Monday, February 28, 2011

Lowered expectations.

Harry Turtledove, Mr. Alternate History, is an unbelievably prolific writer, who turns out fat novels at a brisk clip. Given that output level, his batting average of about .600 is pretty good.

I'm currently reading Days of Infamy and End of the Beginning, a tale of WWII where the Japanese follow up the air raid on Pearl Harbor with landing a couple divisions of troops on Oahu. It's a pretty good read, and by the second book, you get a really good look at the whole "Arsenal of Democracy" thing. For example, bear in mind that between 1942 and 1945 the USA launched far more aircraft carriers than every nation on Earth, including the US, has launched outside of that three-year span.

Meanwhile, here in 2011, Congress just finished up awarding a contract for a next-generation tanker aircraft. It featured some nasty political logrolling, because the contract was supposed to guarantee tens of thousands of jobs in the congressional district that wound up building the 18-plane run.

18 planes. That wasn't quite a day's output at the Willow Run plant during WWII, where they churned out a bomber an hour...

47 comments:

Bram said...

Like everything else big government touches, our military procurement is a disaster.

Tango Juliet said...

Oh thank God! I thought it was going to be another 1911 post.

:)

The Mare Island shipyard was launching a destroyer a day by the end of WWII if I remember my factoids correctly.

Kevin said...

Ah, but the really interesting part is the cost. Each KC-45 tanker costs about $200 million. In 2009 dollars, that would get you 49 B-24 bombers, and some spare parts.

Comrade Misfit said...

If I remember correctly, Ford had a hell of a time getting the Willow Run plant to produce bombers. It took them so long that the plant was nicknamed "Will It Run".

The KC-X contract award has been a joke from the days when it was a corrupt sweetheart leasing deal with Boeing. ("Corrupt" isn't just my opinion as a couple of people went to prison over it.)

But your point is correct. Hell, the entire production run of KC-135s was completed in about as much time as it has taken the Air Force to award this deal. And if they even start cutting metal for the first KC-X before 2015, I'll be very much surprised.

It's not just the KC-X. It took 20 years to go from starting the design of the YF-22 to the first operational flight of the F-22. Compare that to the Mustang I, which was ordered by the British in 1940 and went from contract signing through design, flight test and into initial service in less than two years.

On the other hand, it took the Army something like 15+ years to design, test and issue the M-1. So things were not always better during peacetime.

War speeds things up. A lot of stuff that might be project-killers or project-delay issues in peacetime get steamrollered when lead is already flying and there is a far greater willingness to just throw money at a production problem.

Comrade Misfit said...

Kevin, but that $200 million will buy you one-tenth of a B-2.

I read a study a very long time ago that looked at the amount of money spent on defense and the cost of fighter aircraft. The study concluded that if the historical trends were not broken, by 2060, the entire annual defense budget would be spent to buy one fighter.

I don't see that as being terribly wrong. The P-51 cost about $51,000 a copy, the F-4 cost about $2.5 million, the F-15 cost $28 million, the F/A-18 cost $50 million, the F-22 cost $200 million and the "cheaper" F-35 will probably end up costing as much as the F-22 did.

Anonymous said...

$35B = 180 tankers

Anonymous said...

"$35B = 180 tankers"

You've never seen our government buy anything have you? By the time they finish, something will cost 10 times as much while being virtually identical to the initial product...so where 180 tankers was the plan to buy, it really will be 18 that will actually be delivered.


You know, these extremely low numbers of procurement echo a bit about WWII, specifically the shape of the military before WWII. The government would buy aircraft in extremely small batches, for example...heck, in 1939 I think we had a total of only about 18 B-17s.

Tam said...

Yup, the high per-unit costs of the F-22 and B-2 programs were not at all helped by the fact that R&D costs wound up being amortized over fleets a fraction of the size of the ones initially ordered.

We'll see the same thing with the KC-X, mark my words...

Anonymous said...

The major difference is in wartime , you build the design to s spec, and you build it so fast that politicians and military bureaucrats donlt have time to MESS with the spec.

If the spec if wrong it gets fixed in the Mk II, or you say to hell with it, and build a different airplane and relegate the Mk I to training.

