Tag Archives: Augustine’s Laws

“Lessons from a Career of Trying to Defy the Law (of Gravity)”, lecture by Norman Augustine

Norman Augustine is an aeronautical engineer whom I have referred to often in this blog mainly due to his book “Augustine’s Laws” of which I wrote a review (find it here). He started working at Douglas Aircraft Company (1) in 1958, though through his long career he has occupied several positions in the administration and other major aerospace companies such Martin Marietta and then Lockheed Martin (2).

In my review about his book I wrote:

The book reviews A&D programs, especially their mismanagement and failures from the Wright brothers times till the early 80′s, when the book was written. The book is hilarious.

Lecture by Norman Augustine.

Lecture by Norman Augustine.

Some readers may believe I overstate it. Well, I invite you to watch the lecture he gave 2 days ago at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (3) as part of the Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture Series. The lecture was titled “Lessons from a Career of Trying to Defy the Law (of Gravity)” [47’59”].

During the lecture Norman shares a great deal of the wisdom he has accumulated through his long career, part of it condensed in his Laws, compiled in his book. One of the laws I like the most is possibly the number IX:

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3 1/2 days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day. (LAW NUMBER IX)

I think it is priceless to have Norman explain it in person:

Augustine's Law IX.

Augustine’s Law IX.

During the lecture he used an update of his law (written in the 80’s) made by The Economist a few years ago which I covered also in this blog (4).

Other topics covered by Augustine during the lecture include: the importance of thinking with a systems point of view, the evolution of aerospace industry in the last decades, the importance of strategy and leadership, all covered by his fine humor and wit.

(1) You may read here a tribute I wrote about Douglas Aircraft Company.

(2) Some years ago I wrote this post about Lockheed’s Skunk Works.

(3) You may find here a post I wrote about my visit to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum at Dulles.

(4) I few months ago I wrote another post reviewing the application to bomber aircraft of Augustine’s Law IX with new US long range bomber program. In his book Norman includes an extrapolation as well of bomber aircraft increasing costs, even if the wording of the law takes tactical aircraft as the benchmark.

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Augustine’s Laws and the future long-range bomber

The US Air Force is moving ahead with its plan to develop a new long-range bomber aircraft to be operational by the mid of next decade. The program is not yet launched, but within this year it is expected that we will see the launch of a request for proposals (RFP).

I read about the latest moves about this program-to-be in an article from DefenseNews, “USAF To Shed Light on ‘Mystery’ Plane“. Apart from different declarations from officials and industry, the article provided some main general clues:

The Air Force intends to begin fielding the bomber in the mid 2020s, with penetrating capability in mind. The service will procure 80 to 100 planes, which will mostly be made with existing technologies. Those machines will also have both standoff and direct-attack munitions and room for a large payload.

The service also is exploring the idea of the aircraft being optionally manned.

Service officials have cited a cost of $550 million per plane as the ceiling for the program, but even that figure has some mystery to it. Observers have noted that the figure does not include research and development (R&D) costs, which could drive that amount up.

My first reaction on that figure of $550 million per aircraft was:

For those not acquainted with him, Norman Augustine served in many positions both in the Administration (Under Secretary of the Army) and in the Aerospace & Defense industry (CEO of Lockheed Martin). Lately he lead the Committee that was reviewing the US Human Space Flight Plans. He wrote a fantastic book, “Augustine’s Laws”, about the aerospace and defense industry, the problems that plague their programs, etc. I reviewed that book in this post.

However, after writing that tweet I decided to check it myself…

See below the original graphic from the book depicting the trend of increasing costs of bomber aircraft:

Trend of Increasing Cost of Bomber Aircraft (source: Augustine's Laws).

Trend of Increasing Cost of Bomber Aircraft (source: Augustine’s Laws).

I extrapolated the trend with the information provided in the article, that is, a $550 million unit cost with an entry into service by the mid 2020s, see below where that spot is in the enlarged graphic:

Updated Trend of Increasing Cost of Bomber Aircraft (source: Augustine's Laws + future long-range bomber information).

