The DOD will become oil-free within this century. You saw it here first.
For more, listen to my appearance on Federal News Radio this morning (see link below).
This morning I and about 25 other reporters had breakfast with Representative Ike Skelton, the newly-empowered chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Skelton is not like your average member of Congress. He is an intellectual as much as a politician, capable of transitioning from a feel-good anecdote from his district in rural Missouri to a dissertation on geo-political strategy -- and I mean strategy with a capital "S".
Over a $30 plate of soggy eggs, burnt bacon and mushy potatos, I didn't pick up a shred of what reasonably can be called news, yet I learned three very unexpected things.
To start from the top, Skelton was asked about the amount of pork contained in a recent version of this year's supplemental bill for emergency war spending. He didn't exactly defend the added largesse, but noted that if wasn't for Congressional plus-ups, the US Navy would have lost the Battle of Midway. (A big "huh???" was scratched in my notebook.)
Luckily, I happened to be seated next to Otto Kreisher, the veteran of the Copley News Service bureau in Washington DC, but more importantly -- as an ex-naval officer -- a known expert on all matters maritime. A moment after the breakfast ended, I turned to Otto and asked, "So how did Congressional pork win the Battle of Midway."
Otto, of course, knew the full history: It was the Great Depression. Congress wanted some jobs programs. Aircraft carriers would mean A LOT of jobs. The navy didn't want them, believing the old ships of the line battleships would win the next naval war. But Congress overrode their concerns and paid for them anyway.
Like I said, not very newsy. But very interesting. If you read this blog and my posts about MurthaFest, you'll know that I am inclined to challenge the legislative system that creates anonymous earmarks. So Skelton made me think a little.
And then there was the part about NATO's ongoing struggles in Afghanistan. Skelton noted with some aggravation that only four NATO countries -- the UK, Canada, the Netherlands and the US -- allow their forces to operate in Afghanistan without restriction. Skelton seemed very concerned that the NATO deployment could end up a disaster. And then he said this:
"If NATO is seen as a loser in Afghanistan and things fall apart and NATO becomes a shell and seen as ineffective or collapses ... who benefits? Think about this."
It took a few moments for the reporters in the room to realize that he wasn't being rhetorical. He wanted us to answer the question. (Uh ... the Warsaw Pact?)
Again, it was Otto who had the answer: "Well there's no more Soviet Union, but is it Russia?" he said.
"You got it," Skelton said.
Flying an unmanned aircraft can be a little like skiing downhill backwards. When you're no longer absolutely sure you're going in the right direction, it's probably a good time to just fall down.
We're not really sure why the P-175 Polecat -- the latest Skunk Works creation anybody outside of Palmdale is allowed to know about -- met an early grave last December, and the Skunk Works public relations machinery (surprise!) isn't helping very much.
For the Skunk Works, I understand that secrecy and obfuscation may be considered a core competency but in this case it's not just annoying. It's irresponsible. The future of unmanned flight depends above all on the level of transparancy about why these aircraft crash so much and what is being done to prevent it.
Many times the reason for a UAV crash is just like the backwards skiier. Once control of the UAV is disrupted or lost in any way, the safest option is to crash immediately.
Unfortunately, we don't know if this simple explanation applies in this case and we may never know.
I've pasted Lockheed Martin's responses to reporter's questions below. If anyone is able to make any sense of the term "irreversible unintentional failure in the flight termination ground equipment", please let me know.
What’s going on with Polecat?
The Lockheed Martin Polecat Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) returned to flight test at the Nevada Test and Training Range late last year. During a test flight, when the vehicle was functioning normally and in full positive control by the ground operators, it was unfortunately damaged beyond repair. The damage was the result of an irreversible unintentional failure in the flight termination ground equipment which caused the aircraft’s automatic fail-safe flight termination mode to activate.
Why have we waited so long to release this information?
There was an investigation and during that time we were precluded from discussing this per government order.
What caused the flight termination system to activate?
A failure in the Nevada Test and Training Range flight termination equipment resulted in the activation of the fail-safe flight termination mode.
Who is at fault?
It’s not a matter of “who.” There was an irreversible unintentional failure in the flight termination ground equipment at the Nevada Test and Training Range. We believe the Test Range has corrected the potential for a similar circumstance to occur again.
Why couldn’t the flight termination be stopped?
The fail-safe mode is designed to irreversibly terminate flight to ensure that systems do not deviate from the range into civilian airspace.
Explain what you mean by automatic fail-safe mode?
