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Big Impact with Small Changes to Defense Acquisitions

by Dan Helfrich; September 29, 2017 

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed how a set of small changes a group of hospitals made—such as everyone in the operating room introducing themselves and their role in the surgery improved patient care. These study results made me think of what small changes the federal government could make in how it buys goods and services that could bring greater innovation and boost mission outcomes.

Here are three small changes to federal procurement that could lead to big impacts for the government:

Procurement Toward People Not Resumes

Some contracts continue to have the same experience and education requirements year over year. But some of the talent you need may be younger, more skilled at digital or mobile tech. These long-standing, narrow evaluation methods requirement may mean your agency is missing out on innovative, critical talent.

Take Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, for example. He has less than 13 years of formal work experience and no college degree. He has, however, been doing computer programming for more than 20 years, developing programs and using machine learning since high school.

Obviously, Zuckerberg is a bit of an extreme example, but my point is there are a lot of young, digitally savvy people—like the 17-year-old who won the most bounties at the recent Hack the Air Force event—who have the tech chops but maybe not the formal career history or education. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t what you may need.

How can you tweak those requirements to get the talent and skills your agency needs? Are there specific skills needed to achieve the project’s objective? Is experience at a tech company or a private sector cyber firm that could be of equal or greater value?

Don’t lose out to top talent who have the chops to solve your problems, but don’t have a traditional background. Your future contract professionals may be at Teach for America or at the Peace Corps right now or coding the next big app in their high school computer class—value those experiences and start thinking differently.

Embrace Outcome-based Contracts

The world of professional services is rapidly changing—starting with how contracts are set up. More than 50 percent of the work we do with private-sector clients has some sort of a value-based or share-in-savings component to it. For example, we agree to only get paid “x” if “y” goal is met. Industry then has skin in the game. The risk is on us to deliver on the outcome.

For the government agency, the key aspect to value-based contracting is having decent baseline measurements. Classic incentives are also another way to encourage greater outcomes. If your agency has that decent baseline data, contracts can be structured so that you are not paying out as much to your contractor but instead your contractor earns a percentage of the savings.

One recent government procurement that includes some share-in-savings language is the Human Capital and Training Solutions (HCaTS) program that is partnership between Office of Personnel Management and General Services Administration. HCaTs is looking for the “best value customized solutions for human capital management and training requirements.” Including a share-in-savings approach will help them get there.

The kinds of people you want to take on your most complicated problems are going to be willing to put skin in the game. One way to find those kinds of people is before your next procurement, ask industry participants to give you some ideas on what types of share-in-savings arrangements they’d be willing to do. See who is willing to put some skin in the game and is here to make great outcomes happen for you.

Allow Agencies to Earn Small Business Credits for All Contract Types

Small companies do work for the government regularly. Sometimes as the prime, sometimes as the sub. In many cases, the work small businesses do as a subcontractor is just as important as a prime. However, agencies only get credit when the small business is the prime.

If we want more collaboration, more innovation, the government can encourage industry to bring in small businesses more often. One change would be to allow agencies to take small business credit, toward their 23 percent goals, for at least their first-tier subcontractors.

For many small businesses, their ability to scale is highly dependent on working with a partner with deep domain and customer knowledge and expertise. Large and small businesses should consider coming together to deliver the work in the best way that serves the client and brings value—and not focus on forcing percentages to meet a set requirement.

There are more ways for service providers—large, medium and small—to work together based on the agency’s desired outcomes and the corresponding deliverables and innovation needed. For example, Medallia is a customer experience software platform that many leading brands use. We’re working closely with them on their first government project. Yet, our client doesn’t get any “credit” for working with them.

More can be done to encourage this type of company—innovative, new-to-government market—to do business with the federal government. One option is to incent the current industry base to bring new and innovative companies into the mix through a type of a protégé program, which could bring greater innovation into government.

What small changes could your agency make in the way it considers the people it hires or contracts with? How could it better incent innovation in industry? There’s a lot of opportunity for small changes that can make a big impact for your agency’s mission.

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Congress, Let Defense Innovators “Breathe Free”

The article below is written by Army Col Richard Hough, who is a senior strategic study fellow in the Army Future Studies Group, gives an in-depth analysis on what’s wrong with the defense acquisition system and how to improve it. I agree with all the conclusion the Col makes in his article, particularly with the need for more rapid decision making. I still believe the fundamental problem with the acquisition community is that Sr. Leadership lack a basic understanding the process. If you don’t understand the basic fundamentals of the process, you can never lead the acquisition community and reform the process. They believe the process is the problem, not them.

