C-27J to JFK

We’ve written the frustrating saga of the USAF knife in the back of the (originally) Army program to buy the C-27J light transport.

After successfully commandeering the program, the USAF quickly turned around and killed it, even as brand spanking new airframes are still rolling off the production line in Italy.  These planes are being delivered directly to storage at Davis-Monthan AFB where they’ll join the rest of the fleet in long term storage.


Or will they?

Defense Industry Daily says that Special Operations Command (SOCOM) wants seven Spartans to replace their current fleet of CASA C.212 aircraft for training purposes.

SOCOM is a joint command, albeit very heavily biased toward the Army. In essence they’re their own separate armed force, with their own budget authority, and a history of noted disdain to parochial games, even while excelling at them.

Alenia C-27J Spartan aircraft picture

The Coast Guard has already stated they’d love to have  the entire production run of C-27Js to convert them to medium range maritime patrol aircraft.* But a quirk of US law says the Air Force can’t give them to the USCG ( part of DHS) unless there are no military takers for them. Obviously, SOCOM, as a DoD entity, would have first call on the Spartans. And so, it’s highly likely the John F. Kennedy Center and School will add 7 Spartans to its fleet.

Now, SOCOM says the C-27Js would be for training. And I’m sure they would be. But unlike the aircraft already in the SOCOM fleet, the Spartans are combat ready aircraft with radar and missile warning systems, and chaff and IR flare dispensers. It would not be terribly surprising if some “training” aircraft found themselves in “exigent” circumstances deployed to support “urgent” operational needs, in effect giving SOCOM its own tactical transport fleet, and reducing the reliance on USAF and TRANSCOM for airlift.

That’s pure speculation on our part. What say you?

*Even as the USCG is buying another foreign built twin engine turbo-prop for the role, the HC-144 Ocean Sentry based on the EADS CN-235.

Paralysis by Analysis

Robert Kozlowski, writing at the US Naval Institute’s USNIBlog has a good post that shows a startling graphic.


Open the graphic in a new tab to see the whole thing.

I’m curious what happened to the acquisition process in 1975 that lead to such a sharp increase in the time needed to field a weapon system.

But the key thing is, time is money. Lots and lots of money. Now, you’ll say, XBrad, the items like the B-2 and the F-22 are pretty cutting edge technology. And so they are. But so were things like the B-58, and the F-111. Notice also, the F-117, a cutting edge technology, had minimal oversight, and yet it reached IOC well below the trendline.

I’d expect to see some increase in the trendline of development times. But I’d expect to see something more like that commercial aircraft timeline, or even a little steeper. But clearly, something in the process of acquisition has changed. And Kozlowski argues that it is the intense oversight. I’m agree. And I’ll note that the purpose of the oversight was to ensure money spent was well spent. Oddly, the oversight, both within DoD and from outside, be it the GAO or Congress or whomever, has stretched the timelines to untenable lengths. We’ve already seen programs such as the RAH-66 Comanche that ran so long in development that they were obsolete before they were even ordered into production.  And I’d argue that the drawn out development and oversight costs more than simply mismanaging programs in the first place would have.

The Future Vertical Lift Program is already making me cry.

Forbes has a pretty interesting look at one of the few bright spots in the American military aviation industry, helicopters, and sees clouds on the horizon in terms of procurement numbers. It is a pretty interesting article, and you might enjoy it.

But the part that caught my eye was this:

Meantime, the next generation of rotorcraft will take time to develop.  In June, the US Army selected three designs for its Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program.  JMR-TD is the precursor to the Department of Defense’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) program, and it should produce three medium size class technology demonstrators to be built by 2017.

There’s a lot of promise with FVL, which, for a start, is intended to replace 2,000-4,000 UH-60 medium lift models and AH-64 attack helicopters.  It will also be used to provide replacements for scout and heavy lift models through a modular design approach that will allow the airframe to be scaled.  In all, it could be worth over $100 billion.  However, FVL procurement will not begin until 2030, at the earliest.