The fail-safe mode is required for range safety for unmanned systems to ensure systems do not deviate from the range and pose a danger to civilians on the ground outside the range boundaries.
When did it happen?
The incident happened at year end. An investigation is complete and being shared with appropriate parties.
Will you share the incident report publicly?
No, there are no plans to share the report publicly.
Was this an issue with flight controls?
No, the aircraft was in full control and performing well.
Does the U.S. Government have any liability in regard to providing funds to build a replacement vehicle?
No, the U.S. Government has no liability.
General P-175 Information
How long has Lockheed Martin been working on this program?
LM internally funded this effort beginning in March 2003 and was ready to fly 18 months later.
Is this a declassified program?
No, this is a proprietary Lockheed Martin Internal Research and Development program funded solely with Lockheed Martin IRAD funds.
Where was it built?
The Polecat was constructed in our advanced prototyping facilities at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Palmdale, Calif.
Was this unmanned system meant to replace manned systems in the future?
No, Lockheed Martin’s unmanned systems are designed to work collaboratively with manned systems.
What is the highest altitude the vehicle flew?
We had just gotten back to flight test when the incident occurred. The highest altitude the vehicle flew was 15,000 feet.
How many vendors /subcontractors were involved on this program?
I don’t have an exact figure. However, Lockheed Martin is grateful to all the vendor team members who supported such a fast-paced program.
Did LM Aero intend to use Polecat to capture a specific contract or line of business?
Lockheed Martin has been involved in research and development opportunities for more than 40 years. However, we wish to position ourselves in development work for the Air Force’s future Long Range Strike Program. Many lessons learned on this project will be applicable to future efforts, including Long Range Strike.
Was this vehicle designed as a stealthy or low observable vehicle?
From a shaping standpoint the vehicle was configured for down stream enhancement but the original configuration was not “stealthy.” Polecat was an effort to better understand flight dynamics of a tailless air vehicle as well as advanced composite structural design concepts in support of our ongoing research and development work for the Air Force’s future Long Range Strike Program. The all-wing design gave the UAV an aerodynamic advantage by reducing drag.
Was Polecat planned to be a replacement for the U-2 spy plane?
No, the two vehicles are not related.
Was the UAS controlled by a satellite for Beyond Line Of Sight (BLOS) operations?
No. Our ground station segment was a standard line-on-sight, (LOS) operations capability.
How far and how fast did it go in flight tests?
This information is proprietary and as such, I can’t share that information at this time.
Have you had any customer interest in this system?
Yes. I can’t reveal any specifics in this regard.
How many people work on the program?
It was roughly 60 people comprised of engineers, shop personnel and support staff.
Why is it called Polecat?
Polecat is a colloquial term used to refer to some members of the Skunk family. Since this was a Skunk Works IRAD effort we thought the name fitting.
Who says the top minds of the Department of Defense aren't focused on energy policy?
I give you James L. Jones, retired US Marine Corps general (as in, four stars), former head of US European Command and Supreme Commander Allied Powers Europe, ex-commandant of the Marine Corps and (trivia alert) veteran of the siege at Khe Sanh.
Mr. Jones is now the president and chief executive officer of the Insitute for Energy, of the US Chamber of Commerce. His new job description reads:
"... to increase the variety of the U.S. energy supply and associated infrastructures, to advance international cooperation on energy issues, to protect national energy security, to promote better understanding of changes to the global climate and its effects on the environment, and to expand economic opportunities wherever possible."
Count on Mr. Jones to look into the Fischer-Tropsch production system, which can turn any carbon-based form of energy into synthetic oil. The most attractive energy form in the US is coal shale, which is attractive becasue it is abundant and there's a whole bunch of states that have got nothing else to do with it. The Department of Defense is signed on to generate at least 200 million gallons of Fischer-Tropsch fuel to demonstrate its viability in aircraft engines, including the B-52 and all 707-based aircraft in the air force fleet (KC-135, RC-135, E-3, E-8C, etc).
With apologies to the entire rap community: If your former flack is talking smack, your program might be really whack.
Ward Carroll is the former public affairs officer for the V-22 development program. He is now editorial proprietor of my old employer Military.com and one of the leading lights of DefenseTech.org.
Here's what he has to say today about the V-22:
"In the first three years of fleet V-22 operations, the Marines will suffer six Class A flight mishaps with the Osprey. And here's how:
- Although VMMT-204, the Osprey RAG, is up and running, the pilots training there are relatively senior compared to other RAGs. Eventually true "nuggets" will make their way to the fleet and they will do "nugget" things.
