CSIS working draft: “America’s Self-Destroying Airpower”

Anthony Cordesman and Hans Ulrich Kaeser, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, today released a devastating critique of US airpower strategy. The F-22, F-35, KC-X, V-22 and VH-71 are studied, and the combined outlook is decidedly grim. Surprisingly, Cordesman and Kaeser do not blame incompetence by acquisition officers or defense contractors. Instead, they blame … (wait for it … ) Secretary of Defense Bob Gates! (PDF here)

Source: http://www.csis.org

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11 Responses to CSIS working draft: “America’s Self-Destroying Airpower”

  1. Stephen Trimble 5 October, 2008 at 12:01 am #

    Hey Mike … sorry about that … I’ve enlarged the window a bit … the text still isn’t quite large enough to read … but now at least you can magnify it to a decent size and stay within the margins so you don’t have to scroll back and forth to read a line … just click the magnifying glass on the tool bar … I hope that does the job for you … iPaper is a new tool I’m playing with … I think it has real potential for blogs … once I figure how to work around some of the constraints of our design …

  2. SMSgt Mac 5 October, 2008 at 3:04 am #

    I had the same problem, but since I visit CSIS regularly these days I just went to the ‘publications’ page on their website to download the (I perhaps dangerously assume) final version.

    He’s got some truth in there, but the analysis suffers mightily by looking at the issue from too low a perspective. Instead of looking at the problem as one of program management and whipping the dogs to make them run faster, it should be looked at from a total aerospace culture POV. Questions that should be asked and answered include:
    1. How much do programs today suffer from having a weaker support infrastructure that comes with the whacking the tooth-to-tail ratio that has taken place over the years?
    2. How has the dearth of major development and acquisition programs shrunk the knowledge base and increased per-program overhead costs that were once amortised over more program activities? Remember, the rise of program costs lag behind the reduction in program numbers.
    3. How has the requirements-pull philosophy placing one of technology-push, with resultant cuts in the numbers of IRAD and CRAD projects (the ones where breakthroughs are born independent of acquisition programs) affected the maturation of technology that is often ‘discovered’ as being needed in the middle of new (especially concurrent-development) programs?
    4. What about the government’s pretending that the ‘acquisition holiday’ had no downside to the long-term defense posture? How has the failure to adjust funding expectations to recognize that:
    a. what was once a very large complex knowledge system with:
    b. the full spectrum synergy of technology development, from basic physics experiments to the development of entire weapon systems, and
    c. across the entire spectrum of engineering and science,..
    allowed the system to atrophy to the point that programs are chronically ‘underfunded ‘ or ‘over-running’ because they must now do more ‘within’ the scope of the program?

    Yes, stop requirements creep. Yes, bring back ‘oversight’ to replace ‘insight’. Yes, hold people accountable. But give the people the tools and more important the environment to accomplish the job.

    Otherwise, the author’s call to arms is just more “management by decree”, and we have enough of that crap going on right now in the AF and industry.

  3. Scott Ferrin 5 October, 2008 at 3:13 pm #

    Or you could just do like I did and go to CSIS and download the PDF :-) .

    (The window is a neat idea but way too small to read comfortably.)

  4. Stephen Trimble 5 October, 2008 at 4:22 pm #

    Hey guys … the link to the PDF has now been added … my sincere apologies for the readability issues … I do think if you fiddle with he magnifying tool, you’ll be able to read the entire document without much trouble … but, please, check out the PDF link and read the report … it’s an important contribution to knowledge about the current state of military aircraft acquisition …

  5. Stephen Trimble 5 October, 2008 at 4:34 pm #

    SMSgt Mac,

    I sense from your comments that you believe the central issue facing military acquisition is lack of infrastructure caused by the Clinton-era procurement “holiday” … certainly, the number of acquisition staff within DOD severely declined since the early 1990s … and few were added even as procurement accounts more than doubled since 9/11 … but I do wonder how well things worked even with the Reagan-era infrastructure, especially when you remember the acquisition fiascos of the 60s, 70s and 80s … the difference between then and now, perhaps, is that we no longer have ANY alternatives when certain programs fail, either industrially or strategically … if I’m reading Cordesman correctly, the real concern is that we’ve painted ourselves in a corner with a bad technology and industrial policy strategy … for example, what does the USMC do if the F-35B is a bust? (I, for one, think it’s way too early to know either way.)

  6. SMSgt Mac 6 October, 2008 at 8:23 am #

    There are a lot of different drivers behind the ever-decreasing number of weapon systems. Those drivers would take a book or two to cover. What I’m saying is we have to recognize there are costs (schedule and budget) involved with fewer programs of progressively increasing complexity that need to be accounted for and are not: they are mostly ignored but are seldom invisible. It is just politically expedient to not mention them.

    I believe meddling Congressional micromanagement and second-guessing of defense has played no small part in the acquisition mess since the late 1960s. Senator John Tower, testifying before a committee just before he retired, said something to the effect of Congress having never before complained so bitterly about increased defense spending while never before having so much to do with it. I wonder if Senator Tower could imagine how much more meddlesome Congress is today in their ‘oversight’ role? I have a sailing buddy who did the JFK School of Gov’t program a couple of years ago and his seminar was given a lecture from a rather self-important Congressional aide who opened with the statement that it was impossible for Congress to micromanage defense. With an attitude like that, what else can we expect from Congress?