That’s the part that scares me.  Actually, the first paragraph isn’t so bad. A technology demonstrator (TD) program isn’t, per se, bad. In fact, it is probably a pretty good idea. The problem is, a TD in effect becomes a prototype competition (much as happened in the JSF program) and the rules that determine the winner for a TD program are different from the rules that would be used in a genuine prototype fly-off for a production aircraft.

No, what really concerns me is the program looks structured to provide a “one airframe fits all” approach.

Which, it won’t. The reason we have different airframes is simply because one airframe simply cannot adequately perform all the mission sets required.

Now, a good deal of commonality among different airframes isn’t bad. For instance, the cockpit of the Boeing 757 and 767 are virtually identical. If you can fly one, you can pretty much fly the other. And using the same parts gives economies of scale in procurement and maintenance.  The same holds true with most Airbus single aisle airliners.

Should the FVL program lead to new technologies in engine, rotors,avionics,  noise and infrared suppression and other improvements, by all means, those developments should, where feasible, be shared across future programs.

But the bit about scalability is scaring me. I strongly suspect that rather than developing separate airframes with common components, the services will try to develop a common airframe with divergent missions. And that will be doomed to failure.

After all, it isn’t like this hasn’t happened before. The cancelled RAH-66 Comanche was the sole fruit of what was, until then, the most ambitious procurement program the Army ever undertook- the LHX. The Light Helicopter Experimental program was started in the early 1980s to replace the first generation of turbine powered helicopters of the Army. It was intended to replace the UH-1, the AH-1, the OH-6 and the OH-58, and eventually even replace the UH-60 and AH-64 that were just beginning to enter service as the LHX program was begun.

Trying to make one program fulfill several different roles meant a leap in technology was needed. Which meant the program was high risk. And a high risk program means a drawn out development schedule, which means high costs. And high costs per unit demand a more and more capable unit, which drives up the need for a technological leap, which makes a program high risk, which….


Eventually, the lift helicopter portions of the program were shed, and the focus was on a light armed scout. And that scout was burdened with ever greater requirements to be far more advanced than any previous helicopter. No doubt, a fair amount of the gold-plating of the program was a result of the contractor coming up with innovative ideas of what they could do- given the time and money to try, of course.

But so much time was spent developing the resulting RAH-66 helicopter that its mission, to slip far behind the lines of any Soviet armored assault on Western Europe, and locate valuable targets for other Army assets, was overtaken by other technologies, not to mention the collapse of the Soviet Union itself.

After a quarter century of development and untold billions of dollars in development, the Army ended up with nothing.

Where the Army (and the other services) have had great success in aviation procurement is in tightly defining a mission and more importantly, tightly defining the requirements to fulfill that mission. When the services have ruthlessly resisted the call to add more capabilities beyond the immediate level needed to accomplish a mission, and have steadfastly avoided mission creep, they’ve had good success in buying aircraft. But without that discipline, they’ve suffered setback after embarrassing setback and ballooning costs and development timelines.

Let’s hope the FVL program manager can read a little history.

Goldwater Nichols ‘86 in the Post-Post-Cold War Era

Galrahn’ Information Dissemination is always a good place for some deep thinking. Especially since we so often disagree with him. Keeps us on our toes, as it were.

And G’s added another contributor to his site, Lazarus. Lazarus’ first piece takes a look at the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 that established our current Department of Defense organization and how the Joint Chiefs and the regional Combatant Commanders interact and interface with the civilian National Command Authority.

