Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Faux Reform's Camel Already Has Her Nose Under the LRS-B Tent

The Faux Reform Crowd are hilariously heavy-handed. May it ever be so.

Embedded in the bottom in an otherwise very fine article at Breaking Defense about Northrop Grumman winning the LRS-B contract we find this nugget from Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA):
“We need to keep the Long-Range Strike Bomber on track and hold the Pentagon to its promise of delivering a tested, reliable airplane for $550 million a copy [in 2010 dollars],” Speier said in a statement. “The Rapid Capabilities Office has made some good decisions to use proven technology and accept the recommendations of independent weapons testers and auditors in their development process. But there are warning signs, including a clerical discrepancy that resulted in a $16.7 billion misreporting error to Congress.”
(I suspect this and the oblique 'emerging critics' reference early in the piece were Sidney's contribution. He likes to cite politicians as if they are soothsayers.)

LOL! Well THAT didn't take long. 

A clerical error, in only one of many documents, on a number everyone knew beforehand, and was corrected as soon as it was noticed, after being so out of place it was noticed quickly is a 'warning sign'? I got Jackie's warning sign for her right here: It's called the revolving door between faux military reform operations and Prog legislators teamed in a pernicious self-licking ice cream cone with Punk Journalists That IS the "Faux Reform Message Machine".
I could take these people if they were honest with their arguments, but if they were honest with their arguments they couldn't stand the laughing.
Mmmmmmm. #SmellsLikePogo

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Twisting F-35 Factoids to Spread Untruth? I Smell POGO

The F-35 Ejection Seat Non-Story Self-Implodes on its Own Ignorance and/or Deception

Alternate Subtitle: “Do I now have to start checking my Twitter feed more than once a month or so?”

Back on the 15th, the faux military ‘reform’ F-35 Ejection Seat narrative got a boost in circulation when it hit the Political website ‘Roll Call’. The author clearly didn’t understand what was or was not important on the subject of ejection seats, and quite frankly, the story RC was pedaling wouldn’t hold up to even the most casual review by anyone who has ever been AIS (A**-in-Seat) in one while “slipping the surly bonds”… or worked on or around them while on the ground…or worked/trained in aircraft safety or reliability. When the meme first emerged in a DefenseNews story on October 1, I thought at the time that the story’s timing and meme might be a POGO aka ‘Straus Military Reform’ disinformation piece. Given the machinations to keep the ‘story’ going in spite of its idiocy being proffered, I am now even more convinced of same.

This post WAS going to be a straightforward point-by-point ‘fisking’ of the faux F-35 seat story as breathlessly reported at Roll Call, but the story became so bizarre in the spreading of it—and the speed of it--that the story had pretty much fisked itself before I could take the time to do it for you.

Does Ignorance or Ideology Inhibit Defense Reporting?

Yes. Next question?

I didn’t (still don’t) have time to completely disabuse all of the people who reported all of this drivel as ‘revelation’. At most it could be called a ‘realization’...that those reporting are ignoramuses when it comes to system and flight safety, fighter aircraft design, risk management, and apparently ‘technology’ in general. 

The author of the Roll Call piece linked above got the bit in his teeth over the other ‘story’ linked to above that was first written up by an seemingly earnest 'noob' at Defense News named Lara Seligman and a guy named Aaron Mehta.
Mehta is someone I’ve had on my ‘faux military reform’ radar for a little while. Mehta’s moved from being someone who produces shaky policy pieces for a so-called ‘good government’ non-profit attempting to influence defense policy to now 'reporting' often on non-profit policy pieces posing as news in defense media.

Where's Mehta fit in? Where does Donnelly? We'll have to just keep watching for now.
 The creative use, abuse, and misinterpretation of what the facts in hand (and those missing) ‘mean’ are what makes the whole F-35 Ejection Seat/Helmet ‘story’ reek of the typical output that comes from the POGO/Straus ‘P.A.C.E.’ generator. While one might get the same writing result that we've seen simply by not knowing WTF one is writing about, one wouldn’t then subsequently double-down on the stupidity when called out on it in the comments. If you count the incremental updates to DefenseNews articles along with the subsequent new stories there and elsewhere, you could make a case for the faux military reform message machine having ‘triple-quadruple-downed’ as the participants have progressively dug their rhetorical heels in on ‘THE STORY!’.

The Roll Call 'Story'

As good a place as any to begin deconstructing the idiocy spreading around the web is with John M. Donnelly’s 19 October Roll Call piece. My favorite hyperbolic bit in the Roll Call ‘story’, one that pretty much defines the nature of the 'journalistic' problem we are dealing with was:
“…pilots are rotated backward into a position where they face all but certain death from the rocketing parachute's force snapping their heads…”.

Ahem. Philosophical Fighter Safety Tip O’ the Day:
IF you are ejecting, you are already facing “all but certain death”.
Anyhooo… I tweeted in a couple of places that this story smells like POGO, and then posted this comment over at F-16.net:
I may find the time to go into more detail on this someplace else, but there are several notable things about this story, and none of them have to do with what is being said right now.
The first thing is that none of the numbers being tossed about indicate what the DIFFERENCE is between legacy (including ACES II) systems and the F-35's MB seat. ALL ejections have serious risks involved which is why they generally only occur when the aircrew determine the risks of staying onboard are greater. 
The second thing is that the some of the lower concern weights are outside ANY measured probability of survivability for ANY legacy systems. Those seats were for a much narrower percentage of body shapes and sizes.
The third thing is that unlike legacy systems, the F-35 seat is designed for a 'kinder-gentler' ejection to make the seat safer for women of ANY weight at ALL ejection speeds. The greater S-curve of the female spine makes it more prone to 'snapping' with the more violent extraction of older seats. So this also means the average male pilot cannot leave the plane as fast as he used to even if it is more advisable....because EQUALITY!

The last thing I have time to talk about here is that this non-story had all the feel of a POGO fueled P.A.C.E. attack. And I suspect it now even more after checking the self-licking ice cream cone at play in Donnelly's Twitter feed.
Only thing missing is the likely e-mail, phone call or text that POGO's "Straus" operation fed him in the first place. I created a hashtag for this kind of crap. If you tweet (I've only played with it) and find this story elsewhere, retweet with #SmellsLikePOGO or #SmellsLikePogo (I covered both punctuations JIC).
I had tweeted Roll Call’s Donnelly piece thusly:

Little did I suspect at the time that Donnelly would even bother replying with:

Which I only know about from the e-mail notification. For by the time I noticed the email and followed the feed, Donnelly's response had-- oddly enough--'morphed'.

It’s always nice to have context to subvert an anti-defense faux-reform meme handed to you with the meme.

My first thought from the initial RC response was: Hey! I know that statistic—I HAVE the report it came from (a DoD IG report #2015-090).

My second thought was:
He should probably have somebody explain it to him. Somebody who knows something this time.
The IG report referenced in the tweet that was dumped down in the memory-hole  IS EXTREMELY helpful, but probably NOT in the spirit in which it was invoked.
The report has some great background and references, most of them are publicly accessible. This stuff is useful for several reasons addressing problems with the false 'F-35-Ejection-Seat-as-Greek-Tragedy' narrative in several areas.

