Friday, July 31, 2015

CNO Nominee Richardson Got These F-35 Questions Too?

I told them I didn't want the job, but I answered them anyway.

Hat Tip "spazinbad" @

SMSgt Mac appearing before SASC?
CNO Nominee Admiral Richardson answered some pre-confirmation hearing questions. I like his answers pretty much, but like my answers better. It comes with the freedom of being long retired (as well as never being an Admiral).

RE: Tactical Fighter Programs
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, which is the largest and most expensive acquisition program in the Department’s history, was formally initiated as a program of record in 2002 with a total planned buy of 2,443 aircraft for the U.S. At projected procurement rates, the aircraft will be procured by the Department well into the 2030 decade to reach its total quantity buy. The program has not yet completed its systems development and demonstration phase, and is not due to enter full rate production until 2019, 17 years after its inception.

The Navy’s FY16 budget request indicates a program of record of 369 F-35C, with Navy procurement continuing throughout the life of the F-35 procurement program. The overall requirement for 2,443 aircraft was established nearly 20 years ago. Since that time, however, there have been countervailing pressures to: (1) reduce force structure to conserve resources; (2) improve capability to respond to prospective adversary technological advances and increased capabilities from updated threat assessments; and (3) respond to an evolving national defense strategy.

Do you believe the Navy’s F-35C requirement is still valid?
Well Senators, that’s quite a preface to a “yes or no” question. But as it comes from such an august body as the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will use the working assumption it is offered to provide proper perspective to the questions to come, rather than an attempt to ‘poison the well’,and so the Committee’s prefacing informs my response,and I believe due diligence also requires me to to expand upon the very fine points the Committee raises, in part as an answer to this first question. 

As the Committee very well knows, the F-35 Program is as large and expensive as it is because it is really three programs in one. While there have been studies that have reviewed whether or not combining programs was worth the effort, we must note that aside from them all having contentious ground rules and assumptions embedded, that NONE of them measured the costs and benefits of the F-35 program against the typical number of programs we would have to undertake to successfully field three different aircraft. Can there be any doubt looking back at history that at least four or perhaps five programs would have to be attempted to actually field three different jets? Can we possibly fathom the procurement costs per airplane if we had attempted to field the minority F-35B and F-35C as stand-alone programs? Mr. Chairman and Committee Members, the Navy and Marine Corps budgets are very blessed to have the Air Force subsidize The Department of the Navy’s rent-seeking by absorbing a disproportionate percentage of the net development costs.

As the bulk of the development is behind us in sunk cost and schedule, and there is no indication that the way forward is too difficult, completion of the systems development and demonstration phase should not be a problem.

That it will have taken 17 years to reach full rate production would be an issue above my station if I were still on active duty: I would not be in a position to second-guess prior Congressional decisions to stretch development and delay production, trading risk for schedule and cost. It would also not be my place to pass judgement on the actions of prior Congress’ that created the three-in-one program approach in the first place. 
As a retiree who returned to civilian life over twenty years ago however, I am free to answer that the former was typical, foolish, political tinkering and/or ego-stroking on the part of Congress. The latter however, is shaping up to have been a very good idea by your predecessors.

And so the final answer to your question is therefore, of course: “Yes”--the F-35C will be a VITAL part of the future Carrier Air Wing.

Do you believe the Navy can afford and needs to procure 310 more F-35Cs with a procurement cost of over $42 billion?

As to ‘need’, the F-35C provides essential 5th generation strike fighter capability to our Carrier Air Wings. Without this capability, we cannot achieve air superiority. The Department of the Navy currently has a requirement for 340 F-35Cs. That number needed of course is always subject to revision as national strategies change and new information is made available. For example, on the one hand, the Navy doesn’t yet have any operational experience with low observable or fifth generation capabilities. As the Navy gains experience, it will probably create opportunities and incentives to not procure more of or retire older systems faster on the one hand. On the other hand, the Navy has a history of buying aircraft over long timeframes due to expected attrition, and given the F-35C’s stellar initial sea trials, we may just not lose as many jets like we have in the past and so they will not need replacement. If I were confirmed as CNO, I would work with the Chairman and other service chiefs to revalidate the appropriate number of aircraft the Navy requires to meet the mission.

