Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Profits Versus Performance

This is an updated version of a previous post about the objectives of the defense industry.  I’ve recently seen a steady stream of offerings and advice from industry and they all have a common theme:  they’re good for industry.  Here’s a small sampling.

  • Boeing is pitching upgrades to – surprise! – its F-18E/F Super Hornet.

  • Boeing is pitching upgrades to – surprise! – its F-15, referred to as the F-15X (1). 

  • Lockheed is proposing a new frigate based on – surprise! – its LCS.

  • Austal is proposing a new frigate based on – surprise! – its LCS.

  • Bell Boeing has proposed variants of – surprise! - its V-22 Osprey for

-          the Navy’s carrier delivery aircraft, CMV-22B
-          airborne early warning and control, EV-22
-          combat search and rescue, HV-22
-          anti-submarine warfare, SV-22

  • Northrop Grumman Ship Systems has proposed variants of – surprise! - its LPD-17 for

-          ballistic missile defense
-          a hospital ship
-          the future amphibious ship LX(R)

  • Raytheon has proposed upgrading – surprise! – its Tomahawk missile for the anti-ship missile role.

So, what’s wrong with upgrades and new variants?  Nothing, per se.  The problem lies in the fact that these companies are not suggesting the best military solution – they’re suggesting the best corporate profit solution. 

Is the V-22 the best military solution for an airborne early warning and control aircraft?  Almost certainly not.  Is the EV-22 the best corporate profit solution for Bell Boeing?  Absolutely!

Is the LPD-17 the best military solution for the LX(R)?  Almost certainly not.  Is it the best corporate profit solution for Northrop Grumman Ship Systems?  Absolutely!

Of course, it’s quite possible that a proposed upgrade/variant IS the best military solution in which case the military benefits to the maximum degree possible and the corporation profits.  Win-win.  Unfortunately, the instances of the military and corporate needs meshing like that are few and far between.

The problem is not just limited to upgrades.  New equipment is being proposed that follows the same model of maximum profits for the corporation.

For example, Raytheon is proposing a new concept in “Multi Domain Battle Management” for the military (2).  This would be a massive, integrated software decision making/assistance tool for military combat leaders.  The problem is that it’s highly likely that the proposed tool is not the best tool for the military but, instead, it’s the most profitable tool for Raytheon.

Bell is heavily pushing the V-280 tiltrotor for transport, gunship, and other roles.  Is it the best platform for each of those roles?  Unlikely.  Is it the most profitable for the company?  Certainly!

So, what does this all mean?

First, it means that the military needs to firmly understand that when industry proposes something, that something is, first and foremost, in the corporation’s best interests.  There’s nothing wrong with this.  In our free market system, attempting to maximize profits is what corporations are supposed to do.  As long as the military recognizes this they can make intelligent decisions about whether they want the proposed item.

Second, it means that the best military solution may never be offered by industry if it isn’t in some corporation’s best interest.  Thus, the military needs to understand what the best solution is before they entertain corporate proposals.  This is one of our major failings.  Having allowed so much of our in-house engineering expertise to lapse, the military often lacks the ability to know what the best solution is and depends on industry to tell them.  Of course, as we’ve just discussed, industry won’t provide the best solution, they’ll provide the most profitable solution.  The abandonment of in-house expertise is a major mistake and needs to be reversed.

For example, no one inside the Navy had the engineering expertise to recognize that the combining gear on the LCS was far too complex to be reliable or to be safely and reliably operated by standard crews.  As a result, the first several LCS’s all suffered very similar breakdowns related to the combining gear.

For example, no one in the Navy had the expertise to recognize that the Ford’s EMALS catapult was inherently flawed since, by design, the catapults could not be repaired individually.  Instead, the entire system has to be electrically “wound down” in order to service any one of the cats.  This is a major flaw in a combat system.

For example, no in the Navy had the expertise to recognize that the Zumwalt’s LRLAP munition for its gun was heavy on promises and very light on technical feasibility.

And so on.

To repeat, the Navy has to enter into industry discussions already knowing the best answer.  Anything less is heading down the path to failure.

CNO Greenert once stated that he was excited and couldn’t wait to see what industry would give the Navy in the future.  What an idiot!  You should know what you want and you should be telling industry what you want, not accepting whatever they’ll give you based on their bottom line.

We have got to stop depending on industry to lead our military development.  This means that we need to re-establish in-house technology and design expertise.  Failure to do so means we’ll be doomed to an unending succession of sub-par weapon systems.



