Dr. Roper wants a return to the Century Series days

Discuss air warfare, doctrine, air forces, historic campaigns, etc.
  • Author
  • Message
Offline

krieger22

Enthusiast

Enthusiast

  • Posts: 68
  • Joined: 10 Jul 2018, 22:02

Unread post13 Apr 2019, 14:49

https://breakingdefense.com/2019/04/a-n ... he-future/

AIR FORCE ASSOCIATION, ARLINGTON: Future Air Force programs must look less like the Joint Strike Fighter and more like the iconic Century Series from the 1950s, when the newly independent Air Force fielded six new fighters from five different manufacturers in just five years.

That’s the word from the ebullient assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Will Roper. He’d just returned to Washington from the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs and was brimming with the kind of excitement you rarely see in the often-dreary acquisition world.

“Every day I get my mind blown by what people are doing because we’re empowering them,” Roper said, rattling off a list of innovative Air Force teams: “Space Camp” in Colorado Springs, Kessel Run in Boston, and Bespin in Alabama (There’s also a Kobayashi Maru). All of these, interestingly, are software projects, using young airmen to code rapidly in response to requests from operational units — a military version of a commercial method called DevOps (Development & Operations).

Yes, big IT projects have been the bane of several federal agencies, but these aren’t big. Coding is well-suited to small, agile teams, since it doesn’t require expensive specialized infrastructure to test, build, deliver, and maintain its products, in stark contrast to actual aircraft programs.

But Roper says this high-speed approach isn’t limited to code. “It’s not just software,” he said at the Air Force Association HQ here. “People are taking time out of their programs” across the board: Air Force programs using the new Section 804 middle-tier acquisition have collectively shortened their schedules by a total of 60 years, he said, while programs operating under traditional DoD 5000 regulations have cut another 30.

This isn’t cutting corners, Roper emphasized, but it does mean taking more risk — and leadership needs to have the innovators’ back when they make a worthy try and fail. He’s even created a “Spectacular Learning Event Award” for particularly interesting failures, because he sees success and failure are just opposite ends of the same bell curve. “If I’m not seeing those failures, then I’m not going to see the big successes,” he said, “so we’re going to keep encouraging people to take risk because it will pull time out of our programs.”

“The Pentagon tends to trust in process over people,” Roper said, “[but] people beat process every day. I trust the people in Air Force acquisition.”

“We are going to give the reins to people and not over-encumber them with a centralized process,” he said, just as combat commanders don’t try to micromanage their pilots from the ground. “If you can’t delegate more than your enemy, you will lose,” he said. Empowering your people means letting them screw up, but it also frees them to excel beyond any plan you’d come up with on your own. “Yes,” Roper said, “you may make the occasional mistake, but overall, statistically, you’ll win.”

“We’ve got to kill the major defense acquisition program as it is today,” Roper said, “and replace it with something that looks more like the Century Series development of the early Air Force.”

Even some of the mass-produced Century aircraft were arguably lemons. The F-104 in particular made so many compromises to reach Mach 2 that it was dubbed “the missile with a man in it” by its own manufacturer, Lockheed, which was less than reassuring. The actual Starfighter pilots came up with less friendly nicknames like “lawn dart,” “aluminum death tube,” and, in the German air force, witwenmacher — “widowmaker.” The F-105 Thunderchief suffered such heavy losses in Vietnam — almost half the total ever produced — that it was withdrawn from frontline service.

“All the Century aircraft weren’t successful,” Roper acknowledged, “but enough were.”

The willingness to take risk led to aviation breakthroughs as well as disasters, revolutionizing the US Air Force in just five years. By awarding lots of smaller contracts rather than a single gigantic one, the Air Force also kept multiple contractors in business and in vigorous competition. That gave industry incentives to innovate quickly and the Air Force alternatives when one design did poorly.

As the Cold War dragged on, however, acquisition programs started taking longer and costing more. Those trends only got worse after 1991 when most contractors either consolidated through mergers or went out of business.

