Boeing in Denmark: The New Alabama?

By Robbin Laird

As if it were not enough for Boeing to decide to go over the heads of a sovereign foreign government to appeal to its citizens to make a decision on a replacement fighter aircraft, now Boeing seems to believe that accusing the state that took that decision of, in effect, distorting the data they used in making that decision is just fine.

It would be good for the Super Hornet marketing team to wake up and to recognize that the Super Hornet is yesterday’s answer; it is not the fighter of the future. This is so true since the Russian leader has threatened nuclear strikes against Denmark, so their selection was not a linear business as usual decision; it was made in a strategic context.

If it was a linear generational cost over performance follow-on selection process then why didn’t Boeing submit a son of Super Hornet into the original Joint Strike Fighter competition? If one looks back at their bid, they clearly proposed a plane very different from the Super Hornet and believed that they needed to do so in order to win.

And when Lt. General Charles R. Davis, then head of the Joint Program Office, met with reporters at the Farnbourgh Air Show in 2008, he made the point very clearly:

“If Boeing has to say something negative about JSF to sell their aircraft, that tells me there is something wrong with their aircraft.” 

He added that the Super Hornet was just a scaled-up version of the 1970s F/A-18 Hornet. “How hard is that?”

Lt. General Davis went on to become the Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition. And immediately after his Joint Program Office assignment he was the Commander of the Air Armament Center and the Air Force Program Executive Officer for Weapons Air For Material Command, Eglin AFB.

In fact, when Ed Timperlake was on the Professional Staff of the House Committee on Rules he was sent by Chairman Solomon to Pax River to assess the Super Hornet. The plane just taxied in having been flown by a Marine Test Pilot the late Fred Madenwald. “Mad,” was an accomplished fleet fighter pilot extremely knowledgeable and an intellectually courageous aviator who had been a Squadron mate with “Easy” Ed Timperlake in VMFA-321, at Andrews AFB.

“Mad” was also a two tour Test Pilot with a distinguished career and had performed the first flight of the F-18 Super Hornet E/F. Meeting next to the plane he he told “Easy” that the Super Hornet would be a worthy addition to the USN, and that was that.

Remember the decision was made on the basis of the Super Hornet not being a whole new aircraft, but an upgrade of the original Hornet (first flight 1978). So the House Committee on Rules allowed the Congress to approve the acquisition of the continuation of the F-18 type/model/series without ordering a recomplete by the US Navy. Mad briefing Easy was also almost two decades ago.

Now, nothing much has changed since 2008 except the entrance into service of the F-35 and the aging of the Super Hornet.

Chasing the past, and rejecting market realities, is not how the future of 21st century military aviation is being shaped. And given the ability of Boeing to deliver two cutting edge 21st century air combat systems, the Osprey and the P-8, the storied company provides its own cutting edge examples. The P-8 is the latest of software upgradeable aircraft to enter the 21st century fleet. And this is where the future is going and being software upgradeable is a major discriminator between the F-35 and the Super Hornet.

Boeing understands the challenge of building 21st century systems and has done so in both Osprey and P-8, and we have extensively reported on both systems. The challenge of the evolving military aviation enterprise is one where Boeing can play a key role, but not by marketing yesterday’s aircraft as tomorrow’s solution.

And if one looks back at what Boeing claimed in 2008 about their new tanker and the Airbus tanker which the USAF selected, the claims being made today in Denmark would be taken with a grain of salt.

When Boeing was able to leverage the GAO protest to get a second chance and won on the basis of a very thin margin on cost the second time around. However, independent of claims and a delineable schedule made about the Boeing tanker it must be noted that several allied air forces are flying the US rejected 21st century Airbus tankers while the USAF is still waiting for even one new Boeing tanker.

When the USAF selected the Airbus tanker it was deemed the best product and best value and down selected in early 2008, and Airbus projected having several in operation within the first five years of the downselect. Given that this has happened, but not for the USAF but for allied Air Forces, the actual first selection of the projection of the Airbus tanker by USAF decision makers has been proven correct.

