A Bridge Too Far?
By Lieutenant David D. Maquera, U.S. Naval Reserve
Laser-guided bombs have a long legacy. North Vietnamese bridges that had cost many lives and aircraft were destroyed with utter nonchalance by two airplanes and a single bomb. A decade later, the British credited their American smart bombs with helping to end the Falklands Conflict. But not until Operation Desert Storm in 1991—when Cable News Network brought LGBs into their living rooms—did the American public really become aware of the precision capabilities of modern air warfare.
It is a safe bet that laser-guided bombs (LGBs) will be the weaponeers’ first choice for the near future—the next 20 years. That safe bet rests on three facts:
- The substantial U.S. Air Force- U.S. Navy inventory of Mk 80-series bombs and LGB kits.
- The relatively low cost and high destructive power of LGBs when compared to other precision-guided munitions: the Standoff Land Attack Missile (SLAM) and the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM), and planned weapons such as the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) and the Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW). It is important to note that these precision-guided munitions do offer significant tactical options, including considerable standoff and all-weather capability. They have limited capability, however, against moving or movable targets, and none can match the penetration and destructive power of the GBU-24 and its 2,000-pound BLU-109 penetrator warhead. All precision-guided munitions are not created equal, nor is their use mutually exclusive.
- Present countermeasures for LGBs are ineffective. Countermeasures exist, but no device or counter tactic presently envisioned for the near future can defeat LGBs consistently. LGBs have built-in counter-countermeasures and aircrews can select specific counter-countermeasure algorithms in the latest weapons. Clearly, there is a need to maintain LGB delivery capability based upon where we have been and where we are going.
In the context of LGB employment on strike aircraft, where does the U.S. Navy stand?
The ever-accelerating demise of the A-6E Intruder fleet is removing from the arsenal the Navy’s most effective LGB delivery system. It has the only fully integrated laser spot tracker (LST), forward-looking infrared (FLIR), and laser designator-ranger in the fleet. Its chin turret-mounted system allows significant aircraft maneuvering during target designation—including hard turns off target. No comparable replacement is in the works.
F/A-18Cs and -Ds are operating with an externally mounted FLIR/laser-designator pod designed as an interim solution. It does not contain an integral LST (it must be carried in another pod) and the FLIR/laser-designator pod is not pressurized, which limits its use at altitude. In addition, the designator pod’s location on the fuselage forces the pilot to fly a strictly circumscribed maneuver while designating to prevent masking the laser with the aircraft fuselage or wing. Planned upgrades for the pod include integration of the LST, magnification improvements, and additional target autotrack functions, but future growth is hardware-limited. The prospects for a more capable pod for the Hornet are tenuous at best.
Efforts to upgrade the F-14 Tomcat to fill the strike fighter gap between A-6Es’ retirement and F/A-18E/F have stalled and proposed air-to-ground upgrades have been put on hold or canceled. Interestingly, a successful squadron-level, fleet- initiated demonstration has validated use of the U.S. Air Force’s combat-proven low-altitude navigation and targeting infrared system for night (LANTIRN) pod on an Atlantic Fleet Tomcat. Funding, however, remains unresolved and LGB flight clearance, though important, is fundamentally stymied by the Tomcat’s present inability to acquire and laser- designate a target.
Comparing Navy and Air Force LGB delivery capabilities reveals a disturbing philosophical contrast. First, it is important to keep in mind that all present Air Force LGB aircraft types have employed LGBs in combat, while the only remaining Navy aircraft equally qualified is the A-6E (excepting the recent small number of U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18D LGB drops in Bosnia). Second, the sheer volume of Air Force LGB drops, both in training and in combat, eclipses Navy drops by a staggering number. The statistically astute will assume that this is a function of the greater number of Air Force aircraft, but this is not the case. Here are the Desert Storm numbers:
- Navy LGB drops constituted less than 3% of total Navy bomb expenditures, while Air Force LGBs accounted for 17% of that service’s total. The numbers exclude Mk 117 750-pound bombs dropped by Air Force B-52s, because the Navy does not stock them.
- A-6Es dropped 100% of the Navy’s LGBs. With 79 Intruders in theater— excluding tankers—the campaign average was eight LGBs per A-6E.
