TOYS vs BOYS -- F/A-18E/F Freaks Out the Pentagon

January 27, 1999

Comment: #228

Discussion Thread:  #s 223, 225, 227


[1] Elaine Grossman, "Navy Calls On Boeing Lobbyist To Do 'Independent' F/A-18E/F Assessment," Inside The Pentagon (Special Report), January 27, 1999. Attached.

[2] Letter from Senator Russel Feingold to William Cohen, Secretary of Defense, 21 January 1999. Attached.

[3] Franklin C. Spinney, Letter to Editor, Proceedings of the Naval Institute, June 1998, pp. 18-18. Attached.

In comment #227, George Wilson said, "It's dawning on midgrade military officers, if not the generals and admirals, that they and their troops are getting rolled by defense contractors."

One reason why the Pentagon is in a death spiral, with a modernization program that can not modernize the force, a declining readiness posture, and a corrupt bookkeeping system, is because the military-industrial-congressional complex (the MICC) is more interested is serving its own selfish interests (e.g., enhanced bureaucratic power and careerism, corporate profits, and political power derived from patronage) than in providing our combat troops with weapons that work against threats that exist while, at the same time, ensuring that the tax dollars taken from the American citizens are used efficiently for the common good.

This commentary is a case study illustrating how the MICC hoses the troops. It is one of the most important yet written so I urge you to read the references as well.

Elaine Grossman, one of the brightest young stars reporting on a defense beat short of young stars, has just released a special issue of Inside the Pentagon that provides a smarmy insight deep into the rot now pervading Versailles on the Potomac.

The subject is the $45+ billion F/A-18E/F being developed by the McDonnell-Douglas Division of Boeing Corporation.

Last November 26, Senator Russell Feingold sent a letter to the Secretary of Defense that asked, the some simple questions about the status of the F/A-18E/F [see Reference 2 to Comment #225]. Congress had just appropriated over $2 billion for the third lot of production and Feingold was concerned that it might not be ready for this commitment. His questions are repeated verbatim below for your convenience:

"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." [Feingold's entire letter is reference #2 to Comment 225, which I distributed on 14 January]

Two months later, as of 21 January 1999, the Pentagon still had not responded to these questions. To those who think Feingold was out of line asking such questions, I would remind you that a central part of the concept of checks and balances enshrined by our Constitution is that each branch has prerogatives over the other branch. Feingold's request was completely appropriate under the powers delegated to Congress in Article 1, and it is the duty of personnel in the Executive branch (who have all taken a sacred oath to support and defend the Constitution) to respond forthrightly and honestly to such questions in a timely manner. The Pentagon's refusal to make a timely response appears to have been one the factors prompting Senator Feingold to write the another letter [Reference 2 below]. The stunning revelations in his new letter are what prompted Ms. Grossman's special report [Reference 1 below].

Feingold said that representatives of the Defense Department's Inspector General indicated that they would only answer the first set of questions in a cursory way and were not qualified to answer the second set of questions. If Feingold's statements are true, the Inspector General's position is utter claptrap. Feingold's new letter correctly claims these questions are easily answered from available test reports and program documentation [see Reference 2 below]. Moreover, I can state categorically that these questions are easy to answer, because I have seen enough of that documentation to know that the answers exist in a readily comprehendible form.

The IG's inaction is bad enough, but this is not the most shocking revelation in Ms. Grossman's disturbing report. According to Feingold, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition commissioned and independent study of Feingold's questions. Such a study is appropriate and welcome. But Ms. Grossman reports that the person chosen to lead the inquiry is a well known Washington defense lobbyist/consultant who had a long standing business relationship the McAir Division of Boeing.

Feingold says in Reference 2 that the consultant did not reveal this relationship in a meeting with his staff, and they learned about it only in response to a direct question made by the staff during a phone call after the meeting. To be sure, the consultant in question said he terminated his relationship with Boeing a few days after be asked to led the inquiry, but Ms. Grossman says he reportedly left open the option to work for Boeing again at some time in the future.

If Grossman's report is true, it raises more fundamental questions about the integrity of the decisions affecting this program. Unfortunately this latest incident is consistent with a long pattern of deception and misinformation surrounding the F/A-18E/F dating back to 1991.

In 1991 and 1992, the Navy and McAir falsely claimed that this aircraft was a low-risk modification of the F/A-18C/D in order to bypass the Milestone I prototyping phase and obtain approval to proceed directly into Milestone II, concurrent engineering and manufacturing development. The Navy and the contractor did not tell the members of the staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense that the E/F was different aerodynamically, because it had a re-designed wing. When combined with new engines and new air inlets, the redesigned wing makes this airplane more like a new airplane than a modification. Had the magnitude of these changes been fully appreciated, however, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to justify bypassing Milestone I under the regulations then in effect.

On the other hand, the desire to bypass Milestone I is understandable. Prototype programs can be killed easily if they don't meet their requirements. But approval of Milestone II, makes it much more difficult to kill a program, because it represents a major commitment that permits the contractor to start spreading subcontracts and work to a nationwide network of venders. So, once a program passes Milestone II, the contract spreading operation creates a political protection network in Congress. The Navy succeeded in bypassing Milestone I, and with the approval of Milestone II in May of 1992, McAir unleashed the political engineers. The sordid story of how the Navy bypassed Milestone I can be found in the last chapter and appendices of the "Pentagon Paradox," by James Stevenson (Naval Institute Press).

The next big step in locking in the F/A-18E/F funding stream to the MICC was the production decision, or Milestone III, scheduled for late March 1997. But the new wing on the F/A-18E/F had a aerodynamic flaw known as "wing drop," which is a sudden loss of lift in one wing while flying in the heart of the maneuvering envelope. Left uncorrected, the E/F would have been unacceptable for fleet use. This flaw was first noticed on the Navy's 7th test flight on 4 March 1996, more than one year before the production decision. Notwithstanding significant engineering efforts to correct the problem, it remained uncorrected when the Milestone III decision point arrived. Rather than putting the program at risk by delaying the production decision until a fix was found, the Navy chose not to highlight or even mention the problem when it recommended the F/A-18E/F be approved at the Defense Acquisition Board in March 1997.

The Secretary of Defense first learned about this problem when it exploded in the press the following November, almost eight months after he approved it for production. Some people assert that the failure to notify senior decision making authorities was a natural mistake, because someone has to decide what information should and should not be sent up the chain of command. Of course the central question is whether it is reasonable for a decision maker to have had the foresight to alert his superiors to this problem.

Reference 3, a letter I published it in the Proceedings of the Naval Institute (June 1998, pp.16-18), decisively refutes this argument by describing what the Navy knew and when it knew it. No one in the Navy or McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing has ever refuted or denied the information in this letter. Judge for you self whether it was reasonable to withhold information regarding wing drop from the Secretary of Defense until after the production decision.

Summing up, a long-term, continuing pattern of deception is clear (1) the Navy deceived the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 1992 to obtain approval to bypass Milestone I. The Navy did not reveal the wing drop problems to the DAB charged with authorizing the production decision in March 1997. Now the Navy has hired a former McAir lobbyist to do an independent study of the F/A-18E/F while Pentagon drags its feet on clearly and forthrightly answering reasonable simple questions about whether or not the F/A-18E/F is superior to its predecessor. The common denominator in all these actions is the late Col John Boyd's rule of program mis-management: "don't interrupt the money flow, add to it."

And that, dear reader, concludes today's case study in how the MICC serves its own selfish interests at the expense of the troops at the pointy end of the spear and the taxpayer.

Perhaps now you can better understand why, for the last three years, the Pentagon has sponsored Armed Forces Day Posters that celebrate weapons but ignore the sacrifices of our soldiers, sailors, and airmen: These posters are metaphors for the real cultural values guiding the behavior of courtiers inhabiting Versailles on the Potomac.

Chuck Spinney

[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 (Special Report)
Elaine Grossman
January 27, 1999

"Navy Calls On Boeing Lobbyist To Do 'Independent' F/A-18E/F Assessment" The Navy's new acquisition executive, Lee Buchanan, dispatched a lobbyist to Capitol Hill earlier this month to perform an "independent" assessment of congressional and General Accounting Office concerns about Boeing's F/A-18E/F attack fighter program, according to a letter signed by Sen. Russell Feingold. Trouble was, the lobbyist had longstanding contracts with McDonnell Douglas and Boeing, the Super Hornet's prime contractor -- contracts that were terminated only days after Buchanan requested the objective review, according to sources and documents.

The lawmaker's letter, obtained by Inside the Pentagon, raises new ethics questions on an aircraft development program that has been plagued by performance and accountability lapses for almost three years.

The Wisconsin Democrat wrote Defense Secretary William Cohen on Jan. 21 to relate what he called a "particularly troubling" development, especially in light of "past questions about the integrity of the information used to support high-level decision making" on the Super Hornet program.

Feingold said that while it is "laudable" that Buchanan would undertake an independent assessment of questions the lawmaker has raised about F/A-18E/F performance and accountability problems, "this is not the kind of independence I seek," he wrote.

The senator told Cohen, his former Senate colleague, that Buchanan's "primary investigator, Carl Smith, a partner in the Higgins, McGovern & Smith law firm, is a consultant/lobbyist who has long represented the program's primary contractor, McDonnell Douglas/Boeing." As part of the review, the lobbyist contacted Feingold's staff earlier this month, sources told Inside the Pentagon, seeking to understand the extent of Feingold's qualms about the Super Hornet.

Smith fully disclosed his Boeing ties to Buchanan when the Navy assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition asked him to perform the independent assessment, according to one source. The consultant then reportedly volunteered to sever his contracts with Boeing with the intention of eliminating a conflict of interest.

Smith is performing the review without compensation from the Navy or Boeing, according to the source. However, Smith reportedly has left open the option of working on behalf of the F/A-18E/F prime contractor sometime in the future.

Buchanan was unavailable for comment at press time, although a Navy spokeswoman said the assistant secretary for acquisition would provide answers to a reporter's questions on Wednesday (Jan. 27).

Sources said two retired general officers -- one from the Marine Corps and another from the Air Force -- also had been asked to contribute to the F/A-18E/F assessment. But neither of those officials was available for comment on the issue.

One source said Buchanan's intention in commissioning the assessment was to ensure the Navy makes "the right decision" as it weighs moving forward with full-rate production of the Super Hornet.

Adding to the latest intrigue is Feingold's revelation that Smith, the lobbyist who contacted the senator's staff, failed to volunteer information to staffers about his prior connection to Boeing.

"During the meeting with my staff," Feingold writes, "Mr. Smith did not disclose his firm's association with Boeing. Later, my staff telephoned him and he described his firm's association with Boeing in response to direct questions from my staff. He went on to say that he terminated his relationship with Boeing 'a few days' after Mr. Buchanan asked him to perform the independent review."

The senator said it remains unclear whether other members of Smith's firm continue to perform work for Boeing. One source said no one other than Smith at the law firm, Higgins, McGovern & Smith, has had any contracts with Boeing.

But even if all the firm's ties to the Super Hornet prime contractor have been severed, Feingold still finds the situation troubling. In the letter, he asks Cohen to refrain from releasing the remainder of the lot III production funds, which could total more than $2.5 billion.

Those funds had earlier been slated for release on Jan. 21, but sources said the release was delayed.

"I am extremely skeptical that Mr. Smith can provide an objective assessment of the program prior to your decision to proceed [with] a $2 billion plus lot III production decision," Feingold writes.

