Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Heavy-Fuel Naval UAV

Elbit's Hermes 90 Completes First Flight. Flight International (9/29, Egozi) reported, "Elbit Systems has performed the first flight of its Hermes 90 unmanned air vehicle powered by a heavy-fuel engine." Haim Kellerman, general manager of Elbit's UAV division, "says the event marks a significant milestone in the company's naval activities." The article noted heavier fuel "provides significant advantages" over automobile gasoline "in the naval and maritime environment, by enabling UAV operations and refuelling to be conducted from naval vessels."

Since Elbit is an Isreali firm, this dovetails quite nicely into the Dayton UAV development center and the recent Dayton-Isreal trade agreements.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Five Points for Acquisition Reform

Concluding Observations on Achieving Lasting Reform:

I would like to offer a few thoughts about other factors that should be considered so that we make the most out of today's opportunity for meaningful change. First, I think it is useful to think of the processes that affect weapon system outcomes (requirements, funding, and acquisition) as being in a state of equilibrium. Poor outcomes--delays, cost growth, and reduced quantities--have been persistent for decades. If we think of these processes as merely "broken", then some targeted repairs should fix them. I think the challenge is greater than that. If we think of these processes as being in equilibrium, where their inefficiencies are implicitly accepted as the cost of doing business, then the challenge for getting better outcomes is greater. Seen in this light, it will take considerable and sustained effort to change the incentives and inertia that reinforce the status quo.

Second, while actions taken and proposed by DOD and Congress are constructive and will serve to improve acquisition outcomes, one has to ask the question why extraordinary actions are needed to force practices that should occur normally. The answer to this question will shed light on the cultural or environmental forces that operate against sound management practices. For reforms to work, they will have to address these forces as well. For example, there are a number of proposals to make cost estimates more rigorous and realistic, but do these address all of the reasons why estimates are not already realistic? Clearly, more independence, methodological rigor, and better information about risk areas like technology will make estimates more realistic. On the other hand, realism is compromised as the competition for funding encourages programs to appear affordable. Also, when program sponsors present a program as more than a weapon system, but rather as essential to new fighting concepts, pressures exist to accept
less than rigorous cost estimates. Reform must recognize and counteract these pressures as well.

Third, decisions on individual systems must reinforce good practices. Programs that have pursued risky and unexecutable acquisition strategies have succeeded in winning approval and funding. If reform is to succeed, then programs that present realistic strategies and resource estimates must succeed in winning approval and funding. Those programs that continue past practices of pushing unexecutable strategies must be denied funding before they begin. This will take the cooperative efforts of DOD and Congress.

Fourth, consideration should be given to setting some limits on what is a reasonable length of time for developing a system. For example, if a program has to complete development within 5 or 6 years, this could serve as a basis to constrain requirements and exotic programs. It would also serve to get capability in the hands of the warfighter sooner.

Fifth, the institutional resources we have must match the outcomes we desire. For example, if more work must be done to reduce technical risk before development start--milestone B--DOD needs to have the organizational, people, and financial resources to do so. Once a program is approved for development, program offices and testing organizations must have the workforce with the requisite skills to manage and oversee the effort. Contracting instruments must be used
that match the needs of the acquisition and protect the government's interests. Finally, DOD must be judicious and consistent in how it relies on contractors.
--Statement of Paul Francis, Managing Director:
Acquisition and Sourcing Management

I especially like the focus on the system and incentives that tend to lead to certain outcomes rather than a focus on particular techniques or methodologies. Mandating techniques for cost estimation or risk management is a waste of time, any mandated technique will be gamed because of the pressures and incentives inherent in the system.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Dayton UAV Center Funding

Ohio releases $2.5M for Dayton UAV center. Dayton Business Journal (9/15, Cogliano) reported,

Money to launch a center for unmanned aircraft is on the way to Dayton.

The state controlling board Monday released $2.5 million to the University of Dayton’s IDCAST, which submitted the proposal for the UAV center — called the Center for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles Exploitation.

The 6,000-square-foot UAV center will be located in the 25,000-square-foot Air Force Center for Rapid Product Development, at 104 Janney St. in Dayton. The project advances unmanned aerial vehicle technology by supporting research for national security and emergency response applications.

In May, the state awarded $3 million to launch the center as part of its Wright Projects Program.The state released the first part, $500,000, earlier this summer.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Competition is Good

Fixed Price Engine Offers Could Restart Debate On F-35. Flight International (9/17, Trimble) reported, "A General Electric/Rolls-Royce team has proposed a fixed price to deliver the fifth lot of low-rate initial production for the F136 alternate engine to power the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter." Pratt & Whitney also has a fixed price proposal if requested. "Both proposals are likely to reset debate about the alternate engine in the US Congress, which is considering the Department of Defense's request to cancel the F136."

Reminds one of Feynman's experience on the text book committee, give those suppliers a chance to compete that they didn't have before, and prices magically come down.

