F/A18E/F Reveals 2 Rules for Real Decision Making Reform

January 14, 1999

 Comment: #225


[1] Elaine M. Grossman, "Navy Gets Set To Release $2.5 Billion To Boeing: DoD Inspector General Prepared To Decline Full F/A-18E/F Investigation," Inside the Pentagon January 14, 1999, Pg. 1. Attached.

[2] Text: Feingold Letter to Cohen on F/A-18E/F, Inside the Pentagon November 26, 1998. Attached.

Elaine Grossman reports in Reference #1 that the Inspector General of the Defense Department may be unwilling to provide detailed answers to Senator Feingold's questions about the F/A-18E/F's combat performance. Attachment #2 is Feingold's 23 November 1998 letter to Secretary Cohen, which was published in Inside the Pentagon on 26 November.

I have a two pronged thought experiment for you. Answer each of the following questions YES or NO: (1) Pretend you are a FIGHTER PILOT who will put his life at risk in this airplane to protect others. Now read Feingold's questions carefully and ask yourself if they are reasonable questions that you want answered before you put you life on the line? (2) Now pretend you are a TAXPAYER, and repeat the experiment. Ask yourself it is reasonable to answer Feingold's questions before the nation commits another $2.5 billion this year (which is tantamount to committing to $40+ billion over the next decade or so) on this controversial project:

Now as yourself a third question: Did I come to the same answer each time?

If the Pentagon (aka Versailles on the Potomac) applied these two simple decision making reforms across the board, we would not have a modernization program that that does not modernize the force, we would not have a rapidly deteriorating readiness posture, we would not have a corrupt bookkeeping system, but we might have a defense department that is accountable to the people in the spirit of accountability clause of the Constitution -- and the troops at the pointy end of the spear might not feel like they are being hosed by let-them-eat-cake courtiers playing games in Versailles. [New readers are referred to the three reports and Comment #169 hot linked beneath my signature block for an introduction to the Defense Departments self-inflicted wounds]

[Disclaimer: In accordance with 17 U.S.C. 107, the following material is distributed without profit or payment to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for non-profit research and educational purposes only.]

Reference 1

Inside the Pentagon
January 14, 1999 Pg. 1

Navy Gets Set To Release $2.5 Billion To Boeing

DoD Inspector General Prepared To Decline Full F/A-18E/F Investigation

The Pentagonís inspector general is preparing to reject a recent call for a full investigation of the Navyís operational testing of the F/A-18E/F attack fighter, primarily on the basis that the IGís office lacks expertise in technical matters and trusts the integrity of the Navy testing force, according to sources familiar with the situation. The issue is heating up as the Navy prepares to release the remainder of low-rate initial production lot III funds to prime contractor Boeing, a distribution that could total over $2.5 billion, key sources said.

The news is certain to displease Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI), who in November called on Defense Secretary William Cohen to launch an IG investigation into reports that the Super Hornet had performed poorly in the Navyís recently completed operational test phase IIB, known as "OT-IIB." In a Nov. 23 letter to Cohen, his former Senate colleague, Feingold asked a series of questions about alleged performance lapses the F/A-18E/F displayed in tests of the aircraftís maneuvering capability, reportedly detailed in the Navyís own OT-IIB report (Inside the Pentagon, Nov. 26, 1998, p1).

Feingold had asked that funds for the third lot of LRIP aircraft be withheld from Boeing until the IG investigation could be completed. But the Pentagon last month released a first installment of $62 million in LRIP lot III production funds, which set the stage for Boeing to build another 30 aircraft. The Navy has already bought 12 F/A-18E/ Fs in the first lot and 20 in the second.

A Navy spokeswoman told Inside the Pentagon this week she did not know when the remainder of lot III funds would be released to Boeing. Other Pentagon officials, though, say the Navy is eyeing Jan. 21 as a possible deadline for funding release.

Meanwhile, the OT-IIB report remains classified, and service officials have declined requests to release a declassified version. But Navy Super Hornet program officials on Dec. 3 heralded OT-IIB as a success in a briefing for reporters. They said that while testing showed some "negatives," positive attributes outweigh the deficiencies and the F/A-18E/F continues to meet all its key performance requirements (ITP, Dec. 10, 1998, p1).

What still has Feingold and some defense officials concerned, though, is a Navy testing officerís observation in July 1997 that the Navy ultimately "may find the F/A-18E/F not operationally effective/suitable even though all specification requirements are satisfied" (ITP, Jan. 15, 1998, p1).

In the view of some critics, the Navy and prime contractor Boeing originally came up with specifications they could meet but failed to set the bar high enough for a well-performing aircraft. Feingold has taken particular interest in the revelation last spring that in the initial operational test and evaluation, the Super Hornet was unable to even match the capability of its predecessor, the F/A-18C/D version, in several performance areas when undertaking the fighter escort mission (ITP, Feb. 5, 1998, p1).

Observers this week questioned the IG claim that a lack of technical expertise would prevent them from reporting back to Feingold on the OT-IIB test results. In the past, the Pentagon IG has often "gone through the trouble of hiring engineers or [sought] outside help if need be from time to time," said one official familiar with IG activities. "You usually resolve technical challenges by turning to experts within the Defense Department," this source said in a Jan. 13 interview.

The inspector generalís office routinely undertakes technical audits of weapons acquisition programs and assessments of test and evaluation efforts, the source said. A casual survey of the IGís fiscal year 1999 report topics, posted on its Internet site, appears to bear out that observation.

Recent reports included a detailed audit of the Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle and reports on Year 2000 conversion of the Airborne Warning and Control Systemís logistics and maintenance systems, management of strategic and critical materials in the defense national stockpile, and coordination of electromagnetic frequency spectrum with international telecommunications agreements.

