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.

An open-air asylum for nutter’s

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Stonehenge is perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the world. Begun as a simple earthwork enclosure, it was built in several stages, with the unique lintelled stone circle being erected in the Neolithic period in around 2,500 BC. Stonehenge remained important into the early Bronze Age (2,200–1,500 BC), when many burial mounds were built nearbyHistory and Researchstonehenge_diagram

Well, its that time of the year again, when, as dawn broke this morning at 04:55 hrs, a mixture of 21,000 pagan’s, druids, mystics, truth seekers, shamans, aged hippies, new age travellers, students, nutter’s, drug addicts, ‘Japanese tourists’, and five hundred ‘Coppers’; all attended the Summer Solstice at the open air asylum known as Stonehenge.article-2345638-1A6F21AA000005DC-502_470x626 Go back in time and you would have added several marines to the list (yours truly being a SNCO, and one of them). Not through choice, but through necessity, as one of my marines had attached himself to a party of Norwegian blue-eyed-blonde students (all female) in a pub in Salisbury, who were heading off to the asylum gathering to party hard prior to sunrise. The problem being, the marine with the breaking strain of a warm chocolate bar was required (as were we all) to attend a final four hour ‘team’ exam at 09:00 hrs, followed by a course photograph at a specialist establishment known as ‘Winterbourne Gunner’ (History of the Defence CBRN centre)! Fortunately the lunatics throng attending the asylum gathering tend to swell in heavy numbers around two hours before sunrise, we had five hours to find him and kidnap him from his bevy of beauties, other wise the shout of “watch your fingers mate”! would have reverberated around the guardroom as the cell door slammed behind him; not only that, but collectively we would have also have failed the ‘team’ exam. We approached the gathering in almost pitch black conditions, and noticed a group of illuminated ‘Bobbies’ upon which the predicament was explained. After much radio chatter the bevy of (by now scantily clad chanting) blondes were discovered, as was a disgruntled bootneck; who was even more so after the group photograph that day, as I put him on ‘watch-on-stop-on’ duty the following weekend, over his birthday!article-2345638-1A6F2238000005DC-768_964x597

A midsummer day’s scene: Revellers rise at dawn to celebrate the solstice with drumming and dancing QUOTE’ from an elderly lady druid; “The scene was so emotional that even a group of police officers were stood with tears in their eyes”~ (Er, no… They had just pepper sprayed a violent drug addled hippy to restrain him)!

Yours Aye.

A Millionaire Shakedown Cruise

I took the old (new) bike out for its maiden voyage today just after dawn. Not a soul on the road, which was how I liked it. Other than the rear derailleur sounding like a reject from the snare-drummer corps, the thing ran smoothly. (Hmm, add in a front disk brake that rubbed slightly. And a tire-stem that needed a new plastic cap…)

I found myself riding through residential neighborhood after neighborhood standing tall at each intersection with my head on a swivel. It has been more than a decade since I worked as a bike messenger and a sleepy San Dog suburb is no Broadway Ave, but self-preservation dies hard.

I pulled up to the hippie coffee joint in my hood (we’ve three major ones, along with Starbucks and Panera) and grabbed an ice coffee. The coffee guy had a quote on his shirt that said: Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable. I would have guessed Che, but it turns out (when I just looked it up) some naval officer named John F. Kennedy had said it. Hmpfff.

At the coffeehouse, as I sipped my iced nectar, I thought of millionaires. There was a banker type in the place with me, so perhaps that stirred my thoughts. And I had just discovered a friend from college makes two million dollars a year. He had incredible common sense, but was pretty quiet. If you’ve ever heard the term, work within yourself, that would describe him. He is now the general counsel for some San Fran internet corp which I’ve never heard of. I’m happy for him, but would not trade places for all the money in the world, which he apparently has. Being a lawyer sounds like onerous (boringly hellish) work. I was surprised his company publicized salaries, but for that matter, so does the military.

I also thought of my college roommate who bragged to me about some big LA deal he had closed in real estate a couple of years ago. He happened to catch me when I was driving home from some briefing I had given down in Norfolk at the Amphib Base (that involved SEALs and Marines.) So I shared that with him and despite him making ten fifteen times more money, I had the far more interesting story. I was not trying to trump him, but I did.