Here's what the GAO's report had to say:

In supporting the decision to cancel, officials focused only on the potential up-front savings in engine procurement costs. They did not, however, consider the full long-term savings that might accrue from competition for providing support for maintenance and operations over the life cycle of the engine. Both prior studies had recommended proceeding with the alternate engine program, despite the lack of significant procurement cost savings, because of a number of other benefits competition was likely to provide. Also in supporting the decision to cancel, officials cited favorable progress made by the primary JSF engine and its predecessor F-22A engine as reducing operational risks from a single source. However, the primary JSF engine has completed only a small portion of its ground tests and has not yet been flown, while the F-22A engine has completed about 10 percent of its hours needed for system maturity and is not currently meeting some reliability goals.
In response, DoD stated "data showing savings from competition do not exist." Wonder if this new data is enough to reconsider things?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Dayton Aero News

Gov. Strickland Designates Dayton As Aerospace Hub. The Dayton (OH) Daily News (9/9, Nolan) reports, "Ohio established an economic development precedent Tuesday, Sept. 8, by designating the Dayton region as a hub of aerospace innovation and opportunity." The designation by Gov. Ted Strickland "makes it the first such technology hub in the state, although there could be as many as three other such specialty designations statewide by year's end, he said during a Dayton visit." However, the governor "declined to be specific about how much money the state could make available to Dayton under the aerospace hub designation," even though he has "directed the Ohio Department of Development to form an advisory group of private and public executives to guide Ohio's efforts to support aerospace and business aviation development."

Also reported by DDN is the related story of a trade agreement between Dayton and Israel. "The agreement commits both sides to three years — and likely more —of cooperative efforts to develop new aerospace technology for military and commercial markets. Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, an Air Force hub of weapons and unmanned aircraft research and procurement, is a potential prime customer." The focus of the effort seems to be on sensors for surveillance and reconnaissance.

And in sensor news:

Selex Galileo Test Flies Falco UAV With PicoSAR Radar. Flightglobal (9/8, Hoyle) reported, "Selex Galileo has test flown a Falco unmanned air vehicle in the UK with its PicoSAR miniature synthetic aperture radar payload, and says the combination could play a valuable role in detecting improvised explosive devices." During the test flight, "the Falco tactical air vehicle was equipped with the active electronically scanned array PicoSAR and an electro-optical/infrared sensor for the recent trials activity." According to Galileo, "The high-resolution SAR, coupled with change detection, make the radar particularly useful for counter-IED missions, detecting disturbances in ground surface."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Limited Oversight

Production, suppliers, quality control and all that...
DOD's acquisition environment does not provide incentives to prime contractors to use best practices to efficiently build high-quality weapon systems. The department faces challenges setting achievable requirements for systems development and providing effective oversight during the development process. In conducting systems development, DOD generally pays the allowable costs incurred for the contractor's best efforts and accepts most of the financial risks associated with development because of technical uncertainties. However, DOD and its contractors often enter into development contracts before requirements have been analyzed with disciplined systems engineering practices. This introduces significant cost and schedule risk to a development program, risk that is not borne by the prime contractor, but by DOD. Contractors have little incentive to utilize the best systems engineering, manufacturing, and supplier quality practices to control costs. DOD also has limited oversight of prime contractor activities and does not aggregate quality data in a manner that helps decision makers assess or identify systemic quality problems. In contrast, commercial companies we visited operate in an environment that requires their own investment of significant funds to develop new products before they are able to sell them and recoup that investment. This high-cost environment creates incentives for reasonable requirements that have been analyzed and proven achievable, the use of best practices, and continuous improvement in systems engineering, manufacturing, and supplier quality activities. -- GAO Report 08294 (emphasis mine)

It's not just DoD product managers that can be led down the garden path to the "easy money" of low/no oversight and outsourcing critical tasks.
To save money and minimize its financial risk, Boeing outsourced not just production, but design and engineering in ways it had never done before.

"Boeing had this colonial model," says Ray Goforth, executive director of the engineers' union at Boeing. "They were going to be the colonial power, and they would have these colonies, and they would tell them what they needed, and the colonies would deliver the parts and they would reap the profit. It was really this arrogant vision of how this was going to work." -- NPR, "Boeing's Dreamliner..."

If your core competency is designing and manufacturing huge commercial aircraft, why would it be a good long-term solution to farm big chunks of that out? It seems like you are just sowing the seeds that will grow into future competitors. Or in the DoD's case, farming out all of the engineering design and production expertise, the seeds grow into in-house incompetence and "poor outcomes", as the GAO would say.

Another interesting snippet, from that same GAO report (emphasis mine):
... the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile program, developed by Lockheed Martin, has experienced a number of flight test failures that have underscored product reliability as a significant problem. Ground testing, which prime contractor officials said could have identified most of the failure modes observed in flight testing, did not occur initially. Prime contractor officials indicated that ground testing was not considered necessary because the program was a spin-off of a previous missile program and there was an urgent need for the new missile.

It's easy to convince ourselves that Nature should care about our sense of urgency, but how badly we need a thing doesn't change how much testing or design work is needed to successfully produce a thing. Urgency may affect our risk tolerance, but the urgency of bureaucrats is generally manufactured to satisfy political and budgetary pressures that may incidentally involve national security, weapon's reliability or troop survivability.

I think Richard Feynman put it best, at a commencement address
The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.

and in his work concerning the Challenger disaster
Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.