► Of the more than 8,000 LGBs dropped by the Air Force, more than 4,500 were dropped by the 64 F-111Fs of the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing—an average of approximately 73 per aircraft, which is a nine-fold superiority over their Navy compatriots.
To add further weight to these numbers, it must be noted that Air Force tactics dictated employing one LGB per target, except in a few cases at the beginning of the war in which two LGBs per target were employed. Navy LGB attacks employed up to four LGBs per attack run per aircraft. This means that the eight LGBs per A-6E may equate to as few as two attack runs per aircraft versus the conservative assessment of 37 attack runs per aircraft for the F-111Fs.
Training numbers are classified, but no doubt they would convey a more dramatic illustration than the combat ratios. The way the U.S. Air Force employs LGBs is predicated on an enormous amount of data and experience compared to the U.S. Navy’s. Therefore, we should pay attention to the way they do things with LGBs.
In contrast to the Navy’s paucity of assets, the Air Force has the following LGB aircraft:
- The F-111F—a two-seat, supersonic deep-interdiction aircraft with automatic terrain-following radar (TFR) and an internally mounted FLIR/laser designator. It can employ all LGBs currently available including the 5,000-pound GBU-28 bunker buster.
- The F-15E—a two-seat, supersonic strike-fighter with TFR and an externally mounted FLIR/laser designator. Carries all LGBs including the GBU-28.
- The F-117—a single-seat, subsonic stealthy attack aircraft with an internally mounted FLIR/laser designator. It typically carries two 2,000-pound LGBs in its internal weapons bay.
- The F-16C—a single-seat, supersonic strike fighter with TFR and an externally mounted FLIR/laser designator. Carries all LGBs except the GBU-28.
The Air Force considers the F-111F and the F-15E front-line LGB aircraft for high-threat scenarios. Both can ingress high or low, deliver a number of LGBs, assign the second crew member to the laser designator thus freeing the pilot to counter threats, maneuver during designation, and egress supersonically. Of course, the F-l 17 also functions as a high-threat attack aircraft by virtue of stealth, but it is so specialized that we can exclude it from our discussion.
The F-16C, being developed as a night, low-threat scenario battlefield air interdiction (BAI)/close air support (CAS) LGB platform, is a relative newcomer to the business because Air Force tacticians—read pilots—believe that the night, high-threat LGB mission is not suitable for a single-seat aircraft other than the F-1117. Some F-16 mishaps involving the loss of pilot and aircraft have listed disorientation during target acquisition and tracking as probable factors. These were peacetime training missions in optimal conditions.
The Air Force-Navy differences are not subtle. The Navy’s capability overlap is minuscule and shrinking. In the very near future, say two years, the Navy will have—by Air Force standards—a night, low-threat LGB delivery capability. But even this prediction is optimistic because the F/A-18C does not have the F-16C’s TFR and more capable pod system. The limiting factor remains the aircraft-pod combination. (Even in the two- seat F/A-18D, only the pilot can operate the pod and laser aiming. The F/A-18D’s operational flight program [software] does not permit the weapons system officer in the back seat to assist in an LGB attack.)
We must define what it is we want: a two-seat strike aircraft that can acquire a target at night or in marginal weather, release LGBs exploiting the full expanse of the weapon’s envelope—without significant probability of aircraft masking during off-target maneuvering.
Given these criteria, the Navy should address the following alternatives expeditiously:
- Upgrade the F-14 with an air-to-ground radar and a pressurized FLIR/laser-designator pod with an integrated LST. The pod should be mounted centrally, as is the F-15E’s, to eliminate masking and ensure full fidelity. In the absence of a ground-mapping radar, integrated Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation and night-vision devices can serve as a less capable and less expensive solution. (See “Tomcats Do It Better at Night,” September 1995, Proceedings, pages 7779.) GPS will provide navigation accurate enough to acquire the target with the PUR and achieve a weapon-release solution; night-vision devices would provide limited terrain avoidance capability in the absence of a terrain-following radar. Significantly, the F-14 is the only Navy aircraft with performance similar to the F-111F and the F-15E, and it probably would be able to carry the GBU-24 2,000-pound LGB penetrator—an option marginally available to either the A-6E or the F/A-18. The F-14 is the only one of the aircraft with the power available to employ the GBU-24 throughout its operating envelope. While the A-6E and F/A-18 can carry this weapon now, neither can employ it to its full extent.
