The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Military Acquisition Process

Leaving a military acquisition job and returning to the fleet has got me focused. I’ve enjoyed learning the process that moves a naval prototype from developmental model to a full-up fleet capability. But it is a slow chug – there are certain waypoints that Congress mandates to ensure that the taxpayers get maximum benefit. And each of those milestones require substantial work to meet. Some are important and some are red-tape heavy, with unnecessary slowdowns (in my humble opinion.)

Another challenge with military acquisition is that there are factors beyond delivering the very best capability to the Navy. Such as politics, jobs, and regional considerations:

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Illinois is home to another important aerospace sector: defense. For example, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is supported by Illinois manufacturing companies. Across the state, roughly 2,000 jobs are tied to the program through about 50 suppliers. In terms of economic impact, the F-35 program contributes about $525 million to state and local economies.

Despite the economic opportunity the F-35 represents to Illinois, forces outside the state conspire to reverse the momentum we’ve seen. The project has been mired in unfounded criticism, the perception of unchecked cost overruns has soured many spectators and sequestration has complicated matters even more with constraints on spending.

In complex production projects like the F-35, substantial investments are made by suppliers in the program’s developmental stages and are only recouped when the program moves into full production. Full production occurs when the supply chain becomes more efficient at reducing costs and economies of scale are realized. Last year, F-35 program costs dropped by $4.5 billion. F-35 suppliers have already paid about one-third of the cost overruns in the first three lots of production and have committed to paying 100 percent of any overrun of the contract ceiling in the fourth lot of production and beyond. Even the congressional watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office, concluded that the program is moving in the right direction in a recent audit.

The cost issue cannot be truly addressed unless it is placed into a larger context of costs incurred versus costs saved. Once it is fully deployed, the F-35 will be used by the Air Force, Marines and Navy. The program would replace as many as seven legacy aircraft. The Pentagon projects that total maintenance costs for the legacy fleet would be four times the comparable maintenance costs of the F-35.

I think the F-35 is going to be a strong, albeit expensive, capability for our Navy.

Naked Dudes and Flat Tires: Wassup!

Naked Dudes and Flat TiresAs I type this, I am sitting in Panera. It is four in the afternoon and I am waiting patiently, in uniform, for the tire repair shop across the street to finish patching my tire. Twenty minutes ago, I drove over a piece of chain-link fence, giving me a very slow leak. The tired tire guy sprayed the hole with Windex where I pulled the piece of chain-link out and indeed the puncture was bubbling.

At the repair shop, a man walked up to me with an excuse me, sir? He then thanked me for me service. In a very heartfelt, humble way. I shook his hand and thanked him with a it’s my honor and privilege.  

And then just ten minutes ago, as I am waiting to cross the street, three Hispanic high school kids chatted me up. Hey, one of them asked,  Army or Navy? He wore rosary beads around his neck and his hair was spiky.

Navy, I replied.

Wassup! he yelled. YELLED. 

I ignored him. Even though one of his buddies talked about joining the Air Force. I’d no time for silliness. I had to get over to Panera to hit my orange juice. And to write this.

As for my title and naked dudes,  I was at my gym this morning, changing into my uniform after a great workout. Someone several lockers away bellowed, excuse me. I ignored him. I did not know anyone at that Encinitas gym. The heavy rains had necessitated that I take different roads to the freeway. So I decided to drive over to the coast. Good thing I belong to a gym with locations all over San Diego.

Soldier! the man insisted.

Naked Dudes and Flat TiresI guess he was talking to me. Yes, I replied turning to a naked dude.

Thanks for doing what you do. And he shook my hand.

Just writing this, makes me shake my head. Naked dudes and flat tires, WASSUP!

Update: I really must thank Evans Tires for doing the job for free! Great Americans, all of them.

TSgt Ron Burgundy

The Air Force Struggles with the Raptor

A couple of jobs ago, I worked with an F-16 pilot. Rather than calling it the Fighting Falcon, he referred to the jet as a Viper and he called himself a Viper driver. If I still worked around him, I imagine I would ask him what was going on with the F-22:

Two F-22 Raptor pilots have said publicly that not only are they afraid to fly the most expensive fighter jets in American history, but the military has attempted to silence them and other F-22 pilots by threatening their careers.

“There have been squadrons that have stood down over concerns. And there’s been threat of reprisals,” F-22 pilot Josh Wilson told CBS News’ “60 Minutes” Sunday.

The F-22 Raptor

Wilson and fellow F-22 pilot Jeremy Gordon, both veteran fighter pilots for the Virginia Air National Guard who came forward under whistleblower protection from Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.-Ill.), have asked not to fly the F-22 anymore, according to CBS News, citing their concerns with the oxygen problem.

Ach, this is disturbing. There was an article when this problem first surfaced that threw me for a loop. The piece was titled (something like): O2 Problems Dog the Air Force. And I thought: 1st LTs, they are a problem to the Air Force. What dogs.

Becoming a Female Marine

Over at Yahoo Answers, a young female interested in joining the Marines asks this question:

Everything I need to know about being a female Marine?

I hear that female Marines are discriminated and such. Is it difficult being a female at Marine boot camp? How often are hey allowed to go to the head? What are the only things I need to bring to boot camp? Do I need to bring underwear and bras? Please describe what it’s like for females at Parris Island!

