If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It.

I just finished reading this article concerning the Air Force waiting for things to break in their shore if-it-aint-brokeinfrastructure  instead of doing preventative maintenance.  My first thought was, “I sure hope that doesn’t include nukes!!!”  From what I can tell from the article, maybe yes, maybe no.  So that has me a little worried.  But there were several other  things about that article that worried me.

First, it said that the Services only submitted about 80% of what they needed for facilities maintenance because they wanted to put priority on training and operations instead of maintaining their buildings.  I believe the idea was to fix things as they fail.  Who wants to be in a building that might “fail”?  Not me.  I’m puzzled as to why they wouldn’t ask for everything  needed since the money for such things comes from different appropriations than training and operations.  By the way, they got all that they asked for which leaves me wondering what would have happened if they asked for what they really needed.

Second, what makes them think there’s going to be any more money in the out-years to make things right?  If we are deferring maintenance, then it stands to reason that it’s only going to cost more to fix next year.  We already know that money is not going to be there.  Personally, I’m not so sure about jumping on an elevator in an Air Force building knowing that it hasn’t been maintained and the threshold for them to do any maintenance on it is me getting stuck between floors.  I’d also be careful about walking around on an AFB if I were you. You never know when something above might “fail.”

By the way, this is not just an Air Force problem.  Here is a similar article about Navy facilities and infrastructure.  Stunningly, it says that of the 13 barracks at NAS Oceana, 10 of them are rated substandard.  What happened to taking care of our number one asset….our Sailors.  And we only asked for 80% of the money to fix them??

Thirdly, one Commander in the article is worried that money for repair is so short, that even when things break there will not be enough money to fix them.  Little wonder, since they only asked of 80% of what they needed.  I suppose they are hoping for some sort of natural disaster so they can go in for supplemental funding to fix everything.

Waiting for OCO
Waiting for OCO

Once something happens, there will be a feeding frenzy at the supplemental trough to fix not only what was damaged by said disaster, but also stuff that was damaged by neglect.  What a world!

Finally, it says that the Air Force is not planning on returning to “full spectrum readiness” (whatever that means) until 2023.  That must mean they have a plan….but since when has any service been able to stick to a plan more than a couple of years????  Heck, in the Navy, we change the 30 Year Shipbuilding plan just about every year!

As for the using maintenance dollars to buy readiness, I thought that is what the Overseas Contingency money was supposed to do.  Remember the almost $60 Billion in OCO for 2016?  So even as a former practitioner of the mystical and black art of Defense budgeting, I just can’t figure out why we didn’t  ask for all the money we needed to maintain our infrastructure in “war fighting condition.” carriergolf After all, especially in the Air Force, their bases are where they fight wars from…It’s analogous to the Navy’s ships.  I guess the old saying that the Air Force only builds runways after the O”Club, golf course, pool, commissary and exchange are built isn’t true anymore.  I guess now is should be, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  If its broke, good luck getting it fixed!”

I recall reading an article not long after the Berlin Wall fell which said the conditions  in East German bases were puzzling.  The barracks the soldiers were living in were barbaric…..but just across the street, the tanks, personnel carriers, trucks, artillery and lots of other weapons were sitting in pristine condition in air conditioned splendor.  This is what happens when we value things over people.  Hey, recruiting is at an all time high.  We could probably stand a few people jumping ship anyway.  Why not skimp on their facilities so that we can continue to pay for the cost overruns of the JSF and other out-of-control acquisition programs?

On the other hand, I suppose you could say that this problem is yet another symptom of the need for another round of BRAC.  Good luck with that!

Oh, by the way, no facilities were damaged in the writing of this article.

 

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Doggone Dogfight!

a-10picjsf_pic

 

So I have raised the hackles of my esteemed Warthog (A-10) brothers and sisters  and Army and Marine
ground pounders before in an article entitled “The A-10 and Reality.”  In that article I took the position that the A-10, even though it was a good airplane for its time (first flown in 1972), should be retired.  I still believe that its time has come.  You can read the details by going to the link, but my opinion is still that while it would be nice to have if the Air Force had unlimited amounts of money, it doesn’t.  The A-10 is expensive to fly and maintain, it takes lots of logistics and people support and I question its survivability at low altitudes, given the proliferation and availability of hand-held SAMs.  As I recall, there are usually altitude restrictions put into place in most combat situations to keep the aircraft out of  threat envelopes, and I would submit these restrictions negate many of the advantages of an A-10 in a close air support role (CAS).

