Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Acquisition 101

Curt LeMay must be spinning in his grave.

The man who built Strategic Air Command into the nation's primary nuclear deterrent force, understood a few things about the weapons acquisition process. Buy the best, buy in sufficient quantities and don't ever divide the contract between multiple firms.

Under his leadership, the Air Force bought more than 700 B-52s and over 800 KC-135s. Remarkably, almost 100 of the venerable bombers are still in service, as are more than 400 of the Eisenhower-era tankers. Both came from a single manufacturer--Boeing--and they are among a handful of aircraft to complete more than 50 years of continuous service.

As LeMay understood, there were inherent advantages in that old-fashioned approach to procurement. Larger "buys" lowered unit costs; awarding the contract to a sole contractor simplified support over the life-cycle of the aircraft. Settling on a single airframe also saved time and money on everything from spare parts to crew training.

My, how times have changed.

Fifty years after the B-52s and KC-135s began arriving in SAC units, the defense establishment is preparing to do the unthinkable, and split the next Air Force tanker contract between two designs, the Boeing KC-767 and the Northrop/Grumman/Airbus KC-30. With Congress hopelessly deadlocked over which aircraft to support, a "split" contract may be the only hope for getting a new refueling platform.

Support for the plan has been building slowly since last year, when the GAO overturned a contract awarded to Northrop-Grumman. But a possible tipping point was reached in recent days, with both Northrop and rival Boeing indicating a willingness to divide the tanker contract.

If Congress goes along--a very real possibility--both firms would split the deal, building 90 aircraft apiece. That will keep the contractors (and politicians) happy, but it promises to create a training and logistics nightmare for the USAF. Both tankers will need their own logistical chain, maintenance network and crew training system. Two different tankers; multiply the support costs by that same number.

It makes absolutely no sense, but the tanker "solution" is a sad reflection of our politicized procurement system. More disturbingly, the split buy will set a terrible precedent for other controversial weapons system. If it succeeds in having it "both ways" with the new tanker, Congress will simply dig in its heels and demand the division of other contracts. Programs that can't be easily split will face cancellation, a la CSAR-X.

Officially, the Pentagon remains committed to a "winner-take-all" competition for the new tanker. But the handwriting for dual sourcing appears to be on the wall. Key Congressman--including Pennsylvania's John Murtha--are lining up behind the idea, and lawmakers may insert language into defense authorization bills to support a split buy.

Whatever his weaknesses as a SecDef, Robert Gates is a master at gauging the prevailing political winds. Mr. Gates knows he can't cancel the new tanker program, and he understands that sole sourcing may be politically impossible. So, don't be surprised if you see two new tankers at Air Force bases in the very near future.

9 comments:

Glenmore said...

There is one good reason for splitting procurements like this (though it is not the actual reason) - it helps maintain the contractor viability in times of low demand so they will be there to ramp up if you need them.

Ed Rasimus said...

The contractor viability issue is a bad argument. The merging of defense contractors has created mega-corps with diversification that can't be appreciated until you start digging. When I was at Northrop on the YF-23 program, it was the first time I realized that beyond the aircraft division there was the B-2 guys, the satellite and missile bunch, the UAV kiddies and a lot of cats and dogs doing contract work. Today Northrop is one of the largest SHIP building contractors!

A two type buy is a disaster. It is simple political pandering by 535 fools who don't know which end the tanker passes gas out of. Crews, maintainers, training facilities and logistics are just the tip of the incompatibility iceberg.

The operational end of the force needs tankers badly. They needed them twenty years ago and will need them for the foreseeable future at this rate.

The rise of the politically expedient general officer is at least partly to blame in this mess.

Joseph said...

I agree with Ed. As the newest KC-135 schoolhouse instructor at Altus, the prevailing mood is rather sour. We just combined two training squadrons into one, with the expectation of the old squadron to be reopened when the KC-X rolls off the line. People here expect that to happen in about 10-15 years. I don't have insight into the costs of training/maintaining/operating two refueling platforms now (KC-10/-135) but just think about this: Every time one of the platforms gets an upgrade (and I use the term upgrade loosely) the other platform expects one thereafter. So not only do we get twice the operating costs, but more than twice the upgrading costs, because of the r&d that goes into separate upgrades.

HL Shancken said...

