November 05, 2012
Credit: Credit: Craig Steidle
[Editor's Note: A former carrier attack pilot, Viewpoint author USN Rear Adm. (ret.) Craig Steidle was the second director of the JSFPO, from August 1995 to August 1997. He has also been associate administrator for exploration at NASAand a visiting professor of aerodynamics at the U.S. Naval Academy.]
Challenges in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter were the focus of Aviation Week & Space Technology's recent editorial (Oct. 1, p. 58), Loren Thompson's comments in Forbes and Bill Sweetman's response on Aviation Week's Ares blog. We need to reflect on the valuable lessons learned from this complex process.
When the Joint Advanced Strike Technology program, which evolved into the current JSF, arose from then-Defense Secretary Les Aspin's 1993 bottom-up review, the initial and primary goal was to develop a joint family of systems to reduce life-cycle costs.
Following principles established by the 1986 Packard commission, warfighters and technologists worked together to make cost-performance trades, while applying technology to cut costs, not just to add performance. Technology was to be matured before engineering and manufacturing development started, and government and industry would form integrated product teams to incorporate all available best practices. These initiatives were underpinned by a disciplined requirements generation process and rigorous cost-performance trade studies.
But as the program moved on, the focus on affordability atrophied. Both the government and contractor were at fault. What began as a core pillar didn't evolve into a culture that would drive process development, induce change and inform decision-making.
In 2008-10, I had the privilege to chair several Independent Manufacturing Review Team (IMRT) assessments of the F-35 program. My colleagues and I were appalled to see that neither the contractor nor the JSF Program Office (JSFPO) mentioned the words “affordable” and “affordability” during initial presentations.
The kind of cost-avoidance program that should have encompassed lean and producibility initiatives and other affordability improvements did not exist, nor was it asked for. The statements of work that we reviewed did not incorporate cost reduction.
Difficulties were to be expected, but resolving development issues had diverted attention from cost control. Recovery was made more difficult by the JSFPO's arrogance in shutting out the technical authority of the services' systems commands, and the contractors' rigid adherence to legacy manufacturing practices—to the point of “normalization of deviance,” or “we have always done it that way and it worked.”
The results: There was an immature risk-management process. Change-control managers could neither define process problems nor forecast change volumes. Schedules were constantly revised, with no integrated program management schedule. This resulted in late-to need parts, a stream of changes due to design immaturity and significant out-of-station work. Both schedule and cost were suffering.