Feingold has long taken an interest in the F/A-18E/F program, which has been led by Boeing since the defense giant's acquisition of McDonnell Douglas' aircraft division. Last year, Feingold advised a delay in the program after the General Accounting Office reported the $80 million-a-copy aircraft was not performing as well as anticipated.

Last November, the lawmaker wrote Cohen to ask that before releasing any new funds to Boeing for lot III of low-rate initial production, the Pentagon inspector general undertake an investigation of performance problems reportedly documented in the latest round of flight tests. Feingold also wanted the IG to examine whether program officials had fully and promptly disclosed information about wing problems to the Office of the Secretary of Defense (ITP, Nov. 26, 1998, p1).

Cohen has yet to formally respond to the Nov. 23 request. But the Pentagon did go forward last month with the release of $62 million in LRIP lot III funds, which set the stage for Boeing to build 30 more aircraft. The Navy has already bought 32 of the planes in the first and second LRIP lots.

Earlier this month, Inside the Pentagon reported that the IG's office was ready to decline doing an investigation of performance problems detailed in the Navy's classified report on the results of operational test phase IIB, or "OT-IIB." Despite a long history of issuing technical reports, the IG's office insisted it lacked the technological expertise to assess the Super Hornet's test performance (ITP, Jan. 14, p1).

The operational test results reportedly show the F/A-18E/F is not as capable as the plane it replaces, the F/A-18C/D, in some key measures of dogfighting capability. But the Navy insists the report finds the positive features of the aircraft outweigh the negatives, even as it keeps the details of the report under wraps (ITP, Dec. 10, 1998, p1).

"The fact that all of the OT-IIB report remains classified raises additional questions about the integrity of the decision process, as do the apparent conflicts of Mr. Smith's law firm," states Feingold in his new letter.

The IG's office is expected to address technical problems with the Super Hornet wings in a report to Feingold. Sources said the investigators will support the Navy's explanation that the service failed to report a problem with "wing drop" to OSD leaders earlier in 1997 only because Navy officials long believed it was not significant enough to merit top-level attention.

In Feingold's new letter to Cohen, the senator alludes to the IG's reluctance to answer each of the specific questions he asked in his November missive. But one source said this week an IG letter has been drafted that does attempt to respond to each of the lawmaker's queries. -- 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

21 January 1999

The Honorable William S. Cohen, Secretary of Defense
Department of Defense
1000 Defense
Washington, D.C. 20301-1000

Dear Mr. Secretary:

As you know, I have been concerned about the Navy's F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program for several years. My concerns cover a spectrum of problems that range from fiscal responsibility and public integrity to the safety and combat effectiveness of our nation's naval aviators.

I want to make sure you are aware of the breadth and seriousness of these problems before you reach a decision later this month to release the balance of procurement funds for the Super Hornet's third lot of low-rate initial production aircraft. Lot III sets the stage for the Operational Evaluation and full-rate production decision. The window of opportunity for fixing problems or correcting course is closing rapidly, so your oversight at this juncture is crucial to the future welfare of our naval aviators, not to mention the taxpayers who will be asked to pay for this program.

At my request, the General Accounting Office examined the Super Hornet in 1997 and 1998, and the results raised more questions than they answered. Last November, I asked DoD Inspector General Hill to answer a few simple, straightforward questions regarding the OT-IIB flight test report and the "wing drop" problems. The answers to these questions are readily available to your office in the OT-IIB final report and in program documentation. Unfortunately, representatives from the office stated they would not review the OT-IIB report and would only take a cursory look at wing drop.

I am told the basic performance issues are clearly stated in the OT-IIB report, and my performance-related questions can easily be answered.

I firmly believe the Super Hornet should be more than marginally superior to the current F/A- 18C/D with the enhanced performance engine. For the past few years, however, I have read and heard repeatedly that the Super Hornet is only marginally superior and, in some respects, inferior to the earlier Hornet. Recent newspaper reports discussing the OT-IIB results also indicate the Super Hornet does not meet this basic benchmark.

