The Pentagon's Operational Test & Evaluation teams aren't the cause of delays in all the weapons programs you hear about these days, according to a new report -- it's the faults they uncover that keep the various projects from coming in on time. That's according to documents cited by Brendan McGarry and Tony Capaccio of Bloomberg News, whose story appeared Monday behind a subscriber pay wall. But the report made its way into the Beltway bloodstream anyway, in part because of an email blast by defense analyst Winslow Wheeler, who wanted to call attention to the story, and DoD's findings, as proof that the defense acquisition process is broken.
First the McGarry and Capaccio story. They wrote this:
The document marks the latest volley in an ongoing fight between program managers and testers over who is to blame for widespread delays in programs such as Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile-interceptor system and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.Wheeler, in his email commentary, wrote this:
An independent team led by retired Navy Rear Admiral Kathleen Paige investigated reports from program managers and program executive officers, or PEOs, that testers imposed requirements beyond the scope of weapons programs.
The team "found no significant evidence that the testing community typically drives unplanned requirements, cost or schedule into programs," according to the June 3 memo co-signed by Ashton Carter, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer, and J. Michael Gilmore, the agency's top weapons tester.
Most delays are due to problems uncovered by the testing, not by the testing alone, according to the Pentagon's review of 40 programs with significant delays.
"In 37 programs, there were delays caused by problems discovered during testing," the memo states. "Problems found by testing were shown to cause much longer delays than any delay caused by testing itself."
The document ... identifies various specific reasons for the problems programs experience -- different from most of the explanations from contractors and other system advocates in and out of the Pentagon. (Eg. for the F-35: "Fly rates per month lowered to more realistic projections (from 12 max for all variants and venues to 10 max for CTOL/CV flight sciences, 9 max for STOVL flight sciences, 8 max for all mission systems); increased planning factors for re-fly and regression (up 15% for flight science, 10% for mission systems); more time required for software development and incremental builds.")Secretary Gates has said he wants to try to avoid this in future by stressing the need to use "proven" technologies in developing new weapons such as the Air Force's bomber, but this creates a quandary: How do you push forward with innovative, advanced weapons that give American forces the edge and at the same time use equipment or materials that already exist?
Beyond the F-35, the various systems described in the analysis are typically more obscure programs (eg. AIM-9X 8.212 Software Upgrade) but there are also a few better known ones, such as [the littoral combat ship], which is described in part as "Availability of complete mission packages will be delayed until at least 2015."
Instead of withholding production of untested systems with clear and obvious development problems, Congress and the Pentagon are intent on business as usual. The LCS is a good example: instead of "fly before buy," Congress and the Navy want to rush ahead of testing to buy 4 LCS in the 2012 HASC DOD Authorization bill for $1.8 billion in production costs.
Some will think the DOT&E analysis and documents to be obscure and too "in the weeds" to pay much attention to. Instead, they offer a major part of the explanation for why hardware costs and delays are so out of control, and they offer a stunning view into how little is being done about that.