(Breaking Defense) America’s defense industry is struggling to boost its innovative entrepreneurs, who need freedom and resources to come up with creative ideas.

Unlike other industries, defense innovators do not benefit from capital incentives to encourage research and development investment. Instead, innovative defense concepts have traditionally been nurtured in an environment combined of countercultural activity, legislative prompting, necessity (often fear), re-orientation and re-organization; which are rarely effective when implemented in isolation. Outlined below is a summary of the current state of the defense acquisitions system and how Congress must help us overcome the status quo.

During the interwar period, George Orwell noted “We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” In that vein, let’s look at defense acquisitions and congressional oversight. It is obvious that:

  • Decades of tweaking the system based on the limited findings of panels and oversight committees has resulted in no perceptible cultural change.
  • We do not use our broader cultural strengths and corporate traditions to inform acquisition policy.
  • We have lost sight of long-term and emergent threats while becoming overly focused on current contingencies.
  • Appropriations and regulatory requirements have created a consensus-based decision-making environment that is risk-averse.
  • The acquisition workforce understands that excessive layers of bureaucratic review provides protection from direct accountability.

What is less obvious is whether or not Congress understands its contributions to defense acquisition shortcomings and the resulting dilution of authority and accountability.

No Perceptible Cultural Change 
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act told the Pentagon to split the undersecretary of acquisition, technology and logistics into two separate jobs: undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment; and a new undersecretary for research and engineering (R&E). The new offices, particularly the R&E, are intended to increase innovation and “change the culture.”

James O’Bryon, former deputy director of Operational Test and Evaluation, questioned whether this was the best approach, essentially taking us back 40 years ago when the Pentagon had essentially the same setup: “I’m not sure, however, that returning to where we were in 1986 is the total answer.” O’Bryon ponders, “So what are we possibly missing in this process as it grinds away?” I would answer that what is missing is honest self-reflection within Congress on its contribution to sustained cultural influences within the acquisition system.

Our Broader Cultural Strengths 
Congressional testimony and defense reports have noted that government constraints on profit margins have compromised acquisitions because, “culturally, we have evolved to a point where the system would rather pay $1 billion and 5% profit for a defense good, than $500 million and 20% profit” from a more innovative supplier.

Overhauling the Code of Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR) is overdue. The FAR seeks to promote an accountable system that protects U.S. taxpayers, but it has become the epitome of a bureaucratic risk-averse culture that undermines innovation, partnerships, accountability, and fiscal responsibility.

Congress expects the services to improve relationships with existing and potential defense industry partners, but corporate and government regulators must translate “up to 186,000 pages with over 2,000 pages” added annually by various federal departments.

As a result, current defense firms have traditionally focused their innovation delivery models simply on meeting what the government wants. But what if what the government wants isn’t what it needs?

According to John Kenkel and Andrew Jesmain, of PA Consulting Group, this creates problems:

First, industry has not been incentivized to create new ideas and must deliver solutions defined by the customer, who often lacks awareness or understanding of the array of solutions industry is capable of providing. The result of this paradox is a laundry list of programs and solutions that have been over budget, delayed or canceled outright. Second, this reality creates a sharp contrast in approaches to research and development that differentiates defense firms from their commercial counterparts.

For the Army, these “failures” have cost tax payers billions and are the most obvious reason why oversight is overly centralized. Since 2011 alone, the Army has ended 20 programs, delayed 125 and restructured 124 others.
Figure 1: Major Army Defense Acquisition Programs Cancelled

While acquisition decision-making must improve, sequestration and the focus on present operational requirements hasn’t encouraged bold decision-making on new program initiation either. Plagued by bureaucracy, budget cuts, and canceled programs, mounting legacy equipment costs, and the lack of a major operational concept for over a decade, the Army just doesn’t know what to ask for.

Until the service explores the art of the possible with Congress, industry, and academia, requirements will “have — far too often — proven too ambitious, too expensive or too inimical to innovation.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon has used various non-traditional acquisition approaches — Section 804 Middle Tier Programs — to avoid establishing new long-term acquisition programs. However, Congress is concerned with the near-term productivity and value of such programs. Unfortunately, where their scrutiny should lie is on the impacts on basic research and how such programs sustain long-term overmatch capabilities.

