Tuesday, December 11, 2007

New Fighter Comes Under Fire: Will the F-35 survive?

A critical GAO report early in a program can be the first step towards cancellation.

Here's what the GAO Found:

--Based on early test data, Program officials and end-users are concerned about several potential aircraft problems: engine stalls, demonstration of an improved aerial restart capability, and excessive taxi speed.

-- Warfighters believe that the aircraft needs additional equipment, such as a new internal electronic countermeasures set, an information distribution system terminal, and a new air-to-air missile. The aircraft does not have sufficient space available for all desired new capabilities.

--A review team was critical of the combat vulnerability of the aircraft. Based on a subsequent assessment by the contractor, the program is considering adding two vulnerability reduction features. In the opinion of Program Office officials the problem of vulnerability is not significant.

-- Subsequent to the vulnerability review, the aircraft mission has been revised to include more air-to-surface operations. In this role it is more vulnerable than in the air-to-air role because it is subject to a greater variety and concentration of hostile fire.

--The aircraft program cost estimate in the latest Selected Acquisition Report shows an increase of $7.7 billion from the previous year’s Selected Acquisition Report. Of this, $6.3 billion is attributed to acquisition quantity change. The remainder is for new capability for the original aircraft buy and program estimate revisions. The Selected Acquisition Report was received too late for GAO to analyze the changes as to reasonableness and accuracy.

-- It is generally considered that the cost of participating country production will be higher then U.S. production cost. The program office does not yet know what impact partner coproduction will have on the cost of U.S. aircraft. They contend, however, that the increase in aircraft procurement quantities as a result of partner participation will lower the cost of domestic production enough to offset the increased cost of coproduction.

--The aircraft program is experiencing schedule delays that could, if not corrected, affect completion of testing required to demonstrate aircraft performance before the full production decision scheduled for September. Program officials believe the delays will not seriously threaten the test schedule.


Greater emphasis is now being placed on the aircraft air-to-surface mission and some of the significant survivability/vulnerability problems identified by the service review team have not yet been corrected.

The existing schedule for several critical test items seems optimistic and leaves little room for further delays or unanticipated test problems. Should either or both occur, the program will have to decide between delaying the production decision or revising test requirements.

The Secretary of Defense should:

--Reassess the aircraft survivability features to determine if they are adequate.
--Not allow participating partner pressure to hamper performance of testing necessary to justify a full production decision.
-- Invite the partner countries to participate in any assessment of the test schedule so that any changes can be mutually agreed upon.
Here are some of the details:
The schedule for completion of the tests required before the full production decision is optimistic.

Test aircraft, radar, and the stores management system are currently behind schedule. Program officials have placed a high priority to resolving these issues in order to maintain the schedule. Continued slippage could result in a failure to complete required testing prior to the scheduled full production decision.

Delay in aircraft assemblyThe aircraft and airframes required for testing are scheduled for delivery but these test aircraft will not contain all production components. Among those deleted are the gun, radar, operational displays, fire control computer, and stores management system.

Aircraft A-1 was delivered and the static test airframe began scheduled testing in the same month. Program officials stated that the schedule slippages are slight, and are being recovered.

Two aircraft are particularly critical to the test program. Aircraft A-3, for example, will be the first with full mission equipment and many test requirements can be done only with this aircraft. Aircraft B-1 must make its first flight prior to the DSARC. Any extensive delay in the delivery of either of these aircraft could delay accomplishment of test requirements.

Radar production behind schedulePrior to the full production decision the contractor must successfully demonstrate all radar functions and the integration of the radar with the other aircraft avionics subsystems. This will require that a properly configured radar unit begin ground testing at least 2 months before its installation in test aircraft A-3. A flight model of the radar has demonstrated most radar functions, but this set is 20 percent larger than the one to be used in the production aircraft. The first radar set configured for the airframe has not been completed. Radar production is currently 6 weeks to 2 months behind schedule. Delivery of the radar unit is scheduled for mid-March which barely meets the requirements for ground testing. There is little time available for further production slippages or if significant testing problems occur.