- Obtain an integrated FLIR/laser designator/LST pod with pressurization for the F/A-18. Ideally, it would be common with the F-14 pod and would eliminate the restrictive tracking options presently available.
- Ensure that F/A-18E/F development considers fully LGB employment. A fully-integrated FLIR/designator/LST would be ideal; the threshold should be a ventrally mounted pod. A terrain-following radar should be considered to permit a night, low-altitude LGB delivery option—the GBU-24 was designed specifically as a low-altitude LGB capable of functioning in ceilings as low as 2,500 feet with launch altitudes in the nap-of-the-earth. Night-vision devices alone, though effective under certain conditions, do not constitute a night, terrain-following interdiction capability.
The Navy abandoned LGBs in the early 1980s in favor of advanced guided weapons while the Air Force pressed ahead with improved LGBs. In 1990, during Operation Desert Shield, the reality of Navy LGB deficiencies struck home—as did the advanced weapons’ delayed arrival. These are now closer to realization, but fiscal austerity has pruned their specifications to the extent they cannot replace the munitions effectiveness of LGBs. To make matters worse, their cost will prevent buying them in numbers sufficient to replace LGBs for a prolonged campaign. In 1995, we are conducting damage-control.
Hundreds of high-value Iraqi targets proved immune to Navy attacks during Desert Storm; in its aftermath, the destruction of hardened targets emerged as naval aviation’s number one priority. During the Gulf War, the Air Force got these targets with their hard-target munition: the GBU-24 LGB with the BLU-109 2,000-pound penetrator warhead. (The GBU-27 penetrator used by the F-1117 during Desert Storm is identical to the GBU-24 except for the bomb-fin modifications to fit the weapon into the F-117’s weapons bay.)
During the OpNav Desert Storm debrief, Rear Admiral Riley D. Mixson, who had commanded Battle Force Yankee in the Red Sea, stated: “The 2000 pound penetrator is the weapon you need to kill the really hard, important, war-winning targets.” (See “Where We Must Do Better,” by Rear Admiral Mixson, Proceedings, August 1991, pages 38-39.)
The Navy acquired a GBU-24 initial operational capability in 1994. but Navy aircraft limitations prevent employing the weapon in the combat-proved manner demonstrated by Air Force. In addition, penetration of certain types of targets for which GBU-24 was optimized is not feasible with the attack geometry available to an F/A-18 and its laser pod. The rule that fewer is better regarding the number of aircraft required to destroy a target, and the “common sense” economy of single-seat aircraft, evaporate at this point. In its present incarnation, it is arguable that the hard-target penetrator is a paper tiger for the Navy. The Navy plans to buy more than 3,000 GBU-24s—and should develop a better delivery capability—a two seater.
Littoral warfare does not mean that heavily defended and hardened targets will go away. If the Navy cannot destroy them, what credibility does a first-on-the-scene carrier have from both a power-projection and defense-budget management point of view?
Potential adversaries probably are hardening their critical nodes to defeat weapons like the GBU-24/BLU-109. Our response to this contingency is the GBU-28, which was employed by Air Force F-111Fs at the close of Desert Storm with startling success. It has roughly a fourfold greater penetration capability than the GBU-24, but no Navy aircraft can employ this weapon and no substantial steps have been made to integrate it into Navy tactical aviation.
The F-14 probably is the only plausible candidate because of the weapon’s weight and size. Planners at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California, envision the use of an already available Air Force multi-stores weapons rail capable of mating GBU-28s to the Tomcat. Unfortunately, the project lacks the momentum that is bestowed by those who can mobilize funding. Advanced penetrators remain a mirage shimmering on the horizon.
A credible Navy LGB capability is bordering on extinction. Although this article disregards cost, it is of profound importance that the Navy acquire and expand its LGB capability from the decks of its expensive carriers. Dropping LGBs on the ranges near Fallon, Nevada, or on a Greek rock in the Mediterranean does not impart an LGB capability. The historical Navy method of LGB readiness assessment and reality are two different things. Air Force capabilities should serve as the standard.
The Navy is not the Air Force and I do not advocate blind emulation of Air Force methodologies. The Navy must refrain from deceiving itself, however, that it has a viable LGB delivery aircraft for today’s high-threat scenarios. The critical decision parameter is time. We will not bridge the LGB gap if we delay.