First,collectively the documents are of great benefit to help us scope the magnitude of the ‘Ejection Safety’ question itself.
Secondthe report clearly identifies the expected performance and ejection limitations of existing ACESII and NACES seat systems for a variety of aircraft when using helmets with just some of the devices and capabilities that are already built into the F-35’s helmet. Per the report, the ejection safety performance of existing systems (Pgs. 14-16) turns out be at best equal and in some ways worse than the F-35 system with the F-35 helmet design: as it now exists.
Legacy systems cannot now, nor have they EVER been able to support use by an aircrew member weighing less than 136lb, so the fact that the F-35 system won’t either at the moment--while it is still in development--is hardly a scandal or even 'news'. It would be ‘news’ for about 5 minutes if it looked like it couldn’t be done, then I suppose someone could turn it into a ‘scandal’ if there was evidence of no wrongdoing being wrong-done.
But there isn’t any indication of same, so…………where’s the story? Going beyond the small aircrew restrictions common to all the modern systems, is there any 'there' there that makes the F-35 ejection system unnecessarily more dangerous than legacy systems? The DoD IG report provides some dreaded context ought to send the purveyors of Too Dangerous F-35 Ejection meme scurrying. Not that it will, just that it ought to.

Per the IG Report, one current ejection system combination (Pg. 17) has a lower maximum safe ejection speed limit than the F-35’s current limits. We also learn The Air Force is working on certifying a new ACES system that will probably be retrofitted into legacy systems, and quite frankly it wouldn’t surprise me to find out in the future that this faux ‘issue’ isn’t also being promoted in one way or another by unidentified promoters of the improved ACES system. Don't know if there are such forces at work, just know it wouldn't be surprising given the specifics of the DefenseNews unnamed 'expert' statements.

Third, the DoDIG report provides very important references where we find ejection survivability standards and it places terms like ‘serious risk’ and ‘unacceptable risk’ within some actual framework of meaning. Perhaps the most important key paragraph for slapping down this whole F-35 ejection risk scare-fest is found in the last paragraph of page 16 of the DoD IG report:

Using MIL‑STD‑882E, which defines the safety risk acceptance process and assuming that a major or fatal injury would be designated as a catastrophic consequence, the probability of occurrence would be identified as a 1D (catastrophic/remote). This level of risk is usually accepted by the program management office; in this case the aircraft Program Executive Offices.

The PEO for the F-35 has accepted the risks for pilots weighing more than 136lbs. Those familiar with the risk assessment and risk management processes can probably envision what the categorization "1D" actually stands for, but it will be helpful to place it in proper context for the rest of the world by showing why and how ejection risks and category "1D" are positioned among all the other categories within the System Safety construct.

Here is Mil-Std-882E (current release) Table 1: Severity Categories.
Since an ejection can ALWAYS result in ‘death’. There can only be ‘Cat 1 Severity’ involved in ANY ejection. So the next variable of interest for us is now within the probability side of the equation. As seen in Table 2 from the same Mil-Std-882E we find:
So then, what else COULD any ejection be other than a Level D category of probability?

Answer: There isn't one. 

Each ejection seat gets one ride outside the airplane, and each airplane only gets one ejection maximum in its lifetime (duh!). You can’t say you can assume it will never happen, and you sure as he** don’t design airplanes such that ejection system use would be ‘likely’.

Bottom Line: Category 1D is both the best you can do, and the worst you can accept for any ejection system.

This means there is always “Serious Risk” (as the Mil-Std-882E matrix above shows) involved in ANY use of any ejection system. Since it is always true, then it is hardly ‘news’ is it? (But 'Serious Risk!' DOES make a great punk-journalism hook for a politically fueled “hit piece”, eh?)

If you want to get really silly about it...

We could drill down even further into the data available, and ignore the fact that the F-35 ejection system is still being ‘worked’ to make it as safe as it possibly can be (the ‘requirement’ remember?). If one is so desperate to find an F-35 controversy that one would now debase themselves wallowing in the minutia and splitting hairs about WHERE in Category 1D the F-35 system currently lies relative to the legacy systems for pilots weighing more than 136 lbs, that’s easy enough to do to get an idea if they are at least of the same order of magnitude.

Assuming Gen Bogdan’s statement in testimony this week where he said that every time a pilot steps to the plane his risk of neck injury during ejection is “1 in 200,000” meant he was saying a serious neck injury or death would occur (he could have meant even minor neck injury), and that an average mission would be an hour long, this is how it stacks up against the AVERAGE legacy numbers the the DoD IG came up with for many different aircraft for the Navy (F-18 variants) and the Air Force (listed in report on page 6), then the comparison would look sort of like this:

There’s a lot of ambiguity in the figures in the report that prevent any direct comparison of history with any future risk calculations. First, these legacy numbers from the IG report are DoD IG calculations from 20 years of ejection history: they are the 'rates experienced' and not the product of a statistical analysis of all the risk factors involved.

We must also assert quite a few important caveats for using these numbers in any comparison to be made against future risks. Off the top of my head, some of them are:
1. The DoDIG numbers are ‘averages’ for many different aircraft/seat/headgear combinations, so there will be a range of values for each aircraft type by user within the average provided that we have no visibility into as to variations within the sample set and what if any correlations exist that would affect any comparison with other data. Just look at the variance between USAF and USN numbers for an example of variance even within the history.
2. The number of events--even over twenty years--is extremely small given the flight hours flown. If like a pair of dice is rolled for one outcome, even if the next ‘roll’ could be made under identical conditions, it probably would have quite a different numerical outcome, just not one that varied in any statistically-significant way. For an ejection, the factors are many, the combinations and permutations are astronomical. You should expect gross numbers to vary grossly.
3. The number of ejections that occurred over the past 20 years, the type and combinations of injuries and causes include those ‘induced’ for reasons other than the system performance, including human error, and all of them occurred in a combination of operational environments and event conditions that cannot be exactly replicated. The future will be different. We can only guesstimate by how much.     
4. These numbers are very small, and official risk analysis yields similarly other very small probabilities. Any time we are dealing with very small ‘long-tail’ probabilities it is important to remember the confidence in those same probabilities goes down. I suspect this is the reason that one comment from the Air Force System Lifecycle Management Center (pg. 33) that asserted the past could be used to predict future ejections was not included in the report (not just journalists have problems with statistics).
There's more but I don't want to belabor the point for the small return on the effort. Now remember we also don't know the actual number Bogdan was referring to with that nice round 1 in 200,000 probability, and what the actual boundaries are of the phenonema falling under his defintion. I suspect the number he used included minor neck injuries as well since he flatly stated 'neck injuries', but even assuming the worse, the round prediction number Bogdan used falls somewhere between the USN and USAF 'major injury or death' categories for all forms of injury that occurred in the past.

We just went through a lot of la-di-da navel gazing just to observe that 'yes the predictions and the history of risk appear to be about the in the same 6th significant digit order of magnitude'. Any bets there still will be people who will try to claim the variation between the two is 'significant'? There's always somebody. Tell them get all the numbers they need to actually conclude something, but until then to STFU.     

