Jump to content


Photo

Us Air Force Plan To Develop Fighters Every Five Years


  • Please log in to reply
23 replies to this topic

#1 Mr King

Mr King

    Fat Body

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 19,418 posts

Posted 18 September 2019 - 1251 PM

The U.S. Air Force's top acquisition official has given new details about an ultra-ambitious plan to push defense contractors to design and build new fighter jet designs at a rate of once every five years. It's a concept that is completely reversed from how the U.S. military has handled its latest fighter jet program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and one that faces its own significant challenges in producing viable results.
 
Defense News' Valerie Insinna was first to report on what Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, is now calling the "Digital Century Series," on Sept. 16, 2019. The concept is set to become a central component of the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which is seeking to develop a host of new air superiority aircraft, and capabilities to go with them, that could begin to supplement existing advanced fighter jets, such as stealthy F-35s and the F-22 Raptors, as early as 2030. The War Zone recently published an in-depth analysis of the evolution and current state of the NGAD effort, which you can find here. 
"Based on what industry thinks they can do and what my team will tell me, we will need to set a cadence of how fast we think we build a new airplane from scratch," Roper told Defense News. "Right now, my estimate is five years."
 
"I may be wrong," he continued. "I’m hoping we can get faster than that – I think that will be insufficient in the long term [to meet future threats] – but five years is so much better than where we are now with normal acquisition."
Roper has called his plan the Digital Century Series in reference to the U.S. Air Force's "Century Series" fighter jets that it paid to develop in the 1950s, starting with the North American F-100 Super Sabre. Roper's main goal is to get away from ponderous and costly acquisition cycles with lengthy development periods before production of aircraft can even begin. 
 
He also views the concept as a way to keep potential major opponents constantly off balance and guessing as to what kind of combat aircraft the United States might deploy next. As a hypothetical, he described the following scenario to Defense News:
"Every four or five years there was the F-200, F-201, F-202 and it was vague and mysterious [on what the planes] have, but it’s clear it’s a real program and there are real airplanes flying. Well, now you have to figure out: What are we bringing to the fight? What improved? How certain are you that you’ve got the best airplane to win?
 
...
 
"How do you deal with a threat if you don’t know what the future technology is? Be the threat – always have a new airplane coming out."
Roper identified three key underlying principles that he feels will enable the Digital Century Series concept. These are "agile software development," "open architecture systems," and "digital engineering," according to Defense News.
 
The first term refers to a process common in the software industry where programmers rapidly generate computer code to support various functions on an aircraft or within its individual systems, test it out, and release it. Programmers then immediately solicit feedback and begin incorporating improvements in subsequent software builds.
 
Open architecture simply refers to a system that is designed to be modular, both in terms of hardware and software, allowing for the rapid integration of new and improved capabilities in the future. This could include the replacement of entire systems, such as radars and other sensors, or the additional added functionality to existing components. 
 
Digital engineering is perhaps the most important part of Roper's vision, involving dramatically increasing the use of digital modeling and rapid prototyping to speed up the development of aircraft and reduce the amount of initial testing of those designs before production can begin. Lockheed Martin's Skunk Works has been a particular pioneer in these kinds of processes. Northrop Grumman and Boeing, America's other two major producers of combat aircraft, have also been working to make more use of high fidelity digital modeling in the development, as well as in the production of planes. This includes modeling for stealthy aircraft, such as the F-35 and B-2, which have designs that require extreme precision to ensure they maintain their radar-evading features.Roper then explained to Defense News how he envisioned the acquisition cycle for a Digital Century Series aircraft to go. He said that some number of companies would get contracts to develop a new fighter jet. Each firm would have to produce a high fidelity digital model of their design and then similarly simulate the production and repair processes, with an eye toward simplifying processes whenever possible and thereby reducing costs and maintenance requirements. The Air Force would then down-select to one design. This entire process would take five years.
 
