Advancing the U.S. Air Force's Force-Development Initiative
The Chinese government defines itself as a foe of Western liberal democracy and the upholder of its own brand of communist nationalism. Its strategic ambitions are unfriendly, far-reaching, and deeply rooted in an authoritarian worldview. Americans look with deep regret on the choices Chinese leaders have made. For decades, the United States strove to cultivate friendship. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan both worked to forge cooperative ties through the transfer of high.
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Sign in Subscribe. Subscribe Login Sign up. Foreign Policy. Trending U. Haley speaks to members of the media after chairing a meeting of the U. The design process for the aircraft was fast — the prototype F flew 27 months after the proposal was rolled out. The F took 33 months from proposal to first flight, and the F a mere 17 months. After being introduced, initial models rarely spent much time in front-line service before being superseded by improved models.
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The Air Force put out requests for proposals like Christmas cards — with solicitations for fighters or interceptors issued in Penetration Fighter , followed by the advanced supersonic interceptor , interceptor , bomber escort , F replacement , and long-range interceptor The F, F, F, and F were unsolicited, company-funded proposals untethered to any advance requirement from the Air Force.
The Air Force also introduced the Republic FF Thunderstreak, although it was pretty much obsolescent when purchased, and missile-armed variant of the FH Scorpion. Buried in the later years was the cream of the crop, the McDonnell F-4 Phantom II, arguably the best jet fighter built in the western world. The Apollo Guidance Computer was the first aviation-rated integrated circuit computer — introduced in , after the last of the Century Series rolled off the line.
Additionally, the Century aircraft did not require the years of testing and development that the Defense Departments requires today. This would have been impossible — the state of the art was advancing so rapidly that any specifications would have been obsolete before they were implemented. Instead, designers and developers were encouraged to use their best judgement — an approach that is explicitly rejected today. For the Air Force to restore a multi-pronged aircraft development effort similar to that of the s, the Air Force will require flexible acquisition authorities from Congress and buy-in from industry partners.
The service itself will have to generate intelligent requirements , invest in development and test infrastructure, re-imagine the requirements and acquisition workforce, and shift its culture toward rapid-decision making rather than failure avoidance. The problems are nested — we need to treat the tangle as an interconnected series of problems and not just pull on individual threads.
Industry is effectively prevented from producing unsolicited proposals, since companies know they would have to compete for a contract for any successful proposal — even if the government has to invent competition where none exists. Under such conditions, there is zero incentive for industry to develop suitable products without government money up front. A high-resolution copy can be downloaded here.
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Only Boeing and Lockheed Martin build fighter aircraft for the U. Textron and Sierra Nevada have attempted to enter the market with turboprop light attack aircraft, thus far unsuccessfully. Most of the aerospace companies of are gone, absorbed, or dissolved. Nevertheless, there is still a capability to design fast and well.
There may be less industrial capacity than there was in , but it is still there.
The longest part of the process of developing an aircraft is not hashing out its planned lifespan design life. Designing an aircraft that lasts hours the FA is little different from an aircraft intended to last more than 18, hours T-6A.
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What drives the long fielding timelines are the systems integration challenges, particularly in software. Software can have a long timeline. In , the F software was so exasperating that the program office carved up their bulky software development project into short, rapidly executable chunks.
But the fundamental problem remains for most other aircraft. To address this problem and shorten aircraft development timelines, Roper has proposed the use of open-mission systems. Open-mission systems would be derived from a common software baseline, separate from the flight controls and thus not requiring recertification every time a line of code is changed. A transition to an open system would also allow the avionics developed for one aircraft to be migrated to the next, not unlike the RADICAL proposal from Indeed, this approach was used for some of the Century Series aircraft, as part of the interceptor project.
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This project was split into two elements: Project MX for the aircraft, and MX for a common set of avionics and weapons. Hughes Aircraft won the avionics contract over 50 competitors in , before any aircraft were selected. Derivatives of the system were installed on foreign fighters as well. The Air Force Research Lab already has an open mission system standard; its use should be mandated. A new Century Series will require a shorter, less cumbersome requirements process.
With no fighter programs since then, there are few airmen who are capable of writing an achievable requirements document, as it requires a deep knowledge of the state of aviation technology. Over the intervening two decades, the acquisition workforce was slashed, with many capabilities outsourced to contractors. The long partnership between those who fly aircraft and those who build them has dissolved, and re-establishing it will be easier said than done.
Neither acquisition nor aviation is a pick-up game — it takes years to learn the job and become effective. In the past, aviators and acquirers would combine forces to develop and acquire aircraft. Aviators flew the aircraft as they were acquired, which assured that the people buying the aircraft had a deep understanding of its intended use. To recreate that, the Air Force would have to adjust its 3-year assignment cycle, where uniformed personnel pick up and move every three years.
Three years into a multiyear project is no time to dissolve the team.
The selection process for competition winners will have to change as well. That could easily result in the selection of an aircraft with a panel that has no aviators. Selection boards should always include individuals who have been involved in the process, from requirements writing to capabilities analysis and research to test and evaluation.
If the Air Force is going to move out on a series of rapidly developed aircraft, tied together by an open missions system core, it will need an ongoing development effort that ties together avionics and systems development alongside development of the airframes. That will require demonstrator aircraft and a software integration lab, along with an experimental venue that enables a process whereby aircraft are continuously flown and adapted based on experimental discoveries. I conducted two quick studies for aircraft to fill such a role, including ex-Navy TA-4J pulled from the boneyard and an off-the-shelf new design.
I found it is entirely possible to obtain suitable aircraft almost immediately. Either method would allow experimentation with Open Mission Systems, sensors, communications, and even weapons, independent of any single program but supporting many. So far, those proposals have floundered because there is no constituency for experimental aircraft today — in stark contrast to the thinking that helped make the Century Series a reality. No list of the changes needed to make a new Century Series happen would be complete without mentioning the necessary cultural change.
The Air Force believes that it embraces innovation; my experience reminds me that it absolutely does not.
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