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The U.S. Air Force just admitted the F-35 stealth fighter has failed (forbes.com/sites/davidaxe)
669 points by dlcmh 57 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 1017 comments

The saddest thing about all of this IMO is they have been working on this for 14 years, and how much money was spent/wasted? Now, read about Skunkworks - they were able to build the SR71 (without supercomputers) in less than half that time and for a fraction of the cost.

This isn't just planes, this seems to be everything nowadays. Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.

I know Peter Thiel is not popular here, but his conversations about technological progress seem to be spot on: we just cant build cool shit anymore. I really did want a flying car, and all I have is 140 characters and promises of AI that never come true.

Maybe, you could say there are some exceptions like CRISPR, but that is TBD.

While the US does have a problem with building civil engineering projects today, that dynamic isn't really what happened with the F-35.

The root of the F-35 program's problems is a cost plus style contract that gave Lockheed every incentive to overrun on cost and time table. Ash Carter fixed that by telling Lockheed if they didn't agree to his new contract he'd kill the entire thing. And oh hey what a surprise suddenly the marginal cost of a new F-35 started hitting the target numbers.

The aircraft itself is apparently excellent at what it does, but that doesn't erase just how much grift was involved in this program for decades.

The other big thing driving the Air Force to heavily restructure it's approach is they know they just can't have these decades long development programs. They want to be able to iterate much faster. It's all still classified, but apparently the first few attempts at this more agile approach are in fact actually working, like with the NGAD program.

>The root of the F-35 program's problems is a cost plus style contract that gave Lockheed every incentive to overrun

I’m fond of the saying “once you understand people’s incentives, you understand everything” as it applies to contracting.

I will add, however, that fixed price contracts have their own problems as it relates to cutting corners. E.g., it can put downward pressure on retaining talent and performing best practices because it incentivizes under-bidding and then cutting corners to make a profit. E.g., “you cobbled together some VBA in a spreadsheet once 20 years ago and will work for pennies? Congratulations, you’re our new head of software development!”

A lot of the problems can be attributed to poor contract/spec management and poor oversight. Part of the key is having good requirements and also the contractual teeth/intestinal fortitude to hold contractors feet to the fire

Firm, Fixed Price (ffp) contracts can be utilized with incentives after delivery based on metrics like tail availability, maintenance issues, flight hour cost, effectiveness, etc. Most big contracts are really a hybrid, though an existing contractor always tries for a cost plus. It's literally taught in PM classes.

I was NOT directly involved in F-35, so I can't speak to the exact amount of sleaze that occurred with the prime contractor.

I'd love to see a real competition! (new contractors, new ideas, new teams, new airframe ideas). And two engines, yeesh.

Anyways, cost plus is great at moving risk to the government. FFP is at the other end of the spectrum, moving all risk to the contractor.

[Unnecessary edit: I'm a fan of the textron scorpion-as a light attack fighter we could modify]

I think the issue is if you are going to order a million toilets, then moving all the risk to the contractor is fine. If you are asking for innovation and R&D, then the contractor already has a ton of risk. Add in requirements to make a fighter suitable for all branches of the military, and the risk is gigantic. In that environment, you need to remove risk from the contractor.

This is why R&D projects can't be treated in the same way as delivery of well understood tech that simply needs to be mass produced well and efficiently.

So don't do it fixed price but do cap allowable profits to 3-5% or so. That was how Apollo program was run.

They also cap profits based on the original bid size. So you bid 20 million for the F35 program you get 1.5 million profit. When you overrun the 20 million to 30 million you still only get 1.5 million "profit". Typically you also have to go ask for that 10 million in piecemeal as well. I need 500k to do this and 500k to do that and the program office approves or disapproves.

Of course, the contractors probably skim a little bit off the top of the 20 million back to themselves. They might for example bill for machine team on the CNC or charge $200/hr per an employee and only pay $60 (note that they have expenses for training, downtime, office space, equipment and management which that 200/hour needs to account for so the employee isn't getting screwed that badly.

Less moral contractors might build projects which intentionally fail but meet the specifications so that the gov't needs to execute a change order at which point they would get additional fee as part of the change order, however with the DOD you can get your company put on a blacklist which will mean you cannot win any more DOD contracts. But I have heard of a California construction company doing that repeatedly over the course of 30 years successfully. In the dod world, most companies try to propose improvements to the original contract. Typically they will have yearly goals associated with submitting and winning change orders as its an easier source of revenue than bidding and winning new contracts which typically have a 30% win rate.

OK, but that's still a cost plus contract. I don't think the size of the percentage in the "plus" is what explains the failure of the F35.

You’re creating a situation where the only way they can increase profit is to increase total spend.

>FFP is at the other end of the spectrum, moving all risk to the contractor.

I agree with your overall opinion but I do think the govt has a lot of residual risk in cost-plus. When a contractor is incentivized to cut corners, the mitigation is govt oversight. Meaning the contractor can keep cutting corners until caught. Since the govt ultimately owns these systems they can be left holding the bag (particularly when requirement specs are weak)

This is quite similar to one of my favorite saying that comes from my background in psychology: "When the mouse presses the lever, don't blame the mouse."

Oooo, that's profound.

I ran across an interesting one earlier, understanding Maslow's Needs by negative example: We usually say that, when someone has food and shelter and safety, when they have friends and feel a sense of belonging, they can pursue higher stuff. And we know at some level that if someone is starving, they will do anything to find food -- civilized behavior goes out the window in that mode. But we forget that if someone has no friends and doesn't feel a sense of belonging, they will also stop at nothing to rectify THAT.

Suddenly so much conspiracy stuff makes sense.

understanding Maslow's Needs by negative example

Those are usually called “hygiene factors” in the literature.

Aye, the most common I've seen being 2-factor hygiene approach to HR & Retention.

"Hygiene" for the record has nothing to do with deodorant, at least not per se, but instead the willingness to remove negative traits. However, just because you remove negative traits doesn't mean you have any positives. Just cuz you took a shower this morning, wear clean clothes, and trim your fingernails doesn't mean you're not an asshole, and that we should friends with you.

Same deal with jobs, cultures, etc. The work may be risky and dangerous, but if there are enough positives to outweigh those negatives, people might stick around. But even if you strip out the negatives, people will eventually float away from jobs that aren't fulfilling or that don't offer any positives.

For the other side "No, it’s not The Incentives—it’s you"


Interesting read, thank you.

There’s a distinction to be made between excusing bad behavior, but rather they explaining it. The article seems focused on the former, I’m more interested in the latter.

There are intrinsic and extrinsic incentives. I think the important part not touched upon is that for those actors extrinsically motivated (e.g., status, money, etc.) the system incentive will influence behavior much more than those more affected by intrinsic motivations.

The article is right that extrinsic motivations don’t excuse immoral behavior but when morals are lacking external controls are still needed. Developing the right extrinsic incentives provides guardrails for those who tend to lack intrinsic motivation that align. The article seems to think the solution is to “just act morally” which works at the individual level but that’s not really a policy at a system level (especially once we acknowledge everyone doesn’t share the same goals/motivations/morals)

I don't really see it as "the other side". Identifying root cause of behavior is critical to modifying it. The "don't blame the mouse" saying is simplified; scientists (as in this article) live in a more complex world. Just because we can understand what led to a set of behavior for scientists, or others, doesn't mean they have no accountability for their actions, but it usually does mean there is a systemic problem that requires a systemic solution, otherwise we'll only ever be treating the symptoms.

That's not a problem with fixed price contracts so much as selecting the lowest bidder. An agency which is allowed to pick the more expensive contract that is justifiably better usually won't succumb to these problems.

And those of us that spend govt money generally do this, it's totally fine to not pick the cheapest, you just have to have a sound reason to do so.

I.e. if you aren't willing to stand up in court and talk about why Tootie is better than Tito, despite Tito being 10% cheaper, you better be selecting Tito or looking for another job.

Thanks for offering your experience. That matches with my own as well, albeit from the other side. I worked for a large government contractor on our bid, and we knew we weren't going to have the cheapest option but rather banked on the value-add. And most of the time it worked.

The government doesn't have to select the lowest bidder, that is a misconception. If they think the bid is too low, they can "risk up" the cost, adding in the cost of the additional risk not accounted for. The FAR specifies that they select for best value.


I know! I used to be a government contractor. I was rather pointing out that the failure mode in question only arises when budget is the deciding issue between proposals. A proper procurement process decides based on delivered value, however.

“Best value” can be very hard to get approved when lower bids exist. Circling back to the incentive theme, I have a feeling contracting officers are graded, in part, by how much they “save”. (In quotes because you can often pay much more in the long run by selecting the lowest bidder).

I’ve found people are very risk adverse in this regard and would prefer to select the lowest bid instead of potentially defending their decision during a protest.

I think it all depends on your local purchasing department(every govt agency/department gets their own, pretty much). Our department's attitude can be summed up(by me) as:

select the best solution to meet your needs, mostly irregardless of cost, but be sure you can articulate why you are buying from A.

I.e. You can pick whatever vendor you want, provided you are happy to stand up, under oath, in court and talk about WHY you selected vendor A over vendors B, C and D.

So far so I have no experience in court defending our choices.

Incentives seem to have huge explanatory value wherever you look, don’t they. I’d like to add a classic Warren Buffet quote into the mix: “Show me the incentive and I'll show you the outcome.”

Does anyone have any views on what constitutes canonical reading on incentives? Some of the classic game theory works? Would love to hear opinions on this.

Incentives in my opinion leads to Goodhart's law [1].

In fact, I will go a step further - most incentives are chosen by well meaning people. There is neither malice nor incompetence going on. What happens is that every incentive can be perverted, and will be perverted over time. Over time, then that incentive, that was once chosen with good intentions, becomes perverse.


I've never heard of Goodhart's law. To save others clicking on the link, it's:

> When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

In my experience, it might actually be a useful approximation of reality.

Incompetence may be too strong of a word but I think there can be a lack of thinking about second and third order effects when the “measure becomes the target”.

I am not trying to be a smart ass but how about this for an human incentive: Build us plane that fulfills these outlined objectives, that meets are budget requirements, or we will shop somewhere else.

I get what you’re saying but I wish it were that easy.

Take the requirements for example. If they aren’t airtight, you’ll get into a wordsmithing scenario where the contractor claims they met the requirement and it becomes a game where the team with the best lawyer wins. Write the requirements too explicitly and contractors will push back saying “tell us what you want, not how we’re supposed to do it.”

A somewhat silly example is if you specify you want unit testing on all safety critical code paths a contractor may claim they define running a compiler as “unit testing”. A contracting officer may not be technically savvy enough to push back and when the subject matter experts try to leave negative contract comments (that get reviewed when awarding future contracts) they get scrubbed because its not worth the fight in the eyes of the contracting officer.

Unfortunately, just saying “do good work” just doesn’t...work

And the parent's comment is any contracting work, really.

With DoD you have to add in various accountability steps, political footballs, public opinion, etc.

If you've spent time around the DC area you'd be shocked at the number of adverts for things like the F-22 that you see. One time I took the metro from NoVA to MD, with a stop off downtown, and counted at least 6. They're not just bringing lawyers and playing contractor games, they're aggressively marketing to everyone.

Having only been to the US a few times I'm floored by this. You mean to tell me that there are actual printed ads in public places for _fighter planes_? I can sort of understand the rationale in DC, but it just seems surreal to me.

Those kinds of purchases being swayed by subway ads... I really hope it's a joke.

WTOP, which is the All News/Traffic station is filled with ads from contractors during the Drive time. Of course, I last listened to them a year ago, but I suspect that hasn't changed. Listen to them anytime between 7am and 9am EST.

Thank you, my ignorance on the subject has summarily changed

Sounds like the Air Force still needs the F-20 Tigershark (killed by Ft. Worthless Jim Wright to protect the F-16 from competition) to bail out the F-35 Trillion Dollar Turkey.

The F-20 may have been the last time an aircraft company ever pitched an airplane developed on the company's money. Despite being highly praised by all who flew it (including Chuck Yeager), it's ugly demise at the hands of politics (it was less than half the price of the F-16) was an example to all to never do this again...

I believe one of the objectives of the F-35 was for the plane to be able to fulfill all kinds of different roles. That idea in itself seems pretty much impossible for me. Especially on a budget.

Wonderful! Thanks for that.

Your main error is a simple assumption: that both parties are honorable.

Where do you shop?

The problem with massive development efforts like this is that there aren't a lot of competitors. In this particular field, there are two, and not really even quite two exactly.

i don't understand why 200 billion dollars wouldn't be enough for the US to make their own plane company.

There would have to be organizational will to do so, and one pole of the American political system doesn't have it for a military plane program and the other actively hates the idea of nationalized industry.

We did, we made several of them.

Lockheed, Boeing, Northrup, etc...

Thank you for bringing a structural, informed approach to this. I'm getting a little tired of the tendency to handwave blame "cultural decline" rather than actual looking into the policies and details.

Aren't policy and details a product of culture? If a group of people, be it a team or nation, dont have have a solid culture then surely they cant achieve solid results. And indeed it would appear that gradually there is a decline in achieving great results from countries that have historically achieved such results. Dont get me wrong, the US is still doing great, but maybe when the rest of the world keeps raising red flags then criticism should be taken on board as not all is ill intentioned.