Although informed sources anticipate the IG will pass the buck on investigating performance deficiencies reportedly detailed in the Navyís OT-IIB report, it is unclear whether another Pentagon office -- such as the operational test and evaluation shop or program analysis and evaluation directorate -- will take up the gauntlet in responding to Feingoldís queries on behalf of the defense secretary.

In his November letter, Feingold also expressed concern about what he called the "apparent failure" of Navy officials to provide acquisition overseers in the Office of the Secretary of Defense with "timely information" on the Super Hornetís so-called "wing drop" problem, first seen in flight tests in March 1996. It was not until November 1998 that the defense secretary and his acquisition deputy were briefed on the performance malady, although wing drop was described as a serious problem in the Navyís internal program documents for over two years (ITP, Dec. 4, 1997, p1). Even then, the Navy briefings to top-level OSD officials did not come until after the Super Hornet problem was revealed in the press.

The Navy has since declared it has fixed the wing drop problem, in which the aircraft abruptly and uncontrollably breaks off its flight path to the right or left under otherwise standard flight conditions. Although wing flutter and some shaking remain, the service describes these conditions as nothing more than occasional irritants.

Pentagon IG officials reportedly do intend to carry through with their investigation of the alleged failure of Navy officials to fully inform OSD of the seriousness of the wing drop problem in a timely way. But the IG is expected to characterize Navy intentions in a positive light.

In a forthcoming letter to Feingold, the IG is expected to argue that the serviceís failure to bring the wing drop issue to the attention of the OSD leadership merely reflected an optimism that wing drop would be easier to resolve than was ultimately the case. In other words, the Navy was not hiding wing drop, but simply judged it as unworthy of high-level Pentagon concern, the IG will likely report.

With over $2.5 billion in production funding potentially set to be released by the end of the month, though, Feingold may not await the anticipated partial response from the IG before sending another letter to Cohen, officials predicted. -- Elaine M. Grossman. Copyright 2000, Inside Washington Publishers.  This article may not be reproduced or redistributed, in part or in whole, without express permission of the publisher.

Reference 2

Inside the Pentagon
November 26, 1998
Text: Feingold Letter to Cohen on F/A-18E/F

23 November 1998

The Honorable William S. Cohen Secretary of Defense Department of Defense Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

In its brief history, the Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft program has suffered a spate of complications. Dating back to the program's genesis, when controversy erupted over whether the Super Hornet is, in fact, a modification of the existing Hornet or a new plane entirely, the program proceeds under a darkening cloud.

Most recently, the Super Hornet's program team has had difficulty effectively correcting the program-threatening "wing drop" problem. According to press reports, this problem, which program officials stated before Congress was fixed in March, 1998, has been reduced at the cost of increased buffet. Moreover, the performance penalties of the fix are not fully understood. Since wing drop causes an aircraft to rock back and forth when it is flying at altitudes and speeds at which air-to-air combat maneuvers are expected to occur, I am particularly concerned about the performance of the Super Hornet in maneuvering dogfights.

The most troubling aspect of the wing drop dilemma, however, is the apparent failure of Super Hornet program officials to provide superiors at the Department of Defense with timely information on the problem. The attached timeline of events lays out vital decision- making milestones and the circumstances surrounding key program decisions. Also attached is a piece from Franklin C. Spinney in Proceedings, which comments on the similarities in production decisions between the Super Hornet and the ill-fated A-12 aircraft. Finally, I have included Super Hornet program documents that validate my concerns. Note that Mr. Spinney also raises concerns about the agility of the F/A-18E/F.

As I'm sure you are aware, Senator Charles Grassley, of Iowa, recently convened a hearing on the absolute necessity of accountability at the Defense Department. The clear message from the hearing was that both DOD and the Congress need to be more accountable for their actions, particularly as they affect national defense. Given the information I have, the Navy's Super Hornet test team has been less than forthright with DOD on a program that could easily end up costing more than $100 billion. Additionally, its apparent failure to provide information in a timely manner may increase program costs by billions of dollars.

I have two requests that I ask you to forward to your Inspector General. First, I ask that the Inspector General investigate whether Super Hornet program officials provided the Office of the Secretary of Defense and others with timely information on the aircraft's test flight status, particularly with regard to the wing drop problem. I hope any report from your office will include recommendations for future communication between program officials and your staff members in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Second, I ask that the Inspector General submit a written report you and the Congress certifying that the results of the recently completed OT-IIB flight tests demonstrate: 1) That F/A-18E/F meets all performance specifications; 2) Whether the Super Hornet would have met its maneuvering performance goals stated on Page 6, Paragraph 4.a of the report if they had not been relaxed by Admiral Dennis McGinn in the special clarification letter issued in October, 1997 (attached); 3) That maneuvering performance is equal to or superior to that of the most likely current generation threat aircraft including, but not limited to the SU-27 and Mig-29, as well as the Lot XII F/A-18C/D; and 4) That the operational pilots deem the aircraft's performance to be demonstrably superior, across the board, to the Lot XII C/D in both the fighter escort and interdiction missions, and, if inferior in any aspects to the Lot XIX with enhanced engine performance engine, explain why the E/F is preferred over the Lot XIX, in order to meet the entrance criteria for the OT-IIC operational evaluation, now scheduled for Spring, 1999.

Finally, I request that you suspend release of money for the third low-rate initial production lot until the Inspector General completes her investigation and the Super Hornet program officials certify formally that they fully understand the results of the recently- completed OT-IIB flight tests, and the program manager has corrected all maneuvering performance deficiencies identified in the OT-IIB test report prior to the initiation of Operational Evaluation next spring.

Thank you for your consideration.


Russell D. Feingold
United States Senator

cc: Inspector General Eleanor Hill
Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre