F/A-18E/F Reveals the Exit Strategy From the
Howling Wilderness of Acquisition Reform

February 11, 1999

Comment: #236

Discussion Thread:  #s 223, 225, 227, 228, 232


[1] Elaine Grossman , "Navy Test Report Shows F/A-18E/F Struggling To Match Older Aircraft: Acquisition Chief Authorizes New Funding Release," Inside The Pentagon, February 11, 1999, Pg. 1. Attached.

[Note to new readers: This is an important message and the previous Comments referenced in this message can be found at the hot link beneath my signature block.]

In Attachment 1 to Comment #227, George Wilson, the dean of Washington's defense reporters, 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."

Wilson begs the question: WHO is permitting the contractors to roll the troops?

Nothing illustrates this question better than the Pentagon's contemptuous treatment of Senator Feingold's request to have the Defense Department's Inspector General (IG) certify that the Navy's new F/A-18E/F fighter/attack plane is more effective than the plane it replaces as well as the threat aircraft it may face in the Twenty First Century.

Feingold made this request in a letter to William Cohen, the Secretary of Defense, dated November 26, 1998. He also asked Cohen to provide this assessment before he released the $2 billion plus for the third lot of production [Feingold's letter is Attachment 2, Comment #225]

As of this writing, the Pentagon has refused to honor Feingold's request and has not even had the courtesy to answer his letter.

To add insult to injury, Lee Buchanan, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, commissioned Carl Smith, a lobbyist/consultant for Boeing Corp., the F/A-18E/F's prime contractor, to do an "independent" study of the F/A-18E/F. Concerned about Mr. Smith's conflict of interest, Feingold sent a second letter to Secretary Cohen on 21 January [see Attachment 2, comment #228], which also has not been answered as of this writing.

While no one had the courtesy to answer a Senator, Buchanan did justify Smith's involvement in a statement released through a spokesman to the press on the evening of January 28. The following day, Dale Eisman of the Virginian Pilot reported that Buchanan was satisfied because Smith "rescued himself " (a word heard often in Versailles on the Potomac) by withdrawing from his consulting contract, while leaving open the option of renewing it in the future. This is nutty logic, because the word 'recusal' means a withdrawal from the act of judging, not from the conflict of interest impairing the judgment [Comment #232].

Now, this story has taken a even more bizarre new twist, if that is possible, including yet another slap at the constitutional prerogatives being exercised legitimately by Senator Feingold.

In the reference below, Elaine Grossman reports that Buchanan authorized the release of funds to Boeing for the third lot of 30 F/A-18E/F aircraft in a memorandum dated Jaunaury 29—ONLY one day after his spokesman released the oxymoronic statement about Smith's recusal and presumably BEFORE Smith completed his no-so-independent study. According to Grossman, Buchanan's 29 January memo also authorized advance acquisition contracting for full-rate production next year. A Navy official did tell Ms. Grossman that a contract for this new work had not yet been signed, however.

What is going on in Fort Fumble?

The effervescent Ms. Grossman may have hit upon the answer by providing new information that helps us to understand WHY the Pentagon refuses to provide clear answers to Feingold's unanswered questions, and more importantly, WHY it is now crucially important to the Navy pilots who will be asked to fly the F/A-18E/F into harm's way to answer these questions ASAP.

Among her revelations is a stunning reference to unclassified Navy documents that quote one of the "top concerns" of Navy test officials is "taking a step backward in aircraft performance."


If this REPORT is true, and Ms. Grossman's track record is pretty impressive in this regard, a continued refusal to clearly answer Feingold's questions is not only a slap at the checks and balances of the Constitution, it is also a slap at the pilots who will put their blood on the line.

I urge readers to read Grossman's newest report (Attachment 1 below) very carefully. Then go back to Attachment 2 of Comment #225 and re-read Feingold's questions very carefully.

Now take the following test by answering three questions:

  1. Should the Pentagon decision makers honor the powers delegated to Congress by the Constitution and answer Feingold's questions clearly, forthrightly, and expeditiously?

  2. Is George Wilson right about the military getting rolled by a decision process that places the welfare of the defense contractors ahead of the welfare of the troops (and I might add, the welfare of the taxpayers)?

