ComNavOps so often hears comments to the effect that we can’t consider new weapons because it would take many years to produce a product and we’ve already spent too much time on the current version, however flawed, to start over.
Nothing could be further from the truth. This kind of thinking is the result of having witnessed so many horribly mismanaged programs that we’ve come to believe that it’s normal.
The F-35 is the poster child for mismanaged programs. Consider these time frames.
RFP (Request for Proposal) 1996
Contract Award 2001
First Flight 2006
Squadron Service pending
That’s 10 years from RFP to first flight and 5 years from contract to first flight. We’re still waiting, 20 years later for IOC (neglecting the Marines publicity stunt declaration of IOC) and it’s going to be a few more years before the Navy achieves IOC, yet.
By comparison, the F-14 Tomcat went from RFP to first flight in 2 years and IOC in 5 years, as shown below.
RFP (Request for Proposal) 1968
Contract Award 1969
First Flight 1970
Squadron Service 1974
We can build a first rate aircraft in 5 years if we follow basic, common sense rules:
- No use of non-existent technology
- No change orders
- No initiation of production without full design documents
- No concurrency
If we do that, there’s no reason we can’t build a very good aircraft in 5 years, from start to full rate production. If we can’t do that and we feel we have to change things as we go then we clearly didn’t know what we wanted in the first place.
Hand in hand with being able to build an aircraft in 5 years has to go penalties for failing to do so. Here’s what needs to happen.
- Program managers must be assigned for the full 5 years to ensure accountability.
- Programs must be terminated after exactly 5 years if they have not reached full production. No exceptions. No extensions. On the day after the 5 year anniversary, the program is automatically terminated regardless of how close the program managers claim it is (programs are always on the verge of completion – just ask the LCS or F-35).
- Production can only start with DOT&E’s approval. This will prevent stunts like the Marine’s IOC for the F-35 even though the aircraft is in no way combat ready.
- If a program is terminated, the program managers must all be terminated from service and employment. The only exception is if the program managers themselves recommend early program termination prior to the start of the 4th year. If you don’t know within 3 years whether the program is viable then you shouldn’t be a program manager.
- Successful program managers should receive major financial rewards.
The preceding must be Congressionally mandated – it must be law.
There you have it. That’s how to prevent LCS/Ford/F-35 program failures and ensure timely introductions of new platforms. If we can’t produce a new platform in 5 years then we didn’t really know what we wanted in the first place.
It’s a simple system. Most great ideas are.