DSB Chief: Block Buys Best for Bombers

DSB Chief: Block Buys Best for Bombers

In an age where threats are evolving extremely rapidly while defense budgets are shrinking, something must be done about the 20 year development cycle for high-end weapons systems, according to Defense Science Board Chairman and CEO of Technovation, Inc., Paul Kaminsky. One of the best ways to do this, is by pursuing the block approach to weapons buying, said Kaminsky.

“We just can’t afford cycle times of 20 years for new systems,” said Kaminsky during a breakfast with reporters in Washington.“We have to look much harder, I believe, at block buys of equipment with planned upgrades for those blocks, and the cycle times for those blocks and the block upgrades is going to be dependant on the missions; it’s going to be different for strategic bombers than it would be for equipment that’s used to defeat IEDs. Or, even more extreme, it’s going to be different than what we have to do to work in the cyber environment. So, we have to have a system where the [upgrade] cycle times are compatible with that kind of an arrangement.”

Kaminsky served as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer in the 1990s.

A block approach would not only dramatically lower costs and reduce risk by spreading out development times for the most gee-whiz tech intended for a weapon system while making sure it gets fielded on time, it would also offer acquisition staff badly needed management experience on each of the block upgrade programs.

“To do this well though, requires a lot of discipline, because the first tendency is, ‘we want to put everything in the first block’,” said Kaminsky. “You have to resist that. You have to reserve what goes into the first block to what has earned its way on to the system and what is sufficiently mature to be able to be integrated.”

He also defended the block approach from attacks that say that it inhibits competition, saying that there can be numerous competitions for the various subsystems required for block upgrade approaches.

Kaminsky highlighted the Air Force’s effort to field a new long range stealth bomber as a perfect example of a weapon system that can be built with block upgrades, an approach he said will allow it to remain relevant in the face of a changing threat environment.

Even simpler than a block approach, Kaminsky suggested that the aircraft be designed from the outset to accommodate changing missions. For example, the jet could be designed with the ability to accept changing hardpoints, giving it the ability to carry additional weapons, sensors or electronic warfare gear during unforseen future missions where stealthiness isn’t critical.

The former weapons czar also called for a dramatic increase in the amount of time the Pentagon spends preparing to fight in so-called, degraded combat environments. (Meaning, combat situations where cyber, communications, navigations, logistics or any other critical capabilities have been taken away from U.S. troops.)

While the Marines and some special operations forces are well prepared for this at the small unit level, the larger military is not as well prepared as it needs to be at the strategic and operational level to fight in a degraded environment, said Kaminsky.

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Yes the holy grail for the defense contractors — the forever contract. Spread development out forever so that profits are ensured forever. No more competition, no more canceled projects — just push any failures forward to following blocks — never having to deliver combined with forever spiraling costs.
Glorious futures can be marketed while delivering next to nothing.

This is the opposite of the “forever contract.” It’s a development cycle with early delivery dates and incremental upgrades as the product ages. Read the article.

I love it when you have people who think the way Obat does. We would have lost WW2 doing it his way. One example was the changes made to subsequent blocks of the P51 that made it the dominate fighter in European air domination.

The block system has some good historical runs to give support to it. Whether or not you could consider them “blocks” but some of our most successful airframes have many models (UH-1, C-130, B-52, F-16, C-17). Notice that all of those were multi-purpose planes. With the pace that computers are being developed these days, the software in the F-22 is already getting outdated, so the block program does have some merit.

On the flip side, you still have to have the airframe built, usually by one company, though it can change hands such as the case of the F-16, F-18, and C-17. Especially if the company that wins the initial bid gets first go at blocks, and longer contracts, then the worth of winning could become even more worthwhile.

Even simpler than a block approach, Kaminsky suggested that the aircraft be designed from the outset to accommodate changing missions. Think F-4 — performed a lot of different missions, but wasn’t the best at any of them. Guess it was “good enough for Government work.”

The B-52 and KC-135 have been xalled the biggest bargains the government ever got. Both were contracts that allowed continued enhancement of the “A” model to a much higher level over time as missions changed. Today the aircraft still fly but as bombers they are much more deadly, as tankers they fly further on less gas and deliver more fuel for less money than ever. I can only hope that every program works out this well.


My thought with this is: why not use some of the toys we already got, like the B1 bomber Lancer? It’s already stealthy, and can have them block upgrade programs installed. And when need to, that sucker can haul ass out of there. Ludicrous speed — Go.