Schedule slippage in stores management system
The aircraft stores management system coordinates the weapons functions with other aircraft avionics systems such as radar and optical displays. The system consists of a number of electronic units throughout the aircraft. In August, Program officials reviewed the stores management system progress and considered it unsatisfactory. The redesign of the system and other problems have caused schedule slippages. Program officials stated that these slippages will not affect the test schedule because the stores management system is not needed until Aircraft A-3. If the current problems persist, however, and the system is not available as scheduled, it will interfere with completion of DSARC IIIB testing,

And there is concern over foreign partner's needs and influence adversely affecting the Cost for the US......
From its inception the program has been heavily influenced by the desire of the United States Government to have the aircraft adopted by allies and subsequently, by the requirements of the Partner Governments. The time frame for aircraft selection, and the coproduction requirements. have caused conflicts with normal acquisition procedures, and have resulted in these procedures being either ignored or circumvented. The US and partner production decisions are scheduled for September. The current schedule slippages and related test program problems,
however, may require that the program choose between delaying the production decision or revising test requirements. Because of the multinational commitments, which include a firm delivery schedule for participating partner aircraft, there is some question as to what options will be available at that time. For instance, in DCP 143, indicates that if unforeseen difficulties arise it will be prepared to accept the first few aircraft without the radar and retrofit them later so as not to delay the aircraft delivery schedule.

The multinational aspects of the program are more thoroughly discussed in a separate GAO report.

On August 31, the program office directed that $10 million of progress payment be withheld pending remedial action on a number of problem areas including the following:
-- Submission of Engineering Change Proposal 0006 which will reflect much of the impact of partner participation in the program.
-- Submission of change proposal for maintenance test equipment.
-- Submission of change proposal for nuclear capability.
--Other late reProgram officenses to requests for change proposals.
--Problems with stores management set.
--Schedule slippages on full-scale development.

As of December 3, satisfactory progress had been made in some of these areas and $5.5 million had been released. The remaining $4.5 million was still being withheld pending further contractor action. The principal concerns were Engineering Change Proposal 0006 which Program officials stated was fundamental to development of an adequate program budget for the following year and beyond, and some slippage in the full-scale development aircraft delivery schedule.
Oops-- My bad! (This isn't about the JSF.)

Experienced readers would have seen defunct and incorrect (for the JSF) terminology and known this wasn't about the F-35.

So what was the troubled and risky program described above? Why it was none other than the now-venerable F-16. And the above text was excerpted (with a minimum amount of anonymizing) from a 1977 GAO report.

Scary huh? The only difference between then and now is that the GAO has bigger staffs and budgets to do their hatchet work. So be skeptical when and if you start seeing handwringing over the JSF in the future

Keeping Talk of JSF "Costs" Real

Note: this is a cross-post of a comment I made over at Defensetech.org . I'm doing it here only because I can add links to the words in case anyone wants to explore the subject a little further.

Let’s talk apples and apples for a bit (and for a change).

Assuming the reference (see comments to original post at Defensetech) to $122M per JSF is from yet another limp-wristed GAO report (another thread for another time), perhaps even Table 3 of 'nearly useless' GAO-07-415, that ‘$122M’ number is unit “Acquisition Cost” which includes all the development, tooling, and everything else to mature the technology and put it in production, amortized over a planned production period and set quantity. It possibly includes other non-recurring costs, such as ‘facilities costs’ incurred when fielding the F-35. But without a deep dive into the analysis and background you couldn’t tell, doesn’t add very much to the discussion.

GAO-07-415 is only 'nearly useless' because it also provides us with some close-to-equivalent numbers for the F-18E/F, the Navy’s ersatz ‘risk reduction’ project (in case the JSF did not materialize). Using the same timeframe (through 2013), with a single bit of math we also see in the same Table 3 that the unit Acquisition Cost for the F-18E/F is a little more than $96M. So there appears to be a net $26M difference in unit Acquisition Cost. Some of that difference can be accounted for simply by when the dollars are spent within the time period. Obviously, the F-18E/F development dollars are behind it for the most part and are sunk cost, while a good chunk of the F-35’s development dollars are future dollars and yet to be spent. Therefore, some of the difference can be simply attributed to ‘different-year’ dollars.