This is where I failed to understand the idea of a "Developing Nation". Aren't they all?

Yes. What exactly is being 'developed'? When the institutions using this phrase are regressive, it is not only a misnomer but an excuse.

Are they?

"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence'

Thanks for the kind words. I'm just someone sitting in their armchair with a lot of curiosity, but I do try to work hard to understand the world in cause and effect structure, for topics like this.

Even more important to understand that we humans as a species are extraordinarily poor at understanding complex systems. Larger, older organizations will become complex over time, and complexity increases at higher than linear rates. This is why a lean, happy startup at 50 employees often becomes an unmanageable disaster at 200 employees.

Human societies have become incredibly more complex over time, and development of communication has contributed to it.

The point I am trying to make here is that this is not cultural decline, but rather a society that has grown incredibly more complex, while we humans have not learnt how to deal with it.

F-35 is far from excellent and it had many engineering problems like massive software problems, fire hazards, structural weakness, engine problems, heating, high noise, low range, etc.

It failed to replace existing fleet of fighters, like the F-16, and on ground support, like the A10. That is not excellence.

All of the engineering problems of the F-35 have been well known from the early days of the project, I know because I have studied closely ever since Norway decided to buy it. But the massive propaganda from the weapons industry has clouded this debate from the start.

F-35 is a huge fiasco on multiple levels - policy, contracting, diplomacy, engineering, warfare, etc

Reason why it is even bigger failure than the F-22 is that the US decided to sell the F-35 overseas. This exposed the project to more scrutiny and increased the stakes. Can’t be hidden away like the embarrassing F-22.

If US decide to build a new fighter aircraft I predict it will be a failure too.

The F-35 is a combined development and low rate production program. Whether that was wise is a discussion, but it’s unsurprising that the current plane isn’t perfect. It is a LOT more perfect than the first versions though! That accounts for most of your complaints, except for noise which is unavoidable with the most powerful single engine to date.

You also might want to consider its extremely good flight record. Until recently there hadn’t been a single crash.

The software issue isn’t great (I blame C++ to an extent) but it’s also improving. The plane is now certified for many different weapons systems.

With stealth as great of a game-changer as it is, the incremental cost of the F-35 isn’t much. Developing a new fighter that pretty well duplicates the F-35 except for stealthy materials probably isn’t worth the cost. The F-35A cost keeps dropping...

As to not replacing “existing fleet of fighters”, that sure isn’t what the pilots are saying. So far it’s been well over 10-1 kill ratios against Gen 4 airframes at all Red Flag type competitions.

The only thing embarrassing about the F-22 was the decision to terminate production at 187 aircraft. The F-22 was and is an excellent aircraft, perhaps a bit ahead of its time in terms of need, but to call it an embarrassment doesn't have much accuracy.

> The F-22 was and is an excellent aircraft

I love jets and the F-22 is both my favorite fighter and likely the best air superiority fighter in the world, so I get where you are coming from, but it is not an excellent aircraft for the current USAF mission when you look at it as a whole.

Not only is the procurement cost of an F-22 extremely high, operationally it has been plagued by issues that hare only partially elevated by a maintenance program that even by fighter jet standards is considered expensive and frequent. The stealth coating in particular is very finnicky and has to be worked up constantly. Approximately half of F-22 are non-op at any given time, even getting training time is extremely difficult.

The F-22 is like an exotic sportscar. Nobody denies that if it's in the air and functional, it's a great performer, but we would never make the bugatti veyron the standard patrol car for all police - not only would it be mindbogglingly expensive, durability and high maintenance would make it impractical, not to mention overkill in most situations. To make another car analogy, it would be like buying a Ford F350 for picking up your groceries once a week.

I look at the F-22 as an aircraft that was born too soon. The ATF program started in 1981, but nobody anticipated the fall of the Soviet Union. So it really never had a real need. Now its technology is outdated (in terms of electronics), and the stealth technology is expensive to maintain and support. It's still an incredible fighter, arguably the best in the world.

It's like some of the pocket battleships produced between WW1 and WW2. The technology was incredible, but expensive. And by the time war actually came, they were outdated. I think the F-22 will meet the same fate (and the B-2 as well). Silver bullets that were never really needed.

I also think many of your criticisms are due to the small amount actually produced. Spares were never produced in adequate volumes, and when a single accident reduces your aircraft inventory by almost 1% it makes you risk averse.

Essentially no battleships that weren't complete by the start of the war for whichever country actually saw combat in WWII. The vast majority of battleships that saw combat were from the interwar period, if not WWI.

Also pocket battleship mostly refers to the heavy cruisers that Germany built during their rearmament program.

I think you're first paragraph is incorrect. For example, the US entered WW2 in 11/7/41, and the BB-63 Missouri was commissioned in 6/44. Missouri saw combat at Iwo Jima and Okinawa. BB-62 (New Jersey) was commissioned in 6/43 and fought at Guam and Okinawa. BB-61 was commissioned 2/43 and fought in the Pacific after being transferred from the Atlantic.

For the UK, five King George class battleships were commissioned after the start of Britain's declaration of war in 9/39. They all saw combat.

France's Richelieu was commissioned in 4/40, and saw limited combat in Dakar.

Even Japan's Yamato class battleships were commissioned before Japan invaded China.

Perhaps you meant that no battleships that weren't laid down prior to the start of WW2 saw combat?

> apparently the first few attempts at this more agile approach are in fact actually working, like with the NGAD program.

For the clueless like me, NGAD doesn't stand for "Not Give A Damn", but for "Next-Generation Air Dominance"; or less pompously, a sixth-generation jet fighter.


Sec. Ash Carter [0] did some really good work at reforming the pentagon, especially acquisitions, both as Deputy SecDef and later returning as SecDef. He also served as Under Secretary for Acquisitions (AT&L)

Sec. David Norquist [1] was another Deputy SecDef who helped reign in DoD costs. He also served as Comptroller before DepSecDef. There was whispers that he did actually fire people for wasting DoD funds.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ash_Carter

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Norquist

> The aircraft itself is apparently excellent at what it does

I have heard the opposite from a test pilot who has flown it. He fucking hates it.

A lot of highly qualified people who have flown it say otherwise.


Chip Berke is an F22 and F35 test pilot, and the first F35 Squadron commander. He's probably the most qualified person on the planet to talk about fifth gen aircraft: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxK6O5--9Z0&t=203s

Admittedly my sample size is 1 so I'm not pretending my anecdata is conclusive, but you have to be wary of what people will say publicly about politically motivated projects.

EDIT: Although to be fair, I wrote that before looking at your links, I feel like that context is important (although I stand by my statement).

Sure, that's definitely fair.

The F35 has been badly politicized, but it has also been the victim of an absolute shitload of criticism from people who want it to be something it was never intended to be and are unhappy that the F22 was cancelled early.

If it were just that Colonel Berke liked the plane, it would be one thing. He really explains it in detail in the video. I'll admit I wasn't quite sold on the the plane years ago, but once I saw this video it pretty thoroughly changed my mind.

I realize the video is a bit long, and I almost never post links to videos -- but this one is well worth the watch.

One of the stupidest criticisms of the F-35 was from J. Michael Gilmore[0] former DoD Director of Operational Test & Evaluation. OT&E has a role, and is intended to be critical in their evaluation, but his reports were typically out of date, and didn't seem to reflect the consensus of the pilots and others actually operating the jet.

What made his criticisms ironically stupid was he'd never even SEEN the jet up close, or spoken to an actual pilot, only reviewed documents and read memos, until the very end of his tenure as Director of OT&E. He was not retained when Gen. Mattis took over as SecDef.

I've heard nothing but praise for LtCol. Chip Berke. He is a great fighter pilot, although now retired from the USMC.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Michael_Gilmore


The man cannot criticize the project publicly. In fact, he and his squadron probably have real opinions that never leave their base locker rooms.

“Not criticize” is again, one thing. People who want to just “not criticize” would keep their opinions to themselves and move on.

What Colonel Berke did in that video is quite the opposite of “not criticize”.

Users, amiright?

I actually laughed. Thank you.

It also sounds like they made a lot of thoroughly unreasonable requests for a completely modular platform that could outperform everything in all branches of military at once.

It also sounds like they made a lot of thoroughly unreasonable requests for a completely modular platform that could outperform everything in all branches of military at once.

The concept of modularity is a sound one. Imagine this: You buy an F35 and it comes with 2 sets of wings. It has a empty bay just behind the pilot, and it also comes with a lift engine and a spare fuel tank, and a tailhook that can be easily slotted into place if you want it. A trained ground crew, in a couple of hours, can swap parts around and turn it into an A, B or C variant, and then into another one for its next mission.

The problem is that the materials needed to create such a F35 kit don't exist and won't for the foreseeable future. So what you end up with is 3 similar looking aircraft that happen to share the same name and have a vague resemblance but have surprisingly little in common, for triple the price.

The idea of having one aircraft be able to become any of the other variants isn't actually that great. Air Force planes don't operate from carriers, and Navy planes don't need to operate from very small fields.

The common bits are actually really useful to have in common. The radar is expensive to develop. The optical sensors are too. Engines are expensive, and the F135 engine is like 1/6 of the aircraft's cost.

Development is a bit more expensive, because you have 3 airframes with slightly different characteristics, but much of it the same between the three as far as systems that go inside.

It's definitely not 3x the price to develop the 3 different variants.

And they're buying new F-35s for cheaper than a new F-16.

The idea of having one aircraft be able to become any of the other variants isn't actually that great. Air Force planes don't operate from carriers, and Navy planes don't need to operate from very small fields.

I disagree, there have been cases where it could have been very useful. For example in the 1980s the RAF were operating the Harrier for the close support role (from austere forward airfields) and the RN were operating the Sea Harrier for air defence, but when the Falklands War kicked off, RAF aircraft were brought onto the carriers. The RAF were also operating the Tornado for long-range bombing and another variant of Tornado for air defence, plus the Jaguar. That's 4 different aircraft that could be merged into a "kit" F35 if it were possible to do so.

Yes, the UK had all of those 4 different aircraft. But the F-35 is primarily a US aircraft, designed primarily for US purposes, and only bought by other nations as fitting their purposes close enough. The F-35B fits UK RN FAA requirements close enough, so they're buying it. The UK RAF has requirements that are better met by the F-35A, so they're doing that.

The F-35B is explicitly the replacement for the Harrier (Sea or regular). The F-35A is designed for both interdiction/strike (it is a "strike fighter"), as well as being able to swing role[0] into air defense. The F-35C is explicitly only for USN requirements. No one else is going to be buying them, because the only allied country that operates CATOBAR aircraft is France, who likes their Rafales.

For all of the F135 being literally the most powerful low bypass turbofan in the world, it's still not enough power to be able to adequetely lift the F-35B without the B being lightened compared to the A. It's not just parts they left off, like the arresting hook, but different parts to shave weight. For example, the weapons bays are smaller. Tails are smaller. Airframe structure is lighter, which reduces durability, and also limits the maximum g-load (22% lower! than the A model). They also had to make the attachment of the wings more difficult compared to earlier plans, because the easier wing attachments weighed too much. The left shoulder of the aircraft are different, because the A model has a gun there that the others don't. These limitations are baked in, and unbaking them would make it too heavy to be able to perform the required role.

[0]: Swing role is more than just being able to do more than one role, but being able to do both of them during the same flight.

The only reason FAA ended up with F-35B is that they were too late with the idea of switching to F-35C, which meant that they couldn't rebuild their new carriers for CATOBAR on reasonable time/money budget.

Meanwhile F-35B exists pretty much only due to USMC to the point that I would be doubtful of any praise for the F-35 if it came from USMC crew. Then it got pushed as option for export, often seemingly presenting F-35B as being as capable as F-35A.

Meanwhile the ALIS without which F-35 is an expensive paperweight turned out to be a very expensive turd, that finally got renamed as ODIN after awarding the new contract to the same group that fscked up ALIS :/

Yeah, the RN screwed up their requirements such that the new UK carriers aren't actually going to be built for CATOBAR, even though they're supposed to be equipped for, but not with, the facilities to do so.

The F-35B is obviously not going to be capable in the same way as the A. However it's significantly more capable than the Harrier, which is the important part for everyone buying it. There is no other current STOVL carrier fighter jet available. And the reduced capabilities may largely not matter to those users, in exchange for the increased capabilities for being able to launch them off ships/very limited area land strips. I think the only nation that is going to not be launching them off ships is Singapore, which is very restricted in land area.

Yeah, the RN screwed up their requirements such that the new UK carriers aren't actually going to be built for CATOBAR, even though they're supposed to be equipped for, but not with, the facilities to do so.

You speak in the past tense but both are actually in the water now! One of them is working up for her first live deployment.

I personally don't believe that CATOBAR was ever an option on these ships, there are too many clues. One is that both cats and traps are enormous pieces of machinery that need to be integrated with the hull and dissipate enormous amounts of heat, they can't be pasted in afterwards, they have to be designed in from the start. The catapults require steam or electrical power for EMALS, the QE class can't do steam and can't generate that much power. Operating cats and traps needs lots of deck crew, there aren't enough people without growing the RN by a few thousand people all told. And finally keeping pilots current for arrested landings isn't feasible if you want the freedom to embark RAF crews at short notice, who have only used runways. Basically BAe said they could do it as a tickbox exercise in the planning stages, but when the government looked at doing it and switching to F35C, it would have cost as much as rebuilding them both from scratch.

It's not just the US, it's the West in general. Even Germany, look at the Berlin airport boondoggle.

You can see some openly available artifacts of earlier efforts at the more agile approach to highly complex cyberphysical systems with programs like DARPA's Adaptive Vehicle Make (RIP).

Though AVM was killed by sequestrations, the work continued in other programs — and of course there was a lot of learning taken from various unclassified programs to behind the green door, so to speak.

The next-gen bomber program (B-21) as far as I'm aware is also going well. Fast purchase of an a platform intentionally only incrementally more advanced than the current model.

Does it have a human pilot? Any combat aircraft project with a human on board should be stopped. It has no hope of long term parity of a drone controlled airplane without having to cart around meat bags with limited speed and turning power.

Human pilot optional. I would argue that physical humans are not the limiting factor in bomber performance, and the thought of a Kubernetes cluster autonomously flying around with nukes scares the fuck out of me. In addition to the philosophical implications there's also political reasons to go with a hybrid approach.

> the thought of a Kubernetes cluster autonomously flying around with nukes scares the fuck out of me

I get this, but I also wonder if the same kind of bugs or unintended behavior in a software system aren't just as likely in the protocols, procedures, and chains of command we build for humans to deploy that weaponry. You've got AI doomsday (a la "War Games") on one hand, and bureaucratic doomsday ("Doctor Strangelove") on the other.

That may be the case, but I think the "bugs" in humanity are biased towards not using nuclear weapons. I think that's a good thing.

For example it's very possible that a "Should I launch the nukes?" algorithm would've come up with a different answer than Stanislav Petrov did[1]. There's a similar story about US missileers disregarding a glitch in their own command and control system on Okinawa but the authenticity is suspect.

[1]: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1983_Soviet_nuclear_false_al...

The bureaucratic doomsday of Doctor Strangelove happens because the Russians have built their own 'Dead Hand' retaliatory 'AI'.

That's the lynchpin that guarantees Russia will retaliate, but it's Ripper's unchecked moments of control at SAC that set the whole ball rolling, and Slim Pickin's is cowboy-riding that bomb down to the ground whether Russia has an AI or not.

This meme needs to end. It's a damn bomber. The by far biggest problem is that a pilot needs to eat and go to the toilet multiple times during a 20 hour mission and he will be exhausted by the end of the mission.

Repeating the same old "lol quadrocopter go 2000g brrrrrt" meme just makes you look stupid.

> It has no hope of long term parity of a drone controlled airplane without having to cart around meat bags with limited speed and turning power.

It’s a strategic bomber, not a fighter.

I agree with this sentiment for fighter aircraft, but for a stealth bomber carrying thousands of pounds of ordinance, a few human passengers doesn't really matter.

(it's not like these bombers are built to sustain high G forces anyway)

The problem there is if it gets hacked then in the best case it's grounded and in the worst case it's now the enemies aircraft.

And humans can't be hacked?

These airframes will be around for decades. They’ll be retrofit to remove human crew when that becomes a viable option.

> The root of the F-35 program's problems is a cost plus style contract that gave Lockheed every incentive to overrun on cost and time table. Ash Carter fixed that by telling Lockheed if they didn't agree to his new contract he'd kill the entire thing. And oh hey what a surprise suddenly the marginal cost of a new F-35 started hitting the target numbers.

A cost-plus contract is a contributor, but not the root of why the JSF program went astray.

The fundamental flaw of the F-35 is that they tried to make one air frame for 3 very different sets of requirements. By doing so they compromised all three variants yet failed to achieve the cost savings they thought they would get from that approach.

Equally as important is the fact that it was politically engineered to be almost uncancelable. The future of US and allied air power was staked on this one platform so all of the stakeholders had very high motivation to keep pushing on long after it wasn't prudent to do so.

Then there's the fact the DoD and Congress removed some of the normal procurement guard rails to try to shorten the timeline, but also made it more difficult to cancel. "Concurrent development" with the JSF meant that series production began before all testing and evaluation was done. This meant that when problems were found there were costly retrofits. It also means that the multitude of serious shortcomings were found after production had began, making it more difficult to justify stopping the program.

Then consider that production of parts for the F-35 is spread out across over 40 states (I wanna say it was 47). Then there's the part where the DoD allowed the contractor to write a significant portion of the requirements. It's no wonder things went sideways.

> The aircraft itself is apparently excellent at what it does, but that doesn't erase just how much grift was involved in this program for decades.

But that's the problem, it is not excellent at what it does. When you read the DOT&E reports about its mission capabilities there are numerous serious defects and limitations to what the aircraft can do. Granted, some of those issues are getting addressed, but the costs of the program makes it harder to justify.

Ultimately the whole reason for the F-35 to exist was that the high parts commonality and the very high production numbers would save big money on costs. It failed to do that.

I think this sort of self-perpetuating bureaucracy bloat has characterized most post-war weapons development in the Pentagon. The F-16 was an exception and success from what I understand, because of what another poster above refers to as spec management (I presume). i.e. it had a small group of proponents who had both extensive pilot experience and also the engineering/management chops to understand clearly what they wanted aeronautically, and were good at running a "rebel" program within the giant DoD bureaucracy to keep that project coherent and focused...until the very end when it did pick up a bit of bloat when it necessarily was exposed to other parts of the DoD.

I think in order to be successful, they probably have to implement some sort of "small teams" approach; I'd imagine a lot of tech developed for JSF/F-35 can be rapidly rolled into a 5th gen+ fighter without reinventing the wheel...but they'd need to firewall the project into small focused teams who really know what they'd want to build.

You misunderstand the purpose the F35- it is a jobs and pork program first and foremost, like SLS. It has the side benefit of keeping people trained to build this sort of thing, so SpaceX can hire them.

We can build cool shit, but our government and most companies don't optimize for that.

It's more than just a jobs program too. It's a reelection plan for senators/house members.

Look at what states and districts get these big DoD contracts and then look at what committees the congressmen/women are sitting on.

They approve plans that benefit them then direct the funds right into their districts so they can campaign on it.

I mean it's not the worst form of corruption but it's pretty shitty when you realize how our infrastructure and defense is designed around congressional districts instead of what is best for our country.

But imagine if we put people to work building useful stuff instead of useless stuff. Power grid infrastructure, new bridges, new rail lines, etc.

Grid infrastructure and rail lines jump to my mind often in these discussions.

I am reminded how we got existing rail line through much of the U.S. 19th century land acquisition for private parties who built that infrastructure is easy to spin as a travesty. In many cases it was blatant corruption. And the legacy lasts to this day. All of that land and infrastructure is still privately owned.

Fast forward to today. Is it right that the government should build infrastructure to compete with existing private businesses? Should they build and operate grocery stores? Automakers? ISPs? Textile factories?

There used to be some idea that the government should not compete with private industry. That idea is much murkier more recently.

But if you want to build public infrastructure to compete with the likes of Union Pacific, shouldn't you start by nationalizing the likes of Union Pacific?

See also USPS for more interesting examples of public vs private enterprise. Imagine that the USPS contracted local delivery and long-haul transfer. Imagine that a local mom and pop could bid on a local contract. Newspaper delivery bicycle contractors everywhere could double their money for little additional effort. Or FedEx/UPS/Amazon might really sharpen their pencils and win those contracts.

Re: USPS, I’m still waiting to hear the interesting part.

The USPS is legally obligated to deliver mail to every household, 6 days a week. The private carriers don’t come anywhere close to meeting that level of service. Most of the US is incredibly sparsely populated. There won’t be bicycle contractors lining up to deliver mail up the Adirondacks or across the Great Plains.

How would a network of private interests handing off parcels between each other under government regulation deliver better service than a single organization with the problem already solved thanks to 200 years of domain expertise?

This isn't an argument for privatization, but the proposal from the OP are not the same as full an open free market. You still have the USPS responsible for ensuring delivery to the long-tail routes. That just gets bid out (probably at a higher cost that delivery occurs for today). These are the kinds of bids companies like Halliburton take.

I'm not in favor of this approach, either we have a really free market (with some limited regulation for things like anti-fraud) or you have the government manage the service. These public-private partnerships just seem to be grift programs write large. Let's not push for more corporatism. If there is already a private market, then sure, have the government bid for private contracts within that market. Otherwise you have companies whose full-time roles is figure out how to squeeze more money out of government, and they lobby hard to do so, often with much success (at filching taxpayers)

The USPS does not deliver mail to every household. Nor do they deliver universally six days a week.

Where I live, USPS doesn't deliver to any household, but UPS and FedEx do.

But that is beside the point. Any party that contracted with the USPS would be obligated to meet the terms of the contract.

You might be surprised at who lines up to deliver mail up the Adirondacks. One of the virtues of a free market is the amazing ingenuity of entrepreneurs to meet market demand in the most efficient ways. The free market provides the motivation for such ingenuity whereas non-profit single-player monopolies often don't.

But still this misses my interest in this discussion. I think there is an optimum balance for publicly-owned infrastructure and privately-owned service providers. But that balance is not always obvious and usually not stable. I think there is great benefit in continuous discussion of the pros and cons to monitor and adjust how we leverage the strengths of both sides of the equation.

I like the idea of "build more rail lines." But it takes more that four words to make this happen. If you are just trying to replace the pork of military spending, then perhaps the details don't matter. Just trade one corruption for another. Let the power brokers beat each other up clamoring for the money.

But if you're making such radical changes to the redistribution of wealth, why not have some thoughtful discussion that people can reference for the next 100s of years. Who are the Lockes and Keynes of 2021? I know they exist. Let's bring them out in public discussion.

>Fast forward to today. Is it right that the government should build infrastructure to compete with existing private businesses? Should they build and operate grocery stores? Automakers? ISPs? Textile factories?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with building public infrastructure considering in many cases the infrastructure in question would form a natural monopoly. However, car manufacturers, grocers, textile factories have lots of competition. Those markets are very healthy.

American ISPs fail to provide good service even in wealthy locations. Google had to stop their gigabit fiber rollout. That's definitively a failing market where a baseline of service should be provided by governments. Private companies can always provide superior service and charge for it.

But all these companies need a government that does compete with them the moment they stop innovating and start rent seeking, it's really best for them.

USPS does do contracts for transfers and some local routes.

I think this is really insightful. Misallocation of resources is what eventually brings down economies. There are lots of bright people around, but corruption can drain a lot of talent.

Perhaps the problem is that the government has too much of a role in allocating resources in our economy as it stands. Maybe the military-industrial complex had some cool things for the first couple decades of its existence, but as the decades went on, it became a rusty, slower version of its old self as bureaucratic creep and complacency set in. Now it seems hard to disrupt that, like what tends to happen in the non-monopolized private sector.

Lots of us would love to believe this, and yet what does the unrestrained private sector churn out? Ad networks, app addiction, gig economy, throwaway culture, urban sprawl, climate apathy... hardly a winner.

SpaceX is everyone's favourite private sector success story, but they're basically just a younger, leaner version of Lockheed— surviving off of NASA and doing what they're contracted to do.

I don't think the private sector is ever going to do ambitious things like build rail infrastructure all on its own, nor is the current PPP model necessarily the way either, but maybe there is some option out there to get things done which looks like the bakeoff that NASA held with CRS.

> SpaceX is everyone's favourite private sector success story, but they're basically just a younger, leaner version of Lockheed— surviving off of NASA

In 2020, SpaceX did 26 launches. Only six of those had NASA as a customer. The rest were a mix of US military, commercial customers, foreign governments (Argentina and South Korea), and Starlink. Even if you add up NASA and US military, that's still only nine out of 26 with the US government as the customer.

So while no doubt SpaceX does benefit from NASA's business, it is now only a minority.

Sure, and legacy launch providers do business with the private sector also, but none of them could have been bootstrapped without years of unprofitable R&D on the public's dime.

There is no VC who would have accepted a pre-SpaceX pitch for low cost launches, Starlink, or any of the rest of it. It would have been straight up "lol Iridium amirite, get out."

> There is no VC who would have accepted a pre-SpaceX pitch for low cost launches, Starlink, or any of the rest of it. It would have been straight up "lol Iridium amirite, get out."

SpaceX was funded by Elon Musk and later, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Peter Thiel's Founder's Fund. Starlink has been in part funded by a $1 billion investment from Google and Fidelity. And since then further funding rounds have been raised.

The DFJ and Founder's Fund investment was before SpaceX had any substantial NASA development contracts, let along their 2008 $1.6 billion launch contract.

Interesting, though I don't know if any of that really disproves my point. Musk's own money was a self-investment; he didn't need to pitch anyone for that. Jurvetson was involved with Tesla prior, and Thiel was obviously connected through PayPal.

Until the Dragon demo flights in 2012-2013, I think SpaceX would have been hard pressed to raise significant capital from anyone other than Elon's friends. I think the fact that so many private space companies have one or more wealthy benefactors bears this out (Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, Armadillo to a lesser extent).

There's a wide gulf between "only a few people with the right skills and personal connections can bootstrap a space company" and "none of them could have been bootstrapped without years of unprofitable R&D on the public's dime"

The missing bits is that they bootstrapped after a lot of heavy lifting was done on public dime, and then landed a crucial bunch of govt contracts way before first succesful draco launch, the same kind of contracts that the previous private contractors also take.

