Sunday, August 28, 2011

Oh Those 'Tricky' Cost Numbers

(I await the day that Flight Global gets their ‘captcha’ feature worked out.)

In two back-to-back posts, Steve Trimble channels that doyen of defense malcontents, one Winslow Wheeler, yet AGAIN, on a defense topic near and dear to my heart: O&S costs. Using data acquired ‘somehow’ by Mr. Wheeler (now, ask yourself: where might a “I-know-defense-better-than-the-DoD”-cawing magpie who worked decades inside the Congressional Staffer Club ‘might’ have gotten a hold of such information, if real?  You get three guesses…), DEWLine presents graphics representing data we are not provided, and data I suspect that no one in Flight Global was qualified (who was also available) to interpret. In short, other than for its shock! value effect on the innumerate, the information is worthless as presented, and while it may raise a question or two, it answers NONE of them.

DEWLine blog notes:
Writing about "costs" is always tricky. Numbers can vary dramatically depending on what gets included. In this case, we're talking about operational costs. This includes operations costs, including fuel, parts and maintenance, as well as interim contractor support and manpower. It excludes modifications funded by procurement accounts. The total cost number is divided by the total number of flight hours flown by the fleet, and that is the operational cost per flight hour.
Steve Trimble nails the part about costs being ‘tricky’. It may be even said to be ‘trickier’ than he realizes. Here is the complete list of general O&S cost categories, with areas with the largest potential for huge confounding factors noted in red :

  1.1 Operations
  1.2 Maintenance
  1.3 Other Mission Personnel
  2.1 Pol/Energy Consumption
  2.2 Consumable Material/Repair Parts
  2.3 Depot-Level Reparables
  2.4 Training Munitions/Expendable Stores
  2.5 Other
  3.1 Maintenance
  3.2 Consumable Material/Repair Parts
  3.3 Other
  4.1 Overhaul/Rework
  4.2 Other
  5.1 Interim Contractor Support
  5.2 Contractor Logistics Support
  5.3 Other
   6.1 Support Equipment Replacement
   6.2 Modification Kit Procurement/Installation
   6.3 Other Recurring Investment
   6.4 Sustaining Engineering Support
   6.5 Software Maintenance Support
   6.6 Simulator Operations
   6.7 Other
7.1 Personnel Support
7.2 Installation Support

Aside from the plentiful catchall ‘Other’ categories, there is quite a bit more in this list than “operations costs, including fuel, parts and maintenance, as well as interim contractor support and manpower”. I think Mr. Trimble may want to revisit his ‘list’.

If one views the graphics provided with an eye towards ‘what is different’ between ‘comparable’ weapon systems, it should lead one to consider WHAT is driving these differences? Without the actual data in hand I am left with these questions:
RE: WC-135W O&S Increase in 2006. I have a feeling there is no mystery here, but how much did this spike have to do with preparation/upgrade/equipping then forward deploying the WC-135W forward to monitor the NoKo's nuclear testing debut? 

RE: VC-25 O&S increase in 2009. As overseas deployment of AF One involves a major logistics planning and execution overhead, how much of the 2009 bump was due to President Obama visiting more countries that year than a lot of Presidents do in four years? It is not as if no one noticed. Or were there upgrades on the bird that went into PDM that year? How much of the increased cost came from transitioning to a new support contract with Boeing Wichita?

RE: That 'Wild' B-2 O&S increase from about 2004. Yes, 2004. The charts ‘smoothing’ function combined with cyclical cost events tend to mask what could be the costs of implementing an upgrade program in PDM. What percentage of these ‘increases’ are (primarily) related to implementing the challenging yet wildly successful AHFM upgrade? I ask, because the ‘curves’ appear to strongly mimic the PDM AHFM upgrade implementation timing. I suspect some of the 2010 B-2 data also has all the costs involved to get the bird that caught fire in Guam in 2010 back home. Expect future depot costs to show up in the out-years for other upgrades.