___________________________________________

(1)DoDBuzz website, “Boeing Pitches 'F-15X' Fighter Concept to US Air Force: Report”, Oriana Pawlyk, 19-Jul-2018,



51 comments:

  1. I will stop you when you are wrong. Having just left the active duty SWO world from my 2nd tour (no shore duty, all or nothing for me), I now work in the defense industrial complex world. With 4 years of prior enlisted service and 4 deployments on 2 different amphibs, ddg, and a cg in addition to engineering BS and MS, I would say I am fairly technically savvy from operating to design.

    And now that I am seeing the big picture from the other side, it's disheartening and I really want to leave this industry for good. But they dangle that low six figure salary and some corporate gym where you can artificially stimulate your computer chair pancake butt, it makes it hard to leave. And that is precisely the type of people buying, analyzing, and creating requirements and contracts for the DOD.

    Just like our sailors in the fleet the engineers and scientists at the mid-low and lower levels are great americans. After all they get the job done. They are the equity. All the rest exist to justify made up requirements and products and lower the salaries of their subordinates so they can maximize overhead for bonsuses and other perks.

    On the govvie side it's full of retired mil types and retired in place types who never had real warfighting experience or it's so far behind them that it's obsolete. For admirals their operational tours are checks in the boxes that are an after thought.

    Have a nice day :)

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  2. Yes and no

    Businesses exist to
    "Maximise shareholder wealth"

    There is no chance congress is going to fund the design and construction of a new fighter and there is no chance its going to order the F22 in sufficient numbers to restart production, or allow export, or for there to be export orders sufficient even if allowed.
    That leaves upgrades to the existing fleet, overhauls of retired aircraft, or new builds of aircraft currently in production.

    Something else might be better, but if its not going to get purchased, whats the point.

    Conversely, if the buyer is hell bent on an all singing all dancing combined heavy transport jet / fire team scout drone, the builder that says it cant be done misses the contract and goes bankrupt, head held high.

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    1. I think that the idea that businesses should *only* maximize shareholder wealth is a problem that can lead to some really bad, short sighted decisions. But that's another conversation.

      I think the major failure we have here is that, as CNO pointed out, we failed to stop the higher people from leaving the military and working for the vendors. We also lost our own engineering prowess, and, it seems, lost the ability to even define good goals or specifications.

      "For example, no one in the Navy had the expertise to recognize that the Ford’s EMALS catapult was inherently flawed since, by design, the catapults could not be repaired individually. Instead, the entire system has to be electrically “wound down” in order to service any one of the cats. "

      I don't know that this needs expertise in engineering. This just needs experience in logic and common sense.

      Maybe some of this is due to lack of real combat experience. Maybe some of it is due to 'I never thought I'd have to specify that...'. When I look into software packages now I specify 'X% uptime required'.

      But I think the Navy should have known better, and found out sooner, so they could reject it entirely.

      Maybe, just maybe, this could have been found in testing so we wouldn't get stuck with a bad system on a 14 bbn ship.

      Sorry for the rant. Between EMALS, the wonky arresting system, the Radar that doesn't work, the AGS, and the LCS Mission modules I'm furious, and made more angry when the Navy cries poverty.

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    2. "I don't know that this needs expertise in engineering. This just needs experience in logic and common sense."

      You're quite right that, laid out after the fact, no one is going to think that being unable to repair individual cats is a good thing. The lack of expertise that I'm referring to on this one is the inability to understand the schematics and electrical diagrams on day-1, before any construction or development had begun and to say, hey, I see that this won't allow electrical isolation - we can't have that. That kind of expertise requires electrical engineers of a fairly high order. We either don't have them in the Navy or they weren't assigned/allowed to interact with the program.

      Did that make sense to you?

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    3. I think I'm with you. They were victims of not knowing what they didn't know.

      Still, after the tire fire that has been LCS development, etc. they should have been better than their specs.

      Again, I'm in a job position now where I have to deal with vendors whose code I'm not familiar with; but it's my job to sit down, learn, ask other people, and figure out where the vulnerabilities are and give the vendor specs to address that, or pass on recommending them entirely.

      I can forgive a slip every now and then. Certainly I have made some. But multiple slips over two decades amounts to systemic issues that haven't even started to be addressed.

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    4. "I think that the idea that businesses should *only* maximize shareholder wealth is a problem that can lead to some really bad, short sighted decisions. But that's another conversation. "

      Maximise shareholder wealth and maximise the next three years dividends at the expense of long term value are normally mutually exclusive.