I'd love to come up with examples as I type this to you from an open source web browser on a smart phone that contains more functionality than $20K worth of equipment did with more processing power than what all of NASA had in the 70s and access to more information than President Reagan had in the 80s and a faster throughput than anyone had in the 90s all hosted on a self made website by a startup platform helped fund and inspire hundreds of successful companies as I wait for my sushi dinner to be delivered to my door and take a break from my telecommute to work to hack out this absent minded response to you, but I'm drawing a blank.

Another Musk inspired project is the hyperloop and of course the Boring tunnels for electric cars. These are novel transportation solutions that solve for the problem in a more creative way than simply "build more light rails". That's the type of stuff a government will never come up with. There needs to be a creative maestro with massive capital. Musks are rare in the world but they certainly can move in a more agile way when they do appear.

I would also argue, telecommuting has solved for some of the transportation problems alone. Think of how many less cars are on the road as a result of work from home.

The thing that's different between Boring/Hyperloop and SpaceX is that SpaceX's entire business case is built on the cost benefit of landing and reusing a rocket, an idea for which the napkin math was obvious and in the end turned out to be extremely feasible but which legacy providers had been unwilling to even try.

Boring/Hyperloop don't have an idea like this. Boring's pitch is using conventional TBMs but making it cheaper by digging a smaller-diameter tunnel than the other guy. Does that meet the requirements? New subway systems are also reducing tunnel diameter by using LRVs instead of heavy rail cars... is there an actual innovation here?

Hyperloop is full of practicality issues, and addresses none of the real problems that are barriers to high speed mass transit projects today— specifically the fights over rights of way and station locations. The fact that it was initially pitched in 2013 as a system for moving around private automobiles should tell you a lot about how much understanding there is of the first principles of transportation— it wasn't until years later that this was acknowledged and corrected [1]. It would be like someone proposing an airline where each plane carries 10 cars instead of 400 passengers ("so convenient, you just drive right on board!")— it doesn't matter how fast the trains are, 840 passengers per hour for a Hyperloop would be a complete nonstarter when a normal subway does 40k/hr.

Maybe Boring/Hyperloop will end up pivoting into something worthwhile, but at the moment there is good reason for skepticism.

[1]: https://www.masstransitmag.com/technology/news/12402366/elon...

> The thing that's different between Boring/Hyperloop and SpaceX is that SpaceX's entire business case is built on the cost benefit of landing and reusing a rocket, an idea for which the napkin math was obvious and in the end turned out to be extremely feasible but which legacy providers had been unwilling to even try.

The cost of reusing a rocket has not been proven to be cheaper than building a new rocket. Consider factors like the inability to reuse the entire rocket, the reduced payload. At best you can break even. Unless you somehow reuse the entire rocket and do 100 flights with the same rocket the savings are meager.

This isn't something new. The space shuttle suffered from the same issues. Building new shuttles was almost the same cost and less risky.

I think it's pretty obvious that the current gen F9s are way more reusable and with way less refurbishment than the Shuttle ever was, even with the disposable second stage. But yeah, there are limitations, which is part of why FH is effectively cancelled in favour of just flying those payloads on a disposable booster.

But now that the basic principle has been proven, really leaning into it is part of the point of Starship— a new clean sheet design that is built for full reusability from the get go.

>Another Musk inspired project is the hyperloop

He just took the 100 year old vac train concept and repackaged it. Back in his original pitch he constantly said and laughed how easy it is. Once the years went by he slowly backed off from every promise and ultimately reduced his involvement to 0.

> of course the Boring tunnels for electric cars.

He promised to make tunnel boring cheaper, yet his only tunnel costs exactly as much as every other tunnel. He constantly advertises 150mph travel when the tunnel isn't even long enough to reach that speed. Have you seen the tunnel? It's so tiny you can't even open your doors if you get stuck in there. If even a single car fire starts in that tunnel everyone in the tunnel will die.

Cars themselves are pretty wasteful in terms of space and the way they rearrange the urban landscape. The concept of the Boring tunnel actually sounds like someone in 1894 wanting better spaces for horse carriages, except even more wasteful in this case.

> SpaceX ... surviving off of NASA and doing what they're contracted to do

Really this is more similar to VC investment where NASA funded it so they could get a return (better launches), but the future is that a probably large percentage of launches will be for commercial purposes (~50% of 2022 launches are for Starlink).

The elephant in the room is that military budget has to keep going up ("support the troops", create jobs and satisfy lobbyists) but there is no good goal to work towards. Great things happened in the 1940s to 70s because there were clear enemies and clear steps to take to gain and keep superiority. Today the US has a military budget three times bigger than that of the next largest spender, and everything necessary to fulfill the current challenges already exists and is in operation. So you spend the rest to prepare for the future, but with no external pressure to do so fast or efficiently.

Boring! How am I supposed to get reelected and campaign contributions without cool dream pictures? Infrastructure is just something you say, Pork is what you do.

Why do you think the current prioritization exists?

The cynic in me thinks it has to do with power projection and the economy.

The less cynical part of me wonders if it’s related to a cognitive bias that over-weights threats from rival “tribes” and the need to ensure stability

Fear of terrorists sells better than fear of ice storms.

Especially for the states (and representatives) that the ice storm is 100 year. Dams fail, and when they fail, they don't affect the people that didn't want to live near a dam.

So is it the “randomness” of terrorism that causes us to overweight the risk?

It seems like we’re just really bad at thinking clearly about low probability / high severity risks

Bruce Schneider article claims people fear terrorism disproportionately to the risk because it is intentional and directed https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/01/the_comparati...

Not only that, it is the whole point of terrorism, to trigger psychological bugs in humans relating to risk assessment.


The directness of terrorism causes us to overweight the risk.

The dam flooding isn't random, its an unfrequent event that will occur so it is something we should prepare for.

I’ve often wondered if it’s a similar incentive misalignment with executives and politicians that helps ignore these low frequency events.

CEOs are graded quarter-to-quarter and politicians every 2-4 years. Low probability events (plane crashes, infrastructure failures, etc.) may not ever happen during their tenure, incentivizing them to defund preparing for them to favor other programs, understanding full well they’re bound to occur

Defence equipment isn’t useless. In the event of war it becomes essential. Spending has to continue on these programmes in peacetime to retain capability.

Failed stealth fighter programs are quite useless.

You actually make a great point, even if the money has to go to defense and not other purposes, it should still be useful for the purpose of defense.

War with Canada or Mexico?

That would be communism, and we can't have that.

The reason why the USA uses the military as a jobs program is that it's the only thing that gets bipartisan support.

Communism does an even worse job of allocating resources.

The point is that having a government jobs program to build infrastructure has absolutely nothing to do with communism.

Communism had a great many failings, but they did allocate a lot of money to infrastructure and science.

But what real communism did isn't even relevant here, I'm pretty sure GP is talking about imaginary communism in the sense that anything that is good for the general population is somehow called communism in US politics.

In any economic system political aspects have a tendency to reduce the information available to consumers and producers. This is often done with laudable intent leading to terrible outcomes. In Soviet Communism the information feedback loop was so disconnected it resembled the theory of an AI "paperclip apocalypse"[1].

From 0:

The Soviet whalers, Berzin wrote, had been sent forth to kill whales for little reason other than to say they had killed them. They were motivated by an obligation to satisfy obscure line items in the five-year plans that drove the Soviet economy, which had been set with little regard for the Soviet Union’s actual demand for whale products.

Whaling, like every other industry in the Soviet Union, was governed by the dictates of the State Planning Committee of the Council of Ministers, a government organ tasked with meting out production targets. In the grand calculus of the country’s planned economy, whaling was considered a satellite of the fishing industry. This meant that the progress of the whaling fleets was measured by the same metric as the fishing fleets: gross product, principally the sheer mass of whales killed.

0. https://psmag.com/social-justice/the-senseless-environment-c...

1. https://voxeu.org/article/ai-and-paperclip-problem

The real solution involves a hybrid system where the government supports a baseline of services. Mostly food, water, shelter, electricity, roads, etc. The private sector's responsibility is to provide superior service above and beyond what the government is doing.

Pure communists think that the government baseline should be enough for everyone, even if it means inferior service.

Pure capitalists think that superior service should be enough for everyone, even if it is unaffordable.

The obvious answer is to find the middle ground and reap the benefits of both.

I personally don't think that the F-35 is falling into that. A jobs program fighter jet doesn't really make sense since it is not a long term investment with a direct return. It's more of an insurance policy against an imaginary foe. Yes, you have jets but unless you use them to conquer land or defend yourself there is no direct return on investment.

>real solution involves a hybrid system where the government supports a baseline of services

As Inread that I think: basic services are too important to miss the feedback loop and become the equivalent of universal low grade government cheese. At the same time, maybe the poor quality of government provided baseline goods and services would incentivize people to attain better, which is an improvement over direct subsidies which act like high marginal taxes when they are reduced in response to income growth. Unfortunately a significant number of basic needs are commodities, such as cheese, and are subject to mismeasure and goal seeking instead of value seeking, similar to the Soviet whaling industry of the 1960s/70s.

The F-35: similar to SLS and Soviet whalers, political considerations are weighted higher than value ones. The F-35 also has the challenge of being developed at a transitional period, in the late morning of a period that will be marked by low observability, human optionality, and high speed and precision impact. The F-35s story isn’t over yet and like other troubled weapons systems there is a lower than likely chance it may blossom like the M-16. It has already passed the Sgt York stage and is in the a state where like the BFV it will find its place within doctrine and eventually battle, or not. I think it is too soon to tell.

If communism allocated resources effectively, communist economies would be powerhouses instead of third-world.

how were those countries economies before communism?

Better in every case. And better after communism ended, in every case.

Look at it another way. Which countries have walls to keep people out? And which have walls to keep people in?

Walls and bullets too, don't forget that. Communists were not shy to kill their own people looking to escape the "wonders" of their system.

Barbed wire on the borders, bullets shot without warning at swimmers trying to cross freezing rivers, then families held hostage and tortured to punish and warn escapees - oh Communism was such an awesome experience, I can only wish it from the bottom of my heart to all its apologists.

Some years back a socialist told me that the Berlin Wall was to keep westerners out of East Berlin. I told him that I'd visited the Wall in 1969, passed through it and had a tour of East Berlin, seen the Wall museum, been on the platforms overlooking the wall, had East German guards wave at me, etc.

In a sense it is both good and bad that the Wall has been erased, people forget what it was like. Nobody should forget.

Nice propaganda there, most post soviet countries still havent recovered. Hell i aint a communist but most of these countries did better under communism if only because the US wasnt there to leech off them

> most of these countries did better under communism

Communists killed local population by millions:



Outside of events like these countries that adopted communism had higher standards of living while they didnt

> Outside of events like these

Crimes against humanity ain’t a minor issue you can ignore. Directly related to communism. Democratic states don’t do that, communist regimes did that a lot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crimes_against_humanity_under_... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_killings_under_communist_...

> had higher standards of living while they didn’t

That’s debatable. Might be true in 1910-1920, but by the end of the last century all communist states with planned economy have failed their economies, catastrophically so, with direct consequences on standards of living. China’s the only exception, were lucky to have smart enough people in power to pivot towards market economy, and execute it relatively well.

I've never heard anyone call free markets communism.

I presume the parent poster is referring to things like housing cost assistance (called Section 8 in the US), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), social security, Medicare/Medicaid government assisted health coverage programs, disability financial assistance programs and other socioeconomic-hardship assistance programs.

Not to mention funding schools, universities, or government research grants.

That's among the things that get called communism or socialism here in the US.

The government providing a product or service is socialism. The public school system certainly qualifies as socialism.

The entire point of a government is to provide services; including but not limited to transport infrastructure, contract dispute settlement (civil courts), protection of life and property (police, criminal justice system, sewers, firefighting, public health, etc.) and education. If all of that is socialism then I don't know a country that isn't socialist. Maybe Somalia in the 90s. Of course words can mean whatever we want, but that definition doesn't sound useful.

> The entire point of a government is to provide services

Of course. That doesn't mean the services it provides aren't socialism. For a country on balance to be socialist, more than have of its goods and services would need to be provided by the government.

> that definition doesn't sound useful.

It's exactly what socialism is:

"a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."

The first definition when googling "definition of socialism". Government is the means by which the community effects socialism.

The entire point of government is to prevent coercion.

Emission trading schemes get called communist plots quite regularly.

It's a market for garbage disposal. How is that not capitalist?

No worse than capitalism does.

That's what "pork" means.

Just to expand on this a bit: "pork" as in "pork barrel": https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pork_barrel

Or "stimulus" if you want to cast positive light on it.

That’s sort of a broken window fallacy. A direct stimulus doesn't take away people’s time and materials producing things that nobody wants.

It's not an accident that you'll find some manufacturer in the F-35's supply chain in basically every US state.

The interesting thing is that it seems to be an unfixable and systemic problem. You could have someone come in and try to clean it up but then they'd face the backlash of the entire system that has been built on and benefited from the corruption.

Exactly... this is in fact the overall problem with the US government. Start by fixing that, and then the smaller systems like military procurement that depend on corruption higher up will become fixable.

How can we create new incentives to discourage this behavior and to encourage infrastructure projects that provide jobs as well as create superlinear value?

