We are looking the Air Force!!!!

    1. The Corps has always been the moral compass of the military and it's sad to see that being lost.

  3. I'm only surprised that anyone else was surprised that IOC was pencil whipped. Everyone should have know that it was a PR stunt and that the aircraft is far from usable in any real conflict. The question should be, Should the OT&E community declare IOC rather than the service? After this charade maybe it will be time to reconsider who declares IOC?

    1. Weaponhead, I don't recognize your name so welcome! That's a very good suggestion. It's clear the services have agendas other than operational fitness so having an outside party control IOC is a great idea.

      Good comment.

  4. Good comment, especially as Congress is considering removing procurement authority/oversight from the Office of the SecDef and giving it back to the Services.

    Although the current system is broke, turning it back over to the foxes is not a good idea.

    1. I agree. You're right. As bad as the current system is, it could be much worse and this is how.

      Good comment.

    2. Not sure exactly what you mean; "procurement authority" rests with Congress!

      Not all "oversight" is beneficial! There are many people who believe that the current procurement system is needlessly complex, and the army of DOD bureaucrats are exactly the people that muddled the specifications that led to the LCS and the F-35 in the first place. Friedman explains the LCS fiasco and the pentagon role in screwing things up in his book on destroyers.

      I have no problem with giving increased authority to the program office provided that DOD (and Congress) actually holds their feet to the fire for bad decisions and results.

      I do think the idea of DOT&E calling BS on testing and certification is a good thing.


    3. Sen. McCain is spearheading a proposal to transfer milestone decision authority from the centralized Pentagon acquisition to the specific services. It's not, of course, authority over actual spending which is Congress' domain. Further, McCain is seeking to make service chiefs fiscally responsible for their acquisition programs with financial penalties imposed on the service for cost overruns. I've not yet seen details so I know only these broad concepts.

      Giving milestone decision authority to the service chiefs would only exacerbate an already disastrous process. The services do everything they can to sidestep testing and granting them milestone decision authority would just make the situation many times worse.

      I'd like to see all acquisition and procurement decision authority reside with DOT&E. Not an ideal solution but far better than what we have now.

  5. CNO,

    We have to agree to disagree here: I see the logic of your proposal, but cannot abide by the massive amount increase in bureaucracy that it will create within the pentagon. The services will of course maintain the equivalent of their program offices, effectively doubling the acquisition work force size.

    Perhaps the solution is to get the service out of the technology development business – the key point is to shift the services back to focusing their force structure buys on weapons systems that *can be built* as opposed to fantasy systems that *might be possible*.

    Put the mid/long-range tech development responsibility under USD(AT&L) and thus limit the service program offices to actually buying weapons systems with technology that is ready for LRIP within "a few years" (you pick the time). This is where the services are best.

    This system would have some fudge factor, but again, the main point is to force the uniformed military to focus on immediate requirement driven engineering solutions instead of theoretical science.


    1. If we shifted acquisition authority to DOT&E, we would, of course, have to eliminate all like programs and personnel existing elsewhere to avoid exactly the duplication you mention. The service's program offices would have to be eliminated.

      Having said that, I'm open to alternatives such as you describe. How would "force" the services to stick to realistic acquisitions? The milestone decisions are becoming steadily more imaginary and the services are playing ever more games with the acquisition rules. For example, the Navy has set up a multi-year buy for the Flt III Burkes. As you know, multi-year buys are, by law, restricted to proven technology. Despite this, the Navy is using the MYB to acquire a non-existent AMDR on a completely redesigned ship - a blatant violation of both the letter and spirit of the law. So, how do you "force" the services to act rationally? The only answer I see is to remove the decision making authority from them altogether. If you can come up with a solution, I'm open to it.

      Regarding service programs (I'm assuming your talking about PEO's here), I'd essentially eliminate them. They're set up to manage new technology. If we restrict acquisitions to existing or very near term technology then we don't need PEOs.

      Further thoughts?

    2. CNO,

      I believe firmly in clear lines of authority and responsibility; transferring the statutory authority of the Armed Services for equipping the force to the SECDEF is window dressing – it does not solve the problem, it just muddles the issue.

      The gorilla in the room is oversight; if we really had it, the SECDEF would have relieve multiple service chiefs and POs for cause and the endless stream of failed/overpriced weapon systems would have ended decades ago. Real oversight means Congress also would have exercised authority and impeached SECDEFs, Service Secretaries, Service Chiefs, directed federal law enforcement to prosecute contractors, as well as outright cancelling weapon systems. Make no doubt; oversight is very much a kabuki dance.