  3. Who is permitting the contractors to roll the troops?

Perhaps is now clear why in 1996, 1997, and 1998, the Pentagon produced posters celebrating Armed Forces Day that glorified weapons but forgot to include people.

Those posters recurring metaphors for the value system actuating mendacity in Versailles on the Potomac. A better and easier exit strategy from the Howling Wilderness of Acquisition Reform would be to stand up for the troops, tell the truth, and honor our oaths to the Constitution.

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.]


"Navy Test Report Shows F/A-18E/F Struggling To Match Older Aircraft:
Acquisition Chief Authorizes New Funding Release"
By Elaine Grossman
Inside The Pentagon
February 11, 1999
Pg. 1

An operational test report authored by Navy officials reveals that in several measures of flying performance, the new $80-million-a-copy F/A-18E/F attack fighter offers only "marginal" improvement over the aircraft it replaces, the Navy's F/A-18C/D, according to sources who have read the report. And a new assessment by the Pentagon's top testing official goes further, citing areas of inferior performance on the Super Hornet.

At press time, Inside the Pentagon confirmed that Navy acquisition executive Lee Buchanan on Jan. 29 authorized the release of funds to prime contractor Boeing for the third lot of 30 Super Hornet low-rate initial production aircraft, estimated at over $2 billion. Buchanan's memo also authorizes advance acquisition contracting for full-rate production, sources said. According to one Navy official, a contract for this new work has not yet been signed.

Last November, Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI) had asked the defense secretary to suspend any additional F/A-18E/F procurement pending DOD Inspector General answers to his questions, among them, whether the Super Hornet could meet its predecessor's flying performance (ITP, Nov. 26, 1998, p1).

The Navy has classified the latest test report on the aircraft's "OT-IIB" phase, written by the service's Operational Test and Evaluation Force based at Patuxent River, MD. Despite numerous requests from reporters, the service has declined to release a declassified version of the document.

But Inside the Pentagon has learned that some unclassified statements contained in the report reveal a plane with over two dozen "major deficiencies" that result in only slight improvements over its predecessor when flying particular mission profiles.

While the report discusses some "positive aspects" of the Super Hornet, it also refers to 29 "major deficiencies," according to individuals familiar with unclassified portions of the document. In several areas, Navy testers recommend "continued development," suggesting the Super Hornet currently under low-rate initial production (LRIP) is not a final design, these sources said.

The Navy plans to buy at least 548 F/A-18E/Fs. To date, the service has procured 22 aircraft in LRIP lots 1 and 2.

Last December, the Navy publicly released a single statement from the OT-IIB report concluding that whatever its shortcomings, Boeing's F/A-18E/F offers sufficient improvements that make its procurement desirable. "The positive attributes demonstrated by the aircraft," the report says, "outweigh the negative impacts for all critical operational issues."

Navy officials say they have traded away less critical performance capabilities in order to gain Super Hornet advances in the five most important design objectives the service has laid out: range, payload, weapons "bringback," growth and survivability (ITP, Dec. 10, 1998, p1).

Still, critics complain about paying $45 billion for new Super Hornets when, in some common warfighting configurations, the aircraft offers little or no improvement over the performance of the F/A-18C/D.

During the OT-IIB tests last summer, among the "top concerns" of Navy test officials was "taking a step backward in aircraft performance," according to internal Navy documents reviewed by Inside the Pentagon. Heading down the road to the next phase, operational evaluation, one document noted Navy "concerns about ALL flying qualities/flight control issues.

Need waivers/deviations," with the emphasis appearing in the original. The July 1998 service document went on to state, "Need to work with COMOPTEVFOR/OT [Navy test] pilots proactively."

The OT-IIB report suggests that although the F/A-18E/F can carry more weapons than the plane it replaces, that improvement makes up for other deficiencies in the Super Hornet only by a hair.

"The positive results of increased weapons carriage capacity outweighed the adverse impacts of climb performance, low tactical ceiling [or low top operating altitude for combat], slow Vmax [maximum speed], and slow acceleration by a small margin," an unclassified portion of the document is reported to state.

