Old Aerospace Platforms, “Technology in Use” and Additive Manufacturing!


Picture Credit: Kim Campbell, A-10 after a flight over Baghdad in 2003

“Uglier things have been spotted in the sky, but not by reliable witnesses.”

Update: $500M More for F-35 Program!  With a projected lifetime cost of $1.5 trillion, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in US history, and has been dubbed “the plane that ate the Pentagon.” Earlier this year, the Defense Department announced it would try to shave $4 billion off the program’s final price through a variety of cost-cutting measures. The F-35 program office made the request at a closed-door meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board, according to Bloomberg Technology. Development work on the jet has already eaten up 15 years and over $55 billion. Originally scheduled to end in 2012, the development phase was extended through 2016 and given another $476 million in funding during a 2010 reorganization. “We don’t plan on going back and asking for any more money or any more time to get this program done,” Air Force Lieutenant-General Christopher Bogdan, director of the F-35 program, said at a conference in 2014. Yet Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said he “wasn’t totally shocked” by the funding request. “I was hopeful, maybe, that we wouldn’t have a problem like this,” he said in an interview, because the program “has been moving in a fairly decent direction.”

Case studies on product lifecycle management (PLM 101 is here on Prezi) should be written about the U.S. Air Force legacy platforms: the U-2 spyplane, the A-10 Warthog, the B-52 Stratofortress and the KC-135 Stratotanker as planes that will serve until 2040. This fall, the Atlantic bemoaned that,

“The Air Force’s reliance on old planes is an uncanny instance of a phenomenon British historian David Edgerton described in his 2007 book, The Shock of the Old. The book’s contrarian approach to the history of technology privileges “technology-in-use” over innovation, focusing as much on condoms, bicycles, and corrugated iron as it does on computers and nuclear power.”

The Air Force has finally confirmed that the old Northrup Grumman Aerospace warthog, the A-10, has had its upgrade line reopened to service the current fleet of 283 aircraft (751 built over the live of the platform). The reliable, stubborn A-10’s revival suggests that the $382 BILLION to date JSF program (dating back to 1997!), the F-35 buy, is going to be reduced in favor of a slower replacement cycle for the F-16 and F-15. James Hasik of the Atlantic Council pointed out recently that the F-16 production lines are remaining open. Same for other services’ planes, reports Military.com. With mounting delays in getting these fighters to the fleet, the Navy is scrambling to revamp its aging Hornet strike aircraft, pushing them far beyond their anticipated service lives. To keep the Marines’ Harrier II ground-attack planes, the Corps bought scrapped British jets to cannibalize for parts. To be sure, Turkey’s invasion of Iraq after the Syrian offensive is going to delay their F-35A orders, no doubt. The Canadians are sticking with the A-10. The FY 2017 Defense budget estimates the F-35A cost at $115.9M a piece – good luck! So the F-16 and A-10 will remain active another quarter century due to JAS cost overruns and the F-35 has been plagued with delays, the Register (UK) reports, “its buggy software is behind time, the pilot’s helmet has been redesigned so as not to kill the wearer, and tail-winds can cause runway fires.” The Atlantic simply calls the F-35 a “boondoggle.”

Much of the defense media has acted like this is news but, in fact, the A-10 is a PLM poster boy. Credible defense sources have explained (over and over), “the F-35 tactical fighter can never perform the missions of the Warthog and match its historically undervalued close support capability. The A-10 will remain in service until the decision of A-X program, which as we know has three options: build a new Warthog, use existing assets to meet the missions CAS or extend the life of the A-10 until 2040/45.”  So, the latter course was selected as this (paywalled) report in Aviation Week confirmed. The Pentagon recently invested $ 1 billion to equip the a-10 with a new cockpit, fire control system and HMD (helmet-mounted displays) implemented with attack software. All wings of the A-10 were replaced following a $2B contract signed with Boeing in 2007. And, the solicitation for new parts tooling to keep the A-10 flying until 2040 was issued in 2011 as shown here: “The Government (will contract) for engineering services on behalf of the A-10 Systems Program Officer (SPO). The engineering design services contemplated new CAD/CAM rework (serviced out of Utah’s Hill AFB) include the following (hat tip to DefenseTech):


Picture Credit: U.S. Air Force

1 – Develop plan to identify available A-10 Tooling that will be needed to support and sustain the A-10 Aircraft until 2040.
2 – Prioritize tooling based on need and critical nature of tool.
3 – Develop Teamcenter product structure and workflows to properly link and manage the engineering data, scanned data and physical tools with the Air Force Global Logistics Support Center and A-10 production facilities.
4 – Digitally scan the tools according to the priority list and validate prior to linking to engineering data in the A-10 Teamcenter Database.
5 – Develop CAD/CAM interface data by reverse engineering (scanned data) where needed

What is exciting here is that the Air Force is incorporating additive manufacturing to prototype “old platform” parts to move towards field-based system repair and replacement. To wit, “Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) business announces a new comprehensive solution to unleash the full potential of the burgeoning additive manufacturing revolution. Rolling out in January, 2017, is comprised of integrated design, simulation, digital manufacturing, data and process management software.”

“Siemens PLM Software is pushing the additive manufacturing envelope by developing solutions to help create functionally optimized geometry that is inconceivable based on conventional design and manufacturing methods,” said Dr. Ken Versprille, Executive Consultant, CIMdata. “Previously unsolvable design and manufacturing challenges are now quite feasible with these new software and production technologies.”

These 3D printed produced parts can be engineered for better strength to weight ratios which suggest this platform will be even more durable. Additive manufacturing has the ability to transform PLM and systems engineering as conceived a half century ago as the Engineered Data System (EDS) employed by Rockwell International in ramping the B1-B long range bomber program.  Like the A-10’s upgrade of its electronics suite, the U-2 platform’s remotes sensing now benefits from enhanced “multispectral capabilities”: high altitude, high resolution photography; “look-through” clouds, ice and nature-obstacle sensing; and broader signals intelligence collection assets.


Picture Credit: PersonalExcellence.com

In the Italian campaign during WWII, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum in upstate NY employed nearly 15K horses and mules, and the great American tank general George S. Patton wished he’d had many more.

In almost any conceivable theater of operations, situations arise where the presence of horse cavalry, in a ratio of a division to an army, will be of vital moment. . . . Had we possessed an American cavalry division with pack artillery in Tunisia and in Sicily, not a German would have escaped, because horse cavalry possesses the additional gear ratio which permits it to attain sufficient speed through mountainous country to get behind and hold the enemy until the more powerful infantry and tanks can come up and destroy him.

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