The easiest answer is probably public financing of elections.

Because Members of Congress basically need to continuously raise money, there’s always an incentive to spread the wealth among congressional districts.

For the F35, I can think of one company in a rural area who fabricates some metal component for the project. Because of the way it is contracted, acceptance standards, etc they sell it for something like 50x it’s value of you were to order it, and whomever gets the part spends even more to receive it.

Planes are small and have lots of parts, so they suffer more from these issues. We’re still ok at building warships, because you can’t build a shipyard in some coal town in Kentucky.

Public financing would help as a component with corporate lobbyists but pork barrels wouldn't be affected. I use the term with a slight distinction - pork barrels are for parochial voter influnce while an "industrial complex" involves a company's interest in exchange for political benefits. The two may overlap if what helps the company also gets votes in itself. A stereotypical but perhaps unfair example of both (as I am uncertain of actual lobbying in the period) would be Detroit in its heyday - it would have a sizeable base of factory workers locally and large connected auto companies.

The problem of pork barrels is that it gets them votes directly by making things worse for everybody else in exchange for local benefits. Disproportionate representation is what enables it as a tactic or at least makes it more disastrous. Something which serves the interests of 30% of the population is closer to benefitting the whole than one for 3% of the population.

I would agree that it isn't magic. Keep in mind that one man's pork is another's bacon. Pork is part of the political process.

In the modern environment, material pork barrel spending is at the corporate/national level. Most congressional districts due to gerrymandering or demographics are very secure... the era of political machines handing out turkeys is gone.

If the craven corruption around defense contracting was only 80% as wasteful as it is today, you could give every member of congress a substantial slush fund to waste and still save money. Plus you would have working fighter jets that are able to compete with countries like Russia, that has a GDP equivalent to Texas but seems to be able to procure weapons.

We did: pork spending was mostly outlawed in 2011 (the F-35 dates from way before that). But as it turns out, the cure was almost as bad as the disease. Getting rid of pork has accelerated hyper-partisanship and dysfunctional gridlock, because without it there's no incentive to ever try to reach a deal with the other side instead of digging in on no-compromise radicalism to please your base.

I believe you refer to a specific method of appropriations called "earmarks" which are often synonymous with pork barrel spending.


> pork spending was mostly outlawed in 2011

Is there a longer discussion of this that you can link somewhere? I remember the phrase as a derogatory commonplace in adults' political discussion when I was a child, but the concept seems to have drifted out of the discourse since, and having now had my attention drawn to its absence I'd be interested to find out more about why.

There's definitely still pork. I mean, look at how many pet projects were included in Covid relief funding. Pork is the idea of stuffing an unrelated project to benefit your local district or state (and thus, the politician's reelection chances) into a bigger bill that is unrelated to that expense. Like the most famous one was the Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" that would have cost $400 million: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravina_Island_Bridge

That dates to 2005, so you are not really contradicting grandparent's point that this was mostly outlawed in 2011 (and that this has accelerated hyperpartisanship by removing an incentive for compromise).

Grandparent never pointed to what law they were talking about. They just made an offhanded, unverified remark. I also pointed out that a lot superfluous pork was included in Covid funding. "Pork" was never outlawed. It's not even a formally defined thing. If you think politicians can't figure out how to wiggle pet projects into huge multi trillion dollar spending bills then you really ought to tune into C-Span more often.

What pet projects in Covid relief funding are you talking about?


This is the outdated proposal that didn't pass. But the current proposal is double this. I've tried to tune out politics for a while but you can be sure that pork is in a $1.9 trillion spending bill as sure as the sun rises.

OK, thanks for making it clear that you don't know whether the bill contains pork or not.

Plus one state's useful new spending is 49 states' pork, meaning that it's always easy to label anything as being evidence of government waste and corruption. But earmarks served as a useful way for states to get federal involvement in local issues that otherwise would never see the light of day, so their loss not only reduced the ability to get major things done, but also to get even tiny things done.

Earmarks are supposedly coming back this year though.

I don't think it is possible to discourage federal contracts being awarded to the benefit of a particular state. If a state is home to a company with the expertise to complete a project the contract can't just be awarded to a another state that doesn't.

The best we could do is change the way contract funding is performed. Cost-plus pricing without an upper bound is a huge issue. This type of contract encourages bidders to bid low on cost and make up for it with project extensions.

Of course cost-plus is preferred by bidders as they can guarantee a minimum of profit since cost is already covered. However, fixed price contracts are better from the perspective of the government spending. The spend is known up front. It is up to the bidders to determine if they can make a profit or not.

Ideally the government shouldn't care if the bidder is making a profit. It is their duty to spend public funds frugally. Cost-plus makes it impossible to reign in contract spending without terminating the contract.

Yes, a while back I was interested "where does billions we spend on national defense actually go" and I came to the conclusion that the DoD is really just a giant jobs program.

Ultimately I think the reason we don't have things like flying cars is that the private sector gets stuck in local maxima (such as getting people to click ads) and in the public sector it's very hard to have focused time-blocked short term goals.

I keep seeing people say this. Maybe flying cars just don’t make sense? Wheels work really well when your engine dies. Have you seen people drive in 2d space? You want to add a z axis? What’s the efficiency of a small plane? Surely not better than a Prius.

Edit: I looked it up and a Cessna gets ~15 mpg.

The average person does virtually no regular maintenance / checking of their car, even basics like tyre pressures and oil levels not being checked regularly, happy to leave as much as they possibly can for an annual check at the garage. There’s a shocking amount of people also happy to drive around ignoring warning lights flashing.

Imagine that scenario with tons of metal that could fall out of the sky when something fails.

Very soon, cars won't really let you do anything without ID/phone number/paired phone/key serial number, gps lock, a full working complement of vehicle sensors, and a network connection to report all of the above in realtime to people you don't know (who are of course obligated to provide all of that data to military intelligence at any time, without a warrant or probable cause).

There isn't really an issue with that sort of lack-of-maintenance stuff where we're headed. It won't be long until cars either totally refuse to operate in extreme circumstances (due to manufacturer liability), or fall back to some impossible-to-ignore state like Tesla's "limp mode". Tire pressure/oil life being good examples of easily-detectable liability issues that no sane manufacturer would let slide.

The current state of affairs is simply because remote monitoring was expensive/infeasible. Most vehicles today ship with an always-on cellular modem in them.

Even my little 4K pocket gimbal camera won't operate without phoning home to "activate", same for all the drones sold by the same company. Flying cars would be sending telemetry from all local sensor measurements to HQ at pretty much all times.

crushingly depressing, tbh

> There’s a shocking amount of people also happy to drive around ignoring warning lights flashing.

...or can't afford the basic maintenance

In other words, can't afford to own/operate a car.

Note, that's not a put down on said people. I think it's a shame such situations exist. But, if you can't afford to pay for insurance/gas/maintenance, then you can't afford the vehicle.

But, regarding flying cars: I absolutely do not want more people operating airborne spinny death machines capable of destroying considering we've already established many people don't/can't perform basic maintenance on a much simpler and safer mode of transportation. It wouldn't go well.

> In other words, can't afford to own/operate a car.

Or they know it isn’t worth fixing.

I had an engine light on for about 20000km, and sold the vehicle like that, because it wasn’t worth fixing. One competent mechanic talked me into trying to fix it before I tried to sell it, and that wasted $1000.

Another friend had an engine light on, and the workshop said that happened with that model sometimes and it wasn’t worth fixing.

Both of us could afford to fix the vehicles. That said, if an oil light comes on I stop the vehicle immediately.

That’s a dangerous mindset unless you’re actively pulling the check engine codes daily or more frequently. That one light represents many possible codes, and in all cars I’ve seen it’s on or off instead of, say, on and brighter.

The check engine light is a UI problem. LCDs are cheap now, it should be able to display the real problem. At least with a numeric code on the panel that you can look up in the owner's manual.

Where exactly do you live? In the US it's not common to have more than an aesthetic checkover of a car during inspection. There's not necessarily any reason to clear those lights, and in general you can avoid fixing relatively expensive things that do not prevent the car from running outright.

Contrast to my understanding of Germany's system, where your car must be aesthetically pleasing to the inspector.

Im confused. Most US states if not all require emissions testing at each inspection. Break lights or engine lights are automatic fails. Suffucient tire tred, working wipers etc.

I've never heard of an engine light being a fail, even with emissions test. You could still pass despite whatever the dash says.

But, what some people have been talking about makes sense now. If you get a bad manufacturer who lights up the dash for everything then they're forcing you to spend money.

The number of people who need cars to survive is far greater than the number of people who can afford to fix every nuisance fault. So long as it can keep rolling and comply with whatever minimum safety requirements actually get enforced, people will run it.

Except for lots of people cars are also necessary

> Imagine that scenario with tons of metal that could fall out of the sky when something fails.

Hmm, this has different meaning with last weekends context of an engine cover hitting a yard.

I would look at flying cars are a metaphor, not as a literal thing people are opining over.

Indeed. In a conversation about being insufficiently thoughtful in deciding what you really want to build, flying cars are an excellent metaphor.

> Maybe flying cars just don’t make sense?

I think it's just a placeholder metaphor to represent <hypothetical futuristic "thing" that increases our quality of life as a society>

But also, the fact that it was impractical is itself a metaphor -- it turns out many of the things they thought would be cool and futuristic were actually impractical when you get to the details.

Sure, but that's besides the point. It's sort of like that meme about "The World If <my pet policy was implemented>" (example: https://i.kym-cdn.com/photos/images/original/001/394/070/7f2...). It features over the top flying cars and infrastructure because it's trying to make a point.

When one says "we could have had flying cars, but instead we got X", that's the underlying concept. Whether or not the flying car is "practical" is kind of besides the point. Either that, or we need to find some other generally agreed upon term to represent an actually practical but futuristic invention that represents human progress (or the lack thereof).

>"The World If <my pet policy was implemented>">"The World If <my pet policy was implemented>"


Well, we would get cheap energy storage and cheap energy. No promises of a superior future, just a cheaper future.

I suggest "we could have had an all-nuclear grid."

The maths are about right for MPG. Time is what you (might) save. I'll get around that at cruise - 135kts or 155mph @ ~ 10gal/hour. Better fuel usage if you slow down a bit. Tempted to say if you slowed down to max Prius speeds on the autoban, the C182 might be more fuel efficient. I'm sure it gets 50mpg at 75mph, but doubt it gets that at 109mph.

While I generally agree I do not think they meant it literally in this case.

You ever fly over a mountain? It saves a lot of time.

Developed countries tend to build tunnels for lengthy mountain routes for which there is serious demand, so there is less a case for flying cars here.

Here in Norway we have a lot of fjords with small communities all over. The roads are narrow, twisty and often at high risk of falling rocks[1].

Due to the many roads and relatively few people using a lot of these high-risk roads, maybe flying cars would be a more cost-effective option here... would possibly also reduce the need for expensive ferries[2].

[1]: https://www.nrk.no/vestland/ras-i-roldal-isolerer-ti-fastboe...

[2]: https://www.nrk.no/nordland/bjornar-skjaeran-i-arbeiderparti...

Top Gear did a race from Italy to the UK. Clarkson driving a Bugatti Veyron, Hammond and May flying in a Cessna 182. They couldn't fly over the mountains, and May wasn't qualified to fly at night. It didn't save a lot of time.


Not sure which bits you could cut with a flying car - the safety checks, air traffic control involvement, runways, refuelling stop, qualifications/licenses, but it would have to be a lot to make a large difference.

I can drive from Como to Lugano in Switzerland in 30 minutes.

I guess the Alps are not a big issue.

The reason you don't get flying cars, is the very same, you cant make a lot of other technology. People will want to invent the flying car parking house. And they kind of did - on the 11 of September 2001. You can not hand technology over a certain level to a infantile (nicer sound then retarded) species. Its that simple.

Its already madness to allow wealthy citizens into space. Tesla and Amazon are one freight flight to space, filled with tungsten rods, away from becoming there own nation - with non-nuclear deterrence. That somebody - whoever it is, out there is getting humankinds tech progress to a grinding halt, is a blessing in disguise. We actually do not even get a honest discussion about the risks on this path.

Problem is though, we always scienced our way out of our problems with our volatile nature. Tap some energy here, create some fertilizer there, oversupply solves the problems we do not want to solve. Exponential supply for exponential unchecked demand.

Enter social tech- in theory we could limit ourselves, could curb our demands, could become starving monks in the desert, hypnotized by coloured lights playing across enchanted stones. This seems to be the road we need to take, for the other road to be traverse-able.

I think you meant to say “tungsten rods”, rather than titanium. the composition of the drop weapons doesn’t change the gist though.

Titanium is used in airframes for its strength to weight ratio (it’s not very dense). Tungsten is used in weapons for its high hardness and density.

I stand corrected.

Ok, you head on out to the desert, we'll be right behind you... promise.

I do not get it- why is exponential powerful tech, such a serious matter if somebody wants a nuke (Iran, North-Korea) or even just proliferate per-existing ones, considered a serious issue. But once a entity with clear interests in venturing outside the sphere of law (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standard_Oil#Breakup) and the monetary/organizational power to acquire such tech, ventures towards something similar classifiable, such a threat is a joking matter?

