Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stars and Stripes Lets the Military Down… Again

S & S has a ‘Flack’ at Misawa Air Base

As if anyone need any reminding that today’s Stars and Stripes is NOT the same paper of World War II fame, here’s a list of articles that a Stars and Stripes ‘reporter’, the delightfully-named J.D. Flack, has written since the Sendai Quake occurred.

One of these Headlines is Not Like The Other…
Can you tell which one? The list is from oldest to newest:
  • Misawa residents stock up on supplies as they await electricity 3/12/11
  • Power restored in Misawa City; base still down 3/12/11
  • American rescue teams arrive at Misawa 3/13/11
  • Base up and running, Misawa now faces off-base heating oil shortage 3/16/11
  • Misawa leaders want quick answer on how many residents plan to evacuate 3/18/11
  • First flight carrying U.S. families out of Japan expected to leave Yokota Air Base on Saturday 3/19/11
  • First military evacuation flight leaves Japan 3/19/11
  • Misawa's 14th Fighter Squadron looking to deploy to stay sharp 3/20/11
  • Misawa residents pull clean-up duty at nearby fishing port 3/17/11
  • Relief supplies rolling into Misawa 3/20/11
  • Misawa educators reach out to students as base schools reopen 3/21/11
  • Navy crews reach quake victims with life-sustaining humanitarian aid 3/23/11
  • Reagan air crews pause relief operations to decontaminate 3/23/11
  • Snow slows Navy relief efforts at Misawa 3/26/11
  • Navy races to clear port so needed supplies can reach land 3/25/11
  • Families who choose to return to Japan do so at their own risk, military officials say 3/29/11
  • Voluntary departure program: A safe haven or a free vacation? 3/29/11
 That’s right. This S & S 'reporter' managed to string together about 2 1/2 week’s worth of actual articles on what was going on in Japan in general and Misawa specifically, before caving in to the more base instincts of the ‘profession’.

Hit Piece
Flack’s latest amounts to little more than a hit piece on the families (from all the bases in Japan) who elected to accept voluntary evacuation. No deference to or insight into survivor psychology. No enquiries into the benefits to the well-being and effectiveness of the active-duty personnel who can now focus on the mission instead of worrying about loved ones. No questions as to the ‘net’ costs or benefits: the costs and benefits of maintaining a dependent population in a disaster zone with a strained infrastructure vs. the costs and benefits of getting the dependents away from the area. No consideration as to what kind of strain such a callous article might place on the military communities at Misawa et al as things otherwise return to a new ‘normal’.
The ‘article’ was apparently executed with the help of a S&S someone named ‘Sam Amrhein’, whom I suspect was the ‘juice-boxer’ doing the leg-work in Hawaii trolling for those upbeat impressions on fun-seeking ‘Quacationers’.
‘Congratulations’ to Stars and Stripes.
I hope you enjoyed the story access you had up until now, Mr. Flack, because I suspect from here on out most of the U.S. military community in Japan will be telling you EXACTLY where to put those pursed, red lips of yours.

J.D. Flack, S & S Reporter

Update 1April 23:48 Hrs: When my family in Misawa was offered the 'voluntary' evacuation (they have stayed) and I learned it was only for 'up to 30 days', I thought: "What's the use of that if the reactor situation actually gets much worse?" But I forgot about the psychological effect that the ongoing aftershocks might have until I saw this map. I was reminded of the sinking feeling I felt with every aftershock experienced after the Northridge Quake in SoCal, and the swarms of tremors we would experience at Elmendorf AFB from time to time in the mid-70s. As of this update, Japan has had 884 quake/aftershocks since March 11, and just under half of them (409) have been over 5.0 on the Richter Scale. Watch the map linked to above as the timeline progresses and tell me most people, especially the children, couldn't use a break from the shakedown they're getting and ask yourself how such a break can be oversimplified by a media outlet to the point someone could accuse them of having "too good" of a time getting away.      

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Another Chuckie Schumer Moment

H/T: Instapundit

From the NY Times:

"Moments before a conference call with reporters was scheduled to get underway on Tuesday morning, Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, apparently unaware that many of the reporters were already on the line, began to instruct his fellow senators on how to talk to reporters about the contentious budget process."
Chuck Schumer: Smartest man in the long as everyone else is attending by phone.