The winning company would then get a contract to build 24 planes per year for at least three years. This would lead to a fleet of 72 aircraft, the minimum that Air Combat Command says it needs to sustain actual combat operations, according to Roper. As this firm is getting production underway, the Air Force would begin the process all over again.
 
Altogether, its radical concept, even if it's one that Roper has described in more general terms since April. It's also one that has a number of inherent challenges that it's unclear if the Digital Century Series will be able to surmount. 
 
For one, Roper's view of the original Century Series as a period where the Air Force deliberately hired various companies to rapidly build small fleets of new aircraft isn't entirely in line with the actual history. For example, the first of the designs, the F-100, leveraged considerable design experience from the earlier F-86 Sabre, which first flew in 1947, in order to go from a mock-up in 1951 to a flying prototype in 1953. The next aircraft in the series, the McDonnell's F-101 Voodoo was a redesign of an aircraft, the XF-88, that the company had first received a contract to build in 1947. The first Voodoo entered service in 1957.
 
Some of the Century Series aircraft did progress in development at faster paces, but it was hardly a given, and the total production numbers in most cases were hardly small. The only design that entered service, but didn't have a production run of more than 500 aircraft was the F-106 Delta Dart. Not counting the F-110 Spectre, an iconic aircraft that was subsequently redesignated as the F-4 Phantom II, the F-106s actually stayed in Air Force service the longest. Air National Guard units retired the last of the Delta Darts in 1988, nearly 30 years after their introduction. The F-104 Starfighter had the shortest American service life, heading into retirement after 17 years, though it remained in foreign service for decades afterward.
 
Four of the first 10 aircraft designs – the F-103, F-107, F-108, and F-109 – also never saw series production at all. Roper's model seems to largely assume that the truncated and heavily digitized acquisition process will either somehow be able to avoid selecting designs that do not perform as expected or that these failures won't be detrimental in any way to the overall concept. This would also require stable budgets to ensure that there are no schedule slips that could also have cascading impacts on the overall concept.It's also worth noting that in the 1950s, there were a wide range of companies capable of producing contemporary combat jet designs. Bell, Convair, Lockheed, McDonnell, North America, and Republic, all designed aircraft in the Century Series. Other companies, including Douglas, Grumman, and Fairchild, and Vought, all built fighters for the U.S. Navy during the same period or proposed aircraft to the Air Force, but did not receive contracts. Today, there are just three major companies in the United States that produce military jet aircraft of any kind and one of them, Northrop Grumman, hasn't produced a manned fighter jet of its own in decades. 
 
Roper noted that smaller companies could team with one of the big three to help bring new technologies and design concepts to the table. At the same time, it's hard to see his vision of a heavy focus on rapid, digital prototyping and leveraging of existing knowledgebases as doing anything but fostering a preference for iterative and evolutionary rather than revolutionary designs – just as was the case with the original Century Series in reality. The F-106 was a direct outgrowth of the F-102, originally being designated the F-102B, and the design for the failed North American YF-107 Ultra Sabre used the F-100 as a starting place. Small fleets of advanced aircraft have typically proven to be difficult and very costly to operate and maintain. It's hard to see how the Air Force will be able to fly less than 100 examples of multiple distinct aircraft designs simultaneously, even for relatively short periods of time, without having to establish complex logistics chains to support them, especially during sustained operations.
 
Beyond all this, it seems almost worthless to compare what it takes to develop next-generation stealthy aircraft to what is required to devise even advanced fourth-generation fighter jet designs. The existing experience globally with fifth-generation aircraft has typically been protracted and expensive development cycles, regardless of the capabilities of the final product. 
 
Again, the requirement for a five-year schedule to go from a digital design to a production-ready stealthy aircraft would seem to favor iterative designs to even have any real chance of meeting that goal. This, in turn, calls into question whether or not any potential opponent would truly be kept guessing between the development of one aircraft and the next.