      "Again, I'm in a job position now where I have to deal with vendors whose code I'm not familiar with; but it's my job to sit down, learn, ask other people, and figure out where the vulnerabilities are and give the vendor specs to address that, or pass on recommending them entirely. "

      I recently worked for a company, three times in the space of a year, a supplier said "are you sure about this", we said increasingly rudely back, yes we are sure.
      And oh how wrong we were

      I was brought in 2 weeks before they went live, by the end of day two my standard response was "are you fucking serious!!!".
      We went live and we were on our arse within days

      We'd been repeatedly told of the issue, but we knew better

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  3. Closing the barn door after the horse ran away, HII just got long lead material funding for LPD 17 Flight II. WRT LRLAP, it did stunningly well in tests at WSMR, with typical miss distances measured with a yard stick. The only problem was reducing a 32-ship class to 3. Unit cost for a few hundred rounds hit $1M each, when many thousands would have been a fraction of that.

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    1. Any ship that costs over $5 Billion like the Zumwalt class is nothing but a 'lemon'. A million dollars for a six inch shell is lemon. If industry was forced to fund the R&D rather than the US taxpayer, it would of been much cheaper.

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    2. "it did stunningly well in tests"

      Not according to GAO and other reports. The round did well in accuracy at shorter distances but was never able to even come close to the specified ranges.

      Further, while not part of the test criteria, someone should have noted the runaway costs and wondered if, even if the round met its tech specs, how could we afford it? And, we couldn't!

      So LRLAP was both a technical and financial failure.

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    3. "If industry was forced to fund the R&D rather than the US taxpayer, it would of been much cheaper."

      You make a very good and interesting point containing good and bad. The good is as you described. Company funded R&D would be far more cost effective and focused. The potential bad side is that there are developments that would not get funded because the Company wouldn't see any profit in them. For this reason, some degree of military funded R&D is appropriate but the military has to have enough in-house expertise to know what needs to be developed and then what portion can be funded by companies and what portion by the military. Currently, we lack the in-house expertise and are at the mercy of industry.

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    4. And.... why did we need such accuracy at such a price?

      I don't want to sound cold hearted, but if you're designing a gun it needs to be accurate enough to not blow up your own troops; Does a $1 million dollar pinpoint accurate shell do the job better than 5 8" HE shells close enough and infinitely cheaper?

      Maybe it takes out a tree, or the house next door too, but if we aren't willing for that to happen maybe we shouldn't be going to war.

      And if we need uber accuracy maybe we use existing things like LGB's.

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    5. "For this reason, some degree of military funded R&D is appropriate but the military has to have enough in-house expertise to know what needs to be developed and then what portion can be funded by companies and what portion by the military. Currently, we lack the in-house expertise and are at the mercy of industry."

      I had thought that way back in the day BuOrd did it's own R&D to develop naval canon? Am I incorrect in that?

      Would it be bad to have a government R&D facility to fund weapons?

      Maybe it wouldn't do much, but even just getting the in house expertise might be worth it.

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    6. "Does a $1 million dollar pinpoint accurate shell do the job better than 5 8" HE shells close enough and infinitely cheaper?"

      Very good perspective!

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    7. "Would it be bad to have a government R&D facility to fund weapons?"

      It might well be a good idea. We have DARPA but they seem to be focused on far future, exotic research rather than build an improved, basic, 8" gun kind of stuff.

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    8. @Jim Whall: the problem with the Zumwalts and the gun is that unguided 5" doesn't get you the range and accuraccy you need, and while unguided 6" is pretty much the perfect caliber for land-based artillery, dispersion makes your fire inaccurate beyond 40km. It's not just a matter of getting rounds close enough, it's the time you take to service a target: sure, maybe you could drop 200 cheap 5" rounds to take out a target, cheaper than a 1 million dollar guided long range round, but that leaves you on station for over 13 minutes, which is plenty of time to get counterbattery'd. Cost isn't only in dollars.

      That said the issue with the Zumwalts is that they were built for a paradigm that's no longer valid. Recall the 90s - nobody thought it was going to be srsface war, they thought it was going to be a lot of shore bombardment, because that's what the DDGs and CGs were doing, firing TLAM into people.

      I think it's also worth keeping in mind that had the rounds been selected for mass production over a 32-ship fleet, the costs per unit would have fallen after the initial capex for production lines and tooling and shit.

      @ComNavOps: 8" arty is good, but I'm kinda skeptical about it. The main advantage it had over 6" arty was range, but now modern 6" shoots out to the same range 8" did, with a smaller logistical footprint (in the sense that you can carry more 6" in the same shipping units), and is pretty much the best balance between lethality, rate of fire and range. For naval applications, which need a higher ROF than land applications, i think 5" is the best compromise of lethality, range and rate of fire.

