Journal: Pentagon’s Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) as a Metaphor for a Predictable Defense Meltdown

Chuck Spinney

The recent publication of the 2010 QDR reveals once again, in typically leaden and mind-numbing prose, how the Pentagon is incapable of coming to grips with the mismatches among strategy, programs, and resources that its decision makers create for themselves, even when budgets are at the highest levels since the end of WWII.  The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (also called the JSF) has become a metaphor for the larger mess of the Pentagon's self-destructive pathological behavior.

Consider the first sentence in the report attached below — “If the Pentagon doesn’t get its Joint Strike Fighter just right, the U.S. military is screwed.”  Just right? Give me a break.

The JSF, like all Pentagon procurements, is in deep trouble, and Secretary Gates just fired the two-star program director and will replace him with three-star — apparently operating under the assumption that pumping up an already bloated bureaucracy will get the JSF problem “just right.”  That is more nonsense — this disaster was written in the wind: the seeds were planted in the early 1990s, and the outcome was perfectly predictable — the simple fact is that the JSF was doomed not to be the “right stuff” from the very beginning.

Of course the “wired” report, true to the spirit to today's context-free breathless media hype, says nothing about how this screwing came about.  It is presented as a sudden illumination.

In fact, the screwing is really a self inflicted wound that was easily foreseen and could have been easily avoided, had the Pentagon's civilian and military leadership in the 1990s had the courage to apply a little common sense and a sense of fiduciary discipline for the money entrusted to them.

Beginning in 1988, when it became clear to me that the Military Reform Movement was hopelessly doomed, I decided that the only way I could contribute in a positive way to solving the Pentagon's programmatic problems was to write and publish unclassified analyses describing how we were screwing ourselves, not to mention the taxpayers and the soldiers at the pointy end of the spear.  My thought at that time was to create an analytical paper trail that could be used eventually to explain how the bureaucratic power games played in the Pentagon created the budget time bomb that would eventually produce the programmatic meltdown we are now seeing.  Maybe, I thought, this paper trail could someday be helpful in correcting the Pentagon's chronic problems.  So, I began writing.

I am linking three documents to this note to illustrate what we could have known about the JSF and when we could have known it.  My aim in this email is to help you place the JSF debacle, and by extension, the larger defense meltdown, into a historical perspective.

The first document is a list of my publications — which cover a broad spectrum of subjects I covered.

The second document is a paper that specifically addresses the problem of being “screwed” by the JSF (as well as the F-22). I wrote this paper almost 14 years ago, in March 1996. and my aim was to describe how this self inflicted wound in the future (1st two decades of 21st Century) would be the inevitable result of current decisions (made in the early 90s).   I also speculated on what the long term consequences would be when the meltdown unfolded (see pp. 8-9 for a list of possible evolutionary outcomes).  A somewhat shortened version of this paper was subsequently published in Challenge Magazine in July/August 1996.

The third document is a paper I published in the Proceedings of the Naval Institute in August of 2000 which puts the JSF debacle in the the context of the F-18E/F and F-22 decisons made in the early 90s.

Full Story Online

Gates Sacks Stealth Jet Chief, Blasts ‘Troubling Record’ of Crucial Plane

WIRED Magazine, The Danger Room

If the Pentagon doesn’t get its Joint Strike Fighter just right, the U.S. military is screwed. Which is why its a such serious, serious problem this stealthy, all-purpose jet has had such a “troubling performance record,” according to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Things have gone so wrong that Gates just announced he’s sacking the head of the star-crossed, nearly $350 billion program and is withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in performance fees to JSF-maker Lockheed Martin. “When things go wrong, people will be held accountable,” Gates told reporters.

Phi Beta Iota: Chuck is the original patriotic whistle-blower, featured on a TIME Cover in part to assure his survival from unethical individual who preferred to continue cheating the tax-payer and feathering their own nests–and never mind all the troops that die because the aircraft do not perform as advertised, spend 50% of the time down, and cost 10 to 100 times what they should.  The Secretary of Defense wants to reform acquisition, which makes sense, but 20,000 more bodies will not do it, nor will increasing the rank of those in charge of failed programs.  DoD needs three things:

1.  A coherent strategy that addresses all of the threats to America's future prosperity and peace, with a force structure to match that is fully integrated across all mission areas at all four levels of analysis and operations.

2.  An intelligence capability that can support both requirements definition and contractor evaluations across all mission areas–it is not enough to study all threats (honestly) we must also assure the integrity of our proposed solutions for addressing all threats..  Homeland Security Today will shortly be publishing our article on how the $12 billion being allocated toward cyber-security will all go toward vapor-ware for one reason: there are exactly 63 people actually capable of working at the code level in the USA, and only 12 of those are working on cyber-defense at the code level.  It cost us nothing but a few hours of time to do the homework–all open source.  One small step that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) could take would be the creation of a proper Defense Open Source Intelligence Program that includes a directorate for Open Sources with divisions focused on direct support to defense policy, defense acquisition, and defense operations.  A number of years ago we were asked by the direct staff of Anita Jones what it would take to monitor the 100 critical defense technologies.  When we replied $1 million a year, they disengaged with the observation that there was no money for open source intelligence support to acquisition….and there we are–still.

3.  An end to the revolving door and a restoration of integrity at all levels.   Acquisition is an inherently governmental function, and its purity cannot be assured without blocking any migration from being a buyer to being a seller.

See also:

Journal: A Tale of Two Flying Pigs

Journal: Insurgents Hack U.S. Drones

Journal: U.S. Air Force–Remote from War & Reality

Journal: USN Refuses NGF for USMC–Gap Clearly Identified by Expeditionary Factors Study in 1989

2006 General Accountability Office (GAO) Defense Acquisitions DoD Management Approach and Processes Not Well-Suited to Support Development of Global Information Grid

Journal: Contractors Out of Control, Money Wasted

Journal: Defense Research, Science, & Technology

Journal: Chuck Spinney on Moral and Mental Collapse of the Federal Government

Journal: Intelligence & Innovation Support to Strategy, Planning, Programming, Budgeting, & Acquisition

Journal: DoD Mind-Set Time Lags Most Fascinating

Reference: Transforming How We Hire Analysts

2002 FAILURE of 20th Century Intelligence

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