Analysis: OT&E Report Details Systemic Failures in US Weapon Testing
(Source:; published Feb. 03, 2014)

By Giovanni de Briganti
Pentagon arms testing chief Michael Gilmore has warned that systems such as the Boeing P-8A Maritime Patrol Aircraft could be fully compliant with all requirements and yet possess significant shortfalls in mission effectiveness. (USN photo)
PARIS --- As in previous years, the annual report to Congress by J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, detailed so many unexpected flaws in major US weapon programs that these, understandably, dominated news coverage.

But Gilmore’s 16-page introduction to his 368-page report is actually far more worrying as it paints a very disturbing picture of how US military services and the Joint Staff are complicit in rigging development tests to move programs into production as soon as possible, whatever their shortcomings.

This should be of far greater concern than performance shortfalls in individual programs, because, if not stopped, it will lead to US military going to war with entire arsenals of weapons that meet neither military requirements nor contractual specifications.

In this respect, Gilmore’s is a lone voice in the desert, and it is clear that his concerns are ignored by the services, as shown by the example of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon that he uses to make his point.

Support Industry or Protect Warfighters?

Other ranking Pentagon officials seem more interested in supporting industry than in ensuring that it delivers weapons that work as stipulated. Back in Nov. 28, 2012, for example, Reuters reported that “The Pentagon's chief weapons buyer … reassured industry executives and investors that there was still "a lot of money" to be made in the defense business.” (H/T to Dan Bacon for digging out this story.)

The story quotes Frank Kendall, then acting defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, as insisting that “the department was not out to cut industry's profits, saying that the Pentagon viewed weapons makers as part of its overall "force structure" and was looking for more "win-win" deals that save money while rewarding good performance.”

Kendall, it should be noted, is the same man who famously stated that “Putting the F-35 into production years before the first test flight was acquisition malpractice” when he was only “acting” procurement chief. Since he was confirmed as undersecretary, however, he has changed his tune, and now approves procurement practices that encourage early service introduction, and leave any problems left to be fixed when and as upgrades and fixes become available.

Rigging development tests

Gilmore does not think this makes sense. In the introduction to his report, he says that “This year, I have found several cases where the testing I determined to be adequate [went] beyond the narrow definitions in the requirements document(s) established by the Services and Joint Staff."

Specifically, he noted that test “requirements … are narrowly defined to specific conditions, when the Services will certainly employ the system in other conditions,” and adds that he “provided a specific example of the former case to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

In other words, tests are rigged to ensure programs more along the procurement process with as little disruption as possible, because they satisfy performance criteria that are tailor-made to ensure they are easily met.

P-8A Poseidon: Not Mission Effective, But in Full-Scale Production

What is Gilmore’s “specific example?” He told the JCS Vice Chairman that “the P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime Patrol Aircraft could be fully compliant with all Key Performance Parameter (KPP) and Key System Attribute (KSA) threshold requirements, and nonetheless possess significant shortfalls in mission effectiveness.”

He also added that “The P-8 requirements define supporting system characteristics or attributes that are necessary, but not nearly sufficient, to ensure mission effectiveness.

In an extreme case, he continues, “the contractor could deliver an aircraft that meets all the KPPs but has no mission capability whatsoever. Such an airplane would only have to be designed to be reliable, equipped with self-protection features and radios, and capable of transporting weapons and sonobuoys across the specified distances, but would not actually have to have the ability to successfully find and sink threat submarines in an Anti-Submarine Warfare mission (its primary mission).”

So how did the Joint Chiefs and the US Navy react to the “specific example” of the P-8A, which Gilmore concluded “is not effective for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission, and is not effective for wide area anti-submarine search?”

First of all, and no doubt coincidentally, the commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet just happened to fly an 8-hour mission on the P-8A over the East China Sea on the same day Gilmore’s report was made public.

This event was reported Jan. 28 by the Navy News Service: “Adm. Harry Harris, Pacific Fleet commander, saw firsthand the advanced capabilities of the P-8A Poseidon….the mission highlighted the full range of the Poseidon's game-changing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.”

These claims are the exact opposite of Gilmore’s conclusions. But Gilmore’s conclusions don’t matter, since 11 days earlier the US Naval Air Systems Command (Navair) had already announced it had approved the P-8A for full-rate production.

The Navair press release said that “the approval, reached Jan. 3 from the FRP Milestone Decision Authority, will allow the program office, resource sponsor, acquisition community and industry to continue to deliver the P-8A to the fleet with the required capabilities needed to ensure the squadrons are getting a stable and efficient system.”, again contradicting Gilmore’s report, which clearly says the system does not have the required capabilities, and is neither effective nor efficient.

Why test at all?

Given the P-8A and other procurement horror stories like the Littoral Combat Ship and the F-35 fighter, it is truly wondrous that the Pentagon has not decided to simply abandon testing weapons, and instead to simply take whatever industry provides, “as is.”

Gilmore is to be commended for two separate reasons. The first is that he continues to produce some of the most intellectually honest reports coming out of the Pentagon bureaucracy despite the fact that they are largely ignored by the Pentagon and by Congress.

The second is that, having produced his reports, he adopts a civil servant’s model behavior and lets his work to be judged on its merits, without seeking publicity or controversy. It is a miracle that he has not yet resigned in frustration.

This is indeed commendable for a civil servant. But the downside to his modest, low-key approach is that without pro-active follow-up such reports are conveniently filed after a couple of weeks, while the system grinds on regardless.

At that Nov. 2012 conference, Frank Kendall told industry that “We're in this together. The health of the industrial base is very important," and he has certainly demonstrated since that he practices what he preaches.

But he still has to deliver on another promise -- “to better align profits paid to defense contractors with improved performance,” according to the Reuters news story – but each successive OT&E report shows this is becoming ever less likely.


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