Navy Offers Airplane-Building Advice to USAF

The Navy has three times as many airplane projects in production or on the drawing board as the Air Force, and it’s because of rigorous and painstaking efforts to reduce costs, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said. Speaking with defense writers on June 13 in Washington, D.C., Mabus acknowledged his service is buying three variants of the F/A-18, two variants of the F-35, the P-8 patrol plane, V-22 tiltrotors, and has both a new stealth remotely-piloted combat aircraft and a new-start advanced fighter underway. The Air Force, by contrast, is only buying F-35s and C-130Js. It also is preparing to buy tankers and has a bomber in the conceptual phase. Mabus said “we have done a good job, both in shipbuilding and aircraft programs” by using mature technology—“build the things you know how to build“— as well as should-cost methods, “firm fixed price contracts with incentives for bringing down cost and…overhead” and commercial derivatives “to the extent you can.” Getting foreign partners to buy the same aircraft also helps reduce unit cost, he said. The big money-saver, though, has been multi-year contracts in which the service agrees to buy a certain number and the contractor, with solid numbers to plan for, can most efficiently buy materials, hire labor, and schedule work. “Smooth the program out,” he advised, “then you’re able to do stuff like this.” He warned, however, that continued sequester would “start to break multi-years, which will mean you get fewer aircraft…for the same money.”