Also if you stream a movie tonight, like millions others, who just have a roof, food and a flickering screen that sand in the dessert might be very fine integrated - and already have gotten everywhere. So nobody is asking you or me, might as well discuss the scenarios.

OK, SpaceX applies to launch an orbital bombardment cannon and launch approval is denied. That was a good day, next.

OK, SpaceX ignores the denial and launches anyway. Elon Musk threatens to destroy Washington DC to gain independence for ... some territory somewhere. Unclear where, or why he'd want that since he already has enormous wealth and influence and doesn't need to run his own military to keep it. The United States arrests Elon Musk and seizes all of SpaceX with overwhelming military might. The end.

Is that really as threatening as North Korea developing nuclear weapons?

> Its already madness to allow wealthy citizens into space.


> filled with tungsten rods, away from becoming there own nation - with non-nuclear deterrence.

In WW1, they tried dropping flechettes onto troops. Didn't work.

As for becoming a nation, that's hardly going to work without the launch/recovery site being part of that nation.

I doubt the ability to lift enough of them into orbit to make a difference.

>"...This seems to be the road we need to take..."

We who? You are more than welcome to starve in a desert. Just do not count on any companionship.

It's White Collar Welfare. As long as your semi-intelligent, college educated, and socially connected, you can easily get a DoD-related job.

Also, we don't have flying cars because that would be ridiculously impractical. They would be essentially helicopters, which would drink gas and be exponentially more deadly to operate.

There are lots of scientist and inventors around inventing cool new stuff. And there's plenty of research dollars available to anyone with a Ph.D and some grant writing abilities. It's absolutely possible to make a good career out of being an inventor and getting a government to flip the bill on it.

The issue is that we've reach the point in society where technological progress in incremental. Instead of three guys inventing a revolutionary device like the transistor, we have thousands of people working on making marginal improvements to battery chemistry.

Every industry is like that now. Something like four guys entirely designed the original small block Chevy motor, but today, GM has like 400 people designing just fuel system components for the ancestor of that engine. Innovation, it seems, is O(n^2).

This is studied by economists! "Growth is slowing down at the same time as we’re spending ever more money on research and development. So what that tells us is it’s just taking more and more dollars of R&D to increase growth, or to increase output, to keep growth at a reasonable rate. And the only way to tie these together is it’s just getting harder and harder to find new ideas."


> And there's plenty of research dollars available to anyone with a Ph.D and some grant writing abilities

Do tell.

NIH paylines (i.e., the percentage of grants funded) are in the teens, with some institutes at/near single digits. NSF is a bit better, but the awards are much smaller. I don't think DARPA, CDMRP, (etc) have explicit Paylines, but the programs are very competitive as well.

This isn't entirely true. The US subsidizes military costs for all of our allies. It costs a lot, and a huge amount of funds go to that.

There are parts that are like jobs programs, and the contractors intentionally drive up costs as part of their business model, but there are also real expenses to maintaining stability across the parts of the world where our military operates.

>>> The US subsidizes military costs for all of our allies.

Speaking as one of those allies... not really. Often times US allies spend money they really don't want to in order to keep the US happy. Canada and the UK probably wouldn't have invaded Afghanistan if not for their obligations as US allies. That certainly wasn't cheap. Canada is soon to replace its fighter fleet. Will it buy to cheaper Saab Grippen? Or will it feel obligated to buy the 35, a US program that Canada has paid into (aka subsidized) for many years without actually receiving any aircraft?

This argument would be more persuasive if more countries actually met their recommended NATO spend. In reality it doesn't hold up to scrutiny.

Take for instance Germany. The federal republic increased their spend to $63.8b last year but that's still a shortfall of ~$27b relative to what a 2% spend would be.

Aggressive estimates (above official estimates) of the UK's (a similar sized ally) spending on Afghanistan in 2011m put the total figure at $26b for 10 years.

The cumulative shortfall in NATO contributions for Germany over that period is more than 10 times greater than the entire invasion and continued operations in Afghanistan during that period.

(edit: grammar and dollar signs)

And that argument would be more persuasive if so much NATO spend wasn't funnelled back to the US in both direct and indirect ways.

The UK has Trident and was supposed to be buying F-35s. A number of UK military and civilian aerospace projects were either cancelled (various examples) or crippled commercially (Concorde) because of US interference.

The Afghanistan and Iraq misadventures are still causing significant political costs across Europe. Meanwhile the US has failed to protect the EU against some obvious and immediate threats, including political interference. (Although to be fair it hasn't even protected itself - which is a different problem.)

In any case - the US really isn't a credible victim of exploitation in any of this.

The "recommended NATO spend" is just another way the US is costing its allies money. Sure, in 2019 Germany only spent $50bn (1.3% of GDP). But if the hypothetical enemy is Russia with a military budget of $65bn, then what's the point of spending $80bn? Especially if you are in a treaty that ensures you don't have to defend yourself alone.

The U.S. has no interest in NATO beyond keeping Europe free. Don't think for a second Russia wouldn't pull a Crimea in the Baltics or Poland if NATO were dissolved. And then what, the European Parliament will suddenly get its act together and figure out how to counteract a superpower? Any attempt to do so will last precisely as long as it takes Russia to shut down energy supplies to Germany.

That’s a bit of a stretch... shutting down energy supplies to Central/Western Europe would cost Russia more than it would Germany considering that energy exports are 70% of their total exports and generate over 50% of budget revenue.

Besides there are no good reasons for Russia to occupy the baltic states (or atleast the cost would considerably outweigh anything they might gain from it). Subsidizing Crimea is already very expensive and controlling the baltics (no even speaking about Poland) would cost considerably more (both due to lost income and because they’d have to dedicate considerable resources policing the local populations which (unlike Crimea) don’t want them to be there)

It may be a stretch that Russia has no good reason to occupy the Baltic states, but maybe not. The reason to occupy Eastern Ukraine was that a lot of Russians live there. Guess where else a lot of Russian live.

Even if you don't take the threat seriously it is obvious that other neutral states do: https://www.reuters.com/article/sweden-nato-idUSKBN28J1UL

I think you are probably right. But this is the kind of thing where being wrong is potentially catastrophic. And the world can change faster than you can adjust your defense posture.

By "keeping Europe free" you must mean maintaining the primacy of the United States and her allies in the planetary trade federation?

Note that I did not mention germany, rather the US and canada, while the OP said "all of our allies". No two countries are ever the same. And NATO /= USA. There are lots of other organizations which would quality a country as an "ally" of the US other than NATO. Canada and the UK are linked to the US through numerous other organizations (eg NORAD).

Canada's defence spend last year was $22.2b

As they only met 1.31% of their 2% spend (which would be $37.5b) the shortfall is ~$15.3b annually.

Still sounds like a bargain.

Why do you think Germany is looking at the F/A-18 to replace parts of their aging Tornado fleet?

Because the Eurofighter can't carry the nuclear bombs that the US has stationed in Germany, and Germany wants to be the one providing the pilots and aircraft that deliver them.

Also the Eurofighter has no decent and built jamming setup compared to the EA-18

And because the US, needed to certify the free falling nuclear bombs on aircraft, signaled that this certification would take way longer on non US aircraft.

Which is, more or less, the main reason.

EDIT: I think the F/A-18 is a great choice and one hell of a plane. The other options, a potentially obsolete F-15 and a maybe delivered in time F-35 aren't that great.

Read more about petro-dollar scheme. Basically US provides military services to oil producers in exchange for global tax. This is only possible if US is able to retain their military position. So every dollar you think is being subsidized to allied countries is in fact paid back with lots of premium from all countries - both allies and enemies.

You do know the US is now the world's #1 oil producer (and food producer).

Petro-dollar is not about US dependences on oil producers. It is the other way. It is about forcing all countries to using dollars to buy oil. This allows the US to sell dollars and charge for this in various ways. On the other hand it requires the US to keep military control of oil logistics. The advatege for allied oil producers it that they can trade oil more easily. You know - transferring billions of dollars over international sea in the form of oil requires a lot of support from military just to make it happen.

The "petrodollar" is just an urban myth verging on a conspiracy theory when talking about Iraq, the fact that oil is priced in dollars (and it isn't always) doesn't mean countries need to have dollars to buy oil, it's just a convenient and stable unit of account. You can use Euros to buy oil priced in dollars in the same way you can use Bitcoin to buy drugs priced in dollars.

> Basically US provides military services to oil producers in exchange for global tax. This is only possible if US is able to retain their military position.

this is just not how economics works at all

The foreign military aid is also a jobs program.

It gives money to US manufacturers by giving money to other countries that they have to use to buy US products.

The justification for foreign aid to Israel is always pretty much “but it’s OK because most of it comes back to us via arms sales”. Essentially billions of dollars of American taxpayer wealth transferred to defense contractors laundered through the IDF.

Israel stops Iran from blowing up or conquering the entire Middle East. Also, military intelligence. Also, the military industry is probably more beneficial to the US by being based there rather than being outsourced to China. I think the tax money given to weapons manufactures is paid back in double by tax. Also, you wouldn't want to fight wars with allies in Chinese planes. Hope this answers your concerns.

> Israel stops Iran from blowing up or conquering the entire Middle East.

The propaganda poster you paint here is dubious.

Have you ever looked at a map? Sunni majority nations KSA, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkiye probably have a lot more to do with it than Israel.

Having been to every middle eastern / near eastern / Balkan / North African nation except Libya, I’m not too afraid of Iran.

Iranians have always treated me better than Israelis or myy my fellow Americans have, even after finding out I’m a queer atheist.

-I’m not too afraid of Iran.

I am. They have sworn to destroy Israel and America. They are developing nuclear weapons to do so. They are funding proxy wars throught the Middle East. They are trying to gain control over syria, iraq, yemen etc. The irgc is probably the best funded terrorist organization in the world https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/ . I'm afraid of Iran.

KSA, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkiye probably have a lot more to do with it than Israel.

Depends what you look for. Most visible, front- line opposition, certainly. But who does all the high profile bombing and intelligence raids and computer hacking? I think it's Israel.

-Iranians have always treated me better than Israelis or myy my fellow Americans have.

That's fine! I'm not asking you to hate Iranians, and i'm also not asking you to love Israelis.

What i am asking you is to recognize that Iran is a global threat to peace and that Israel can offer the best answer. I think that's true.

> They are funding proxy wars throught the Middle East.

Would it be more honorable if they just invaded countries in the Middle East instead, the way the US does? Of course the US is funding proxy wars as well.

If a beligerant and much more powerful country came across the Atlantic and invaded Mexico and Canada, I know I would want some nukes as a deterrant.

Iran couldn't even defeat Iraq during their brutal eight year conflict. Even if Iran wanted to take over the ME, there is zero chance they would be able to.

>If a beligerant and much more powerful country came across the Atlantic and invaded Mexico and Canada, I know I would want some nukes as a deterrant.

Where is your belligerant nation? Not Israel surely. Iran was fine with israel before some terrorist inciters hijacked the country.

I assumed the implication would be clear from the analogy.

In the last 20 years the US has invaded two of Iran's neighbors, Iraq to the west, and Afghanistan to the east.


The parent comment is fine because it adheres to the site guidelines. The problem with your comments is that you've been breaking those guidelines. I don't think it's so hard to see the difference? Please use HN as intended or, if you don't want to, please don't post. We're trying for one type of site here and not another.


The only difference is Marshmallow ultra-zionist claim that Iran was the belligerent dangerous nation trying to “take over the entire region” in contrast to my far more reasonable argument that the only nation in this skirmish whom has done that is the good ol’ US of A.

Racist anti-Iranian propaganda is almost never moderated whereas anything pointing out the reality of the Iranian situation is flagged or down voted to hell.

You wield the site guidelines in bad faith when it comes to Iran.

You're reading too much into how we moderate this place. It's shallower than that. Certainly it isn't based on views about, of all things, Iran.

It sounds as if you may be assuming that it's enough to have a correct opinion. That's not enough. People who have correct opinions (or feel that they do) often believe that their correct opinion entitles them to post as destructively as they please. After all, they're right and their cause is righteous, so what else matters? The answer is that protecting the commons also matters. An internet forum may be a trivial thing, far less important than the fate of a country—nevertheless, those who participate here are responsible for taking care of it. What good does it do the people of Iran, or anyone, if this place goes down in flames?

> Racist anti-Iranian propaganda is almost never moderated whereas anything pointing out the reality of the Iranian situation is flagged or down voted to hell.

Most people who feel strongly about a topic feel that both the moderators and the community are biased against them on the topic. Those perceptions aren't reliable—they're conditioned by distorting factors, such as the tendency to put much greater weight on the posts one dislikes. We don't moderate comments about Iran in any particular way.


Some posts that ought to be moderated don't get moderated, but that's because we don't come close to seeing everything that gets posted here. When people run into an egregious post on a topic that they feel strongly about, they tend to assume that we left it unmoderated on purpose, and jump (inaccurately) to the belief that we must tacitly agree with it. The likelier explanation is that we just didn't see it. Anyone can help with that by flagging the post or by emailing us at hn@ycombinator.com.



Would you please stop posting flamewar comments to HN and using the site for political and/or ideological and/nationalistic battle? It's not what this place is for, and it destroys what it is for. You've been doing a lot of it, unfortunately.

