Saturday, August 20, 2016

Incapable of Learning

The Navy appears utterly incapable of learning.  What lessons have we documented on this blog that have simply and thoroughly smacked the Navy in the face?  How about this one, in particular,

Don’t try to combine disparate functions into a single platform.  That just leads to a platform that can’t do any of the functions well, costs a fortune to develop due to trying to reconcile contradictory requirements, and delivers years late for the same reasons.


So, what is the Navy trying to do now?  That’s right, they’re trying to combine intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) with tanking in the upcoming MQ-25 Stingray unmanned tanker.  From a USNI News article (1) we see that the Navy dimly recognizes the problem and the inherent design conflict.

“The problem that industry and the service are dealing with is the ISR and the tanking mission inherently requires two very different types of aircraft shapes or planforms, Shoemaker [Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker] said.

A primarily ISR UAV would be a high-endurance platform “probably not carry a lot of fuel, have a large wingspan,” to be an efficient platform, Shoemaker said.

For example, the highflying Northrop Grumman MQ-4C Triton UAV is built with a 131 foot wingspan and can fly unrefueled for up to 30 hours.

“If you’re going to be a tanker at range, you’re obliviously going to have to be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform. That drives the different design for those two,” he said.”

Okay, so the Navy sees the problem. It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine three radically different aircraft into a single F-35 and wound up with a gagstaggeringly (you like that word?) expensive aircraft that has only 20% commonality and isn’t optimized for any of the individual roles.  It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine strike and fighter into a single F-18 Hornet and got an aircraft that was good at neither.  It’s the same problem they had when they tried to combine three completely different functions into a single LCS and wound up with a toothless waste of a ship class that has yet to put to sea with any meaningful capability.  And so on.

Having had these lessons stomphammered (I’m writing my own dictionary) home, what does the Navy decide to do about attempting to reconcile irreconcilable functions on a single platform?  Do they heed the lessons?  Do they do the smart thing?  Do they demonstrate that they’re capable of learning?  No, as evidenced by this,

”So the industry is working on an analysis of where that sweet spot is to do both of those missions.”

Sweet spot?  There is no sweet spot!  You’re combining ketchup and ice cream and thinking you’ll find the right mix that will taste good.  It’ll suck!

Since the Navy is too stupid to learn a lesson, here is the proper approach.

Build a single function, stripped down, dumb as dirt, basic as you can get, tanker.  It doesn’t need any military capability whatsoever.  It’s a flying gas station.  Keep It Simple, Stupid (KISS).  Build these for next to nothing.

Build a dedicated ISR aircraft that does one thing only and does it exceedingly well.  Add no function that does not support ISR and keep it cheap.  When combat starts, these things will get shot down like Junior guys asking Senior girls to the prom so make them cheap enough to be readily expendable.

This is just simple common sense.  Don’t build a Formula 1 racer with a  pickup bed so that it can haul cargo when it isn’t racing.  It won’t do either job very well.  There’s a reason why we build separate race cars and pickup trucks.

The Navy’s ability to shrug off lessons and learn nothing never ceases to stunfound (I’m on a roll) me and this is just the latest example.  How the single digit morons running the Navy manage to get dressed in the morning is nothing short of a miracle – but I guess that’s what Admiral’s aides are for.


(1)USNI News website, “Navy, Industry Looking for Design ‘Sweet Spot’ for MQ-25A Stingray”, Sam LaGrone, August 18, 2016,


  1. CNOps, in general you are entirely right when you demand" Don’t try to combine disparate functions into a single platform".

    Im specific cases, it's not so simple. Going back to WWII for examples, as you wisely often do, it's not difficult to remember an aircraft that was designed as a high-speed medium night bomber, which it did very well, and also turned out to be an excellent high-altitude photoreconnaisance aircraft, low-level precision daytime bomber, general-purpose fighter-bomber, night interceptor fighter and intruder, land-based maritime strike aircraft, carrier-based torpedo bomber, and high-speed high-value transport.

    Point is, though, that the de Havilland Mosquito was never designed to accomplish all these goals at once. Rather, when the designers had come up with a superlative airframe combined with exceptionally powerful engines, it turned out that the original design could be adapted for a wide range of other functions.

    Now, all that the USN/USAF have to do is provide an equally exceptional combination of airframe and engines ,,,

    1. Stephen, you're missing two key points:

      1. There's nothing wrong with a platform acquiring a secondary function, if it can do it reasonably well. One of the best WWII examples is the P-47 Thunderbolt which was designed as a heavy duty, powerful, high altitude, air to air fighter. As it turned out, those same characteristics also made it a good low level, strafer and ground attack aircraft. But, and this is the key but, it was designed for a single purpose. That it could take on another role was fortuitous but unintended. I'm all for that. A more modern example was the F-14 which was a superlative fleet interceptor but became (for a short period) a very good attack aircraft in the form of the Bombcat.