The ultimate example is the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. That’s a single aircraft, albeit in three variants, from a single manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, that will make up at least half of the Navy’s future fighter fleet, most of the Air Force’s, and all of the Marine Corps’. It has also taken 12 years from the F-35’s first flight in December 2006 — 18 years from the X-35 prototype’s first flight in 2000 — for all three variants to achieve what the military calls Initial Operational Capability.

The F-35 needed that time in part because it did several remarkable things. It’s only the second aircraft ever, after Lockheed’s closely related F-22, to combine stealth with agility — the older F-117 “wobblin’ goblin” and the B-2 stealth bomber paid an aerodynamic price to hide from radar. The F-35 also has sensor, communications, and cyber/electronic warfare capabilities its advocates say will revolutionize air warfare. And it even has a jump-jet variant, the Marines’ F-35B, that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter, which imposed design constraints even on the runway (F-35A) and carrier-launched (C) versions.

This kind of slow advance on multiple fronts, with a long development culminating in a great leap forward, is pretty typical of post-1950s aircraft programs, Roper said. By contrast, the Century Series hammered repeatedly and rapidly at the same few problems — especially supersonic speed but also fire control. It made quick progress on a narrow front by introducing one aircraft after another after another, all similar but each advancing the state of the art. The slow-but-broad model helped win the Cold War, Roper argued, but it’s dangerously antiquated for a world when civilian innovation is outpacing military and revolutionary technologies are readily available to the US and its adversaries alike. We’re in a world where the Century Series approach makes more sense.

A Four-Year Fighter Program?

China and Russia have had decades to study a largely unchanged US military since its Gulf War triumph of 1991 and to come up with counters. But instead of taking decades to field a new fighter, Roper asked, “what would an adversary do facing an Air Force that it knew could design a new airplane every four years?”

That pace is not possible today, he said — “we’ve got a lot of work to do to prep for that” — but it is achievable. It would require new tools like digital engineering, which allows engineers to model the impact of design changes, not just on performance but on cost and even long-term maintenance and sustainment, and to try different iterations “about two billion times in a day.”

Even with digital engineering and a less risk-averse acquisition culture, Roper said, you wouldn’t be mass-producing hundreds of each design, the way even the mediocre Century Series fighters did. But you could create a family of aircraft or other weapons systems that shared design principles; common components, allowing economies of scale in both production and maintenance; common control systems, allowing pilots to transition from one to the next without extensive retraining; and above all a common modular open architecture, which would allow you to easily plug-and-play new components without extensive and expensive redesign. (It’s similar to the way your iPhone or Android has the same operating system software as all the others but lets you pick and choose from thousands of apps).

Instead of finalizing one design and then building hundreds of identical aircraft, you’d design a basic plane or satellite or other weapons system, build some, make improvements, build some of the improved model, improve that, and on and on. “You just keep spiraling,” Roper said. While the physical products wouldn’t look like the Century Series fighters, they would have a similar way of building on each others’ achievements in rapid succession.

You can’t apply this approach retroactively to a weapons system already in production, Roper acknowledged, but “this is what should happen for our next generation of programs.”

That vision, Roper said, “is my happy place.”


I have some opinions on getting pilots killed and airframes wrecked because the planes turned out to handle really nasty on the limit, but since it appears to be a long stream of obscenities, I'll just leave them out
Offline

ford2go

Enthusiast

Enthusiast

  • Posts: 93
  • Joined: 10 Jul 2007, 18:13

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 05:05

It would be great to hear comments from Gums here. He has a lot of first hand knowledge.

Rapid development vs traditional has always been a hot topic. I personally think that it's somewhat like air combat -- the better pilot often wins there and the better development team can often make the difference.

As for the century series, I just checked to see what it includes - these remarks are from an amateur
F-100 - early problems -- not sure that it was well regarded, but I don't know. It had a fairly brief role in Vietnam if I have my facts straight.
F-101 -- a fairly brief career
F-102/106 -- intereceptors that I don't know much about.
F-104 -- seem to be some great differences of opinion
F-105 -- probably not the right aircraft for Vietnam , but it was what was available. Might have been good in its intended role.