Some times I wonder, and right now I wonder if this guy is being promised a high paying contract for this. So really, do we really need another pricey bomber toy? — You guys need to see that movie — The Pentagon Wars, staring Kelsey Grammer. The Military Industrial Complex is really one interesting pricey organization/s. But at times they do come up with some interesting toys.

Same with the F-16.

Outlandish —

This article isn’t about bombers.…it is about a proven reduced-risk, reduced-cost acquisition practice.

Semper Fi,

his prper name is KAMINSKI..not Kaminsky

New more stealthy B-1s which can fly close to sea level and are hard to defeat over open water would be able to carry numerous long-range cruise missiles which they could release against targets up to 500 miles inland. For targets further inland conventional ballistic missiles could be used. It is not clear to me why a new deep penetration stealth bomber which likely will exceed the 2 biliion dollars/plane price tag of the B-2 is needed. New more stealthy B-1s hopefully could be built at 500 mill/plane.

Well with the B-1B, speed was sacrificed for improved stealth and thus it could only reach Mach 1.2 as opposed to the Mach 2+ of the B-1A. With a new variant, you could probably obtain a speed closer to that of the B-1A but it is unlikely you could make it significantly more stealthy than the B-1B. Also all of the avionics would need to be replaced by new systems, which would be rather costly.

The C-17 never “changed hands”. Boeing bought Mcdonnell Douglas in 1997, long after the C-17 was in production, and had absolutely no influence over the design of the jet nor our design/change process. The only thing that changed was the sign over the door.

Defend your position.

Isn’t there a proposed B-1R variant and of course the ubiquitous B1RD that’s flying at this very moment.

Roger that — anal, sphincter, rectum!!!

what do you mean with the 90°bend? better radar return when it’s flying perpendicular to you or is there something else?

the block stuff is nice on its own, but don’t forget un-upgradeable f-22s (first 84 or so that can’t be upgraded to the current level)

With the current engagements being what they are the need for MORE first-strike intercontinental bombers is dubious. It’s also doubtful a B-1’C” variant could be re-tooled for $500 mil or less since the order will likely be for less than 100 again.

The B-1B has proven the success you can have with block upgrades. Right now Boeing has the most interesting, cheapest proposal out right now; take the B-1’s in the boneyard (around 33 of them I believe) and create a B-1R or regional bomber to complement the “B” models and the B-2’s. This upgrade would give it more powerful engines, far greater speed, structural and avionic improvements and less range. The result would be more suited to the bomb-truck workhorse role the “B” model is performing right now.

Absolute rubbish!

Neither of those aircraft were acquired or built under continuing development. The B-52 was built in new models as technology and congressional appropriations changed; many parts were not interchangeable except for the last two itterations (G & H). The KC-135 was effectively built in the same manner with one basic model (A model) and several modifications in later life. The E-model used parts from airliners to create a hybrid with greater operating capacity for ANG units but the engines were different than those used on turbofan equipped factory aircraft. The R-model was a modification that was spread out from the cold-war era to recent history; this modification eventually was included on special purpose versions as well.

“We just can’t afford cycle times of 20 years for new systems”

Yeah, first of all it took 25 years to develop the F-22, not 20. Actually, more like 30 years, but who’s counting? And we can’t afford two or three decades of development so let’s try to paper over the problem with meaningless bs instead of getting to the root of the problem which is the fact that we pay contractors profit on development. Why the hell ever build an airplane if you’re getting paid profit to sit around and design it for decades at a time? We used to tell companies, design your best bomber and bring it to WPAFB to do a fly off in May a couple years from now, and we’ll by 2,000 of the best airplane, and we’d have a dozen airplanes show up. Now we fund the liars for decades at a profitable rate while they screw around pretending to design the thing, take all the money allocated to buy the airplane and spend it on getting screwed over for more decades of this pretend design effort, and then finally buy 20 aircraft that kinda sorta do what a bomber should do. Let’s not ever change that approach!