Updated Trend of Increasing Cost of Bomber Aircraft (source: Augustine’s Laws + future long-range bomber information).

You will see that I marked 2 different spots in red and blue. The blue one corresponds to the unit cost ceiling of 550M$ reported in the article. You will see that the spot is way off the 70-year old trend (from the end 1920s-1990s). Therefore, I decided to continue the trend line and see at what unit cost would a bomber aircraft with entry into service in the mid 2020s still follow the trend, and I marked that unit cost in red. The result is that the future bomber would have to cost about $500 billion apiece, or a cost roughly equal to the entire Department of Defense yearly budget.

That may seem impossible today, completely off reality. How could that happen? Start by imagining that the budget which will be earmarked for 80-100 airplanes along several years, in the end serves to procure many less units (40?, 10?… 1?). Then, add to that the information appearing in the article accompanying the 550M$ figure, “the figure does not include research and development (R&D) costs, which could drive that amount up”. Put all that together and we might end up seeing, 10 years from now, that Augustine’s was right on the spot.

In fact, the assertion that one single airplane would cost the US Air Force the entire DoD yearly budget was exactly predicted by Augustine in his Law number IX, though he applied it for tactical fighter aircraft, and the date in that case would be a bit later, 2054:

In the year 2054, the entire defense budget will purchase just one tactical aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3 1/2 days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day. (LAW NUMBER IX)

Update (2014-03-08): See in the article from Bloomberg, “Long-Range Bomber’s Development Would Get $12 Billion“, a declaration from Lt. General Charles Davis: “Is it going to be $550 million a copy? No, of course it’s not going to be $550 million a copy once you add in everything.“. The article includes further figures providing a new estimate of 810M$ apiece… The closing of the gap between 550M$ and ~ 500bn$ has started.

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The end of private property

Last Saturday, while reading the last issue of The Economist at home, I found the following table with the evolution of government spending for some countries:

Government spending as % of GDP, source: The Economist

You can see that the trend is upwards for all countries.

In one of my favourite books, “Augustine’s Laws“, the author goes on extrapolating several trends in the defense and aerospace industry. I did the same with this table for the average of these countries and the particular case of Spain, for obvious reasons.

When will government spending reach 100% of GDP?

Extrapolating the trend, this would occur in Spain  the year 2124 (for the average of the countries in the table it would happen in 2171). What would that mean? By 2124 every euro spent in Spain would be spent by the government (local and central), not a dime spent by individuals. The end of private property.

Government Spending as % of GDP, extrapolation

That is not necessarily worrisome: we would be provided a home by the state, food to eat (the trend doesn’t say whether we would have to eat in public canteens or we would receive vouchers to get stuff from grocery shops), clothing, etc… We would become a kind of communist country in the end. Don’t worry, United States would join us some years later. I guess the last country in joining this pan communist block would be Switzerland, but its time would come, too. No Cold War this time.

In case you wanted to start-up a business, you’d better do it soon: I guess some years before the doomed 2124 it would be prohibited to launch such kind of initiatives. Good luck with your venture! I’ll just look forward to a pleasant and quiet 9-13 position in such an administration. 🙂

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After the year 2015, there will be no airplane crashes

When I was writing in the previous post about Alberto Dubois idea of evolution being exponential I had in mind the book “Augustine’s Laws”, to which I have referred many times in this blog.

Today, I read a very good article in last week’s issue of The Economist, “Defence spending in a time of austerity”, which describes the current situation of defence budgets around the World and how it will affect many programmes…

The article itself is referring to the computing evolution depicted by Dubois and some other exponential trends identified by Augustine, such as the increased use of computer power and software.

I especially liked the update of Augustine’s chart for the Law XVI which says:

“In the year 2054, the entire defence budget will purchase just one aircraft. This aircraft will have to be shared by the Air Force and Navy 3½ days each per week except for leap year, when it will be made available to the Marines for the extra day.”