Side question: How much does the B-52 still benefit from having the Attrition Reserve fleet collocated (if it is still) that enables the collocated operational wing to rotate hard-broke birds off the operational books for maintenance and rotate fresh birds from the Attrition Reserve pool into the unit?
RE: F-22 and V-22 O&S costs. This is my favorite. How much of the drop in F-22 O&S comes from the learning curve and Performance Based Logistics since the airplane went IOC late in 2005? And shouldn’t any numbers before IOC be excluded? How much of the rise in V-22 O&S comes from the fact that it is a little more expensive to operate in Iraq and Afghanistan than CONUS?

These are just a few of the most obvious questions raised, but I would be remiss if I did not also warn the reader against the world-class ‘chartsmanship’ contained in the DEWLine graphics. I particularly enjoy the use of the ‘smoothed’ line function that make ‘Highs’ seem ‘higher’, ‘Lows’ seem ‘lower’, and the swings between the two seem more dramatic. The use of line vs column is a minor nit, but it promotes the idea that the data is continuous instead of in discrete annual snapshots. Most egregious of all is the use of non-zero baselines which amplify the differences in the data within each chart.

If I had to offer one piece of advice to the Flight Global crew it would be to stop hauling the mail for Winslow Wheeler and CDI. Winslow may look like the Tech-savvy engineer of the future Montgomery Scott (i.e. “Scotty”) on Star Trek, but to these eyes (ie IMHO) he operates more on the level of Harcourt Fenton Mudd

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

F-89 : A Much Underappreciated Weapon System

I 've been fascinated with the F-89 Scorpion for years. Partly because of its history with the 57FIS, my old F-4E outfit in Iceland, and my late Father-In-Law having flown the F-89 in the same unit 20+ years earlier. Part of my fascination is because it was an all-weather fighter/interceptor and was so different than any of its day-fighter contemporaries such as the F-86 and F-94, which are far better known (especially the beautiful F-86).  But the F-86s and F-94s did not actively serve on the front lines for the United States nearly as long as the F-89 did, which really only was pulled from Air Defense duties after the F-101s, F-102s, and even the F-106s were active in numbers. Finally, the last interesting thing about the F-89 was how advanced and complex it was compared to its contemporaries, yet it has been labled as not being very 'innovative'.

I will expand on the topic later, but for now, what I want the reader, especially one who has never seen an F-89 in person, to take away from this post is just how BIG the F-89 actually is. Here is a scale graphic comparing the F-89 to the perhaps better-known jets developed closest to the same timeframe:

Another comparison can be shown illustrating the relative sizes of the F-89 and the F-102 and F-4 - the planes that replaced the Scorpions between 1960 and 1982 in the 57FIS.

 And for the younger among us who haven't seen an F-102 or F-4 with a good scale reference, here is the F-89 as compared to the F-22:

The F-89 was truly unique, and had an amazing, if largely unknown operational service history.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

F-35 Jobs & Logical Fallacies

Steve Trimble has a little blurb up on the Commerce Dept numbers for F-35 job creation and closes with the following:

"This doesn't mean that 127,000 people will suddenly lose their jobs if the programme goes away. Using the same methodology, Lockheed warned two years ago that 100,000 jobs would be lost if F-22 production was not extended. The F-22 line is scheduled to shut down next year, but Lockheed is actually adding jobs in Marrietta, Georgia, as other programmes, including C-130J, C-5M and F-35 ramp up."

Trimble is better than this.

"It Does Not Follow"
This makes absolutely no sense. The first sentence is not supported in ANY way shape or form by the rest of the paragraph.

I am dying for Flight Global to fix their 'Captcha' widget. I'm a direct approach kind of guy and this feels too much like skulking around behind someone's back. But if I were "Emperor of the World", Columbia and all other J-Schools would have to have a series of courses on Logical Fallacies and not just as a section in the odd Technical Writing class,

There are some serious aspects to this story not brought up by Mr. Trimble, or for that matter anyone I am aware of, but I'm tired and it is late.  Maybe later.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Question of the day

(The comments were great.)