Bogdan Testimony Sidebar: FYI and BTW, the Congresswoman asking LtGen Bogdan the fumbling question about survival odds and who introduces the news 'report' claims that we've been dealing with here into the hearing is none other than the current POGO/Straus Military Reform Project director's last employer. Rep. Jackie Spieirs (D-CA) had employed Mandy Smithberger as a staffer just prior to Smithberger returning to POGO/Straus to take over the reins from good ole' Winslow Wheeler. That would appear to very nicely close the loop on the Scary F-35 Ejection story's purpose and intent. Just another reason this Smells Like POGO. I want to know more about the 'revolving door' operation being run out of POGO, don't you?

Fourth and finally, the DoD IG report itself, released just earlier this year, makes the VERY important and explicit point about not ‘evaluating’ the F-35’s ejection system at this time because it is still under development. A point that apparently NONE of the handwringers so far has thought was important enough to give them pause in their little 'group writing project'.

If Schrödinger had been a fighter pilot, we would have never heard about his cat.

Now, here we are in the warm-afterglow of the sub-committee hearings, and the meme being pedaled seems to have shifted to journalists and progressive pols know more about ejection risk, and risk in general than those who do this stuff for a living'. Which is extremely funny. 

The critical phenomenon under examination is not the probability of an aircrew surviving an ejection once initiated. It is the probability of an aircrew surviving the mission, each and every mission. The probability of surviving each and every mission means surviving an ejection as a subset of the critical phenonemon must involve at least TWO* probabilities.  The first is the probability you will need to eject in the first place, and the second probability is the probability you will or will not survive the ejection event. The second probability is called a 'conditional' probability. Neither the probability of survival or probability of perishing during an ejection actually exist (estimates are not 'existence') unless and until the need for ejection occurs in the first place. 
It is irrational to focus on the risks incurred only after an ejection is underway and ignore the probability of the need to eject. The probability of survival depends on both, and each are meaningless (to the pilot the most) without the other.      

*We can eliminate considering all prior variables if we assume the pilot gets in the plane and takes off in his ejection seat-equipped airplane in the first place.  

Any risks that are calculated (versus known or proven) and weighed as being acceptable or unacceptable are just a contributor to some overall aircrew survivability standard that cannot be exceeded. Within the overall survivability standard, the requirement is merely to design the plane to make the ejection as safe as possible, because as we have already observed, it is impossible to make it ‘safe’ in terms the average man-on-the-street envisions safety.

Bonus material

History Charts
I repackaged some of the ejection safety history found in the DoD IG report, just so I could look at it from different angles. Note the wide variety of the internal data between AF and Navy operations in the report affected how I viewed some of the rollup stats here. No conclusions to draw from it, just observations. Enjoy.

About that DoD IG report...
The report itself is a product of Congressional hand-wringing over HMD(evice) equipped helmets. The DOD IG’s “Objective” was to determine:
…whether DoD aircraft ejection seats meet aircrew survivability and equipment airworthiness requirements for pilots and aircrew wearing helmet‑mounted displays (HMDs), night vision goggles (NVGs), or both during flight operations.”
The important finding to this objective:
“DoD ejection seat equipped aircraft with aircrew wearing HMDs and/or NVGs meet airworthiness criteria in accordance with DoD Military Handbook 516B, “Airworthiness Certification Criteria,” (MIL‑HDBK‑516B) and have been certified safe‑to‑fly by the appropriate Navy and Air Force acceptance authorities. However, both Services noted that there is an increased risk of neck injury during high‑speed ejections with HMDs and/or NVGs above 450 Knots Equivalent Air Speed (KEAS), and an increased potential of neck injuries for low‑weight pilots. To mitigate these risks, both Services placed warnings, notes, cautions, and restrictions in the flight manuals.”
The rest is about ‘updating the paperwork’, philosophical questions about the flexibility to operate in a responsive manner under handbooks and guides vs. one-size fits all mandates, etc.

The really interesting thing in the report is the back and forth between the agencies involved. The report is better with the responses incorporated, and one can see where the IG report would have gone awry without those responses. It is interesting to see what responses were incorporated, and which were not. There were a few points the safety guys made that the IG report authors blew off (best one: people rarely have time to remove devices from existing helmet systems when required for ejection.) 

There are some odd turns of the phrase in the report as well. Things like "unfortunately" there not being any lightweight pilots who have had to eject in the last 20 years.

Additional reading:
In any of the media reporting on F-35 and other helmet weights, the subject of how that weight is distributed rarely comes up, yet the effect on the balance of helmet when devices are attached is a very important factor (See here and here for examples) and the F-35 helmet design has a far better weight distribution than legacy systems and is therefore more ‘comfortable’. This better balance would suggest the F-35 helmet is a probably a safer helmet at the same weight and possibly even at a slightly higher weight than legacy systems. Time and data will tell.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Dave Majumdar's F-35 'Punk Journalism'...Again

Whereby 'boy journalist' double downs on David Axe's 'Dogfight' B.S, ignores reality and dances around Libel in just a few paragraphs. 

But hey! Its always fun to watch someone debase themselves for pennies a word right?...right? 
Today, Dave Majumdar, once a promising aero reporter, apparently needed some rent money. Why else would he fabricate another F-35 click-bait hit piece for the lower-brow crowd, (update: the Punk is now the 'Defense Editior' of the digital rag) rehashing the pap that David Axe used to set off a disinformation cascade? Now I could spend all night Fisking Majumdar's craptastic article to include "27 8x10 color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence" but there's only a couple of things worth my time, nailing Dave to the wall, that should cast the rest of his 'pap' under the proper spotlight. The first is his apparent (willful?) inability to discern information from 'spin':    
Meanwhile, proponents of the F-35—primarily Lockheed Martin and the JSF program office (JPO)—tried to dismiss the results—aggressively calling out the War is Boring outlet by name. The company and the Pentagon claimed that the tests were not truly representative because the F-35 test article involved in the trial versus the F-16 was not equipped with a full set of avionics, didn’t have its stealth coatings, and did not use the jet’s helmet-mounted display and, moreover, was not equipped to simulate high off-boresight missiles like the AIM-9X Sidewinder. Besides, the F-35 was designed to fight from long-range—the JPO and Lockheed claimed.Both sides of the debate are correct—but neither side is telling the whole story. As a good friend on the Hill recently told me: “In political communications, facts are an interesting aside, but are completely irrelevant. What we do here is spin.” That’s exactly what’s happening here—both sides are selectively cherry picking facts to make their case—spin.

Dave...Tell your 'friend' to F.O.A.D.

"Tried to dismiss the results" Dave? Facts are not "an interesting aside" to people who design and build weapon systems.  What the JPO and LM responded with was 'The Truth'. It was a post-stall agility test, testing for areas where it might be worthwhile to 'open up' the control laws (CLAWs) and was not a 'dogfight'. 