As for my bike ride, I road home, gasping for the last part of the uphill trip. No matter how hard I run, I can’t get my lungs to work hard. (My legs hurt before I even start breathing all that mightily.) But cycling’s ‘nother matter. And I paid the piper today. I may not be a millionaire, but I love life and being a Sailor in the world’s finest Navy could not be better.

The Democracy of the Marine Corps

Here is a lesson in creative writing.

First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.

And I realize some of you may be having trouble deciding whether I am kidding or not. So from now on I will tell you when I’m kidding.

For instance, join the National Guard or the Marines and teach democracy. I’m kidding.

We are about to be attacked by Al Qaeda. Wave flags if you have them. That always seems to scare them away. I’m kidding.

 –Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country*

* Kurt V’s book was written in 2007. Look at how naively surperior his other quotes are. Comparing us to Nazis? I suppose that was acceptable in those dark days.

The Rose Garden

If you have been through Navy OCS, you know what and where the rose garden is. Chances are you probably left some skin and pride at the place, doing pushups. And (surprise) it is not only at OCS, but in Thailand too:

Q: Where was the Rose Garden, Marines?

A: It was at Nam Phong, Thailand, just outside Bangkok. It was an air field we started building in WWII and went back to as Vietnam was winding down. It was much like DaNang with the Marines and Air Force separated. The Air Force had wooden barracks and the Marines had mud and tents. I think the base is still in use.

That’ll be all about the rose garden. . .

Good Fuji Gouge

Don posted the following comment about the Mount Fuji post. I think you will enjoy the story, as well as the gouge:

Take a sleeping bag, even in August. I climbed Fuji in 1986 while an active duty Marine with three other Marines on liberty time off. The pictures of the sunrise I captured on 35mm film are unbelievable. The night was cold but did not get below freezing, maybe 35 F.

About three weeks later our Gunny and LT had the bright idea of doing a Fuji climb race challenge. First one up gets extra liberty at the next port. Sounds good, but being an NCO at the time I recommended everyone to pack their sleeping bags. Too much weight for the challenge, most just packed a poncho liner and some didn’t even do that. Also, I told the LT that we had already climbed Fuji and that climbing Fuji twice was bad according to local Japanese folklore. He said fine, you can stay back do guard duty that he had another unit lined up to care of our barracks and armory shared coverage.

So we went on the “race”. So first Marine up made it in up under 2.5 hours, we had a few guys that could run the 3 mi pft under 16 minutes so it was a challenge. But they were not packing anything. Me and my and Marines who climbed Fuji before came in just under four hours, but we where packing food, water, sleeping bags, our poncho liners and booze (whiskey).

That night it got bitter cold that night, water froze.. My guys were good to go and LT and Gunny wanted to “share” my guys resources. I went off and bottom line there was a bunch of Marines shivering in the cold with no food and water because of a race. My guys shared what we could but it wasn’t enough except the booze we brought. Once we got on top we shared and some imbibed too much to the point of getting branded by a hot iron.

As you climb Fuji you can get your wooden walking stick (which none of us bought) branded with a hot iron at the escalating stations with the elevation in meters. At the top some oxygen deprived and drunk Marines got branded with Fuji 3,700 +/- meters (I don’t remember the exact elevation).

I enjoy reading your blog despite you being a Berkley grad and a swabbie. I have never posted on your blog, even though reading it for the past couple months but this particular post peaked my interest because I have direct experience in climbing Fuji. If you climb Fuji, be prepared.

Thanks Don!

Private News

Good news for all you Privates, the military has come out with ballistic underwear:

Colonel, Underwear

The “ballistic boxers” seem to be working better. The heavy silk boxers, which look like shorts that professional cyclists wear, won’t stop a bullet or shrapnel from an IED. But the silk can stop small projectiles like those kicked up by an explosion.

“It is expected to prevent fine sands and particles that are thrown up by explosives, so that the tissue wounds are cleaner, less ragged and easier to treat,” said Lt. Jamie Larson, a Marines Corps spokesperson said in May.

No word on whether the other ranks, outside of Private, enjoy the underwear as much.