Answer: Yes. Yes it is.

Full disclosure: I am of the school that the best choice is the one you are most likely to have with you.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Another F-35 and V-22 'Two-fer'

First, 'Hat Tip' to Steve Trimble at DEW line for a link to a V-22 editorial that, aside from the same sort of minor technical faux pas that kept me from buying the Editorialist's book 'new', drives home the point that the Marines know Best Value when they see it.

Then, direct from Steve Trimble: "F-35 grounding explained by Australian Aviation". Factual. Attributed quotations, Snark-free. Hope some other blog folks are taking notes.

Bipartisanship Ain't What It Used to Be: F-35 & V-22 Edition

“The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”
In this case, it includes the article 'covering' the claim.

I had a bifurcated response to Steve Trimble’s latest post “The vast bipartisan conspiracy against F-35 & V-22

My first response focused on the use of “Bipartisan”:
In my head I replayed Inigo Montoya: ” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Then I remembered a favorite George Carlin quote: “The word bipartisan means some larger-than-usual deception is being carried out”

After I really studied Trimble's post, I decided the latter response was most applicable.

Within his post Trimble iterates (Warning: English-English spelling ahead):
“Our review of eight budget reduction proposals by a hodge-podge of centrist, leftist and libertarian think tanks reveals a startling insight: All of them agree that two military aircraft programmes should be terminated or scaled back, and all of them agree those two programmes should be the BellBoeing V-22 and the Lockheed Martin F-35.”

My next thought was someone needed to tell Mr. Trimble that the opposite of ‘leftist’ isn’t ‘libertarian’. Do you see what is missing from that “centrist, leftist and libertarian think tanks” list? That’s right: “Conservative”. If we are talking spectrum of priorities on ‘defense thinking’ conservative is to ‘approve’ as leftist is to ‘disapprove’ as to libertarian is to ‘ambivalent’. [A ‘centrist’ BTW is just voting ‘present’.]

I won’t pick the nit that ‘bipartisan’ involves ‘two parties’, and only bing it up to prevent any grammar police showing up in the comments and counting coup.

ONLY after leading us down a fabulous ( in the 3rd and 4th definition of the word) definition of ‘bipartisan’ at the end of his post does Mr. Trimble mention the ‘on the other hand’:  
There remain some -- such as the Heritage Foundation, American Enterprise Institute and House budget committee chairman Rep Paul Ryan -- who oppose any significant budget cutbacks beyond those already identified in former Secretary of Defense Bob Gates',,,

Ah! The ubiquitous ‘some’ of the more conservative bent finally appear.

Now…..About the ‘substance’ of that list of ‘bipartisan’ groups:

1. RE: Fiscal Commission co-chairs?
AKA “Democrat Tool and a RINO Fool.” Those findings weren’t exactly embraced ‘bilaterally’ were they? Wasn’t Paul Ryan on the Commission as well? I’d say he is a lot more representative of the ‘conservative’ half of the ‘bipartisanship’ here.

2. RE: Debt Reduction Task Force plan?
The one from the so-called “Bipartisan Policy Center” founded in 2007 “by former Senate Majority Leaders Howard Baker, Tom Daschle, Bob Dole and George Mitchell”?
Yeah THAT Tom Daschle and THAT George “I’ve been trying to slash the military for decades” Mitchell. Call this RINOs and Radicals Part II

3. RE: Galston-MacGuineas Plan
Well this is one I’d never heard about, but as I suspected, it is just repackaging the ‘same-o sam-o’ ideas from the ‘same-o same-o’ people.

MacGuineas is an apparatchik of the New America Foundation, a leftard organization masquerading as ‘moderate’. It is where ‘Progressives’ go when they don’t want to be seen as such. Note that at the NAF link we find a story where George Mitchell above used a BS poll to try to pressure Israel into giving up even more concessions that they were willing to make in the 'peace' talks with Palestinians.  

Galston is now a Brookings (left-leaning and used to be farther left) Institutition operator, currently working on “designing a new social contract and the implications of political polarization” and (of course) is also a Clintonista.