      Although admittedly 8" shells have more space for electronics and fun stuff, so i guess you're sacrificing ROF and hoping for guidance to make up for it (which can work, i guess).

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    9. "unguided 5" doesn't get you the range and accuraccy you need"

      Need for what? This is one of the major problems the military - and observers - has: it wants every weapon to be able to do every task in the military. An unguided 5" round is, potentially, quite useful for what it's capable of. In WWII amphibious assaults, the unguided 5" gun proved immensely valuable in providing ground support fire. No, an unguided 5" round can't be fired 1000 miles with pinpoint accuracy but it doesn't need to - we have Tomahawk cruise missiles and B-xx bombers for that. What's wrong with an unguided 5" round?

      By the way, Jim was proposing 8" rounds which are even better for general mayhem.

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    10. "you could drop 200 cheap 5" rounds to take out a target, cheaper than a 1 million dollar guided long range round, but that leaves you on station for over 13 minutes"

      Setting aside that 13 minutes on station is not really a problem (and surface ships that are going to engage in shore fire support should their own counterbattery capability!), your statement is actually a valid argument for heavier naval guns. If it takes 200 5" rounds then 8" rounds will only require 1 or 10 or 50.

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    11. "That said the issue with the Zumwalts is that they were built for a paradigm that's no longer valid. Recall the 90s - nobody thought it was going to be srsface war, they thought it was going to be a lot of shore bombardment, because that's what the DDGs and CGs were doing, firing TLAM into people."

      You summed up the problem but drew the wrong lesson! You nailed it at the end by recognizing the TLAM phenomenon. The problem with Zumwalt, cost aside, is that it was a nearly useless mission. We have pinpoint TLAMs so why would we need a small 155 mm rocket munition with incredibly limited range compared to the popular TLAM? If we're conducting an assault and need to fire at something further away than 20 miles from the assault site, we already had bombers, cruise missiles, and carrier aircraft, among other options. The Zumwalt was a misguided attempt to duplicate a capability that didn't need duplicating.

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    12. "I think it's also worth keeping in mind that had the rounds been selected for mass production over a 32-ship fleet, the costs per unit would have fallen "

      This is one of the most common claims made - large production runs will make -fill in the blank- affordable. Reality shows that is very rarely (never?) the case.

      Further, at the point that the Navy terminated LRLAP, the round was up to nearly $1M, depending on what source you want to believe AND THE DEVELOPMENT WASN'T OVER!!!! The cost was going to continue to increase. So, by the time production rolled around, the cost would likely have been well over $1M per. Serial production would have had to had a huge impact and, again, history shows that never happens.

      Your statement is wishful thinking that history does not generally support.

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    13. "The main advantage it had over 6" arty was range"

      No, the main advantage was greater explosive effect.

      Regarding range, had we opted to continue to work on the 8" as we did the 6", the 8" range would have increased, also.

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    14. @ComNavOps: I'm comparing unguided 5" to unguided 6". 5" does 24km range, vs 6" which hits 40km - 6" does slightly under twice the range of 5". the 24 km range of 5" puts you well within the the percentage threat envelope for shore-based missiles. Sure, 5" was effective in WW2, but as you yourself have said before, the opposition has advanced, defenses have advanced, you need to compare the system today with the opposition today.

      Don't strawman me. I'm not disparaging 5" because it doesn't have the 1000 mile range of Tomahawk. I'm pointing out that it has limitations vs 6" and these limitations mean you're limited in what you can do with it in the context of shore bombardment, even if 5" is the best compromise round for naval applications in terms of lethality, range, and rate of fire.

      Spending in excess of 13 minutes 24 km from the shore is not something i'm very keen on, especially since truck-mounted SSMs with 100 km range are a thing: even if they only use a fraction of that range, you can be attacked by shore-based SSMs beyond the range of 5" to counterbattery, which means you need to rely on softkill and hardkill defenses to intercept said SSMs. It's not like you can't do anything, you can still do things, but that needs to be taken into account.



      "If it takes 200 5" rounds then 8" rounds will only require 1 or 10 or 50."

      well, that kinda depends on what we're doing, tbh. Generally more small boom is better than less big boom. Otoh if something needed 200 direct hits to blow it up, given each 5" has 7.5 lbs of HE filler, that's 1500 lbs of HE - i might as well have fired TLAM at it. :V



      "You summed up the problem but drew the wrong lesson! You nailed it at the end by recognizing the TLAM phenomenon. The problem with Zumwalt, cost aside, is that it was a nearly useless mission. We have pinpoint TLAMs so why would we need a small 155 mm rocket munition with incredibly limited range compared to the popular TLAM?"