Losing sight of long-term threats
The good news is Army executives are embracing change. Thomas Russell, deputy assistant secretary for research and technology, says he’s seeking “innovations from industry and other partners wherever possible” to guarantee success of the “most important” acquisition programs. Acting Army Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy says that, “the Army must also focus efforts on modernizing today to be ready to fight tomorrow, against increasingly capable adversaries and near-peer competitors”. But any attempt to channel near-term innovation delivery into a disciplined long-term strategy is shortsighted.


At this juncture, when 25 percent of Army acquisition spending is invested in pre-1991 programs and 55 percent in 1991-2001 programs, near-term program changes cannot overcome the lack of a long-term strategy. The “most important” thing the Army can do is to work with Congress to fund a long-term strategy.

Over the last 15 years, the Army has prioritized near-term readiness and equipment needs to combat non-state actors. This has limited its ability to modernize so it can engage in high-end  combat against near-peer challenges.

Meanwhile, the Army is facing increased sustainment costs and reduced funding for concept development and new programs. In turn, major program failures have undermined the Army’s ability to: encourage innovation by major defense partners; solidify a strategic concept; and, formulate consensus on a long-term procurement strategy. If the Army maintains this “demand pull” approach, over an extended period of time, the “likelihood of generating disruptive capabilities” will decline and lend itself to fear-based decision-making in the future.

A Risk-Averse System
In the 2016 NDAA, Congress established the Section 809 Panel whose initial findings include identified influences that Congress must reflect on if real progress is to be achieved.

As an independent panel with credible qualifications, Section 809 Panel has described in their initial report that those operating within the system respond to Congress in ways that Congress fails to recognize or appreciate. Overly complex laws and regulations result in suboptimal risk-averse decision-making. Excessive hearings on non-traditional acquisition pathways have undermined prototyping of new systems; buying commercial off-the-shelf items; and created cultural barriers that undermine technology companies from working with the DoD. And, the “acquisition workforce understands congressional intent thru bureaucratic reviews, budget cuts, hiring freezes, salary freezes, furloughs, continuing resolutions, sequestration, hearings, and statements that it must change.”

While Section 809 Panel has found several other shortcomings and conclusions unrelated to Congress, its final report, due early next year, can highlight that cultural change must start at the top.

Bureaucratic Review Shields Failures From Direct Accountability
Within the acquisition enterprise decision-makers have multiple layers of bureaucracy and accountability. A single Army decision may cross four multi-star organizational boundaries and be subject to 10 flag officer reviews. The requirement is generated by one TRADOC organization, ranked by another, and then transmitted by a third, before senior Army officials review it during three committees.

Why? The obvious answer is a lack of trust and misplaced values imposed at the top of the acquisitions enterprise – authorizations and appropriations.

Overly Prescriptive Laws Undermine Trust
In an effort to highlight how present legal constraints undermine the miltiary’s ability to leverage corporate advantages or to seek disruptive technologies, let us review Section 219 of the 2017 NDAA.

DoD lab directors are permitted to use not less than 2 percent but not more than 4 percent of all funding available to the lab for “off-roadmap”, or disruptive, technologies, according to Section 219, . While the authorities may be helpful, those funds are rarely used because they are only a fraction of those required for bold initiatives without having to seek outside funding — often from PMs — where other priorities and funded near-term concepts trump untested concepts.

Various studies have recommended increasing lab directors’ flexibility and Congress improved a previous 3 percent cap to 4 percent. But we will fall further behind civilian researchers and potential competitors unless we think more creatively.

Congress must clarify the long-term concepts and acquisitions strategies governing DoD weapons buying. Once they are better defined, congressional oversight can then lend itself to overcoming sustainment engineering of existing legacy systems and the risk-averse culture that maintains it.

Additionally, Congress should implement “succeed-fast” and “fail-fast” policies regardless of a system or subsystems Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs). A principle reason why Section 804 innovation initiatives remain relevant is that they are one of the few means available for maturing technologies along such lines. If “fast-fail” policies had been applied to long-term programs the Army might have avoided the numerous failures of major acquisition programs over the last two decades.