- The test pilots (both active duty and civilian) did amazing work during the High Rate of Descent (HROD) phase of developmental test at NAS Patuxent River back in 2002 and 2003. They validated the V-22's vortex ring state (VRS) envelope. (DT readers will remember that VRS was what caused an Osprey to crash near Marana, Arizona back in 2000, killing 19 Marines.) Improvements have been made in the vertical speed displays and aural warning systems. But the fact remains that - while there are no "unknown unknowns" about VRS and that there is a buffer between the operational rate of descent limit of 800 feet per minute and where VRS occurs - the rate at which the V-22 develops a high rate of descent is unique to the V-22. Basically, the crew has to hawk the VSI gauge constantly during a descent. A moment's inattention can result in the VSI getting out of hand. (The test pilots actually had an inadvertant VRS entry during HROD testing because they got distracted for a second.) So imagine junior pilots during high op-tempo periods (deployed) at night, on goggles, and operating with not enough sleep (never happens if you follow NATOPS, right?) Yes, this is a training issue in that crews can be taught to watch the VSI readout on the display, but in spite of the comprehensive understanding Osprey crews have of the phenomenon (thanks to the Developmental Test Team at Pax River), somebody's going to be tired and distracted (and maybe under fire) and will enter VRS close to the ground. The outcome won't be good.
- It's unclear at this point whether or not VMM-263 will self-deploy or embark on an amphib like most USMC assault support aircraft. If they conduct sustained flight ops from an LHA or LHD, again, we will see nuggets do nugget-like things. Somebody will fly into the water while on final approach; somebody will plant one against the deck edge. And I guarantee you these things will happen at night or in bad weather.
- Ospreys will operate as multi-ships, so there's a high likelihood of a midair. Once again, when it occurs it'll be at night.
- An Osprey will be lost due to controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).
- An Osprey will have an engine failure (or fire) and be forced into an extended transit to get to somewhere safe to land. During the transit the interconnect drive shaft will fail. (The one true test of the interconnect drive shaft was very early in the program's history. The mechanism failed grossly.)
- The Osprey has survivability features like self-sealing tanks and composite structures that will allow the airplane to take hits and keep on going. However, one of the other features of a composite fuselage is bullets don't bounce off, they pass through like a hot knife through butter. The airplane may survive an encounter with small arms fire, but Marines flying in back might not. Another prediction: Just like the Humvee, the Marines will "up-armor" V-22s in time. They didn't do it to date because that would've kept the airplane from attaining its Key Performance Parameters (payload, range, etc.) during OPEVAL.
So that equals six lost aircraft (seven if you believe the midair will result in the loss of both Ospreys).
For now and for the next few years, the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is the proverbial baby of the aerospace industry family.
Every ‘first’ this infant aircraft design makes will be ooh’d and ahh’d over, simply by virtue of it being the baby. Even the cranky uncles (like me) will crack a smile.
And so it goes with the first lighting of the F-35’s afterburner during a takeoff.
This great piece – written by my old colleague (okay, ex-boss) Graham Warwick – describes the moment earlier this week that the F-35’s 40,000lb-thrust monster of an engine went thermonuclear.
That being said, lighting an afterburner is one of the simplest tricks of the aerospace engineering profession, dating back to the dawn of the jet age in the 1950s. With the right tools, you can even try it at home. Just spray kerosene into a blast of super-heated air and watch what happens. (Okay, maybe don’t.)
This whole show over the JSF is cute for now. But, just like a baby who grows into a toddler and eventually an adolescent, the enthusiasm for some of its personality quirks will fade. Some features may become downright annoying.
How will that afterburning engine of the JSF be appreciated in 15 or 20 years, I wonder?
It is sometimes said that the JSF is the last manned fighter to be built, and that may yet prove true although the jury is still out.
But it’s arguably a lock that the F-35 will be the last fighter designed without regard to the rate of specific fuel consumption.
Two trends in aerial warfare are clear: gas-guzzlers are ‘out’ and engine efficiency is ‘in’. Long-range strike, the object of the air force’s current high-tech fixation, demands an aircraft that hoards gas like it was liquid gold. Super-speed will still be desirable, but for the first time speed will not be the over-riding criteria if it means damaging engine efficiency.
Dear General John P. Jumper (ret.),
How long has it been – almost 18 months? Is that all since you were the reigning chief of staff of the US Air Force?
I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention since you’ve likely donned the uniform of a highly-paid industry “consultant”.
If you haven’t, I bet you’d be surprised.