A Marine’s Girlfriend and An Anonymous Thank You

Sitting in Panera, I am waiting for the traffic to die down outside. It is after six o’clock and I have been late leaving work this whole week. Due to Christmas, we are busy pushing our Navy projects before the holiday slowdown. And I have been driving home later than is normal. I can’t stand sitting in my car, crawling along at five miles per two hours. (5 mp2h.)

I get back to my table and there is a note slipped onto the keyboard of my computer. It says: Thanks for your service. I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season.

Wow. Thank you anonymous person or family. I appreciate it. Truly.

While I had been gabbing away with the Panera coffee girl about her boyfriend who is deployed on a Navy amphib, you came over and brightened my day. You did not sign the note, so I can’t thank you. But even if you did indeed sign it, I probably would not know you anyway. This is not my neighborhood.

The girlfriend of the deployed Marine seemed so calm. I assured her what a great ship her boyfriend’s was. I had briefed on that amphib before and it was, by far, the best. They were motivated. I spin certain members of the crew up on nerdy techie stuff and they appeared to follow everything I said. Not all ships are so upbeat. Cough, anonymous carrier.

My boyfriend’s tour is up when the MEU (mew mew, like a cat) returns. He has to change.

Move bases? PCS?

Yes. 

Why not 29 Palms? It is close to here.

She makes a face.

What does he do?

He does ground assault.

It is my turn to make a face. One of misunderstanding. Ground assault? Infantry?

Yes.

Is he a Corporal or a Sergeant? He could be a drill instructor. (Here I am, dispensing Marine advice. I assume Corporals could be DIs.)

She holds up her hands like a football ref showing how many inches are needed for a first down. He is this close to Sergeant. 

Great! Or how about a linguist, is he good at languages?

I don’t know. He is going to take the ASVAB again. He needs five more points to qualify for some electrical thing. 

Okay. I nod. Well good luck to you and him.

And then she beams. I am getting a ring, she blurts out. I think. When he gets back!

You are getting married. I smile back at her. Good for you and him. That is great. I return to my seat and discover the note.

I read it and eat. The steak panini half-sandwich and the chicken soup is not enough. Delicious. But I am still hungry. I return to the front. The Marine’s girlfriend is helping someone else. I get a wild-haired guy with a Swedish name who calls me boss. No joke.

What can I get for you, boss?

Hmm. How about the steak and white cheddar sandwich?

Great choice, boss. He bobs his head. I give him my credit card. He calls me boss two more times. Nice kid. An Occupy type. Can I write that? Nothing against him, but the Occupy thing seems like his bag.

He gives me my change. I am sorry, he says out of the blue. I have been here all day.

I think I know why he is apologizing. His freaky-deakyness. No problem. You are doing a great job. 

Thanks boss, he replies.

You are welcome. Thank you. He passes me the little number to put on my table.

I eat the sandwich in 5 minutes flat. Twenty bucks for dinner. I could probably eat another half. To add to the other 3 halves I have had.

What I would say to:
-The Marine Corporal, this close to Sergeant- you had better pop the question to your girlfriend. Put a ring on it and I am not talking about a ring of suppressive fire.
-The Marine’s Corporal’s girlfriend- have patience. Males can be slow. (I could say something funny about Marines right here, but I’ll save it for another post.)
-The anonymous thanker- thank you.
-Hippy groovy Panera guy with the Swedish name- there is not so much of a difference between you and me, right? There is not so much of a similarity either. Nevermind. Keep working hard, boss.
-America- thank you. Whatever lottery I won to be born here, I truly appreciate it.
-To you- this is turning all mushy, so I had better stop. I don’t plan what I write in here. I choose a target and run hard ’til completion. Also, I did not mean to disgust you with my digestive journeys. Sorry, bosses. . .

The New Iraq

I have spent a lot of time in my career focused on one particular non-vacation spot: Iraq. Pasted below is the latest lay-down (follow link for larger picture.) Included is the OOB, Order of Battle, indicating where the numbered military units reside.

I am always struck by how large Al Anbar is. If you do not know the story of that western province, and the crucial work the Marines did in securing the region, you should consider studying up on it. Of course, the Marines’ big brother also did some of the heavy lifting. Plenty of other Al Anbar resources are available as well. . .