So why am I messing with this still festering wound?  I just read about the impending (if you can define 3 years as impending)fly-off between the JSF and the A-10 to see which jet will win the CAS Crown.  It’s been amusing to sit on the sidelines and see how this fandango developed.  First, the Pentagon’s Test and Evaluation gurus, bowing to the extreme pressure from the Hill to keep the A-10, announced that sometime in 2017 or 2018 they would evaluate the JSF’s ability to be an effective CAS platform…Don’t you think it’s a little late to be thinking about that?   I am just stunned that we would get this far without already knowing the answer to that question.  Never mind that no matter what the outcome, we will still buy all the JSFs our increasingly limited defense dollars will buy (to the detriment of all other weapons systems, I might add).  And because of all the other pressures, we will most likely have to retire the A-10 anyway.  And this will be even more true three years from now when we finally get around to doing the tests.

Given all the problems we have in DoD acquisition, I think we could be putting our limited dollars and unlimited talents towards just getting the JSF delivered with some sort of combat capability, or figure out how to recapitalize the nuclear deterrence force, or figure out how to prevent some rag-tag bunch of cyber terrorists from obtaining every bit of personal/private information that I put on my security clearance application.  Or figuring out how to actually win the PR war against ISIS…After all, isn’t this the land of Mad Men, Cyber-superiority and endless imagination?  I just can’t figure out how those ISIS characters continue to scoop the US in the world of social media.  A cynic might think we should hire ISIS to do the recruiting ads for us…(that’s just a joke for you NSA guys monitoring my web site!!)

The point is it is stunning to me that we have only decided to look at JSF CAS capabilities decades into its development and well past the point of no return.  We will spend Tens of Millions of dollars to find out the answer to a question to which we already know the answer.  I guess that I’m not surprised since given the copious quality of cash flowing through the JSF coffers, a few Tens of Millions of dollars probably don’t even break the event horizon.

But I digress….To continue the JSF/A-10 CAS saga, after the OSD poobahs announced the “fly-off”, Air Force Chief of Staff, General Mark Welsh says, “I think is would be a silly exercise.”  YA THINK???? Of course, after he made those remarks, I’m sure he had a little one-on-one counseling over at the Pentagon.  Hence, a few days later it was announced that the Air Force leadership is “fully on-board with the planned test schedule.”  Sigh, you can’t make this stuff up!

I guess you are wondering which jet I think will win.  The Warthog, of course.  The A-10 was designed with a single purpose in mind…CAS.  You know what? my guess is that if they did a fly-off between the JSF and the A-6 Intruder for gunsight bombing, the A-6 would reign supreme!

This whole episode reminds me of a quote by Emerson,”A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” I’m all for protecting our brave troops on the ground,but I think that there will be plenty of 21st Century weapons system available to do that without the A-10.

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The Name Game

Those of you who have read some of my previous musings know that I have a bee in my bonnet about Pentagon “Double Speak.”  You know… the overly complicated buzzwords and phrases for simple things.  Here’s a link to one of my articles that has some examples. A few of my favorites include:

  • New Presence Paradigm: Overseas Bases
  • Hybrid Contingencies: Kludges
  • Proxy Groups: Terrorists
  • Dynamic Environment: The Real World
  • Asymmetric Approaches: More with less
  • Rebalance Tooth-to-Tail: Cut contractors
  • Win Decisively: Win
  • Rebalance: Cut
  • “Opportunity, Growth, and Security” Initiative: Slush Fund
  • Innovation:  Not in DoD dictionary
  • Multi-lateral Security Architecture: Treaty
  • Force Planning Construct: Size
  • Efficiencies: Negative Budget Wedges

As I was reading the news this morning, I found this article on the name change of the “Air Sea Battle” concept in DoD Buzz.  So forget about Air-Sea Battle and let me introduce you to Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons! True to form, the Joint Staff has managed to take a relatively simple name and complicate it to the point of non understanding. Of course what would  a new concept be without its accompanying acronym, JAM-GC?  I suppose the pronunciation will be JAM-Jic or something like that.   I can here the conversation in the Pentagon Food Court now, “What are you working on now?”….”Oh, I’m now the JAM-Jic lead and believe you me there’s lots of jamming and jickin to be done now that this Air-Sea thing has vaporized.”