But the driver behind the bulk of the dollar difference isn’t found in the calendar: we must factor in what those dollars buy the taxpayer in each option. Most of the technology and manufacturing infrastructure for the F-18E/F is only evolutionary vis-à-vis the F-18C/D generation. This includes any increases in capability and survivability. Just based upon what is publically acknowledged about the F-35 means it will be FAR more technically advanced and survivable than any F-18 – or any other predecessor aircraft. The powers-that-be have decided that the capability is worth the increase in unit Acquisition Cost, which isn’t surprising because it is by design.

More Costs
Unit Acquisition Cost is definitely NOT what just one F-35 costs or what it would cost to build one more, or to replace one that is lost. That number is much, much lower and known as unit Fly Away Cost. The F-35, by all accounts, is STILL within its target average flyaway cost range: early units will cost more (low-rate production) and later units will cost less. Go figure.

If Congress whacks the numbers bought, the target cost range will have to be adjusted, and then we will be working within a new reality with new numbers to befuddle the masses.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

NIE: Bush Administration Reaps What Was Sowed

Frank Gaffney at NRO Saw It Coming Waaay Back
Two and a half years ago (July 01, 2005 to be precise), Frank Gaffney warned the Bush Administration about the perils of appointing State Department ‘diplomats’ to positions requiring Intelligence expertise in an New Republic Online article titled “Not a Time to be Diplomatic” (subtitle: “Wrong Man Wrong Job”).

I’ve been watching to see if anyone has referenced it in the wake of the release of the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) and have been very surprised that no one has mentioned it that I can see (somebody MUST have, but perhaps they’re on the edge of oblivion like this blog).

I wonder if Mr. Gaffney even remembers it or perhaps he is preparing an in depth “I told you so” article as I type.

In the 2005 article Gaffney opened with:
If you wondered whether the U.S. intelligence community could possibly perform even more dismally than it has of late with respect to various aspects of the terrorist and proliferation threat, the answer is now in. Even worse is in certain prospect if Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte goes forward with his reported offer to Ambassador Kenneth Brill to become director of the just-announced National Counter-Proliferation Center (NCPC).
While the article focuses on Brill, two other figures at the center of the brouhaha: Negroponte and Fingar.
Instead, the ambassador is a career foreign-service officer. So, of course, is Ambassador Negroponte. So is the DNI's deputy for analysis, Thomas Fingar. So is his deputy for management, Ambassador Patrick Kennedy.
Brill was evidently no ‘star’ at the IAEA:
So egregious was Brill's conduct, according to insiders, that not only the administration's advocates of robust counter-proliferation policies opposed his being given any subsequent posting, let alone a promotion. Even then-Secretary of State Colin Powell and his Deputy, Richard Armitage, strenuously objected to his conduct at the IAEA and refused to give him another assignment. But for his prospective rehabilitation by Amb. Negroponte, Ken Brill would presumably conclude his career in government with his present year-long sinecure at the National Defense University.
Gaffney concluded:
The last thing the United States needs at the pinnacle of the intelligence apparatus assigned to countering what is widely agreed to be the most dangerous threat of our time — the scourge and spread of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists and their state-sponsors — is someone whose past track record suggests that he misperceives the threat, opposes the use of effective techniques to counter it and is constitutionally disposed to accommodate rather than defeat the proliferators.
In determining the credibility of revised NIE Iranian WMD ‘judgment’, it is not unreasonable to examine the qualifications and ability of the people that are responsible to make such judgments. It seems to me that key people involved in this NIE have already been found wanting. And if the previously ‘high confidence’ NIE was wrong, what makes this NIE judgment more likely to be correct?

More importantly what are the consequences of being wrong this time?

Decoding the NIE doublespeak doesn’t do anything to inspire my confidence either.

I thought the intelligence apparatus was as broken as it could be, but I guess the Administration found the only way they could have made it worse: by moving in more pasty State Department boys.