The Pentagon acquisition process seldom gets a fair shake from major media outlets, because editors aren’t interested in stories unless something big and unexpected has happened. They know it takes a catastrophe (or a celebrity) to get their audience interested in most subjects, so the only time weapons programs receive attention in the general media is when something goes wrong in a big way. Programs that are on time and on schedule just aren’t news — at least, not at CNN. Unfortunately, this approach to reporting the news leaves viewers with the impression that every program the Pentagon funds is fouled up.
The reality is quite different, as two trade-press stories on Friday illustrated. First, Inside the Air Forcecarried a very positive report about progress on the Air Force’s C-5M program, an effort to upgrade and re-engine 52 giant Galaxy airlifters. The aircraft have been plagued by low readiness rates in recent years, but improvements being made by contractor Lockheed Martin will greatly increase the performance and reliability of the planes while lowering the cost of ownership. The head of the Air Mobility Command’s maintenance division was quoted saying that the modernization program is “exceeding expectations.”
A second story the same day in Defense Daily cited progress on the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, a militarized version of the 737 jetliner that Boeing has developed for antisubmarine warfare and tracking surface targets over land and water. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert was quoted stating that the new plane exceeded “the ranges, the distances and the detection ranges that we had designed for her” during recent military exercises in the Pacific. In remarks at an event hosted by the Association of the U.S. Navy, Greenert stated that, “The P-8 is coming along very well.”
There’s a certain irony in both of these programs doing so well, because Boeing has long cited the low mission-capable rates of the C-5 as a reason why the Air Force should buy more of its C-17s airlifters, and Lockheed Martin has been skeptical that the P-8A could ever provide the flexibility and performance of its existing P-3C Orion patrol planes. It looks like both companies are doing such a good job on the programs their competitors were criticizing that there’s little reason for the military services to rethink existing plans.
The larger story here, though, is that lots of the Pentagon’s weapons programs are doing just fine. I could also have mentioned Lockheed’s C-130J Super Hercules, Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook and AH-64D Apache helicopters, and the General Dynamics/Huntington Ingalls Virginia-class attack sub as examples of programs that are progressing nicely. The submarine routinely gets delivered months ahead of schedule for tens of millions of dollars less than planned — which means you probably won’t be hearing much about it in the general media.
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