Wednesday, May 14, 2008

KC-45 Protest: More Balance - Real Numbers

The constant regurgitation of Boeing talking points in comment threads at DefenseTech and elsewhere has prompted me to go ahead and provide this Northrop Grumman brief that I received last month from a Lockheed Martin source.

I am assuming this was the same brief for which NG offered to give me a backgound briefing. I declined NG's offer on the grounds I prefer to use open sources that everyone can access as much as possible, and I had this brief in hand already. Since I got this brief from a LockMart contact, it has obviously been widely disseminated so I guess it is alright to pass along some excerpts as 'public info'. It’s a pretty good representaton of NG's case and one slide in particular provides a good counterpoint to Boeing’s earlier ‘selectively- released’ scoring data in their serial protest ‘summaries’. The brief has also been out long enough that if Boeing had anything in their quiver to shoot at it I’m sure we would have heard about it by now (Shrinking violets they are not).

Skipping the Slide 1 intro, we see slide 2:
A little reminder that the NG/EADS team is meeting commitments and is on schedule as compared to... guess who? Boeing has been trying to make a little hay out of the boom flight test progression lately. Of course, the program is still working to schedule according to NG, and would it be too obvious to remind everyone the purpose of "test" is to find problems and fix them before they are fielded? It’s easy to shoot at a target when you don’t have anything for the competitor to shoot back at, I guess.

Next we have my favorite slide (because it has the most REAL data) :

‘Radar’ charts rarely work well in conveying info because people can be easily confused by chart formats they are not used to seeing and they contain more info on one chart than most people can assimilate easily. This is an exception and is an extremely good use of the type that would not have worked well if the KC-45 had not equaled or exceeded the KC-767, and the KC-767 not bested the KC-135 in every category (that would have involved crossed lines). Looking at the chart, the factors are in general order of priority beginning at the 12 o’clock position and going clockwise around the chart. It could be said to be slightly ‘biased’ of course, because it holds the KC-45 bas the norm and the visual impact emphasizes the differences between the KC-45 and the other two aircraft. If one wanted to emphasize how the competitors stacked up against the KC-135 they were vying to replace, the chart would have held the KC-135 as the norm and looked like this:

Relative scaling in the chart above seems to mask the true scale of differences in the more important factors, but clearly shows how superior the newer tanker contenders would be (with KC-45 being BEST) in the areas of pallets and passenger loading. What would just the first six factors (the ‘refueling factors’ if you will) look like without the other factors? Glad you asked. Here's a 'tanker' capability oriented chart of the same data:

This shows how much better the KC-45 was in ALL refueling factors. To me, the impressive thing in the relative grades was how the KC-45 beat the competitor in EVERY category. It is usually extremely difficult to optimize a platform such that the Customer gets everything they wanted and more. I also believe it is probably more a case of serendipity falling out from optimization of the A330 for a particular niche in the commercial airliner market that makes the KC-45 design the superior one. Sometimes you just get lucky, and the NG/EADS team seems to have worked from the position that you make your own luck. In short: they were apparently lucky AND good.
There’s lots of job claims and esoteric stuff in the slides as well but I just want to show three of the remaining slides because I personally find them interesting. Here’s Slide 5:

Slide 5 is a little selective in the categories, but I think follows the risk items for this program fairly well. What it really emphasizes is that there is no better risk reduction than actually building something to show the Customer you can actually do it. It doesn’t require much, if any, imagination to see one competitor had more manufacturing risk and the other had more technical risk: pick which would worry you the most.

I’ve included slide 8 for two reasons. One, it shows just how ‘international’ commercial aircraft programs have become and two, it shows a little factoid of unknown provenance asserting that Boeing’s unions assert there is actually less US content in the B767 than Boeing claims. Again, I hear no refutation on the airwaves from Boeing.

Slide 9 I like because it shows who builds what for the B767. I don’t really care, but it is sad to hear Congress-folk lamenting ‘French’ airplanes (that aren’t) while ignoring Chinese content in Boeing’s contender. As fickle as the French may be at times, I submit they are still more reliable than China.

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