      You misunderstand me. What I'm saying is that to Navy planners in the 90s, the Zumwalt idea makes sense because you have a ship filled with Tomahawks and long range 155mm gun firing rocket-assisted projectiles that give you superior range to 5": I've seen sources claiming 140, 150 0r 190 km. At the lowest end, this means a Zumwalt has 6 times the range of 5", and lets you fire rounds into all the Balkan nations from the Adriatic Sea, and then you use TLAM for targets further out.

      Unfortunately the reality was a whole lot different, and the navy is now stuck with 3 ships wholly optimised towards shore bombardment, in an era with a resurgent China and a rising surface threat.



      "This is one of the most common claims made - large production runs will make -fill in the blank- affordable. Reality shows that is very rarely (never?) the case."

      My observation of many things, not just military procurements, doesn't jive with yours - I will have to disagree with you on this. I feel you're also attacking me because you perceive me as a supporter of the Zumwalts, which I am not. My intent is to provide a more nuanced, balanced perspective. Consider the cost decreases in JDAM, or the downward trending costs of the F-35. Sure, LRLAP wouldn't have become a few hundred dollars cheap, but it wouldn't have stayed at 1 million dollars either.

      I will freely admit, however, that I'd have canceled LRLAP a lot sooner, because for the same money you get Tomahawk with a 1000 lbs warhead and 1000 miles of range.

      (1/2)

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    15. "No, the main advantage was greater explosive effect.

      Regarding range, had we opted to continue to work on the 8" as we did the 6", the 8" range would have increased, also."


      Rather than reinvent the wheel, I'll instead quote the words of an aquaintance of mine, an artilleryman by trade who later worked in the field of ammunition engineering:


      "The reason why artillery above 155 mm has been gradually phased out is because they don't have a job anymore. Back when 8" and up were still around, they were the only guns that could shoot out to 30+ km accurately. 155 mm or 6" guns only shot out to 20 km or so. The big guns were kept not because they had a firepower advantage, but because they had a range advantage. Firepower-wise, those old guns had really slow fire rates. They did still put more HE on target per minute than lighter guns but there were really strong diminishing returns, and a few big explosions causes less causalities than many smaller explosions (which is why cargo rounds and cluster bombs exist). Nowadays, modern 155 mm shoots right out to 40+ km, which is the practical limit for unguided artillery, since beyond that range dispersion makes fire ineffective. Conversely, if you are firing guided munitions, then at extreme range rocket artillery is a more efficient way deliver them than heavy and clumsy 8"+ guns (one huge guided MLRS rocket instead of lots of smaller guided 8" shells). Heavy artillery just became obsolete -- other forms of artillery did everything they could do better."

      the tl;dr: 8" was phased out because 6" guns could now equal the range with better rate of fire, ammo handling and ammunition logistics, and for distances greater than 40km, you move away from tube artillery to rocket artillery. Consider the Soviets, who were very big on artillery: not much in the way of 8" guns, *lots* of 152mm guns and rockets.

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    16. "maybe you could drop 200 cheap 5" rounds to take out a target,"

      I understand you were speaking conceptually rather than literally but here's an interesting tidbit I stumbled across. The oft quoted rate of fire of the 5" gun is on the order of 16-20 rds/min. However, the sustained rate of fire is 4 rds/min based partly on mechanical throughput limitations (manual handling) and on barrel heating (hot gun situation). From the Navalist blog,

      "Per SW300-BC-SAF-010, firing more than 50 rounds in 4 hrs (12.5rds/hr) results in a hot gun situation and risk to ship. This could prevent a DDG from responding to more than 2 calls for fire in 4 hrs, when twelve are expected by the Navy during sustained operations."

      So, the concept of unlimited volume of 5" fire that many people seem to believe, is, in fact, quite limited! No big deal here, just an interesting tidbit but it does suggest why larger calibers are often better - they can accomplish the destruction of the target with fewer rounds.

      Related note: the Mk71 has a listed sustained rate of fire of 12 rds/min but there is no indication whether that is sustained over extended periods and whether it would avoid a hot gun situation at that rate of fire. Ironically, taken at face value, the sustained rate of fire is higher for the 8" Mk71 than the 5"/62! As I said, it's unclear to me whether those numbers are directly comparable. What it illustrates is that there is more to gun fire than just the cursory values. No great surprise.