What is so hard to figure out about what JSFMIKE said? http://​en​.wikipedia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​C​o​r​n​e​r​_​r​e​f​l​e​c​tor

So, Dfens, it’s pretty clear that you’ve never actually been involved in militery aircraft design. Your tirade completely skates past the reality of the USAF continously looking over the shoulder of the designers, and changing the requirements on an almost daily basis. People that only know of aviation and design by watching movies never get the complexity of it, they don’t get that the Gov’t produces the Air Vehicle Spec that tells industry what to build, and they (you) tend to think that testing a plane is a matter of having Joe Pilot run it around the flagpole to see if he “likes” it, then hopping out of the cockpit with a grin and a thumbs up. Really, get some facts before spouting an opinion.

Hey, don’t listen to me. It’s no skin off my balls. Have a nice life.

“…is the fact that we pay contractors profit on development. Why the hell ever build an airplane if you’re getting paid profit to sit around and design it for decades at a time?”

Why? F-20 and RAH-66 provide good examples in answer to that.

Both were (arguably) good products that didn’t go into production.

Who ate the losses on self-funded development of F-20 ???
Who made money on cost plus development of RAH-66 ???

High risk/reward ratios are bad bets.

They are in business to make money.


It’s good to see someone is paying attention. The F-20 Tigershark was developed on Northrops nickel and didn’t sell because there was no Air Force bureacracy built up around procuring it. The F-16, on the other hand, was built on the US Taxpayer’s nickel and the watch dog bureacracy made sure the USAF bought it. They were it’s biggest cheerleaders. They didn’t want to lose their jobs, right? That’s the problem with building a bureacracy around designing an airplane. The watch dogs become the advocates. Instead of doing what you want them to do, they become lobbyists for the contractor they’re watching.

The C-130J was the one example that doesn’t fit the mold. It came darn near getting cancelled.

Here’s the problem with paying an engineer by the hour. Ok, now pay attention. Here’s me figuring out a way to rob you stupid taxpayers of millions of dollars. Here’s me doing my best to build you the airplane you wanted.

Did you notice the difference?

Ok, I’ll do it again. Here’s me robbing you blind. Here’s me doing airplane design. You saw the difference, right? No? Maybe that’s why only idiots pay engineers by the hour. Of course, these same idiots advocate paying lawyers by the hour. Look at how well our legal system works since that started. People never cease to amaze me.

Sure. But now look at from the side of industry.

Tomorrow you wake up working for a corporate defense giant running the local business with a few thousand people working for you.

You are in business to make money. Perhaps 90% of your compesation is directly related to your performance. And if you do not succeed in returning a profit to corporate for several quarters, then you will be fired. At that level, word spreads fast, so good luck in your job hunt.

Its increasingly unusual for anybody to develop complex systems on speculation. Risk increases if the customer doesn’t buy into project early. The larger highly complex systems take years to develop. Your customer will change requirements, and then may pull the plug. So why would you risk your piggy bank?

If you cannot make a profit, then you sell the business, or downsize, or fold your tents and go home.

Because you are only in business to make money. And if you don’t, you will get fired.

Hell yeah the common defense worker is doing his best to get a good product produced on time and on budget, but we’re working within a system that’s specifically set up to stymie us at every turn. The fact of the matter is, capitalism works. You put an incentive in place that pays a contractor more to drag out design, then that’s what’s going to happen. Are there any capitalists left in America? Anyone?

Which do you think is easier, designing an airplane or building one? I’ll give you a hint, an airplane on a drawing doesn’t have to fly, it just needs to look like it might. And the sooner you cancel the one we’re working on, the sooner we can get to designing the next one. What are the odds we won’t get the next one? 1 in 2, 1 in 3 maybe.

Yeah, our pay is based on performance. That’s a good one. Here’s an idea, why don’t we come up with a system where our pay is based on performance. You know, like you hold a competition for a new airplane and let the best man win. It’s a wacky concept, I know, but it worked in the past.

To the poster “Unibrowser”


Part 1 / 2

You wrote: “ We would have lost WW2 doing it his way. One example was the changes made to subsequent blocks of the P51 that made it the dominate fighter in European air domination.”