Also, Congress should

  • Identify and eliminate internal influences affecting DoD’s risk-aversion culture.
  • Eliminate line item acquisition funding. Retract or cut FAR, eliminate statutes, and reform NDAA development processes.
  • Incentivize corporate and defense decision-making to drive modernization concepts and capabilities development.
  • Increasing lab director authorities to fund disruptive programs.
  • Return acquisition funding to historical norms, and, program for multiple years. Expand limits imposed on acquisition funding authorities across the board.

As we move forward into the twenty-first century, we must put twentieth century bureaucratic practices behind us. In a more complex world trust is the only means of establishing an acquisition and defense strategy capable of avoiding the “we aren’t fearful enough” drumbeat for defense innovation. Like other industries, defense acquisition innovation must recognize that “inspiration flows best when individuals ‘can breathe free,’ thinking creatively without limits of fear.”

Army Col. Richard Hough is a senior strategic study fellow in the Army Future Studies Group. The opinions, conclusions and recommendations are those of the author and do not reflect the views of any entity of the U.S. government.

Senate Ask Pentagon for List of Damage from Continuing Resolution

(The Hill) Senate Armed Services Committee leadership want fellow lawmakers to be very aware of the affects an incomplete fiscal 2018 budget will have on the military.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.), the committee’s chairman and ranking member, on Tuesday asked Defense Secretary James Mattis to prepare a list of the damage a three- and a six-month continuing resolution would have on the Pentagon.

A continuing resolution, which freezes current funding levels and prevents any new programs from starting, “will result in billion of dollars in cuts to the defense budget from last year’s level — cuts that the Department of Defense can ill afford at a time of diminished readiness, strained modernization, and increasing operations,” the senators wrote in a letter released Wednesday.
McCain and Reed want the list by Sept. 8, saying “we believe it would be prudent to have a concrete understanding” of a continuing resolution’s impact on military branches, defensewide agencies and combatant commands.

Lawmakers return from August recess next week to tackle the fiscal 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) before the 2017 budget expires on Sept. 30.

The Senate is expected to consider the NDAA shortly after it returns.
“Given the limited remaining work period for both the House and Senate prior to October 1st, and the difficulties of negotiating and enacting a major bipartisan budget agreement, it is very likely that the federal government will begin the fiscal year on a continuing resolution yet again,” the two wrote.
Mattis has said that passing a continuing resolution is “about as unwise as can be,” because frozen spending levels affect military readiness.

Overview of the FY2018 Defense Budget Request

(Source: Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; issued July 26, 2017)
By Katherine Blakeley

The Trump administration’s first President’s Budget (PB) requests a total of $667.6 billion in discretionary national defense funding for FY 2018, including $639.1 billion for the Department of Defense (DoD).

The administration requested $603 billion in base discretionary funding for national defense, an additional $64.6 billion for overseas contingency operations, and $9.7 billion in mandatory spending for a total of $677.1 billion in funding for national defense, known as budget function 050.

According to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the FY 2018 defense budget is intended to “achieve program balance.” [i] The administration sought to “restore readiness” with a requested $30 billion of additional funding in FY 2017, predominantly in operation and maintenance (O&M) accounts.[ii] Congress provided half of this requested funding, or $15 billion, as Overseas Contingency Operations funding in the FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations Act.

The FY 2019 defense budget, spanning the FY 2019–FY 2023 FYDP, will be informed by the 2018 National Defense Strategy, now underway, and the accompanying Nuclear Posture Review. Underpinned by a new defense strategy and force sizing construct, the FY 2019 defense budget is expected to both “build capacity” and “improve lethality.”

In on other words, the administration’s position is that a buildup will begin in FY 2019. However, forgoing a request for additional defense spending in its first budget, when a new administration has the greatest chance of making big course corrections, was a strategic mistake. By delaying the ask for a substantive defense buildup until FY 2019, the administration has squandered any honeymoon and allowed Congress to set the terms of the budget debate.

This proposed $603 billion in discretionary base national defense spending would be $51.8 billion dollars more than the $551 billion the Obama administration requested in FY 2017, an increase of 9.4 percent. The requested $603 billion is also $54 billion, or 10 percent, over the caps on national defense spending for FY 2018 established by the Budget Control Act of 2011 (BCA), as amended.