Lieutenant Maquera is a student at the Harvard Business School. He served as an A-6E bombardier/navigator while on active duty.
Determining Gyro Error Pierside
By Senior Chief Quartermaster Richard Kabrick, U.S. Navy
There are two generally accepted and practiced methods of determining gyro error while the ship is still moored to the pier—each method valid and each with certain inherent problems.
Celestial observations of the sun or Polaris require rather lengthy calculations and have an accuracy that is questionable beyond .5°. Also, since the observations are usually done a significant time prior to the ship getting under way, changes may occur in the interim.
The second method is the pierside fix or trial-and-error method in which a fix is taken using three or more lines of position (LOPs); if this results in a pinpoint fix, then gyro error is assumed to be zero. If the result is a triangle, however, equal amounts of an assumed error are applied to each LOP until a pinpoint fix is achieved. This method also is time consuming. Moreover, if the objects used for the fix are at relatively short range, an error may not be apparent even though one exists.
Fortunately, an easy and accurate method based on the Rule of Sixty (Radian Rule) is available. Since a radian measures just under 60°, we can assume that it represents one-sixth of a circle. Knowing the distance to an object means we know that we are on a circle which has a radius equal to the object’s distance. Dividing that distance (radius) by 60 identifies the value of each degree of bearing along that portion of the circle in terms of distance.
The rule can be used for many purposes, one of which is a quick and accurate way to determine gyro error. To do this, first estimate your position alongside the pier and determine its accuracy— plus or minus so many units of measure—yards, meters, etc. Doubling this value and multiplying by 60 gives you a minimum distance for any object you wish to use to obtain a bearing. Obviously, the more accurate your position, the closer the range you can accept to obtain bearings.
For example, assume we have determined our position alongside a pier (see Figure 1) to be accurate within 25 yards. Doubling that gives 50 yards; multiplying by 60 yields 3,000 yards: thus, to obtain the accuracy we need, any object we use must be at least that distance. The prominent tower 6,000 yards away is an ideal object. We determine from the chart that the tower should bear 000° True from us. Since it requires 100 yards (6,000 yards divided by 60) of movement at right angles to the tower to change the bearing by 1°, any difference in an observed bearing will be gyro error known to within 1/4°—25 yard (possible error)/100 yards (distance to change bearing 1°).
Figure 1’s small circle represents the possible location of the pelorus. Assume that our observed bearing was 359° per gyro compass, since the true chart bearing is 000. we have an error of 10 east (using the old memory device: gyro least, error east) and we know the error is within 1/4° because the true bearing to the tower could be from 359.75° to 000.25°.
All this explains why the pierside fix can be misleading, especially when the LOPs are derived from bearings on objects at insufficient distances. If an object at a distance of 2,000 yards were used, for example, a gyro error of 1° would produce a visible error on the chart of 33.7 yards (2,000 divided by 60), which would not cause much alarm on most harbor charts. Once off the pier and using more distant objects, however, the error—still unidentified—would result in triangles and low-confidence fixes.
Figure 2 illustrates another use. Here we observe an anchored vessel ahead of our track, a channel buoy off to port, and a point of land to starboard—all at an approximate distance of 2,000 yards, as verified by radar. We want to know the distance between the stern of the ship and the buoy and the ship’s anchor chain (extended) and the point of land.
The pelorus gives an angular separation of 10° between the buoy and stern; we can compute quickly that the distance is approximately 333 yards—2,000 yards divided by 60 equals 33 yards and 33 yards times 10 equals 333 yards. Between the ship’s anchor chain extended and the land we record 15°. Again—2,000 yards divided by 60 equals 33 yards and 33 yards times 15 equals 500 yards. Bridge personnel will find these mental gymnastics useful.
Artillerymen, who deal in milliradians (“mils”) and, until lasers came along, rarely had an accurate way to determine range on the battlefield, used a variation of this technique—the WORM formula (W/R=M): estimating the width (W) of a target in feet and using binoculars with a mil scale rather than a pelorus to determine the angle subtended by the target in mils (M), they plugged in the numbers to determine range (R) to the target in thousands of feet.