A good example of a piece of history that ought to be re-examined by historians is the defense reform movement of the 1980s and the notable legislation it produced. The effort’s primary product, the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986 has for all intents and purposes become canon law for the U.S. military. It is referred to reverently in U.S. Defense publications as if it were the Declaration of Independence or the Magna Carta. Its legislative creators thought that empowering the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and his staff to manage service issues would end inter-service bickering, prevent future Vietnam wars, and free the nation from the tyranny of military novices like Lyndon Johnson picking military targets over lunch. Critics like Navy Secretary John Lehman countered that the legislation would not cut defense costs and would prevent the individual military services from effectively allocating resources and personnel to their respective areas of warfare expertise. What resulted was more of a compromise. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) gained considerable power at the expense of the military service chiefs but the organization of the JCS remained unaltered despite the efforts of reformers to replace it with a council of retired officers who would not have service-centric views.  Although intended to improve Cold War military planning and organization, it made its strongest claim for legitimacy in a post-Cold War conflict. Goldwater Nichols was widely touted by its legislative backers as one of the keys to victory in the 1991 Gulf War by preventing excessive service chief and civilian meddling in the conflict and organizing the disparate U.S. military service into a victorious joint force. Buoyed by these pronouncements Goldwater Nichols sailed on through the 1990s and 2000s, unlike many other Cold War-era programs and organizational doctrines without significant review.

One change G/N brought was that the Chairman of the JCS became the sole primary military advisor to the President, as opposed to the individual service chiefs. The idea was to reduce interservice rivalry. As Lazarus notes, it has been a shift from rivalry to simply protecting each service share of the defense dollar pie.

It also greatly increased the command authority of the combatant commanders (COCOM)  in the field. Effectively, while the Chairman is the principal military advisor, he has no command authority over the COCOMs. In operational command, he’s just the messenger between the NCA and the COCOMs.  The chain runs from the President to the SecDef to the COCOM.

The individual service chiefs, such as the Chief of Staff of the Army or the Commandant of the Marine Corps likewise have no command authority over operations. Instead, they are responsible for providing ready, trained, equipped forces to the COCOMs to fulfill their missions.

G/N had two other major influences. First, “jointness” was greatly stressed, in an effort to increase the interoperability of the services. This has lead to a requirement for officers wishing to advance to flag rank to serve time on a Joint Staff.  To some extent, reducing parochialism is a good idea. But it has also lead to a fair amount of “make work” postings, inventing jobs so people can get their ticket punched. And there is a risk that time spent outside a warfare specialty will lead to a dilution of the very skillset these officers are prized for. Tom Clancy once had one of his characters, Bart Mancuso, asking himself how serving on a joint staff better prepared him to serve as COMSUBPAC, the commander of all Pacific Fleet subs.

G/N also greatly pushed for a more centralized planning in procurement for the DoD. Intended to reduce duplication of effort, we would argue instead that the need to justify every Program of Record through the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) has merely added complexity to an already byzantine process.  Some commodity areas are well suited for centralized procurement, such as foodstuffs and medical supply. But can we not safely assume that when it comes to major end systems, the Navy is probably better suited to determining what they need in a new destroyer than a panel of civilians backed by a staff from all the services?  How many votes at the table should the Air Force get when the Army starts looking at what it wants from its next generation Ground Combat Vehicle.

Among the “working class” officers of the services, mostly field grade officers, there is a strong sense that G/N has lead to an explosion in the numbers of General Officer/Flag Officer positions (and of course, their bloated staffs!) that is wholly inconsistent with the smaller actual field forces available to the country. The easy example is our Navy currently having more Admirals than ships. All the services are somewhat guilty.

Is it time to scrap Goldwater/Nichols? Probably. I mused at Information Dissemination that the organization should probably be shuffled every 20 years or so just to shake things up.

But the question isn’t so much “Should we replace G/N?” but rather, “What should replace G/N?”

I’m certainly open to suggestion.

Hagel on Force Structure

I think it was fair to say I wasn’t a fan of former Republican Senator Chuck Hagel being nominated as Secretary of Defense.

Having said that, he’s not totally managed to infuriate me so far. Indeed, by quashing the fatuous Distinguished Warfare Medal (ie, the Drone Medal) he’s earned a tiny bit of goodwill from me.