Two answers are up and neither is very complimentary. (Don’t join or go Air Force!)

Petty Officer or Colonel? Part Deux

Dearest Reader,

I have a confession. Remember this story? Where a Petty Officer Third Class gets mistaken for a Colonel? I have a little update to it. Several great, naval minds around Blogland picked it up.

And one of the readers on this site commented:

My friend who was a Master Sergeant in the Air Force says that there is no way this really happened. (Still a funny story, of course.)

Well, the story “really” did happen, despite the Master Sergeant seeking to salvage face. But that is not my confession. Here it goes (bye-bye reputation, we were friends once, us): not only did the above story happen, I myself once committed the same mistake!

I was an Ensign then, on an Individual Augmentation. During IAs, Sailors wear all manner of uniform. I have run across five different kinds of camouflage, not counting the SpecWar types who mix and match garb like frenzied shoppers at a Tijuana yard sale. Presenting five genres of camo: Army ACUs, DCUs, Woodlands, and both Marine digis (for the Corrppssemen.)

So there I was, tromping through some forgotten airport around sunset. Me and the other Ensign rolled up on a cluster of Navy guys. I greeted them cheerily, nodding at a Sailor lurking in the back. I looked at his collar and low and behold, in the nearly dim light, I spotted me some frowning eagles. What kind of operation were they running out here, parading the Captain around like the beef at a Dining Out?

I was uncovered, but managed to engage my verbal drive apparatus. “Sir, how are you?” I asked.

“Yeah I’m okay, Sir,” the sleepy Third Class Petty Officer replied.

“Good to hear.”

I calmed down (thinking to myself: Bro, you were once a Third Class yourself, keep it together.) Then, I hopped into the van and embraced the obscurity of the night. I peered over at my fellow O, but he remained mute. Smart man, that Ensign.

Maintain OPSEC as per OPNAVINST 3432.1. . .

Petty Officer or Colonel?

Imagine you are Petty Officer Third Class in the Navy.  Should you deploy to some sandy paradise, chances are your collar insignia will resemble the device on the left.  These are the fearsome crows of a Navy E-4.

Take a gander at the other rank, on the right.  Yes Shipmate, that is the insignia found on a full-bird colonel.  An O-6.  That particular photo was borrowed from an Air Force uniform website.  Where our friendly Air Force brethren go to buy glow belts and rank insignias.

Now picture yourself on an Air Force flight to Al Udeid Air Base in lovely Doha, Qatar.  You are minding your own business, perhaps snoozing and dreaming of Twilight (with an occasional, annoying Justin Beiber cameo) when the plane bounces gently to the ground.

The melodious voice of an Airman wafts throughout the cabin.  “All O-6s, please deplane at this time.  All O-6s, please deplane.”

Of course, you ignore the announcement.  Remember your collar is the splitting image of the device on the left.

An Air Force Master Sergeant slyly taps you on your shoulder.  You yawn and turn to him. “Sir, please follow me,” he instructs, as courteously as a caddy at the 19th hole of Leisure World’s Par 2.

You follow the Master Sergeant, because a) You are a Navy professional and you were taught to instantly pounce and execute orders b) You are still groggy from that terrible dream of Beiber and his unsat haircut c) The man is an E-7 and you are an E-4, despite the fact he is sirring you.  (You take the sirs to be an Air Force thang.  What little you know of “thangs” comes from a bumper sticker you saw at an Air Force base.  “It’s an Air Force thang.  You wouldn’t understand.”  True, you don’t much understand thangs (thangs are not your thang), but you pretend and follow the mysterious Sergeant anyway.)

It is at the point of hiking your backpack onto your back that you notice your Master Chief behind you.  All Navy Master Chiefs are issued a second brain.  I myself, am not a Master Chief, so I can’t prove definitively that this is true.  But ask any Master Chief, he/she’ll tell you.

“This way, sir,” the Air Force Master Sergeant says to you, our hero.

By now, you have wiped Beiber from your eyes.  “You don’t have to call me sir,” you tell the Air Force bubba.

But your Master Chief is quick, wily.  He smells victory and engages his special Master Chief brain.  “Ah sir,” he responds with a little nurturing pat, a Jedi encouraging his Padwan.  “They are waiting for us.”

You follow the Master Sergeant down the metal steps of the plane onto the hot tarmac of Al Udeid.  Wordlessly, the Master Sergeant hands the good Master Chief the keys to a new Ford Explorer.  Black.  Which you and your new, best friend, the Master Chief, enjoy for the full three months of your deployment.  True Story.

Note to all Air Force personnel in theater: Petty Officer Third Classes are not Colonels. Should you extend full-bird courtesies to one, he/she is not going to complain.  Please study your basic rank recognition to avoid this understandable, yet embarrassing, mistake. Parting tip: if the Colonel looks to be about 23 years old, good money says he is not an O-6.  (Unless his last name is Custer.  And you don’t want to be around guys with that name on the battlefield anyway.)

Update I: Be sure to check out the next chapter of this adventure! Petty Officer or Colonel? Part Deux

Update II:  Welcome Neptunus Lex readers!  (Welcome also to Bayou Renaissance Man readers!)