      2. Secondary roles are fine if they're not challenging or challenged. The Mosquito was a poor performer at any combat role compared to the newer, purpose built aircraft. As a backup, operate around the margins, be supportive, aircraft, mediocre performance is fine because it doesn't matter. However, to be the main platform for a given role, if it isn't the best, it's shot down. Mosquitos versus Japanese Zeros or German Me-109/FW's would have been a grossly one-sided failure, for example. As a bomber, the Mosquito was slow, short ranged (if I recall correctly?), and had a small bomb load compared to any purpose built bomber. And so on. The Mosquito was not a superlative airframe. It was a substandard airframe for any given task.

    2. I believe your mistaking the Mosquito for another aircraft, as it was quite the machine, with exceptional performance characteristics for its era.

      That being said, most aircraft designed for that role, (heavy fighter, medium bomber) failed at the original purpose they were designed for. Having built substantial of said "failures", new purposes were found for them, such as night fighter and CAS (close air support) where they found limited success.

      German bombers were designed to perform level bombing, CAS, and naval strikes. The end result, they could not do any task well because of multiple requirements which in turn required sacrifices to performance and payload to meet them.

    3. Andrew, setting aside the Mosquito, do you have any thoughts to offer regarding the main premise?

    4. CNOps, with respect, I don't follow your argument.

      My suggestion was that there are cases, for example the Mosquito, of an aircraft designed for one function doing it very well and also turning out to be very good at a range of other different functions. That is the opposite of an aircraft designed for several functions and doing all of them well.

      You reply: the Thunderbolt was designed as a high-altitude air-to-air fighter, did that well, and turned out to be also a very good low-level ground attack aircraft. Surely that reinforces my original point?

      And I agree with Andrew about your mischaracterisation of the Mosquito. You say it was a poor performer compared to later aircraft: of what aircraft is that not true? You say it was slow and short-ranged: it was faster than any contemporary non-jet bomber, and was used to bomb Berlin which is not exactly next door. And you say it had a small bomb load: compared to purpose-built four-engined heavy bombers that is of course true, but it was purpose-built as a medium bomber (before it was converted to many other uses). You wouldn't complain that a WWII cruiser had less firepower than a battleship.

      That aside, I would be really interested to know if anyone can come up with examples of ships or aircraft that were designed from the first to do several things, and did all of them well. You obviously believe there aren't any, and I suspect you may be right.

    5. I'm not going to go too much farther with this line. Did you read and understand the original post? The premise was that a platform designed for more than one function is, inevitably, a compromise that results in it being unable to perform any of its intended functions well.

      The Mosquito was designed for one purpose. That it may have been able to do others (it was marginal or else it would have been the preeminent front line fighter and bomber of the war) does not invalidate the premise.

      So, do have any thoughts relevant to the main premise? The Mosquito is irrelevant since it was not designed for multiple roles - those happened after the fact.

    6. Stephen, the Mosquito was first built and designed as a meduim bomber. The fact it could do other tasks well, was a great design that was adaptable.

      However, CNO is talking about multirole platforms designed from the start to be multirole, not platforms design for one task then adapted for another.

      History has shown multirole platforms design as multirole from the start to be medicore at best, when compared to purpose built platforms. Cost and logistics are the main advantages of multirole, but thats really it.

    7. CNO, we should build purpose built platforms for single or similar roles. After that, we can evaluate them for adaptation to fit other roles, if their performance is similar to what is needed to meet them.

    8. Your original premise: aircraft designed to do many things end up doing none of them well. I don't see why you can't understand I'm agreeing with you there.

      My qualification: aircraft designed to do one thing very well sometimes (not of course always) end up doing more than one thing very well. My example: Mosquito. Andrew agrees. I can't see why you don't accept that you also agree re the Thunderbolt.

      My conclusion: never go for a multifunctional design as a primary objective, but accept that very successful multifunctional capacities may emerge from an initially single-purpose design.

      Your response, which I find very hard to understand, is that since the Mosquito, which did many things very well, did not do absolutely all possible roles very well - I quite agree it was not a heavy bomber or a daytime fighter, and you might well say that as a transport aircraft it was very limited - it doesn't count as an example of a successful multirole aircraft.

      Please understand that I'm not at all arguing that deliberately designed multirole aircraft, or ships, have been successful. Just that successful multirole aircraft have in fact happened.

      If you can't understand that, I don't want to go much further with this, either.

    9. "However, CNO is talking about multirole platforms designed from the start to be multirole, not platforms design for one task then adapted for another."