And now comes news that in a speech at National Defense University, Sec. Hagel said another bit of common sense:

“Today the operational forces of the military — measured in battalions, ships, and aircraft wings — have shrunk dramatically since the Cold War era. Yet the three- and four-star command and support structures sitting atop these smaller fighting forces have stayed intact, with minor exceptions, and in some cases they are actually increasing in size and rank,” Hagel said.

The last major revision of the DoD establishment was the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols Act.  Perhaps in the almost 30 years since then, the strategic picture has changed a bit.

I do think massive cuts to the overhead of the services could be instituted with little real diminishment on our true combat power. Mind you, the institutional side of the services are important. Much of the immense combat power of the US resides in our ability to “systemize systems.”  But a hard look at the accretion of staffs and positions, I suspect, would show a great many that are more self-licking ice cream cones than eventual precursors to combat power.

I strongly suspect that devolving some power from the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD) back down to the services, particularly in the area of acquisition, might streamline processes.

We shall see.

Bronco at PAX

So, after Congress shut down the Navy’s plan to lease and operate four A-29B Super Tucanos in Afghanistan, it looks like the Navy has decided to try another tack.

Several OV-10 Broncos are still operational outside the DoD. Now comes word that the Navy has snagged one that NASA has been using and is apparently going to retrofit it to a combat capable role.

I’m stealing some info from a forum for veterans of VAL-4, the Navy squadron that operated the Bronco in Vietnam.

The following is provided courtesy of the OV-10 Bronco Association, Inc.  Thanks.

[redacted by XBrad] had the privilege of attending the first public showing of the updated OV-10G+ being operated by the Nay’s RCU-1, as a “Black Pony.” They are preparing a second airplane for light attack, battle field management and communications roles or as the unit calls it; “Find-Fix-Finish.” The airplanes are flown by Navy pilots with Marne WSO’s in the back seat. The ground crews include both Navy and Air Force personnel. This is not a Boeing project, it is a Navy program. The attached pictures and video were taken at NAS PAX river on March 22nd.

  If all goes well, this airplane will be joined by a second one. Both airplanes came from NASA and pervious to that were used by the State Department as spray airplanes. Before that, they belonged to the Marine Corps. If everything works out right, both airplanes will be here in Fort Worth for BroncoFest May 3 to 5, 2013.

  At present this project is proof of concept and is only funded through October. After that is anybody’s guess.

  You will notice there are no sponsons on the airplane. Those will be added soon. The normal configuration for the missions will be centerline and with external fuel and four seven shot pods for laser guided 2,75″ rockets.

Bronco image002 image003 image004 image005 image006 image007 image008 image009 image010

Funded through October means to the end of the current fiscal year. We’ll see what the FY14 budget has. I presume the impetus for this is coming from the special operations side of the house more than the NavAir side, and the fact that is as far along as it is says SPECWAR finds it pretty important. It wouldn’t suprise me a bit if they got money for next year, and maybe even another couple aircraft. There’s still quite a few Broncos out at the Boneyard.

And while they’ll eventually add the sponsons, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just forego installing the M60D guns in them. Mostly they’ll want the sponsons for holding the rocket pods.

As a long time fan of the OV-10, I’m as giddy as a schoolgirl. Why the heck didn’t we do this a decade ago?

Media Bias

Here’s a nice little piece that shows how media bias works. News about government waste is covered. But NBC chooses to make the lede about waste in the DoD.

Four different branches of the U.S. military are spending millions of dollars to equip troops with combat uniforms in seven different but similar camouflage patterns, says the Government Accountability Office, wasting money and potentially exposing some troops to increased risk on the battlefield.

Many people will only read the headline, or the first paragraph or two, and come away with the conclusion that DoD is the single biggest waste of money in the federal government.  Tens of millions of dollars wasted!*

But if you read a little further…

Of the 31 new areas the GAO identified, here are a few examples of areas the GAO found with overlap and duplication:

  • Drug abuse prevention and treatment programs: “Federal drug abuse prevention and treatment programs are fragmented across 15 federal agencies … in fiscal year 2012, about $4.5 billion was allocated to these 15 agencies that administer 76 programs that are, in all or in part, intended to prevent or treat illicit drug use or abuse.”
  • Renewable energy initiatives: “23 agencies and their 130 sub-agencies implemented 679 renewable energy initiatives in fiscal year 2010…9 agencies implemented 82 overlapping duplicative wind-related initiatives in fiscal year 2011 … including 7 initiatives that have provided duplicative … financial support to the same recipient for a single project.”

