Despite Challenges, Affordability is Achievable
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
By Lawrence Garrett, posted 1:30 p.m. EST
Designing for affordability, the subject of Wednesday morning’s panel discussion at AIAA SciTech 2014, presents a number of hurdles for industry and government. These include security challenges that encompass shrinking appropriations; a “financial crisis,” with adverse trends in costs, debt, demographics and research; and an unstable and insecure world environment. In today’s climate, meeting the affordability requirement may necessitate rethinking entire systems, or even proposing new types of systems, new concepts of operation, and new business models.
The panel of industry leaders addressing these topics explored how new technologies and new approaches can influence system affordability and environmental impact to enable future aerospace missions.
Discussing the current challenges in meeting the affordability requirement was panel moderator Jacques S. Gansler – professor, Roger C. Lipitz Chair, and Glenn L. Martin Institute Fellow of Engineering at the Center for Public Policy and Private Enterprise, School of Public Policy, University of Maryland. Gansler said that the shrinking, uncertain defense budget and declining force structure are likely to continue into the foreseeable future. “The scary part,” said Gansler, “is that the trends are in the complete opposite direction” of what is needed. He added that “every day in America, 10,000 people age into social security,” and that there are “serious problems in the trends.”
Gansler put forth that government must learn to do more with less, and must be able to respond much faster to the rapidly changing and uncertain threat environment. He stated that “the commercial world is spending twice the amount [that] the government world” is spending; “We should be taking advantage of commercial and foreign,” he added, “but we have [international traffic in arms] laws against it, and it’s hurting us.”
Gansler touched on a number of strategies for achieving “more for less,” stating that a “more balanced allocation of resources,” is needed. He cited the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as examples, saying the U.S. had more contractors on the ground than men and women in uniform. He added that a closer look must be taken at how goods and services are acquired; this should include requiring “cost” to be part of the design and military requirements; making maximum use of commercial products and services; and taking advantage of the potential benefits of globalization.
According to Gansler, the Department of Defense acquisition workforce has been greatly undervalued in recent years. Congress has cut the acquisition workforce by 25 percent, and today, “55 percent of the acquisition workforce has less than five years of experience,” he said. The remedy for that problem, said Gansler, is to provide mentors for those who have little experience.
Gansler concluded his remarks by noting that “this is a critical period,” and that we can “expect resistance to change,” from Congress, unions, the military and businesses. He stressed that “more regulations are not the answer, and that’s what we’ve been getting.” A culture change is needed, and there must be a recognition that there is currently a crisis, he said. Achieving success “will take political courage and sustained leadership,” said Gansler. “Not only does it have to be done, but it can be done.”
Gansler then turned the microphone over to Carl Avila, director of advanced weapons and missile systems, Boeing Defense, Space, and Security. Avila briefed the audience on the Joint Direct Attack Munition, or JDAM, family of weapon systems; the “hard affordability requirement” his team was forced to meet; and the sometimes extraordinary steps they took to ensure that they did so. As Avila put it, the requirement “wasn’t a target or a goal. We had to meet it or we lost.”
Avila also said, “affordability is not cost reduction, just moving something where it might be cheaper – that doesn’t solve the problem. Affordability is planning, investment, it’s capitalizing, but more importantly for this audience, it’s a systems engineering discipline that’s just as important as any of the others.”
John P. Bergeron, director, Raytheon Six Sigma engineering, technology & mission assurance, was the final speaker. He provided a brief overview of Raytheon’s approach to developing effective customer solutions, using RAID, Rapid Aerostat Initial Deployment, as a primary example of how the company has managed to reduce costs while continuing to meet all requirements of the program. As Bergeron described it, “Today there are roughly 20 different configurations of RAID, in a period of about 10 years; and the focus on continuous improvement – your ability and agility to be able to respond to customer needs – was a critical success story for the RAID program.” He said they were able to cut the number of spares while simultaneously increasing operational readiness. By not needing to have more spares at the ready, they were able to have “more operational units deployed supporting our warfighter.”
During the brief Q&A that followed the discussion, Bergeron was asked what he thought about the future role of virtual prototyping. Bergeron stated, “Model-based engineering, being able to use CAD systems, is important; it is going to play a significant role.”
(Image: John P. Bergeron, Jacques S. Gansler, and Carl Avila participate in the "Designing for Affordability" panel discussion at AIAA SciTech 2014 on Wednesday, 15 January 2014