If I'm not mistaken the B17 was designed, high level, in an afternoon, and they were cutting metal withing 30 DAYS. Of course, when building a plane in WWII, the goal was "how quick can we have something in the air given THIS EXISTING technology.", not how many congressional districts can we split this across, and military bureaucrats adding every "revolutionary game changing technology" they can think of into the spec....and then changing the spec all the time, and then making the contractor account for design time in 15min increments.

Boat Guy said...

I've seen the procurement system work well in other cases - usually because an operator was in charge. Two of our most successful SpecWar mobility platforms (the Mk V SOC and the 11m RHIB) were both honchoed by SEAL Captains. Small beer to be sure, but the system CAN still work.
Plenty of skeletons in the WWII procurement as well. We tend not to remember them because the scale of that effort - for one thing and "national security" for another - overshadowed many of them.
Still, "better is the enemy of good enough" why not reopen the KC-135 line with some product improvements?
We also tend to overlook some of the real successes; the C-130 family and the BUFF come to mind.
A GREAT read for some insight into how the process does and doesn't work is "Skunk Works" published in the waning days of the Clinton administration

Tam said...

Boat Guy,

"Plenty of skeletons in the WWII procurement as well."

My favorite is the claim about the XP-75 project that says GM dragged their feet on an impossibly complex design specifically so they wouldn't be stuck building B-29s at about the time it was okay to go back to producing sedans and convertibles...

og said...

I'm always less bemused by the money spent, than the megabuck desert whizbang thingammy that in its first operation is disabled by... Sand.

Anonymous said...

"Still, "better is the enemy of good enough" why not reopen the KC-135 line with some product improvements?
We also tend to overlook some of the real successes; the C-130 family and the BUFF come to mind."

Poor idea compared to buying a new tanker. What's going to hurt bad is when the Pentagon finishes gold plating what should be a simple aircraft (an off the shelf 767 with big fuel tanks and a boom, a model already in production for the Japanese and ), and they'd do the exact same thing to new production KC135s. Look at what they did to the VIP helo program...

Anonymous said...

How many million lines of code were in the WW II-era aircraft?

Leatherneck

Tam said...

Leatherneck,

You only gotta write the code once. You've got to put every single rivet in every single plane, though. ;)

Jim said...

Tam - It is a lot easier to buck rivets than to write code though :-)

This will likely end up being an expensive mess, but nobody kicks ass without tanker gas.

Jim

perlhaqr said...

[A[ tale of WWII where the Japanese follow up the air raid on Pearl Harbor with landing a couple divisions of troops on Oahu.

Having lived in Hawaii, a story about the Japanese giving those coconut humping cockmanglers the "Philippines Treatment" sounds like a pretty pleasant read, actually.

------

The P-51 cost about $51,000 a copy, the F-4 cost about $2.5 million, the F-15 cost $28 million, the F/A-18 cost $50 million, the F-22 cost $200 million and the "cheaper" F-35 will probably end up costing as much as the F-22 did.

Are those costs reflective of inflation? It doesn't mean much to say a P-51 cost $51k without noting that a loaf of bread that was $0.05 at that time now costs $3.50, as well.

Tam said...

perlhaqr,

Don't hold back man, it's not healthy.

mongo78 said...

This trend applies to the civilian world too. Assume for the purposes of argument that a project like the Hoover Dam would even be possible today. How long do you think it would take now? And after spending decades frog-marching through endless red tape, by how many orders of magnitude would it exceed the original $50 million cost?

This topic touches on something else that scares the hell out of me - too many of us are perfectly happy to burn through the design margin of our technological civilization with no thought as to what will happen when (not if, but when) it fails. Electric transmission grids and gas pipelines and cell phone networks are not manifestations of the natural world, but a lot of people act as though they existed forever and will always be there to serve us, no matter how much we neglect them.

Boyd K said...

WWII brought some incredible technology to our waves and airways but the most incredible thing was the ability to make (design, build, repair). And -that- was our economy.

Our strength ultimately is our economy. Let's make some political change before that slides any further toward "was". -BoydK

jimbob86 said...

The US built more carriers than every nation on Earth, including the US, has launched outside of that three-year span.

....ummmm..... and 70-80% of that number were escort carriers capable of holding what? a couple dozen aircraft? Too slow to keep up with the fleet, they spent most of the war riding herd on Liberty ships..... with the notable exception of the Taffy 3 task force at Leyte.