Sadly for the US current defense capabilities, the reversal of decision makers in selecting Boeing and their projections has now proven to be wrong. In spite of claims that they were ready to go and could provide a new tanker rapidly to the USAF when selected in 2011, it is now 2016.

And we got this update in a Wall Street Journal article in 2015:

Former Boeing executives and engineers say the tanker’s troubles stem partly from changes to Boeing’s defense business in recent years that diminished valuable know-how. It had delivered refueling aircraft to Japanese and Italian militaries between 2008 and 2012 from a Boeing facility in Wichita, Kan. Those projects ran years late and significantly over-budget. They didn’t do a great job, but they sure learned a lot,” said a retired senior Boeing executive. 

Boeing officials hoped those lessons would help avoid similar pitfalls on the KC-46. But Boeing decided to close the Wichita operations in 2012 amid Pentagon belt-tightening and moved the remaining tanker work to the Seattle area, where it builds commercial jets. 

Some Wichita tanker managers and engineers moved to Seattle, but others left, retired to or went elsewhere in Boeing. Boeing lost some of its “tribal knowledge” that could have helped the KC-46, another former executive said, and it also changed fuel-system suppliers.

With Robert Gates firing the USAF leadership that made the Airbus decision and then and dragging his feet on the replacement tanker, Americans are still waiting. Boeing worked hard to make sure that the USAF did not get the Airbus tanker and in today’s combat the operational use of the new Airbus tanker has become the tanker of choice in current Middle East operations.

To add to the aftermath of the reversal the state of Alabama felt the wrath of Boeing supporters because Mobile, Alabama would have been the site where the new Airbus tankers would have been built.

For example, the Governor of the state of Washington wrote to Defense Secretary Gates claiming that the superior workforce in her state would build a better tanker.

A proposed Air Force aerial refueling tanker from Boeing will be less risky than the one from a competing team of Northrop Grumman and EADS, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire wrote in a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates Thursday. 

“As the Air Force moves forward with a new request for proposals, I urge you to look closely at the criteria of risk and speed to delivery,” she wrote. “In doing so, I believe we will see that the Boeing proposal will contain much less risk and will also deliver a proven, highly capable tanker to the Air Force quickly and efficiently.” 

Boeing’s tanker “will be built in a factory with proven technology, an expert workforce and a long history of delivering products of the highest quality to its customers in a timely fashion,” Gregoire wrote. “In stark contrast to the existing, state-of-the-art facility that Boeing operates, (the) EADS-Northrop (tanker) would be finished in a yet-to-be-built site.” 

Building a factory, and recruiting and training a workforce invite “considerable and unacceptable levels of risk to the Air Force tanker program, including further delay.” 

This was in spite of the fact that the state of Alabama was already home to much advanced industry and a solid supporter for the US military, including Boeing facilities in Huntsville.

Apparently Boeing thinks that the strong-arm tactics used in the US tanker competition can work in Denmark. Hence Denmark becomes the new Alabama.

First you advertise over the government’s heads, then you dispute their competence, and then you act “puzzled” with their transparent release of information.

Boeing is acting like the Danish decision was some kind of one off, but the reality is that every completion which has been open in which Boeing had an entrant whether the Silent Eagle or the Super Hornet has lost to the F-35 in terms of performance and cost.

The Danes looked at the cost of mission ready aircraft the F-35; not the fly away cost of a basic aircraft the SuperHornet which then had to be prepared for the missions which the Danes wished to perform to face a tactical and strategic direct threat to their citizens.

The F-35 is a fully integrated aircraft; the Super Hornet’s fly-away cost which is counter-poised often in public is not. The F-35 is a fly away integrated combat system versus the Super Hornet as a fly away basic legacy jet. The first flight of F-18 T/M/S was 1978!

The claims are made in an article by the Defense News aviation correspondent, by the way based Inside the Beltway, and not in Denmark.

Here we learn that among other things:

Boeing also took issue with the Danes’ determination that Denmark would need to purchase 11 more Super Hornets than F-35s to complete the mission. The type selection analysis pegged the Super Hornet’s service life at 6,000 hours, while noting that the F-35 can fly to 8,000 hours. Boeing thinks the right figure for the Super Hornet is 9,500 hours, the company confirmed.

