Friday, March 2, 2018

The Industrial Base

Time and again, ComNavOps hears the argument that, yes, shipbuilding workmanship may be shoddy and overpriced but we have to keep building substandard products just to protect the industrial base.  In fact, on a related note, ComNavOps has proposed that shipbuilding undergo a several year hiatus so that the Navy and industry can “catch their breath”, in a sense, and design a good warship unpressured by artificial time constraints.  Many commenters, however, argue that we can’t stop building ships because that will endanger out industrial base and risk losing skilled designers and construction workers.  Of course, given the poor designs and poor construction quality we’re getting from industry, one can’t help but wonder just how big a loss of expertise we’re really risking … but, I digress.

The common theme in these arguments is the need to protect the industrial base.  In fact, some elevate protection of the industrial base to a national strategic imperative!  Indeed, there is an argument to be made along those lines.  When war comes, attrition replacement will require a robust industrial base.

Fair enough.  So, where is this going?  Well, consider the following comment by a reader in response to the recent post, “Diversity In The Air”. (1)

“Those US fighters came from 7 different makers.  Now you have two design teams that design 1 or 2 planes in their entire work career you get mediocrity, practice makes perfect etc.”

‘scottg’ brings up a great point that deserves further discussion.  In fact, the comment raises a couple of issues.

The point about designers who may only design one or two aircraft in their entire career is incredibly profound.  In the 1930s -1970s, an aircraft designer was likely involved in dozens of designs over the course of a career.  That’s a huge range of design experience.  What’s more, the designs covered all manner of aircraft so the designer could, with time, bring to bear experience from all facets of aircraft design to the next design effort.  Further, with all the designs, prototypes, and production experience, there was a nearly endless source of real world trials and lessons learned.

Today, as pointed out, a designer may only be involved in one or two designs over a career.  In fact, if the designer is unlucky enough to work for the losing design in a mega project, he may actually go an entire career without designing an aircraft that is actually produced.  What kind of experience base does that generate?  What kind of “lessons learned” can the designer draw on?  Not much!

The F-35 began around 20 years ago and serious designing for the next combat aircraft, the so called 6th generation aircraft, won’t seriously begin for another five years or so.  That’s a 25 year time span.  Twenty five years is the better part of a career and, for the designers, results in one design.

The lack of designs leads us to the next point which is the impact of single, mega programs on the industrial base.  The F-35 is, of course, what we’re talking about.  Setting aside the merits, or lack thereof, of the aircraft itself, the F-35 program resulted in only a single manufacturer producing a final design and build.  How is a winner-take-all, mammoth, mega program benefiting the industrial base?  Clearly, it isn’t!  Manufacturer’s are dropping out of the business and even those that stay are losing their design and manufacturing expertise.

ComNavOps has previously proposed that instead of mega programs we build limited runs of, say, 200-500 aircraft on short cycles and do so with much greater frequency.  I’ve described exactly how to produce a state of the art aircraft in a 5 year period so this is eminently doable.  The greater frequency offers many advantages:

  • Many more designs in a given period.
  • The ability to incorporate known, existing technology without worrying about trying to design a “forever” aircraft with room for any imaginable future technology.  If a technology we design into an aircraft becomes suddenly obsolete we simply build a new aircraft with the new technology since we aren’t committed to a forever aircraft. 
  • Multiple manufacturers can compete on a regular basis and, presumably, multiple manufacturers will actually produce aircraft thus maintaining a diverse stable of design philosophies and production facilities.
  • Having a diverse range of alternatives provides greater resilience when combat reveals weaknesses in a particular design.

Clearly, mega programs such as the F-35 are damaging the industrial base.  Further, maintaining the F-35 in order to “protect” the industrial base is actually having the opposite effect.  We should terminate the F-35 for that reason alone!

The larger point is that we need to stop the practice of mega programs and return to smaller, more frequent programs.


(1) Navy Matters blog comment, Username: scottg, posted 25-Feb-2018, 3:16 PM,


  1. "The point about designers who may only design one or two aircraft in their entire career is incredibly profound"

    Yes and i tough of something else in witch designers can gain experience in a fairly cheap way - design experimental aircraft.
    That is experimental modifications of existing jets or pure -X planes.
    What do i mean, in the 80ties and 90ties they were several experimental modifications of the F-15, F-16 and F-18 and purely X planes like the X-29 and X-31.
    You know how many planes in that fashion were designed since the F-35, zero ( yes i know they were a few unmanned drones, but im talking manned planes, and yes i know something might be flying in area 51 ).

