Words From the Weapons Czar

Oct. 1, 2002

Edward C. Aldridge is the undersecretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. In that position, he directs the development, fielding, and maintenance of the US military’s weapons systems and also supervises the Pentagon’s installation programs, nuclear, biological, and chemical programs, and its relationship with the defense industrial base.

A former Secretary of the Air Force and aerospace industry leader, Aldridge has long experience managing high-technology endeavors. In August, he met with defense reporters, including Executive Editor John A. Tirpak, in Washington, D.C., to discuss changes he has made to the Pentagon’s way of buying hardware and to offer his views on acquisition programs of significant interest.

F-22 Is “Key”

“The F-22 is a terrific airplane. It’s got tremendous technology in it. And it will absolutely dominate the air, over the air of any adversary. It’s going to be a replacement of the F-15Cs and Ds, and it could, in fact, replace some of the F-15Es in the future and certainly the F-117. … The F-22, in my view, is the air dominance capability for the future. We don’t want to have any of our forces ever again be subject to attack from the air. If we’re going to go into any conflict anywhere in the world, we want to have complete air dominance, and the F-22 is key to that.”

How Many Raptors

“The Air Force has … 10 Air Expeditionary Force units. … To fill those AEFs, you have to determine how many F-22s are the right number for that. Or, what is the mix of F-22s/F-15s, F-22s/Joint Strike Fighters–and part of the process we’ll go through this summer and this fall will try to establish what that right number is. … It’s not a matter of if we’re going to buy the F-22. It’s how many do we want to buy and how many is the right number.”

Fixing Test Delays

“We’ve got a test program [for the F-22] that’s falling behind schedule, and we need to get that back on track. Getting the airplane to come in within its cost estimates is also very important. …

“We are running at about half the rate we should have been to make the airplane complete the test program on schedule. The Air Force has responded to that and has implemented a get-well plan that looks like we can get those test points completed at a much higher rate. … I understand they are in fact flying more times and getting more airplanes delivered to get that test program back on schedule.”

High Performance

“The program, in terms of its performance expectations, looks very good, and we have no indications that we’ll be in any type of problem with the F-22.”

Future Long-Range Strike

“What we’re focusing on, rather than the bomber platform, is the munitions that the bombers carry. That’s the important factor. … We are, in fact, thinking about what is the [platform of the] 2015-2020 time frame, because B-52s aren’t going to last forever. They’re 50 years old right now. And we have some studies under way looking at the future of long-range strike capability. It could be unmanned, it could be supersonic, it could be subsonic, it could be FB-22s, it could be other types of technologies, and it could even come from space. We are not eliminating any possibility for the future.”

Strike Requirements

“If you look out in that time frame, what are the characteristics that you want? There are certain characteristics that exist within the F-22, for example, like supercruise [that you want]. While the bomber is over the target, it probably would be very advantageous to have a supersonic capability, because it keeps it out of the target area for a given period of time. … The [desired] airplane is probably smaller than a B-2 and can deliver 20 or 10 or 16 [Small Diameter Bombs].”

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Cuts

“[The Navy and Marines Corps F-35 study calling for JSF cuts] is not a radical study. It’s quite reasonable. … They’ve taken a look at Navy-Marine tactical air, looked at the capability of the Joint Strike Fighter–which has higher reliability and more sorties rates [than current aircraft]–and determined how many airplanes they need to buy, given the new conditions. And that number is less than what they currently [planned].”

Stabilizing JSF Costs

“The cost of the Joint Strike Fighter was based upon the procurement of 3,000 airplanes–US and UK only. The Navy says they can get by with 400 less airplanes, which brings the number down to 2,600. That increases the unit price of the Joint Strike Fighter by about five percent, until you sell some beyond the Navy and UK. … If we sell 400 more airplanes internationally, unit price goes back to where we thought it was going to be in the beginning, and I have no doubt that’s what we’re going to do. … My view is that … the unit price of the airplane is going to actually be below what we currently project, which for the conventional version in FY02 dollars is $37 million.”

JSF Demand Grows

“We now have seven partners signed up for the Joint Strike Fighter development phase and an eighth which will come on board soon. That will be Australia. … I have very high confidence we will sell 1,000 [to] 2,000 airplanes outside of these [sold to the US and UK]. … The Joint Strike Fighter is the largest defense program ever, and we actually implemented it. … We now have, in the Joint Strike Fighter, $4.5 billion of non-US money contributed to development of that program. That’s unheard of.”

New Tankers Needed

“Without doubt, we need additional tankers. I’m open as to the best way to achieve that. The Air Force is going through their analysis, … and I’m kind of waiting to see what their study says. … Someday we’re going to have to replace those aircraft. So, I’m open as to the best way to do that–whether it’s purchase or lease–but we will have to replace them. … The 767 [would be] a very good platform to do this job–much cheaper to operate and much more capable [than the KC-135] of doing that job. So, I’m just [going to] wait and see.”

Electronic Warfare Plans

“The [June] briefing [on EW options] … done by a group looking at the replacement of Electronic Warfare aircraft, [for] both the Navy and the Air Force, … was not convincing as to the plan. It included both the replacement of the EA-6B–which is having a lot of troubles both in the engines as well as structure, and it’s just getting old–as well as some plans for some Electronic Warfare within the Air Force. I would say I was not convinced that was the right plan. … The plan … was: ‘Here’s an Air Force solution, and here is a Navy solution,’ rather than, ‘Here is a US Department of Defense solution.’ … It may be that they have the right solution. It was just unconvincing at the time that I heard it.”

Platform De-emphasized

“Probably the most interesting part of it would be an electronic pod system that would do the job that could be carried on any type of aircraft, either Navy or Air Force. And I think what we have to focus on is, ‘What is the problem we’re trying to solve?’ rather than, ‘What is the platform we need to solve that problem with?’ So I think … we [need to] find a way to come to a common solution, because we’re going after the same threat.”

The New EW Study

“[As] part of the Defense Planning Guidance this summer, we have an Electronic Warfare study under way to see if what was proposed [in June] was the right answer. There are some other alternatives being considered.”

Global Hawk Cost Coming Down

“The Global Hawk first came from an ACTD, Advanced Concept Technology Demonstration, [so] it’s expensive, because we’re not buying very many of them. And it doesn’t have the reliability we like, because we didn’t design it to have all the redundancy you would have in an operational system. … If we get to the point downstream–which we plan to do–to increase the [production] rate, we will get the price down, and we will operationalize it. We will put the redundancy in it and so forth, so we hope to get the reliability back up.”

Stick With the Hawk

“It [Global Hawk] is a tremendous platform. To start all over again and try to design yourself something that’s a high flier like that, with its capability, it’s going to cost just as much. So it’s a matter of just fixing it, … get the production rate up, get the costs down, and get its reliability up with redundancy. … Basically, we’re going to use it to replace the U-2 … when [Global Hawk] gets enough power.”

How Many Ships

“The shipbuilding rate is not strong enough. The shipbuilding industrial base is strong enough. In fact, we’re running it below capacity. If we continue to buy five ships a year, we’re not going to have a 300-ship Navy. We’re going to have a 230-ship Navy. So we have to get the shipbuilding rate up.

“We need to build about 10 ships a year. … Ships last [for about] 30 years, and [if] you want to build a 300-ship Navy, you need about 10 ships a year just to sustain it.”

The 375-Ship Fleet

“The Navy’s talking about increasing the number of ships to 375 or thereabouts, but those are based upon going to a Littoral Combat Ship, LCS, which [is] smaller, [so] we could buy more of them. But we need to sustain those kinds of numbers to do the things we want the Navy to do. … We need to get the number of submarines built to at least two per year. We’re building one per year. We have to worry about … the future aircraft carriers. … Those things get built every five years or something like that. But the number of surface combatants is not sufficient and the submarines aren’t sufficient.”

V-22 Troubles

“I’m probably the most skeptical person in the Department of Defense at this time on the V-22. … I have looked at this airplane more thoroughly than anybody in the acquisition business. I’ve gone through all the reports, the NASA reports and the Blue Ribbon reports, and I’ve got some real problems with the airplane.”

Put V-22 to the Test

“The only way to prove or disprove my concern is to put it [the V-22] through a very thorough flight-test program. … I am skeptical, but I cannot say that the [V-22] problems cannot be solved or be disproved in the test- flight program. … In the meantime, we’re producing the airplanes at a very minimum sustaining rate. … We’re going to have to make some decisions probably next year at this time whether or not we put money into the FY05 budget. … So there’s probably going to have to be a decision within a year.”