Read the whole thing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

All F-35s Flying Again? Update: Yes.

Updated (27 Mar 11) and Bumped (and painfully ... Blogger is acting up)
Ares Blog has info pretty much confirming the DEW Line story, and the comments are full of precious moments (Hat Tip: SNAFU! ) .
At Steve Trimble's DEW Line Blog this morning there was a link to a blurb on all F-35s are cleared for flight again. the link took you to a 'page does not exist' response. This evening, the link was still there but still takes you to the 'missing link' bin. I first saw it this AM and the story had been picked up by several people's twitter et al feeds, but they all just linked to same missing story, except one mention on's forum boards: [Posted Mar 23, 2011 - 02:41 PM]

All F-35s cleared to resume flight tests By Stephen Trimble DATE: 23 March 2011 SOURCE: Flight International ... tests.html

Five Lockheed Martin F-35s have been cleared to resume flying after being grounded for two weeks because of an in-flight generator failure on 9 March. The clearance means that all 12 flying F-35s, including 10 flight test and two production models, have returned to flight status, with seven aircraft already flying since 16 March. A root-cause investigation revealed the cause of the power outage involved a maintenance mistake, programme officials say. Too much oil was poured into the generator system, causing the oil to overheat and shut down the power system, Lockheed says. As a "more-electric aircraft", the F-35 relies on two engine starter-generators to power not only the avionics and sensors, but also the flight controls instead of a hydraulics system. Identifying the cause as a maintenance error means the design of one of the F-35's most critical flight-safety components is not in question. Programme officials do not expect the two-week grounding of five aircraft, including three test models, to have an impact on the overall flight test schedule. Lockheed has committed to complete 872 flight tests this year, more than double last year's total of 410 flights. The failure occurred onboard the conventional take-off and landing (CTOL) AF-4 test aircraft, which is among five models in the test fleet equipped with a new version of the starter-generator. Those five aircraft remained grounded after 16 March while the root-cause investigation continues.

If 'true' this IS interesting

So all of this round of hyperventilating over the F-35 by the 'haters' boils down to a maintenance error? Earlier references to this incident being related to a 'design artifact' of the newer generators on the later aircraft (remember the 7 early aircraft were cleared for flight almost immediately) makes me wonder if the 'error' was due to the fact that the new system has a lower oil capacity?

In any case, it seems to reinforce the assertion that the purpose of 'test' is to learn about problems or potential problems, and since we have humans involved, those problems can come from just about anywhere. Also interesting is that the story appears to have been pulled. Perhaps for further 'development'? Or was it not corroborated/verified yet? Or probably its just a broken link?

No doubt there will be some who will still put a more negative spin on this even if it is true and it sounds like the system redundancy worked as designed. People will b*** about anything: from it "should never have happened in the first place" to "the pilot should have known/realized sooner" to "it took you how long to figure out how something as simple as this was the problem?".

In this case, since the aircraft made it back to the nest safely, this can only be viewed as a 'failure' if we didn't discover something new about the aircraft or we don't have any idea how to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Middle East Burning = Bad.

In case anyone was wondering why I don't seem all hep on our latest military adventure (but I'm willing to "get it on" over military efficacy during/over/in any conflict), it's just that I'm not crazy about toppling tyrants to make the world safe for Radical Islamic fascists, be they Muslim brotherhood or AlQueda or whatever. The title says it all:
Rebel Commander in Libya Fought Against U.S. in Afghanistan
Is this 'hope' or is it 'change'? Oh yeah.... it's 'Smart Diplomacy'!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Holding Back the "Cruise Missile Cultists"

I just know they're coming....a nefarious faction of the Opponents of Long Range Strike.

Sheesh. First at SNAFU, we get a winners and losers list with the B-2 and Tomahawks reversed and on the wrong lists (Sorry Solomon - I still love ya' bud). It gets linked to AvWeek's Ares' Blog 'Frago' post which also links to a doozy at Information Dissemination which in turn has an extract from, and link to, a cruise missile puff piece at National Defense Magazine .

Time for a short course in economics and the application of long range strike.

Why I'm the Guy to Give it....