So, I was never a fan of the Air-Sea Battle thing.  IMHO, it was just a budget ploy by the Air Force ( and a somewhat reluctant Navy) to show relevance in an era where it’s relevance was waning.  It’s not the first time the Air Force, after becoming alarmed by increasing dependence on  and relevance of naval forces, began to seek ways to move into Navy mission territory.   This always puzzled me, because in my mind it’s always be a air-sea-land battle.  Especially as the perceived budget pressures have forced all the Services to cut force structure.  In any serious and protracted campaign, the Navy needs  Air Force tanking and command and control capabilities.  And the Air Force relies on the assets from the Navy with little or no support requirements to beef up the Joint Force.  It was never clear to me why Air Force and Navy needed to invent a “new concept”  for something that has always existed….except for the issue of the Joint Strike Fighter.  This $160 Billion over-budget, 7 year-late program is costing the King’s treasure and consuming all other aspects of the budgets of both services. Why not influence operational concepts as well?  The story line?  Air Force and Navy are inextricably linked by the Air-Sea Battle Concept and we must have the JSF to make it work.  To the Hawks on the Hill, this can be a very compelling argument.  One wonders what was going through the minds of the Army folks while they watched this little menage a deux develop.

Well, I guess the Army dusted things up enough to cause a name change, albeit no less threatening to their budget.  As they say in the Patriot’s locker room, “All’s fair in love and war!” So to appease the Army, it appears we now have a new concept.  And the name is a doozy…..Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons.  320px-Shipping_routes_red_blackAccess is there to appease the Air Force and Navy, while Maneuver is there to keep the Army below the horizon of the doctrinal landscape.

I have to comment that the new name doesn’t do much for me…..especially the Global Commons piece.  To this dinosaur, Global Commons is just a hoity-toity  pretentious way for the Pentagon illuminati to show how deep their thoughts are.  What is/are the Global Commons?  Here’s what Wikipedia says:

a term typically used to describe international, supranational, and global resource domains in which common-pool resources are found. Global commons include the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the deep oceans, the atmosphere, outer space and the Northern and Southern polar regions, the Antarctic in particular. Cyberspace may also meet the definition of a global commons.

I am assuming that in the context of the Pentagon’s understanding, global commons to us unenlightened means “the places we want to be, that others don’t want us to be.”  My suggestion for the name of the concept would be the “Enter, Conquer,Stay, Operate” Concept, ECSO  or EkSo.  It’s sooooo much nicer than Jam-Jic, Don’t you think?

Anyway, as we face serious and deadly threats from everywhere and everything, Syria, Afghanistan, ISIS/L,Budgets, cyber, meteorites, ebola, global warming, etc., it’s good to know we still have thinkers working on US access and maneuver in the Global Commons.

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Plugging the DFAS Dam

I saw a reprint of an article done by Reuters the other day entitled “Special Report: The Pentagon’s doctored ledgers conceal epic waste” and even though it’s almost a year old, I think it still applies.  DFAS Leak height= In just a few days, all the big accounting firms that do business with DoD will be submitting proposals to conduct audits of the the Army, Navy and Air Force Statements of Budgetary Activity (SBA)……that’s a high level balance sheet that has little applicability to the actual management of anything.  Experience in auditing the Marine Corps proved that trying to do anything else was futile.  One just has to read the Reuters article on “Plugs” to see just how daunting a task auditing any of the services really is.  Inventing phantom ledger entries or “plugs” to explain away imbalances in the “goes-intas” and the “goes-outtas” is apparently the norm at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.  What’s a little disturbing about this whole audit thing, is that many of these sins will go unexamined because they do not necessarily impact the SBA. See my article “DoD Audit:  Is the cure worse than the disease?” for the details about just what the SBA is all about.

