Air Force One savings, explained; Upgraded C-5s sit idle; Mitre’s supply-chain report; and more.

By Marcus Weisgerber

August 16, 2018

Six months after the White House said President Trump saved taxpayers $1.4 billion for two new Air Force One aircraft, service officials have offered an explanation for that figure. But first, let’s recap how we got here.

Here’s a timeline of contract awards to Boeing and other significant Air Force One-related events:

The big question since February has been, how is that $1.4 billion being calculated? Here, at last, is the Air Force’s answer: “Boeing discussed an uninflated $4.4B price with the President in January 2017. After adjusting for inflation consistent with how we budget for and expend money, and after adding in the risk reduction effort, the $4.4B equates to $5.0B, or $1.1B in savings. More recent Boeing estimates and Boeing's initial offer push the savings to over $1.4B,” said Capt. Hope Cronin, a service spokeswoman, in an email.

What we still don’t know:


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Shakeup in Rankings of Top 100 Defense Companies

Our friends at Defense News have released their annual list of the Top 100 defense firms and there’s movement in the Top 5. Raytheon have moved up to No. 2 and Boeing has slipped from No. 2 to No. 5. Defense News’ Aaron Mehta explains: “It’s a notable drop for Boeing, but a drop that comes with an important caveat. In the last year, Boeing reorganized itself and moved both its commercial and defense sustainment offices into the Boeing Global Services business unit. As a result, Boeing no longer tracks the defense-related portion of the Global Services unit and could not report that funding as part of the Boeing Defense, Space and Security unit” Here’s the Top 5: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Boeing.

How the Pentagon Can Secure Its Supply Chain

A few months ago, we told you the Pentagon was warning contractors that they could expect to lose contracts if their weapons are not cyber-hardened. We mentioned a Mitre study that was helping Pentagon officials navigate policy decisions on the subject. Now we can read the study. Called “Deliver Uncompromised,” the report “examines options that span legislation and regulation, policy and administration, acquisition and oversight, programs and technology,” according to Mitre.

GAO Weighs in on Military Plane Crashes

The Pentagon has gaps in its “approach for collecting, reporting, and analyzing aviation mishap data,” the Government Accountability Office says in a new report. “According to military service and OSD officials, there is no consensus between the safety centers and OSD on OSD's role for conducting causal analysis of aviation mishaps, which has contributed to limitations in the analysis of aviation mishaps that OSD performs. This lack of consensus has led the safety centers to not report all of the agreed-upon data elements to OSD, including the causal factors related to aviation mishaps.” Read the report here.

Northrop Tests Radar on Marine Hornet

Northrop Grumman disclosed it conducted a successful fit check of its Scalable Agile Beam Radar on a U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, earlier this month. Rival Raytheon performed a similar fit test of its Raytheon Advanced Combat Radar several years ago.

Blue Angels to Get Super Hornets

The Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration team are upgrading from their A and B models, the first airframe change since 1986.

Air Force Can’t Afford to Fly Its Re-Engined C-5s

Lockheed Martin this week announced that it has finished installing new engines and a slew of other upgrades to the Air Force’s C-5 Galaxy, the largest aircraft in the U.S. military. The formal name for the improvement project was “Reliability Enhancement and Re-engining Program.” The project was supposed to drastically improve the reliability of the massive planes so much, the Air Force changed the planes name to the Super Galaxy.

Now after spending $7 billion to update the C-5, it turns out the Air Force doesn’t have the money to fly all of those planes. Last year, service officials said they had parked 12 C-5s in what the military calls back-up status. The planes are essentially in purgatory, somewhere between active and retired aircraft.

So despite the improvements, the overall fleet’s reliability has been steadily declining, apparently thanks to the parked planes and a 2017 landing gear problem. Mission capable rates fell nearly 9 percent between 2015 and 2017, according to Air Force data. Last year, the service’s 48 C-5Ms had a mission capable rate — that is, the portion of the fleet fully available for a mission — of just 60 percent. (We’ve asked Air Mobility Command for comment about this, but haven’t heard back yet. We’ll update you if and when we get a response.)

A few months ago, an Air Force spokeswoman told me that mission-capable rates “are just a snapshot in time. Aircraft can be coded as ‘non-mission capable’ for a variety of reasons to include scheduled routine maintenance and system modifications.”

But there is no question that the new engines make the plane more powerful. Lockheed: “The C-5M holds 89 FAI-certified world aviation records, the most by any aircraft type. These records include time-to-climb with payload, altitude with payload, and greatest payload carried.”

A C-5 history lesson: How bad was its reliability? Read this 2004 Air Force Magazine feature by John Tirpak, which recounts in painful detail a C-5’s attempts to fly from Delaware’s Dover Air Force Base to Europe. It took the plane seven tries to get in the air. Back in 2007, an Air Force general told me that when a mission called for a C-5, two planes were loaded in hopes that one would be able to take off.

Making Moves

By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

August 16, 2018