This is the first air campaign (using the term loosely) that I've not been at least a small part of since 1991, or a significant contributor to since 1999. Between moi' and the sources above I'm probably the only person who has actually launched and tested cruise missiles, as well as understands their strengths and limitations. I'm also probably the only one to have done long range strike 'bang-for-buck' analyses and what-if scenarios for DoD campaign planning efforts and/or wrote his Master's thesis or capstone on the subject of the proper methodology for top-level conceptual design of next generation LRS platforms.

Ready? Here we go!!!!!!!!!!!

Lesson 1.
There is no ONE best weapon for everything and cruise missiles are only the one best weapon at attacking a very small subset of the total target set in any conventional (non-nuclear) campaign. There are efforts to make them more effective against a wider subset of targets but that will add cost and probably complexity to their designs. The very best subset of targets for conventional cruise missiles are taking out 'soft' nodes of Integrated Air Defense Systems and Command and Control networks/Power Grids. They are 'enablers' that allow the non-stealthy aircraft in the force-mix to operate more freely over the battlefield and do that killing hoodoo-that-they-do so well....instead of getting shot down before their 'magic' happens. Valuable? Within a narrow confine, yes. Wonder-weapon? No.

Lesson 2. Cruise missiles are VERY expensive.... unless you never use them or if you use them, you won't miss them. Complexity costs money, and increases the probability of failure. The farther and longer a system has to operate to get to the target, the more the system is likely to fail on the way (see TLAM in Desert Storm note in the slides below).

Lesson 3. As long as the attrition rates are low enough, (and they don't even have to be THAT low) Direct Attack is ALWAYS cheaper and more effective than stand-off attack even if standoff attack has a PERFECT success rate.

I've dusted off and sanitized an extract of publicly available and unclassified data from a circa-2000 briefing I gave after Operation Allied Force. The exact dollars are 'off' now, but the relationships remain the same. Cruise Missiles are orders of magnitude more expensive to operate than using precision direct attack. BTW: These charts were all based upon 2000lb JDAM usage. Smaller JDAMs would be relatively cheaper and just as,or more, effective than TLAM Tomahawks.


The TLAM accuracy and reliability have improved since Desert Storm, but it doesn't make any difference. It is a more complex machine than a JDAM, and must operate reliably for a much longer period of time. That line waaaay down at the bottom is the JDAM cost line. The cruise missiles are so expensive their real value comes in reducing risk to other systems: use as necessary - and no more.

In Operation Allied Force, the B-2 was dropping JDAMs using developmental software and it still had a 95% hit rate. The B-2 had the highest percentage of first-pass 'kills' of all the aircraft employed.
These dollar figures were probably mid-late FY 1990s when I used them in 2000. I notice TLAMS are even more expensive now, but JDAM kits are as well I suppose. As I noted at SNAFU in the comments, prices are very sensitive to lot buy quantities. So even if cruise missiles were 100% successful, and even if all aimpoints were suitable for cruise missiles, what would you spend your savings on using JDAMs?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

All You Need To Know About the Sendai Quake Reactor Crisis

In case you aren't impressed with the US slinging $70m+ worth of TLAMS (@~$570K in FY99$ per) at Libyan targets of dubious value with questionable effect, and instead want to get the real scoop on the nuclear 'crisis' in Japan, all you need to read is found right here.

F-35 Development and Transparency

Steve Trimble has a post up over at the Dew Line titled Top Ten List of F-35 Flaws and Fixes . I tried to leave what follows as a comment but I can't seem to get the DEW Line site's 'Captcha' feature to load on my laptop at the moment. Since I put a lot of thought into what Steve had to say, I wanted to at least get it committed to electrons someplace.

I love ya’ man. I think you probably have the best instincts of any non-aviator journalist on a major stage out there and when you keep your distance from the “Ragin’ Hedge Baby from the Shires” you do your best stuff. I would suggest however that you start ‘tightening up’ the thoughts a little more before you start putting fingers to keyboard.

Problems with the ‘Ten flaws and fixes’ list:

First problem: I count at most 5 ‘flaws’ (ranging from minor to significant and all fixable), 3 ‘Risks’ and 2 (at least) development/maturation challenges. You might have characterized the descriptions and actions a little more accurately as well, but in the vernacular of the day, that shortcoming could be an ‘artifact’ of journalism’s deadlines and processes.