Senior Chief Kabrick, who has served at sea on board frigates, destroyers, and carriers, is the Lead Instructor for Navigation at the Naval Surface Warfare School, Newport, Rhode Island. He wrote “Radar Range-Ring Navigation," published in Proceedings, April 1990, pages 117-118.
By Lieutenant Commander Margaret R. W. Reed, U.S. Navy
Ironically, the 40th anniversary of continuous U.S. military involvement in Antarctica is coinciding with the systematic replacement of military personnel by civilian contractors.
The U.S. Department of Defense, primarily the Navy, long has provided logistic support to the scientific efforts sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Freezing the military out of Antarctica sends a global message that U-S. interest in Antarctica is waning—and that is not good.
The United States does not recognize any nation’s territorial claims in Antarctica nor does it make any claims for itself. Seven nations, however, do claim sovereignty. Their wedge-shaped claims all start at 60° south latitude and proceed to the South Pole; all overlap to some degree. The problem for the United States is to maintain credibility as a key decision maker in the region’s future, while refusing to claim territory—or to recognize the claims of other nations.
The military-political situation in Antarctica presently is quiet but this could change quickly. The area is rich in minerals, albeit buried under thousands of feet of snow or under water, and geologists probing with radar and sonar have found modest amounts of copper, silver, gold, and uranium, plus larger amounts of coal and iron; there also are indications of natural gas and petroleum deposits. If critical natural resources were depleted in more temperate areas, the market would bear any cost to procure it from Antarctica, making the economic incentives for claiming sovereignty very appealing. Any nation attempting to enforce its territorial claims against others could set off a crisis.
U.S. national strategy for Antarctica is found in three complementary documents: a Presidential Decision Directive, a Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation, and the National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement.
In his National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement, President Bill Clinton includes environmental security as a long-term national interest and security requirement. Some of the specific environmental concerns are: ozone depletion, hazards created by climatic changes, and the dwindling reserves of fresh water. While Antarctica is not specifically mentioned in the strategy, the continent is implicitly referred to in the discussion of these specific concerns.
The Clinton administration’s Presidential Directive NSC-26 defined four objectives in Antarctica:
- Protecting the unspoiled environment
- Preserving and pursuing scientific research
- Maintaining international cooperation for peaceful purposes
- Encouraging conservation and sustainable management of the living resources in the oceans surrounding Antarctica
In pursuit of these objectives, the United States plans to maintain an active presence in Antarctica by supporting research efforts of the National Science Foundation and other agencies, i.e., the military.
The primary source for military strategy in Antarctica is the Memorandum of Agreement between the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. Its stated fundamental objective is to maintain an active and influential U.S. presence, and to support a substantial program of scientific research.
Clearly specified by each of these governing documents is the strategy for Antarctica: maintain forward presence to ensure environmental security and a peaceful area for scientific research—a strategy that is presently in a state of benign neglect. The United States does not need a new strategy—it just needs to implement the one it has—and the U.S. Navy should step up to the mission. Broadly speaking, a strong overseas presence in Antarctica can be achieved in several ways: pre-positioned equipment, visits, deployments, and permanently stationed forces.
The National Science Foundation has identified two services that should not be turned over to a civilian organization: the military ski-equipped LC-130 flights to resupply the interior and the flights for deploying personnel and supplies. The New York Air National Guard is interested in performing this task and, by 1997, the only military presence in Antarctica could be National Guard LC-130 and C-141 airlift flights during the Antarctic summer from October to February. The Air National Guard would contribute to limited force visits and deployments, but would be unable to provide permanently stationed forces, or a necessary logistic base in the event of a crisis.
Three U.S. science stations operate year-round in Antarctica: the Palmer Peninsula, the South Pole, and Ross Island. McMurdo Station on Ross Island has the largest community of any country in Antarctica. It is the staging point for operations to the interior and is the only U.S. site where military personnel live.
Because of its size and location, McMurdo is the focal point for military presence. It can support rapid crisis response by providing bases, ports, airfields, and other infrastructure essential for the receipt of air, sea and land deployment of U.S. forces. Because of the one-year lead time for most supplies, McMurdo is well stocked with provisions. In compliance with the Antarctic Treaty, the U.S. cannot preposition military equipment but can preposition food, extreme cold- weather clothing, and other non-military specific items.