      Given the lack of real oversight at so many levels, I have little faith that shifting all acquisition decisions and procurement management to OSD will solve anything; in fact I think:

      1. It will add a layer of bureaucracy to the specification process meaning that designs will be even less based upon actual service needs.

      2. That layer of bureaucracy will be executed minions in OSD with even less understanding of service requirements than the current crop of PEOs.

      3. The new bureaucrats will developed the same cozy relationships with the defense contractors as the current PEOs.

      4. Because most of the total cost of a weapon system occurs after it is purchased the services will have to remain robust Program Offices for spare parts and training - unless you want to transfer all acquisition authority to OSD for the life of every major program of record.

      5. The Service Chiefs are even less likely to call out someone who works directly for the SECDEF effectively gagging any reporting on poor weapon system performance (not that they do it now.

      I just do not see the problem being solved by moving things around and not holding people accountable.

      If anything, I am more incline to take a hatchet to OSD and prune a lot of Defense agencies and activities like DFAS and JIDA (formerly JIEDDO).


    3. While I agree that holding people accountable is the ideal goal, the services are too far gone to accomplish that without a giant push from outside. I have spoken with WAY too many Colonels and Generals that just do not get how to intelligently (fiscally, technologically, and operationally effective) develop and acquire systems.

      My point was it is a mistake to give more authority to the foxes that are running the hen-house.

      Like you, I would love it if the SecDef or Service Secretaries would start relieving some folks for incompetence, but since that is not happening do not turn over the keys to the inmates.

      Sen McCain talks a good story about some of these things but has not been able to deliver at all on any topic. The RMS is still funded, along with the F-35, so even he cannot change the system.

    4. Anon,

      You have described a leadership problem that is not unique to acquisition, but all aspects of the military including combat leadership

      The solution to leadership problems is to correct the problem *on the spot* with those that are willing and capable of learning, and to relieve for cause (fire) those leaders that are unwilling or incapable of executing their responsibilities.

      The right answer is not to tolerate leadership lapses; pushing the problem to another level of organization bureaucrats that are totally divorced from the operational requirements, and impact of decisions they make is *not acceptable.*

      The take it out of their hands solution is not simply an admission of defeat, it bucks the real problem and worse raises the specter of what we will do with leaders that fail in combat.

      I remind fellow reformers that the Navy and Army commanders at Pearl Harbor were fired; the Army and National Guard fired over 800 officers and NCOs for incompetence, cowardice, or other deficiencies in the first week of the Normandy campaign.

      If we as a nation lack the collective guts to do what is right with acquisitions, we certainly lack the guts to fix the inevitable human failures that will occur in combat.

      If we are truly at that point then we might as well defund the entire DOD as it is pointless to appropriate funds for an organization that has completely collapsed.

      I remain hopeful and believe that what is needed is appropriate use of 10" inches of boot...


    5. GAB, you make a compelling argument. The question is who is going to apply the discipline? It clearly won't come from within the services. Congress shows no signs of exercising any oversight. The political administration is doing nothing. Where do you see this boot coming from?

    6. CNO,

      Like so many issues, John Q Public has to get off the couch and demand that Congress do the right thing.

      Officers, NCOs and civil servants must also do their part.


  6. SNAFU used to be an F35 fanatic back then.. something changed him

  7. Now you see, if only ALIS had been working she could have told you ahead of time that you would be 5 out of 6 ships down for the war on Tuesday !

  8. Yep, that is why I showed it to you.

    Attention needed to be brought to the magnitude of what is happening. I'd love to see if the "C" Variant is having similar issues, and the "A" variant as well.

    To think that this will be the main fighter of the USAF, USN, and USMC is alarming, to say the least.

    1. The chasm between the objective reality and the claims is very worrisome.
      The idea that if we cancel it we pay LockMart $10 billion is worrisome.
      The idea that if we cancel it we the next replacement project is any better seems like fantasy at this point, and that's worrisome.

      I think some (Myself included at one point) think we could cancel the F-35 and a new fighter that is useful would rise from the ashes quickly like the Tomcat did from the F-111.

      But there just aren't that many vendors out there and neither the Navy nor the vendors seem all that interested in just making a good, serviceable plane.

  9. "... neither the Navy nor the vendors seem all that interested in just making a good, serviceable plane."

    Jim, this is a mistaken belief that's out there, that it's somehow up to the vendors to make a good pland/ship. IT'S NOT! Vendor's are responsible for nothing more than filling a product order with acceptable quality workmanship. It's the responsibility of the military to design the product. The vendors will be equally happy welding wings on wagons if they're paid for it as building the most advanced ship/plane the world has ever seen.