Kinda like the tank production: we produced way more more than anybody else except the Russians... but 1/2 of those were M-3 and M-4 Ronsons or variants....

perlhaqr said...

Don't hold back man, it's not healthy.

Well, y'know, I didn't want to go too over the top in your journal. :)

WV: "tring" -- what you give to people who can't be trusted with full bore string.

Kristopher said...

JimBob86: Those Ronsons won the war for us, as did the T-34 christy based tank on the Russian side.

Numbers alone were enough.

Part of Germany's problem was Hitler poking designers and insisting on bigger guns and more armor than the design could handle. All of those Panther transmissions failed for exactly that reason. They had less tanks and they had all sorts of mechanical problems with them.

As for CVs ... The US was they only nation that fully learned the lesson at Pearl Harbor. I agree that the Liberty-ship based CVEs were a mistake.

Tam said...

jimbob86,

"....ummmm..... and 70-80% of that number were escort carriers capable of holding what? a couple dozen aircraft? Too slow to keep up with the fleet, they spent most of the war riding herd on Liberty ships....."

...and 18 Essex-class fleet carriers, and nine Independence-class light carriers, plus a brace of Midways launched in 1945, one of which was still launching F/A-18's in support of Desert Dust...

jimbob86 said...

JimBob86: Numbers alone were enough.

"Part of Germany's problem was Hitler poking designers and insisting on bigger guns and more armor than the design could handle. All of those Panther transmissions failed for exactly that reason. They had less tanks and they had all sorts of mechanical problems with them."

True....

"As for CVs ... The US was they only nation that fully learned the lesson at Pearl Harbor. I agree that the Liberty-ship based CVEs were a mistake."

Seems you have it both ways Kristopher.... Numbers and simplicity of construction and maintenance were the big idea behind the American tanks, the escort carriers and the Liberty ships... Logistics and communication is what the Americans did well..... numbers, along with ample supplies of everything, and better communications than everybody else, were enough for the Americans.

The Wehrmacht suffered from an insane absolute megalomaniac ruler.... he believed that Germany could take on the world and win, just because he believed in that Nietsche Will-to-Power BS. He'd done just as well to believe he could fly by jumping off a cliff and flapping his arms real fast: it'd saved the world millions of deaths, maybe .... or maybe Stalin would have killed more without him....

"as did the T-34 christy based tank on the Russian side."

Another weapons procurement debacle! We had the prototype of the best tank of the war and we declined it!

Then again, what would the T-34 looked like if the American army had designed it?

Robin said...

jimbob86, the US Army did design their own version of the T-34. They called it the M18 Hellcat. It was the synthesis of the failed US Army "Tank Destroyer" doctrine. The crews did not care for it much, some TD units resisting converting from the makeshift M10 TD to it. But it was popular as an addition to recon task forces due to its high speed.

Tam said...

jimbob86,

CVE's did just fine at what they were designed for: Transporting A/C to fleet task forces of CV's and CVL's, and providing air cover platforms for ASW and CAP for merchant ship convoys.

Joe in PNG said...

And when the alternative to a CVE is having to ditch your catapult launched fighter into the North Atlantic...

Sigivald said...

On the tankers: That's about $200M per plane.

The normal commercial price of a 767 seems to be around $150M, from various internet sources.

Given the R&D and extra crap necessary for making it a tanker and military craft rather than a stripped commercial chassis, the price actually seems about right.

Problem with modern technology rather than 1940s technology, is you have to pay modern prices, not 1940s prices.

(Same with health-care, it turns out...)

perlhaqr said...

Sigivald: Knowing next to nothing about aircraft, essentially, why does it take $50M to turn an existing empty plane into a flying gas can?

Randy said...

perlhaqr, I don't know the specifics on the KC-X, but a few considerations:

Design of the boom and supporting machinery and how to install it on that airframe. Ditto for the drogues used for refueling Navy type birds. Strengthening the airframe as necessary to handle it all.

Additional plumbing, pumps and control gear for same to allow the fuel to be offloaded in a safe manner for the receiver while not messing with the tanker's CG and balance.