      Thank you! That's exactly right.

    10. "CNO, we should build purpose built platforms for single or similar roles. After that, we can evaluate them for adaptation to fit other roles, if their performance is similar to what is needed to meet them."

      The next part of the story is that multi-role does not work for combat. A purpose built fighter will consistently beat a multi-role aircraft because it is exquisitely optimized for just one thing - air to air combat. Thus, the F-22 will beat a Hornet, no great surprise. It is folly to intentionally design a multi-role aircraft and think it will beat a purpose designed fighter or think it will successfully penetrate and strike and survive.

      Non-combat roles don't require exquisite performance because there is no penalty for a degree of inefficiency.

    11. "However, CNO is talking about multirole platforms designed from the start to be multirole, not platforms design for one task then adapted for another."

      Thank you! That's exactly the distinction I have been making from the start. However, CNO has argued that since multirole platforms designed as such from the start don't work (not in dispute) aircraft that turned out to be very good multirole platforms - though not all-possible-role platforms - cannot have existed.

      I can't agree, but I don't think it's worth my presenting any further facts.

      I would of course agree that for some vital specialist tasks like air-to-air combat, specialisation is essential, though I don't think that is what the original post was about.

      I would also agree that if someone had set out to design a multi-role high-altitude photoreconnaisance/low-altitude fighter-bomber/long-range fast medium bomber/night interceptor/anti-cruise-missile/carrier-borne torpedo-bomber aircraft, it would in all probability have been a complete pig's breakfast. So far, we are entirely in agreement.

  2. A common sense, interim solution to the problem hides in plain view. Stop the bleeding. Do something against the grain that you know will work.
    That is institutionally impossible however.

  3. What's wrong with the Hornet as a strike aircraft or as a fighter? It seems to handle both jobs pretty well.

    1. In A2A, it's a poor match for a MiG-29, Su-27, any of the Su-3X family, likely the J-20/31, any F-16 clone, etc.

      In the strike role, it's got very limited range, lacks internal integrated EW penetration aids, lacks internal integrated laser designator, lacks internal integrated FLIR, is not optimized for all weather day/night attack, and has limited weapons capacity due to need for external pods and fuel tanks using up hardpoints.

    2. You're never going to take a navalized aircraft like the Hornet and get the same performance as a land-based fighter. You are correct that the Hornet is very dated at this point, but that's why it is being phased out for the F-35.

    3. "You're never going to take a navalized aircraft like the Hornet and get the same performance as a land-based fighter. You are correct that the Hornet is very dated at this point,"

      Did you get the point of the post, at all? The point was not whether the Hornet is a good or bad aircraft now. The point was not whether a naval fighter can be as good as a land based fighter (it can!). The point was not that the Hornet is now old.

      The point was that when we try to build a platform for more than one role we inevitably wind up with a platform that is compromised in each role and excels at nothing. The Hornet was never good as a fighter or strike. For low end, peacetime roles, that's fine. But, when high end combat comes "peacetime good" will not be anywhere near good enough.

    4. "You're never going to take a navalized aircraft like the Hornet and get the same performance as a land-based fighter. You are correct that the Hornet is very dated at this point, but that's why it is being phased out for the F-35."

      Do you have anything to offer relating to the main premise that the Navy is, once again, trying to combine irreconcilable functions in a single platform which, history tells us, will result in poor performance in either role, cost overruns, and schedule delays?

  4. Unless enlarged, Northrup Grumman's X-47B and General Atomic's Sea Avenger seem rather small to be useful as a tanker. The X-47B can carry 4,500 lbs of weapons and Predator C Avenger (the basis for the Sea Avenger) can carry 6,500 lbs.

    Why not build an unmanned version of the Super Hornet? It can carry far more fuel and weapons than the unmanned aircraft under consideration. Removing all of the pilot needed systems (e.g., ejection seat, environmental controls, etc.) might save a few bucks too.

    The Air Force has a long history of converting manned aircraft for use as aerial targets. And, some aircraft can even land themselves.

    1. Your comment is not without validity. So, why do you think the Navy is set on building an X-47-ish UAV?

    2. The obvious reason to build an X-47ish tanker is stealth, so it could operate with the stealthy F-35C. But, now the Navy seems to be making stealth less of a priority.

    3. Why not make an unmanned tanker version of the f-35? It should have the same radar visibility as f-35's and would be able to go anywhere the strike aircraft go.

    4. "The obvious reason to build an X-47ish tanker is stealth, so it could operate with the stealthy F-35C. But, now the Navy seems to be making stealth less of a priority."

      If stealth is less of a priority, then why is the Navy continuing on with a stealthy (semi-stealthy, actually, if that) design even if it can't carry as much fuel?