In fairness, I think the article’s title is misleading in that I doubt if the motivation behind plugging in numbers is a desire to conceal waste, but rather it’s the normal way of balancing the books in order to satisfy the Treasury Department.  The real motivation is to keep the heat off oneself ……does that sound familiar?  Think about recent VA scandal…..I doubt if the real motivation was to  make sure deserving veterans didn’t get appointments, but it was done to keep the front office happy.  Never mind that the green eye shades at Treasury are apparently more interested in balancing the numbers as opposed to the reliability of the numbers used to balance (a la VA!).  It’s been going on for years, so that’s a good indication that nobody cares.  Unlike the VA however, the DFAS guys were caught and still nobody cares!

But we do care these days about getting the DoD auditable.  And the Pentagon’s efforts to get to auditability have been extensive and expensive, with some modest results.  Take a look at the USMC……their SBA has passed audit scrutiny for two years running now.  Some months ago I wrote an article on the USMC audit, “Hall of Heroes and Auditors“, which is worth reviewing for context for what follows.

I support the efforts of DoD to get auditable, but only in so far as those efforts are done for the right reasons….not to keep the front office happy, but to make sure DoD is properly accounting for dollars….When they say “We don’t have money for pay raises”, or “Retiree health care is costing us too much,” or “We have to furlough employees,” are they using data from the system that “plugs” in nonexistent dollars to satisfy the front office?  Who knows if the numbers they are quoting are accurate, given the evidence that the numbers are inherently inaccurate!  My point is DoD audits are only interesting science projects for green eyeshades if we are only auditing things that don’t matter.  SBA audits are interesting, but not compelling. We must follow on and audit all the other aspects of DoD financial accounting and property, plant and equipment inventories. That’s the plan (I think), but after DoD has spent collectively over $200 Million just to get to SBA audit, will they have the fortitude to go further into the things that really matter? Will Congress let them? Will the operational pressures in an very unstable, terrorist filled world trump mundane administrative exercises like audits? Roulette height=Stay tuned, but I think with sequestration about to raise its head once again, the President under pressure to mount military responses to multiple spots around the globe, and political stalemate in the Congress, betting on continued funding for DoD audits is at best like wagering on red or black at the roulette wheel at Trump Towers in Atlantic City (ooppppsss, it’s out of business, so how about The Nugget in Las Vegas?).

So don’t get too worked up and break out the champagne  if it turns out the the service SBA’s pass audit ( they are likely to do so because of the limited scope and usefulness).  Instead remember:

  1. It’s only the SBA, a very limited look into DoD finances.
  2. No one uses the SBA to manage anything.
  3. It only looks at one year…Past sins are ignored.
  4. DFAS is still using plugs to balance the books.
  5. It may be done by the cheapest bidder (As a stockholder, would you want the firm you have your life savings in to use the cheapest auditor?).
  6. Because all the audits are being done at the same time, chances are all the firms will be battling for manpower and may not be hiring the most competent auditors (assuming they hire auditors).  We may even have to open up an auditor refugee camp to handle the influx of auditors to the Beltway.

So to sum it all up, I wholeheartedly support ensuring the DoD manages it funds effectively, efficiently and accurately.  I’m not sure an audit of the SBA does any of those things. Victory is not a clean opinion on the SBA, it’s a clean opinion on the whole enchilada.

PS: Please do not reverse the order of this article’s title, no matter how applicable it may seem 😉

 

 

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A-10 and Reality

I just reread the summary of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed by the House on a vote of 385-98.  At the end of the day, it appears that the House was not interested in agreeing with many of the cost cutting proposals that DoD had hoped for.  Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) is not an option (see Bric-a-BRAC) , and it looks like the Air Force can keep it’s A-10’s for now.  When all is totaled up, the bill accounts for just a shade over $600 Billion in spending.  That number is a far cry from what the sequestration number would have been, thanks to the BiPartisan Budget Agreement, but 2016 will be another story.  A-10s The Senate also affirmed its desire to keep the A-10s in the inventory in its version of the NDAA.