    1. You make a good point. Aircraft companies used to design aircraft that were state of the art but that used existing technology. Thus, they could not only design the aircraft but actually build it as a prototype and demo it for their own education and as an existing aircraft for the military to look at. Now, when every design wants to consist of non-existent technology, the manufacturer can't actually build a prototype. The military needs to get back to small batches of state of the art, but existing, designs which will encourage aircraft companies to design and build prototypes - exactly your point.

      Good observation.

    2. I think only government incentives can break this cursed circle.

      For example

      Northrop Grumman has pulled out of the T-X program, becoming the second company to drop from the competition in a matter of weeks.

      A major company chose to drop out a a major contest on they're own will , and we are talking diversification.

      The government has to intervene or loosen up regulations.
      See how SpaceX and Blue origin were crated, why would not that be possible for a new defence manufacturer?

    3. "A major company chose to drop out a a major contest on they're own will"

      We're seeing a recent trend of this. All but one company pulled out of the anti-ship missile program, for example. One company pulling out of a competition is perfectly normal but when it becomes a trend and gets to the point where only one company "competes", then I suspect a conspiracy.

    4. "See how SpaceX and Blue origin were crated"

      What do you think is different about their creation versus a defense manufacturer?

    5. Government, the government basically gave freedom and money to entrepreneurs with a proven record and they succeeded to a certain degree some more some less, for the time being.

    6. Could we do the same for developing defense companies?

    7. I made the point before, and I think it's valid now; let spaceX and Blue Origen in on the bidding. Start them small, maybe with a tX. But I was speaking with my brother about how Aerojet Rocketdyne and Boeing all of the sudden started coming up with new engines (based on existing proven tech) when they were faced with trying to compete with various versions of the Merlin, etc.

      Prior to that it was all 'Oh, well, we think we can get this new RD-180 replacement to you in 7 years or so, its an iteration off our old engines but it will take SO MUCH WORK it'll be a long time.

      I'm not saying its a slam dunk. But it would be worth a try.

      Heck, give them something small and "easy." A light fighter. Just give them the specs you want and see what they come up with in order to meet it.

      Prior to SpaceX no one was thinking about boosters returning on their own power. Or super cheap launches.

      Maybe we need that for fighter aerospace again.

      If Space X came up with a modern version of an F-20 for $40 million, that was competitive with modern designs but very specific in its focus, then you might find that Boeing or LM all of the sudden finds their design chops again.

      I remember a family member working at GM in the 80's saying that they had *very* talented engineers; but those engineers were deliberately held back because just doing tweaks to current engines and bodies was making a ton of money.

      When they had to start competing, that's when they came up with some really neat designs and let the leash slip a bit.

    8. You've got the problem/answer in your hands but you haven't quite explicitly stated it. The problem/answer is that the manufacturer's job is not to make a good aircraft, contrary to what we'd like to believe, it's to make money for its shareholders. They will draw out development and make continuous minor tweaks if that's what generates the most money. They'll make radically new and better designs if that's what generates the most money.

      That's why turning over conceptual design responsibility to the manufacturer is a bad idea. They'll inevitably produce what's good for them not what's good for the military. The military has to stop looking to industry to create something new and wonderful. Even your comment suggests that you think the responsibility is on the manf and you're just trying to come up with ways to encourage that. Well, that's wrong and fails to recognize the reality of business.

      The answer is to recognize the reality of business and work with it. The military has to develop the conceptual design, not industry. If the military wants an anti-gravity, invisible, laser armed flying sub then specify that and pay industry to make it. If the military wants a basic but state of the art aircraft then say that. Industry will deliver whatever the military wants to pay for.

      The Navy, to be fair, has it a little bit right with the frigate program. They've pretty well spelled out the concept, specified the equipment, and stated the major specs. Industry will produce that product. Now, one can debate whether the requested product frigate is a good idea or not but at least the developmental process is being guided firmly by the Navy and not industry. For better or worse, the Navy will get exactly what it asked for instead of some nebulous, do-anything LCS that winds up being a do-nothing vessel because no one bothered to give industry a specific set of requirements.

