Thursday, August 14, 2014

AI vs Design Freeze KC-46 and The Military Procurement

Always Improving or (AI) is the poison pill of military projects. AI feeds cost overruns as it contributes to finding a better way of making something good, or best during the course of an "Idea Evolution" (IE, chasing the perfection rainbow F-35 example). How do you separate the AI in a fixed cost project? That is the question that Boeing must answer soon, as its main competitor, Airbus has announced the A330 NEO with new advanced constructs and engines that may outclass the the older 767 frame and engine, employed by the Air Force as its main tanker option. Adversarial nations may end up with a more advanced tanker at the US Air Force Expense.

Boeing gained an order for 179 tankers in a bitter competition with Airbus. Did Airbus sit still? No! The A330 NEO could make the 767's transition to an all modern air tanker obsolete, before its delivers the first one to the US Air Force. A frighting prospect to a fixed cost program  Boeing finds itself enclosed in the fix cost bid, while Airbus can upgrade a NEO A330  tanker proposal for its foreign powers customers through its extended commercial development. It could make the Boeing order a one and only with the US Military. The 767 commercial development has come to an end of its life cycle activity. The commercial side can no longer fund improved 767 advancements for the military side. The military fixed cost procurement theory assumes it takes commercial development and imbues it into a military advantage on the cheap. The F-35 program is clean sheet from bottom up, design, with all the cost and perils associated with a new invention. The 767 fixed cost bid feeds off a frozen commercial/military programs. The A330 NEO is not frozen on its commercial side and they can keep advancing innovations on  a large scale where the military can jump back in and buy those advancements. Boeing choose as did the military an end of life 767 frame, reviving it for near future into a fine tanker procurement with no future commercial value for improved developments. Boeing will have to offer the 787 frames in a future go around as it tries beating off the  A330 NEO bid in the next tanker go around in 10-20 years. Flight deck commonality will save the Boeing tanker program with a type jump to the 787.

Also,what Boeing could do is improvise the 767 techno points on its own dime. They will need to dig deep into its military/commercial play book with a revised Tanker model off its sunk R & D costs from all its family of aircraft.

Boeing must continue its AI processes behind the scenes, and outside the Fixed Cost Trap, it finds itself in. After all the US Air Force does want the best for the cheapest. Boeing probably has already taken steps to address the A330 NEO prospects with other foreign nations. The theme of the KC-46 is Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) development into its military DNA, saving both cost, and time for deploying an all new tanker. However, the fly in the ointment is Airbus taking an opportunity to improve its own tanker proposition, using company money through applying it on its own commercial A330 NEO endeavor, using its new commercial advances for installing it in future "Tanker Bids". In the meantime, an A330 NEO submission is for other national war powers, or even going back to the US Air Force looking for a follow-on Tanker upgraded bid.

Proposed Boeing internal talking points for consideration:
  • Boeing bolsters capitol reserved for future Tanker R&D. 
  • A plan to compete with a A330 NEO extended tanker Proposals as purposed from The A330 NEO commercial announcements.
  • All new Engine developments for 767 freighter upgrades( military, Fed EX, UPS or any current 767 equipment development), 
  • Or 787 Tanker Version using a 787 Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) on the fly development,
  • and Lessons Learned experiences during the last few head to head competitive bids processes shaping bidding strategies with customers outside the US military procurement processes.
  • Don't do anything outside the scope of current 767 development. 
The US Air Force lock on Boeing's current tanker bid, allows it to tender additional purchasing solicitation, once it nears its 179th tanker delivery, thus opening up the bid process for an A330 NEO tanker bid while the 767 model languishes as a frozen fixed cost project, nailed down by the Boeing tanker program. It, Boeing, must reach out with its own money, developing  future solutions from the commercial to military project bins, on the next go around in Tanker Wars, as Airbus will be ready with an on-the-fly solution, out performing the even older 767 frame design. The bottom line is that the new procurement process is a double edged sward, where winning is not always  the most desirable award with the project frozen within the tanker costs for configuration and development. Boeing must develop from its own commercial airplanes now, such as the 787, for any future non clean sheet military applications, if it where to exceed any future Airbus offerings of military applications from "its" own commercial parts bins.

The Boeing Poseidon project: Uses the 737 air frame from an AI upgraded aircraft in this Boeing example. The military sub-hunter and surveillance craft does more than just hunt and watch. It manages airspace during battle and directs both drones and fighter/bomber craft about, as it prioritizes its adversarial targets within the battle space.

The 767 is not actively upgrading its commercial aircraft where it falls out of the AI model. The money is not there in a fixed cost to always improve. The A330 NEO by name is AI through its commercial applications. That is the soft underbelly of the 767 fixed cost idea, which the military created when awarding the bid on an older commercial frame. The 767 for the most part, has closed frame development from its commercial production life cycle other than freight framing. The Military version, or Poseidon 737 is still in production on the commercial side, as well as the A330. The new MAX assures a future with AWACS , radar, and battle management type of military applications, and will be going into the future for the next 30 years. Awarding military bids using commercial foundations must also have a future commercial shelf-life going forward as an attachment of the AI model. This is fundamental for program continuity, and is an added value for both the military and the framer. Using military COTS procurement methodology while acquiring aircraft used in supporting rolls must have a future definition coming from the commercial side for this procurement method. In essence it must have a viable AI side on commercial applications.