Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The F-35 and "Texas Sharpshooters"

Well, the 'Ragin Hedge Baby from the Shires' tried to make a buzz (if link doesn't work it is because it is too long for Blogger) over the latest GAO report on the F-35 program almost exactly as predicted, including closing his piece trying to cite the GAO's 'Texas Sharpshooter' skills as proof of something or other.

The drumbeat is getting tiresome, and I'd 'Fisk' his entire post AND the GAO report, except I'm feeling sentimental at the moment having read an earlier magazine article online today written by Mr. Sweetman where he quoted an old colleague of mine who, sadly, passed away a few years ago, and who I am missing very much these days. So in lieu of a long parsing of the 'Ares' post, we'll just go with.....

A Short Quiz:

This is the latest GAO report on the F-35 program. 

Joint Strike Fighter: Restructuring Places Program on Firmer Footing, but Progress Still Lags GAO-11-325, Apr 7, 2011

Now here are some older GAO reports:

The F-16 Program: Progress, Concerns, and Uncertainties C-MASAD-81-10, Feb 28, 1981

The Multinational F-16 Aircraft Program: Its Progress and Concerns  PSAD-79-63, Jun 25, 1979

F/A-18 Naval Strike Fighter: Progress Has Been Made But Problems and Concerns Continue  MASAD-81-3, Feb 18, 1981

Q1: Do you see a 'trend'?

If you want to get into the nitty-gritty, compare my predictions last week with the latest GAO report. Note the DoD response. Most of it falls under "We're doing that already".

BTW: The "F-16 Program: Progress, Concerns, and Uncertainties" and "The Multinational F-16 Aircraft Program: Its Progress and Concerns"  reports are not that different from another report I used to illustrate pretty much this same point a few years ago.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Chappie James, Political Correctness, and the Current Libyan Problem

“How America’s first Black Four-Star General almost stopped the current Libyan regime in its infancy 42 years ago but you’d never know of it or any other of his major military accomplishments by his official Air Force Biography"

The 18th Fighter Wing Association website cites an “article by J.D. Haines in Retired Officer Magazine, February 2001” that “described the following events…at Wheelus AFB, Tripoli, in October 1969”.
On Oct. 18, 1969, just six weeks after Col. Muammar Gadhafi of the Libyan Army had led a coup deposing Libya’s King Idris, he stood at the gates of Wheelus Air Force Base. Facing him was an American officer, also a colonel, named Daniel “Chappie” James Jr. However, any similarity between the two men ended with their military rank. Before the coup, 27-year old Gadhafi had been a mere lieutenant in the Libyan Army. As leader and chairman of the Revolutionary Command Council, Gadhafi was catapulted to Colonel overnight. In contrast, James, an African-American officer, earned his rank the hard way by overcoming racial prejudices and enduring air battles in Korea and Vietnam.
Few Americans recall the day that James faced down Gadhafi. The confrontation occurred when Gadhafi ordered a column of Libyan half-tracks onto Wheelus. The half-tracks blew past the gate guards and through the housing area at top speed.
When James was notified of the intrusion, he came immediately to the front gate and lowered the barrier to prevent more vehicles from entering. Standing a few yards beyond the barrier was Gadhafi with his hand resting on the butt of his pistol. James glared at him, his own .45 ready at his side.

"Move your hand away from that gun", James ordered. Much to everyone’s surprise, Gadhafi complied and probably prevented an early end to his dictatorship. As James later recalled, “If he had pulled that gun, it never would have cleared his holster". As if to punctuate the impression James had made, the Libyan Army didn’t send any more half-tracks after that incident.
The article also recounted an earlier “Colonel James vs. the Libyans” incident: 
In July 1969, while James was at Wheelus AFB, he displayed an example of his diplomatic talents.
America’s relations with Libya had continued to slide downhill as Gadhafi pressured the U. S. Government to withdraw its military presence. But the Libyans wanted the Americans to leave behind expensive technical equipment to keep the base running. The Americans resisted and planned to remove the material from the base. A serious confrontation almost took place when several Libyan colonels demanded an audience with James.
James invited the officers to his home to discuss the issue of the base equipment. Tensions were already high as the Libyans entered James living room. As the Libyan officers sat down, their driver entered the room carrying a submachine gun. James immediately glowered at the Libyan officers.
“I’m going to count to three”, he said, “and if that man is not out of my living room by that time, I will physically throw him out”. The driver made a hasty retreat.
You’ve probably never heard of these anecdotes because of all the ‘politically correct’ framing of his illustrious career, including that which can still be found in his 32-year old Air Force Biography (last updated shortly after the General’s death a month after he retired).