The U.S. military can effect liaison with foreign scientific bases in a variety of ways. For example, when the Italian base at Terra Nova Bay had difficulties with its ice runway in 1986, a U.S. Navy civil engineer was flown there by U.S. military aircraft. The officer spent several days providing alternate solutions to the runway problems. The U.S. military also enhances coalition operations by providing logistic support to Scott Base, a New Zealand science camp located two miles from McMurdo Station.
The military provides logistic needs for scientists that could be used as a foundation in a crisis. Examples are:
- Acquisition, storage, movement, distribution, maintenance, evacuation, and disposition of material
- Movement, evacuation, and hospitalization of personnel
- Construction, maintenance, operation, and disposition of facilities
- Acquisition or furnishing of services
Civilian contractors could perform all the functions of the military and, in many cases, do it cheaper, faster, and better. A psychological advantage accrues, however, when another nation knows that U.S. military personnel are present. As an example, in Antarctica all military personnel wear the green SeaBee utility uniform. Parkas and other items of extreme cold weather clothing also are green. Baseball caps labeled with the appropriate command and rank insignia are required headgear and any nation is aware at a glance the extent of U.S. military involvement simply by counting green parkas.
Civilians wear red cold-weather clothing. While they are easily identifiable as U.S. civilians, one cannot know if the person is a member of the National Science Foundation, a contractor, a scientist, or a visiting fireman. The image of U.S. potency and commitment generated by a person wearing a U.S. military uniform has no civilian equivalent.
Finally, civilian scientific personnel are not trained to assume responsibility in a crisis; neither are they expected to do so. The use of civilian personnel to support scientific studies does not permit the United States to control the course of a developing military or political situation in Antarctica.
The Navy, however, has developed cold feet and wants to disengage from the Antarctic mission. Two events were instrumental in this turn of events. First, a congressional budget problem in fiscal year 1992 almost cost the Navy $83 million in unappropriated funds; while the issue was resolved, it left the Navy suspicious of promised reimbursements. The second event was the downsizing of the military in the wake of the Cold War. The Navy decided that end-strength reductions justified eliminating the 787 Antarctica billets, which have limited training or tactical benefit, and recommended that the National Science Foundation obtain required support services by contracting with commercial firms.
The National Science Foundation was quick to do this; to date, 263 of the 787 billets once held by the Navy have been turned over to a civilian contractor. The military still provides airlift, weather forecasts, air traffic control, medical, dental, postal, and search-and-rescue services, but contracts will be let for these also.
Combining the advantages cited by the Navy and the National Science Foundation, it would seem prudent to convert all military support to civilian contractors. While this might be cost-effective, it would eliminate the major reason the military has remained in Antarctic: presence.
The Navy claims that it is the service best able to meet American forward-presence requirements, although this assertion seems to conflict with the service’s desire to back out of Antarctica. Because the financial cost is reimbursed by the National Science Foundation, the cost to the Navy is the small force structure of 787 billets, which epitomizes the “powerful yet unobtrusive presence” the Navy espouses as its mission in its document “Forward From the Sea.”
The only answer to a viable presence in Antarctica is to continue using military personnel. The Navy’s and the National Science Foundation’s justifications for their actions represent a short-term view. Realistically, it would be almost impossible to bring back the 263 billets already deleted, but the Navy should commit to keeping the remaining billets. The possibility of fencing Antarctic Navy billets so that they do not count against the Navy’s downsizing numbers is a possibility. Funding given to the National Science Foundation to reimburse the Department of Defense for Antarctic support should be treated in the same manner and excluded from budget cuts.
We should heed the words of the National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement: “The decisions we make today regarding military force structures typically influence our ability to respond to a threat 20 to 30 years in the future. Similarly, our current decisions regarding the environment and natural resources will affect the magnitude of their security risks over at least a comparable period of time, if not longer.”
Lieutenant Commander Reed is a student at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. She has a Master’s degree in Government and, between 1988 and 1991, completed three deployments with Naval Support Force Antarctica.
Too Many Cooks . . .
By Major Joseph M. Sackett, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired)
OSA, COTS, GOTS, and SEI—In the world of defense system software development, these are today’s buzz words. They stand for open system architecture, commercial off-the-shelf, government off-the-shelf, and Systems Engineering Institute proficiency levels.