Military grade communications gear and supporting antennas

Navigation equipment that does not totally depend on NAVAIDs and GPS

EMP hardening

Counter measures

Making sure the mil-spec commo, navaids, EMP hardening and counter measures don't interfere with each other and minor things like flight controls.

Etc Etc. All has been done before, and we know the basics of the what, but the how for each airframe is different and to be approached with great care.

I've been involved (more like victimized) with field modifications and aircraft "upgrades" that were nightmares since the contractor's test facility was not in the airspace we operated in.

Should it take $50? The electronics alone could probably take a big chunk of that, but then the question is should those components be that expensive.

Oh, having been station in Hawaii, not sure I totally disagree with you on that subject.

jimbob86 said...

"CVE's did just fine at what they were designed for: Transporting A/C to fleet task forces of CV's and CVL's, and providing air cover platforms for ASW and CAP for merchant ship convoys."

I did not say they didn't do a fine job at the tasks they were designed for (Kristopher?) ... they were crucial to winning the "Battle of the Atlantic".... hell at Leyte, TF Taffy3 gave better than they got.... I was just pointing out that the large number of escort carriers seriously skewed your numbers ....

"jimbob86, the US Army did design their own version of the T-34. They called it the M18 Hellcat. It was the synthesis of the failed US Army "Tank Destroyer" doctrine."

By the time they got done screwing it up, it was not recognizable as a Christie: torsion bars, cast bulbous turret, inadequate gunand armor.... the Rus had a 9 year head start on them and the Hellcat ended up with a gun the T-34 started the war with (after being upgunned twice), while the Rus upgunned to an 85 mm ....

perlhaqr said...

Randy: Fair cop.

Also, I just realised that I think I read Sigivald wrong. He was saying that with the R&D costs of all of that stuff plus the scratch cost of designing the plane itself, amortized out across the whole fleet, $200M doesn't seem like that bad of a price.

Whereas I first thought he was saying "If you started with a $150M Boeing 767, it's cost you $50M to turn it into a good military air tanker."

Which, again, to my very limited knowledge, seems like a reasonable plan: let Boeing amortize most of the dev costs across it's much larger output, and then take an actual production 767 and stuff the military commo gear, fuel stuff, etc, inside of it. Which is why I was confused at a $50M per unit cost to do that.

Maybe I just don't have a really good grasp of what airplanes cost. :) Being as I'm a really ground based guy, that seems like a good explanation, too.

And, yeah. I was "stationed" on Oahu from mid-4th to mid-7th grade. Even high school (here back in the US) was better than that. Heh. My wife is there on vacation right now, visiting some friends. I told her to have fun. But there was no way in hell I was going back myself.

Anonymous said...

I just went to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve inflation calculator and put in $51,000 in 1944 dollars. Today that P-51Mustang would cost us $639,920. Ya can't even buy a cheap congressman for that price today, let alone a functioning aircraft.

Tam said...

jimbob86,

"...the Hellcat ended up with a gun the T-34 started the war with (after being upgunned twice)..."

To suggest that the fairly low-velocity F-34 on the original T34/76 was in any way comparable (other than having a similar bore diameter) to the high-velocity M1A1 mounted in the Hellcat shows a lack of information.

The M1A1 had, in fact, superior penetrative power to the ZiS-S-5.

jimbob86 said...

The fact that the M1A1 tank cannon had better penetrating power does not make it a better gun than the Russian 85mm..... it had poorer performance than the Rus 85mm with HE, and the 85mm would do what it needed to do: penetrate the armor of it's opposite number, AND support the infantry in assaults.

Specialization is a fine thing for insects. Tanks must be, of necessity, a compromise of Firepower, Armor, Mobility (Speed, Manueverability, and Range), Maintainability, ..... Crew Survivability and Comfort are also considerations for many designers (not the Rus). The American TD's of WWII sacrificed most other considerations to Speed, with Firepower being the second consideration.

As much as I liked O'l Blood and Guts, it was either a fortunate accident, or .... a foul (but probably necessary) murder that kept him from taking on the Rus in 1945..... The Iron Curtain would have extended to Calais, methinks.

Tam said...

Every time the T-34/85 has gone into battle against the M4A3E8, the floor has been mopped with the Russian tank (which was known for going into battle with a spare transmission carried on the deck...)