​

 

 
 

  • 0

#2 Stuart Galbraith

Stuart Galbraith

    Just Another Salisbury Tourist

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 55,303 posts

Posted 18 September 2019 - 1321 PM

Without a Kelly Johnson somewhere, this is just going to remain good intentions. You only have to look at getting the Tomcat in service in five years, and the number of problems that created
  • 0

#3 R011

R011

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 6,754 posts

Posted 18 September 2019 - 1332 PM

It helped that there were five different companies which developed the six century series fighters plus two more designing fighters just for the Navy. There are only three now and one only does bombers at the moment.

Edited by R011, 18 September 2019 - 1352 PM.

  • 0

#4 Burncycle360

Burncycle360

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 3,595 posts

Posted 18 September 2019 - 1635 PM

I mean, what's a trillion dollar deficit here and there, it's only taxpayer money


 

 

At the same time, it's hard to see his vision of a heavy focus on rapid, digital prototyping and leveraging of existing knowledgebases as doing anything but fostering a preference for iterative and evolutionary rather than revolutionary designs

 

 

They worded this like that was a bad thing....


Edited by Burncycle360, 18 September 2019 - 1637 PM.

  • 0

#5 Panzermann

Panzermann

    REFORGER '79

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 16,594 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 0055 AM

They worded this like that was a bad thing....

​

 

The next big revolutionary thing X looks better in powerpoint and makes more money for teh companies with long drawn out development. ;)


  • 0

#6 Stuart Galbraith

Stuart Galbraith

    Just Another Salisbury Tourist

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 55,303 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 0147 AM

They might do well to keep the USAF out of the development process and just use what they are given. Some of the best aircraft ever built, HS Harrier, F4 Phantom, F16, are ones the military had nothing to do with and just fell in their lap. Same with tanks when you stop to think about it. As soon as the military gets involved in setting the specs and the development process, it all goes pear shaped.

 

Thats not just the US military, its all military's.


Edited by Stuart Galbraith, 19 September 2019 - 0148 AM.

  • 0

#7 Chris Werb

Chris Werb

    In Zod We Trust

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 10,989 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1222 PM

They might do well to keep the USAF out of the development process and just use what they are given. Some of the best aircraft ever built, HS Harrier, F4 Phantom, F16, are ones the military had nothing to do with and just fell in their lap. Same with tanks when you stop to think about it. As soon as the military gets involved in setting the specs and the development process, it all goes pear shaped.

 

Thats not just the US military, its all military's.

 

True of Harrier and F-4, but not of F-16 which was designed in response to US government requirements from the outset. The F-5 would have been a much better example.


  • 0

#8 Stuart Galbraith

Stuart Galbraith

    Just Another Salisbury Tourist

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 55,303 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1226 PM

Well the F16 was developed for a US Government contract. But the actual desire for the fighter in the USAF was non existent as best I can tell, till politicians and defence analysts browbeat them into it. It only owed its existence to the lightweight fighter mafia, that successfully made the point that a lighter cheaper aircraft would be a useful counterpart to the F15, which the USAF didn't have the funds to buy in the numbers required. And by the same thinking, the F18 only exists because of the same people, albeit its rather now beefy than it was when it was the YF17.

 

And yes, I believe you are right about the F5. Apparently Top Gun wanted the privately developed F20 as well, but the DOD wouldnt fork out for it.


Edited by Stuart Galbraith, 19 September 2019 - 1231 PM.

  • 0

#9 sunday

sunday

    Bronze-age right-wing delusional retard

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 12,027 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1233 PM

 

They might do well to keep the USAF out of the development process and just use what they are given. Some of the best aircraft ever built, HS Harrier, F4 Phantom, F16, are ones the military had nothing to do with and just fell in their lap. Same with tanks when you stop to think about it. As soon as the military gets involved in setting the specs and the development process, it all goes pear shaped.

 

Thats not just the US military, its all military's.

 

True of Harrier and F-4, but not of F-16 which was designed in response to US government requirements from the outset. The F-5 would have been a much better example.

