Weight Kills Programs, Too

By April 20, 2018March 14th, 2019Army ALT Magazine, Commentary
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John T. Dillard, Col., USA (Ret.)

In the famous Boeing 777 development program of the 1990s, United Airlines was contractually permitted to penalize Boeing at $500 per pound, per airplane, per year for the revenue-producing life of the airliner if Boeing exceeded its weight goal of about 297,000 pounds.

For the 777, almost 0.25 of 1 percent of a 297,000-pound airplane can be the “stack-up variance”—caused by the randomness of small weight differences across 3 million or so parts in the airplane (over 740 pounds!).

In 1999, the U.S. Army’s Crusader advanced field artillery program’s design-to-weight requirement was halved by then-Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki as the program was readying for passage of milestone B. The multibillion-dollar program was terminated soon after, before it could get very far into advanced development. Its weight requirement as a KPP was an outgrowth of force deployability concerns during the Army’s recent operations in Kosovo, driven by the intra-theater airlift restrictions of the C-130 Hercules cargo plane. (These same concerns gave rise to an “interim armored vehicle,” the Stryker combat vehicle, which would have to face the same C-130 payload limitations of weight and size before the invasion of Iraq.)

On the heels of Crusader’s cancellation, the Future Combat Systems program could also blame at least some of its horrific cost growth and ultimate failure on striving to make its weight goals. Some of us saw it coming.

coming in under the limit

coming in under the limit
A Boeing 777 aircraft approaches the landing strip at Los Angeles International Airport. Requirements were incorporated into Boeing’s contract to produce the aircraft to ensure that weight issues were resolved, and similar issues affected several U.S. Military programs, including the Crusader and the Joint Strike Fighter. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Early in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, our High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles that were hastily “up-armored” experienced parts failure when using non-designed solutions for ballistic protection. Adding armor without changing drivetrain and suspension components increased weight and reduced mobility, speed, reliability and fuel economy. Later, when requirements grew for survivability against even greater threats from improvised explosive devices, we rapidly procured multiconfiguration Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles that were designed to better operate with the additional armored weight that was necessary for force protection.

Perhaps one of the most recent and highest-visibility programs that long suffered from being overweight was the Joint Strike Fighter. Often criticized for trying to advance immature technologies during its engineering and manufacturing development phase, it was the somewhat mundane but far-reaching impact of weight that contributed to this program’s cost and schedule growth back in 2004-2006. The U.S. Government Accountability Office said it added almost $5 billion to lose 2,000 pounds in the developing aircraft that degraded its key performance capabilities.

This article is published in the April – June 2018 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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