    There are other reasons of course, including service rivalries (for their piece of the limited budget as set by ????), a shortage of visionaries in command, a changing defense environment in a no-longer bi-polar world, etc. But I think they pale in comparison to Congressional ignorance, arrogance, and sometimes (too often) childish pettiness.

    What if the F-35B goes bad? When speaking of failed programs, TSSAM comes to mind. I understand that DAU teaches it as an example of how NOT to run a program. Having lived through it, I believe it. But it is an even better example for the case of pressing on with a program in trouble as long as the requirement exists for it. TSSAM had pretty much solved all of its technical problems when the DoD gave up on it (arguably over the political sensitivity of the program while coming out of the black world at a time when Aspin (spit) and Co. were making a boogieman out of the ‘secret’ budget for political gain). So instead of pressing on with the TSSAM, the DoD tweaked the spec to make a ‘less costly’ solution more palatable to Congress possible. The result was the JASSM program -which promptly encountered and solved virtually every technical challenge TSSAM did at roughly the same pace…again. I submit the DoD could have pressed with the TSSAM and fielded it years earlier than the JASSM, and done so for less cost and less overall risk. Lesson Learned: It is almost certainly better to press on with a ‘troubled’ program as long as it is still needed than to start all over again. Having said that, the best fallback position for any F-35B problems should be… to fix them…as long as the requirement for the F-35B exists.
    This is not a revolutionary idea, but an obvious one. We know this because from the era before every defense program was born under a microscope, we can name a ‘great’ airplane that had a ‘troubled’ beginning for every fielded airplane that was a lemon and stayed that way. Because every new design breaks new ground (else why build it?) this stuff has always been hard and it is getting harder as it gets more complex. This is also why every second or third world country doesn’t have an aerospace industry base.
    When we talk major programs, we are talking about the top of the technology pyramid. When I mentioned IRAD and CRAD earlier I was speaking more about the technology that makes up the base of that pyramid. Back in the early 90’s, there were some in Congress calling for keeping the level of R&D effort going while not moving forward on production of said technology. The idea was – I kid you not- to develop the technology and put it ‘on the shelf’ for future use. While this would have been better than what Aspin (spit) and Co actually followed through with – which was slash everything – it demonstrated an abject lack of comprehension of how knowledge expands: advancements are developed, used, and new ideas are born from that use while dead-ends are identified and discarded.

    As the speaker at a recent lecture I attended put it, we are eating our ‘seed corn’. I’d say we’ve been doing it for some time now.

  7. SMSgt Mac 7 October, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Ahem. Please don’t ask me a public question if you think you aren’t going to like the answer.

    BTW: If you had asked me privately, I would have happily answered privately. Probably with a few boring references for you to pick up and explore at you leisure.

    -Yours in the Common Defense

  8. Stephen Trimble 7 October, 2008 at 12:12 pm #

    But I liked your answer! I was just trying to add to the discussion. My apologies if my comments inadvertently came across critically.

  9. SMSgt Mac 8 October, 2008 at 5:09 am #

    From your response, I surmise you did not get my response to your previous comment where you asked a ‘what if’: i.e. F-35B as a lemon? My apologies for assuming the worst when the merely unfortunate was the culprit.

    Too bad the comment is lost and I didn’t first save it in a word doc.

    The Cliff’s Notes points were:

    1. Programs disappearing since the 60′s/ Lots of reasons. Could fill a book.

    2. Peace dividend slashed R&D programs. There was a stupid idea floated of keeping the budget for them going but putting resulting tech ‘on the shelf’instead of fielding – showed ignorance of how we ‘progress’. Multiple mentions of Aspin (spit).

    Lesson for ages: always better and cheaper to proceed with a program in trouble as long as need (requirement) remains. Cancelling TSSAM (classic mismanagment example taught in DAU I believe) after the challenges were overcome and starting JASSM meant I got to watch Lockheed conquer the same problems on taxpayer’s dime all over again and we were ‘exposed’ to the risk of not having a fielded system for nearly a decade. If F-35B has problems fix them as long as the Marines say they need it. For every lemon that struggled and was fielded without ever getting to be good, there is at least one legendary system that started life as an ugly duckling. If this was easy every second and third world country would have an aerospace industry like the US.

  10. Stephen Trimble 8 October, 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    Sorry! We’re having a consistent problem with our blog software. It’s supposed to be approving the comments automatically. Most of the time it does, but sometimes it doesn’t. And there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason. My good friends in the IS department are trying to figure it out, but, until then, I’ll need your patience…

  11. EG 8 October, 2008 at 2:52 pm #

    “For every lemon that struggled and was fielded without ever getting to be good, there is at least one legendary system that started life as an ugly duckling.”

    If anybody here can find the short monograph titled “Give a dog a bad name” by Bill Gunston I would suggest you read it. If it can be found and published here for all to read so much the better. Please allow me to post a couple of those systems:
    F-15 (engine trouble)
    F-111 (engine trouble, avionics, structual)
    No trying to pick on the AF, they were ust the first ones that came to mind.

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