Monday, January 02, 2012

Sweetman Goes "All In" on F-35 QLR

I think maybe he is trying to 'nag' his way onto the F-35 program.
(But it's just too much fun watching him flail around)

Bill Sweetman has his spleen vent set to ‘Full Snark Mode’ in an ongoing series of posts that tail-twist the F-35 program over the F-35 Quick Look Report and what (he thinks) 'it all means’ from the Ragin’ Hedge Baby from the Shires© perspective. I noticed that in the manner of Brave Sir Robin said gadfly decided to go deep (as in shovel ready) on this topic while the Aerospace industry in general is in its ‘end of year’ hiatus. I have had more important things to do (and kill) than negative memes over the Christmas break, so I haven’t given too much attention to the uninformed ruminations of itinerant journolistas, their codependent Non-State-Actor friends, or the rest of the merry Anti-JSF tribe until tonight.

I hit the ARES blog looking for details on the latest Saudi/F-15 deal before I head back to work tomorrow and what do I find? Yeah…. another Sweetman ‘piece’ taking a swipe at the F-35 and ‘its supporters’ titled: “F-35 Proponents Say The Darndest Things”. No snark there eh?
The article is as full of the simplton-ian analysis we’ve come to expect from the source, but what really caught my eye was the closer:
So where do all these tales come from? Check out an Australian government audit report, released on December 20. In its discussion of Australia's JSF program (p261), it notes that one of 11 "major challenges" to the project, on the same level as dealing with schedule and cost changes, is to
"appropriately manage JSF misinformation in the media".
Do they mean correcting misinformation, or maintaining misinformation at an appropriate level?
Since Mr. Sweetman is apparently at a loss (in more ways than one) as to what the Australian GOVERNMENT AUDIT (i.e. outside the JSF program) report means, let us use a suitable example of media misinformation to help correct misinformation and perhaps clarify for Mr. Sweetman to what the Australian Government seems to be referring.

Let’s see. How about a corrective rewrite of of Bill Sweetman’s “Why the QLR is News” piece, so that it is a little less ‘misinformative’? (Corrections and new content in Blue)


There is no faster way for an adept flack to kill take 'cheap shots' at a story program than to conflate a the "nothing really new on the technical front” report into a “this program is as bad as we wished” gambit. We've seen a good deal of that in the six days since the Quick Look Review report escaped from its cage.
A typical story might use a report that quotes an unattributed analyst as saying that:
"the F-35 was turning out to have the same schedule, cost and technical issues suffered by most aircraft programs, including Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner. 'It's not a pleasant picture, but it's far from a terminal one either'."
and diminish the impact of said quote by adding something like:
If "most programs" had the Dreamliner's issues, this would be one depressingly incompetent industry to work in. And the 787's problems so far have translated into strategic failure: The goal was to bury Airbus in the mid-market, but the old-school A330 is still alive and kicking, while Airbus outmaneuvered a distracted Boeing in the narrow-body segment.
Notice the overt obfuscation of the main “same schedule, cost and technical issues suffered by most aircraft programs” point by focusing on an alleged Dreamliner failure? So what if the final Dreamliner story is yet to be written? It would appear that it is apparently within “someone’s” journalistic license to ‘beg the question’ even when employing misdirection.
Using evidence in hand, and avoiding unsubstantiated speculation, a disinterested observer would have to conclude that the JSF problems are not may or may not be terminal, and he or she would be cautious concerning a report that was built upon largely antiquated data and not assert that but the idea that a major take-away from the first full year of flying (F-35s this year have flown twice as many sorties as the program had notched up a year ago) is that the production ramp-up needs to be stopped is something new, and not normal. After all, greater concurrency has been seen more often since at least WW2.
For the F-35, it's also not news that a critical report leaked as ‘fast’ as it did. That Such a leak in this day and age can just as readily be  usually an indication of a malcontent in any of the program office, test, operational, or competing (F-18?) communities rather than evidence of any high-level dissent. It could even be evidence of political hardball coming from the office of the Acting Undersecretary’s office (After all, it was, Jame G. Burton, one of the less famous and perhaps less capable but slightly more honorable of the so-called ‘reformers’in the 70s-80s who observed (to paraphrase) ‘Acting’ Something-secretaries tend to very much want to be permanent Something-secretaries.
Most Some of the press coverage to-date misses the point of the report’s incomplete nature on the subject of concurrency,and instead the coverage seems to be focusing on building a narrative which is asserts there is an unusual and the looming collision between discovery in flight and fatigue testing and planned production increases .
If one desired to build a narrative around the meaning of the QLR supporting a ‘negative’ POV, they might focus on the report’s concerns that Ggiven the status of testing, and the lag time in developing and implementing fixes, the report concludes that there is:
"a high risk that rework and retrofit costs... will continue to be realized across the entire LRIP production flow" - including LRIP-9 deliveries in 2017. Those aircraft are due to be ordered just after high-angle-of-attack flight tests are completed, and while second-lifetime fatigue tests are still under way.”
While the previous is 'true' (to a point), informed and balanced reporting would also note that the QLR does not take into consideration the risks and associated costs of NOT proceeding as planned and the threats those risks pose to the program. It is not as if the fact that the technical aspects of a program pose far less total cost risk to a program than programmatic aspects is not well known. The largest drivers have been shown to be #1: quantity changes (22 percent), #2: requirements growth (13 percent), and #3: schedule changes (9 percent).
Competent reportage would take into consideration what is missing from the QLR and what the impacts of following the recommendations might afflict on the program. The QLR recommends changing quantities and schedule, two of the three largest cost drivers? Where is the reportage asking the hard questions on that apparent conflict?