Upgrading planes worked only until the Germans got tired of their own Messerschmitt Bf 109 letters / versions / “block upgrades” (1939 – 1941) and introduced first their brand-new Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, then their Messerschmitt Me 262s (the first jets), then their Focke-Wulf Ta 152s, then again their ever faster Arado jets, etc. … In the meantime, the Allies had nothing to counter except Spitfire and Mosquito “Mark”s and Mustangs with ever stronger engines, at least until 1941 and 1943, when the British introduced the Hawker Typhoons and Hawker Tempests, respectively. Thus imitating the Luftwaffe’s technological success formula…


Part 2 / 2

Even in the Pacific, you only got so far with Brewster Buffalo, Curtiss Kittyhawk and Wildcat upgrades, until some totally new types (the Hellcats, Avengers and Corsairs) arrived and turned the tables around. The Japanese, however, stuck almost exclusively to upgrading their Zeros, Vals, Hayabusas, Nates and Shokis, for lack of a broader technological base (although the Nazis offered them the blueprints of some of their finest fighters, including of some experimental rocket planes, etc., believing that “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”. But their designs were all unsuited for carrier operations)… and lost.

The poster “Robert Garross” (a bit further below) hinted absolutely correctly that larger airplanes (bombers, transport planes) are spared by the extremely fast speed at which fighter plane technology evolves, therefore their technology has a slower, longer life-cycle and can in fact be “blocked up” forever.

God, are you petty-minded! Like a little girl. Had Mr. Robert Garross written

“Both were planes / designs / fuselages / whatever / that allowed continued enhancement”

instead of

“Both were contracts that allowed continued enhancement”,

then you wouldn’t have muttered a single sound, and we would still ignore your existence.

I’m still waiting, Oblat, you coward.

Block upgrades are logical and encompass fewer risks than the current preplanned product improvement program. Often we rely on service life extension programs to get needed upgrades and that adds both costs and delays to the weapons program. The block approach is in use for the F-16 production line and it works.
The F-16 has so many variations between countries that purchased the aircraft that the airframe is now nearly a mix and match situation. The next generation of fighter and bombers should be more open architecture and plug-in play to support the block upgrade concept.

And it is still working. Ref the F-35.

Northrop ate the cost of the F-20 Tigershark. There was no Air Vehicle Spec issued by the DOD, so when Northrop presented it, the DOD didn’t know what it was or why they needed it. If you came home from work one day and found that an un-invited landscaper had landscaped your front yard based only on what he thought was a good-looking yard, and was standing there expecting to be paid, you would throw a s##t-fit and tell him to get lost.

30 years in aerospace design, I have never, and by never I mean never, seen an engineer paid by the hour. Engineers strive to see their designs come to life. We get very frustrated when the design is constantly having to be re-worked because the buyer is constantly reviseing the specs. Engineers are also smart enough to see that job security lies in delivering a product that attracts other cystomers and stays in production for many years. Also, when the big money is flowing, the engineers don’t benefit from it beyond a regular paycheck and, if their lucky, maybe a $2500 bonus once a year. Hardly a fortune.

Right. Maybe I’m the only one who has to account for every tenth of an hour with a charge number. Pretend that’s not being paid by the hour if you want, but when engineers were salaried we did not have to account for what we did for every 6 minutes of our work day.

Yeah, another glowing success story. You can buy better, but you just can’t pay more.

Uh huh, same thing. Duh.

I agree with the Block approach. As a military supplier I can readily concur with the problem of scope creep on programs that continually delays delivery. A Block approach could allow a “line in the sand” where suppliers can stand firm on requirements and get to work. Another item not brought up here is that the Block approach would alloy suppliers to plan upgrades to systems. We are expected to design products to last 20 years, but our electrical components go obsolete much faster than that. Our customers are also hesitant to allow manufacturing upgrades, etc. due to possible re-qual issues. Blocks would make this easier.

Looks like *someone* just recently graduated from college and is VERY VERY UPSET that designing stuff doesn’t work the way Tony Stark did it in “Iron Man”.

“Block Upgrade” is a euphemism for “proper requirements management”. It means that instead of adding new requirements and changing old ones halfway through the design process, the DoD will let the contractor build to the original RFP, and tack on its wish-list after a few examples are flying around. The “scope creep” mentioned by EngineerRandy will be broken across multiple contracts, rather than being crammed into a single design process (that keeps getting set back to zero as the customer invents new desires.)

This has benefits to both ends. On the contractor side, it means that you don’t have to rip out work that’s already done to change things that “weren’t going to change”. On the DoD side, it means that cost estimates stay pretty much the same, *and* it means that the desired functionality (and associated cost) can be reached incrementally as a series of easily-sold-to-Congress “block upgrades”.

You’d be better off looking out for your own self interest. I do, the defense corporations do, stupid people who get robbed blind by defense contractors don’t.


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