      How many times have we heard CNO Greenert and now CNO Richardson say that they can't wait to see what industry gives them next? They're a couple of idiots. You tell industry what you want, not wait and hope they "give" you something useful. They'll "give" you what's in their best interest, not the military's.

      SpaceX did what they did because it was in their best interest. Give them the specs to a basic aircraft and, if there's a profit to be made, they'll produce an aircraft because then it will be in their best interest.

      There's nothing magic about this. It's business 101.

    9. Sorry. I thought I had fleshed this out more in a previous post but now I can't find it. I blame middle aged with young kids memory.

      Here is my basic thought, and I think we are in alignment, but please correct me if I'm wrong.

      issue a request for a very specific fighter you want, based on needs you think you have. I.E.:

      Issue a RFP to Space X and Blue Origin and whomever else for:

      Navalized long range interceptor.
      Must have X combat radius carrying Y loadout.
      Must be able to supercruise
      Must have AESA Radar and stealth shaping.
      Must be able to pull X G's.
      Must have internal weapons bay holding X,Y, and Z weapons
      Must have IRST.
      Must have X time between failures,
      Must cost $X millions out the door
      Must be built for easy maintenance...

      The requirements above are just fluff I put out there, not real requirements. Those should be determined by the pilots planners who have missions in mind for this aircraft.

      Once you do that, see what the new guys come up with. So, we give them the requirements, and let them figure out ways how to meet the demand.

      then you have a flyoff and a guarantee that the winner gets 250 aircraft or whatever we need.

      You do the same with an F-16 follow on, or whatever.

      I just got done reading an article about the OV-10 Bronco, and it sounded like that is what happened. 'We need this light attack aircraft with X amount of payload, able to take off of rough, short fields, and easy to repair...' and the Bronco is what they got.

  2. Тhe best argument about debunking the 'save the industrial base' myth.

    just look at SpaceX - if you had told someone 20 years before that a private company would launch satellites in space with reusable rockets at a price cheaper than NASA - what would the answer of the non believer be ?

    Now compare that with the 50 years+ program of the F-35 !
    its crazy, this monopoly needs to be broken some how.

    1. I've stated many times that we have the basis for creating new, large defense companies already in place. Companies like Bollinger shipyard currently build smaller vessels. There is no reason not to start directing some larger ship contracts their way and, if they do a good job, continue to give them more and more work on even larger vessels.

      For example, Bollinger would have been a good choice to build the Navy's new frigate except that they hadn't built a previous one and so were ruled out from the start. While I understand the Navy's intent, that was an opportunity to grow a shipbuilder.

    2. One could argue that International Launch Services, a private joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Russian companies Khrunichev and Energia started in 1995, as a predecessor to Space X. You could count Iridium and Orbcomm as private space ventures too.

      But, for any company there has to be a market for their goods and services. And, for the defense and space companies that means securing government funding to get started. Which means the government would be in the business of picking winners. Something that government is not always good at.

      But, to grow new new defense companies, you also need engineers, designers, scientists, and technicians. Where do they come from?

    3. Bollinger, as an example, has their own engineers and designers. They just work on smaller vessels. Scaling up to a somewhat larger vessel is doable. Look at Lockheed and Austal. Neither had built a warship before.

      Some engineers/designers can be hired away from the larger companies. Young engineers/designers, talented but trapped in lower level jobs with only slow advancement prospects would likely be eager to join a company with growth potential.

      Young engineers/designers out of college can be enticed to join a company with growth potential, as suggested above.

      As far as picking winners, the govt would offer some smaller vessels/contracts to several smaller companies and let the resulting competition "pick" the winners. That's free enterprise!

    4. Let's hope the Navy avoids another LCS debacle.

  3. Now at first you will think this is off topic but it applies for the whole US bureaucracy, just give it a 3 min read.

    from the NASA forums

    "Take it from someone who has spent a considerable portion of the last 12 months studying US spaceflight history - NASA's bureaucracy is absolutely unparalleled for a public agency (the DoD is at least as bad, if not worse, but the military-industrial complex is a whole different animal). It would be a truly a titanic feat to underestimate the sheer level of chaos, redundancy, intra-agency competition, and baffling bureaucracy within NASA.