The Testing in Question was Described Ahead of Time Last Year 

Not only was what the JPO/LM response the TRUTH, it was one that was KNOWN and in the public domain the year BEFORE the test ever occurred and therefore it is also a delightfully 'provable' truth. I buried the lede with this point in an earlier post, but I recreate an excerpt here:  
From the 2014 AIAA paper "F-35A High Angle-of-Attack Testing"[1], authored by a Mr. Steve Baer, (Lockheed Martin "Aeronautical Engineer, Flying Qualities" at Edwards AFB), and presented to the Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference held between 16 and 20 June 2014, in Atlanta, Georgia we find that F-35 High AoA testing was designed to follow in the following progression:  
"The test objectives for high angle-of-attack testing are as follows:
1) Characterize the flyqualities [sic] at AoAs from 20° to the control law limit regime with operationally representative maneuvers.  
2) Demonstrate the aircraft’s ability to recover from out of control flight and assess deep stall susceptibility 
3) Evaluate the effectiveness and usefulness of the automatic pitch rocker (APR)  
4) Evaluate departure resistance at both positive and negative AoA with center of gravity (CG) positions up to the aft limit and with maximum lateral asymmetry.  
5) Assess the handling qualities of the aircraft in the High AoA flight."
Now, in case a 'punk journalist' or other factually-challenged reader wanders by (am I psychic or what?), we need to be clear that #5 has nothing to do with "dogfighting". We know this because Mr. Baer makes two points shortly thereafter within the paper. 
The first point is relevant to the state of the testing at the time of his writing. I observe that this paper was written during Objective #4 testing and published at about the time it concluded. This observation is supported by the paper's passage [emphasis/brackets mine]:

With intentional departure testing [Objective #4] wrapped up, the team will soon move into departure resistance [Still Objective #4] and plan to remove the SRC now that these systems have been verified. In this phase of testing, the jet will test the CLAW limiters with much higher energy and rates than previous testing, fleshing out and correcting areas that may be departure prone. Lastly, select operational maneuvers [Objective #5], such as a slow down turn and a Split-S, will be used to gather handling qualities data on high AoA maneuvers. With the completion of this phase, the F-35 will be released for initial operational capability in the high AoA region.

Note: 'SRC' is a 'Spin Recovery Chute'.
Clearly the testing was not yet at step #5 at the time of writing but to emphasize same, the author followed the above paragraph with [brackets/emphasis mine]: 
While the flight test team will explore legacy high AoA maneuvers for handling qualities, it will be the Operational Test and Evaluation team that will truly develop high AoA maneuvers for the F-35. In the operational world, a pilot should rarely be taking the F-35 into the high angle-of-attack regime, but the ability to do so could make the difference between being the victor or the victim in air-to-air combat....
So with this paragraph, not only does the author expound on the exploring of "legacy high AoA maneuvers" that is to come, he specifically identifies Objective 5 test "Handling Qualities" objectives and assigns the kind of testing that will "truly develop high AoA maneuvers for the F-35" (vs. 'legacy' which may be differed 'from') to the Operational Testers and NOT part of the Edwards AFB Developmental Test Team activities.
In a nutshell, just within these two paragraphs that Baer wrote in early/mid 2014 is precisely what the JPO/LM stated in their official response to Axe's so-called 'article'. 
Therefore the "reasonable man" may logically and confidently conclude the LM/JPO response:
  • WAS NOT simply something that was contrived in response to Axe's made up bullsh*t but...
  • WAS accurately asserting what the testing was truly about..
Go ahead Dave, spring the few bucks to buy a copy from the AIAA. Have someone with the requisite knowledge explain it to you.
Majumdar's incompetence takes him into another reprehensible act, whereby he uses David Axe's idiotic output as the justification for insinuating Billie Flynn lied to him:
The company has repeatedly made assertions about the F-35’s performance that have later proven to be false. One example I can cite immediately is when Lockheed test pilot Billie Flynn told me how a fully laden F-35 has better high AOA performance and acceleration than all comers save for the F-22. The test report that David Axe managed to obtain clearly shows Flynn’s assertions to be false. 
Nice one. Does 'Majumdar' mean 'A**hat' in English? Aside from the fact Majumdar implies Flynn is a liar, there's also the comparatively minor commission of a non-sequitur to boot.  

The rest of Majumdar's 'article' is crap too, just not worth bothering with in light of the above affronts to reality. A 'great' day for aero journalism, eh?

[1] AIAA #2014-2057

Sunday, September 06, 2015

“Fighter Aircraft” Design Part 2: Driven by Operational Requirements

Most important characteristics of a fighter aircraft?...It depends upon ‘when’ you ask the question

(Part 1 here)

Updated and Bumped: Part 2 is now complete below the fold.

Before any discussion about whether or not a fighter is ‘good enough’ to be an ‘effective’ and therefore ‘successful’ fighter design, there has to be a discussion on WHAT makes a fighter aircraft design effective and successful in the first place. While many may think they know the ‘magic mix’ that makes a fighter design a good one, the problem with the ‘many’ thinking they ‘know something’ is that the ingredients, and to be more precise, the mix of ingredients have been evolving continuously under pressure of technological and operational developments that span the entire history of fighter design. As I indicated in Part 1, for this part of the series we will use “The Characteristics of a Fighter Aircraft”, a 1977 paper by Prof. Gero Madelung to guide us through fighter development into the 1970s. At the time of his preparing this paper, Prof Madelung was the Managing Director of Panavia, the company formed expressly to develop and build the Panavia Tornado aircraft.

The First ‘Characteristic’ Emerged Quickly

Prof. Madelung tells the history of fighter development in terms of the development and application of technology in response to the operational requirements over time, beginning with the first ‘challenge’ that had to be overcome (all text in [brackets] throughout this post are mine):
The initial generation of fighter aircraft (in W.W.I) had first to solve the problem of developing an effective armament, the art of maneuvering flight having been provided by the Wright Brothers only a few years earlier. The unarmed early airplanes were nevertheless providing effective reconnaissance and were as such already "fighters”. The Wright Brothers thus delivered probably also the world’s first actual fighter to the U.S. Army Signal Corps. The "armed fighter" was only a reaction to an earlier airborne threat [Zeppelins] to the land and naval forces.
The initial armament by hand-held guns was soon overtaken by the aircraft-mounted machine gun, but it was difficult for the pilot to control the airplane with one hand and to point the gun with the other, especially if a propeller in the front was in the way of the natural line of sight.
The solution of taking a weapons operator or "gunner" along was detrimental to the fighter’s rate of climb and speed. The other solution of reverting to a "pusher installation'' of the engine also resulted in a heavier airplane.
The truly ingenious solution was that of firing through the tractor-propeller with a rigidly mounted gun and to accurately point and aim by controlling the direction of flight and attitude of the aircraft. The propeller was protected first by local armour and later by a synchronizing system.
This system was, I believe, invented by R. Garros of France in 1915, met instant success and set a pattern which is still
[as of 1977] valid. I am recounting this well known history because I believe that it really started the fighters as a special breed of airplanes.
Prof. Madelung further observed that the thrust of fighter design for the next two decades appeared to be maximizing the fighter’s “1g SEP” (Specific Excess Power) or Rate of Climb to get higher than your opponents as a priority over other parameters, which drove increasing engine horsepower by an order of magnitude (10 times the WWI horsepower ratings) during that time while increasing weight only by a “factor of 3.5”. The size of the aircraft changed little during this period and most were sized around the pilot it would carry.  Prof Madelung observed that the aerodynamics of the aircraft were held “subordinate” to structural load-carrying considerations,  which meant that external bracing, and fabric covering over wood and steel tubing structure remained the norm.
To summarize this era, we find that (aside from getting as much climb performance out of the spindly early fighter designs) the single dominant characteristic of a fighter during this rather extended timeframe was ‘a machinegun aligned to the direction of flight’.
The alignment of gun and plane simplified the attacker’s problem of ‘attack geometry’ by reducing the variables involved. This simplification of the problem enabled the fighter pilots of the era to methodically plot and execute a path of attack, within some predictable level of certainty, that would at least enable him to fire his gun(s) in a direction that would place bullets on target.