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    17. Twelve rds/min is the highest rate of fire the gun can achieve. I have not seen any sustained fire rate listed but, a sustained rate of 5 rds/min would allow Most fire missions to be completed. The 5" needs on average 22 rds to complete a fire mission. These are based on Viet Nam data. Also, a cruiser with 2 8" guns would be able to alternate the guns, as needed to keep them cooler.

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    18. Big guns still have an advantage...penetration. There are hardened and dug-in positions which can only be penetrated by large shells. An M-109 155mm may be able to place more ordinance on target in a given time than the M-110 8" gun, but that doesn't matter if 155mm rounds can't penetrate deep enough to cause more than superficial damage.

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  4. I think it is about time that the companies start paying for their own R and D and come with a value proposition to the buyer as any business would.

    Congress needs to stop funding development projects and start buying a product that really improves the war fighting ability of the USA. To much is being wasted on what is at best 'shit'.

    SOM

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  5. To be honest I don't believe the individuals involved in defense procurement are dumb or incompetent when it comes to weaponry overall. It's simply the revolving door of employment with these firms that corrupt them. If want to stop it then stipulate a law saying that senior officers and NCO's will not be allowed to work for defense contractors for life if they take a retirement from the United States.


    https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/pentagon-nominees-ties-to-private-firms-embody-revolving-door-culture-of-washington/2017/01/19/3524e8f4-dcf9-11e6-918c-99ede3c8cafa_story.html?utm_term=.5ae0c8a9cd98

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    1. I agree that the conflict of interest is unacceptable. On the other hand, we'd like companies to be able to gain the benefit of military expertise from retired service personnel. Otherwise, how does industry know what would really be of benefit to the military? How do we balance those conflicting requirements?

      My answer is to greatly increase our in-house military expertise so that the military is driving the industrial R&D rather than the other way around, as happens now.

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  6. It doesn't affect the basic premise, but you're incorrect regarding what's the most profitable.

    The most profitable solution would be an all-new design with lots of additional R&D. The companies offer a solution with the maximum expected profit; they factor in the probability of getting the order (expected value).

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  7. @ComNavOps: While you're right that the EV-22 is not the best solution for carrier-based AEW, I should note that so far it's a concept that's been pitched at people who don't have CATOBAR carriers. Hands down the E-2D is a superior AEW aircraft, but the only navies operating it are the US and France, the only people with CATOBAR carriers. For the British, their only other option for AEW would be a helo, and while that worked for them in the Falklands, that's not going to cut it today.

    WRT the HV-22 CSAR variant, it does make some sense - you need something to fill in the gap that the MH-60 and MH-47 can't fill. It'd basically be taking over the long range niche that the Jolly Green and Pave Low filled - and those were basically modified Stallions, afterall.

    As for the F-15X, my understanding is that it's what Boeing came up in response to a USAF request, and Boeing is eyeing marketing it to other nations that want an upgrade on their air forces, but aren't going whole hog on the F-35 (RUMINT has it that the Israelis are looking at the F-15X as well). As for the Advanced Super Hornet, Boeing has been shilling that for years and it's going nowhere; Hornet operators in the market for an upgrade are on the whole going either F-35 or Rafale, because both aircraft aren't that much more expensive than the Super Hornet Block 3, while offering a significantly higher leap in capability.

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    1. I mean, is it more profitable for the company because they're working with an existing product and don't have to do R&D on something new, sure. But as I recall, GAO has always liked the idea of upgraded variants of existing inventory, considering them a lower-risk option. There's something to be said for that line of reasoning.

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    2. You'll recall this line from the post,

      "So, what’s wrong with upgrades and new variants? Nothing, per se."

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    3. F-15X I can live with, if what I've read about it are true and achievable: (relatively) cheap, not intended for first day of war, 20,000 hour life span (!), upgraded avionics, built for cheaper cost/flight hour.

      If it can fit all those, I can live with it given it is probably better than the alternative plan of upgrading the F-15C's.

      It's very much part of Boeing's attempt to stay relevant in the fighter market as long as they can, and while self serving I can accept that. I also like the idea of more than one company having fighter experience.

      The Osprey though...

      Maybe for the Prince of Wales and Queen Elizabeth. But for our Navy I think its a solution in search of a problem.

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    4. "while self serving I can accept that"

      I can't. Well, only sort of. Instead of entertaining upgrades, the military should be looking at a brand new, state of the art (not beyond) aircraft and I've posted how to do that and get it into production in five years. THAT'S the preferred solution. Upgrades are a failure fix.

      If, after having established the preferred program, we want to pursue some upgrades as stop-gap measures then, sure, but upgrades are not a substitute for markedly superior, achievable solutions.

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    5. @ComNavOps: sure, sure. I'm just giving a bit more perspective for the peanut gallery.