That is interesting for the US Navy and Boeing are focused on the much need funding of an expensive service life extension (SLEP) program to get the Super Hornet from 6,000 to 9,000 hours. Boeing just made a case that no further money should be spent on USN SLEP, but that is most definitely not the case for safety of flight.

In a recent article by Sandra Eriwn, it was noted:

To meet the demands of the fleet in the years before the F-35C enters service, the Navy will also need to overhaul existing fighters once they reach 6,000 hours of service so they can fly an additional 3,000 hours, he said. Boeing is prepared to expand its capacity if needed. “The size and scale of the Super Hornet program is one of our biggest challenges.”

The “he” is Dan Gillian, Boeing Vice President and Program Manager for F/A18 programs. Apparently Dan needs to brief the Danish Boeing team.

There is a future and one which Boeing can make major contributions in the military aerospace business.

Boeing knows how to make 21st century aircraft, with the Osprey and the P-8 as good examples. The efforts to put the Super Hornet into that class are not credible nor are they worthy of Boeing.

There is a future and one which Boeing can make major contributions in the military aerospace business. There is a significant business for upgrading legacy aircraft to provide for the payloads useful to compliment fifth generation aircraft, but they are not fifth generation aircraft. The Super Hornet maybe a SUPER Hornet, but it is not an F-35.

And Gary Schaub, Jr. of the Centre for Military Studies in Copenhagen provides a good sense of the Danish reality.

Both Boeing and Eurofighter have realized that the lifecycle costs for the new Danish combat aircraft fleet was key to the decision made by the Danish government to recommend the F-35 to its parliament. 

And given the detailed analysis that the Danish MOD released, it is clear that life cycle costs were driven by the number of expected flight hours of each airframe. 

Those flight hours were reflected in both the number of aircraft that the Danes deemed necessary fulfill national missions for the next 30 years and the overall cost of maintenance and sustainment. 

Boeing and Eurofighter have therefore focused their public criticisms of the Danish process on lifetime flight hours. 

The Danish calculations of life cycle costs were based upon the information that Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Eurofighter supplied in the request for binding information (RBI) in the summer of 2014. 

As the Eurofighter team explained in a public session to the Danish parliament last Friday, they indicated that the Eurofighter Typhoon would have a lifetime of 6000 flight hours guaranteed. They admitted that they were very conservative in this estimate. 

They then argued that based upon the mission profiles that were supplied in the Danish request for binding information that their own calculations were that the Typhoon would have a useful service life of 8300 flight hours. 

It would appear as though the Boeing team has made a similar calculation—that they can argue that the 6000 flight hours that they submitted their response to the RBI is also a conservative estimate and that the “actual” flight hours that the Royal Danish Air Force would get out of the F/A-18 Super Hornet is 9500. 

At this point in the process the Danish government has made its recommendation. The political parties in the parliament will consider this recommendation carefully. But two factors should be borne in mind. 

The first is that in a parliamentary system the government has the support of the majority of the parties in the parliament. This is the case with regard to the political parties that, as a matter of principle, have supported the defense agreement within which the new combat aircraft purchase will take place. 

The second is that the parliament lacks an independent staff of experts to pick apart the MOD’s recommendation. 

This is why the MOD’s process included external validation by RAND Europe and Deloitte consulting—whose joint report is also publicly available. Furthermore, the parliament will depend on outside experts such as those who will testify next Wednesday along with the Minister of Defense and the director of New Fighter Program Office. 

Much of that testimony will focus not on the calculations behind the MOD’s recommendations per se but rather on the integrity of the process, which stands in stark comparison to those used by other countries as an example of how large acquisitions ought to be done. 

Barring illegality or clear incompetence on the part of the New Fighter Program Office, the Ministry of Defense, RAND Europe, and Deloitte, it is difficult to see how Boeing in particular can be successful in its bid to convince the Danish parliament to forego the government’s recommendations.







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