I'm not sure that this constitutes great success. But, as I said, I'm no expert. Would really like to hear from others.

hj
Offline

madrat

Elite 2K

Elite 2K

  • Posts: 2245
  • Joined: 03 Mar 2010, 03:12

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 05:24

F-106A/B?
Offline

Corsair1963

Elite 5K

Elite 5K

  • Posts: 5574
  • Joined: 19 Dec 2005, 04:14

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 08:22

Honestly, I think we need to see the F-35 mature much more. Before we have any real idea what a future 6th Generation Fighter should look like??? :roll:


"IMHO"
Offline

hornetfinn

Elite 2K

Elite 2K

  • Posts: 2772
  • Joined: 13 Mar 2013, 08:31
  • Location: Finland

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 10:37

Development of pretty much everything takes now a lot longer than in 1950s. This is because then everything was totally mechanical and didn't have many functions or features. Nowadays everything is far more complex and filled with features. If we take phones for example, 1950s phones were 100% mechanical and had only one function. Nowadays mobile phones are the standard and even the cheapest ones have thousands of functions and making phone calls is just one of them. I'm sure nowadays developing a phone takes 100 times longer than developing 1950s phones.

Aircraft are very similar. 1950s jets didn't have any software and everything mechanical and analog systems. Even then the avionics systems were very simple (by modern standards) and didn't have many functions as anything else was impossible. Flight controls were very straightforward as were aerodynamics of the aircraft. Nowadays fighter jets have millions of line of code and dozens of computers. They need extensive flight control software to keep them in the air in the first place and then maneuvers in ways that could not be imagined in 1950s. This hugely increased complexity for all functions and capabilities is the reason for why modern programs are so big and complex themselves.

Not to say that there isn't something we can't learn (or re-learn) from those old development programs. However I think JSF program has been marvellous success considering how complex and multi-functional and capable the end product is. I think it's one of the, if not the most successful fighter program ever even if there have been some problems to get where we are now. But similar or much worse problems have been encountered in pretty much all fighter programs.
Offline

hornetfinn

Elite 2K

Elite 2K

  • Posts: 2772
  • Joined: 13 Mar 2013, 08:31
  • Location: Finland

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 10:46

Corsair1963 wrote:Honestly, I think we need to see the F-35 mature much more. Before we have any real idea what a future 6th Generation Fighter should look like??? :roll:


"IMHO"


Fully agree. I think many people are rushing 6th gen far too early. Sure there are some development effort to reach that, but there was similar efforts during early 1980s for 5th gen fighter technology. It took about 25 years to get first 5th gen jet into service. I bet 6th gen will take longer as current 5th gen fighters are so capable and have so much room for improvements. I bet F-35 will be something totally else in 2040 even when it looks exactly the same externally as it does now. I think the difference will be much bigger than between early and late block F-16s.
Offline

mixelflick

Elite 3K

Elite 3K

  • Posts: 3318
  • Joined: 20 Mar 2010, 10:26
  • Location: Parts Unknown
  • Warnings: 3

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 13:54

Return to Century Series?

I like the concept, but not the end result. Century series were some of the most unsuccessful birds that ever flew. Not a one of them carried big enough performance improvements (usable, anyway) over their designated adversaries. Quite a few of them ('cept the 106 and arguably, the 104) led very brief, unremarkable careers.

And virtually all of them had high losses. Or such limited ones (like the F-102), because it was so poorly suited to the war that we were fighting.

That's not a vision I want to go back to..
Offline
User avatar

sferrin

Elite 5K

Elite 5K

  • Posts: 5342
  • Joined: 22 Jul 2005, 03:23

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 15:06

Corsair1963 wrote:Honestly, I think we need to see the F-35 mature much more. Before we have any real idea what a future 6th Generation Fighter should look like??? :roll:


"IMHO"


Why?
"There I was. . ."
Offline
User avatar

sferrin

Elite 5K

Elite 5K

  • Posts: 5342
  • Joined: 22 Jul 2005, 03:23

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 15:07

mixelflick wrote:Return to Century Series?