4. RE: Center for American Progress?
Oh C’mon! they’re a front for the Democratic Party

5. RE: Cato Institute.
Libertarian. They like defense as long as it is cheap or free and runs towards believing America should have a passive voice in the world. If they were stronger on defense, I could be a Libertarian, but if they were, then they would be good Conservatives.

6. RE: Roosevelt Institute.
Carrying forward the legacy, values, and spirit of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt . I especially 'enjoyed' their ‘campus network’ page: “A national student initiative that engages new generations in a unique form of progressive activism that empower young people as leaders and promotes their ideas for change”.
Oooooo ‘big’ ideas. Ask them about The Forgotten Man.
sheeesh - frickin'  'retreads'.

7. RE: Economic Policy Institute
Another Leftard organization posing as ‘non-partisan’. Ask George Soros how much they cost.

8. RE: Sustainable Defense Task Force
OK, this one comes from the Project For Defense Alternatives, which given their record, translates into Project For Alternatives TO Defense. Who is the ‘task force’ (besides the basically one-half of a two-man PDA shop of Carl Conetta) ?

Carl Conetta, Project on Defense Alternatives
Benjamin H Friedman, Cato Institute
William D Hartung, New America Foundation
Christopher Hellman, National Priorities Project
Heather Hurlburt, National Security Network
Charles Knight, Project on Defense Alternatives
Lawrence J Korb, Center for American Progress
Paul Kawika Martin, Peace Action
Laicie Olson, Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation
Prasannan Parthasarathi, Boston College
Miriam Pemberton, Institute for Policy Studies
Laura Peterson, Taxpayers for Common Sense
Christopher Preble, Cato Institute
Winslow Wheeler, Center for Defense Information

Recognize any organizations we have already covered? It is easier to list the ones we haven’t. How about that eternal weapons program denouncer Winslow Wheeler? And I just KNOW I want ‘Peace Action’ on the front lines of defense recapitalization (Not).

PS. If that d***ed 'captcha' feature of Flight Global worked with modern security software, I would have commented at the post.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

F35B Agitprop ala Sweetman

Bill Sweetman ran what I would characterize as an ‘opposition propaganda’ piece yesterday (Ares Blog: A Cat is Not a Dog). He bemoaned the Marine’s touting of the F-35B program as their 21st Century solution for the “Air” half of their Future Air-Ground Task Force as “propaganda”:

“The Marine propaganda offensive in support of the F-35B, carried on through events like last Friday’s media visit to Patuxent River, and through Marine-friendly websites, pounds relentlessly on the advantages of short take off and vertical landing.
It has to, because that’s the only respect in which the F-35B is not inferior to the F-35A and F-35C. Avionics are identical. The weapon load and range are less and it is (according to the UK) the most expensive of all the versions.“

Sweetman was taking what turned out to be a fairly gratuitous swipe at the F-35B’s raison d’être. Gratuitous, because he immediately changed the subject for the rest of the post with an awful(ly) lightweight critique of the ‘LHA/D-as-aircraft-carrier’ idea. I won’t dwell too much on what turned in to the main thrust of his agitprop in this post. Instead, I’d like to focus on his ‘damning with faint praise’ sucker-punch on the B’s STOVL capability as quoted above.

Comparing the F-35B STOVL to the CTOL (A) or CV (C) Models is a Red Herring.
The relevant comparison is the one that was NOT made by Mr. Sweetman: that of comparing the capabilities the F-35B brings to those of the plane it is replacing – The AV-8B. Could that have been because the disparity in total performance between the F-35B and AV-8B is the greatest of all in the F-35 vs. ‘legacy’ comparisons, with the F-35B blowing away the AV-8B ? In combat configuration the F-35B is supersonic, low observable, network-centric warfare capable, AND easy to land vertically for starters. The AV-8B is… ‘none of the above’.