    5. "Why not make an unmanned tanker version of the f-35? It should have the same radar visibility as f-35's and would be able to go anywhere the strike aircraft go."

      Interesting. How much fuel do you think an F-35 could carry internally? Would it not be likely to use most of its internal fuel just getting to the F-35 deep penetration locations and then have little left for refueling?

      If the F-35 tanker uses external fuel tanks then it loses its stealth and becomes either an easy target or a liability, revealing the general location of other F-35s and operations.


    6. "If stealth is less of a priority, then why is the Navy continuing on with a stealthy (semi-stealthy, actually, if that) design even if it can't carry as much fuel?"

      I don't know why the Navy is continuing a stealthy design like the X-47B. But, if stealth is a requirement, the argument to bring back the S-3 just got weaker.

    7. My theory is that the tanker is not something the Navy really even wants. If it was, they would never have begun using fighter aircraft as tankers. What the Navy really wants is an unmanned aerial combat vehicle (the old UCAV) and they see a "tanker" as a way to get there without having to fight Congress. Viewed that way, the X-47 is a reasonable step on the path to a true UCAV and the fact that it might be a sub-par (or lousy) tanker is immaterial to the Navy.

      That's my theory. What do you think?

    8. Just evaluating the f-35 tanker you could change the following to increase the fuel capacity.

      -replace internal weapons bay
      -replace cockpit instruments, ejection seat and pilot support features
      - replace some sensors

      You could also change the engines to give up high end combat maneuverability for a engine that is ligher/smaller/more fuel efficient.

      Thinking optimistically maybe you could double or triple the fuel capacity and make the aircraft more fuel efficient. The F-35 tanker probably isn't that good of an idea.

    9. "The F-35 tanker probably isn't that good of an idea."

      Fair enough. So, what is? FYI, I've got a post coming on this exact topic and it has a completely different proposed solution.

    10. The F-35 is already close to its weight margins. The DOT&E reports say that they are barely meeting their weight goals, and that was with significant compromises to survivability.

      The PAO shutoff is a good example:

      There simply isn't much room in weight for additional fuel.

      Using the Hornet to refuel other Hornets is also going to limit the amount of fuel, because both aircraft are quite thirsty. I don't think that this will work better with F-35s.

    11. I can see two reasons for using fighters as tankers. First, the buddy stores system is easy to develop and field. Second, there are more fighters than any other type of aircraft in a carrier wing so you're not diverting other aircraft from their primary purpose.

      As for the Navy secretly developing an UCAV, I think you're giving the Navy more credit than they deserve. I suspect it has more to do with the range limitation of the F-35C.

      The F-35C has a published range of 630 nm on 19,642 lbs of internal fuel. Roughly speaking (very!), refueling an F-35C with another 5,000 lbs of fuel would extend its range roughly 160 nm allowing it to penetrate further into enemy air space.

    12. "What the Navy really wants is an unmanned aerial combat vehicle (the old UCAV) and they see a "tanker" as a way to get there without having to fight Congress. "

      Given the weight ability of the Stingray, I think you're exactly right. There isn't going to be a 1:1 tanker to fighter ratio, so its going to be doing overhead tanking with only 4500lbs of fuel.

      Its going to make a lousy tanker; and I think it would be easier, quicker, and cheaper to revivify the S3's as overhead tankers. We *know* they work in this role, and they already exist.

      Given they're there, and the shortcomings/development time to make a Stingray tanker, it sure seems like the Navy has something else up its sleeve. It seems like my son hiding his broccoli under his mashed potatoes and expecting us to buy it.

      What I don't get is the Navy's fixation on short ranged aircraft. The Hornet and SuperHornet are really low ranged. The F-35C has a better combat radius, supposedly 600NM. But its still 200nm off the A6 from what I've read.

      Getting back to the point of the post, I think the Navy could be far more effective in combat, and in cost, with dedicated role aircraft that eschewed some of the crazier things.

      With standoff weapons I don't think you need 360 degree stealth. When you're bringing you're airbase with you you do need to have enough range to allow it to move around and be flexible while avoiding detection.

      So make a long range attack aircraft that can carry standoff weapons. Give it reasonable front facing stealth.

      Make a long range fleet defense interceptor.

      Make a shorter range fighter for close in defense.

      Give them all enough range that you can get away with overhead tanking.

      Just my $0.02

  5. I'm with you on this one. The unmanned tanker has a vital importance for allowing the F-35 to reach its full strike potential. That's not a good thing to compromise on.

