F-35 Sustainment: Try an Indirect Approach

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     There is much hand-wringing in the Air Force right now about sky high F-35 sustainment costs with no solution in sight. The Air Force is even considering reducing its planned purchases of the 5th Generation fighter. At the same time there is much talk about innovation throughout the DOD. Much of the talk is just that, talk; sometimes accompanied by baby steps and lately Innovation Theater that does little to deliver new capability or advantage the warfighter or taxpayer.

Innovations in the past with a proven record of reducing sustainment costs have been almost completely forgotten or ignored. A possible solution to the F-35 sustainment cost problem exists and is documented on this website. If the F-35 sustainment cost problem cannot be fixed directly. How about fixing it indirectly. Reduce the sustainment costs of legacy systems and direct the savings to support the F-35 sustainment problem.

Unfortunately, the Air Force has never fully understood or exercised the potential power of Other Transactions (OTs) to solve problems. The Air Force has made some use of innovative contracting approaches utilizing the OT statutes and section 2373, but its leadership under values those approaches, seeing them as one tool among many; niche authorities to be used on rare occasions. Many still think of OT consortia as the primary way to use OT authority.

The model for a possible solution to the F-35 sustainment cost problem is the Commercial Operations and Support Savings Initiative (COSSI). Historically, COSSI was a great success. Today using the original COSSI program as a base line an improved version could be crafted based on lessons learned in the original COSSI and changes in the OT statutes. COSSI focused not on upgrading or replacing specific components, sub-systems or parts of fielded systems but on saving money in the sustainment regime. According to Dr. Jacques Gansler, then Undersecretary of Defense (AT&L), in its first two years under DARPA cognizance a $100 million R&D investment in COSSI saved $3 billion over ten years in procurement and operations and maintenance costs.

Costs savings of 30:1 from the application of a COSSI-like program spread across the fleet of legacy systems could be redirected and go a long way to underwriting F-35 sustainment. However, adopting such an approach requires a problem-solving attitude and an open aperture to unconventional solutions.

The COSSI program is described both in a written article and video, both are linked below. Not only can the original COSSI program be improved upon but other techniques to reduce sustainment costs are also available due to advances in technology.

Prototypes for Readiness – Tapping Commercial Innovation to Improve Defense Readiness and Reduce Sustainment Costs

Video – Other Transactions for Sustainment

Whether or not savings from a COSSI-like program are redirected to underwrite F-35 sustainment, the Air Force and all the other services should be implementing such programs because it is the smart thing to do for the warfighter and taxpayer.