But wait, there’s more!

Here are a few examples of areas GAO found with significant potential cost savings or increased revenue:

  • Crop insurance subsidies: Congress could save up to $1.2 billion if it reduced or limited subsidies for individual farmers.
  • Medicaid supplemental payments: by identifying improper Medicaid payments, HHS could save up to hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • Tobacco taxes: the federal government lost as much as $615 million to $1 billion between 2009 and 2011 “because tobacco manufacturers and consumers substituted higher-taxed smoking tobacco products with similar lower tax products.

So, the GAO finds billions in wasted dollars. And NBC mentions it, so no one can accuse them of ignoring it.

But it’s buried so far down, most people will never see it.

*Yes, some uniform decisions are sheer lunacy. But what the GAO report doesn’t say is that any decision to consolidate uniforms would have its own set of costs. Likely, such an act would cost as much or more as maintaining the status quo.

Morning Links and Stuff

If someone is shooting at you, should you fight back, or simply wait passively for the bullet with your name on it? The NYT seems a little surprised Option One is even on the table.

Research on mass shootings over the last decade has bolstered the idea that people at the scene of an attack have a better chance of survival if they take an active stance rather than waiting to be rescued by the police, who in many cases cannot get there fast enough to prevent the loss of life.

In an analysis of 84 such shooting cases in the United States from 2000 to 2010, for example, researchers at Texas State University found that the average time it took for the police to respond was three minutes.

The next to last line of the article is a bit annoying.

What she worries about most, she said, is that spree shootings are becoming so common that she suspects people have begun to accept them as a normal part of life.

There’s not really an upsurge in spree shootings, but instead, the perception that there is an upsurge.


Is there an increase in misconduct by senior leaders, or an increase in holding senior leaders accountable for misconduct?

Three general officers have been censured for misconduct recently.

The cases have exacerbated concerns about the ethics and personal behavior of senior military officers, a problem that has bedeviled the Pentagon in recent months despite repeated pledges to address it.

That paragraph implies that recent disciplinary measures are in spite of Pentagon efforts to address ethical shortcomings.  But it seems to me that the WaPo misses the equally likely scenario where these three general officers were disciplined because of renewed efforts to focus on ethics. Bit of a chicken/egg scenario.


Is DoD too big to manage?  Robert Kozloski has a great post over at USNIblog.

Since it’s creating in 1947, DoD has ever increased the centralization of power. Arguably, the service secretaries and their staffs are little more than just another bureaucratic layer, vestigial accretions. But centralized planning tends to also reduce initiative and decrease intellectual agility. The last major reform of DoD was Goldwater/Nichols of 1986. It was specifically designed to improve the DoD in a Cold War scenario. We’ve been post-Cold War for an entire generation now. Is it time to break out the re-org boots? What should a revised DoD/service staff structure look like?


Oracle Team USA is a stunning technological achievement. A sailboat hydrofoil moving along at 40 knots is just… insane.


Still, there’s a part of me that really wishes the America’s Cup would return to the old 12-meter boat rules.


Sad, but true.

“Frankly, I don’t know what it is about California , but we seem to have a strange urge to elect really obnoxious women to high office. I’m not bragging, you understand, but no other state, including Maine, even comes close. When it comes to sending left-wing dingbats to Washington, we’re number one. There’s no getting around the fact that the last time anyone saw the likes of Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, and Nancy Pelosi, they were stirring a cauldron when the curtain went up on ‘Macbeth’. The three of them are like jackasses who happen to possess the gift of blab. You don’t know if you should condemn them for their stupidity or simply marvel at their ability to form words.”