    1. You've brought up an interesting side issue (side, from the perspective of the main premise). You've tied the tanker into the F-35 performance. How do you see the tanker affecting the F-35's strike potential, aside from the obvious, give it gas to extend its endurance and range? Given that the F-35's role is to penetrate deeply into enemy airspace for either combat or surveillance, how do you see a non-stealthy tanker penetrating and surviving long enough to aide the F-35? Do you see an X-47-ish tanker (that seems to be the general direction the Navy wants to go) being able to carry enough fuel to be a viable tanker given that an X-47-ish UAV would be almost a one-tanker-per-F-35 which is hugely inefficient?

      You've raised an interesting issue. Now, expand on it.

    2. Good point ComNavOps. A non-stealthy tanker would not be useful in most stealth sensitive operations. For non-stealth missions: if the F-35 can extend its range with external drop tanks, how much value does a non-stealthy tanker add to F-35 operations?

    3. "if the F-35 can extend its range with external drop tanks, how much value does a non-stealthy tanker add to F-35 operations?"

      As an aside, I don't know if the F-35 can even utilize drop tanks? I assume it can but I can't say that I've ever actually read that. It has external weapon hardpoints but that doesn't automatically confer external fuel tank capability. Any idea whether it can use drop tanks?

      Looking at the size and shape of an X-47-ish UAV, how much fuel do you think it can carry internally? Enough to be able to fly several hundred miles (using up a large chunk of its internal fuel!) and still have enough to fuel multiple F-35s? If it can't refuel multiple F-35s, then we have to greatly expand our air wings if we need a near 1:1 tanker to F-35 ratio for refueling. That seems neither efficient nor affordable.

      A non-stealthy tanker just compounds all the problems of deep penetration. Of course, the tanker doesn't need to fly all the way to the target. It can, and would, stop a few hundred miles short to conduct its refuelings so maybe a lack of stealth isn't a major drawback? On the other hand, it would be an easy target for the enemy and would indicate the general location of an operation and the F-35s.

      So, why is the Navy doing what they're doing?

      What would you recommend as a better alternative?

    4. It seems to me that the best answer is to apply your lesson of building purpose built aircraft. Instead of trying to make the F-35 work for long range ops, we should create a purpose built unmanned strike UAV for A2AD penetration. We might also need to produce a small number of stealthy tankers to extend the range of the strike uav's. The purpose of this stealthy tanker would be to support the purpose built strike aircraft and not the F-35. However, I question the viability of using tankers inside or near enemy defenses when refueling operations and fuel probes could reveal the aircraft's position.

      I also propose a third aircraft which would be similar to the S-3. This would be a low cost utility aircraft which would provide non-stealthy tanking.

    5. "Instead of trying to make the F-35 work for long range ops, we should create a purpose built unmanned strike UAV for A2AD penetration."

      Okay, you've worked your way around to this point. Some would say we already have a purpose built, unmanned, A2/AD deep penetration strike UAV - the Tomahawk missile! It only costs around $1-$2M, is relatively quickly produced, is highly expendable, has 1000 mile range, has a degree of stealth due to its small size and low altitude approach, and packs a punch. Do we still need an actual UAV that returns (maybe) from the mission? At $2M each, we can afford a LOT of one-way trips!

    6. A UAV would provide ISR capabilities that you could not get from a cruise missile. Complicating this analysis is the question of whether a UAV would be resilient in the face of the destruction of satellites and electromagnetic jamming than a cruise missile.

    7. The suggestion was for a strike UAV. A UAV for ISR is a different issue. We need ISR and a purpose built ISR UAV might well be the preferred solution. That still leaves the question of a strike UAV versus cruise/ballistic missiles?

    8. One question assuming a stealth tanker was designed, how exactly would this benefit the strike package versus a non stealth platform? I would assume for however many minutes it takes to line up, fly in formation, transfer fuel, etc., any benefits of stealth would be severely degraded to the point of being easily detectable for a peer type defensive area.

      If stealth is compromised during the actual refueling process, the operation would need to be completed for all aircraft prior to entering the A2/AD effective range (with the associated logistics problems based on tanker aircraft per strike aircraft and associated time delays). If so, what is the benefit of a stealth optimized tanker over a non-stealth?

      The only possible benefits I can think of are 1) stealth would allow the tanker to station closer (maybe within) the defended area and refuel for the return journey such that being detected on the return would be less critical to the mission, or 2) the requirements to make the tanker stealthy would also benefit the fueling capabilities in some way (such as a flying wing typically has less drag and more internal volume versus a similar wing and tube type fuselage).

    9. The benefit of a stealth tanker is questionable. The biggest benefit I see is that while the tanker is idly flying around waiting to do its thing, it may not be detected and destroyed. Given the very long range of modern aircraft and air-to-air missiles, a smart enemy would look for the tankers and kill them. Kill the tankers and the entire strike group splashes.

