Archive for the ‘Acquisition’ Category

The Richard Andres article Up in the Air addresses the challenges the U.S. Air Force is facing and the conditions that have led to its current state of affairs.

In effect, Andres suggests, the USAF has been so busy locked in on doing what it does that it’s lost its focus on what the nation most needs it to do.  The need-to-do job, the real purpose of the military is “to defend the global commons and the open international economic order by ensuring peace among the major powers.”

As have others, Andres also suggest that those who were looking out and looking ahead, including former SecAF Mike Wynn and CSAF General Buzz Mosley, were shown the door for speaking about reversing the USAF’s trend-line.

So what happened?  Well, there were several fundamental changes.

For example, with the end of the Cold War, the perceived value of the nuclear deterrence mission–a major piece of the Air Force–waned.

Also, at the end of the first Gulf War, a USAF-level decision that all future platforms would need to be stealthy and high-tech (and yes, expensive and manned) drove the USAF away from the sort of platforms that today’s effort would most need in a more low-tech battlespace.

An unrelenting ops tempo, when combined with the 90’s-era desire for a peace dividend meant procurement efforts like the next tanker, the KC-X were deferred or, like the F-22, drug-out, to their great detriment.

More recently, the USAF was slow to react to Secretary Gates’ desire to get more UAVs into the current fight, convincing (or reaffirming) many of a USAF stuck in a manned-fighter paradigm.

All along the way, other nations (think China) have been catching up as technology proliferates (think of Russian anti-air systems that may end up in Iran) and are robustly building out their anti-access capabilities.  The Navy may suffer greatly in this regard as well with the recent revelations regarding China’s DF 21 anti-ship missile.

Andres suggest several of the usual candidates-for-success when this topic is being discussed: having more integrated and coordinated air power by more effectively using Army, Navy, and Marine air assets and getting the new tanker buy underway, as it is the resource which provides longer-legs to all air assets, especially when we are “basing challenged.”

Speaking of basing, Andres advocates fewer European bases and using scarce political capital to acquire better access in the PACOM and CENTCOM AORs.

These are difficult to argue against and when I wrote on this general theme two years ago, I argued the Air Force has fallen because it often lacks vision and its leaders tend to be copies of those who have gone ahead of them. Andres wraps up with the similar thoughts.

The most profound challenge to the USAF may well be its own culture, and that is the sort of long-term turn that is very difficult for a command and control type of bureaucracy–like the Air Force– to make.

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Why yes, the F-35 is a rock star

Having one contractor to meet all your needs has a certain appeal.  Generally the implied appeal is “to avoid waste.”

But is it possible that a second contractor, competing with the first, creates an incentive for both to avoid waste?

The problem with sole-sourcing almost anything is that it kills competition.  Without competition, cost concerns…aren’t such a big deal.

So in summary, let’s be blunt: competition is good.

John Lehman makes a compelling case for competition and says the Pentagon has the F-35 engine fight all wrong and that Congress has it right.

Using historical facts (wow, what a concept!  Proposing to use fact-based decision-making!), Lehman demonstrates the inherent goodness of competition as relates to the big three of acquisition programs, performance, cost, and schedule.

“Lockheed Martin expects a multibillion-dollar production order from the U.S. government in 2012 for a next-generation satellite system,” reports Space News.

The order in question–perhaps the two ‘exquisite’ satellites flagged in this post from October 2009?

DoD Industrial Affairs Chief Brett Lambert

Like a zombie, cost cutting in DoD is one of those back-to-the-future efforts that never really dies.

That’s not to say cost cutting is a poor goal; far from it.  In fact, bravo…bravo as a goal.

The challenge is cost-cutting is simply a goal and lacks a strategy to achieve the goal.

The traditional government method is to add oversight and inspections.

That won’t cut costs.  In fact with history as a guide, it will raise them.

Small wonder there is massive scepticism regarding new DoD cost cutting efforts.

The answer to the headline is yes, DoD can cuts costs.  The real question is what will DoD do differently to cut costs.

Round one (aka tanker lease): epic fail based on USAF/Boeing procurement integrity problems.

Round two: Boeing competes against Northrup Grumman/EADS team. Boeing loses.  Boeing protests.  Protest upheld.

Round three: the procurement process, to say nothing of future air-refueling capabilities, hangs in the balance.

After all this, Boeing is almost certain to win the $50 billion deal.

There are way too many zeros being tossed about…

From the 10 July 2009 Washington Post regarding the F-22 cancellation:

After deciding to cancel the program, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates called the $65 billion fleet a “niche silver-bullet solution” to a major aerial war threat that remains distant.

187 F-22s for $65 billion.  Cost per unit about $348 million each.

Here’s what DoD Buzz says about the F-35 as of 1 June 2010:

The price tag of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the military’s largest weapons program, has jumped once again and is now projected to cost $382 billion.

At 2443 planes, that’s a bit over $156 million each, and not the $112 million listed in the headline.  I guess the F-35 the non-niche, lead-bullet solution? Is it possible to make shipbuilding and space look like a bargain?

So if flying hour costs are about the same and assuming the F-22 is twice as capable (however that might be defined) as an F-35, it’s pretty much a wash, right?

Still, once flying hour costs are figured in, is is possible these planes will bankrupt the Air Force?

It ain’t just the Air Force but it is about funding.

The pressure is no doubt on the Secretary to come up with something analagous to the peace dividend of the 1990s.  I’m sure he’s thinking about his legacy, but while budgets start with the services, OSD is a gigantic pass-through.

If OSD didn’t ‘fix’ the services’ requests, where would OSD’s value be?  But ‘fixing’ is almost always nibbling around the margins.  There are exceptions, but they prove the rule.

Those who really own the budget are Congress and the administration.

A more plausible approach for the Secretary (in my mind, anyway)–which would still be tilting at windmills–would be to attempt to find and cut the fat out of the bureaucracy. Easy to say, difficult to do, but I can dream.

Want to know why we have $500 hammers?  That’s what it costs to write a mil-spec for a hammer, staff it through the bureaucracy, have a contractor come up with a proposal, get bids from multiple contractors, transport and issue the hammer to someone who will use it (who probably already has at least one suitable substitute), get a hand-receipt for said item, and then to conduct the safety training required for the hammer.  Exaggerating?  Only slightly.

Now turn that ‘hammer’ into an SSBN(X) and what do you get?  An $11 billion submarine.

The real imbalance is with overhead, that is, the bureaucracy–the staffs, the evaluators, safety, quality assurance, the power point.

The lesson is Steven Covey’s law of the farm…you reap what you sow.