Just to be clear, I'm not disagreeing with your interpretation of Iranian history. I'm talking about a repeated pattern of breaking the site guidelines, which is not cool. We ban accounts that do that—we have to, because otherwise everyone starts flaming everyone and soon this place burns to a crisp.

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit of the site more to heart, we'd be grateful. The intended spirit is thoughtful, curious conversation.


We really don't give a shit about that (though I hear you about raspberry pi, and it's refreshing that you didn't say Rust). We're just trying to have an internet forum that doesn't suck, or at least to stave off collapse for a little longer.



What is Saudi Arabia doing in Yemen then? Or what has Pakistan done in Afghanistan? Why single out Iran?

> They are funding proxy wars throught the Middle East.

America is funding proxy wars throughout the midde east too.

> What i am asking you is to recognize that Iran is a global threat to peace and that Israel can offer the best answer. I think that's true.

We are at war with eastasia. We have always been at war with eastasia.

Sorry bro, I don’t subscribe to trumpism, zionism or americanism. No nation is more of a global threat to peace than the usa.

> I think the tax money given to weapons manufactures is paid back in double by tax.

Broken windows fallacy.

The irony is that this is why foreign aid never works. It's mostly spent on weapons and if there is no foe the government can just use the weapons to suppress its own population and thus ask for even more foreign aid.

Developed nations don't care because their defense contractors get the money.

I think that's the benefit gained from the very rich, whether 18th century lords or modern billionaires - they can get us out of those local maxima. I'm thinking of people like Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir humphrey davies, and Elon musk.

We already have flying cars. They're called helicopters. They're very expensive to operate, mainly because of the very high maintenance costs. Those high costs are due to the fundamental problem that helicopters cannot survive losing a blade.

blades are too expensive. We need a powerful new powerplant that can direct a stream of deficient energy in sufficient quantities to enable flight. Powerplant doesn't yet exist, and my energy converter doesn't, either. In the 50's it wasn't imagined that commanding computers would use so many resources, rather human ingenuity would be directed towards revolutionising existing technology. This is yet to materialise. Sad

"directed energy stream of sufficient quantity" sounds like a jet engine, which exists.

if you're proposing something more powerful than that... that sounds like a fantastic weapon. Someone get the Pentagon on the horn, let's get this shit funded!

With apologies to Larry Niven: "A reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive."

steam engines were replaced by oil, and then, the rulebook was rewritten when jets were invented. That was 80 years ago. Jets are old. We need to minimise the moving parts. To do so we need to increase the density of stored energy so more can be used. The answer is atoms. Not old fashioned uranium atoms, but fresh, new fusion reactors. They shall create not heat, but clean electricity. It is long overdue. Even professor calculus knew that the best way to get tintin to the moon was by using nuclear energy. We need to reinvent the plane, not make a better version.

A solid fuel rocket engine has no moving parts.

we need an blinding flash of technological innovation to illuminate this century, not dissimilar to last centurys mushroom cloud.

You mean graphene...?

We have this, it's called the F35 (Also AV8B in previous years). See the article in this thread however :P

Absolutely a giant jobs program, but, as importantly, it's a conservative-friendly jobs program.

Republicans (nominally) care about spending, but make an exception for defense. Democrats care less about spending, and are afraid of being attacked for being "weak on defense".

Neither party has any incentive to rein this sort of spending in, so they don't.

A flying car is the wrong solution. It’s equivalent to building a faster, much more dangerous horse.

The problem is:

1. People need to commute large distances

2. People need to go fast

It can be better solved by removing the majority of commutes and using very fast, efficient, underground mass transport systems to move people when they (rarely) need it.

I’d rather cities and VR were redesigned so the average person doesn’t usually need to go more than 5 kilometers in any direction on a given day.

More than that, thr SR-71 was purpose-built. That means fewer hands on thr steering wheel, and fewer compromises to achieve multiple missions.

The F-35, by comparison, was a platform vehicle, with the base suited to adapting to a variety of capabilities and missions. That means more voices demanding priority of features, more expensive engineering to get a variety of polygon pegs into the same round hole, and many first-of-its-kind features for a variety of ancillary tasks.

No real surprise that it didn't work out.

> The F-35, by comparison, was a platform vehicle, with the base suited to adapting to a variety of capabilities and missions. That means more voices demanding priority of features, more expensive engineering to get a variety of polygon pegs into the same round hole, and many first-of-its-kind features for a variety of ancillary tasks.

> No real surprise that it didn't work out.

For a humorous presentation of this, watch the movie Pentagon Wars:


That movie was wonderful. Highly recommend watching it if you haven't.

>> More than that, thr SR-71 was purpose-built.

Not really. The SR-71 was the final plane of an extended program called OXCART which created the A-12. The program was nominally to replace the U2, but even oxcart was within a large aircraft design plan. There was even a interceptor (YF-12) that was meant for shooting down Valkyrie-class mach3+ bombers. These aircraft were very similar to the 71, so similar that most people seeing them might not spot any difference. Any assessment of the 71's development costs is therefore very difficult.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_YF-12 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_A-12

"YF-12C: Fictitious designation for an SR-71 provided to NASA for flight testing. The YF-12 designation was used to keep SR-71 information out of the public domain."

I am always reminded of this scene HBO movie The Pentagon wars when I read about the F-35.


Exactly this. Hyper specialized boundary pushing things are easy compared to general purpose good for everything projects.

The basic concept isn't even a terrible one. It was a reaction to the many functionally-overlapping aircraft that the various service branches were having designed and built. But it seems clear at this point that the F-35 tried to be too general purpose.

Our vaccine effort is a perfect example of this. We got heroic, efficient results in developing vaccines because the requirements were so clear.

Distribution is much, much harder!

AND, the problem with F-35, as stated directly in the article, was not that we CANNOT build cool things, its that we didn't need something too fancy, and it became too fancy through add-ins that were not slated as requirements.

Yeah it was "design by (military) committee" turned to 11

I'm surprised it got off the drawing boards

This is a fun talking point, but the reality is more complex. The fact that jobs and multi-state payouts are leveraged to ensure programs have political staying power does not mean that the whole shebang is just a corporate / political handout.

It just seems to be what people say when these programs fail, but I don't hear this said about programs that have succeeded.

> This is a fun talking point, but the reality is more complex

Not for this project.

> We can build cool shit, but our government and most companies don't optimize for that.

ARPA was always kind of a jobs program, but nonetheless it created the internet at the same time as NASA was putting a man on the moon, the government was successfully building the interstate highways and Bell Labs was Bell Labs instead of whatever it is now.

Today we get the F-35 and the Big Dig and whatever other money furnace du jour that consumes more resources than the space race but has yet to put a single human on Mars or make fusion work or cure cancer or whatever else things it could have done but hasn't.

Something's different.

Fusion in particular has never been funded in line with project requirements, we are significantly below projecting "fusion never" levels and that's exactly what we've gotten.


So it's different from those other projects.

don't worry it just needs war to get there things going. Warfare drives all innovation. I can't think of anything major last century that wasn't developed for military uses. I think we will get another infusion of war in about 18 years when China will start blowing everyone out of antarctica. Government will carry on pretending to care about environment and proceed to release vast amounts of carbon in the South Pole. It's an entirely predictable conflict, yet only China will be partly prepared.

-The Prophecy of The Thirteenth Marshmallow

The pieces on the wargame board are going in place for a round one canceling out of 2B+ population between India, China and expect the thermal nuclear exchange to melt the snow on the high altitude mountainous region keeping them apart.

...a jobs and pork program first and foremost, like...

...everything in USA military.

Have we won a war in your parents' lifetimes? Have any of our many military misadventures accomplished any of the goals cited as justification? Has anyone in the Pentagon ever been fired for spending too much money? Does the Pentagon even have any idea what it spends on what?

(The answer to all these questions is "no".)

Fun fact, the DoD is the largest employer on the entire planet. 2.91 million total employees.

That doesn’t count the nearly 400k employed by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs

Last I heard it's at 3.2 Million.

Holy shit.

Exactly, the US defence industry is a politically acceptable version of a welfare state

>> We can build cool shit, but our government and most companies don't optimize for that.

I don't think they know how. They want cool shit too. Imagine a pork project that also produces cool shit - they would love that.

And it isn’t just a domestic jobs program. Countries that agreed to buy the F35 were rewarded with subcontract work. There are at least a dozen partner countries.

I have always assumed this and the $500 toilet seats are just making room for black projects. There were no publicly visible budgets for the U2/F117 projects.

I had a friend who, many years ago, got a military contract to manufacture an item. I jokingly asked him if he was competing with $1200 hammers and $500 toilet seats and his response was "if you had any idea how much paperwork and red tape is involved in doing anything with the government you'd say that the $500 toilet seat was under-priced and the contractor probably lost money on every one."

My dad was involved in military aircraft purchasing.

It was very tricky to avoid getting in trouble.

Putting stuff out to bid was the main thing he managed. When possible he just went with previous winners as it cut down the paperwork needed.

Lot of times someone would come in really low on the bid, he knew the people and that it would be crap product. So lots of work to get higher bids approved.

Also apparently if you get a ride in the company limousine, the drivers have tons of juicy gossip.

In some places the cost to do a govt deal can be many multiplates easily (and totally justified) normal cost.

The hammer is not actually $1,200. The paperwork can easily be.

Do you have McBride Principles stuff done and documented? Have you trained your staff on McBride principles if they might purchase supplies, documented it and maintained proper documentation (this is about something in Northern Ireland which has very little to do with buying snacks for a kids program). Repeat x100. Where I am the ethnicity / race / national origin stuff is huge, and the different agencies don't have a common set of labels. So you are stuck asking everyone very personal questions even they don't understand. I mean, for ethnicity you are one thing, for race there is another set of labels, so you have to ask them the same race question 4 times under each random set of labels that are being used, for national origin another set etc.

The actual quality of your hammer? Never tested. The details on the paperwork - lots of folks looking and nitpicking. Some of this just starts as a resolution at some level, that gets added on and added on over and over. So some politician will say McBride principles are great. 2 years later a contract analyst or internal auditor asks, how are we documenting / demonstrating compliance with this requirement. They then push their vendors to train staff involved in purchasing on the principles. Then they want documentation of that training. Each one in isolation is a small waste, but at scale it's a monumental waste.

What's even funnier, stuff stays forever. There are requirements in contracts to hand out old IRS forms (W-5) for Advance EITC - that program is long gone, but you still have to hand out the forms - and tell staff that if they fill them out and submit them nothing will happen. Sure builds staff faith in govt efficiency.

You can't even argue this stuff, I used to try and it's a brick wall.

I can't stand it, but if you can push paper and have some political pull it's a gravy train, because cost / quality is so low on the basis of selection list. This tends to attract the wrong type of company (ie, scammers get a lot further than they should, and companies delivering good product don't).

that's my experience too.

Basically it's the same PITA when it comes to getting things countersigned, approved etc. for spending $200 in parts as it is for spending $2000 in parts. So might as well order in bulk.

I don't know about hammers but I don't know who on earth is willing to pay this much on a manual crimping tool other than governments looking for certified tools.


At this price point one would assume that you are buying a crimping machine.

Also the Air Force admitting it is a failure proves nothing, since the reason it’s a mess is because the US Govt were trying to make one airframe for many customers, weren’t they? One customer, even one collaborator, being upset doesn’t mean the program has admitted anything.

it was money wasted that could have been spent on a lot of other more useful things.

And you still get the military benefits from that. Like the value of Starlink for military operations is huge.

Maybe someone with more industry knowledge or interesting sources can corroborate --

But I believe that one of the things that happened to the military aviation industrial complex was that in the WW2, early Cold War era, planes and military development programs were very much driven by individuals or very small teams responsible for designing the requirements, overseeing the planning, and the outcome of new aircraft. That was how you got such distinctive (and long lasting designs) that served well the needs of the military, even in use up to today. Let's call it (using today's fashionable term, "passion" about the aircraft, and unwillingness to put out a piece of crap.) You could name who was responsible for an aircraft design.

But in the 1970s, 1980s, something happened where the size of projects or the professionalization of military projects caused them to have distributed (read, lack of) ownership by very critical people, and instead by an anonymous/dispersed "committee style" management. Also, the experts within the military often left for better pastures at the contractors (NG, LM, etc).

Add to that the requirement (by Congress, regulation) that you couldn't just use your expert / private connections to other experts to "get things done" and bring in contractors who had expertise, and instead had to farm out RFPs to every company, get their bland input, and fill out a heat map of who did what best, and cobble together a solution "mutually acceptable to all stakeholders".

So no longer was an aircraft project owned by someone who had very certain opinions about what was needed, and not needed, and who something should be designed for. But instead, projects follow a certain recipe, hoping that form produces function, yet not actually produce useful output because of what happens when you lack ownership. You cannot today name who is responsible for an aircraft design (I would say). It is the metaphorical side project among many, of a large dispersed group of people.

It seems to me something was missed in the migration to this new method of working.

But as I said, I would love to hear corroborating observations about whether this was a major factor.

At least three things happened:

- congressional oversight increased, with the result that the purchasing authority is no longer generally the end user. We aren’t just buying a ship (plane, gun, etc.), we’re maintaining a logistics and manufacturing industrial base to produce that type of item (and maintain jobs in congressional districts). So maybe we should buy a few more tanks/ships/bombs than we need so that we don’t forget how. (A bit dubious, but it’s one of the reasons we make the funding decisions we do.)