  6. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Dearest anon,

      You might profitably take a moment to educate yourself on the development of the A-3. It was a single-purpose nuclear bomber, with the design constraint that the weapon be housed in an internal bomb bay with access to the cockpit for in flight arming of the device.

      Elimination of excess weight was a critical factor in the design. Program leadership at Douglas felt the aircraft would need to operate off the existing 27C class of carriers, and not the yet-unbuilt class of supercarriers the DoN was targeting with a 100klb gross weight.

      It was not a multi-purpose design.

      That the design, notably due to large internal volume and great range, was later used for ELINT and utility roles doesn't disconfirm in any way that the design was specified for a carrier-based nuclear bomber.

      If you have information that indicates that the A-3 was specified by the Navy in any other way, please share. It would be a suprising addition to the historical record.

      You seem fairly ignorant regarding naval history and unable to comprehend the host's clear, written argument.

      Please spend a little more time getting up to speed before commenting again. Unless you're, as the article is entitled, Incapable of Learning.

      Thanks much.

      The readership

    2. R, please keep the comments polite and respectful.

      I appreciate your note of support and I have seen that the level of comments and discourse has fallen off of late and I'm going to put some effort into either raising the quality or deleting those that fail to meet the standard.

      I'd love to hear your thoughts on the main premise. Why does the Navy seem incapable of learning the lesson? Is there a "hidden" agenda in combining two disparate functions? Is there a better alternative other than the one I offered?

    3. Apologies, I was responding to the hostility of the original commenter.

      The hidden agenda? I didn't spend any time in acquisition so this is just low-value speculation.

      From a distance:

      The underlying procurement model seems very sensitive to (even dominated by) the number of projected units acquired and very insensitive to the resulting risk of unbounded increases in R&D & Test cost, and decreases in performance.

      And the model doesn't appear capable of reweighing its factors in light of actual experience (as you put it, incapable of learning)

      Small production runs of single function, specialized weapons score miserably on whatever desdirata the acquisition system uses to rate projects.

      What I see is strong incentives to reduce per unit-cost coupled with non-existent disincentives (i.e. clawbacks) for piling on project and performance risk.

      Its a form of risk-shifting. Reward occurs up front, large tail-risk is stuffed into the out years (and onto the citizenry). Describes LCS, F-35, Ford class (etc. etc.) perfectly.

      Likely describes in one form or another all 750 of your archived posts.

      If you want the system (broadly defined) to learn, you need contractual clawbacks which expose the vendors (and PEOs) to the actual risks being underwritten.

      As I see no chance of this happening, I agree with others that the system will not engage in self-reform.

      However, I think pointing out this risk-shifting is a useful use of time as its going to dominate all aspects of procurement.

    4. "Likely describes in one form or another all 750 of your archived posts."

      Too true!

    5. "However, I think pointing out this risk-shifting is a useful use of time as its going to dominate all aspects of procurement."

      I'm not so naive as to believe that the kinds of changes I'm advocating can actually occur. However, it's the responsibility of those of us who see problems to at least try to do something about them. I'm doing what I can. This blog is read by many active servicemembers and perhaps this can prompt at least small changes from time to time.

    6. "The underlying procurement model ..."

      You've approached this from the procurement side of things. All well and good. However, I'm addressing the issue before it even gets to procurement. This specific issue (combining functions) is a conceptual failing, not a procurement failing. I understand that procurement considerations may make themselves felt but the Navy had, by all appearances, a clean path to a basic unmanned tanker and yet chose to try to combine functions, thereby starting yet another program down a flawed path - long before procurement started.

      Navy leadership, not the idiosyncrasies of procurement, have made a bad conceptual decision; one that has been proven disastrous repeatedly - hence, the inability to learn. These Navy leaders are not dumb (at least as measured by academic standards) and yet they make one dumb decision after another in defiance of all common sense.

      Any thoughts on this aspect?

    7. >>Navy leadership, not the idiosyncrasies of procurement, have made a bad conceptual decision; one that has been proven disastrous repeatedly - hence, the inability to learn.

      The point that we're dancing around is that any adaptive institution has to have a truth function. Some mechanism by which competing assertions are weighed, and the survivors become facts and incorporated into the institutional body of knowledge. And thus form a reliable basis for changed (i.e. evolved) behavior.

      Science has reproducibility.

      Law has its hierarchy of judges.

      Navy doesn't have one anymore.

      Was Task Force Uniform a prospective and retrospective avoidable disaster? Dunno. I have no idea what the institutional view is.

      Is the LCS and the multicrew manning concept discredited? Dunno. We keep building and crewing them and defining standards down.

      Is the F-35C an example of acquisition malpractice? Dunno. I will say at $300mm per copy a single squadron is a national treasure.