This finding is also mentioned in a new report issued Feb. 9 by the Pentagon's director of operational test and evaluation, Philip Coyle. "Fighter escort and combat air patrol were two areas that the aircraft's increased weapons loadout and increased fuel capacity overcame several deficiencies," Coyle writes in reference to the F/A-18E/F. Areas of deficiency "included high altitude climb performance, [wing] buffet, tactical ceiling, Vmax and acceleration."

The wing shaking or "buffet," according to Coyle, "was still present [during OT-IIB tests] and remains identical to what was experienced in the developmental test phase flights. Again, it did not interfere with task accomplishment but, in some long duration missions, could easily become tiring and distracting."

When it became clear last year that the F/A-18E/F might not meet its requirements in some measures of maneuver performance, Vice Adm. Dennis McGinn, then a two-star in charge of Navy air warfare programs, moved to ensure those aircraft capabilities would not be regarded as top-priority requirements, termed "key performance parameters" (ITP, Feb. 19, 1998, p1).

But the requirements downgrade still left some Navy officials concerned last year that "the comparison aspect of the 'E' vs. the 'C' (lot XII) testing could yield results showing the performance of F/A-18E in certain configurations as being slightly less [capable] in acceleration and turning."

More significant improvement in weapons carrying capacity on the F/A-18E/F will await the introduction of new weapons, the OT-IIB report states. "Increased weapon system growth potential will allow the aircraft to accommodate future weapons systems that are projected to provide significant improvement in the FE [fighter escort] capability of the F/A-18E/F," according to the Navy report.

Said one critic in response to this finding: "Presumably any older aircraft could similarly improve" if certified to carry new weapon systems.

Referring to the F/A-18E/F's performance in air combat maneuver tests, the OT-IIB report states the plane is "marginally effective in [the] ACM mission against the projected threat." Similarly the Super Hornet is said in the report to be "marginally effective in the FE mission against the projected threat."

The revelations contained in these unclassified OT-IIB report passages echo those Navy officials offered in their report on the previous phase of testing, OT-IIA.

A year ago, Inside the Pentagon broke the story that Navy testers found the single-seat F/A-18E could not meet the C version's performance ability in some key areas, including the fighter escort mission. When carrying a relatively light load of two AIM-9 Sidewinder and two AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles, the F/A-18E is "slightly less" capable than the F/A-18C in instantaneous or sustained turn performance, or in some instances of unloaded acceleration (ITP, Feb. 5, 1998, p1).

Those problems were among 16 "major deficiencies" found in OT-IIA, as compared with the 29 observed in OT-IIB.

The new report by Coyle, the Pentagon's top operational test and evaluation official, indicates acceleration and climb performance still remain a problem. "Acceleration of the F/A-18E/F is comparable to the F/A-18C aircraft with either the basic [General Electric] F404 or the enhanced performance engine F404 in subsonic and negative-G regimes," the report reads. "However, the F/A-18E/F is slower to accelerate to supersonic speeds in one-G flight compared to the F/A-18C."

Coyle goes on to say, "Closely tied to this is the aircraft climb performance. Above 30,000 feet, this performance is substandard. A tiger team is still investigating ways to improve aerodynamic performance. The tactical implications will be assessed during [operational evaluation]."

In the end, Coyle appears optimistic that the most important performance challenges for the Super Hornet can be resolved before the program's next milestone. "The OT&E and [live fire test and evaluation] programs under way and planned for the remainder of the [engineering and manufacturing development] phase are judged adequate to resolve all critical operational issues by [milestone] III in 2000," Coyle writes.

In July 1997, though, a Navy program risk assessment board noted its concern that even if the Super Hornet meets all its specifications, it may not fly well. The Navy's Pax River testing force "may find the F/A-18E/F not operationally effective/suitable even though all specification requirements are satisfied."

As part of a "mitigation" strategy, the board raised the notion of carrying out "an aggressive indoctrination of [the] operational community to help them match expectation to reality of F/A-18E/F," according to a Navy document reviewed by ITP. In the new report, Coyle agrees with the Navy operational testers that "the F/A-18E/F was potentially operationally effective and potentially operationally suitable."—Elaine M. Grossman

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