    I've often been labeled cynical, and I was still floored by what I read in the primary and secondary source literature on NASA's organization..."

    ''All too familiar. From what I've heard from multiple industry sources, over the years, the bureaucracy at NASA is very bad indeed. And that isn't a recent development. It was already so in the late 1970's.

    Here is an example from that period:
    NASA contracted with the Dutch space agency NIVR to build the IRAS satellite. The NASA part of the job was assigned by NASA HQ to Ames Research Center. Ames subsequently contracted JPL and JPL subsequently contracted Ball Aerospace to do all the actual work, including DDT&E. The latter subsequently sub-contracted Perkin-Elmer for the telescope instrument.

    So, every time a major decision had to be taken regarding the telescope instrument it went from Perkin to Ball to JPL to Ames to NASA HQ. When a decision had been reached by NASA and NIVR it went back to Perkin via NASA HQ, Ames, JPL and Ball.
    Needless to say, this made for a very inefficient way of getting things done. The only three things that saved the entire NASA-side of the project from grinding to a halt were:

    1. Nancy Roman and Nancy Bogess relentlessly pushing the NASA bureaucracy forward to keep some sort of momentum.
    2. Project technologists Jim Houck and Frank Low bending all the NASA acquisition rules by buying superior material for Ge:Ga IR sensors for just $20 from Eagle Pitcher and paying for it out of their own wallets.
    3. The fact that the contract between NASA and NIVR wasn't actually a contract but a MOU: a Memorandum Of Understanding. Which is far less restrictive in what is allowed and what isn't.

    Nevertheless, the result of this bureaucratic mess, as well as how this same bureaucratic mess dealt with cryogenic development trouble, was IRAS launching three years late and the US contribution to IRAS going over budget by 200 percent.

    Now, compare this to the Dutch part of IRAS. NIVR contracted directly to ICIRAS (Industrial Consortium IRAS) which did all the work (DDT&E).
    The result was that the Dutch contribution was ready literally years before the US contribution was ready. The Dutch contribution also stayed well within the allocated budget. Approx. 10 percent of the budget was returned by ICANS to NIVR because it wasn't needed.''

    1. Okay, now what conclusion are you drawing from this that applies to the defense industry? Are you suggesting that the degree of sub-contracting be limited by law or contract?

    2. Give "Stalinist" authorities to the supervising military officers :) If they complete the program within a reasonable frame they shall get promotions and a lot more money bonuses , if not - out of this program .

    3. That sounds a lot like the concept I proposed in the "How To Build A Better XXXX" posts! I'm all for it.

  4. Not to get too big picture, but unfortunately our current hedge fund controlled economy is strongly tilted towards mergers, acquisitions, and rent seeking as the primary avenues of growth. And tilted heavily against smaller companies and upstarts maintaining any sort of long term viability.

    That said, I think there are still (barely) enough aircraft makers in this country to make your model work, NG, Boeing, LM, Textron, just off the top of my head. If you kept the programs churning I am sure General Atomics and a few others would try their hand at the manned aircraft game too.

    With ships I think the problem is far far more intractable. I know we have talked about this before, but the only way I see to encourage domestic ship building (and have it be at all self sustaining) would be with a massive infrastructure investment by the government (think national freeway project but for shipyards). Its just too capitally intensive otherwise.

    There have been many studies that show how poor of an investment in industry defense spending is, infrastructure investment on the other hand provides the backbone for all industry. We have basically been coasting on everything made in the first half of the 20th century. The problem being that the best investments (and most costly) would benefit all companies, not just one, so no one is going to lobby for them since they would also help competitors or potential upstarts.

    Everyone lately is touting Space-X as the latest savior of American ingenuity and innovation, but look at what they rely on to launch rockets: Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg. Two huge sites built by the government. In order to encourage more Space-X's we need to ensure that the infrastructure to support them is already there.