 

 

Lockheed did not enter the LWF program because "Kelly" Johnson believed the specs were wrong, and some more weaponry was needed. So they presented the CL-1200-2, and got booted from the program. I wonder if the later blocks of the F-16 show that Kelly was right.


  • 0

#10 Burncycle360

Burncycle360

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 3,595 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1343 PM

Our leadership turnover rate is so high it's difficult to main a cohesive and coherent single integrated operational plan and doctrine, where all the components work together to achieve a common end before someone else gets in there and swirls it around so they have their own legacy.    This is exacerbated by how our contracting system works, rolling in immature technology so it becomes too big to fail rather than developing it separately and using what works, and focusing on low rate development and production lasting 10+ years before IOC (sometimes 20) being the norm to "maintain jobs and skills",  spending and shadowboxing like it's the cold war, and then telling congress we can't afford evolutionary / iterative upgrades on the one hand, and on the other saying we have to afford revolutionary ones which is literally the exact opposite of reality.

It's a tragedy of the commons and one of the second order effects of the bureaucracy in which we operate.  Despite being a big ship to steer, improvements can be made -- but they need to burn that ship to the waterline and start fresh because until they go in and address these underlying problems, 5 year development cycles are not going to be any less expensive or better than 20 year development cycles.


Edited by Burncycle360, 19 September 2019 - 1353 PM.

  • 0

#11 Mighty_Zuk

Mighty_Zuk

    Crew

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 488 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1554 PM

What's the point of designing a brand new aircraft every 5 years, when you can just spend that time and money on comprehensive studies into making aircraft design more efficient?

This is stupid. All this would give the US is enemies that don't know how to deal specifically with each aircraft.
But on the other hand, it would also mean the USAF will hardly know what to do with each one and how to integrate each one into the doctrine.

Instead what they could do is spend more money into designing propulsion systems, the electronic suit, and sensory suit.

Then when they're ready, just build new airframes to fit gradually more engines.
i.e one engine for multirole fighter, then 2 engines for air superiority, 3 engines for recon/interceptor, 4 engines for bomber etc etc.
  • 0

#12 Chris Werb

Chris Werb

    In Zod We Trust

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 10,989 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1557 PM

Sensors, networking and payload are now far more important than airframe.


  • 0

#13 Mighty_Zuk

Mighty_Zuk

    Crew

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 488 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1606 PM

Then there is no need for a new century fighter series. My post was sarcastic. You want steady evolutions? That's why new blocks are coming in often for existing fighters.
  • 0

#14 Brian Kennedy

Brian Kennedy

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 5,439 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 1844 PM

Is this some like military nerd version of an Onion article? Is absurd on so many levels.
  • 0

#15 Mighty_Zuk

Mighty_Zuk

    Crew

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 488 posts

Posted 19 September 2019 - 2125 PM

Is this some like military nerd version of an Onion article? Is absurd on so many levels.


Maybe. But it does touch on some important point.
The one reason why we cannot repeat the century series fighters is because systems, military systems, particularly aircrafts that are systems of systems, have become so ridiculously complex, that development times have hiked just as ridiculously.

We as simple readers love to criticize big corporations for failing mega defense projects, but in reality even these failures require a tremendous amount of competence to even get so far in such projects.
  • 0

#16 Chris Werb

Chris Werb

    In Zod We Trust

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 10,989 posts

Posted 20 September 2019 - 0308 AM

Is this some like military nerd version of an Onion article? Is absurd on so many levels.


I had the same immediate reaction.
  • 0

#17 Burncycle360

Burncycle360

    Member

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 3,595 posts

Posted 20 September 2019 - 0316 AM

 

Is this some like military nerd version of an Onion article? Is absurd on so many levels.


Maybe. But it does touch on some important point.
The one reason why we cannot repeat the century series fighters is because systems, military systems, particularly aircrafts that are systems of systems, have become so ridiculously complex, that development times have hiked just as ridiculously.

