We are presented with a conundrum:
- Are lawmakers really this stupid?
- Are they just doing this for the camera, and they know it won’t work?
- Are we living in a Monty Python sketch?
- All of the above
Because, this is absolutely one of the weirdest things I’ve heard of, since Florida banned the words “global warming.” [the hill]
Lawmakers on Wednesday pressed F-35 maker Lockheed Martin to pay the Pentagon back millions of dollars in potentially lost labor after the firm delivered parts unable to be installed on the fighter jet.
But Greg Ulmer, Lockheed’s vice president for the F-35 program, would not commit to a figure to compensate the Defense Department for defective electronic equipment logs (EELs), saying it wasn’t entirely the company’s fault.
“It’s a complex problem. … It’s not all associated with Lockheed Martin performance. There’s many aspects relative to [parts that are] not ready for issue,” Ulmer told the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
Immediately following the meeting Ulmer excused himself, went to the bathroom, and the sound of maniacal laughter rang out. A passing intern said, “It sounded like someone was auditioning for an ‘evil dark lord’ role or something. That was some crazy witch king laughter.”
The Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA) has estimated that the Pentagon paid at least $183 million in labor costs since 2015 to fix the logs on more than 15,000 parts that Lockheed delivered.
Let me clarify that a bit for you, because it’s a bit hard to understand when it’s written in the original high weasel: The F-35 includes an automated parts inventory management system, which is used to track the flight time and status for each component, so maintenance can be scheduled to specification. In other words, it’s a database plus an annotation and tracking system, that updates with information downloaded from the aircraft whenever it is moved from where it’s parked. The DMCA has apparently spent at least $183mn fixing the data for 15,000 parts. That’s only $12,200 per part. I suspect that a significant amount of the problem is that the automated logistics system didn’t work right, so they test flew the planes a bunch and then someone said “now you have to back update all the component records for every plane that has been flown.” That’s actually not 100% pure compressed unreasonableness, because you don’t want to have a compressor fan with 2,000 flight hours in an engine that only has 100 flight hours and someone says “let’s fly this bad boy across the Atlantic!” Remember, it’s a plane that some genius put one engine in.
There’s a deeper problem in all of this, which is that the plane was put into limited operation while it was still under development. That has one big advantage, which is that it allows the DoD
o to pretend the plane works and is ready well before when it actually is. That way, they can buy lots of them when they’re not ready – and somehow magically rationalize all changed parts back across the entire inventory. If this sounds like an incompetently run kickstarter project from hell, that’s basically what it is. Except if you’re Microsoft or Apple you can get away with telling your customers “we don’t support that version anymore, buy a new one.” Because the reality is that the DoD should not have been forking over huge buckets of money, today, for an airplane that maybe will work next week.
Remember that part about how congress is supposed to have oversight over expenditures? It would have been an ultra-edgy move, but the Lockheed Martin guy could have just said, “you’re complaining to us that you failed to do your job?”
When you’re buying a used car, you’re expected to check it out and be reasonably sure that it’s working as well as you think it does. There are even “lemon laws” in some states, in which you can recover some of your money in the event that a car radically departs from its expected performance. This is because there are car sellers that will buy a written-off car that was, say, flooded on a new car lot and sold for parts after the insurance paid for it – then they clean the car up, re-title it, and sell it as nearly new (look: 102 miles on the odometer!) in spite of the fact that the electrical system has been permanently quirked by a soak in dirty water. That’s basically the F-35: it’s a lemon and the congressional committees responsible for oversight have begun to realize that they destroyed the air force by spending all the money on a piece of junk. You know what their answer is going to be, right?
Right: We need more money
[This is just to keep me from getting so depressed I stop breathing and die at my keyboard.]
Since the money valve has been jammed in the permanent “on” position, the next move ought to be pretty darned obvious: [dn]
WASHINGTON – The Air Force has officially placed an order for its first batch of F-15EXs, awarding Boeing a contract on Monday that puts a ceiling value for the entire program close to $23 billion.
The first delivery order, which has a not-to-exceed value of about $1.2 billion, covers the first lot of eight F-15EX fighter jets, as well as support and one-time, upfront engineering costs.
The contract award is a massive win for Boeing and gives a second life for the F-15 production line in St. Louis, Mo. After years of urging the Air Force to consider an advanced version of the F-15 as a complementary capability to Lockheed Martin’s F-35, Boeing found an ally in the Defense Department’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office, which in 2019 forced the service to purchase F-15EX planes in order to build capacity.
