Oh, what a tangled web we weave – maintenance version

It seems the US Marine Corps has a plethora of problems in maintaining its V-22 Osprey aircraft.

If you’re a pilot or mechanic working on the Marine Corps’ prized V-22 Osprey, you probably spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel. That’s because the 129 MV-22Bs in service come in more than 70 different configurations, identical to the untrained eye but all subtly different — for example, in the cockpit layout, the electrical wiring, even the arrangement of bolts — which means they require subtly different flight checklists, maintenance procedures, and spare parts. If it’s not a logistical nightmare, it’s at least an acute headache — and more expensive than it needs to be.

That’s why the Marines and Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), which buys aircraft for the Corps, is charging ahead with a program to reduce those 70-plus versions to 25 by 2027 and — the ultimate goal — approximately five by 2030. Common Configuration – Readiness and Modernization (CC-RAM) will also upgrade the 129 existing Block B Ospreys to the Block C configuration now coming off the assembly line. (The Marines are also buying 151 brand-new Cs). The upgrade improves everything from weather radar to flare dispensers, from night-vision displays to how much data is available to the passengers so Marine infantry can update their mission plans en-route to the target.

There’s more at the link.

The Marines aren’t alone in facing this problem.  For example, there are over 100 F-35 Lightning II aircraft that aren’t up-to-date with all modifications and improvements – and they may never be updated, because it would cost too much.  I find that absolutely unconscionable, a ridiculous and inexcusable waste of taxpayers’ money.  If I could, I’d fire everyone involved . . . but we all know that’s not going to happen, no matter how inefficient and wasteful the F-35 program may be.

During World War II, the B-29 Superfortress program was rushed into service, despite ongoing technical and design issues, because wartime pressures made it necessary.  Even a greater casualty rate among aircraft and their crews was acceptable under the circumstances.  However, we’re not at war now, and I see no reason for the Marines – or any other branch of the US armed forces – to buy equipment varying so widely in technical specifications and capabilities from one example to another.  Why was this allowed to develop in the first place – and why haven’t those responsible been fired?



  1. politics. they farmed out the parts to all lower 48 states, and no senator will vote for losing jobs however few in his state. both programs also cost so much and had so many delays they were pressed into service like the b-29, and frankly as a matter of saving face. imagine telling your voters, or stockholders, you spent a trillion bucks and the thing still won't fly. the generals want new, not improved. so their asses are on the line too. now that its out there, they "have" to spend the money to fix it. they claim its too late to cancel it. as a veteran, it makes me sick to my stomach.

  2. Don't forget feature creep. Build the product and now they want something added. Add the feature, now something new is added. This doesn't work out but now some improvement to rears it's ugly head.

    This is the role of test beds, not finished product.
    After 40 years you think I would be used to it but I'm not.


  3. It's not that simple. Part of the problem is obsolescence. The lifespan for some parts, like drives and memory, is as short as 18 months. Many of the subsystems were designed as much as 20 years ago and may have been redesigned several times to deal with obsolete components. Add to that new features, like the brownout protection systems, being added in different orders and times, even by different maintenance facilities and there is no wonder why this happens. Especially as the Ospreys were being used in a war theater.

    The Navy spent a fortune in trying to maintain standard configurations of Trident Submarines and finally gave up and accepted that the Ohio and Michigan (the first 2 built) were just going to be slightly different.

    The F-35 was/is managed poorly, we all get that, but they are STILL in Low Rate Initial Production. The suppliers are forced to buy components for a year at a time for a very limited number of planes, currently around 100. That's 2 planes a week. The cost a few years ago was down to about $85M per plane and still dropping.

    TL/DR: Configuration management of complex systems being built at low rate over many years is hugely difficult and very expensive.

  4. Considering how many years it took to get into production, you'd think the actual production models would be fairly standard.

  5. Requirements creep, also. How long does it take to get a requirements document approved? It starts here, goes to a colonel to start staffing, goes to concepts, trainers, etc., then goes worldwide for comments and inputs from everyone (including the meddling strap-hangers). This can go on for several years.