I happen to agree with the Air Force that it is time for the A-10 to go.  It’s expensive to maintain and operate and doesn’t really have a place in the 21st Century battlefield.  It pains me to say that, because it was a good airplane for the mission, tank killing and Close Air Support. Intruder in the Spagetti My airplane was also the victim of affordability cuts and the entire fleet was scrapped right after it had undergone an expensive and extensive rehabilitation effort.  I’m talking about the A-6 Intruder, retired in 1997.  No one came to its rescue unlike the A-10.  I’m not quite sure why the A-6 retirement didn’t kick up more dust back then except to say that times were tough, money was tight, and everyone recognized the an airplane like the A-6 was vulnerable at low levels against the threat and that with weapons improvements we just didn’t need an airplane that could carry twenty-two 500 pound Mk-82 bombs.  What’s the point?  With Tomahawks and Joint Stand Off Weapons there was just no need for the A-6.  The same is true for the A-10, in my opinion. With today’s technology, the threat environment where the A-10 would be operating would not be survivable.  The assumption is that in order to use the A-10, we would have to have Air Supremacy (meaning no enemy airplane flying) and completely neutralized the hand-held SAM threat on the ground.  That’s a tall order!

In today’s world with armed drones…..oooopppps….i meant to say Remotely Piloted Aircraft, there’s just no need to put aircrew at risk.  Add to that the expense in maintaining the A-10 and it’s just not worth it……at least not to the Air Force.  It IS apparently worth it to members on the Hill who have A-10’s flying in their districts, and the hundreds of airmen required to be in each squadron to maintain the A-10. Sometimes it’s hard to admit you are flying a dinosaur that just doesn’t have a home in the 21st Century.

 

 

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Neglected Nightmares and Forgotten Dreams

I know.  I know.  You are asking what can this article possibly be about? Well, it’s all about the DoD budget (the Dream) and sequestration (the Nightmare).  I’ve been talking to a few budget folks over the past week and asking how is this year compared to others in terms of pain.  The universal answer has been “Not so bad this year.”  But soon all our dreams of finally getting some sanity in the budget process will give way to the nightmarish and forgotten process known as Sequestration.  It’s been quite a journey to get to where the DoD budget is today.  Despite all the dire warning about sequestration, all seems to be well for now.  There’s some squeaking from the fringes about cuts to force structure, BRAC, pay and benefit cuts, rising health care costs,  etc.  There are still some struggles going in within the Navy about how many carriers and other combatants the Navy can afford.  The Air Force is struggling to make ends meet by removing the A-10 from the battlefield, and the Army and Marine Corps are wrestling with end-strength reductions.  Seems like a normal day in DC.  I mentioned it’s been quite a journey to get here, and an improbable one at that.  Let’s just review the history in case visiting Aliens would like a quick briefing (Do you think they would believe it?) or you want to explain it to your grandchildren.

August  2011.  The President signed the Budget Control Act of 2011.  The debt ceiling debate was in full swing but the BCA saved the day ( or so we thought).  It did a few things:

  • Raised the debt ceiling to $14.694 Trillion (bumped up another $500 Billion in Oct 2011)
  • Cut spending for 10 years by about $917 Billion, roughly half for DoD
  • Set up the Congressional “Super Committee” to find another $1.2 Trillion in cuts over 10 years.  If they were unable to do so by December 2011, than a series of mandatory cuts would kick in.
  • Required a vote on a Balanced Budget Amendment (which failed)
  • Monkeyed around with graduate and professional student loans, although it increased funding for Pell Grants

December 2011.  Oooops.  The “Super Committee flopped” so the arbitrary cuts demanded by sequestration loomed for next year’s budget.

February 2012.  DoD Budget for 2013 ignores sequestration.

December 2012.  DoD finally starts planning for possible 2013 spending reductions demanded by sequestration.

January 1, 2013.  The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 delays sequestration to March 1, 2013, and cuts some of the sequestration caps.

March 2013.  Continuing Resolution funds Government till end of September 2013

October 1-16, 2013.  Government Shuts down.