If software contractors fail to use these terms frequently, they risk confusing government program managers who may fear that outdated “closed system” technologies are being applied. Once this impression becomes prevalent, the software developer is in severe jeopardy of being replaced by another contractor who is less reserved—and often less honest—when using these terms.
Government laboratories and private consultants are usually the first to point out insufficient usage of software jargon. After all, they are paid to advise government program managers on the meanings of such terminologies. They are then asked to give counsel on a buzz word’s proper implementation.
Unfortunately, poor products often result from the overuse of popular software development concepts. On one hand, far too many contractors simply attest that they are developing open systems and integrating COTS/GOTS in a high-level SEI environment. Too often, nothing could be further from the truth. A common marketing tactic is to say what the customer wants to hear while going about one’s business in a manner that has not changed at all.
Another unfortunate tendency is for a government program manager and his staff to “buy into” next generation concepts without understanding the implications. When buzz words are combined, turned into bullets on view graphs, and repeated frequently enough, a program manager can become convinced that a complex software system can be easily pieced together. This is the classic case of a little knowledge being dangerous.
On paper, the notion seems appealing. It goes like this. If Company X already has sold a software product to the government, the product can be taken off the shelf and folded into an “open shell” at little cost. If enough off-the-shelf applications are pieced together, the new application can be developed quickly and inexpensively.
The danger lies in committing the future success of a new weapon system to a hodgepodge of integrated pieces that may or may not play together after the software is integrated. Ten companies might very well have developed ten good software applications. But once an integrator attempts to combine the ten software applications into a common operating environment, the sum of the pieces—more often than not—renders an unusable system.
Yet another danger lies in taking software for granted. In the case of aircraft and smart weapons, hardware and production line items receive considerable up front attention. They can be touched and measured. Because software is relatively invisible until it has reached some level of completion, it often is given a lower priority during the preliminary phases of weapon system development. A smart weapon will do smart things only if it is programmed with intelligent instructions. Then it must be able to execute those instructions in an effective and timely manner. If too little attention is applied too late, the weapon system software will not stand a chance of performing to expectations.
But software does not have to be a weapon system's Achilles’ heel. Too often, conceptualists drive software development down an irreversible risk-laden path. The biggest reason is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen.
Consider a new weapon system that is highly software dependent. Assume the program is important enough to have a new program manager (PM). Typically, the new manager will create a new organization chart and staff it, designing each billet to cover a particular area of expertise. The PM then will draft civil servants from projects that have little or nothing in common with the new product and hire consultants to advise them. More often than not, the consultants will know little more about the new system’s requirements than their government counterparts. Simultaneously, the PM will commission a variety of experts from government laboratories.
Before long, the overseers and experts outnumber the contractors who will be needed to develop the software. Costs of setting up and maintaining the infrastructure mount rapidly.
When the overseers outnumber the producers, the buzz words begin to fly. Alternative processes are induced because . . . someone read about them in a report ... or heard about them at a symposium. Requirements volatility increases while development schedules are shortened because of a late turn-on and a hard deadline. Host hardware is retargeted because a third-party hardware vendor planted the seed of potential cost savings downstream. COTS and GOTS integration requirements run rampant. Before long, the inevitable happens: everybody wants to get into the act of coding. Government Laboratory X just suffered a round of budget cuts and needs work; Contractor Y has low labor rates and must not be forgotten; Government Laboratory Z wants to integrate everyone else’s products.
Before you know it, far too many software development activities are simultaneously developing various pieces of the pie. The left hand usually has no idea what the right hand is doing and configuration management gets out of control. Once this happens, the new weapon system is doomed to schedule slips and budget overruns.
By the time the problem is recognized, so many simultaneous initiatives are under way and so much money has been invested that the problem cannot be resolved, at least not without incurring self-emasculation on the part of the PM who set up the infrastructure in the first place. Very few PMs are willing to take that step.
The solution is simple. Keep it simple—and stick to the following guidelines:
- Instead of establishing an uncontrollable infrastructure of overseers and parallel contractors, government program managers must keep their staffs in proper proportion to the producers.
- Unnecessary parallel development must be avoided. The producers must be few in number and each must retain an appropriate nucleus of experts who have high degrees of experience in the required technology.
- Government staffs must avoid the temptation of delegating software documentation to third-party technical writers.