The M4 was hardly one of the great tanks of all time, but it was certainly adequate, and its faults are as exaggerated (and for the same reasons) as the M16 rifle's.

Ask any GI (or Tommy or Poilu or Landser or Digger...) how their stuff stacks up against the enemy's. I mean, the Garand rifle we revere today was the Jammin' Jenny to the guys who carried it.

Tam said...

(...and as you can see there are some topics from which I do derive guilty pleasure arguing on the intertubes. :o )

jimbob86 said...

How many "Easy 8's" were in the ETO in 1945, vs. T34/85's? (IDK, just guessin' the Rus had far more, as they were making them for far longer).... the Easy 8 probably had as much effect on combat ops as the Japgepanther: 400 units is a drop in the bucket when the other side has 15-20K t-34/85's rolling... Numbers are important in these matters: The side w/ Shermans beat the side w/ the various Panzers, despite heavy losses, due to numbers, both sheer numbers, and the the number of combat ready (maintenance/recovery failures vs. successes) tanks... that, and the fact that Allied Tac-Air killed quite a lot of the Panzers....

How many Pershings were there to match up against the JS-2's? Artillery tubes? Divisions? The Rus did the bulk of the fighting in the ETO, moving from Smolensk to Warsaw and destroying the German's Army Group Center in the time it took the allies to get out of the coastal areas of Normandy and Provence .... it would have been a small thing for them to just keep rolling..... unless we nuked them, but that gun was empty....

"(...and as you can see there are some topics from which I do derive guilty pleasure arguing on the intertubes. :o )"

There are worse ways to spend a morning than drinking coffee and talking tanks of 1945, but alas, few less productive: I've work to do..... If I were independently wealthy, I'd love to hit one your blogmeets....

Billy Beck said...

"Problem with modern technology rather than 1940s technology, is you have to pay modern prices, not 1940s prices."

Well, then, how come they're giving away computer hardware now compared to what it cost a decade ago?

IOW:a general assertion that modern technology necessarily means higher prices is at variance with certain facts.

Fruitbat44 said...

I like Harry Turtledove's books a lot.

But . . .

IMHO some of his stuff, the World War, (Alien invasion in WWII) and the alternate American Civil War novels went on waaaaaay to long. Great ideas, great books, but they ended up with me screaming "End! Please, end!!!!"

I am enjoying having fun with his "Crosstime Traffic" stories. Long enough to have fun exploring an idea and tell a story, but not so long you lose the will to live.

Kristopher said...

I still think the Liberty-based CVE were a mistake. Too damned slow, and too easy for real ships to kill.

A CVE based on a destroyer hull would have been a better idea.

Just my opinion.

Kristopher said...

Oh, and I'm not having it both ways, Jim.

That CVE was like putting metal plates and a 2-pounder on a Model-A Ford truck and calling it a tank.

jimbob86 said...

So long as they launched aircraft capable of hunting u-boats, they worked to protect the Liberty Ships, which in turn kept the large, unsinkable aircraft carrier that was Brittain from capitulating due to starvation and hopelessness.

As carriers, they sucked, sure, but in the land of the blind, the guy with one good eye is king. And as evidenced by TF Taffy 3 at Leyte, well used crappy escort carriers, DD's and DE's beat empty fleet carriers, cruisers and battleships. Hard to argue with that scoreboard.

Anonymous said...

"I just went to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve inflation calculator and put in $51,000 in 1944 dollars. Today that P-51Mustang would cost us $639,920. Ya can't even buy a cheap congressman for that price today, let alone a functioning aircraft."

I did this last night, and I also googled the cost of various things in 1945 and today, a house, a car, gas, bread Coca-cola, minimum wage, and average salary. All of it fell in the range of 14-20 times more expensive. So I would say it would more likely cost about 1,000,000$

Justthisguy said...

I still think his best, and most romantic one, was "The Guns of the South." I mean, right there on the cover is a "photograph" of R. E. Lee holding a Kalashnikov!

To be even more romantic, without spoiling things, Corporal "Melvin" Bean, N. C. Volunteer, really did have a heart of gold.

Justthisguy said...

P.s. Bean was a corporal in the 47th North Carolina in the novel, and also in the real world.