We as simple readers love to criticize big corporations for failing mega defense projects, but in reality even these failures require a tremendous amount of competence to even get so far in such projects.

 


Don't buy it. 

Patting taxpayers on the head and saying "well kiddo, it's just super complex" is the same hand waving answer they like to give when the GAO asks why they're hemorrhaging so much money, but this stuff isn't rocket surgery.  All the major components and subsystems (30,000 lbs class engines, AESA radars, EO suites, HOBS missiles and HMDS, etc) foundational to maintaining our lead in the world has been developed and matured.  There have been tremendous enablers and advances in technology (often driven by the commercial side) that should be making this stuff less and less expensive, and more reliable, not the other way around.  The F119 and derivatives have something like 40% fewer parts than legacy engines, along with a host of other improvements that should all equate to greater uptime and maintainability, longer service life and better reliability, and that's only one example.   These projects are ridiculously expensive not because they're too complex, but because our reach is exceeding their grasp with regards to revolutionary requirements, along with the usual Government contracting pork and requirement creep.   Reign that in, stick with what works and build it in numbers, and the problem goes away.   There's such a gap between the technology (and available quantity) between the US and the rest of the world that there's no reason we couldn't coast on that for decades.

Stick the x-plane stuff on x-planes, where it can go on the back burner if budgets are tight, or fast tracked when budgets are bountiful, and utilized when it's ready.  If that takes 20 years, then so be it.  Don't roll it into your next gen aircraft in a too big to fail project, while simultaneously eroding the capability to produce and maintain current generation projects in order to convince congress to fund it or be complicit in America's downfall.

It reminds me of ULA representatives telling Congress with a straight face that rockets are hard, and the cost plus prices they're charging the taxpayer and annual billion dollar subsidies on top of it is just the price of doing business and maintaining their capability, that's just as efficient and cheap as it can be.... before Elon Musk called him out and offered to do it fixed price without subsidies for something like a third of the cost.   That's the difference between being results oriented, and being a jobs program oriented towards the most efficient conversion of taxpayer dollars to contractor profits.

Let the dinosaurs go the way of blockbuster if their business practices are not sustainable, I don't care if we only have 2 defense contractors left, and I don't care that it's how we've always done business.  Let it burn to the waterline if they can't adapt.  Those at the top of these companies will have their golden parachute anyway, and frankly should feel lucky they're not going to see any prison time (I doubt we have the room).     Someone will rise from the ashes and get the job done, even if we have to outsource in the meanwhile.    I'm sure they still have Airbuses number someplace.


Edited by Burncycle360, 20 September 2019 - 0332 AM.

  • 0

#18 Stuart Galbraith

Stuart Galbraith

    Just Another Salisbury Tourist

  • Members
  • PipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPipPip
  • 55,303 posts

Posted 20 September 2019 - 0328 AM

Buy Tempest. Make Britain Great Again. :)


  • 0

#19 GARGEAN

GARGEAN

    Crew

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 2,147 posts

Posted 20 September 2019 - 0537 AM

Sensors, networking and payload are now far more important than airframe.

They are, but airframe itself is by far should not be dropped. There's a huge difference between airframe cruising at 18k meters at M2 with 600km radius and one cruising at 25k at M2.8 at 1200km range. Even if whole suit and payload are same.
  • 0

#20 Nobu

Nobu

    Crew

  • Members
  • PipPip
  • 3,137 posts

Posted 20 September 2019 - 1237 PM

Buy Tempest. Make Britain Great Again. :)

 

The production of Tempest wing assemblies and other components could be subcontracted to American firms to sweeten such a deal.

 

All the major components and subsystems (30,000 lbs class engines, AESA radars, EO suites, HOBS missiles and HMDS, etc) foundational to maintaining our lead in the world has been developed and matured.  

 

The question that arises is at what point does the value of exceptionalism in everything start to become overshadowed by the need to be acknowledged as such in everything.


Edited by Nobu, 20 September 2019 - 1258 PM.

  • 0