Awww the poor air force was held down in a hammer-lock by the Defense Department’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation Office which forced them to buy $23bn worth of aircraft to ‘supplement’ the most expensive aircraft procurement in history, which has not delivered what it was supposed to deliver.
The DoD is also playing its usual game, here. They’re building a new aircraft, and calling it a new model of an old aircraft, but it’s actually an updated ground-up design. The F-15E’s per-plane cost in 1998 was about $30mn. My amazing math powers tell me that the new ‘old’ aircraft will cost: $2.8bn. F-35s, at $100mn/plane, are cheaper. Isn’t that neat!? This is before the program experiences its inevitable planned cost overruns and the air force makes one of those “pay more, get less” deals that they are so fond of. My bet is that, since the program is not likely to be canceled, they will eventually pay $25bn for 6 aircraft instead of 8. Maybe we should set up a betting pool and see who can guess how bad it’s going to get? [OT: the navy is getting ready to pull the same shit, having an Italian ship builder build what could be called a ‘euro frigate’ to supercede the LCS, which has not managed to frigate worth a damn]
Although Air Force leaders at the time said that the service would have preferred funds to buy additional fifth generation planes like the F-35, officials now say that buying new F-15s is the quickest path for replacing aging Air National Guard F-15C/Ds that are reaching the end of their service lives.
“The F-15EX is the most affordable and immediate way to refresh the capacity and update the capabilities provided by our aging F-15C/D fleets,” Gen. Mike Holmes, Air Combat Command commander, said in a statement. “The F-15EX is ready to fight as soon as it comes off the line.”
Congress apparently has not asked “then why did we buy the F-35 in the first place?”
The contract includes options for up to 200 jets, with the Air Force projecting it will buy at least 144 F-15EX aircraft, said Air Force spokesman Capt. Jacob Bailey. Each jet is projected to have a unit flyaway cost of $87.7 million.
That ‘projected flyaway cost’ is as fictional as Harry Potter’s flying broom. Fully bulked-up it’ll probably cost $1 less than an F-35; that way they can say it’s cheaper.
What did you want, single-payer medical care? Teachers getting paid better than starvation wages? A medical agency that plans for responses to pandemics? No: you’re going to get another fast sled for delivering high explosive on anyone who disagrees with us. You want your money back!? Aaaahahahahahahahhaahahhahahahahahaahahahaahahaaaaa!!
Since I look forward to screaming “I told you so” as they throw me out of the plane, let me predict that this will open the floodgates on other services buying retro aircraft at nosebleed prices. The Navy’s going to need their own, and so are the Marines. Fucking ICE will probably need a custom combat jet, too! The ATM is spitting out bills; grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.
One question that often comes up when discussing re-builds of old aircraft is, “since they already know how to make an SR-71, why don’t they just dust off the blueprints and turn the crank and make a bunch more?” That’s not a stupid question, it just doesn’t take into account that manufacturing processes have changed profoundly since then. [I have also heard this question regarding the F-1 rocket engine that powered the Saturn-V] It’s not exactly that the know-how is gone; there are still people who can TIG weld like a motherfucker, and there are plenty of machinists – but if you went to those machinists and asked them to make an F-1 engine or an SR-71, they’d say “why?” And they’d be right. If you were making an SR-71 nowadays, you’d make the skin out of carbon/carbon, and you’d basically spin it on a gigantic loom driven by a network of computers. It would be lighter, more heat resistant, have a better radar cross-section, and … um… It’d cost a bazillion dollars more. But what’s crazy is you wouldn’t be hiring a ton of TIG artists to make a beautiful sculpture in titanium, you’d be doing a couple of test-runs on a very very expensive machine and then you’d print out an SR-71. Except, call it an SR-2020. It is not, as it’s fashionable to claim in some circles, that decadent American machinists no longer know how to make a J-87 turbo-ramjet, it’s that they’re smart enough not to. They’d spend a few years simulating it first and they’d design something smaller, more powerful, and better – but what it would not be is cheaper. If you took the old blueprints for a J-87 and gave them to a bunch of machinists and said “make me 2” they’d say “look, we’d be crazy to machine that part there out of a block of titanium when we can just 3D print the tooling and do a sintered titanium version and then we could make you 4,000 for the cost of machining you 10.” That’s the point of this extended micro-rant: the economics of scale have flipped around and machinists and people who hire machinists understand that. I suppose it was Henry Ford’s big idea.