16 February 2009

But it's Starscream!

Hollywood and the military have had an interesting relationship.  Starting in about the 1980s, the military started to work closely with Hollywood, allowing movie makers access to aircraft, equipment and bases in order to produce big-budget pictures.  In turn, the military was able to reverse a trend in Hollywood to make decidedly anti-military movies.  It's difficult to say, but I would suspect that thousands of young males joined the military in the hopes of being Maverick and Goose.

The marriage between the two organizations has had some great benefits.  In 2002, the movie Black Hawk Down was a painstaking reconstruction of the troubled raid on the Bakara Market in Somalia.  Using real Rangers, and some of the actual aircraft that participated in the battle, the movie conveys in a very real sense the chaotic nature of modern warfare, and highlighted the heroism of the men of Task Force Ranger.

But like all things, there can be a bit of a dark side to this.  The military can use popular media to gain support for overpriced and overbudget projects.  Take the 2007 Transformers movie, for example, a movie made with massive support from the US Air Force.  The movie starts out with two CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft flying over the desert.  The Osprey is an aircraft that has been plagued with budgetary and design problems, and many critics are skeptical that the aircraft will actually perform well as a true combat aircraft (and Time Magazine, too) Many have called for the aircraft to be cancelled.  Nevertheless, two of the three Ospreys in the Air Force inventory appeared in the movie.  The ability for a helicopter to transform into an airplane gives that subtle hint to the audience that maybe...wait...the Osprey is a FUCKING TRANSFORMER!  MAYBE FIVE OF THEM TRANSFORM TOGETHER TO MAKE DEVASTATOR!  

Later in the movie, we discover that one of the leaders of the Decepticons, Starscream, is actually an F-22 Raptor, another aircraft that has run into design issues.  At $140 million dollars, it is four times more expensive than the F-15, and has been in some phase of development for well over twenty to twenty-five years.  It has also not logged one single flight hour over Iraq or Afghanistan, and has been criticized by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.  

Do the military and defense community need to advertise their products?  Apparently so.  "Save the F-22 Raptor" ads have been popping up all over the Internet, prompting a cute little response from Chris Kelly, which, while exaggerated, covers many of the complaints many people have about this aircraft.  

Focus:  Are 180 F-22s enough?


SunJun said...
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SunJun said...

I'm going to give an upfront disclosure and say that my employer has its hands in both the V-22 and the F-22. Also, none of what I say reflects any proprietary knowledge on these programs (I've never worked either) nor are the opinions of my employer; they're all mine.

I don't think the V-22 is going to go anywhere. The Marines are adamant about this program, and if the Corps wants something that badly, then they'll probably get it (PR machine second to Stalin, etc). I haven't heard too much about the aircraft's performance in Iraq; supposedly its done okay in 2008, but I don't know the details. Apparently its good enough that there is foreign interest in purchasing the rotorcraft according to the Teal Group at least.

F-22 is a much more complex beast. I've seen their full ads in the Washington Post. I have no clue whether or not we really need a large fleet of those platinum plated, fifth generation fighters in our modern age.

We'll have to talk about aircraft unit costs sometime because I think its a much more complicated question than simply development overruns (though that does play a part). You have a lot poor management and political fighting that led to scope creep, disruptions on the improvement curve, and other factors that can contribute to escalating aircraft costs.