    The irony, here, is that there would probably be just as much money to be made from a more basic design as an advanced one because we'd by more of them.

    1. I know that it's unpopular to suggest this, particularly in the US, but I have increasingly come to the conclusion that it may be best to nationalize defense.

      Another option is to make the state the largest shareholder or at least a key shareholder of the industries.

      These ideas may not be as radical as they seem. France for example has significant stakes in many of its key corporations. Not saying it would solve every issue, but I think it's better than what we have.

    2. I know that's not a popular suggestion in "capitalistic" America (versus a more "Social Democratic France"), but it would be a logical extension to BuShips - actually overseeing the entire process.

      I think given the direction the private industry has gone, it's worth a shot at least.

    3. I don't know. I think alot of the issues we run into isn't a lack of integration between government and private industries: It's that the private industries spend a ton of money and influence on government. Senators and Admirals get buddy buddy with the manufacturers. Make them part of the government and that may just exacerbate the problem.

      My feeling is that unlike the 60's where we had Lockheed, Vought, MD; Boeing; etc. we now have Lockmart/Northrup Grumman/Boeing.

      And these companies don't seem to compete on product, they compete for influence in government.

    4. CNO: Maybe I misunderstood the process. I always thought that for aircraft it was the military that gave the desired capabilities, and then the RFP. The vendors then competed to fill it (and in the past did so with alot less lobbyists and alot more product). I.E. as far as I know the Tomcat wasn't designed by the Navy. The U2 was done by Kelly Johnson and the boys at the Skunk Works, not the air force. Hence the reason we have a bunch of aircraft that never made it (The Crusader III; the F-5; the Super A7...)

    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

    6. The reason why Senators and Admirals get close is because they have the profit motive. They want cushy jobs after retirement. Banning that would be a huge part of it.

      But the reason why the defense industry has a motive to build such ties is because of profit.

      A state owned company, operating at just breakeven would have far less incentive to sell subpar products like the LCS, this F-35, and similar projects.

      It's not perfect, but it's a potential step up. I'd argue the defense death spiral was already happening by the time Johnson was around. He did however, help delay it.

    7. Something has to be done.But I don't think there is any really good way at present. I'm not against a profit motive. Toyota has a profit motive; they make fine products. What they don't have is the incestuous relationship with government. There are perils either way.

      I personally could go for a situation where you ban the admiral/etc. from working for the contractors. They want to be a greeter at Wal Mart; knock yourself out sir. You want to work for General Dynamics? You'll be in jail if we find their checks in your coffer.

      That does stand to lose a ton of experience when these guys retire. There's also the constant monitoring to see what other ways influence might be gained. And what do you do about a company that distributes manufacturing so as to touch as many congressional districts as possible (LockMart...)

      The nationalizing risk is there too. I don't care what party is in control, I don't think that our government, in its current state, can handle anything efficiently. Particularly manufacturing. I work in healthcare. Whatever you think of the ACA, it isn't efficient. And when costs savings do come they are often in the most ham fisted manner.

      Sure, you get rid of the 'profit motive'. But inefficiencies will sneak in. And that entire industry and all of its employees will now become a part of government. They will work to influence the government from the inside *and* the outside. Unions will be electing those who make management decisions. All those companies, and their pensions, etc. will now be on the federal bankroll.

      I can see anything gained by the nationalization being taken away by government inefficiency, graft, and overhead.

      Just my $0.02

    8. The way the Japanese run their companies is quite different than the way Western companies do I'm afraid so a direct comparison there might not be good.

      I'm not sure admirals or high ranking generals not going to Lockheed, Boeing, etc are the huge issue.

      What they need are:
      - Lots of good engineers and floor employees
      - Feedback from the people actually using the equipment on what's wrong with their ships so that they can improve

      Having worked for GM here in Canada, there are upsides and downsides. Workers are a bit more aggressive knowing the union will protect them, but at the same time, it also prevents the worst abuses from management.

      I'll note that the automotive industry, despite (or I might argue even because in part of the unions) in Germany have remained successful. All of the Japanese automakers in Japan actually have unions too.

      I don't think we'll find a system that solves the flaws of human nature. But we might find a least bad system.

      As I said, it's not as radical as it seems. Many of the European nations have stakes in EADS and Russia has United Aircraft Corporation. Not saying those are perfect, but it seems like an upgrade over Lockheed right now.


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