About that ‘most expensive’ assertion Mr Sweetman then makes (and cites the UK as the source). We’ll assume that is true from a unit cost POV, but how do you account for the net equivalent combat power of a B model with forward basing vs. an A or C model staged more remotely?
Fortunately, this is an easy one to answer. The difference is found in the Sortie Generation rate KPPs of the three variants: The F-35B, as it is planned to be operated, will be capable of generating 4 sorties/day in a surge which is 33% more ‘surge’ sorties per the specification than either the A or C model as they are planned to be used. In a sustained operating environment the B model will be providing 50% more sorties per aircraft per day than the CTOL (F-35A) or CV (F-35C). The Marines, by operating ‘forward’ get a lot more 'Bang' out of their F-35 'Buck' than if they operated an A or C model from the big deck carriers or a main operating base farther from the fight.
This ‘forward operating’ capability advantage is not simply hypothetical. From an Armed Forces Journal article last year, as object lessons we find three conflicts with instances of the Marines exploiting ‘Forward Basing’ (emphasis mine).

Desert Storm
During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, shore-based AV-8B Harriers initially operated from a 10,000-foot runway at Sheik Isa Airbase in Bahrain. This resulted in a 45-minute transit to Kuwait with in-flight refueling, yielding a 30-minute time on station. The aircraft then moved to King Abdul Aziz Airstrip, a 4,000-foot asphalt runway 90 miles from Kuwait. With the addition of a flight line made of AM-2 matting, this forward operating base (FOB) housed 60 AV-8Bs for eight months. It was often referred to as “the soccer stadium” since the Marines set up headquarters and billeting in the adjacent stadium; from there, the transit to Kuwait was reduced to 20 minutes, yielding the same 30-minute time on station without aerial refueling. This reduced the burden on tanker aircraft, increased sortie generation rates and allowed these aircraft to be more responsive to ground forces.

Operation Iraqi Freedom
During the first phases of the war in Iraq in 2003, Marine Harriers were the first aircraft to conduct sustained operations from an airfield inside Iraq and the only tactical air aircraft to conduct combat operations from a road. In the first two weeks of the conflict, Marines established an FOB on the remains of the Iraqi airstrip at An Numinayah, just 60 nautical miles south of Baghdad. Damage to the runway rendered it unusable to other tactical fixed-wing aircraft. The FOB at An Numinayah facilitated forward positioning of aircraft to stand ground alert as well as a forward arming and refueling point for Harriers supporting combat operations in and around Baghdad. Eliminating the need for Harriers to reserve fuel for a lengthy return flight to ships or bases in Kuwait, the FOB at An Numinayah allowed the AV-8Bs to extend time on station without placing a logistical burden on aerial refueling assets. With an airfield in such close proximity to the forward edge of the battle area, Harriers stood a credible ground alert and reduced response times from one to two hours to less than 15 minutes.

Operation Enduring Freedom
The war in Afghanistan is the most recent example of the effectiveness of STOVL operations. In the last year, Marine AV-8Bs have routinely operated from FOB Dwyer, a 4,300-foot expeditionary airfield built by the Marine wing support squadrons. Just a few miles from the town of Marjah, FOB Dwyer was constructed to facilitate rapid logistical support and fire support for Marines operating in the southern Helmand River valley. Launching from their main base at Kandahar, Harriers recovered to Dwyer after completing a time on station and were able to quickly rearm and refuel while talking to ground commanders. A basing option in such close proximity to the supported unit enabled longer times on station and rapid ordnance reload capability, in addition to reducing the burden on airborne refueling assets.

Basing AV-8Bs at FOB Dwyer during the fight for Marjah resulted in 65 percent of their sortie duration being spent on station. In comparison, aircraft based at Kandahar spent 55 percent of their sortie duration on station while aircraft operating from a carrier spent only 25 percent of sortie duration on station. Over the service life of an aircraft, the real benefit of STOVL aircraft is more time in support of ground forces with less time in transit to and from the fight.

As they say on the big blogs, read it all here.

In the meantime, the Marines will keep leaning (and basing) forward.