Monday, June 07, 2021

Three Card NGAD

When something you know is mundane, ordinary, and clearly unclassified is all of a sudden stamped with a classification, your first reaction should be, “What are they hiding?”, not, "What neat things are they doing!

Know your history.

I have spent a week waiting for someone to tell me the latest on NGAD isn’t exactly what I think it is, and no one even tries to explain it away.  They know.

Via Mallory Shelbourne at USNINews;

The Navy is keeping classified the amount of Fiscal Year 2022 money it wants to develop the next-generation fighter aircraft set to replace the fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, according to service budget documents.

The Navy’s FY 2022 budget justification documents withhold the amount of dollars the service is putting toward the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. This is the second consecutive budget cycle in which the Navy has classified information about its investment into the service’s sixth-generation fighter.

It was over a dozen years ago that we saw what I consider the most egregious cover-up of our Navy’s fundamental failure to properly understand its responsibility for stewardship of the professional capital the taxpayers bought for them - the classification of INSURV. The previous link has my comments at the time.

An entire generation of leaders now have grown up - and been promoted - in this climate of cover-up in our Navy. That is what it is, no reason to sugar coat it.

After eight years of classified INSURV and the problems they hid, Rep. Whitman (R-VA) clearly identified what it was;

…he (Whittman) noted that Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) reports used to be unclassified and but have been classified for almost a decade. 

“During peacetime INSURVs should be declassified, and that makes sure there’s transparency there that we know what’s going on,” Wittman said. 

“That creates, again, that direction, that focus to make sure that maintenance is being done, maintenance availabilities aren’t being missed, material readiness is being maintained. All those things are critical.” 

“All of us have to look at this as an opportunity to really do some groundbreaking things in how the surface navy operates,” Wittman said. 

“It doesn’t hurt for us to get to points where we feel a little uncomfortable – in fact, I would argue we have to get to a point where we feel uncomfortable to make sure we are exploring all the different avenues that we have to explore.”

Yes, we commented on INSURV back in the day, but that was part of the process. Fear and shame are great motivators, and there is nothing classified about poor maintenance practices…unless you are doing such a horrible job that your warships are almost helpless … but that just tells we need more transparency, not less.

I remain convinced that you can draw a straight line from the horrible events of the summer of 2017 to not just the direct second and third order effects of hiding INSURV, but to the cultural mindset it enabled. 

Making uncomfortable facts classified is just a way to protect the powerful from being accountable - nothing more. We still have not addressed all the maintenance and material condition issues we “learned” from the summer of 2017's waste of 17 Sailors drowned in their racks, heck … we are still playing hide the ball on the manning issues.

We cannot afford to screw up NGAD, and I was hoping against experience that we would not. The fact we are on year two where we won’t even say what we’re spending on what is supposed to be a replacement for the Super Hornet only drags me in to further concern;

Look at this timeline;

The Navy finished its analysis of alternatives (AOA) for NGAD in July 2019 and as of August 2020, it had already started convening industry days for the program, USNI News reported last year.

The Navy has been seeking a replacement for the Super Hornet fleet for nearly a decade. The service put out its first request for information for the F/A-XX program in 2012

Nine years ago.

As we’ve stated over and over - next to reforming Goldwater-Nichols and the COCOM structure, we have to rip up root and branch our hide-bound and accretions hobbled acquisition system. 

It isn’t just inefficient and ineffective, it is a threat to national security. Just look at what it has done to our surface fleet the last quarter century. 

The aviation side of the house doesn’t have all that much better of a record. We’ve forgotten and thrown away range right when it became even more important. The light attack mafia won their tribalistic battles, but have left a flight deck that can't refuel a strike package, find and kill a submarine, or reach far enough without endangering mother. 

We’ve convinced ourselves that there was no way smaller aircraft carriers could park decks full of large footprint A-3, RA-5, F-14, EA-6B next to smaller aircraft - so we shrink our airwing in not just capability, but size, to the point of making its utility questionable. But hey ... the VFA guys got rid of all those VA & VF bubbas that teased them so much. They got rid of those goofy S-3s that kept taking up space ... so ... yea team.

Fewer aircraft with shorter legs is not how you win west of Wake.