A cynical member of the press might attempt to counter the fact that the The ‘play-down’ reports also invariably note that the report did not recommend terminating production. Such an approach might employ a snark-laden false allegory such as:
That's the good-news story? "Hi, dear, how was the check-up?" "Fantastic! I don't have Ebola yet!"
When a truer, albeit far less entertaining, one might read:
“That's the good-news story? "Hi, dear, how was the check-up?" "Doc says I have to work on things but nothing that we don't think we can work out."
Of course, why bring up the allegory at all if it doesn’t support the negative meme drivng a story in the first place?
Let's look at that the wording in detail (page 7). The QLR team separated the program issues into four categories. Category I: "Areas where a fundamental design risk has been identified with realized consequences sufficient to preclude further production."
They didn't find any, but those with bias, or insufficient technical backgrounds and experience might brush this point off by asserting something akin to:
"it would have been a damning indictment of program management if they had. For a team of outsiders to walk in and, in 30 days, discover an unfixable problem sufficient to terminate the program on the spot would point to ineptitude at best."
 When in reality, a problem of that magnitude on a program as far along as the F-35 is more often as plainly obvious to an experienced program manager as the nose on any obdurate journalist’s face.
As noted above, the categories were set by the QLR team on the basis of what they found. Also, the team's original charter was not to determine whether the program should be whacked, but to investigate concerns about testing delays, and concurrency costs.
It would be beyond the pale, but alas I fear not beyond the limits of some in the aerospace trade press to read into the QLR something that is not there: to create a ‘absence of evidence is evidence of something’ argument. Perhaps by contriving a question similar to:
So if they didn't find any Category I issues, why is there a Category I at all - except to provide the program's defenders with a soundbite? If anyone has a brilliant alternative answer to that question, I'm all ears.
But you may ask “Certainly, no journalist, not even one apparently having an axe to grind on this particular topic, would fail to grasp that when one organizes information, the FIRST step is to create the categories for what you MIGHT find and THEN categorize what is found, as it is found, by the predetermined categories?”

Apparently not.

"Happy New Year" indeed


alloycowboy said...

Are you sure your an engineer? Your write style seems more like an english major then typical engineer and your sarcasism seems very Chestertonian. What gives?

SMSgt Mac said...

I'll take the comparison of my offhand observations to Chesterton as a compliment, though I think it is hardly deserved. But Thank You.

I actually considered taking the time to knock off the rough spots before publishing, but time is one thing of which I don't have enough. Serious commentary deserves serious consideration. ‘Game Show’ quality commentary? Not so much.

I completed most of my college work while in the military (Senior in Physics when I retired), and most of that while flying and managing different aspects of flight test programs, so the influence in this case is more crusty AF Senior NCO than anything else: you have to be able to wave the BS flag when you see it and make people see it. Just as important: you have to be able to detect it even when it's all wrapped up in pretty pink ribbon.

Your comment does remind me that I have someone whom I refer to as my ‘brilliant and equally strange friend’ who once remarked that he thought I was more of a ‘German Engineer’ while he was 'French'. He told me whereas his first moves were to bring Monsieur’s Poincare and Laplace to bear in search of a solution, my first actions were to lay my hands on the problem until it started vibrating at the fundamental frequency and apply the math as needed -- and yet somehow we always ended up in about the same place. I think the biggest driver in our differences in approaching a problem is that I had decades of experience under my belt before the degrees, he had the degrees before and while he was gaining the experience.
The irony in all this is I’m pretty certain I’ve written far more critical F-35 reports in years not-to-distant-past (as an independent tester) than any of the current naysayers, yet I’ve been labeled a ‘fanboy’. Too funny. The only real differences are that I’ve done so as part of the processes involved in that little thing we call ‘Engineering’. The uninformed media does so for almighty advertising-audience size, and the hardcore Non-State Actors scream “He’s a witch! Burn Him!” to keep the grant money flowing in from the Illiterati.