    1. Using my model of small batches of state of the art aircraft based strictly on existing technology and produced on five year cycles, I would suggest the following aircraft be produced:

      -long range air superiority fighter for carriers
      -modern stealth version of F-16
      -navalized A-10 for close air support
      -affordable air superiority fighter for AF (reopen F-22 line?)
      -dedicated Navy tanker
      -fixed wing carrier ASW aircraft
      -faster, stealthier carrier AEW
      -long range EW replacement for Growler to complement long range air superiority fighter
      -low end attack aircraft for "peacetime" strike

      I could go on but that's enough to demonstrate that there is more than enough work to keep several aircraft companies in business. And remember, each of these comes up again in 5-10 years on an ongoing basis.

    2. "With ships I think the problem is far far more intractable."

      The same model applies to ships. It's all about the volume of work. Here's what we need to build.

      -large numbers of ASW corvette
      -a new, true destroyer
      -a high end, independent operations cruiser
      -an AAW escort
      -a modern battleship
      -an amphibious support gun ship
      -a smaller carrier until we can build back up our air wings
      -many fleet oilers
      -many fleet logistics support vessels
      -a class of small combat mine countermeasure ships
      -hunter-killer ASW helo carriers
      -UAV carrier
      -non-flight capable APA troop carrier ships

      I could go on but, again, you see that there is more than enough work to keep many shipyards busy indefinitely. We have to stop building a very, very few uber, do-everything ships thst cost a hundred trillion dollars each and get back to single purpose, affordable ships that we can buy in quantity.

    3. "massive infrastructure investment by the government"

      Now that's a fascinating concept that I hadn't thought of. How would you propose doing this? Where would the facilities be located? How would multiple companies be able to make use of the facilties? Would each company get their own? If not, how would they share? Who provides the workforce. Who maintains the facilities?

      Tell me more!

    4. "Not to get too big picture,...

      An excellent, thought-provoking comment all around. Please, consider my comments and then expand on your thoughts.

    5. My humble opinion is - that there is no profound political FOCUS on military technology in the US.

      That is the main cause.

    6. In regards to the infrastructure investment I would spring board from that GAO report about the state of our current shipyards. There should be at least 2 yards on each coast capable of conducting any/all sub maintenance currently required. And lets say double that for all surface combatants smaller than a super carrier. These would all include large modern dry docks. I would go so far as to say that they should all be at least physically capable of building and servicing the largest commercial vessels too. Everyone laments that high worker wages prevent us from building those types of vessels but I think its actually the lack of infrastructure support that handicaps us.

      I think a massive rail system upgrade is also long overdue and would pay decades of dividends in our industrial base. Our current system is falling apart and way overly congested. 2 things that dont make transporting raw materials around the country very easy (or at least as easy as they should be).

    7. I really like your proposed air list. The navalized A-10 is such a no-brainer its infuriating that it hasnt already been proposed. What did you think of that S-3 AEW proposal that was floated way back when? Wouldnt be very stealthy but it would certainly be less of a sitting duck than the E-2D.

      Also, I have been thinking a lot about your "stealthy" F-16 and I think that would basically be the X-32.

    8. Texas, no offense man , but why do you always talk about old airframes/types.
      If need be with current manufacturing technologies and systems analogous aircraft of those could be made.

      Say, for example the S-3 with todays technology you could make an aircraft of that similar proportions lighter and more efficient in cruise mode, im talking about the airframe only.

    9. "there is no profound political FOCUS on military technology in the US."

      You lost me. There's a huge focus on military technology. It's often the wrong technology but there's an intense focus. In fact, there's often too much focus on technology and not enough on maintenance, training, etc.

      I'm pretty sure I'm missing your point. Try again?

    10. Yes, sorry, what i meant was that politicians should focus more on the results delivered from the military industrial complex.
      Like trump said about "Drain the swamp" all about cleaning up Washington, similar measures for the defense industry should be applied.

  5. The navy will probably favor either the Austal or the Marinette Marine yard for the FFG-X, in order to maintain the industrial base at one of these yards. Your concept of ASW oriented vessels such as the corvette and a destroyer would be better than the above choices! Both ASW ships being designed for the task.