Al Anbar was akin to the Wild West before it turned. Our victory in Iraq took seed from the crucial COIN (counterinsurgency) work fine-tuned there. The term used to describe the change was the Awakening. It led to a civilian, tribal renaissance. That is, if the word renaissance can be used to describe anything in that volatile region. . .

Hand Salute: Theo and DJ Elliott

Links, Not

CIA, not the Culinary Institute of America

Race, not a difference in God’s eyes

Diogenes, not a beggar

Overgovernment, not common-sensical

Ferrari, not Magnum’s, but Bieber’s

Apollo 18, not worth your precious $8.50/88 minutes

Patriotism, not rolling in the alfalfa

Hero, not a dry-eye post

Fighters, not boxers, but aircraft

Cthulhu, not sure who he/she is

Pockets, not the hot, pepperoni variety

Pedophilia, not normal, despite what the PhDs say

Kittens, not the talking kind, the football playing variety

Marines, not flameboys

Meeting Colonel Chesty Puller, USMC

In keeping with the tradition of posting great military stories from readers, we have the following tale about Chesty Puller (courtesy of Sean):

About 5 years ago, I was with my wife’s grandmother outside of Starbucks. She asked about the WWII service of our next-door neighbor and I told her that our neighbor had been in the Army at a training facility for the entire war. Every time he volunteered for overseas duty, his CO would take him off the list, saying he was needed too badly in the states.

“Oh, ” she said. “It was just like that with my husband.” (My wife’s grandfather served in the Marines). “He was at Camp Lejume, and every time he volunteered to go overseas, his Colonel said that he needed him there and wouldn’t let him go. What was that Colonel’s name?”

There was a pause of about 20 seconds. My mind wandered. I assumed hers had as well, which wasn’t all that unusual, given that she was 85 years old.

I was about to change the subject when she said with conviction: “Puller. Colonel Puller.”

I choked on my coffee. “Betty, did he work for Chesty Puller?!?”

“Chesty! Yes, that’s what they called him. He had this deep, gravelly voice. . .” and she proceeded to imitate one of the legends of the Marine Corps: “Hello, Betty. Hello, Chesty.”

“Betty, you met Chesty Puller? You called him Chesty?”

“Oh, everyone was so afraid of him, but I wasn’t. I figured that I wasn’t in the Marines, so what could he do to me?” It was my turn to be speechless for a while. 20 years I’d known her, and she comes up with a I-met-Chesty-Puller story.

Thanks Sean for the great story. As usual folks, please feel free to email any great military tales!

I will end with this gem of a quote from the Marine legend: “Take me to the Brig. I want to see the real Marines. . .”

A Surfer, a Man, and a Marine

I don’t surf, but still I tell the man with the surf shirt that I do.

“You surf, really?” he asks, his eyes lighting up.

I smile, it is an old joke, this. One I have trotted out many times. “The internet,” I reply. “I surf the internet.”

He laughs and I squint at the surfer on his blue t-shirt. “What does Toes on the Nose mean?”

“It’s like when you hang ten or hang five.” I give him a blank stare and he repositions himself, as if walking up a surfboard. “When you hang ten, you stand at the front of your board with both feet and when you hang five, you have one foot on the nose.”

I nod. “Those are great chairs.”

“Adirondacks.” He waves over another guy. “Tony will tell you about them.”

“An adirondack chair,” Tony says. “Except we use aerospace screws at our shop. We buy them in mass, at eight cents a pop.”

“Amazing craftmanship.”

“Today is our last day. We are closing up.”

“Really, why?”

“The economy. That is why the chair is so reduced. I am just an apprentice here, but I enjoy it. I am 51 years old and I’m going back to marketing.” He goes on to tell me his work history, of putting in dozens of applications for skilled and unskilled craftman jobs.

I look around, at a loss. “God bless you,” I finally say.

“He has.” And he nods his head and there is nothing I can add. I buy two chairs and arrange to have them delivered.