- Development schedules must be realistic—not mandated.
- Requirements must be thoroughly defined up front and requirements volatility must be kept under control.
In short, leave the software development process in the hands of experienced practitioners who know what they are doing. This may call for restraint on the usage of popular buzz words and theories of the day. It also may mean that Company X might charge higher labor rates to do the job. But a simplification of the entire process will result in lower life-cycle costs. Why? Because effective delegation to an experienced prime contractor will ensure a high likelihood of delivering quality products on time. This can only happen if overmanaged parallel-development activities are avoided. Too many cooks spoil the soup.
Major Sackett is a free-lance writer. He was an A-6 bombardier-navigator while on active duty and later spent seven years with McDonnell Douglas Corporation, where he worked on the F/A-18 program.
Rafale M Fires Live Missile
By Jean-Michel Guhl
The French Navy’s Rafale multirole combat aircraft passed a key development milestone this summer with the first successful live firing of a Matra MICA air-to-air missile.
The 8 June MICA (Missile d'lntervention et de Combat Aerieti—interception and air-combat missile) test was carried out by the M01 naval prototype of the twin-engine Dassault fighter, which is to be built in sea- and land-based versions for the French Navy and Air Force. The aircraft was operating over the triservice Centre d’Essais des Landes along the country’s Atlantic coast, when it employed its Thomson-CSF RBE2 pulse- Doppler radar to acquire and track an airborne target drone.
The firing was a major step in the final validation of the Rafale’s fully integrated navigation and weapon system, which is built around the RBE2 synthetic a perture/pulse-Doppler radar. The MICA missile, which weighs about 240 pounds, can employ either infrared or active radar homing; its range is estimated at 25-30 nautical miles.
The Rafale development program, four years away from completion, is on schedule. To date, the two Rafale M naval prototypes, M01 and M02, and the two air force prototypes, C01 and B01, have logged more than 2,500 flight hours. Plans call for the commissioning of the first French Navy Rafale squadron at Naval Air Station Landivisiau in the summer of 1999, followed by the combat aircrafts participation in the shakedown cruise of the new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, which is being outfitted at Lorient Naval Base.
Rafale 01 first flew on 11 December 1992 from the Istres flight test center, and was deployed for six months to U.S. Navy test facilities at Lakehurst, New Jersey, and Patuxent River, Maryland, for the first of a series of three shore-based carrier-compatibility tests. Initial evolutions were completed on 23 August 1992, followed by the second set that began at Lakehurst in January 1993. The monthlong second series demonstrated the aircraft’s full ability to be catapulted and perform arrested landings from the small deck of the French Foch-class aircraft carriers.
These tests cleared the way for the Rafale MOl’s initial tests at sea on board the Foch, which began in April 1993 while the ship was cruising in the Mediterranean. The first arrested landing took place on 19 April, followed by the first catapult launch the next day.
This first cruise for the fighter lasted until 7 May 1993. It was a true milestone because the aircraft’s presence on the Foch's deck meant that the French Aron- avale finally was closing in on its goal of replacing its nearly obsolete fleet of F-8E(FN) Crusaders. In addition, the Rafale’s carrier-handling characteristics indicated that would live up to its promise as a fighter pilot’s aircraft. Shortly before the cruise, the French government had signed the initial order for the first series production Rafale M, designated aircraft M1.
On 8 November 1993, M02 made its first flight and M01 began its third series of evolutions at Lakehurst, which included carrier-compatibility tests carrying external loads such as missiles and fuel tanks. The tests concluded 15 December 1993, and the prototype began its second cruise on board the Foch on 27 January 1994. On 17 February, the government officially ordered the M2 and M3 production aircraft.
Sea trials resumed in April 1994 using both prototypes. M01 was catapulted and recovered while carrying external loads, while the M02 was used to validate an advanced online testing unit that will be deployed with operational aircraft.
In October 1994, Rafale M02 began testing the first avionics and radar suite, including the RB2E radar and Spectra self-protection electronic countermeasures gear, followed by the third series of sea trials on board the Foch, when the aircraft was equipped with the first fully operational navigation-attack system that paved the way for the successful missile firing.
Jean-Michel Guhl is the editor-in-chief of the authoritative French aviation magazine Air Zone.