October 16, 2013.  Congress passes the Continuing Appropriations Act, 2014 which funded the Government through February 2014 (actually it extended the debt ceiling limit)

December 26, 2013.  President signs the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 which restored $45 Billion of sequestration cuts in 2014 and $11 Billion in 2015 by adding sequestration cuts to 2022 and 2023.

It this any way to run a railroad?  No wonder nothing works right and everything the government does costs more.  There’s no stability to allow for any sort of long-range plan.  But you all know that.  The point of all this is that through a series of improbable event, we have managed to kludge together funding to keep the US in business (such as it is).  But there’s nothing in the works that I know of to fix 2016, the budget that being build right now in the Pentagon.  And just like a scene out of Ground Hog Day, DoD is putting together a budget that ignores sequestration.  Here’s a chart right out of the DoD 2015 Budget Briefing.  Notice that there is no mention of sequestration (except to exclude it). DoD FY15 Budget Proposal Summary   Now here’s a rough chart (I’m sure the numbers are off slightly) of what sequestration funding levels are relative to the DoD budget.  Notice it’s $115 Billion out of round through 2019.  That’s how much money the Pentagon is stuffing into the budget over sequestration spending levels. DoD_Sequester_Comparison The only point of this little tale is to impress upon you how important it is that we get this fixed.  We can’t keep grinding our people into the dirt with endless budget drills which make no sense.  There are three possible strategies to deal with the situation IMHO:

  1. Business as usual. The politicians will fix it just like last time.  (The Hope gambit and our current vector)
  2. Force DoD to plan for Sequestration in 2016 and beyond. (The Defeatist gambit)
  3. 1 and 2 (The “Probably what’s happening in the Pentagon, but no one will admit it” gambit)

Where do I come down?…..What the heck….let’s go for number 1.  It worked last time and the politicians always fix it in the end, no matter how much pain gets inflicted in the process. And so it goes………..

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Blaming the innocent and rewarding the guilty!

When I was a young, steely-eyed Naval Flight Officer attending the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School with no apparent fear of death, one of the classes I took was in project management.  I have always remembered the day we talked about the phases of any project:

  1. Elation—“This is gonna be fun!”
  2. Concern—“This is turning out to be harder than I thought”
  3. Confusion–“I have no idea what I’m supposed to be doing”
  4. Terror–” If I don’t get this done, my career is over!”
  5. Laying Low –“Someone is gonna be blamed for this” (sometimes known as Search for the Guilty)
  6. Relief–“Too bad they blamed Joe…He was the only bright spot on the project.  At least it’s not me.” (Blaming of the innocent)
  7. Dismay–“I can’t believe Fred got promoted as a result of this lousy project.” (Promotion of the uninvolved)

This little parable was triggered by a commercial I heard on the radio this morning.  It was one of those commercials one only hears in DC, always during commute hours.  You know them….It’s always one of the big defense hardware manufacturers extolling the virtues of their system.  It’s especially prevalent right now since the budget is being rolled out.  I don’t know about you, but do you think anyone who is in a position to make a decision really listens to that pablum?  The big boys and girls that matter in the decision chain are all driven to work and are sitting in the back seat of the big black Town Car or Navigator trying to finish up all the paperwork they took home last night, but didn’t get to.  The same thing is true on the Metro. Do you think any of them are riding the Metro?   The closer you get to the Pentagon, the more you see all those very expensive posters about some plane, ship, tank, bomb, missile, …you name it!  I just can’t figure out why they spend all that money on that stuff.  My advice to clients is that if you hear one of those commercials or see one of those posters, the subject  is likely in trouble either within DoD or on the Hill.

So take the example of Boeing advertising the F/A-18 and P-8 aircraft.  Their claim is that they are both being delivered under budget and on-time.  That may or may not be true, but in my opinion they are both among the best managed and best value weapons systems ever delivered to the DoD.  One thing’s for sure, you don’t hear that claim for the JSF.  Remember, that’s the program that is 6 years behind and $163 Billion over budget.  Who was the big winner in the DoD budget for 2015?  The JSF, of course.  And who was the big loser? The F/A-18.  Talk about rewarding the guilty and punishing the innocent!