Aerodynamics, Propulsion and Structural Design Matures

Prof. Madelung continues:
By the early 30's however the designers of airliners and bombers started to really apply aerodynamics including retractable landing gears and combined this with higher wing loadings and stress-skin aluminum structures. They were outspeeding the contemporary fighters which did only about 230 mhp [sic] with an engine of 600 hp. The fighter community had to react since it could not justify its existence for long by pointing out how excellent they remained in fighting their own kind. This started a revolution in fighter requirements and for the next 25 years these were reoriented towards excelling in maximum speed. It also started the introduction of mechanical complexity with all sorts of variable geometry features: retractable landing gear, hydraulic system, flaps and slats - soon used as maneuver devices, cooling flaps and variable pitch propellers.
The first fighter coming -very close to this new concept in 1939 was, I believe, the Russian Polikarpov “Rata”, which was only lacking the aluminum stress-skin and the closed canopy. In the following year appeared the ME-109 and the Curtiss P-36 followed shortly by the Spitfire… …all of which had without much increase in engine power a speed advantage of some 30% over the previous fighters. Early combat encounters proved the superiority of the new design
[approach] despite its higher wing loadings.
Complexity Drives Engineering Costs.
(Pg 20)

So it was the advancements in larger aircraft design that drove a “revolution” in fighter aerodynamics and structural design before WWII. Ever-increasing speeds in turn drove increased complexity of systems and structures to achieve those speeds and control the aircraft at those higher speeds. Implied here is also the fact that to fly faster, the aircraft also had to fly higher as well.  As an illustration of the kind of investment in time and money the increase in complexity required, we need look no further than the relative engineering costs that came with technology changes of the era. Where we find that by the time airframe construction techniques moved to widespread use of monocoque construction, aircraft engineering costs were approximately 2 ¼ times higher than for an aircraft in the ‘wood and fabric’ days.

If there is a recurring theme in this history, it is that requirements have, and do, drive complexity. That complexity has impacted design in different ways over time, including (in general) an increase in wing-loading as a by-product of the necessary complexity. We will see that the trend persisted to at least up until the F-15/F-16 era.

The Jet Fighter Arrives

Madelung now tells us that the constantly increasing ‘need for speed’ made the next pivotal point in fighter design recognizable beforehand:
Once the philosophy of maximizing fighter speed had been accepted, it was soon recognized that propulsion by propellers (and reciprocating engines) would be limiting this to some 450 mph. [propeller efficiency plummets as tip speed approaches the speed of sound.] Work on the first jet engines started at about the same time when the second generation fighters emerged, and took only 10 years, to the mid-40’s, to completely take over the propulsion of fighters. In this period the reciprocating engines were developed to high performance up to about 2800 hp and with turbo-supercharging for altitude performance.
Yet the first operational jet aircraft in 1944, the ME-262, immediately had a speed advantage of about 100 mph with two jet engines of only 2000 lbs thrust each. Relative to the fastest bomber, the B-29, the advantage was almost 200 mph. The airframe and aerodynamics of these first jet fighters were at that not really advanced over the contemporary aircraft apart from the thinner symmetric airfoil, tapered spar caps made of steel and a nose landing gear with a breaked
[sic] wheel. I was an apprentice at Messerschmitt when production of the ME-262 had started and I recall that the advent of the jet engine was welcomed as a move towards mechanically more simple fighters. The reciprocating engines with their increasing number of cylinders, already 48 cylinder engines were under discussion, their supercharging and their cooling system were getting increasingly more complicated. The jet engine had fewer moving parts and bearings, and the podded engine installation of the twin jet was mechanically very neat.
Madelung noted also that the new engines were not so ‘neat’ for the operators who had to learn a whole new way of managing their operation and power output. Today, FADEC-equipped jet engines are simpler to operate than many light sport propeller-driven aircraft.  The sudden jump in speed achievable by the jet engine performance drove fighter design right into the next technical developments that were necessary:
Again combat experience of the speed advantage was positive, despite another increase in wing loading. The associated disadvantage of requiring longer runways for these fighters was accepted by the Air Forces.
It was evident that further development of the jet engine would soon push the aerodynamic design concept to its mark under limit. The propulsion break-through was however followed by an aerodynamic breakthrough with the discovery of effect of wing sweep in the early 40’s. Again this technology reached the users first with fighter aircraft, that is with the F-86 and the Mig-15 in 1948. The speed was pushed right up to M 0.9, the limit of the thick swept wing, another step of about 160 mph.

Many people thought that fighter speed performance would settle for a while at that, and this may have been better in the long run…

However, the aviation world and in particular the fighter community, was in a speed craze and daring experimental airplanes in the U.S. had demonstrated by 1947 that the sonic barrier could be overcome by brute force and skillful design in terms of thrust, reduced wing thickness and powered control surfaces.
The increased thrust requirement could be met by the jet engine by reheat, which in turn required variable nozzles and resulted in additional complexity. Wing loading had to be further increased and so were the airfield requirements. Brake parachutes were required to shorten the landing run.

Speed Limits

Prof. Madelung’s wistfulness over increasing speeds and ‘paths not taken’ is recognition that the military utility of increasing top speed past a certain point in the end provided a smaller return on time and dollars invested than it was worth, but we didn’t know it at the time:
The fighter community lost its innocence [sic] at this stage and only the major military powers, the U.S. and Russia, entered this round in the early 50’s with the introduction into service of the NA-F100 and the Mig-19, one and a half years later. The thrust of these magnificant [sic] fighters was about 3 times that of their predecessors, their speed at Mach-1 .3 about 40% higher. The single engine, single seat F-100 had about twice the take-off weight of its predecessors, at 30000 lbs equal to the twin engine medium bomber "NA-62 [North American Aviation Project Number for the B-25] Mitchell" with a crew of 4 only 12 years earlier…
So Prof Madelung observed that, for the first time, the fighters’ size and weight due to the increasing complexity grew out of proportion with the speed increase. The increases in propulsion, structure, and systems complexity needed just to be able to fly at supersonic speeds drove the weight and size growth. Let us note here that as of this time in fighter development history that the ‘day-fighter’ sub-type was the norm for fighter design and that the need to make all fighters all-weather, 24-hour weapon systems was not yet the norm.
The aviation world of Britain, France and Sweden however followed suit with prototypes which were demonstrated in the mid 50’s, capable of Mach-2 and introduction into service of these fighters started 1958 to 1960. From the technology of the F-100 and the Mig-19 it was a matter of air intake development and further refinement of engine and airframe to reach the limit speed for aluminum airframes. The first fighter prototype to reach this limit was, I believe, the Lockheed F-104, with a thin unswept wing. A wing concept which was to gain prominence in future fighter designs, particularly in the U.S. "Mach-2" was to be the limit of the fighter communities’ speed craze and only special purpose aircraft, such as the Lockheed YF-12, SR-71 and the Mig-25,· were developed for yet higher speeds. The fighters which were developed in the :mid-50’s are however still now [1977] dominating in quantity in the world’s forces, and inflation makes these complex airplanes appear inexpensive relative to anything we do in the 70’s.

