Mark Collins – “Augustine’s Law”: The Crazy Rising Cost of Fighter Jets–and Mr Augustine’s Latest

From the man who once projected that the whole 2054 US defence budget could only afford one such plane–at Aviation Week and Space Technology:

The Next 100 Years: Norm Augustine Augustine’s Latest Law

…all is not well. This year marks another but less esteemed and far less celebrated anniversary: the 50th year since the publication of the first of Augustine’s Laws that document the foibles of the aerospace profession. Although little noted nor long remembered—in spite of still being in print and at one time available in seven languages—the laws have proven to be aggravatingly accurate…

Based on data of well-established veracity, one law predicted (in 1966) that “in the year 2054, the entire defense budget will buy just one tactical aircraft—which will have to be shared by the Navy and Air Force 3.5 days a week, with the Marine Corps getting it the extra day on Leap Year.” The law was called “Calvin Coolidge’s Revenge” in recognition of his having remarked in frustration, upon being told a new squadron of military aircraft was going to cost $25,000: “Why not buy just one aeroplane and let the aviators take turns flying it?” More recently, The Economist updated the original graph that led to the above onerous projection and found that we are on track toward such a singular event [article here, graph near end of the post]. It is noteworthy that, for example, we started out to produce 750 F-22s and ultimately produced only 187. The respective numbers for the B-2 are 165 and 21. Then there is the B-70, which simply settled in at “2. [see end of the post]”..

[The latest law:]

And that brings us to Augustine’s newest and perhaps greatest law, published here for the very first time in honor of Aviation Week’s 100th birthday. Various studies have shown that the average grade-point average in U.S. universities has been increasing steadily over a half-century. Further, other studies have shown that the number of hours students devote to study outside of class has been monotonically declining. The graph above presents a cross-plot of these two findings and forms the incontrovertible underpinning of Augustine’s Law of Learning: “If students would quit studying so much they would all have a 4.0 average.” The problem all these years is that without even realizing it, students have simply been studying too much.
As Ernest Rutherford, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, remarked, “We are out of money. It is time to start thinking.” The alternative may be Jimmy Doolittle’s response when I asked him what was the greatest danger faced by early aviators. His one-word answer: “Starvation.”

Norman Augustine is the retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin. He served on the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush and won the National Medal of Technology.

The Economist’s graph:



The XB-70:

Valkyrie: The North American XB-70: The USA’s Ill-fated Supersonic Heavy Bomber


[going to be reading the book soon]…

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds

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One thought on “Mark Collins – “Augustine’s Law”: The Crazy Rising Cost of Fighter Jets–and Mr Augustine’s Latest”

  1. Combat aircraft, particularly fighters, have evolved into highly integrated systems built up around sub-systems that themselves are increasingly complex – think of the need to get a host of software-based systems to work together with minimal risk of failing in a dangerous way. This situation drives the non-recurring engineering costs up. In turn, to keep within tolerable spending limits, the number of manufactured units gets cut back and this helps drive up the per-unit production costs

    A further outcome is that nobody can afford to develop two or more different designs in parallel to the prototype stage with the idea of picking the best one in a competitive evaluation. Consequently, you end up with one horse to bet on – if it has lots of problems, somebody has to pay to fix them and you can be sure it isn’t the manufacturer.

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