  6. The Air Force has total reliance on new build F-35, less so with Navy, with F-35s limited industrial base, 100 a year?, F-16 build rate hit 180 a year. The F-35 with its attendant baggage of ALIS etc and o/s Blk 4 & 5 not available is yet to be an operationally viable a/c. That's why Air Force continuing to spend money updating 4th generation fleet and holding F-35 buy to ~50 and waiting to see how many will be able to be updated.

    Question is should Air Force and Navy be buying minimum economical build numbers of updated F-15/16 & 18 to keep the industrial base and so enable ramp up production if required, the big plus for the older generation a/c is not their first cost but the support structure, O&M base, is in place.

    Congress, Air Force and Navy sold on F-35 to such an extent that Air Force have refused to even build new F-15 & 16s to keep industrial base in being. With the new generation fighter engines with a step change in power and fuel efficiency if promises realized will be available in ~6/7 years there may be a chance of 6th generation fighters for both Air Force and Navy though think your proposal of numerous new designs option to keep the industrial base would be stopped by opposition of having to create a new O&M base for each a/c, even though it was a disastrous policy when Navy retired the KA-6D and never replaced it, 30% of F-18 missions as buddy tankers and now half fleet in re-build.

  7. Reading Nick comment, had an idea that could? maybe help with maintaining industrial base. Seem if we can keep at least 3 deign teams (or more if possible) would be to abolish the winner take-all approach and instead, reduce requirements or stop gold plating everything and go for a 6-2-2 split on procurement budget. So let's say we spend $10 billion a year on fighter jets, winner that year gets $6 billion, the next 2 "losers" gets $2 billion each. It really only works if you don't spend the house and 20 years in development BUT if we let the design houses do their own thing and "reuse" a lot of tech, could something like this work? Same for land systems and ships, we would get more plants and shipyards back online, the one consequence would be you wouldn't be able to constantly change or get ever more newer expensive designs, I think you would end up with less complicated,simpler systems...not necessarily a bad thing short term. The advantage is you would have 3 design times, 3 weapon systems, more manufacturing plants, bigger supply chain with more work and diversity,etc,etc....

    I just had another crazy idea but I need to work it bit before I post, it's out there idea, kind of stupid.

    1. "6-2-2 split"

      I'm not a fan of splitting procurement. Commonality inevitably suffers.

      I prefer a winner take all but, as I've described, the winner only gets a small batch of 100 to perhaps a max of 500 (more typically 200-300) aircraft. With several aircraft designs, competitions, and productions going at any given moment, there should be plenty of work for all. No need to split production.

      For a working model, look at the 1960's and '70's and all the aircraft types we had, all the design work being done, all the production runs, and all the manufacturers we had.

    2. The navy wants only one LCS produced next year. Politicians from both states are trying to push back to keep the production line open for a ship type of minimal usefulness in combat.
      Both Austal and Lockheed are in the running for the FFG-X contract. It's possible that one of these shipyards will close.


    3. "keep the production line open"

      One could ask why we want to keep production lines open for companies that produced horrible designs of a horrible conceptual ship and then did a poor job of building them?

    4. The DOD should have shut down LCS production long ago.

    5. Yes, they should have. So, rather than keeping production lines going just for the sake of doing so, we should be focused on identifying and encouraging high quality production companies. Instead of using two companies, neither of which has proven capable of producing a useful product, we should have sought out a single company that could produce a useful vessel.

  8. It is worth noting that every major fighter aircraft developed in the last 50 years has been the result of a "mega" program. Besides, a certain number of aircraft have to be built to cover fleet needs and to amortize development costs, so the problem isn't necessarily the number of aircraft being built.

    If you limit the production run to 500 aircraft, accounting for attrition losses, maintenance, and training needs, how many aircraft are left for combat? Three hundred, at the most 350. If the next war is that of attrition, that might be a handicap.

    As noted in other comments, the problems with the F-35 are related to technology and risk. We also need to get away from the "one size fits all" mindset and develop aircraft that meet a focused set of requirements.

    1. You've missed most of the major points from these discussions.

      The first point is that we don't build an aircraft until the design is finalized and, once finalized, we don't change a single rivet on it until the production run is through. That's how we keep costs down, unlike the concurrent F-35 that has produced, and still is producing, hundreds of non-standard, non-combat capable aircraft. In our model, we build final, fully functional, fully combat ready aircraft. There are zero non-functional production aircraft.

