News from Washington

Joint Stars Full-rate Production Decision Called Premature and Risky

In a recent report, the General Accounting Office (GAO) renewed its claim that the Air Force’s decision to go to full-scale production of the joint surveillance and target-attack radar system (Joint STARS) was ill advised and premature. Joint STARS is a joint Air Force and Army wide area surveillance and target-attack radar system designed to detect, track, classify and support the attack of moving and stationary ground targets. The $11 B major defense-acquisition program consists of refurbished 707 aircraft (designated the E-8) equipped with radar, operation and control, data-processing and communications subsystems; and ground stations equipped with communications and data-processing systems. The system is produced by Northrop Grumman.

Low rate initial production of the Joint STARS aircraft began in fiscal year 1993. The system was scheduled to begin its initial operational test and evaluation (referred to as the Joint STARS multiservice operational test and evaluation) in November 1995. That testing was delayed and then changed because of the deployment of Joint STARS assets to support Operation Joint Endeavor in Bosnia. Two Air Force Joint STARS aircraft and 13 Army ground stations were deployed and evaluated from January through March 1996.

According to the GAO’s report, the Joint STARS performance during its combined development and operational test and the operational evaluation performed in Bosnia do not support a decision to commit the system to full-rate production. One objection raised in a report by the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center and the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) was a serious lack of software maturity. The DOT&E reported that the prime contractor had to be called in to assist and correct 69 software-specific problems during the 41 E-8C missions — an average of 1.4 critical failures per flight. The DOT&E also reported that communications control was lost on 69 percent of the flights, and the system management and control processor failed and had to be reset manually on half of the flights.

However, a new report now raises questions concerning the airframe and its suitability for the mission. According to the Air Force’s plan, all 20 Joint STARS aircraft will be older 707s refurbished by Northrop Grumman rather than new ones. The GAO also cites inappropriate levels of contractor support to a greater extent than permitted under US Public Law, Title 10, Section 2399 during the operational tests.

Notwithstanding any concurrent efforts to have Joint STARS designated as a North Atlantic Treaty Organization common system, the system’s test performance and the clearly unresolved questions about its operational suitability and affordability should have caused the DoD to delay the full-rate production decision. The GAO recommends that the secretary of defense direct the Air Force to perform an analysis of possible alternatives to the current Joint STARS air platform, including placing this system on a new airframe. In its present configuration, the Air Force estimates each aircraft will cost approximately $225 M, not including spare and repair parts, and operations and maintenance support.

Sanders ATIRCM/CMWS Tested Successfully Against Anti-tank Missiles

Sanders, a Lockheed Martin company, has successfully tested and demonstrated its advanced-threat infrared countermeasures (ATIRCM) system and prototype common missile-warning system (CMWS) sensors on a ground vehicle against anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) for use in a battlefield environment. Under an Army contract, Sanders conducted the proof-of-concept demonstration in Sorocco, NM in November 1996. The demonstration involved two types of missiles launched against a moving vehicle. In each instance, the sensors pinpointed the missiles correctly and the jammer succeeded in confusing the missile seekers, causing the ATGMs to miss their targets.

According to Steve Kelly, ADS program manager, the modified system was mounted on a remote-controlled M-60 tank. The missile-warning system detected the missile within a half of a second of launch, immediately triggering the jam head to point toward the target and initiate jamming. By means of a highly cost-effective test involving minor configuration modifications, Sanders has provided the Army with data involving a unique use of this proven, next-generation system that can protect ground vehicle crews who are now vulnerable to these missile threats. Follow-on development programs that result from the demonstration will be under the overall management responsibility of the US Army Tank Command in Warren, MI.

GPS Frequency to be Available for Civil Users

According to Aerospace Daily , the DoD and Department of Transportation (DoT) have agreed to allow commercial users to access parts of the military Global Positioning System (GPS) frequency but failed to agree on how a second, dedicated civilian GPS signal would be constituted. The DoD and DoT will guarantee civil access to parts of L-2, the military GPS signal that will give civil users two frequencies. A second frequency is essential for critical uses of GPS, for example, to improve the accuracy of aircraft landing approaches through the Federal Aviation Administration’s wide area augmentation system. A further plan, known as L-5, for additional civilian frequencies is under discussion and should be drafted by the end of this year although funding for these frequencies is uncertain. The DoD’s GPS Joint Program Office will ask Boeing Co.’s North American Division, which is building the GPS Block IIF satellites, for an alternative design that will provide the second civil frequency. The DoD and DoT have jointly set up an interagency GPS executive board to provide interagency management of GPS, US augmentations to GPS and policy guidance to assure acceptance of GPS technology.

GAO Chides Army for Poor Logistic Practices

In a recent report, the GAO criticized the Army for slow, outdated and costly practices in its sparing, repair and stocking procedures for aircraft and electronic parts. Citing the comparison between the Army and a typical commercial airline (CA) in these areas, the GAO findings pointed out that the CA took two days to ship back a part; the Army took 66 days. The CA took one day to receive, allocate and store the part; the Army took 111 days. The CA took 113 days to actually complete the repair; the Army took 252 days. The total amount of time needed to complete the procedure for the CA was 116 days; the total for the Army was 429 days. These procedures resulted in an inventory turnover of 2.3 times per year for the CA and only 0.4 times for the Army. Several factors that contribute to this inadequate system are named, including slow processing and shipping of parts from the field to the repair depot, delays in inducting parts into the repair shops, inefficient organization of the depot repair process and lack of consumable parts needed to complete repairs.

The GAO suggested several courses of action using industry practices, including repairing items promptly to prevent broken items from sitting in storage for extended periods and reorganizing the repair process using the cellular concept, which has been shown to improve repair times by up to 10 times. The use of work cells (a part of the JIT concept) has been effective in commercial factories. Other suggestions include establishing partnerships with key suppliers using such ideas as local distribution, streamlined ordering and fast deliveries; and using third-party logistics providers to manage and carry out particular functions such as inventory storage and distribution. Use of third-party logistics providers can reduce delays from three weeks to three days. In its final recommendations, the GAO noted that these changes could reduce the Army’s total cycle from 425 days to 34 days.