      Is Mutiny bad? Dunno. Lot of verbiage exonerating the helmsman in that CRB investigation.

      Was having a Director of Naval Intelligence with a suspended clearance for 3 years bad? Apparently not.

      Is losing a helo overboard due to inept seamanship bad? Probably not as career limiting as you might think.

      Can't get iterative learning without a truth-function, and its gone

      Kicked out by a coalition of the willing as it were.

      I like etymology. This is probably wrong so don't rely on it, but the opposite of evolution isn't stagnation.

      Its more likely to be *involution*. An involution is a function that is its own negation. (not true) is false. (not (not true)) is true again. So the opposite of evolution isn't stagnation, but sort of a perpetual self-negating flopping around without any distance made good.

      I'll say it more clearly, there is no basis for institutional evolution b/c there's no reliable basis anymore for institutional truth.

      That's the future. Risk shifting, involution and more institutional failure.

      As William Gibson wrote, the future is already here, its just unevenly distributed.

  7. Prepare for Rant.

    The Navy, and the whole U.S. defense department for that matter, doesn't have to learn currently, the current military procurement system has no real consequences for failure.

    There is no failure in combat for procured systems that are inferior with consequential lost battles and wars because there is no real 1st world combat going on.

    There is no career ending consequences for programs canceled in development due to huge time/cost over runs or below spec performance.

    The current procurement system is a career progression, retirement supplementing gravy train for the truly unethical/incompetent senior field grade and general officers who think its all a game because there probably won't be a war and there won't be any consequences because they will be retired any way.

    Will there be any reform in defense procurement in the future - NO, because everyone in power who can change it (officers, contractors, and congressmen) are getting paid well in the current system with no consequences.

    Only failure in combat with the consequence of lost wars with a change in life style for the American public, it will probably take two, will give the impetus for reform.

    What would be some effective future reforms: Officer carrier progression/retirement tied to procurement success by emphasizing not starting unrealistic programs, killing programs that don't meet time/cost/performance as soon as possible as more important than ultimate program success-and stopping the we'll make it work Sir, stupidity. Ultimately if you fail you don't get to make retirement, you get fired. Just like in combat if you fail due to incompetence or ethics you die, are relived, or go to jail, sounds draconian- well its the military by the way.

    Penalizing contractors harshly for time/cost overruns and below spec performance, you don't make billions anyway, you have to repay the billions and may have to go jail too. Sounds draconian-well you're doing business with the military, its serious business because there are serious consequences.

    Make it illegal for officers to retire and work for or receive money or any compensation from defense contractors-you can work for them but you don't get to retire. Just to keep everyone honest and impartial.

    Make it illegal for defense contractors to lobby congressmen.

    Recall officers out of retirement and punish them for incompetence and ethical issues in regards to procurement. Just because you retire doesn't mean you get away with it.

    If you take the money away and have consequences, then everyone is cost, time and performance conscious.

    Do I think any of this will happen-No.

    I would like to propose a topic for discussion in a future post that I feel would have significant positive effect on defense spending and reform-A unified Armed Force.

    Secure Rant.

    1. If you read through the archives, you'll see that we've covered every bit of this. It's important to read the archives! You'll double your knowledge, at least. That aside, you're completely correct.

      I was with you until the last sentence. You lost me on that. You're proposing a post on what?

    2. A unified armed forces-no separate services, one service with a naval branch, ground branch and air branch. I only wrote the above because it is a root cause, fix that and many procurement problems go away. I believe a unified armed forces would cure a lot of root cause issues in our military, i.e.. redundancy/waste, inter service rivalry/protectionism, etc... Again, I know its probably not reality and could only be implemented after a national debacle of biblical proportions which probably won't happen, its just a fun what if.

    3. "A unified armed forces-no separate services"

      I'm not necessarily against this but how would it change things? Instead of service chiefs in their individual uniforms, we'd have "branch" chiefs wearing the same uniforms but still caught up in promoting "their" branch at the expense of the others. This exact scenario has played out in industry repeatedly.

      To make it work would require a very strong central command group that is devoid of service-specific leanings. Where would we get such men? If we had such men, we wouldn't need to reorganize. We could just put them in an overarching group called, oh, I don't know, say, joint chiefs or some such. Hmmm... I guess we already know how that would work out!

      We already have all the mechanisms we need to treat our military as a single, unified service. We just don't do it. Reorganizing would just be a paper exercise. Consider how many procurement reorganizations and reforms have been conducted and none have had any effect.

      All that said, if we don't at least try to offer better solutions than we've failed completely. So, I'm on board with your suggestion, conceptually, but with the same recognition of reality that you note.

      Good thought, good comment.

