Can we Learn Something From the Air Force?
B-21 avoided the Tree of Woe
The Navy's tale of woe in trying to force the acquisition system to actually produce something besides process is almost too painful to recall, especially on the surface side of the house.
We have the walking wounded of LCS, the squib DDG-1000, the gilded promise Ford CVN, and the never-was-has-been CG(X). We have hope that we can't screw up the existing Franco-Italian FREMM in the upcoming modified to American requirements Constellation Class FFG, but we shall see if our optimism is well placed.
As we all wait with bated breath and gritted teeth on what may be with DDG(X), we should look around to see if there is a benchmark recently that did work.
On the surface side of the house, LPD-17 won't quite make the cut as it was only made to work with a lot of additional money and Sailor sweat, though we can call it adequate, if a bit expensive and clunky in initial execution.
We can look over at the aviation side of the house, but that is quite spotty. F-35 is meeting our lowered expectations, but it is a Joint hobbled kludge. If you ignore the pile of pants that is maintenance, the sub side of the house seems to be doing quite well, but they're a special case in a variety of ways. The Super Hornet program was a great success, but that was only because NAVAIR tricked everyone in to thinking that it was just an update to the Hornet...which it was absolutely not.
Hmmmm, a successful acquisition system from the 1990s that was a success by ... bypassing the acquisition system. Did anyone learn a lesson there?
Well, it appears the USAF did in the B-21. Via Stephen Losey at DefenseNews;
Following a dramatic unveiling of the B-21 bomber in California on Dec. 2, 2022, former Air Force leaders are holding a muted celebration. By moving from contract award to public rollout in seven years, they said in interviews with Defense News that they proved their acquisition strategy — despite McCain’s criticism — worked.
Better yet, they said, their unexpected approach might provide best practices for other major programs and serve as an antidote to the beleaguered development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in the 1990s and 2000s.
Their secret? They learned how to limit bureaucracy.
“There were fewer checkers checking the checkers,” James said. “Don’t ever underestimate the ability of the Pentagon bureaucracy and these many, many reviews to slow the doggone thing down.”
Most notably, officials point to the unusual move to put the Rapid Capabilities Office in charge of the B-21′s development. That office had a narrowly focused team of skilled, experienced engineers and program managers, a board of directors to hash out key decisions and reviews, and an ability to cut through red tape, James said.
In other words, when you really want something done, you go around the system that is there to help you.
Kind of telling, isn't it?
...the Air Force’s decision to have the Rapid Capabilities Office take charge of developing the B-21 was a critical step in its acquisition process.
The Air Force created the Rapid Capabilities Office in 2003 to quickly develop, acquire and field some of the service’s highest-priority programs — many of which were classified, such as the X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle. The RCO is intended to take advantage of innovative approaches, “without the rigidity of traditional acquisition,” the Air Force said in an online fact sheet about the office.
The B-21 was a much larger program than the RCO typically managed, Wilson noted, but it worked. The office’s team on the B-21 was unusually slim compared to other programs, and it included some of the Air Force’s most experienced engineers and program managers. Most importantly, she said, they were trusted to use their judgment and go fast, without micromanagement.
“It was run very differently from other programs,” Wilson said. “You get high performers in the [RCO] program office, and you don’t crush their will to live with huge bureaucracies. … I think it’s a good example of how to do major programs better.”
Another data point in our long-standing call to uproot the not fit for purpose, accretion hobbled, rent seeking, and self-satisfied acquisitions system that best seems to serve itself.
It is a human creation - not the revealed truth from some diety. Other systems have better served our nation. It is time to upgrade this one.
If the end result does not have at least 50% few GS/SES, then we have failed.
Oh, if only….. A bloated bureaucracy is only one of the many sources of Navy cost overruns. My Ph.D dissertation was on the subject of DoD cost overruns, so at least at that point in my life I had a pretty clear picture of the problem and at least two quantitative means of avoiding them. You may note for the record that no one in DoD has contacted me about the study or its conclusions.
But let us carry on to the more general collection of sins that befell the LCS and DDG 1000. Too many high risk technologies in DDG-1000, including a main battery the Navy couldn’t afford to fire; and too little attention to basic engineering in LCS (mission module interfaces that didn’t). Both also failed the up-front test of being required in the first place. I’ll leave details for others.
Did a quick Google search of the mentioned "Rapid Capabilities Office", which seemed to work for the USAF. In 3 pages I only found such an entity within the Air Force, Army, Space Force and the Marines. Didn't see that the Navy had a bureau like that, but might have missed it. If they don't then it is probably too late now to field one that'd be effective. To create such an office as a "Navy Rapid Capabilities Office" (NRCO, pronounced "NECRO" to the dyslexic) would entail manning* it with HR vetting of the new hires to assure equity and diversity goals were met. Once formed, I just don't see NRCO getting anything meaningfully done until their committee can agree on the selection of office furniture and deck chairs. 2030?
*("manning" is my preferred present participle, even if I use it as a verb or adjective.)