KGB assets like Jack Murtha can be counted on to weaken our military. It's a systematic process that must be done covertly over a long period of time, in ways both large and small. Money is purposely misspent, priorities are purposely misdirected, policies are purposely misguided.

After the second world war the Soviets understood that the U.S. was much too powerful to be destroyed militarily unless it could be tremendously weakened and Communist forces strengthened.

A very detailed and elaborate long-range strategy was officially put into effect in November 1960 at the 81 Party Congress. It is based on deception and relies on infiltration and subversion of all aspects of American life. Evidence of its success saturates the American people, but like fish, they have no idea they are underwater.

We refuse to allow ourselves to believe that it could be possible that we have been and continue to be deceived. We refuse to believe that foreign powers control our decision-makers. We refuse to believe that our ten divisions and paltry sum of nuclear weapons could do anything but win against the forces that are so clearly aligned against us and equally clearly systematically preparing our destruction.

In 2005 I was in brief email contact with a Ukrainian reporter who split his time between his country and ours. He told me a story about how in 1986 he was a child in school, and because of the Chernobyl meltdown experiment conducted by the Soviet government, he was evacuated to live with relatives in another part of Ukraine unaffected by radiation.

He recalls that he had much idle time when he arrived at his relatives' and to kill time he went to an early morning showing of a movie. He said that because it was a weekday the theater would have been empty, had it not been for a large group of men dressed in cheap suits smoking foreign cigarettes.

The movie, titled Hunting for Brain, he assumed would be a horror movie, but instead, this movie that he and a group of KGB officers watched was an instructional video. The movie explained that the Communist revolution was about to enter a new period that would include tactical changes. It was expalined that overt and heavy-handed coercion of both Soviet and non-communist populations such as had been practiced to greater and, later, after Stalin, lesser degrees throughout Soviet bloc Communist Party history was going to be replaced by the utilization of mass media, both domestically and abroad. It was pointed out in the movie that United States mass media had been carefully studied and was acknowledged to be superior to typical Communist Party means of influencing and controlling populations.

The Kiev journalist I talked to knows the score. He knows the collapse was staged. He knows that the American people now think what the Kremlin wants them to think.

Impossible to believe? Only to you.

There are enough communist agents in place in the government, the military, and the private sector to carry out the kind of sabotage descibed in "Acquisition 101." In the grand scheme of things this foolish procurement is a minor thing, but the communists owe their success to understanding that no detail is to be overlooked, no opportunity squandered.

As a footnote, don't be surprised to see no new tankers built at all. The second shoe of the communist-engineered financial crisis has yet to drop, and when it does, the military budget will be slashed to the bone. Don't think it won't happen, and when it does, don't think it wasn't by design.

Ken Prescott said...

"Impossible to believe? Only to you."

It's impossible to believe, mostly because the notion that a child could just happen to walk in on a KGB instructional film at the local cinema runs entirely counter to logic, common sense, and anything resembling the USSR's normal habit of engaging in pathological degrees of INFOSEC.

LGD said...

You are correct, General LeMay.

Having two different types of tankers would be like having two types of heavy bomber, the B-17 and the B-24. That will never work.

And having the B-17 built by several different companies? That will never work, either.

Good thinking, General. I mean, that would be a silly as the Navy and the Army Air force having different kinds of fighters and single-engine bombers. The national industrial infrastructure could never support that kind of diversification.

Arthur Borges said...

Let's not call a heart a spade.

If Boeing is suddenly open to a compromise, it's because its bird isn't meeting the specs and the Airbus offer is the better deal.

It's an Airbus.

European.

That's the spade.

HL Shancken said...

"It's impossible to believe, mostly because the notion that a child could just happen to walk in on a KGB instructional film at the local cinema runs entirely counter to logic, common sense, and anything resembling the USSR's normal habit of engaging in pathological degrees of INFOSEC."


And yet, there it is. Unless we're telecommunicating, we never really know who's on the other end of the conversation, do we? What I do know is that I exchanged a couple emails with a man who said he was a Ukrainian reporter, who wrote in broken english, and told me the story I relayed here, as well as some other things. How much was true, how much was lost in translation, who knows? I didn't maintain contact with the man and filed the story away. In any event it wouldn't matter if the guy was a Ukrainian reporter or a disenchanted officer of the KGB or the reincarnation Felix Dzerzhinsky himself, because whatever he said is something you would choose not to believe, anyway.

492X1 said...

agree with Ed,,,politicians will screw it up everytime..scary