    4. I wouldn't go as far as unifying all the branches, maybe the marines into the army.

      I would recommend inter-service oversight. Lets put some of this service rivalry to work and weed out some waste.

    5. "I would recommend inter-service oversight."

      I'm not belittling your suggestion but do have any idea how many groups, organizations, committees, and people already exist with theoretical oversight responsibilities over the military?

      SecDef is in charge of all the military and has all the authority he needs and yet the problems continue.

      There are several (dozens?) Congressional committees that have military oversight responsibility and yet the problems persist.

      There are various groups within the military that are supposedly exercising oversight.

      The Joint Chiefs have oversight responsibilities.

      I thought about it, I could list such groups almost endlessly - and yet nothing has changed. That's not true. Things have changed for the worse.

      What possible additional oversight would provide any benefit? I know you mean well but that's a very simplistic suggestion that fails to take into account realities, human nature, inertia, and bureaucracy.

      Now, I have nothing against unrealistic suggestions. I make them all the time. However, if you want to offer that suggestion then flesh it out. How would it be better than what we already have? Who would fill this position(s)? What authority would they have? What consequences would there be for failure of either the oversight group or the individual services? Who would fund this? Where would these people obtain technical advice? Who would fund that? And so on.

      Lift that fairy tale level suggestion up and make it something theoretical possible and effective. Otherwise, it's just a generic platitude.

      Comments on this blog need to be a cut above! Be part of that. Rise to the challenge!

    6. About 30 minutes after posting, I did some research and realized my naivety on this. Thou from the various groups doing oversight, I repeatedly thought of the old saying: "To many chiefs, not enough indians."

      First off, I would recommend centralization of all oversight under one governing body that is not under control of the Joint Chief of staffs.

      Second, transparent financial records on all military projects.

      Past that, I don't have a comprehensive understanding of the bureaucratic mechanisms that is in place. Be honest thou, I doubt anyone truly dose.

    7. "First off, I would recommend centralization of all oversight under one governing body that is not under control of the Joint Chief of staffs."

      Whose control would they be under? You need to think this through.

      "Second, transparent financial records on all military projects."

      We're already completely transparent. The line item budget is a matter of public record. We know where the money is going.

      The military plays spin games to try to make things look good. For example, quoting the cost of an F-35 without the engine or the cost of a ship without including GFE but for anyone who cares to dig, we know the costs. How does this help? It hasn't so far.

    8. One of the key advantages of a unified armed forces is if it is legislated what the branches have to provide in the way of support to each other.

      One branch can't say well that isn't our mission because in reality its not glamorous or they don't understand it, or don't want to pay for it, or more likely they just don't care.

      For example, the hypothetical Air branch providing close air support for the Ground branch-currently the Air Force would rather get out of the close air support business because it is a capability provided to another service and they don't wan't to pay for it, in a unified system they can't back out because its legislated-(its the law, like the existence of the Marine Corps), also the Air branch chief proposing it would look insane/incompetent to the overall Commander who by the way wears the same uniform and presides over the one single service budget, it would be like if the current branch chief of Army aviation said well its not our mission to provide helicopter antitank fire support to the Infantry because I wan't pay for this really cool looking stealth transport helicopter or Marine Air doing the same thing, anyone saying it would be skidding down the road on their ear post haste.

      In the current system to Air Force might get away with it and wiggle out all the while not allowing the Army acquire its own fixed wing air support because fixed wing CAS is Air Force turf, they don't wan't do it but they don't wan't the Army to do it either because they think that the money for fixed wing is theirs -truly insane.

    9. You should do a topic on oversight, I was not able to find one in the archives. I tried working thru multiple scenarios, and in my opinion, it ends the same. Im curious about yours and the community's thoughts on this matter.

  8. The stingray as proposed is supposed to be a tanker. Again, to make a point. I will say that overhead CV tanking is 90% of a naval tankers mission. Why does it need to be stealthy? Another expensive nice to have is all. Not part of the requirement I can see...
    On the organic strike tanker mission we will always have the buddy store superhornet tanker for that role until they are retired.
    Secondly after overhead tanking the stingray will have to display some isr radar/eo-ir/laser asuw capability according to the requirement. IE carry a harpoon, target an enemy surface contact and engage it.
    Now seriously fellers name one platform, not a superhornet that has proven it can do both missions well like an S-3 manned or manned and handle around the ship. The truck would be free....
    A no-brainer. No negatives, all goodness.

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  10. The Navy needs to build single role aircraft. You cannot build a Swiss Army knife of aircraft. At least a Swiss Army knife can be somewhat useful once you get the individual tools out.

    Build an aircraft that can do one job well first. Don't try to build something good at everything. It will never work. Jack of all trades is the master of none.


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