Target Fixation is Deadly

By Ed Timperlake

When a combat pilot presses home an attack against a ground target one has to be very careful in avoiding target fixation. The loss of situational awareness by pressing home the attack can result in flying right into the ground. Regardless of the ordnance on target, from firing 2.75 or Zuni Rockets, to strafing or releasing bombs including the Mark-76 –known as “Blue Death,”  in mission briefing  a caution is sounded-watch out for “target fixation.”

Hawker Beechcraft, in their pursuit of the AT-6 LAS contract with the USAF  just proved a US corporation can  also  have “target fixation.”   However, before using a military comparison in discussing the behavior of corporate America, Tom Wolfe’s passage about pressing that type of analogy too far comes to mind.  From his magnificent book, The Right Stuff, when comparing the perceived toughness of business with the true courage and danger of military service.

“There was much fashionable brutish talk of what ‘dog-eat-dog’ and ‘cutthroat’ competition they found there (Wall Street or Madison Avenue). … “How many would have gone to work, or stayed at work on cutthroat Madison Avenue if there had been a 23 percent chance, nearly one chance in four, of dying from it?  (the then accident rate of Navy/Marine/AF pilots). Gentlemen, we’re having this little problem with chronic violent death…”

With that said let’s review HawkerBeech’s potentially fatal “target fixation”

They took a wonderful trainer, the T-6, and spent by their own admission $100 million to trying to make it combat capable-the AT-6.

When they needed time to perfect the design, politicians impeded the USAF from acquiring a combat ready aircraft, in terms of real world combat success from fighting in Afghanistan. Kansas Pols took great credit in stopping “Imminent Fury”-a classified operation linking up the SuperTucano with special ops.

As one combat officer with detailed knowledge involved in trying to win the war in Afghanistan pointed out –

Had Imminent Fury had gone forward the experiment to put the concept in support of Naval Special Warfare Forces (SEAL teams) would have been successful.  At the end of the six months Imminent Fury experiment, the four aircraft would likely have remained behind in Afghanistan.   And once General Mattis became CENTCOM he would have expanded the A-29 (combat designation of Super Tucano) to support general purpose forces, US, Allied, and Afghan Army.

Hawker Beech’s next round of target fixation was persisting in a bid when they new that their product was certainly not combat ready, which was a requirement of the RFP. The AT-6 was a developmental prototype, not production ready, and required USG funds for continued development—even during source selection!

Their corporate gambit which implied that the strategy was to “fake it till to you make it” insulted the integrity of the Aeronautical Systems Center’s process, and subsequently the GAO which denied HBC’s complaint against the USAF.

Remarkably, they pressed on to making a smoking hole by filing a lawsuit in Federal Claims Court against their customer, claiming a lack of transparency despite being in possession of the very Engineering Notices that detail the deficiencies of their product.

The evidence is continuing to show HBC is totally fixed on winning for the company at all costs, and are ignoring the needs of the troops fighting and dying. They have now initiated a strategy to engage with Congress and fight in public by both Brazil-bashing and breathtakingly hypocritical jobs arguments.

However, after pressing both the President and Chairman “jettison” release button and now hiring a “turnaround” expert corporate owners have a chance to realize they pushed their attack too far.  In extremis and facing possible bankruptcy HBC investment banking owners, Goldman Sachs and Canada’s Onyx have hired Steve Miller AKA the self-identified “Turnaround Kid.”

“Hawker Beechcraft hires turnaround specialist as CEO,”  (Molly McMillin The Wichita  Eagle  February 7 2012) “In 2008, Miller wrote an autobiography called “The Turnaround Kid,” which chronicled a career that began with Ford Motor Co. in 1968.

Mr. Steve Miller is an extremely accomplished individual beginning with his excellent education. He earned a degree in economics from Stanford University in 1963 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1966. In 1968, he received an MBA in finance from Stanford Business School.

But like Tom Wolfe’s observation about the difference between military and Wall Street,  Mr Miller  who learned to fly at age 16 spent the Vietnam War years going to school. The summer he was going to enter Stanford the first two names would eventually appear on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  “July 8, 19 Charles Ovnand and Dale R Buis are killed by guerrillas at Bien Hoa while watching the film The Tattered Dress. They are listed 1 and 2 at the wall’s dedication.” (History of the Wall.)  When the future “turnaround kid” started with Ford, US Marines at Khe Sanh had just made their historic stand against the North Vietnamese Army.

Mr. Miller is a product of the US “Vietnam Generation,” (1959-1975) which consisted of roughly 52 Million Americans (slightly more woman then men), nine million served in uniform and a third in the combat theater and almost 57,000 died at the time. There is now sadly considerable lingering higher mortality in Vietnam Veterans in later years because of Agent Orange, for some it is a truly “wounded generation.”

So as the financial press gets target fixation on the financial and business moves made by the Turnaround Kid please keep one thing in mind: American troops are fighting and dying in Afghanistan and Hawker Beech has worked to deny them life saving air support via Imminent Fury.

Now, they are directly impeding a chance to leave behind an Air Force that could tip the battle in favor of the Afghan Army.

Remembering Vietnam and connecting directly between the Vietnam Generation and the Battle Hardened Warriors now fighting for their lives in Afghanistan, “The Turnaround Kid” has the opportunity to make a very good move: Drop the law suit now to show his support for helping win this war.


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