With NGAD, it appears we have listened to industry oversell the promise of AI and unmanned systems, just assuming away very real issues such as bandwidth, reach back, ROE, engineering, and loss rates - all on the promise that technology risk is for losers and other people’s PCS cycle. 

This is what is driving what looks like a NGAD cock-up; the LCS of CG(X)s.

If you read the below and don’t get the sickening feeling that the same mindset and system that begat the clown show that was CG(X) isn’t slowly enveloping NGAD, then you’re not paying attention;

“As we look at it right now, the Next-Gen Air Dominance is a family of systems, which has as its centerpiece the F/A-XX – which may or may not be manned – platform. It’s the fixed-wing portion of the Next-Gen Air Dominance family of systems,” Harris said during a Navy League breakfast event at the end of March.

“But we truly see NGAD as more than just a single aircraft. We believe that as manned-unmanned teaming comes online, we will integrate those aspects of manned and unmanned teaming into that,” he added. “Whether that – we euphemistically refer to it as our little buddy – is an adjunct air-to-air platform, an adjunct [electronic warfare] platform, discussion of could it be an adjunct advanced early warning platform. We’ll have to replace the E-2D [Advanced Hawkeye] at some point in the future, so as we look to what replaces that.”

Harris at the time said the Navy divided its work on the NGAD program into two increments – increment one will evaluate a successor for the Super Hornet fleet and increment two will determine a replacement for the EA-18G Growler. The Navy has used F/A-XX to refer to the F/A-18 E/F replacement, while NGAD refers to the whole family of systems.

Someone get hold of NGAD while there is still time.

Not much time, but there is still time.

Have we learned nothing from the F-35 program? Did we not learn anything at all about “one stop shopping?”

They are over thinking NGAD. What we need now is an aircraft with legs that can deliver a tactically significant number of strike missiles that can hold an enemy's fleet, ports, and economic infrastructure at risk from distance. Design for 2-seats. Think of a 21st Century version of the SU-34. Go heavy now, that is the requirement.

If we feel we need an "air dominance" fighter for the fleet, then design one that does that with a lesser included secondary strike capability. We can have more than one aircraft under design and production at at time. If we are still trying to make the cult of efficiency happy by designing Swiss Army knives, then we are fools.

Are we compromising the good now for the future perfect that will never come?  If so, those in charge are steering us right in to a huge crisis at 2030 where the surface community finds itself today.

We don’t have time for that. Congress has no patience with the Navy for that. 

Remember, this is the team that brought us the FORD Class CVN that cannot even launch and recover the F-35C. A ship whose elevators and electrical systems seem designed to aviation tolerances and office park sensitivities that may not make it through shock trials, and if not, be able to deploy by mid-decade.

I, and others it seems, were giving them the benefit of the doubt. We were wrong. 

Congress needs to demand transparency. We cannot end up in 2030 with nothing to replace the Super Hornet. Its replacement should already be at IOC, but we playing three-card-monte with budget numbers.

If we screw this up - then why should the US Navy ever get more money in the budget? Any more responsibility? Any amount of respect and benefit of the doubt on Capitol Hill?

The Terrible 20s are fleshing out roughly as we saw a decade ago, and we appear to be compounding the problem through wholesale institutional incompetence.

Declassify now - not because it is in our self-interest (which it is) - but because we are a republic of a free people. The people and their representatives are not subjects.

Overclassification is a symptom of a larger problem. As outlined at CSIS’s Defense360 article from DEC09 by Patrick G. Eddington, Christopher A. Preble, and Seamus P. Daniels;

The overclassification of information poses a serious problem for national security. Restricting access to information prevents timely analysis and impedes decision-making by limiting debate on key policy issues to small groups of people within the government, and it inhibits public scrutiny of classified information and the decisions made from it. While it is critical to protect sensitive sources and methods, much of the information gleaned from these sources can still be made available in declassified formats. Still other information is already, and should properly be kept, in the public domain. Secrecy is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of transparency and democratic accountability, and the perception that government officials are using it to hide their own malfeasance contributes to widespread public disillusionment.

I am not sure what Congress is waiting for. 

Take the bad news and discomfort for a few retirement eligible Flag Officers now than the trainwreck to our Navy and the national security it underwrites that will come at the end of the decade if NGAD just becomes CG(X) with flight pay.

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