Augustine's Law XVI chart, updated by The Economist.

Thus, in the last 25 years, since Augustine wrote his book, the business has not improved much. This situation provokes that different countries have to share weapons, e.g., C-17 transport aircraft (Strategic Aircraft Capability, operated for several countries from Hungary), SALIS (“Strategic Airlift Interim Solution”, chartering of ex-soviet An-124 to NATO countries)…

One of the most striking situations that may come to happen is that UK and France share two aircraft carriers. Carriers were considered essential to have control over oceans… however, if France is going to scale its fleet down to one single carrier: what would happen during the long months when it will be in overhaul?

Lately there have been much discussion about this sharing scheme, though it is still denied by officials. Consider that just back in 1940, the British Royal Navy destroyed much of the French fleet in the Operation Catapult.

Other interesting point is the trend towards using unmanned aircraft versus piloted ones. Already in the “Aircraft Investment Plan Fiscal Years (FY) 2011-2040” (PDF, 0.2MB) that the US Air Force submitted together with its FY11 budget request, it forecasted that the number of unmanned aircraft will almost triple in the next ten years, while the rest of fleets would be either just renewed or decreased.

Nevertheless, this may never come to happen if we take Augustine’s Law Number XIV:

“After the year 2015, there will be no airplane crashes. There will be no takeoffs either, because electronics will occupy 100 percent of every airplane’s weight”.


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Nimrod: endless development, never delivering

Aerospace and Defence programmes are formidable undertakings full of complex developments, new technologies, changing requirements that make them difficult to manage and keep in control. This is not new and lead Norman Augustine to write his famous “Augustine’s Laws” of which I already wrote a post in this blog.

Few months ago I was having lunch with my colleagues while we were discussing about some current defence programmes with sound cost overruns and delays. One of us challenged the rest with the question of what was the programme in the direst situation. Among the answers came the British Nimrod Maritime, Reconnaissance and Attack (MRA) Mk 4 aircraft programme.

The programme called for the upgrade of existing Mk 2 aircraft. The upgrade involves extensive (80%) reconstruction of the airframe, plus incorporation of many new components, including engines, wings, landing gear and general systems, as well as new flight deck and detection systems. The contract was awarded in January 1997. The original order was for 21 aircraft.

Nimrod modifications.

One of my colleagues jokingly said “that programme is just the perfection of the British A&D business model: charging money to the tax payers without delivering a single aircraft, being paid simply for developing”. We all laughed at the comment, sure.

In 2002 the contract was reduced to 18 aircraft. In 2004 the in-service fleet requirement was reduced to 12 aircraft, including the 3 prototypes. By 2008 BAE had only been contracted to for 9 aircraft in addition to the development contract. In 2009 the Defence Equipment Minister announced that it was not necessary to upgrade the 3 development aircraft.

When first ordered the programme had an estimated cost of 2 billion pounds; by 2006 the estimation was of ~3.8 billion pounds (+90%). When ordered the first delivery to the Royal Air Force (RAF) was scheduled for 2001, with the Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in 2003, on the delivery of the 7th aircraft.

BAE Nimrod.

Last week we could read in the British press that the air force chiefs to the Strategic Defence and Security Review had proposed to cancel the Nimrod programme in order save money under current budgetary pressures. The measure would “only” save now 200 million pounds, as most of the development and acquisition costs (~95%) have already been paid. The savings would come in the longer term, due to the saving of operation and support costs related to that fleet.

If this cancellation becomes effective, that would be consummation of that model: being paid (180% of initially estimated costs) for developing of a fleet of aircraft (along a period twice as long as initially expected) to end up not having to deliver those aircraft (not 21, not 18, not 12, not 9… not a single one).

Aside from this humorous note, that would be a very sad happening for BAE engineers, managers and technicians.


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