However, the requested $603 billion represents a much more modest $18.5 billion, or 3 percent, over the $584.5 billion in the Obama administration’s PB 2017 projection for the national defense base budget in FY 2018. It is also some $37 billion, or 5.7 percent, below the $640 billion in funding for national defense called for by Sen. McCain and Rep. Thornberry, the Chairmen of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, respectively.

The Trump administration’s request for $603 billion is below the projected defense spending levels of the FY 2012 Gates budget—the last budget formulated before the BCA caps, widely considered to be the last budget driven by strategy rather than resources—and the level of national defense spending agreed to in the FY 2017 budget resolution adopted by the Congress in January 2017 (see Figure 1-1).

National defense funding comprises funding for the Department of Defense(DoD) (about 95.5 percent of all national defense funding), funding for the nuclear weapons work of the Department of Energy (DOE), and a small amount of funding for other defense-related activities.

One major question as the beginning of the 2018 fiscal year approaches is whether the Congress, deeply divided between the Republican defense hawks, the conservative Freedom Caucus, and the Democrats, will be able to come up with a deal to increase or amend the BCA caps, as they have done in each of the past five years that caps were in force.

Click here for the full report (15 PDF pages) on the CSBA website.


The Bigest Acquisition Disaster in History: F-35

(The Conversation) The F-35 was billed as a fighter jet that could do almost everything the U.S. military desired, serving the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy – and even Britain’s Royal Air Force and Royal Navy – all in one aircraft design. It’s supposed to replace and improve upon several current – and aging – aircraft types with widely different missions. It’s marketed as a cost-effective, powerful multi-role fighter airplane significantly better than anything potential adversaries could build in the next two decades. But it’s turned out to be none of those things.

Officially begun in 2001, with roots extending back to the late 1980s, the F-35 program is nearly a decade behind schedule, and has failed to meet many of its original design requirements. It’s also become the most expensive defense program in world history, at around US$1.5 trillion before the fighter is phased out in 2070.

The unit cost per airplane, above $100 million, is roughly twice what was promised early on. Even after President Trump lambasted the cost of the program in February, the price per plane dropped just $7 million – less than 7 percent.

And yet, the U.S. is still throwing huge sums of money at the project. Essentially, the Pentagon has declared the F-35 “too big to fail.” As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force and current university professor of finance who has been involved in and studied military aviation and acquisitions, I find the F-35 to be one of the greatest boondoggles in recent military purchasing history.

Forget what’s already spent

The Pentagon is trying to argue that just because taxpayers have flushed more than $100 billion down the proverbial toilet so far, we must continue to throw billions more down that same toilet. That violates the most elementary financial principles of capital budgeting, which is the method companies and governments use to decide on investments. So-called sunk costs, the money already paid on a project, should never be a factor in investment decisions. Rather, spending should be based on how it will add value in the future.

Keeping the F-35 program alive is not only a gross waste in itself: Its funding could be spent on defense programs that are really useful and needed for national defense, such as anti-drone systems to defend U.S. troops.

Part of the enormous cost has come as a result of an effort to share aircraft design and replacement parts across different branches of the military. In 2013, a study by the RAND Corporation found that it would have been cheaper if the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy had simply designed and developed separate and more specialized aircraft to meet their specific operational requirements.

Not living up to top billing

The company building the F-35 has made grand claims. Lockheed Martin said the plane would be far better than current aircraft – “four times more effective” in air-to-air combat, “eight times more effective” in air-to-ground combat and “three times more effective” in recognizing and suppressing an enemy’s air defenses. It would, in fact, be “second only to the F-22 in air superiority.” In addition, the F-35 was to have better range and require less logistics support than current military aircraft. The Pentagon is still calling the F-35 “the most affordable, lethal, supportable, and survivable aircraft ever to be used.”

But that’s not how the plane has turned out. In January 2015, mock combat testing pitted the F-35 against an F-16, one of the fighters it is slated to replace. The F-35A was flown “clean” with empty weapon bays and without any drag-inducing and heavy externally mounted weapons or fuel tanks. The F-16D, a heavier and somewhat less capable training version of the mainstay F-16C, was further encumbered with two 370-gallon external wing-mounted fuel tanks.

In spite of its significant advantages, the F-35A’s test pilot noted that the F-35A was less maneuverable and markedly inferior to the F-16D in a visual-range dogfight.