Unlike every other AF senior military leader biography I’ve read, Gen James’ bio does not list his major military awards and decorations. The biography has literally paragraphs of the General’s civilian awards and honors received. Then it simply closes with the statement: “General James is a command pilot. He has received numerous military decorations and awards.”
General Daniel 'Chappie' James
(AF Official Photo)
If you can’t decode the ‘fruit salad’ on the General’s chest in the official photo, you would never know what those military awards or decorations were. As it is, I can’t even tell with 100% certainty if some of the General’s oak leaf clusters are silver or bronze (For civilians: ‘silver’ indicates 5 separate additional awards of the medal or ribbon and ‘bronze’ represents 1 additional award).

The ribbons and devices below the General’s Command Pilot Wings represent the award of (from top to bottom and left to right):
Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Distinguished Service Medal (AF) , Legion of Merit (x2), Distinguished Flying Cross (x3)
Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal (x24), Army Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation (X4?)
AF Outstanding Unit Award (x4?), Combat Readiness Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal, WW2 Victory Medal, WW2 Occupation Medal, Nat’l Defense Service Medal (x2)
Korean Service Medal (x5), Vietnam Service Medal (x4?), AF Longevity Ribbon (x8), Armed Forced Reserve Medal
AF Small Arms Expert Marksmanship Ribbon, ROK Presidential Unit Citation, UN Service Medal, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon

Why am I making ‘a big deal’ out of this? It is a MILITARY biography. While one can argue for inclusion of the things the General was an important part of other than his awards and decorations, especially concerning his role in breaking down barriers within the Air Force and the United States, one cannot argue for the dearth of references to his actual military achievements in the bio.

This absence of General James’ military accomplishments led me to search for a biography that might tell me what at least some of them were and what they were for. I haven’t found one online yet (I have found some books I’ll keep an eye out for), but my search took me to the interesting bits above. Incidents that are quite relevant today, given the current ‘kinetic military action’ in Libya. James’ encounters with ‘Ghadafi’ and Co. speaks volumes about a tyrant’s cowardice and a General’s courage.
The Air Force needs to clean up General James’ biography to include a description of his military awards and decorations. He was an American Fighting Man: he deserves to be remembered as more than a civil rights ‘symbol’ in the abstract. For what is it he exactly symbolic of without acknowledging his actual military accomplishments?

Ragin’ Hedge Baby on the Loose!

Forget that missing zoo cobra (they found it last week). This is much worse.

That “Ragin’ Hedge Baby from the Shires” (aka Bill Sweetman) is beating his ‘Anti-JSF’ drum again. This time, it appears he’s laying the groundwork for more negative F-35 stories in April:
"The Canadian debate will be influenced by the second April news story, the release of the full Government Accountability Office annual report on the program. Notwithstanding all the standard criticisms leveled at the GAO -- "It's old data", "The GAO criticized the F-16/M-1/Bradley/Trojan Horse etc" -- the fact remains that the GAO since 2007 has predicted the trajectory of the program much more accurately than the program's managers."
This represents what IMHO is among the most disingenuous ploys common to partisan journalism. Can you say ‘poisoning the well’ boys and girls? I find this a rather transparent attempt to preempt and diminish any criticism of the GAO ‘report’ once it is released.  I must say it causes a part of me to wonder: does Mr. Sweetman  already know that it is going to be, in the current vernacular of the White House, a ‘turd sandwich’? Nah. It's that's probably just my old C-I mojo acting up.

The implied claim that the GAO’s reports may have predicted anything on the F-35 since 2007 is unadulterated BS: GAO warns about ‘maybes’, ‘mights’, ‘coulds’, and ‘if-thens’. They never predicted anything – that would make them too easily accountable and subject to direct ridicule.

