Friday, December 16, 2011

McCain's Hangar Queen

Senator McCain's colorful statements about the F-22 are getting lots of coverage.

Another example of how flawed the Pentagon’s weapons procurement process is can be found in the F-22 RAPTOR program. When the Pentagon and the defense industry originally conceived of the F-22 in the mid-1980s, they intended it to serve as a revolutionary solution to the Air Force’s need to maintain air superiority in the face of the Soviet threat during the Cold War. The F-22 obtained ‘full operational capability’ twenty years later -- well after the Soviet Union dissolved. When it finally emerged from its extended testing and development phase, the F-22 was recognized as a very capable tactical fighter, probably the best in the world for some time to come. But, plagued with developmental and technical issues that caused the cost of buying to go through the roof, not only was the F-22 twenty years in the making, but the process has proved so costly that the Pentagon could ultimately afford only 187 of the planes -- rather than the 750 it originally planned to buy.

“Unfortunately, the F-22 also ended up being effectively too expensive to operate compared to the legacy aircraft it was designed to replace. It also ended up largely irrelevant to the most predominant current threats to national security -- terrorists, insurgencies, and other non-state actors. In fact, if one were to set aside the F-22’s occasional appearances in recent big-budget Hollywood movies where it has been featured fighting aliens and giant robots, the F-22 has to this day not flown a single combat sortie -- despite that we have been at war for 10 years as of this September and recently supported a no-fly zone in Libya.

“Politically engineered to draw in over 1,000 suppliers from 44 states represented by key Members of Congress and, by the estimates of prime contractor Lockheed Martin, directly or indirectly supporting 95,000 jobs, there can be little doubt that the program kept being extended far longer than it should have been -- ultimately to the detriment to the taxpayer and the warfighter. As such, it remains an excellent example of how much our defense procurement process has been in need in reform. We may fight a near-peer military competitor with a fifth-generation fighter capability someday, but we have been at war for 10 years and until a few months ago had been helping NATO with a no-fly zone in Libya. And, this enormously expensive aircraft sat out both campaigns.

“Moreover, as a result of problems with its OBOG (On-Board Oxygen Generating) system, which has caused pilots to get dizzy or, in some cases, lose consciousness from lack of oxygen, on May 3, 2011, the Air Force grounded its entire fleet of F-22s. While this grounding was lifted earlier this year, exactly why F-22 pilots have been experiencing hypoxia remains unknown -- but similar unexplained incidents continue.

“And then, there is the issue of the sky-rocketing maintenance costs to the Air Force in trying to sustain a barely adequate ‘mission capable rate’ for the F-22. Its seems that the ‘plug and play’ component maintenance features that were supposed to reduce costs for the Air Force over the life cycle of the aircraft doesn’t really play well. And, each time a panel is opened for maintenance, the costs to repair the ‘low-observable’ surface in order to maintain its stealthiness have made this critical feature of the aircraft cost-prohibitive to sustain over the long-run. Finally, it seems that the engineers and technicians designing the F-22 forgot a basic law of physics during some point of the development phase -- that dissimilar metals in contact with each other have a tendency to corrode. The Air Force is now faced with a huge maintenance headache costing over hundreds of millions of dollars-and-growing to keep all 168 F-22s sitting on the ramp from corroding from the inside out.

One thing is clear: because of a problem directly attributable to how aggressively the F-22 was acquired -- procuring significant quantities of aircraft without having conducted careful developmental testing and reliably estimating how much they will cost to own and operate -- the 168 F-22s, costing over $200 million each, may very well become the most expensive corroding hanger queens ever in the history of modern military aviation.

REMARKS BY SENATOR JOHN McCAIN ON THE “MILITARY-INDUSTRIAL-CONGRESSIONAL” COMPLEX

What bothers me most about the F-22 is not the maintenance problems, operational difficulties, or danger to air-crews. These require mere engineering fixes. What really bothers me is the damage these huge programs cause to rational risk assessment and national security.

"The reality is we are fighting two wars, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the F-22 has not performed a single mission in either theater," Gates told a Senate committee last week.

Carlson ["We think that [187 planes] is the wrong number"], however, told a group of reporters earlier in the week that the Air Force was "committed to funding 380" of the fighters, regardless of the Bush administration's decision.

According to an Air Force official briefed on the Thursday rebuke, Gates telephoned Air Force Secretary Michael W. Wynne, who was on vacation at the time, to express his displeasure with Carlson.

The senior defense official said Carlson's remarks, reported Thursday by the trade publication Aerospace Daily, angered the Pentagon's top leadership, adding that they were "completely unacceptable and out of line."

Fighter Dispute Hits Stratosphere

That's not something that more money or more technology can fix.

2 comments:

  1. I'm glad John McCain did not get elected President. He's of greater service to the Republic on the Senate Armed Services Committee: Competition and the Future of the EELV Program

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