John Young is the undersecretary for acquisition technology and logistics, reporting to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.
Last week, Young appeared at the Defense Writer’s Group, a kind of Breakfast Club for journalists that periodically meets with key defense officials. The reporters ask questions between bites on ridiculously over-priced eggs and bacon, while the poor guest tries to get through the event without getting fired (not always successfully).
The DWG has posted the transcript for Young’s appearance (read it here), and I’ve excerpted the most relevant questions and answers for this blog.
- On making the army and navy share a common aircraft fleet for electronic spying
- Why does the US Air Force need a dedicated combat search and rescue fleet?
- On F-22: concerns about “troubling” maintenance trends, failure on most KPPs, billion and billions for new upgrades
Q: Can you give us some general outlines of which areasyou’re talking about when you say that they should be scrutinized? A littlemore detail to flesh out your thinking.
A: I’ll give you one, not as a forward looking or futureissue, just as a today issue. I had a meeting last week on aerial common sensorand EPX which is the Navy’s replacement for the EP-3.
I had that as a joint meeting because a few years ago as aNavy acquisition executive with the support of Admiral Clark who was a greatteam mate to work with, we joined those two programs.
The Navy said I’ll give some ground here to be joint withthe Army to buy roughly comparable capability. But not all the Navyrequirements for sure get met when you do that.
Now obviously ACS was basically a disaster, from my point ofview, and sure enough, the recovery from that is no longer a joint program.
It’s a Navy, separate EPX program with some Navy uniquerequirements that say why they can’t buy the Army’s ACS and the Army has uniquerequirements that says what won’t, and I want to have an intense discussionabout doing that jointly, which is the hardest thing to do in the department.
Then I think there’s a bigger macro discussion like you’reraising, because these are modest numbers of airplanes, 20s and 30s. And whenyou add up the development and the purchase price of these airplanes, they arealso 20 and 30 billion dollar kind of packages.
These airplanes on an aggregate cost, I guess a procurementaverage unit cost where you include the development and the purchase price are$500 to $700 million airplanes.
How many times can the department buy in pockets of 20, 30,40, 50 airplanes worth of capability for $20 to $30 billion? I think those arethe kind of issues that are getting attention right now and will continue toneed attention.
In the end the department may decide this is exactly what wehave to do. We have to pay the price to have that capability to make sure ourwarfighters can succeed. But I think it merits more debate than rubber stampingunique service requirements.
Q: The Air Force has a couple of operational communitiesthat would desperately love to get their hands on anything. The combat searchand rescue community needs a CSARX. They probably don’t care which one. Themobility communities are in desperate need of a replacement for the oldestKC-130s, they probably don’t care which one. The Air Force picked a winner forboth of those programs. Whether or not the Air Force picked the right airframe,do you think the contractors have become too eager to resort to protests onthese programs and throw things into limbo?
A: … I’d start back from the beginning premise of yourquestion. You said a very important thing. I think you said community. I dofind an intensity of community in the enterprise that probably is going to haveto be revisited by the new leadership so that you have an enterprise viewinstead of a community view. Right now we’re doing pretty good on the communityview and I think you’ve heard Secretary Gates say that. I’m not so sure, and Isaid this internal to the building. You start with the premise CSARX communityis in desperate need. Well, we have a lot of assets that can be used in rescue missions with planning, so I don’t necessarily justautomatically rubber stamp the CSARX requirement. I don’t know that thatcommunity has to have its own set of assets for the occasional rescue mission.We have new things coming one line like V-22s and other things that can bepressed into service. When we do our rescue mission we’re going to do a come asyou are operation anyway, unless all the CSAR assets are prepositioned forthat. So I don’t start with some of these starting premises. I think that’s oneof the things the enterprise has to do much better is from the beginningquestion the requirement.
A: I’m not going very far on, because I already opened thedoor and I feel like others have opened the door, I told you that at least thebudget template that will be left behind, because it’s going to be subjectcertainly to change and review, has increased the top line from 9 to 13, in the’10 to ’15 budget the top line was increased relative to the numbers you’refamiliar with in 9 to 13.
A significant portion of that increase was to try torecognize the higher pace of operations globally, largely associated withactivities to combat terrorism and other things. And essentially put someportion of the supplemental costs in the base. That’s one of the buzz words inthe building is sup to base. And some amount of supplemental to base wasaccommodated because of the top line. The one thing that’s not realistic is tosay you’re going to continue all the current operations, have no supplemental,and do all that within the base budget, I think that would be extreme, althoughI want to be clear, there are, I already said, there are some programs and Ithink some scrutiny that can be brought to bear to many things in the defensebudget. But that is how the department is dealing with trying to reduce some ofthe supplemental demand and make sure the enterprise budgets in the base budgetfor a core set of activities and accepts that that core set of activities isprobably going to include some heightened level of presence, some higher tempoof operations through depots because we’re using the equipment harder, and allthose other things.