I like the concept, but not the end result. Century series were some of the most unsuccessful birds that ever flew. Not a one of them carried big enough performance improvements (usable, anyway) over their designated adversaries. Quite a few of them ('cept the 106 and arguably, the 104) led very brief, unremarkable careers.

And virtually all of them had high losses. Or such limited ones (like the F-102), because it was so poorly suited to the war that we were fighting.

That's not a vision I want to go back to..


Ye Gods. :roll:
"There I was. . ."
Online

outlaw162

Elite 1K

Elite 1K

  • Posts: 1283
  • Joined: 28 Feb 2008, 02:33

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 22:45

F-103 no combat losses
F-107 no combat losses
F-108 no combat losses
F-109 no combat losses

F-106 no combat losses.....no combat
Offline

sprstdlyscottsmn

Elite 4K

Elite 4K

  • Posts: 4343
  • Joined: 10 Mar 2006, 01:24
  • Location: Phoenix, Az, USA

Unread post15 Apr 2019, 23:24

The F-110 and the F-111 were the only ones with long careers.
"Spurts"

-Pilot
-Aerospace Engineer
-Army Medic
-FMS Systems Engineer
Offline
User avatar

sferrin

Elite 5K

Elite 5K

  • Posts: 5342
  • Joined: 22 Jul 2005, 03:23

Unread post16 Apr 2019, 00:28

sprstdlyscottsmn wrote:The F-110 and the F-111 were the only ones with long careers.


Neither of which were of the Century series. (Neither was the F-117.)
"There I was. . ."
Offline
User avatar

sferrin

Elite 5K

Elite 5K

  • Posts: 5342
  • Joined: 22 Jul 2005, 03:23

Unread post16 Apr 2019, 00:30

A lot of people seem to be missing the point. The Century series moved the state of the art ahead very quickly.
"There I was. . ."
Offline
User avatar

edpop

Forum Veteran

Forum Veteran

  • Posts: 505
  • Joined: 02 Feb 2008, 20:43
  • Location: Macomb, Michigan

Unread post16 Apr 2019, 03:20

The F-100 Super Sabre had a very long career with the ANG after leaving the Active air force and many European countries used it as their main fighter for quite a few years. Saw the Sabre fly CAS when I was in Vietnam.

The F-101 Voodoo was very succesful especially as a Recon platform during the Vietnam war. Canada flew it for many years as an interceptor.

Same for the F-105 as an attack bomber and as a Wild Weasel during the Vietnam war.

The F-104 had a very long career with the Germans (30 years) and the Italians. The "G" model for the Germans and the "S" model with the Sparrow equipped Starfighters for the Italians. Canada flew the Starfighter for over 20 years.

The F-111 served with the Air Force for about 25 years and the Aussies used the F-111 for almost 30 years
Vietnam veteran (Combat Engineer) 1967
Retired from Chrysler Engineering
Offline

madrat

Elite 2K

Elite 2K

  • Posts: 2245
  • Joined: 03 Mar 2010, 03:12

Unread post16 Apr 2019, 13:17

F-101 was evolved to F-110. And the F-110 was actually very successful. No doubt F-15 was a true evolution of it. And F-22A seemed to build upon the F-15 experience.

F-104 was pretty successful, too. F-16 seemed to evolve from the experience gained. And F-35 seems to be a well-suited F-16 replacement.

Can anyone really say F-105 was a dud? I saw them still flying out of Lincoln, Nebraska in the 80's! And F-111 was more or less a worthy replacement for Tacair. F-15E hasn't been a terrible replacement of F-111.

F-102 evolved to F-106, of which NORAD relied on for decades. Would have been nice to see it get modern, but gas was cheap and speed-endurance performance marginalized by leadership eventually killed it off. The airframe was no frills and rugged. Probably could have been modernized to live on like they did with the B-52s. Fly it for a century...
Next

Return to Air Power

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 4 guests