Speaking to the cost figure offered, let us note that the numbers you mention are either future inflated dollars or dollars that include developmental cost dollars that are already sunk, both, and/or are based upon presumptions of future economic factors that may or may not apply. They are also spread over how many years? I would enjoy exploring the nuances of these numbers with the SASC, numbers that should never be aired in a casual manner, as no doubt the SASC would agree.

Do you believe that the Navy will still want to buy the F-35C, an aircraft design that will be 30 years old before the Navy production is scheduled to finish?
Well let’s see, we’re flying the F-18C/Ds and F-18E/F/Gs right now. The current versions are evolutions of a design originally produced in 1975 and are still in procurement. That’s 40 years since inception. So 30 years should not be a stretch at all for the Navy and the F-35, especially considering that unlike its predecessors, the F-35B and C are designed to evolve as required over time. Right now the Navy is committed to making the F-35C the next Carrier Air Wing fighter, complementing the F/A-18E/F until the F-18 reaches the end of its lifetime in the 2030s when the basic design will be over 50 years old. I believe once the fleet gets its hands on the F-35C, the fighter/strike community will set new standards in creative thinking and divining ways to get rid of the older jets and buy more F-35Cs as the older jets obsolescence becomes more obvious.

Do you believe the Navy’s current and planned force mix of tactical aircraft is sufficient to meet current and future threats around the globe, and most especially in the Asia-Pacific theater of operations where the “tyranny of distance” is such a major factor?

Currently, I do. There are capability, inventory, and readiness aspects to delivering the required force mix. If I was ever to be confirmed as CNO, I would work with leadership to determine the best options to pace the threat in a dynamic security environment. The fiscal environment will bound the scope of our efforts, and so I would urge Congress to work harder in creating a fiscal environment that will provide for all of our Constitutionally-mandated needs.

The Secretary of the Navy recently remarked that he believed the F-35 should be and would be the nation’s last manned fighter aircraft. Do you believe this to be true?
If I were to be confirmed as CNO, I would work with the Secretary of the Navy to aggressively advance the development of unmanned systems. It is crucial that we push the boundaries of what unmanned technologies can achieve; the next generation in tactical aviation will play a large part in this transformation.

Having said the above, let me also observe that the Secretary has all of the technical knowledge and expertise in all the relevant knowledge areas and disciplines, with the liberal-arts and legal education sufficient to have once been a competent junior ship’s officer. I’m sure he was a very fine surface warfare officer, once upon a time. His thoughts and opinions on the subject of UAVs carries all the commensurate weight that comes with such an accomplished background.

I thank the Committee for their interest. Now go away.


Marauder said...

I'd be very curious to hear your thoughts on the recurring proposals to make the F-35C nuclear capable. Can you walk us through what's generally entailed in that process?

SMSgt Mac said...

Hi Marauder,
I'd be very hesitant to go into a detailed description because 1) I have huge gaps in my knowledge base on the topic due to a lot of things and 2) what I do know, stale or not, I can't talk about. Having said that, I was recently watching the released video of an updated B61 with tail guidance kit and couldn't believe what it showed. A lot of it would have been CNWDI when I was active duty. There is some general stuff out that may be of interest to you:

Michael Tint said...

Two programs would have been ideal, I think. One strike fighter for the navy/air force, one dedicated ground attack stovl plane for the marines/air force. that cuts the biggest problems with the F-35 and the sacrifices made to make the B model work, but preserves commonality for about 2000 of those 2400 planes.

DC cocktail partier said...

the Navy and Marine Corps budgets are very blessed to have the Air Force subsidize The Department of the Navy’s rent-seeking by absorbing a disproportionate percentage of the net development costs.

LOL ouch.

True though

SMSgt Mac said...

Hi Mitchell,
A common AF-USN fighter would almost certainly result in either too high a weight and performance penalty on the AF version OR significant weaknesses and shortfalls in carrier suitability for the USN variant. I think the program took the best route, especially as to how commonality was a self-leveling effort. Excellent discussion on F-35 variant commonality and evolution and purpose here: .
While F-35 commonality has been measured by part-count and weight, it has not been assayed by relative cost. IMHO, the A and B model are far closer in design and execution than the A and C and even more closer than the B and C variants are when all factors are weighed.