1. Bulkhead cracks: Flaw (Design – Correct!). But the description of the remedy as a ‘7-8lb patch’ is more accurately described as a structural ‘doubler’ – the use of which is an extremely common technique in aircraft structural design. When you take as much weight as possible out of a plane for the obvious reasons, sometimes you have to put a little back in here and there. If some Lockmart PR guy used ‘patch’ to describe it to you I’d blame him for the misnomer and urge you to try asking for the engineering terms when you feel someone is dumbing something down for you -- because someone may have dumbed it down for the guy telling you. A good rule of thumb is If it is described in a single syllable word, it’s probably not the correct terminology. BTW: A ‘patch’ is ad hoc and ‘slapped’ on, A ‘structural doubler’ is designed and has analysis and test behind it before it is ‘integrated’ into the design. BIG difference.

2. Vertical lift bring-back (VLBB): Risk (Incorrect). If LM defines it as “the F-35B has all the vertical thrust it needs to "bring back" the required load of weapons and fuel onto an amphibious carrier right now, but is concerned” – then there is a ‘risk’ that it MIGHT become a ‘flaw’. As you describe it, there are apparently both alternatives to mitigating that risk: weight control and increased thrust availability – so the Risk is apparently manageable and is being managed.

3. Auxiliary air inlet (AAI) doors: Flaw (Design – Correct!) No contest on this one because the program obviously wants to have the doors operating at 250kts. But if the program determines they can live with lower operating speed it is potentially a ‘nothing’ issue. There are no ‘solutions’ in life or aerospace: only ‘tradeoffs’. If the users insist LM needs to fix it, then as you point out the flaw is fortunately a relatively minor one that is easy to fix.

4. Parts reliability: Risk...and a rather broad brush assertion at that (So, Incorrect). Every system experiences birthing pains (think R&M ‘Bathtub Curve’). But if it is worth mentioning, then it is also worth mentioning that the program intends and has plans in place to extract high reliability out of systems via PBL support approaches and techniques over the life of the program.

5. Wing roll-off: Development/Maturation Challenge or Risk (Incorrect). As you wrote, it is “still on the list of concerns for the F-35C carrier variant”. Concern = Risk. I suspect this is a matter related to both the bigger wing of the C and the Navy’s fears after their F-18E/F adventures. The “squirrelly” bit can be true for all aircraft depending on their wing design, AOA and airspeed. I also suspect it has more to do fears of steep pressure gradient shift over the top of the wing (the F-18E/F problem) than anything else. Wing falloff in and of itself isn’t new or scary – it’s when you don’t know which way, when or how fast it is going to fall that gets meat-servo panties in a knot.

6. Driveshaft: Flaw (Minor Design – Correct) but also could be considered a Development/Maturation Challenge, since the program is still in SDD, the concept and system is unique/new/never-been-done. Since until the system is flown enough hours and in different regimes with real loads all the designer has to work with is simulations and estimates to start with, perhaps the effort in this area should be judged by what was reasonably probable to get exactly right, out of the box and is it 'tweakable' vs. against what is found to be needed? (and especially if this contingency was anticipated as a possibility they were prepared to deal with). After all, as I seem to have to frequently remind others elsewhere, SDD stands for System DEVELOPMENT and Demonstration.

7. Roll-post nozzle: Flaw (Minor Design – Correct) but could be viewed as a Development/Maturation Challenge as in 6 for the same reasons.

8. Lift-fan clutch: Flaw (Minor Design – Correct) but could be viewed as a Development/Maturation Challenge as in 6 for the same reasons

9. Generators: Flaw (Very Minor Design – Correct!) And evidently a new problem easily undone.

10. Price tag: Risk (Incorrect) Aircraft in work are tracking the cost curve predictions. The Royal Navy’s buy change has to be viewed as delta impacts on both the B and the C. Given higher commonality between the A and the B than the C (the C being more of an outlier in the design mix), the Royal Navy’s change is more boom for the Navy’s C model than bust for the Marine’s B model. Minor nit: The Marine’s B buy is not a reduction, but holds at the earlier assumed 340 number according to Defense News. The Marine’s ‘extra’ Cs are evidently coming out of the earlier presumed 340 number for the Navy’s C model. It’s a ‘wash’.

Kudos for framing the discussion with the positive ‘transparency’ point. Although there is no way the JSFPO or LM COULD conduct a program of this size and importance behind a veil, it’s good to give them credit for at least realizing it and using it as a philosophy.