      As far as non-combat needs, a manufacturer might build half a dozen for development needs, as was the case for the F-14 Tomcat. We would allocate a squadron's worth to a replacement training function so that's 10-20. And that's it.

      As far as aircraft "lost" to maintenance, that's a separate issue. When half the fleet is grounded awaiting maintenance, as is the case today, that's pure, utter incompetent management and those responsible should be subjected to court-martial for dereliction of duty. So, maintenance losses are a non-factor.

      Peace time attrition, meaning operational or training losses would be one or two aircraft per year - that's insignificant.

      That leaves virtually the entire production run available for fleet use.

      So, far from your assessment of 150-200 aircraft out of 500 being "lost", the "losses" would be 1-2 per year in mishaps and 10-20 for a replacement/training squadron.

      By the way, I'm also advocating that production runs should generally be much less than 500 - more typically around 200-300. Consider, for example, a navalized A-10 for close air support. We would need, say, two squadrons of 12 aircraft each in every air wing. We currently have 9 air wings so that's a total of 216 aircraft. Add in 20 for a replacement/training squadron and an extra 20 for operational attrition losses and you get a production run of 256.

    2. No aircraft design is finalized before production starts and changes are inevitable during production. Design mistakes get made and some aren't realized until production starts. For example, an early decision by NASA to opt for a pure oxygen life support system for Apollo, in part for design simplicity, proved disasterous.

      You're right about concurrency. But, done correctly concurrency can shorten the development cycle. Part of the problem is designing one aircraft (or a ship) to replace several different types of aircraft. The Harrier should have had its own replacement program.

      As for production numbers, limiting production also limits the opportunities for foreign sales and replacement aircraft lost due to combat.

      But, if a design is good, why reinvent the wheel every 5 to 10 years? Look how successful the F-15 and F-16 has been. The F-14 gained new capabilities too during its lifetime. And, had the Navy pursued the Super Tomcat, while lacking stealth, it would have been the long-range fighter you called for and probably would have fulfilled other roles too.

    3. "No aircraft design is finalized before production starts"

      We've been doing it wrong for so long that we've forgotten what right is. Of course a design should be finalized before production. A car manufacturer doesn't start building a car while they're still trying to figure out what they want to build. That would be idiotic. You've forgotten how development and production should work. You are the very epitome of today's problem!

      "Design mistakes get made and some aren't realized until production starts."

      That has nothing to do with finalizing a design and no one said that we should blindly build to a mistake. If a mistake is found, of course we'll correct it and alter the design. Those kinds of design alterations are trivial - an incorrect clip is spec'ed and needs to be changed. Fine, so change it. We're talking about changing design capabilities and features. You know this. You're just trying to argue trivialities for the sake of arguing. This is beneath you and not worth my time.

      "done correctly concurrency can shorten the development cycle."

      That's the claim but it has proven false in every case it's been attempted (F-35, LCS, LPD-17, Zumwalt, Ford, etc.). Document for me one case where it has proven to accomplish what is claimed. I can't think of any.

      "limiting production also limits the opportunities for foreign sales and replacement aircraft lost due to combat."

      This is absurd. Why would the size of a production run impact foreign sales? If a foreign country wants an additonal 50 or 5000 aircraft, that can be tacked on to a production run and has no impact on our acquisition model.

      To claim that limited production runs impact our ability to replace aircraft lost in combat is even more idiotic. Sure, we may not be able to replace the aircraft with the exact same one but why would we want to? Presumably, each run is better and more capable than the previous one so we would be replacing an older aircraft with a better, newer one.

      "if a design is good, why reinvent the wheel every 5 to 10 years?"

      You just don't get the basic concept, do you? Short production runs and short development cycles means that we have the opportunity to improve the aircraft on a regular basis. No one said that every new cycle had to produce a brand new, never before seen design. Honestly, that would be awfully surprising. What the short cycles and limited runs does is give us the opportunity to incrementally improve the aircraft's basic design. If, after 5-10 years we just can't think of anything to add to improve the aircraft then we just produce another batch with no changes. More realistically, there will be a number of useful changes and we'll wind up with a better version of the original base model.

