Pentagon Official: More Prototypes, Please

21.10.07

Categorie: Air, Testing |

“The U.S. military must place greater emphasis in the early stages of platform development on gleaning lessons from prototype models and locking in the requirements for new weapon systems, moves one senior Pentagon acquisition official says should help drive down overall program costs,” Defense News reports:

The Pentagon’s top acquisition shop is pressing forward with a bold initiative aimed at requiring the military services and agencies to build and test prototypes of platforms and weapons prior to the key milestone B decision point and the onset of the so-called “system development and demonstration” (SDD) phase. The idea is to move “more mature” technologies into the SDD phase and drive down the development costs of major programs. “SDD is not a time of discovery,” said Dave Ahern, director of portfolio systems acquisition in the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics.

yf16.jpgThat should be patently obvious, all the more so because we’ve been through this sort of testing correction before, back in the 1970s during a period when delays and cost increases on the F-111 fighter-bomber and the C-5 airlifter were causing some serious soul-searching in the Pentagon. As a bonus, that re-emphasis on prototyping resulted in one of the most successful weapon designs of all time, the F-16. My boss Bill Sweetman explained way back in 1999, in the now-defunct World Air Power Journal:

After the trouble-plagued development of the F-111 and the C-5, the White House had commissioned a Blue Ribbon Commission to investigate Pentagon procurement. Deputy Defense Secretary David Packard (co-founder of the Hewlett-Packard company) anticipated one of its main recommendations in 1970, by calling for more prototyping of major systems.

Advocates of a new small, cheap fighter — meant to balance out the heavy, expensive F-15 — seized on this opportunity. Up to this point, they had disguised their Light Weight Fighter program as studies of ”energy-maneuverability theories.” Now they could score the cash to build a prototype. ”Packard’s protoyping initiative was critically important,” Bill writes, ”because it allowed the USAF to fund the [Light Weight Fighter] in the absence of a formal requirement.”

Thirty-five years later, the resulting F-16 is one of the most effectice — and easily the most cost-effective — tactical airplane in the world. All thanks to a very sensible prototyping policy. 

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2 Responses to “Pentagon Official: More Prototypes, Please”

  1. springbored says:

    And a big Amen to that! If we prototype only after the program…ah…becomes a “program” in the “let’s buy a bunch sometime soon” sense, any chance of realistic testing goes out the window.

    Then prototype testing just becomes an exercise in defending (or just plain hiding) bad data until the order for low-rate production kicks in. So how can we keep prototypes from being encumbered by service concerns about their various “programs?”

  2. demophilus says:

    Maybe I’m missing something, but we’ve prototyped several programs since the YF-16/-17 flyoff — specifically, YF-22/-23, X-32/-35, and X-45/-47. So this bears a faint whiff of business as usual, or old wine in a new bottle.

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