A Rebalancing

It would be hard to find a better illustration that all the handwringing these days over increased costs and complexity is not a ‘new’ sport and that things will always look simpler and less expensive in retrospect than what Prof. Madelung wrote here in 1977. He then discussed the state of fighter design drivers in the 1977 milieu:
The question arises why, having reached the “ultimate performance" in terms of speed, new fighter designs were actually required. It is not surprising that the requirements picture was at first hazy for the follow-on generation, the development of which only started toward the end-60’s sand early 70"s with one notable exception [AV-8 and STOVL].
The following new requirement areas were however becoming apparent:
1. In the late 50’s concern was mounting relative to the vulnerability" of fighter forces relying on these long 9000 ft runways...
2. Another new requirement which became important to the fighters in their fighter-bomber role was that of low level/high speed penetration. In fact, most of the early Mach-2 fighters are usable in this role due to their high wing loading. The F-104 with appropriate navigation equipment and plenty of external fuel is
[1977] still widely in service for this task, a task which is of particular importance in Central Europe. 
Under ‘area .2’, Prof Madelung discussed the technology developments that came out of this new requirement including “fan-jet engines with greatly improved fuel consumption and the terrain following radar system”. He also made a point to emphasize the importance of, a practical scheme for the variable sweep wing” that “allowed the retention of optimum high speed/low level dash performance with a gain in cruise performance at all altitudes and greatly improved air-field performance.” Prof Madelung continued:
3. Another new requirement which emerged in the late 60"s called for a better balance of performance in air-to-air combat. The high speed capability of the Mach-2 fighters of the mid-50’s turned out to be of little practical use as there were no bomber and recce aircraft flying at such speeds (apart from special purpose aircraft which. could not be intercepted anyway by a tactical fighter), and air-to-air combat could actually be sustained only in the lower transonic regime with these airplanes. A better balance of performance could be achieved mainly by a decrease in wing loading, which would provide for higher turn rates in the speed and altitude regime of dog-fights, at the expense of increased wetted surface and of a heavier airframe, i.e. trading rate of climb and low level dash performance. It is a tribute to aviation technology that the new generation of fighters actually improve also the latter two performance regimes while making a big step forward in turn rate and as a fallout in airfield performance.  
4. Finally the new fighters would require a "look-down" capability of the radars in their air-to-air role in order to be able to fight the low level intruders. …
So the trend shifted for the first time in decades to not a more ‘maneuverable’ and ‘balanced’ fighter design, once the practical upper limit of aircraft speed was reached:
The four U.S. designs, the F-14, F-15, F-16 and F-18 and the Viggen have low wing loadings (50 to 70 lbs/ft2·) to optimize turn rate. The latest three U.S. designs, the F-15, F-16 and F-18 have at the same time thrust to weight ratios in excess of one, resulting in a big step forward in dog-fight capability. They employ advanced materials including composites and very advanced engines. The latter two designs are introducing a new aerodynamic feature, the "strake", to improve the lift of the thin, unswept wings at high angles of attack. In the case of the F-15 this dog-fight capability is combined with fairly long range air-to-air missile intercept capability which results in a very big fighting machine, with a wing area of 650 ft2, as big as the F-14 fleet defence fighter….In Europe most of the forces have emphasized the requirements (1) and (2), that is low level/high speed penetration capability associated with excellent airfield performance. The defence environment of these countries requires instant and effective response, day and night and all weather in the land battle. The latest fighter engine technology with the magnificant [sic] thrust to weight of about 8.0 and variable sweep with considerable use of titanium were applied in the Tornado to improve payload-range by a factor of about two for this mission, and to cut runway requirements to 60%. This twin engine fighter with plenty of avionics, a crew of two and a wetted surface of only about 1850 ft2 is smaller than an F-4 Phantom, about in-between the big and new U.S. fighter with wetted surface of about 2800 ft2 and the small fighter of about 1400 ft2. At the same time this aircraft will provide first-class long range air-to-air capability with an air defence avionics fit and long range missiles. 

What Was to Come after 1977?

Prof. Madelung then ruminated on what would be the NEXT developments in fighter aircraft design, and as it happens he was largely prescient, foreseeing most developments that have since occurred or are emergent at this time, I see only one complete ‘miss’, a tail-sitting fighter did not come about. But that may have been due to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact as much as anything else. Who knows what would have happened otherwise? But I’d say he had an amazingly complete vision of what would be the major requirements that would drive those developments.
The outlook into the more fighter-specific areas is difficult because of the attendant operational trade-offs which depend upon projected structures of threat and friendly forces. The "haze'' obscuring the real future requirements is still very thick, apart from the broad scope of ECM, the air-to-ground weapons area and the requirement to reduce unit cost.
In any case it will be increasingly necessary to “destill"
[sic] the essentials for future combat effectiveness, rather than relying on the simple formulas like maximizing rate of climb or speed or turn rate. We have already seen two breaks in such simple and general formulas. The trade of quality versus quantity will remain most difficult.
Prof Madelung predicted increased use of the post-stall flight regime:
In fighter aerodynamics and control we will probably open up the post-stall regime for another increase in dog-fight maneuverability….
But he also saw under what conditions that post-stall maneuverability might not be so important: recognizing other development could obviate the advantage:
…As long as weapons remain installed in the classic fighter style requiring turning of the whole aircraft for pointing of the weapons, this post-stall maneuverability may also be of interest to other than dog-fight missions….
He recognized the potential of thrust vectoring in exploiting the post-stall maneuvering capability:
…Post-stall maneuvering will require some form of auxiliary control such as used on VTOL aircraft or missiles, for example by thrust vectoring. It will also require an air intake and engine suitable for angles of attack of 90°. Both techniques are basically available…
Project GunVal Concept: Cannon Turret on F-89.
The turret rotated and the guns elevated 90 degrees. Sanity
inserted itself before the system ever flew. (Northrop Photo)   
Madelung reluctantly (based upon past experiences) brings up the possibility of Off-Boresight Capabilities (OBC) AND helmet mounted sights:
…Another next generation fighter may be (the return of) some form of pointing the weapons other than by the pointing of the entire aircraft. I hesitate to put this forward since all earlier attempts involving some form of weapons-turret and a gunner have been failures when used on fighters. The fixed guns operated by the pilot have been a tremendous success due to the light weight and low volume and due to the accuracy of firing achieved with this installation. However the rate of pointing of the fixed weapons is slow, even a fighter with a turning rate of 18°/second will take some 6 seconds for 90° change of directions. Modern weapons installations on ships and cars will do 90° in less than one second. One approach to overcome this problem is to program, with the aid of a helmet sight, the projectile or missile to turn at very high “g” after being fired from a conventional fixed launcher. It may be rewarding to find a simple way of achieving this with a gun since this form or armament is still the most economic one.
Helmet Mounted Sights may not have required all that much of a leap in imagination given the then state of the art and the known initial goal of employing them on what would become the F-15, but taken in context of all his thoughts on the future it is still impressive that he thought them significant.