F-22. I’m not as familiar with the corrosion per se otherthan maybe at a macro level to tell you there’s been this, it’s not unlike thecommunity discussion. There’s obviously this level of discussion in supportabout F-22 and the Congress has added money for advanced procurement to buymore airplanes. And I don’t think that debate’s informed by all those facts.The recent mission capable data for FY2008 on F-22s had a mission capable ratesomewhere in the 62 percent range. I think that’s troubling.
Follow-on operation tests in 2007 raised operationalsuitability issues and noted that the airplane still does not meet most of itsKPPs. It meets some, but not all. Key performance parameters. The trend inthose operational tests, there was an IOT&E, a follow-on test I think in2004 and a follow-on test in 2007. The trend is actually negative.
The maintenance man hours per flying hour have increasedthrough those tests. The last one was a substantial increase. The airplane isproving very expensive to operate, not seeing the mission capable rates weexpected. And it’s complex to maintain.
In the Air Force I did talk about this a little bityesterday in the hearing, the Air Force had planned and expected to have kindof a two-tiered structure where some of the earlier jets were not fully capablejets, not to the block 35 or increment 3.2 configuration which providesimportant capabilities. I think something like 100 jets would kind of be lessermodels. So one thing that’s in the budget and I talked about yesterday is tobring more of that fleet, most of that fleet, to a common, high end, capableconfiguration. But the cost of that is $6.3 billion of R&D. This is in aplatform we’ve already developed. We’re going to spend six billion more ofR&D to engineer the 3.2 upgrade for the software and the changes in thejet, and then about $2 billion to modify on the jets. That’s $8 billion more,and $8 billion I think needs to be spent in order to make sure the 183airplanes we have will be highly capable fighters.
Those discussions need to be had before I think you talkabout buying more jets. You still might have that discussion. That’s really arequirements and a capability discussion that the Air Force and OSD has tohave, and there are lots of studies, as people said yesterday. But I thinkpeople are executing a fair amount of discipline and just making sure theairplanes that we’ve already made a substantial investment are capable, and I’mnot so sure there still isn’t more work to do there. You’ve highlightedcorrosion. I would highlight in general the maintenance on the airplane is toohigh. They’re struggling with some of the LO and other issues, and there’sclearly work that needs to be done there to make that airplane both capable andaffordable to operate.
Q: Do you have a cost per flight hour on the F-22 currently?
A: I don’t with me.
Q: The F-22 program. Why not end it?
A: … F-22, pretty simple answer. Secretary Gates is the Secretaryof Defense. He went to the Congress. He knew the Air Force had somedisagreements with the OSD studies and some concerns and he felt like it wasfair and reasonable for the next administration to be able to review thisissue, so he directed that we create a reasonable bridge to allow them to makethat decision. You can take any other sets of course of action. I tend to agreewith him.
There is a new administration that’s going to have to leadthe country in the years ahead and they’ve got to take responsibility forpreparing the nation four years beyond that. The things I’m doing today arereally, as I told you, one the, success of them will play out in one to threeyears from now, but the capability they deliver will play out five to 20 yearsfrom now. The next administration has to assume that role and in assuming thatrole they need to make a decision about F-22 and I think it’s fair andreasonable.
Q: Up until the time when Wynne and Moseley left, the AirForce still had a validated requirement for 381 F-22s. Does it still?
A: I don’t know the exact state … [inaudible] … There isan answer to that question. I am not ducking that. I just don’t know the answerto that. I can tell you the Air Force–I said this at the hearingyesterday–the deputy had the discussion with the Air Force about this. He saidto Air Force, ‘Do you or don’t you require more F-22s?’ And they couldn’tanswer that question. They said, ‘We are reviewing this issue.’”
Q: When was this?
A: About two weeks ago. ‘We are reviewing this issue so wecan have a solid recommendation to support this new Presidentialcertification.’ So the fact that they couldn’t answer the question then, Ithink, is troubling, and I’ll be honest with you the deputy said that to them.He said …
Q: You are talking about Schwartz and Donley?
A: Well, Gen. Schwartz wasn’t there. I don’t want to talkabout who was there. ‘Air Force leadership’–whoever wanted to come to themeeting. Whoever the Air Force deemed appropriate to meet with the deputy. Thedeputy said, ‘Where is the Air Force on this?’ And the Air Force said ‘We arelooking at this so that we can have a recommendation.’ And the deputy said,’Well the transition team is going to show up shortly and you need to have arecommendation.’ But the other thing to be clear: the building is filled withrequirements that are not met, that aren’t funded, that aren’t addressed….[inaudible] …
And I would tell you in building POM ’10–and I have saidthis publicly–the Air Force had the hardest time getting in balance. I thinkthe Air Force will really struggle to find a way to address all of the demands…. [inaudible] … And I see a refreshing responsibility about that shown byGen. Schwartz and Mike Donley. They understand the Air Force has accepted themission responsibilities in space and they have to resource space. They havemission responsibilities for airlift and tankers and they have to meet that.And they have mission responsibilities in force application and tacticalaircraft and they’ve got to meet those. They have got to balance across all ofthose. And I think Gen. Schwartz is taking a very disciplined approach to this.It’s great. He has got to have some time to get his feet on the ground, but heis going to do a great job.