      I've got to say that this was a very poor quality comment with very poor logic and no supporting data. Very poor effort. You need to grasp the basic concepts, think them through carefully and fully, and do some research, if necessary, to support any alternative theories you may have.

    4. "If you limit the production run to 500 aircraft"

      You might also take note of historical production runs. Some of our best aircraft in recent times have come from limited production runs. The F-14 Tomcat only had around 700 built, which included some foreign sales, and the A-6 Intruder had around 690. The S-3 Viking was around 180. Even the F-15 had a production run of only around 1100 of which many were for foreign sales. The US Air Force only operates around 450 F-15s of all variants.

      We've become so used to mega-programs that we've forgotten that's not how we used to build aircraft.

  9. Regarding the industrial base; it's about time to pay attention to how tiny the North American shipyard industry is in comparison to PRC, South Korea and Japan.
    Some smaller European countries such as Croatia and Poland produce more cargo ship tonnage than the United States.
    The shipyard industry in the U.S. is
    - three inefficient shipyards for government contracts, been unable to get export orders for ages because they are uncompetitive
    - some Great Lakes shipyards
    - some luxury yacht and coastal fishing boat mini shipyards
    - some production of Gulf oil industry specialised ships

    The PRC could win an arms race at sea in well less than a decade if the United States stick to arms racing with warships.
    South Korea would need be neutral to avoid attack by the PRC, Japan would be outclassed by PRC ship production even if it arms raced 100%.

    A second ARAPAHO program and greater investment in land-based air/sea capabilities are the only proper preparation for a possible arms race that I can see.

    1. You're a good bit off in your inventory of shipyards and you miss one of the potential key aspects.

      Wiki lists 87 U.S. shipyards of various sizes.

      There are four major companies with 7 major yards.

      -Electric Boat
      -Bath Iron Works
      -Newport News
      -Marinette Marine

      There are also 4 govt owned and operated shipyards but they do only upgrades and maintenance, not new construction.

      Still, that's not many, which was your point and you're quite right.

      As far as exports, that has less to do with costs and more to do with design. No one wants an export version of the LCS because it's just a bad design. The cost is almost irrelevant. No one wants a Ford because no other country can afford to operate a Ford. I' unaware that we've even tried to sell Burkes and I believe that we refuse to sell subs because we consider them "classified". So, export sales are not a cost issue but an availability and design issue.

      You are overlooking a potential strength and that is the existence of several major commercial or smaller commercial/naval yards that could be brought up to large naval capability relatively quickly if we'd allow and encourage it.

      There are several major shipbuilders that build non-naval vessels like tankers. These could build naval vessels if we were willing to expand our myopic focus just a bit.

      Smaller companies, like Bollinger, have built smaller naval vessels (Cyclone class) and could be encouraged to build larger vessels (like a frigate) if we'd allow it.

      So, while your overall point is valid, there is much potential if we'd choose to use it.

    2. The perils of relying on memory.

    3. Oh, your overall point is quite right and is a good warning that we should be heeding!

  10. robots2005 AI32080March 5, 2018 at 10:11 AM

    I view the future of the navy as centered around a future Russian VTOL fighter. I am concerned about AI and robot threats over the horizon. A ship a little bigger than a frigate and smaller than a destroyer is about the smallest size it is safe to operate a VTOL fighter jet. China has a new battery powered cargo ship. I envision these ships carrying a VTOL fighter or two, patrolling an area in between dielectric polymer wave power stationary floating islands. The ships are recharged and continue patrolling for drones, hacked subs, attempted missile launches to GEO, seabed fibre-optic hacking, etc. The ships can power lasers, but the rail guns may need to stay at the wave power stations.

    1. Umm ... I don't quite know what to make of this comment. You've obviously got something well defined in mind but it didn't come across. Let's try one specific aspect - the VTOL fighter. What is it you see a single VTOL fighter accomplishing?

  11. No more Heinemans and Kelly Johnsons, for sure. There can't be- they wouldn't be allowed to stand out like that...

    Defense in general, including defense aviation design, is only a niche industry. There isn't much innovation today and "developmental" is usually just scale.. Oh yeah everything is done by committee from day one. No ownership or accountability like the past.. Earned value engineering, systems engineering etc processes take the life out of any program.

    All the best are dead or forgotten. Brave new world..



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