Battleland

Conning The Currency

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They talk about the difficulty of building a plane in flight. That's what the Pentagon is doing with its F-35 / DoD photo by Julianne Showalter

The Pentagon’s habit of concurrency – building a weapon before you’ve finished the blueprints for it – is rearing its ugly head once again. Frankly, having witnessed it for decades, the logic behind it is less than compelling. It’s often cited as necessary to keep up with the Russians or the Chinese or the Somebody Else, but such races inevitably end up largely the fruit of some Pentagon thinker’s over-active imagination.

Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute notes on the Weekly Standard website that when it took too long to develop weapons in the late 1970s, the Reagan Pentagon responded by “embrac[ing] systematic concurrency.” Talk about pretzel logic: because weapons are so complex and take so long to build, let’s build them more quickly by starting production before we’ve finished the design. That’s not merely a self-licking ice cream cone; it throws in cows, milkmaids, cone-bakers and sprinkles as well.

Over at Aviation Week, Amy Butler writes about the inevitable snafus such boneheadedness is yielding on the $328 billion F-35 jet fighter program, the most costly in the history of this world:

The program was conceived by both the government and contractor 10 years ago to allow for — and many say embrace — significant concurrency in flight testing and production, and that vision has come to pass as did the reality that the risk of finding problems costs money. Flight testing will continue well into this decade, and the company is already conducting long lead activities for lot 5. It is also having to insert fixes into earlier designs via retrofit that were the results of problems discovered during flight testing.

There’s a battle now underway between the Pentagon and F-35 builder Lockheed, that goes something like this:

USG: We’ve paid every cent of retrofitting the first four lots of F-35 aircraft because of incomplete, fuzzy or wrong blueprints. Now that we’re negotiating your contract to build us the fifth lot, we want you to share in the cost of such retrofits.

Lockmart: Go to hell. We don’t do things that way.

Bottom line, back here on Earth: what’s the rush, guys? There is no one anywhere around with an air force as good as the U.S. Air Force (except the U.S. Navy. And the U.S. Marines). Concurrency makes sense when you’re in a rush to build something before your mortal foe does. Anything else is sheer idiocy. Alas, it’s also SOP at DOD.

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