      @Jim Whall: The other thing that strikes me is that the EV-22, if deployed off LHDs, would allow them to be more credible in the sea control configuration - currently if you want to do that with F-35s you need to pull an F-35 to acct as mini-AWACS, which means there's one less aircraft available for combat. I don't think that's the best use of LHDs though.

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    6. "EV-22, if deployed off LHDs, would allow them to be more credible in the sea control configuration - currently if you want to do that with F-35s you need to pull an F-35 to acct as mini-AWACS, which means there's one less aircraft available for combat."

      An LHA/D has a very limited number of hangar/deck spots. If we add a EV-22 (you can't just have one, you need 2-4 to maintain coverage!) you have to subtract an F-35 or helo which directly takes away from the the LHA/D's main job.

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    7. Well, like I said, I'm not convinced the Sea Control Ship config is a good use of an LHD.

      16 F-35Bs with EV-22 support is not a pushover, but on the other hand if the US really needs carrier aircraft in an area a CVN should have been sent there. Like I said, this is aimed more at the British, Italians and Spanish, given their small carriers (and perhaps the Japanese, if they buy F-35Bs to fly off their next "helicopter destroyer" class :V),

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  8. Probably the biggest problem in our defense industry is the recruiting of former high level officers to high level defense firms. Notice how big procurement projects are rarely criticized by flag officers, no matter how disastrous they are. Why would they, when they can just go with the flow, retire, and then get a $400k+ a year job at Raytheon???

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  9. The big defense vendors got them coming and going all right. A lot to be said for the "revolving door" creating the situation poster are pointing out. Dudes like CNO seem, no, ARE, clueless. its how he was trained.... For me it goes back to the "stealing of the peace dividend" by Bill Clinton and all since, and the promotion of "efficiency, commonality, less performance" mantras, at the cost of reasonableness.

    USG acquisition commands/experts like NAVAIR/NAVSEA/SPAWAR reflect Big Navy "leadership" and actually execute bad choices most of the time. Let me illustrates a couple specific organizational phenomena/decisions made that I have seen over the years I am sure you haven't noticed-

    1- At NAVAIR we have 2-3 times the number of folks working here and at higher grades than we did 15-20 years ago yet we "bought more/better stuff" back then that's in use today... (mainly for the "helping processes") At my program we used to get by with 2 CAPTs/2 GS-15s. Now we got 6/12! Its a jobs program that exists just to feed itself.... it exists for itself.

    2- Not only are the "leaders" entirely guided by what the vendor line up of prior FLAG/GEN officer business development types suggests/offers up, they don't even venture any risk based on even "no brainer" inputs from within their own complex! Like, lets say... Navy reuse/recap of the S-3 Viking CNOPs... ;-)

    2007-08 extend Vikings for fleet use as shore-based ISR aircraft to mitigate the P-3C Red Stripe groundings... Re-use nearly immediately available. Nope- Rejected by CNO-AirBoss...

    2011-12- bring back 40+ S-3B's to do carrier overhead tanking and mitigate F-18EF fatigue life issues and improve airwing strike capability, SFG, etc. that would have all been on line and cutting the hemorrhaging by 2017. Rejected by Sec Work, others...

    2013-14- reuse S-3B as KS-3C for COD/bonus tanker aircraft.. Rejected (really ignored) by leadership that seemingly and suddenly sole-sourced and without a competition, "anointed" the USN carrier COD program to the USMC (LOL) and Boeing with the V-22..Who made that call?

    - For the past 2 years, ignore the innovative and risk adverse idea of reuse of the S-3B aircraft as the unmanned MQ-25 air vehicle in order to field the capability years early... Rejected by? You know who...

    It's a CF all right... How can anyone expect them to do anything right with a record like that....

    b2

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  10. Great comments by everyone, love it!!!

    - I really think we need to speed up the process of acquisition and military needs to get their act together faster. We are in 2018, been in Afghanistan since 2001, after 17 years, USAF is looking at competing for a light attack COIN prop, it only took 17 YEARS FOR SOMEBODY IN DOD to suddenly realize (I can't find the quote,sorry) that we spent a lot of money and air-frame hours using F15/16 and B1 to bomb easy,undefended targets...NO SH%T EINSTEIN!!!! 17 YEARS!!!!!! It took DOD that long to figure that out! Ridiculous!!!

    - The other thing we need somehow to bring back is quantity of companies. Giving these "winner takes all" contracts a la F35 is destroying competition and just too many companies have exited or ceased to exist. We need somehow to go back to having more companies compete. Not saying like the 50s but having at least 3 to 5 (preferred) viable entrants for major weapon systems would be nice.