Stealth over power

One key reason the F-35 doesn’t possess the world-beating air-to-air prowess promised, and is likely not even adequate when compared with its current potential adversaries, is that it was designed first and foremost to be a stealthy airplane. This requirement has taken precedence over maneuverability, and likely above its overall air-to-air lethality. The Pentagon and especially the Air Force seem to be relying almost exclusively on the F-35’s stealth capabilities to succeed at its missions.

Like the F-117 and F-22, the F-35’s stealth capability greatly reduces, but does not eliminate, its radar cross-section, the signal that radar receivers see bouncing back off an airplane. The plane looks smaller on radar – perhaps like a bird rather than a plane – but is not invisible. The F-35 is designed to be stealthy primarily in the X-band, the radar frequency range most commonly used for targeting in air-to-air combat.

In other radar frequencies, the F-35 is not so stealthy, making it vulnerable to being tracked and shot down using current – and even obsolete – weapons. As far back as 1999 the same type of stealth technology was not able to prevent a U.S. Air Force F-117 flying over Kosovo from being located, tracked and shot down using an out-of-date Soviet radar and surface-to-air missile system. In the nearly two decades since, that incident has been studied in depth not only by the U.S., but also by potential adversaries seeking weaknesses in passive radar stealth aircraft.
Of course, radar is not the only way to locate and target an aircraft. One can also use an aircraft’s infrared emissions, which are created by friction-generated heat as it flies through the air, along with its hot engines. Several nations, particularly the Russians, have excellent passive infrared search and tracking systems, that can locate and target enemy aircraft with great precision – sometimes using lasers to measure exact distances, but without needing radar.

It’s also very common in air-to-air battles for opposing planes to come close enough that their pilots can see each other. The F-35 is as visible as any other aircraft its size.

Analysts weigh in

Lockheed Martin and the Pentagon say the F-35’s superiority over its rivals lies in its ability to remain undetected, giving it “first look, first shot, first kill.” Hugh Harkins, a highly respected author on military combat aircraft, called that claim “a marketing and publicity gimmick” in his book on Russia’s Sukhoi Su-35S, a potential opponent of the F-35. He also wrote, “In real terms an aircraft in the class of the F-35 cannot compete with the Su-35S for out and out performance such as speed, climb, altitude, and maneuverability.”

Other critics have been even harsher. Pierre Sprey, a cofounding member of the so-called “fighter mafia” at the Pentagon and a co-designer of the F-16, calls the F-35 an “inherently a terrible airplane” that is the product of “an exceptionally dumb piece of Air Force PR spin.” He has said the F-35 would likely lose a close-in combat encounter to a well-flown MiG-21, a 1950s Soviet fighter design. Robert Dorr, an Air Force veteran, career diplomat and military air combat historian, wrote in his book “Air Power Abandoned,” “The F-35 demonstrates repeatedly that it can’t live up to promises made for it. … It’s that bad.”

How did we get here?

How did the F-35 go from its conception as the most technologically advanced, do-it-all military aircraft in the world to a virtual turkey? Over the decades-long effort to meet a real military need for better aircraft, the F-35 program is the result of the merging or combination of several other separate and diverse projects into a set of requirements for an airplane that is trying to be everything to everybody.

In combat the difference between winning and losing is often not very great. With second place all too often meaning death, the Pentagon seeks to provide warriors with the best possible equipment. The best tools are those that are tailor-made to address specific missions and types of combat. Seeking to accomplish more tasks with less money, defense planners looked for ways to economize.

For a fighter airplane, funding decisions become a balancing act of procuring not just the best aircraft possible, but enough of them to make an effective force. This has lead to the creation of so-called “multi-role” fighter aircraft, capable both in air-to-air combat and against ground targets. Where trade-offs have to happen, designers of most multi-role fighters emphasize aerial combat strength, reducing air-to-ground capabilities. With the F-35, it appears designers created an airplane that doesn’t do either mission exceptionally well. They have made the plane an inelegant jack-of-all-trades, but master of none – at great expense, both in the past and, apparently, well into the future.

I believe the F-35 program should be immediately cancelled; the technologies and systems developed for it should be used in more up-to-date and cost-effective aircraft designs. Specifically, the F-35 should be replaced with a series of new designs targeted toward the specific mission requirements of the individual branches of the armed forces, in lieu of a single aircraft design trying to be everything to everyone.