GAO reports (at least since Mr. Sweetman’s 2007 date) concerning the F-35 have been typical of most GAO reports on defense acquisition programs. They wail and moan over ‘risk’ as if it was THE most important concern. Contrast this with program managers who must manage the risk to cost, schedule, and performance while actually executing the program to meet a stated mission NEED. …And by the way, program managers make this point clear at every opportunity. They understand their charter and work to fulfill it – they do not work to make a GAO auditor’s day.

The two entities, the GAO and the JSF (or just about ANY) program simply talk past each other on the subjects of risk and “what-ifs”. The difference is, that while the programs deal with reality, and actually seek to identify and manage the risks that exist in all enterprises -- without certain knowledge of all possible futures, the GAO on the other hand, does a ‘drive-by’ on programs. The GAO then barfs a laundry lists of risks that they assert as needing avoidance. In later follow-on reports the GAO will point and cackle whenever some risks (rarely unforeseen and/or mitigated by the program’s management as well) become ‘issues’.

I find GAO 'defense' reportage in most cases a most cynical form of the 'Texas Sharpshooter” fallacy', and holding up a GAO report as the ultimate word on just about any defense program topic is as big a misplaced appeal to authority as you can make. The GAO can crunch numbers, but if their track record on predicting anything related to Defense topics can be called “consistent”, it is ONLY in the sense that they always predict there’s ‘too much risk’ and that things are or will be ‘bad’. The GAO is hardly alone in the naysayer role. Today’s programs must run a gauntlet of criticisms and predictions of doom from eternal experts and pundits, but since they are not inside the program day to day, usually their commentary is of little use, and is typically ignorant and unhelpful (a point I believe I sufficiently drove home in an earlier post on B-2 development).

The GAO also gets to cherry-pick ‘worries’ based upon whatever task their Masters have assigned while carefully avoiding implicating their Masters as having a role in creating the worries in the first place. For instance, the GAO can bemoan the immaturity of F-35 production processes year after year in their ‘Selected Acquisition’ Reports without ever having to reference the Congressional funding decisions made annually that deliberately slow production, and the GAO can avoid mentioning without recrimination that the F-35 program is in Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) ramping up to Full Rate Production, which is actually when production processes are EXPECTED to be mature. We need a GAO: we just don’t need the GAO we have*.

Sweetman’s piece, like oh-so-many of his recent posts, is focused on discrepancies between various ‘Cost Estimates’. It also, like oh-so-many of his recent posts, carefully avoids noting that of all the ‘estimates’ of costs, actual unit costs to-date are most closely tracking to (and actually beating) Lockheed Martin’s cost-curve estimates.  This includes up to and including the latest LRIP 4 aircraft lot buy, which is under a Fixed Price with Incentive (FPI) contract.

This ‘FPI’ contract arrangement is significant.
This is the first time in the history of modern defense acquisition that I am aware of that a contractor agreed to a Fixed Price contract while the program was still in the LRIP phases. This includes the equivalents in the paradigm before (back when SDD was ‘sorta’ EMD) the current one. In fact, according to my Defense Acquisition University course materials, the first Full Rate Production contract is where the transition from 'Cost Plus' to a Fixed Price contract structure is supposed to occur. Right now the program is about halfway through the planned LRIPS, although that could change if the lot buys keep getting reduced up front. Since ‘costs’ seem to be a really big issue** with Mr. Sweetman, I find this transition, occurring years ahead of what should be expected under traditional timelines, as curiously absent from his chant as his lack of willingness to give weight to the fact that actual costs are even beating the most optimistic (LM’s) estimate curves. Like climate models, cost estimates that cannot predict the present cannot be relied upon for predicting the future. And it must always be kept in mind that even ‘good so far’ estimates are subject to revision when new data becomes available and must be continuously revised, albeit less and less as more of the risk of a program falls in the past and issues are avoided and put to rest.