Stealth Was Seen as Too Hard for Aircraft

Madelung recognized the advantages of reduced RF and IR signatures, falling short in his vision only because he was not aware of the revolution in stealth that was underway as he spoke:
Yet another design feature may be that of reduced signature for radar and IR missiles. For a full-fledged fighter with all its other requirements these appear to me pretty difficult additional ones.However one should bear in mind the advantages of small aircraft size in this context as well as for reduced probability of visual detection and last but not least for a better chance of not being hit. The next generation of fighters should, and not only for these reasons, be of moderate size.As the control of UAVs by manned aircraft seems to be brought up more and more as ‘the future’ Prof. Madelung’s observations on the topic seem particularly ‘timely’:Finally this outlook has to cover the prospects of unmanned fighter aircraft: adding up all the interface design features which are required to allow the pilot to control an aircraft, as well as the features to provide for the appropriate environment and safety, a lot of sensors and computing capacity could be provided instead, using microprocessor technology. The ''cruise missiles" are paving the way in this direction and I expect that the fighter aircraft designers will have to take this development very serious. The manned fighter will have to concentrate on the more difficult tasks which cannot be readily programmed. One could imagine combined systems of manned fighters and unmanned aircraft like a hunting party with hounds, the latter being "programmed" to track and harass under the command of the former.
Recognizing the limits to the return on investment from increasing aircraft capabilities, he foresaw a shift to more capable weapons such as AMRAAM and ASRAAM etal. And the interest in even more advanced weapons continues unabated.
The future of both the manned and unmanned fighter may however depend largely on the development of more effective weapons and methods for the air-to-ground battle in order to achieve a better balance of cost effectiveness.
Prof Madelung then concluded:
Some 75 years ago the Wright Brothers had the vision, skill and persistence to develop the prototype of powered aircraft, and gave birth to a new dimension of mobility and spirit of mankind. The fighter aircraft is one of the grim but magnificant [sic] outgrowths of this new dimension and will continue to participate in a lead role of aeronautics if the "fighter community" will maintain and develop its vision, skill and persistence offering-new and cost effective qualities and performance rather than retiring to marginal improvements.

To Recap the Part 2  'SoFar'

Operational requirements other than ‘maneuverability’ drove fighter design for far longer than post-stall ‘Supermaneuverability’ has been part of the definition, and ‘maneuverability’ was and still remains only one of the required hallmarks of fighter design.
Further, while ‘maneuverability’ has always been a requirement, the definition of same evolved over time. ‘Maneuverability’ only increased in importance relative to top speed and ability to climb after the option of increasing the top speed and climb rates for fighter aircraft reached their practical operational limits.
Most important to the current and near-term future of fighter design considerations are:
1. ‘Maneuverability’ as it is currently interpreted to include post-stall controllability is a relatively new construct in the history of fighter design development and even in 1977, the limitations of post-stall maneuvering, and developments that could render it less effective or even ineffective were already foreseen. 
2. Low Observable aircraft were seen as unachievable by a noted aircraft designer at the same time the US was developing the first Low Observable (LO) aircraft in the form of the F-117. We do not have Prof. Madelung’s thoughts on the ramifications of this development, but he obviously grasped the significance of LO in even mentioning the possibility of LO weapons (a couple of examples of same I was supporting or flight testing by the early-mid 1980s’.)

Update below the fold:

Sunday, August 09, 2015

“Fighter Aircraft” Design: Driven by Operational Requirements

Part 1: Introduction

In the wake of the disinformation cascade set off by the mischaracterization of an F-35 Developmental Test report leaked to the poster-boy for Punk Journalism (and his equally hapless compadres) it became apparent that somebody, someplace should highlight just how infantile all the F-35 H8er and click-bait copycats have been on the subject.

Since ‘Axe is Boring’ ‘broke’ the story (if you can call being hand-fed the raw data by some other cretin and then making sh*t up about things he doesn’t understand ‘breaking’), I think we’ve seen every perversion of reality about the test itself, the relevance of the test, the F-35’s capabilities, the history of air combat, ‘dogfighting’, and airpower-in-general trotted out and gleefully regurgitated as if it were gospel by the innumerate and the illiterate.
As creative as the fiction published about the aircraft (it was an early production 'A' model: AF-2) performance during  the Developmental Test has been, it seems most if not all of the F-35 criticisms related to the ‘leaked’ test report fall into two broad categories. In the first category we can place all the claims/accusations that the F-35 is not somehow ‘fighter’ enough to successfully engage in air combat. In the second category we can place all the assertions that the scenarios flown in this one test were representative of how the F-35 would perform Air Combat Maneuvering aka ‘Dogfighting’ in actual combat.

We will deal with both these strains of criticisms in what will be Part 2 and Part 3 respectively within this short series. In Part 2, we will recall a rather cogent, insightful and in many ways prophetic AIAA paper from 1970s: “The Characteristics of a Fighter Aircraft”. This paper is the text transcript for the Wright Brothers Lectureship in Aeronautics speech given by Prof. Gero Madelung (speak German?) to attendees of the annual AIAA Aircraft Systems and Technology Meeting in 1977.  I’ll then introduce the thoughts on fighter development from a very influential and widely-cited engineer (among aircraft design types anyway) who among other things can be considered the originator of the concept ‘supermaneuverability’.  Thus, Part 2 (which may have to be broken into sub-parts if it gets too unwieldy) will bring us up to speed on top-level ‘fighter’ aircraft design drivers right up to the present-day state-of-the-art, and maybe a peek or two at the future.

Whereas Part 2 will provide proper background and perspective, Part 3 will be where the perspective will be applied and so will be more ‘analytical’. We will break down a 1 vs. 1 air combat scenario into a high-level conceptual model of constituent phases and associated combatant states. Then we will apprise the F-35’s potential advantages and disadvantages at different points of reference during engagement scenarios as it moves into and out of those phases and states and under what conditions it can navigate its way through those phases and states. We will also weigh the relevance of those advantages/disadvantages to possible combat outcomes.

Part 3 will take some time to complete after Part 2, so I will ask the readers to bear with me on any delays, or perhaps I will invite comment on aspects of the approach to Part 3 as I build the conceptual model. We should not have to account for probability of outcomes and only illuminate the ‘possibilities’ for discussion-- which will simplify the problem significantly but not to the point that careful construction will not still be necessary just to avoid oversimplification on the one hand or sophistry on the other. This is the hard part of Part 3: to make complete enough to be valid and convey meaning, not so complete that too many eyes glaze over. The topic would be a lot easier for me to treat if there were more authorized references to the F-35’s Developmental Test that I could tie into, but we’ll muddle through without them somehow.

This is also probably going to seem awfully obvious and trivial in many places to some, but I want to have a single reference to point non-technical minds to in the future. -- Because this is one of those topics where you could get worn out just beating down the same stupidity and misperceptions every time they pop up.
Finally, in each part I will include a reminder:
Nowhere in this series of posts, or in any other posts the reader will find here, is the assertion made that ‘maneuverability’ (however one defines it) is "unimportant"-- in the past, modern day or immediate future . This must be stated unambiguously up front because I've seen the tiresome broad-brush accusation of same made too-often when anyone dares challenge some closely held belief as to maneuverability’s relative importance to fighter design or dares challenge the vague reasons why many of the uninitiated think “maneuverability” is important. 
This note won’t stop tired criticisms from arising, but it will make intelligent people stop and think before they paper any comment thread with false conclusions. And this series of posts isn’t for the people too stupid to know better anyway.