Your successors in the air force seem to have been hell-bent on dismantling every last shred of your legacy, which, come to think of it, does seem to get weirder and weirder the further it turns into retrospect.
The door of the Pentagon parking garage had barely closed as you left in your car for the last time in November 2005 before your former colleagues pulled the plug on one of your favorite pet projects: buying hundreds of short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) F-35Bs.
What were you thinking when you proposed that back in February 2004, anyway?
But let’s talk about the E-10A Multi-sensor Command and Control Aircraft (MC2A) for a moment, shall we? If any one piece of technology defined your tenure, that was your baby, wasn’t it?
Well then, what the heck was all that about?
Perhaps you noticed when Northrop Grumman formally announced earlier this week that they had formally killed the E-10A. The aircraft’s two big features – a Wide Area Surveillance radar and the Battle Management Command and Control system – are being looked at as an upgrade to the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).
So, if the air force could have put both of those things on JSTARS in the first place, what was the point of buying a whole new fleet of Boeing 767s?
While I’m asking all these crazy questions, what the heck is going to happen to the so-called E-10A testbed – the $126 million 767-400ER ordered from Boeing that should probably be delivered by now? What does the air force now do with one 767-400ER?
On second thought, don’t answer my questions. Just go back to your retirement, and leave the air force alone for a while.
In case any of you are keeping score at home, it has been suggested by visitors to this blog that the very cool Vectoring in Forward Flight (VIFF) feature of the Harrier jet could be one aerodynamic advantage employed by the short-takeoff-and-landing F-35B.
Well, apparently not.
Bill Sweetman, who literally wrote the book on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, says the VIFF'ing maneuver won't work on the F-35B. Says Sweetman:
"The Harrier can VIFF (although it drains energy) because it can simply rotate its nozzles down. F-35B won't because it has to engage a clutch and open doors that aren't designed for high speeds."
When I read, it's not always about weapons and defense policy. I sometimes go slumming in books about the airliner biz.
It says something that it's pretty hard these days to write a book about the business of selling airliners without devoting a bunch of pages to defense programs -- the in-bred cousins of many Boeing and Airbus airliner technologies (Airbus=fly-by-wire; Boeing=where do I start?).
In his new book Boeing Versus Airbus, author John Newhouse interweaves several defense-related sub-plots in telling a fascinating story about the paranoid and bitter rivalry between these two goliaths of industry.
But I would like to draw attention to his comments about what he calls the "Iron Triangle" and many also call the "Revolving Door" -- the practice of job and influence peddling among lobbyists, government employees and contractors. This is the disease in the defense industry, but few have described the substance of the malady with more eloquence than Newhouse.
He devotes a page of his book describing the issue, from which I'll give you a small excerpt.
"A weapons program is normally managed by a so-called integrated product support team. And it is a team. There is a corporate product manager and a government product manager. The work together as team players. Suppose they are working on a combat aircraft and the air force's project manager, possibly an experienced and fast-track colonel, sees the program falling short of agreed performance benchmarks. Should he flat-out complain? He isn't expected to. Complaining carries the risk of being seen as a non-team player, a judgment to be avoided, especially if he takes the complaint to OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) or Congress.
The air force colonel may be approaching retirement age and thinking about sustaining or, even better, raising his income level. The cost of educating children may be a concern. Holding his opposite number too closely to the program's specifications might weaken his chances of being offered a postretirement job by the prime contractor. Under rules aimed at discouraging conflicts of interest, the colonel could not upon retiring turn up there working on a program that he had been managing. But he could acquire a role in another of the comapny's several military programs."
This blog once discussed the possibility of the Pentagon going oil-free by 2050.
But oil apparently is among the least of the army's energy problems.
According to this newly-minted memorandum, the army's assistant chief of staff for installation management is more worried that the worldwide supply of natural gas will dry up within 25 years. Says the memo:
"Current Army assumption is that natural gas may cease to be a viable fuel for the army within the next 25 years based on price volatility and affordable supply availability."
If the army's assumptions are correct, the situation may "threaten the army's ability to house, train and deploy soldiers", says the memo.
What will replace natural gas? This is certainly not my field of expertise, but perhaps readers or other bloggers may have something to add here.
I know the US Air Force is keen about a new form of synthetic fuel derived from liquefied coal to power its jet aircraft. A demonstration is underway with the B-52, which is actually using a slightly different sythentic product derived from -- oops -- natural gas. The fuel is made using a process known as Fischer-Trope, which has the unfortunate distinction of being employed by only two countries -- Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.