    Somewhere after the capability document gets approved, everyone come to the sudden realization that many years of language meant, "what we have now plus 20% more gooder than Brand X." The "more gooder" was never defined in terms of what – performance, mobility, protection, durability, less cost, etc. None of the Noble Protectors of any area want to give way – the "more gooder" is obviously for their area. More arguments, more time, more design refinement, more cost, more weight, more restrictions.

    Meanwhile, no one built a company-sized unit set (with some spares) and a set of spare/replacement parts, so some luck (or unlucky) captain can use Brand Y over a long enough time (1-2 years) to come up with the list of good, bad, and ugly results. Can the soldiers use it, fuel it, live with or fight with it, and fix it? How often does it break down, and need parts/time? What repair parts are key to have? How many spare parts are needed to replace worn out parts? How does it perform in garrison, in training, or in combat (exercise or real thing)?

    Build it at high rates for specific runs, in fixed configurations, and accept risks between production sets.

    The real cost including lives can get a lot higher than the desk-bound imagine.

    Sorry for the rant, but this pushed buttons after a nasty month of surprises.

  6. From my experience: it's 85% because sales lobbyists wine/dine/payoff politicians, who proceed to tell the Armed Services what they must buy and who from…

  7. Riverrunner and the Duke of URL VRM#391 have stated a big chunk of the problem. Congress-critters and the lobbyists. The people buying and the people doing the sales are totally disconnected to the person using the end product.

    Psychokitteh stated another part of the problem – the organization has gotten so large that it is unwieldy. Your immediate needs can not be meet because of the length of time it takes for the request to filter through the system.

    Combine the two and you end up with the original Humvee, AH-64 APACHE ATTACK helicopter or your example the F-35.

  8. I seem to remembering that all the major ww2 4 engine bombers, rolled off the assembly line, and were flown to mod centers to bring them up to combat rating before, being issued to crews for training, and or just being flown overseas as replacement aircraft.
    Atleast the US Army Air Corps Heavy Bomber fleet.

  9. And, even during WWII (or close to it), you often went through lots of models before you got a workable airplane.

    Boeing's Model 299 first flew in 1935. And crashed on the second test flight. But impressed the Air Corps enough that they bought (for test purposes) some YB-17s (Y meaning the second test model; the 299 would have been the XB-17). And the A through D models were pretty much useless — insufficient defensive armament, too small a tail, etc. It wasn't until the E — and really the F — that the B-17 became useful. So most of what flew in Europe was the F/G models.

    Or the P-38, which wasn't even close to combat ready until the E model (and you can certainly argue the F model). And even those models had intercooler issues (they were in the wing leading edges, and vulnerable to combat damage) — it wasn't until the J that they moved them into the engine nacelles. And the J was the first model to have the dive flaps that solved the compressability problem — the P-38 was fast enough that, in a high altitude dive, airflow would go transonic, and you'd lose control — but the dive flaps interrupted the airflow and let you regain control before the tail ripped off. So, until the J, you didn't dare a high speed dive at altitude.

    So, even in wartime, you had lots of failed models until the designers got it right — even for some of the most effective aircraft in the war.

  10. I was going to weigh in on this, but I see several people have made all my arguments for me (and done a better job at it.)

  11. On the B-17F front, I'll just note that the B-17F known as the Memphis Belle has been restored and is scheduled for unveiling at the Air Force museum in about three months, on the 75th anniversary of her 25th mission.

  12. Anybody who cares about aircraft would love to visit the museum at Wright Patterson. It's got lots of displays with stuff that you don't get to see anyplace else.

    Where else can you see all three current Air Force bombers (B-1, B-2, B-52) right next to each other. Or my personal top two contenders for the prettiest aircraft — a B-58, and the only XB-70. Or begin to appreciate just how huge the B-36 really is. Etc.

    (They finally moved the XB-70 indoors when they built the latest expansion hall, and there's an overlook, so you can see it from above.)

    I've spent many days wandering through that museum; I go back every time I'm in the Dayton area every few years. It's well worth a special trip.

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