Part 2 is here

Friday, July 31, 2015

CNO Nominee Richardson Got These F-35 Questions Too?

I told them I didn't want the job, but I answered them anyway.

Hat Tip "spazinbad" @ F-16.net

SMSgt Mac appearing before SASC?
CNO Nominee Admiral Richardson answered some pre-confirmation hearing questions. I like his answers pretty much, but like my answers better. It comes with the freedom of being long retired (as well as never being an Admiral).

RE: Tactical Fighter Programs
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program, which is the largest and most expensive acquisition program in the Department’s history, was formally initiated as a program of record in 2002 with a total planned buy of 2,443 aircraft for the U.S. At projected procurement rates, the aircraft will be procured by the Department well into the 2030 decade to reach its total quantity buy. The program has not yet completed its systems development and demonstration phase, and is not due to enter full rate production until 2019, 17 years after its inception.

The Navy’s FY16 budget request indicates a program of record of 369 F-35C, with Navy procurement continuing throughout the life of the F-35 procurement program. The overall requirement for 2,443 aircraft was established nearly 20 years ago. Since that time, however, there have been countervailing pressures to: (1) reduce force structure to conserve resources; (2) improve capability to respond to prospective adversary technological advances and increased capabilities from updated threat assessments; and (3) respond to an evolving national defense strategy.

Do you believe the Navy’s F-35C requirement is still valid?
Well Senators, that’s quite a preface to a “yes or no” question. But as it comes from such an august body as the Senate Armed Services Committee, I will use the working assumption it is offered to provide proper perspective to the questions to come, rather than an attempt to ‘poison the well’,and so the Committee’s prefacing informs my response,and I believe due diligence also requires me to to expand upon the very fine points the Committee raises, in part as an answer to this first question. 

As the Committee very well knows, the F-35 Program is as large and expensive as it is because it is really three programs in one. While there have been studies that have reviewed whether or not combining programs was worth the effort, we must note that aside from them all having contentious ground rules and assumptions embedded, that NONE of them measured the costs and benefits of the F-35 program against the typical number of programs we would have to undertake to successfully field three different aircraft. Can there be any doubt looking back at history that at least four or perhaps five programs would have to be attempted to actually field three different jets? Can we possibly fathom the procurement costs per airplane if we had attempted to field the minority F-35B and F-35C as stand-alone programs? Mr. Chairman and Committee Members, the Navy and Marine Corps budgets are very blessed to have the Air Force subsidize The Department of the Navy’s rent-seeking by absorbing a disproportionate percentage of the net development costs.

As the bulk of the development is behind us in sunk cost and schedule, and there is no indication that the way forward is too difficult, completion of the systems development and demonstration phase should not be a problem.

That it will have taken 17 years to reach full rate production would be an issue above my station if I were still on active duty: I would not be in a position to second-guess prior Congressional decisions to stretch development and delay production, trading risk for schedule and cost. It would also not be my place to pass judgement on the actions of prior Congress’ that created the three-in-one program approach in the first place. 
As a retiree who returned to civilian life over twenty years ago however, I am free to answer that the former was typical, foolish, political tinkering and/or ego-stroking on the part of Congress. The latter however, is shaping up to have been a very good idea by your predecessors.

And so the final answer to your question is therefore, of course: “Yes”--the F-35C will be a VITAL part of the future Carrier Air Wing.

Do you believe the Navy can afford and needs to procure 310 more F-35Cs with a procurement cost of over $42 billion?

As to ‘need’, the F-35C provides essential 5th generation strike fighter capability to our Carrier Air Wings. Without this capability, we cannot achieve air superiority. The Department of the Navy currently has a requirement for 340 F-35Cs. That number needed of course is always subject to revision as national strategies change and new information is made available. For example, on the one hand, the Navy doesn’t yet have any operational experience with low observable or fifth generation capabilities. As the Navy gains experience, it will probably create opportunities and incentives to not procure more of or retire older systems faster on the one hand. On the other hand, the Navy has a history of buying aircraft over long timeframes due to expected attrition, and given the F-35C’s stellar initial sea trials, we may just not lose as many jets like we have in the past and so they will not need replacement. If I were confirmed as CNO, I would work with the Chairman and other service chiefs to revalidate the appropriate number of aircraft the Navy requires to meet the mission.

Speaking to the cost figure offered, let us note that the numbers you mention are either future inflated dollars or dollars that include developmental cost dollars that are already sunk, both, and/or are based upon presumptions of future economic factors that may or may not apply. They are also spread over how many years? I would enjoy exploring the nuances of these numbers with the SASC, numbers that should never be aired in a casual manner, as no doubt the SASC would agree.

Do you believe that the Navy will still want to buy the F-35C, an aircraft design that will be 30 years old before the Navy production is scheduled to finish?
Well let’s see, we’re flying the F-18C/Ds and F-18E/F/Gs right now. The current versions are evolutions of a design originally produced in 1975 and are still in procurement. That’s 40 years since inception. So 30 years should not be a stretch at all for the Navy and the F-35, especially considering that unlike its predecessors, the F-35B and C are designed to evolve as required over time. Right now the Navy is committed to making the F-35C the next Carrier Air Wing fighter, complementing the F/A-18E/F until the F-18 reaches the end of its lifetime in the 2030s when the basic design will be over 50 years old. I believe once the fleet gets its hands on the F-35C, the fighter/strike community will set new standards in creative thinking and divining ways to get rid of the older jets and buy more F-35Cs as the older jets obsolescence becomes more obvious.

Do you believe the Navy’s current and planned force mix of tactical aircraft is sufficient to meet current and future threats around the globe, and most especially in the Asia-Pacific theater of operations where the “tyranny of distance” is such a major factor?

Currently, I do. There are capability, inventory, and readiness aspects to delivering the required force mix. If I was ever to be confirmed as CNO, I would work with leadership to determine the best options to pace the threat in a dynamic security environment. The fiscal environment will bound the scope of our efforts, and so I would urge Congress to work harder in creating a fiscal environment that will provide for all of our Constitutionally-mandated needs.

The Secretary of the Navy recently remarked that he believed the F-35 should be and would be the nation’s last manned fighter aircraft. Do you believe this to be true?
If I were to be confirmed as CNO, I would work with the Secretary of the Navy to aggressively advance the development of unmanned systems. It is crucial that we push the boundaries of what unmanned technologies can achieve; the next generation in tactical aviation will play a large part in this transformation.

Having said the above, let me also observe that the Secretary has all of the technical knowledge and expertise in all the relevant knowledge areas and disciplines, with the liberal-arts and legal education sufficient to have once been a competent junior ship’s officer. I’m sure he was a very fine surface warfare officer, once upon a time. His thoughts and opinions on the subject of UAVs carries all the commensurate weight that comes with such an accomplished background.

I thank the Committee for their interest. Now go away.