    My 2 cents....

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    1. The consolidation of aerospace and defense companies was inevitable following the end of the Cold War. Defense spending dropped after Desert Storm and there wasn't enough work to go around. Some major programs like Seawolf and the B-2 bomber were restructed with fewer numbers produced and many were eliminated. The Army had the M-8 Buford light tank ready to go into production as the replacement for the M551 Sheridan, but the program was eliminated.

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    2. Perhaps companies could be awarded concurrent contracts to manufacture the chosen product, giving us at least 2 pipelines of construction and "sharing the wealth".

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    3. "concurrent contracts"

      Conceptually, that's a good idea, however, there is a major problem with it. Unless the product volume is immense, it leads to elevated costs due to each manufacturer producing only half the number. If you're talking about splitting production of five million bullets between two manf's then it would work. If you're talking about splitting three Zumwalts between two manf's, or 32 LCS between two manf's, and so on, then it just makes each manf's product much more expensive.

      On the other hand, having multiple sources, even at the cost of greater purchase price, might well be a good thing.

      So, good and bad.

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  11. Out of all of those the only one that makes sense is the F-15X atm. The others? PFFT, self licking icecream cones.

    The F-15X is actually a very nice aircraft from what I have seen. Massive missile load and performance as well as a upgrade to the systems all around. Should take up the slack of the F-35 and be great back up for the F-22.

    Lets be honest the massively incompetent military industrial complex we have can't get a new aircraft in the air in under a decade let alone 5 years. And then it still needs another decade of work.

    I would like to point out that there is a aircraft we could still have. Just got to give in to it.

    F-14X shall we say. Yes I can dream of a long range naval superiority fighter/Attack aircraft again.

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  12. "Bell is heavily pushing the V-280 tiltrotor for transport, gunship, and other roles. Is it the best platform for each of those roles? Unlikely. Is it the most profitable for the company? Certainly!"

    You've indirectly referenced the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) program to develop technology and prototypes for the Future Vertical Lift program. The Future Vertical Lift program is intended to field replacements for Army's Kiowas, Apaches, Blackhawks, and Chinooks and the Navy's Seahawks. Likely others too.

    The V-280 is smaller than the V-22. But, unlike the V-22, the entire nacelle does not rotate, only the propeller section rotates. Therefore, the hot engine exhaust does not impinge on the ground during landing and taking off. And, I've seen images of a naval version where the tail is inverted to allow the main wing to rotate for storage aboard a ship.

    Bell's V-280 Valiant and Sikorsky's SB-1 Defiant are interesting designs. The Sikorsky SB-1 uses counter-rotating blades with a pusher prop. The Blackhawk/Seahawk helicopters are fairly long in the tooth and aside from engine and electronic upgrades, there isn't much else you can do to improve the overall design.

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    1. The V-22 and V-280 rotors are necessarily a compromise between propellers and helicopter blades and inefficient in either mode, in the hover mode i.e ASW mode when using dipping sonar, understand the fuel consumption will be two to three times? that of a SH-60 Seahawk, so if V-280 ever acquired it will be a backward step as severely limiting time on station in one of its primary operational missions.

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    2. Weight is a factor too and a lighter tiltrotor might not be as fuel inefficient in hover as you suggested. Besides, Seahawks are used for CSAR, maritime strike, and inserting SEALS. A Seahawk-size tiltrotor with twice the speed and range of a Seahawk would have an advantage over the Seahawk.

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  13. It would be interesting to understand why no-one is pushing for jet equivalents. Surely even being able to tilt a jet engine a few tens of degrees would improve lift at low speeds and reduce take-off runs although probably at the cost of a reduction in cargo?. Hercules have taken off and landed from Nimitz class carriers - wouldn't something of that size be even better for AEW or ASW patrol or gunship? Maybe not tanking due to the weight?

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  14. Although people go on about the revolving door a lot, theres little if any truth to it.

    Imagine
    You are a small arms manufacturer
    You have two options
    You can guess what the army is thinking
    Or
    You can employ the former head of the army small arms acquisitions department, who intimately knows the department and its prejudices

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    1. Yep, that sure is exactly how corruption works.

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    2. "You can employ the former head of the army small arms acquisitions department, who intimately knows the department and its prejudices"

      And thereby establishing the "understanding" with serving flag ranks that if they choose your product they'll receive cushy consulting or Board positions when they retire.

      The conflict is just too overwhelming and obvious.

      The theory of hiring experience to help guide the company is great but not when it becomes a quid pro quo situation.

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