Sweetman closes with a sort of curious ‘damning with faint praise’ comment concerning the Australian Williams Foundation that now urges Australia to ‘delay’ their F-35s, apparently to Mr. Sweetman’s surprise. If one follows the link provided, it takes the reader to an earlier post by Mr. Sweetman where he questions the foundation’s objectivity based upon their funding sources. If this current article is somehow a nod to his earlier, apparently unfounded questioning of bias on the part of the foundation, and an expression of his subsequent regret, it was pretty weak. But it was an indication that the ‘logical fallacy’*** might be a tool that Mr. Sweetman will reach for all too frequently on the subject of the F-35, and that subsequent events just might highlight the use of the fallacy.

*I’m tempted to preemptively neutralize accusations that I am committing a logical fallacy in my criticism of the GAO, but I’m curious enough to see if any materialize and am in an evil-enough mood to enjoy debunking any such claim. BIG Hint: relevance of evidence factors large in determining if something is a ‘fallacious argument’ or not. If I was arguing the GAO’s performance on Defense issues was an indication of their performance on say, Housing and Urban Development issues, would that be different?

**BTW: The program is being managed to minimize total ownership cost (TOC), which allows for increased unit costs if the costs are offset with equal or greater savings when operating and supporting the F-35. Q: Why does no one discuss TOC in detail? A: TOC requires understanding of 'Cradle-to-Grave' Program Management, i.e. Too Hard?

***I’m torn on categorizing this one. It comes down to ‘intent’. If Mr. Sweetman’s primary purpose was to cast doubt about what the Foundation was asserting at the time, it was a commission of the ‘Genetic Fallacy’. If his primary target was the Foundation’s future statements, it could be considered ‘Poisoning the Well’.

Disclosure: Me and the F-35
Since I’m posting a lot about the F-35 these days, and the controversy that SOME in the Aviation Press seem intent on promoting doesn’t make it look like that is going to change any time soon, to help readers more completely understand where this source (moi) is coming from and in the interest of ‘disclosure’, I should remind readers of the following:

1. As with all my posts, I never discuss anything that isn’t open source and public. Fortunately, much of the F-35 is in the public domain and can be easily referenced….even if it is generally spun and twisted by the critics.

2. I don’t work for LM but have vested interests in LM and the F-35. They’re not as deep as they used to be (since I’ve minimized ALL my publically-traded stock exposure).

3. I’m not a ‘fighter fan’. I’m a ‘guided-weapon/kill-the-enemy-as-efficiently-as-possible’ guy. If a brick works best – then throw it. But as a general rule, I think fighters get way too much attention to the detriment of everything else. I assert: “Fighters make noise and kill things. Bombers make policy and change governments.”

4. Having said #3, the current situation we are in (having to replace a lot of assets at once) was caused by three things:
a. The simultaneous procurement of the AF’s High-Low mix (F-15 & F-16) in the 70s-80s. It should surprise no one that concurrent acquisition increases probability of concurrent obsolescence. The F-16s are in a little better shape wear-and-tear-wise than the F-15, but the Stealth Revolution and advances in near-peer fighter and air defense technology is bringing obsolescence to both fighters at about the same rate.

b. The failure of the Navy to execute the A-12 program. A large gaping hole was created in Naval Strike when that program failed and after the A-6s were retired.
c. An earlier Congress pressing on combining Air Force and Navy needs, then requiring the absorption of the Marine Harrier replacement effort. This forced three efforts that could have been developed at their own pace which would have spread out the costs and risks to be rolled into one schedule and one set of budget line items paid for at the same time. Combining three efforts into one creates program complexity that should be avoided if it can be avoided, but given a. and b. above, this arrangement became unavoidable. You can argue the ‘unavoidable’ part only if you are willing to assume a completely different set of risks as acceptable. The DoD doesn’t believe it was/is avoidable and I don’t either.
5. I think the best mix of offensive airpower would have been (when it was doable) for the AF to buy ALL the F-22s they wanted, 30-40 more B-2Cs, and 700-750 F-35As, with the Navy minimizing their ‘stop-gap’ F-18E/Fs and buying many, many, more F-35Cs and F-18Gs. But that mix isn’t doable anymore.

6. The mix the US is pursuing IS the best mix that is most executable now. This is fortunate, because a reset would be even more un-executable.