Additionally, a recent development is particularly troubling in view of the past questions about the integrity of the information used to support high-level decision making. According to my staff, Lee Buchanan, the assistant secretary of Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, authorized an "independent" review of my concerns with the Super Hornet program. This is a laudable objective, and I commend Mr. Buchanan for his initiative. But his primary investigator, Carl Smith, a partner in the Higgins, McGovern & Smith law firm, is a consultant/lobbyist who has long represented the program's primary contractor, McDonnell Douglas/Boeing. During the meeting with my staff, Mr. Smith did not disclose his firm's association with Boeing. Later, my staff telephoned him and he described his firm's association with Boeing in response to direct questions from my staff. He went on to say that he terminated his relationship with Boeing "a few days" after Mr. Buchanan asked him to perform the independent review. While there may no longer be a technical conflict of interest, depending on whether his partners have contracts with Boeing, I am extremely skeptical that Mr. Smith can provide an objective assessment of the program prior to your decision to proceed a $2 billion plus Lot III production decision. Clearly, this is not the kind of independence I seek.

Acquisition decisions have profound consequences over the long term. Your pending decision to approve Lot III production will commit the United States to a course of action that will cost taxpayers more than $45 billion over the next decade. More importantly, our Navy pilots will put their lives on the line in the Super Hornet for the next 25 to 30 years.

The fact that senior decision makers were not aware of the wing drop problem before the Lot I production decision, in combination with the unanswered questions leading up to the impending Lot III production decision, raise serious questions about the integrity and viability of the acquisition reform process. I am also troubled by the persistent newspaper reports stating that the OT-IIB test results revealed serious performance deficiencies in the F/A-18E/F when competing against current and future threats, and by questions as to whether it is a sufficient improvement over the newest Hornet aircraft. The fact that all of the OT-IIB report remains classified raises additional questions about the integrity of the decision process, as do the apparent conflicts of Mr. Smith's law firm.

We owe it to our pilots and taxpayers to answer all of these questions fully. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that these issues are resolved before you release the Lot III production money.

Thank you for your consideration.


Russell D. Feingold United States Senator

Reference #3

Letter to the Editor
Proceedings of the US Naval Institute
June 1998, pp. 16-18
By Franklin C. Spinney

"Could Forgotten A-1' Lessons Haunt the Super Hornet" (see J. P. Stevenson. P. 24. April 1998; Dunn. p.14. May 1998, Proceedings)
Franklin C. Spinney, Program Analysis and Evaluation.
Tactical Programs Division.
Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Admiral Dunn is correct when he asserts that the E/F meets 0r exceeds its requirements but these requirements are not very demanding. When configured for the strike mission. for example. the E/F has better range/payload (including bring back) than all versions of the C/D. On the other hand, the E/F does not have the range/payload of the A-6 or F-14, which it is replacing. Moreover, it is an open question whether or not the relatively small increase in range\payload particularly of the F model which now makes up over half the buy constitutes a large enough benefit to justify a 50% increase in unit cost. That cost is driving down production rates. which will increase the average age and reduce the size of the force over the long term. This translates into less tons on target a' any range. Navy planners are debating: whether they should cut the size of a carrier air wing to 46 fighter attack/aircraft.

Admiral Dunn is on shaky ground when he claims the agility of the E/F equals that of the C/D. He does not specify to which version of the C/D he is comparing the E/F. The Operational Testing IIA tests. conducted last November showed that the acceleration and sustained turning performance of the E/F was equal or superior to that of Lot XlV C/D in most configurations but slightly inferior in some. When compared to the newer. more powerful Lot XIX C/D. which has the enhanced performance engine. the E/F exhibited inferior acceleration and turning performance in most configurations.

In any event. the Navy was concerned enough about performance that Rear Admiral Dennis McGinn (N88) signed a special clarification letter that said. ... turning, climbing, and maneuvering are not F/A-18E/F KPPs [Key performance Parameters.]" The Navy's Program Risk Assessment Board said last summer that if the Operational Test and Evaluation Force finds the E/F unsuitable even though it satisfies all requirements. the best solution may be an 'I... aggressive indoctrination of the operational community to help them match expectation to reality.'

