Thursday, August 22, 2013

F-35 Cost Estimates Drop; AvWeek Makes Motorboat Sounds


Tonight, I was curious as to how Aviation Week's ARES Blog would cover the news that F-35 Sustainment cost estimates were being lowered dramatically, and how the CAPE estimates to-date apparently involved some wildly unrealistic Ground Rules and Assumptions (GR&As). I should have let that 'itch' pass.

I suspect AvWeek must have taken exception to getting scooped by 'Slow Tony' Capaccio on a big aviation story, the kind that perhaps they should have found first. I 'suspect' so because when I dropped in to see what they had written, all they had was Sean Meade's '8/22 Frago' link to someplace with the rather dismissive title:  Analysis: Lower F-35 Operating Costs Should Be Taken with A Pinch of Salt.

I clicked on the link and...gasp! It was the oh so cogent (/sarc) Giovanni de Briganti I've taken to task before. I (or anyone else for that matter) could go to his faux aero-news website almost any day to find some low-hanging fruit to debunk, so I'm usually not even tempted to bother....unless a presumably 'authoritative' website points to it, and even then I've resisted because of the whole "fish/barrel" thing. As usual, there's A LOT wrong with de Brigante's nonsense, but because it's late, and it's not worth too much of my time to beat down on this kind of stupidity, I'll just note the most egregious nonsense I found in de Brigante's so-called  'analysis' has the added benefit of also being the easiest one to explain to John Q. Public. I quote (bold emphasis mine):
The Marine Corps has also radically changed its F-35 operations to claim lower costs. Lt. Gen. Robert Schmidle, deputy Marine Corps commandant for aviation, told Reuters that the Marines would fly their F-35Bs “in STOVL mode just 10 percent of the time, far less often than the 80 percent rate factored into the initial estimates.” ... 
...If STOVL is needed only 10% of the time, then it is, at best, a secondary capability, and is no longer enough to justify the F-35B variant’s exorbitant cost, both in terms of acquisition ($153 million, without engine, in LRIP Lot 5) and of operations ($41,000 per flight hour).   
Furthermore, if STOVL operations are limited to 10% of flight activities, it is hard to see how Marine pilots will ever gain enough experience to fly STOVL missions from small, unprepared landing zones on the beachhead – the main, if not only, reason the Marine Corps says the F-35B is indispensable.
Wow. Just. Wow. Let us note that Lt. Gen. Schmidle said they would be flying their F-35Bs (get ready to look for the key word here) “in STOVL MODE just 10 percent of the time".

STOVL "Modes" are for Doing 2 Things   

And you only want to be in a  "STOVL Mode" when you are doing those two things. Can you guess what they are Mr. de Brigante? No?

How about 'take off'.....

100th Short Takeoff
Source: LM Aero Code One Magazine
and 'land'?
BF-4's First Vertical Landing
Source: LM Aero Code One Magazine

Want to guess about what percentage of a normal sortie is spent taking off and landing? Way less than 10%. Which tells me the Marines will be practicing those STOVL takeoffs and landings quite a bit more than de Brigante's  so-called 'analysis' was able to identify. Pffft. Not much of an analysis.

de Brigante's 'logic' above is akin to telling you that your car doesn't need brakes 90% of the time, so that must mean you don't need brakes.

Seriously AvWeek?

You don't even cover the cost estimate reduction news, but you point to a juvenile attempt to diminish positive F-35 Program news.

I remember when Aviation Week was run by grownups for the aerospace community. Now?
Welcome to...
Frago Rock: Like another enterprise with a lot of silly nonsense, but with very little singing. 


Anonymous said...

Aviation Week's reporting on this comes as no surprise. I remember a time when I respected Aviation Week. Sadly, their reporting has grown so slanted, as to be ridiculous. Their inclusion of Briganti's laughable rebuttal speaks volumes about the level of journalistic integrity currently found at Aviation Week.

Great post!

JeffB said...

"...If STOVL is needed only 10% of the time, then it is, at best, a secondary capability, and is no longer enough to justify the F-35B variant’s exorbitant cost, both in terms of acquisition ($153 million, without engine, in LRIP Lot 5) and of operations ($41,000 per flight hour). "

Sorry what was your argument against why this was just crazy talk? It seems a reasonable point to me.

And can you clarify what you believe is meant by "STOVL-Mode"? Your point of view seems to be that "STOVL mode" only refers to the landing and take off sections of a sortie wheras the assumption by CAPE that 80% of F35B flight ops would be STOVL mode implies that their modelling assumes that any sortie that involves STOVL capabilities is, by their definition, "STOVL mode" operations.

Could you clarify your position if that is the case and how you arrived at that position?

I mention this because it seems unlikely that the CAPE people are stupid enough to base their calculations on the aircraft hovering 80% of the time.

And if that assuption is correct (about CAPE's "STOVL-Mode" definition) then change in the calculations to 10% STOVL mode would represent a major change in planned F35B operations and would indeed bring into question the need for a STOVL mode at all.

JeffB said...

Well that's my "Wow, just wow" moment right there. Just about every aspect of my previous post was wrong. Apologies all.

SMSgt Mac said...

Well, I think we're 'good'(?) now, but I think I know why the CAPErs used the 80% factor.
Someone may have mentioned this already over at, so you may have heard this speculation already, if you've followed the thread on this (and it sounds like you have been).
I believe the CAPErs used the AV-8B operating mode definitions and the AV-8's nozzles are always swinging around throughout most of the flight regime. But the F-35 uses a completely different approach - one that does not involve 'viffing' for instance and I can't see any reason the F-35 would use any of it's modes (two are really modes IMHO, the rest are states of transition between the two operating modes from what I understand). CAPE and other cost analysts usually (ALMOST always) don't know a thing about whatever hardware or operations they're looking at to estimate the commensurate costs. They rely on 'comparables' more than a new real estate appraiser. When things are 'different' between the apples and oranges, someone usually has to tell them the difference between them and then some fudge factor is pulled out of the nether regions and applied to account for the differences, which may make the estimate even MORE unrealistic.
I've seen the same problem in the industry when companies bring in teams of outside consultants from the really big firms. They are usually led by really ambitious and bright analysts who felt stifled doing gov't work, and as bright as they are, I and others would spend ungodly amounts of time helping them construct a reasonable model of what they are trying to derive a cost estimate for. RAND Corp has a library online with free downloadable 'pdfs' that give insight into the difficulties involved. For instance, when the percentage of composites in airframes started increasing, all the old models for estimating structure costs had to be thrown out. That's when it was discovered that a lot of those models were based on WW2 production data for (relatively) high numbers of aircraft produced/year, though for years before no one could figure out why they were consistently having cost overruns: there weren't overruns, there were under-estimates.