An hour later, I am standing in a restaurant. An elderly man labors behind me at the buffet. A faded Marine Corps tattoo runs the length of his left arm. An Eagle, Globe, and Anchor in silhouette.

“I’m active-duty Navy,” I tell him.

He looks at me firmly. “Ah, Navy.”

“You were at Chosin?” I point to his hat, his cover.

“Yep. Three months.”

“What happened?”

“Got pushed off. I was part of the Seventh.” He rattles off a company name and something else, a battalion, brigade, which I immediately forget. “There are not a lot of us left. I used to go meet ‘em all. Now it is expensive and we don’t get together.”

“Can I take I picture of your hat, sir?”

He nods and I snap the photo and thank him. I move forward in the line and when it comes to pay, I buy his lunch. I am not a thief. I will not steal a picture of a man’s hat and his story without paying for it. Least of all, for a hero. He tries to give me money, but I refuse.

I see him later and he grins at me like I am a fellow warrior. “Thanks, brother,” he tells me quietly. So quietly, I wonder if he really called me brother. “For lunch.”

“Sir, thank you,” is all I can say.

Zen and the Art of Not Blogging

I am standing in Jamba Juice, in uniform, staring at the wheatgrass. The shoots are yellow and mold encircles the roots. It is a disgusting thing that, wheatgrass. That wheatgrass especially, considering its color, its mold. I cancel my order and the girl with big eyes and the stained red, Jamba Juice apron nods knowingly. I don’t do yellow and moldy. I got a hard enough time doing wheatgrass green and fresh.

A voice interupts my revulsion. “You a Marine?”

I smile. Had I been insulted, complimented? “No, Navy,” I reply.

The man has white hair. He beams at me. “My son is graduating from Marine Bootcamp on Friday.”

“Oh.” He shows me a picture. The kid is overweight with big, Frodo hair. And Puka shells. “He’s probably going to look different now,” I tell the father.

“I’ll bet. That was a high school picture, from Colorado.” He laughs. “Do you know how to get to the Marine Base?”

I give him directions and wait for my pumpkin shake, the one I had nearly befouled with wheatgrass. A mother and a daughter hover behind me.

“Whatever,” the daughter says to her mother and I frown. I don’t understand that word. If I ever use whatever in this blog, dear reader, you have license to come and find me and kick my ass. My daily thoughts this last month have not been far from here. And even in Jamba Juice, I think of these pages. These non-pages. This screen. You know, this blog.

I reach for my pumpkin shake and make a promise to myself. To relax and to not measure success with numbers. To not blog in my mind when I am not blogging. And to blog when I am here, in front of my keyboard, screen.

I see the Marine’s father out in the parking lot later. “You want to follow me?” I ask. “I can take you to the gate.”

“Sure, thanks.” He pulls up behind my car in a white Toyota. We twist through the parking lot and turn out onto Midway Avenue. I switch lanes and we merge with the road running parallel to MCRD. I point out my window to the gate as we pass, but he stays on my tail. I point again and he makes the next right. He’ll have to flip a u-turn somewhere. He’ll figure it out. Marine (fathers): Delivered to the battle by the Navy as usual.

I roll to a red traffic light, waiting to turn around myself, to take me back to my base. A sun-tanned man with black dirt streaking his face holds a sign. I try not to look, but I do. And the sign reads: I need help. Hungry and without work. God bless you.

I reach around my backseat and grab the bag of Japanese snacks I had bought from my friend’s store. It is unopened and I roll down my window. He stares at me. For five seconds. Which feels like fifteen. Does he expect me to open my door and walk the four feet to him? What kind of American is this?

Finally, he stands up and takes the bag with a smile. I smile and understand that I do not understand. His story. What brought him to the streets. He looks healthy and about my age. “Thank you,” he says. He is tanner than me, but dirtier too. I want to remind him where he lives. That he is an American and he must do whatever it takes to get a job. That I have worked at three in the morning, driven forklifts, worked every meal for days. Washed dishes. But I don’t. Because maybe times are different now.

The light changes and I take off. I know I have a blogpost in these last moments and my mind starts running through the events. Then it switches to new readers, bloggers. And how I can link them. That thing about not blogging when I was not blogging? To only blog when in front of my laptop? Whatever. . .