Admiral Dunn's statement about survivability is necessarily problematical, because it describes a future war fighting outcome and cannot objectively be measured like range or maneuverability. To the extent that survivability depends on superior maneuvering performance. Admiral Dunn's confident assertion that the E/F is more survivable than the C/D is open to question. particularly if competently trained opponents are flying Su-27s, MiG-29s, Rafales, or Eurofighters. On the other hand, if one believes that the superior survivability is the primarily the result of a reduced radar cross section. then Admiral Dunn and the Navy need to clarify why the E/F's limited stealth capability enables the EIF to survive over the same battlefield where the Air Force says you need a fur stealthier. more agile. supersonic-cruise-capable F-22End both services say we need the high-stealth capabilities of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) over the long term. Someone has to be wrong.

Let's now examine the decision to enter production. Admiral Dunn uses the "reasonable man" argument to dismiss the fact that the wing-drop "anomaly" was not reported up the chain of commend prior to 26 Much 1997, when Paul Kaminski, then the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition. approved the E/F for production. Admiral Dunn acknowledges. this was 'perhaps" a mistake. By invoking the uncertainty implicit in this qualifier. he insinuates it was a reasonable mistake. because ". . . somewhere along the way a decision has to be made about how much information is to be passed up the line." This raises the question of whether it is reasonable to assume program managers could have had the foresight to alert their superiors to the problem. Or. what did the program of rice know. and when did it know it?

The first incidence. of wing drop occurred on the seventh flight (4 Much 1996, more than one year before the production decision. The flight-test director issued a "Watch Item" on 11 March 1996, which was upgraded to a "White Sheet" report on 12 July 1996, indicating that attempts to fix the problem had been unsuccessful. A Program Risk Assessment Board risk assessment (25 September 1996) said that the wing-drop deficiency would cause the E/F to be '. . . unacceptable for Op-Eval." The flight test director upgraded the wing-drop 'White Sheet" to a Part **1 Deficiency in October 1996. This is the most serious deficiency rating meaning it must be corrected on the production-representative aircraft in Op-Eval. Engineers began computational fluid dynamic studies and wind-tunnel testing of potential wing modifications in November 1996. Turning to the events in early 1997, the Development Testing (DT- IIA final report (5 February 1997) listed wing drop as a Part **1 Deficiency in Sections 4 and 5. but did not discuss its effect in the section describing flying qualities (Section Three weeks later, the F/A-18 program office sponsored a Program Management Review (PMR) dedicated solely to wing drop (27 February 1997). which defined a comprehensive wing-drop resolution plan. including hardware modifications to the wing.

The next day, the Navy held a Program Management Review in which the F/A18E/F program manager presented a dry run of the proposed briefing to the Defense Acquisition Board (DAB), including a slide that noted the wing-drop problem. That slide was modified to exclude the reference when presented to the DAB one month later.

Finally, on 18 March 1997. eight days before the production decision, members of the F/A-188E/F's integrated product and testing teams met with engineers from NASA Langley to agree on the final wing-drop resolution plan. including the test flight-test plan for the hardware fixes. which was scheduled to begin in early summer 1997.

I believe that the information was suppressed about the wing-drop problem and that the real roots of the wing-drop problem can be traced to the spring of 1992. when the Navy downplayed the E/F's new wing to bypass Milestone I prototyping. Had the Navy done the prototyping and testing the problem undoubtedly would have emerged and proceeded directly to a concurrent engineering and manufacturing development phase. (See "Flyoff: F/A-18E vs. F/A-18C." pp. 41~6. September 1992 Proceedings).

Hopefully. the proposed porous wingfold fairing will eliminate the wing-drop problem without excessive penalties and without an unacceptable break in an ongoing production line.