So my recommendation to Boeing is change the commercial, stressing how much money the F/A-18 costs and how woefully behind schedule it is.  Then people will take note and pour money into the program.  There’s an old saying in my house: “The sick get sicker, and the healthy usually wind up catching whatever it is the sick have and get sick too!”

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Too Big To Fail

If you saw the Sixty Minutes piece on the JSF last night, you probably not a happy camper.  The opening salvo was pretty staggering: The program is costing $400B for 2400 airplanes, or about twice as much as the US spent to put men on the moon!  So how did we get here?  When I was a squadron Commanding Officer in the 1991 timeframe I witnessed a rare occurrence at the Pentagon, The cancellation of the A-12 Avenger program by then Secretary of Defense Cheney.  The A-12,intended to be the next generation aircraft for the US military, was scheduled for a buy of about 850 jets.  But it was 18 months behind and already $1 Billion over budget, so SECDEF axed it! The JSF didn’t just wind up 7 years behind and $163 Billion over budget overnight, so one wonders why subsequent SECDEFs let it get this far.  I think we got here in much the same way that the DoD ethics problem evolved……just a little at a time.  Despite all the warning signs and poor performance,  leadership allowed it to continue with the “hope” that with the proper amount of money and leadership, the problems would go away.  They didn’t.  All successful military officers and corporate executives know one fundamental tenet of leadership: Hope is not a good strategy.  Yet it appears that was the main strategy at work with the JSF.  I am reminded of the classic The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis in which a senior executive devil, Screwtape, provides advice to his nephew, Wormwood, an apprentice devil.  When asked by Wormwood what big event he should use to cause his assigned mortal to turn to the dark side, Screwtape replies, “Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one–the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts,…” Sound familiar?

Now the program has a gun to our heads.  It’s the only TACAIR replacement on the books, not withstanding the excellent and under-rated F-18E/F, which, by the way, is a perfectly acceptable alternative well into the 21st century.  It’s ironic that in order to pay for the ever increasing JSF price tag, DoD wound up taking money highly successful programs, like the F/A-18 .  We now must resort to a strategy of hope to deliver the JSF.  There’s a lot of similarity here with ERPs, don’t you think?

There’s a lesson to be learned here.  Be vigilant early in procurement programs. Don’t let the little things get by without correction, lest one finds oneself on “the gentle slope, soft underfoot” of Too Big To Fail.

 

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Cheating Nukes

CheatingThe fact that half the officers with the Nuclear Keys at Malmstrom AFB appear to be connected in some way to the emerging exam cheating scandal gives me the heebie-jeebies. SECAF James is admirably stepping up to get things turned around. This article in AF Times says SECDEF Hagel and SECAF James are convening the inevitable commission to admire the problem. Among other things they are going to consider are cultural issues, differences between testing and training, accountability, professional training, core values, incentives, et.al. WOW!
But I don’t think these folks decided to cheat or permit those who do to be counted among their rank since they joined the Air Force. Can a dishonest person be trained to be honest? I recall a Seinfield episode in which George was confronted by his boss about an incident of making woopie with the maid in the office. “Was that wrong?” asked George, “because if I had known, I would not have done it.” I shudder to think that one of the nuclear officers may have had a similar reaction. My contention is that these officers just didn’t decide to cheat on the nuclear exam on a whim. They were just going about their day-to-day activities without thinking. In his book “The Screwtape Letters”, C.S. Lewis describes the mentoring of a young devil under training, Wormwood, by his Uncle Screwtape, a member of the Senior Devil Service (SDS). The young trainee is having trouble getting his “patient” (victim) to turn to the dark side. He asks Uncle Screwtape what big event can he orchestrate. Screwtape replies that he’s not interested in big events. “The road to Hell is a gradual one.”
I’m sure the accused at Malmstrom are all decent people, but somewhere, sometime long ago they started a “gradual descent” that hopefully will be arrested and corrected by the efforts of Air Force leadership. But let’s not kid ourselves. Morals, ethics, and accountability need to be nurtured from our first gasp out of the womb, to our last gasp on the battlefield, not in a seminar for adults who hold the keys to the nuclear kingdom.

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