Seeking Alternatives

“The alternatives are some other helicopter. There’s the EH-101, there’s the S-92, Sikorsky model, there’s a CH-53X, which is an upgrade of the -53. We are looking at those alternatives right now. … [A Pentagon Defense Planning Guidance] study is [under way] to determine what is the alternative to the V-22 if it does not pass its flight-test program. … That’s the plan at this point in time. Although the [Defense] Secretary has the authority [to say] ‘I don’t care if it passes the test program, it’s not affordable’–he has that choice.”

Ready to Change Course

“Let’s say it [the V-22] doesn’t pass the flight-test program: I don’t want to be sitting around for another year or two waiting to decide what is the alternative. … I want to be able to decide today what is the alternative we want to pursue.”

Waiting for Comanche

“The [Comanche] airplane is now the oldest acquisition program. It’s been in process longer than the F-22, and we still don’t have it. … We’ve gone through several cycles of restructuring, and there have been budget cuts, and it’s gone through probably the most turmoil of any program now in the Department of Defense. … The Army is going through a restructuring exercise at this point to look at how we can do this airplane and force it into spiral acquisition–not do everything up front.”

omanche Woes

“The problem I see with the program is that weight’s going up; there are some problems with the integration of a lot of the mission equipment on the airplane. Cost is certainly a concern. … [The] two biggest concerns are weight growth and mission electronics integration. Those are the two hardest things we have to do. …

“There’re 37 different antennas on this airplane. The integration of those antennas, coupled with stealth technology and having that system interface with all the other network-centric activities of the Army, is going to be difficult. That’s what we have to resolve and … ensure that we can do that effectively within cost and scheduling.”

Terminating Systems

“[What] I would learn from [terminating] the [Army’s] Crusader is … do it when you send the next budget to the Hill, rather than in the middle of the process. That’s what was the difficulty. [Lawmakers] were right in the middle of doing the authorization bill when we sent the thing over there, and that was hard. It was necessary to do it, but if I was going to do it again, I would have done it back in the beginning when the budget went over, and it was not in the budget.”

On His Five Goals

“I came on board in this job in May of 2001, and I set myself five goals. … The five goals were: to improve the efficiency and effectiveness and the credibility of the acquisition process; … to improve the morale … of the acquisition workforce; … to improve the health of the defense industrial base; … to rationalize the weapon systems and infrastructure that we have in the Department of Defense with the strategy that was being updated by Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld; … to initiate those high-tech, high-leverage technologies that provide the war-winning capabilities for the future. …

“We’ve been working on all those five goals. We established metrics and we’ve been working them all. … We’ve actually reorganized the AT&L office to reflect Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, because it was not well-organized when I took office.”

Strengthening the DAB

“We revitalized the Defense Acquisition Board, which is the decision-making authority for the acquisition systems, to include now the service Secretaries … as opposed to the assistant secretaries for acquisition. That is working very, very well. … When the military departments come to the DAB for a decision, knowing that their service Secretary sits on that board, we find the decision-making process gets improved very rapidly. In fact, it’s doing so well in many cases we don’t even have to have a meeting. We can get the issues resolved in what we call a paper DAB. So the decision process and time line has been shortened.”

Embracing Spiral Development

“We mandated spiral or evolutionary development in our weapon systems. What that means is we don’t go for the 100 percent solution on the first [version of a] system. We go for something at 60 to 80 percent, and then we can be watching the adaptive technology as it evolves. … We are enforcing properly pricing programs. … The combination of spiral development and making sure the programs are properly priced up front probably has more to do with stability and credibility in the acquisition process than anything we can do.”

New S&T Emphasis

“We’ve also elevated the role of Science and Technology. … We’ve set ourselves a goal to get to three percent of the DOD budget. … S&T has been a bill-payer in the past. … We’ve pushed DARPA [Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] back out on the leading edge of technology.”

Whither Transformation

“I think the ’03 budget had a lot of transformation. … Seventeen percent of the budget was, in fact, transformation. … I think FY04 is going to be equally dramatic, if not more so.”