- risk tolerance shrank. Especially in war time there was a high tolerance for risk if the payoff was big enough. These days our risk tolerance is basically zero. I once had to get an admiral to sign off on a risk hazard assessment with an estimated likelihood of ~1e-18 (you’re more likely to win the powerball jackpot twice). There was a cap that might pop off an item at high speed during flight, and if it hit someone they would probably miss a day of work. By the likelihood/consequence framework for risk management, that meant it required an admiral’s signature. You can’t move fast in an environment like that.

- complexity increased. Old schools systems like a WW2 jeep were designed and prototyped in 40 days because they were incredibly simple and made liberal use of COTS parts. There’s an argument to be made that maybe we don’t need such complex systems to meet requirements, but I don’t think anyone is arguing that we should be replacing all the F-35 fleet with a WW2-style aircraft. (Although there have been proposals to build super-simple aircraft for CAS missions, etc.)

> - risk tolerance shrank.

There's a lot of truth here and it plays out in even more ways than that. I look back through documentation of legacy systems and see so many things designed based on "engineering judgement". Sizing for that bearing? Engineering judgement. Thickness of other minor structure? Engineering judgement.

Now, the load on every little thing requires a 50 page engineering calculation report with figures, charts, and tables, that takes 3 months to prepare and another month to get reviewed by everyone. The littlest things now take forever.

There's a lot of things changed since the era of 'engineering judgement'.

In the 50s and 60s when 'engineering judgement' was common, it was a signal to a skilled machinist that "You have more experience with the material, so use your best guess because I don't know what the right answer is".

Things have changed a lot!

1. Material quality is much higher. Which is to say that batch-to-batch variance is vastly reduced. This means that it's worth investing the effort in detailed understanding of the material because that material is more predictable. Which led to ...

2. We understand a _LOT_ more about material science. Our knowledge of materials is vastly higher, so things that used to be 'best guess' are now 'do this because it will reliably work'. e.g. Spallation and galling used to be poorly understood issues that were worked around based on personal experience and guesswork. Now we understand them very well, and any competent manufacturer will clearly explain exactly how to (eg) install their bearing in a way that prevents such issues.

3. Expertise shifted. The 'machinist' is no longer a 20-year experienced highly trained person, but a CNC operator, who probably won't be within eye-sight of the running machine. So the practice of 'increase the RPM until it chatters slightly then back off' doesn't cut it any more. The answer needs to be known up-front to go into the G-code, not 'feel'. This has led to the obvious cycle where more responsibility moved to the engineering end, which increased the demand for exact knowledge, which reduced the requirements on machinists, which led to lower skill, which further moved responsibility to engineering.

So I totally get pining for the era of 'engineering judgement', but it died for a reason and it's not really likely to come back!

I would've thought your first 2 items there would help increase the use of engineering judgement by reducing pitfalls previous generations encountered. Your third item is definitely a significant factor.

It's not so much that I yearn for the era of engineering judgement so much as I yearn for refocusing on work that's important. Not every little decision needs to written up in professional report, circulated around through multiple drafts, signed off by 4-5 people, briefed out in slide deck form, then never read again.

That would be nice, but you just wait until the root cause analysis of a catastrophic failure gets traced to a backside that was inadequately obscured by "engineering judgement".

Ok, boomer.

A month for review? Where is this glorious Valhalla?! Navy flight certification checklist is a 2-3 column full page of densely packed names for the approval authority on all the different systems. It may take a month to circulate your proposal to those folks just to get a final list of the subset who will need to ultimately sign off. We had cases where item X was used on USAF aircraft Y, but it could not be used on Navy aircraft Z (which was the same airframe) without literally tens of millions of dollars in testing. Not because the loads on the platforms were substantially different, but because the test standards between USAF and USN were different and the approval authorities wouldn’t sign off otherwise. (See also: zero risk tolerance.)

A month for review is an achievable-but-best-case scenario for projects that need to get out the door ASAP, but its not unusual for these reports to be in review for many months. I know of one project report that's been "in review" since 2015.

On risk tolerance, in WW2, the accident rate for a single seat fighter, the P-51, was 274 per 100,000 flight hours[1], for the last 10 years, that rate for f-16's is below 10, and for fatal accidents it's 0.76[2]. Although I'm not sure it's fair to make a 1-1 comparison as the modern accident rating system includes a few scenarios, the orders of magnitude difference is a great illustration of your point!

[1] http://pippaettore.com/Horrific_WWII_Statistics.html [2] https://www.safety.af.mil/Portals/71/documents/Aviation/Airc...

Exactly. Those accident rates drove the creation of the modern flight clearance system that creates such an onerous risk management process today. It was very successful in reducing casualties, but the consequence is slowing down to an absolute crawl.

> So maybe we should buy a few more tanks/ships/bombs than we need so that we don’t forget

Ironically most modern weapons programs do the exact opposite.

Costs increase.

So they cut orders.

Which just makes the per unit costs increase even more.

So they cut orders again.

Repeat until program fails.

Right, the death spiral. But I’m actually talking about the infuriatingly counter-intuitive headlines about buying tanks that the army says we don’t need, or ships that we know will never work as planned. There are only so many places that can build such things, and if we let them go to mothballs then we lose all the manufacturing experience to do it at all—which is a risk for national defense. So the Navy says “I need $40m for planes!” but Congress takes $100M from the plane budget line to keep open the shipyard in Sen. So-and-so’s district. Seems terrible, but that might be the only place on earth that employs the folks who can build such a ship and that keeps it alive. I’m not saying it’s worth it…just that it’s worth considering.

If you just want make-work, why not build schools, parks, and public hospitals instead?

Or useful infrastructure, at least.

It’s not about make-work. It’s about the intersection of what the military says it needs, what congress folks can get away with, and what contractors lobby for to “maintain the industrial base”.

Building parks & hospitals doesn’t contribute to national defense, and it doesn’t develop or maintain the skills of welders who can join absurdly thick plates in the hull of a ship, or folks who can work with composites and thin aluminum, etc.

I’m not arguing that the system is working or that we have the right balance. But it’s not a simple “don’t build bombs, build hospitals” dichotomy.

> Building parks & hospitals doesn’t contribute to national defense

Neither does spending astronomical sums on a system that never reaches operational readiness.

Unless it maintains the ability to produce systems for national defense.

> - complexity increased

The US almost never operates in contested airspace. For that, the F-35 (as the F-22 before it) is overkill.

Do you see a need for manned weapon systems that can survive engagement with other manned weapon systems in the near future? I'm thinking semi-autonomous drones can replace a lot of such systems and, if you can build them quickly and cheaply enough (as in it takes a $1M missile from a $50M plane to down a $1M drone), then you can build lots and lots of them to overwhelm your opponents.

Risk tolerance, even outside of wars, has shrunk quite a bit. People used to do things that are considered practically suicidal now. In 1956, only 2% of Ford customers opted to have seat belts in their cars, and even for the 2% who did have them, those cars were complete death traps compared to modern ones.

I am not sure about "incredibly simple" in general though. Look at how insanely sophisticated the P-51D fighter was, for example. But sure, something in engineering as we see it today, and around it, has been lost.

Or the B-29. That was arguably one of the most sophisticated (and expensive) aircraft of the war.

COTS = Commercial off-the-shelf

CAS = Close air support

Risk tolerance is not just engineering, but also how comfortable we are risking human lives.

In a "good war" like WW2 we should recognize that fighting that war is worth the risk and that casualties are going to happen. We don't need our own aircraft to compromise their performance to be 99.9% reliable instead of 99%, because we strongly believe we need to e.g. beat Hitler.

That’s true, but the uniform service folks are much more willing to take risk than they’re allowed to by the oversight process. That’s a big part of why it takes so long to develop and field new stuff. I understand why we do it, but I’m not convinced that we have the balance right.

The F-35 broke the most important of Kelly Johnson's rules.

15. Never do business with the (damned) Navy!

> Now, read about Skunkworks - they were able to build the SR71 (without supercomputers) in less than half that time and for a fraction of the cost.

Not to mention the F-16 itself, which the F-35 was meant to replace:

1972: RFP for prototypes

1974: Maiden flight of the first prototype

1975: Production begins

1980: The aircraft officially enters service

The F16 was designed and built originally by General Dynamics, Lockheed bought it much later. I worked on it early in my career at GD.

Any interesting stories you can share from that time? I'd love to hear more.

The F-117 as well. A marvelous plane, and development program.

1981: Used by Israel to blow up Iraq nuclear reactor

Oddly, they used F-15s to provide escort. This attack took place after two Phantom F-4-E of Iran missed.

Why "Oddly?" The F-15 was the best air supremacy fighter of that era; perfect for escorting bomb-laden F-16s that would have had a difficult time protecting themselves.

There F-15s were better attack planes at the time. They hadn't really had the F-16 that long.

The F-15As were not better attack planes in 1981; the Israelis used them exclusively in air supremacy roles until 1985 when they bombed the PLO headquarters in Tunis. Israel had just received their F16As, but were well trained at Holloman AFB.

Lockheed is synonymous with Skunk Works ... the F-35 was a Lockheed project. I can guarantee a lot of the engineers who worked on those legendary aircraft also participated in the JSF.

Organizations change. I heard recently at Skunk Works the engineers were told by some bureaucrats that they couldn't change the skunk logo (they had a modified version for some project). It's like how Boeing used to be a great engineering organization and now isn't.

The sad thing is when a downturn happens those bureaucrats saying you can't change the logo will probably keep their jobs while the engineers who could probably be making pretty cool stuff if they had better leadership will be out of work.

F-16 was a joint Northrop and General Dynamics project. Manufacturing rights were only sold to Lockheed in the 90's.

A critical part of F-35 problems was developed so far away from Skunkworks it is technically a separate company (still part of the wider Lockheed-Marting Concern) - the Lockheed-Marting Global Training & Logistics.

Having encountered the quality (hahahah ... sob) they produce personally, I'm totally unsurprised US Navy and USMC could find funding a new fleet of space satellites cheaper than re-bribing enough senators to get ALIS (and now ODIN) contract reassigned to someone competent.

Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) [0]. You might have missed this news.

It’s a modern remix to the Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich days of developing legendary aircraft at Lockheed’s Skunkworks that you lamented the loss of.

People in the know confirm it’s legit and shocking, in a good way. Especially compared to the failures of the F-35 and even the F-22’s development.

[0] https://www.airforcemag.com/article/ropers-ngad-bombshell/

Big if true but I'm super skeptical.

First of all how many years have we been hearing about how we'll have fully autonomous vehicles just around the corner? At least a decade.

How many years have we been hearing that human-like AI is just around the corner? At least since the 60's.

I'm skeptical (although optimistic) about massive tech breakthroughs in general. Even more so when it comes to military tech since so many in the mil. industrial complex stand to benefit from the trillions that the DoD sloughs off every few years for the next big thing.

Not an aviator but spent almost a decade in the military. You used to hear all the time about the latest and greatest tech that was going to change the way we fight.

At least in my nearly 10 years nothing really changed in any substantial way. incremental improvements, sure but no massive breakthroughs like are continually trumpeted in popular press.

I hope you're right though!

We won't have general human-comparable AI or autonomous driving (or we will briefly until a few tragic things happen and people come to their senses). Enthusiasts think we will, but people underestimate what real intelligence requires and confuse it with training complex statistical models.

They call it AI, but the "intelligence" there is just a name.

We don't need a human-like AI to beat humans in the air. I can't imagine that the US doesn't already have a fully autonomous aircraft, and a virtual fully autonomous fighter jet waiting for the physical jet to be built, if that hasn't happened already. In any case, we wont be hearing about it for a while. It took seven years from first flight for the F117 to become public.

No matter when it happens, I think that when General AI shows up most of us will be shocked and surprised.

General AI showing up will be kind of like the discovery of quantum mechanics and the nuclear bomb. No matter how much speculative fiction we write about it, we won't be able to predict ahead of time how transformative it will be on society once it actually exists.

not even drones?

I worked in stress analysis in the civilian aircraft world and it was obvious to me that probably 85% of my job could be automated away, and most of what remained could be shifted to the design side if the right software were written and design processes were revised around it.

But the right software would cost a lot of money, and since it would be new, it would need customer buy-in up front (aerospace is in some ways very risk averse when it comes to adopting new workflow tech).

I think there's a revolution waiting to happen in bringing down aerospace design cost and schedule and increasing the ability to iterate on designs. I'm hoping NGAD is the sign of something big that will trickle down soon to the civilian aerospace world.

Building the hardware is easy, it's the systems and software that will kill it, just like the F-35.

Until we break new military developments away from the political process of congress people funneling projects to big companies in their districts regardless of competence we will continue to see failure after failure in every area.

We saw many advances during world War I and world War II because instead of rewarding companies with contracts that voted for politicians, all everyone cared about was defeating the enemy.

My suggestion is that the military should put out specs for what it wants and then put out big cash prizes for getting it done similar to what was done with the Covid vaccine. Say a $1 billion prize for a modern tank design. And then a fixed price for each one delivered thereafter.

Roper is awesome. There’s a video of him describing the role of K8s in the next-gen process.

We are doomed.

Avionics software resembled k8s before k8s was designed. Sure, some of the most problematic bits don't exist due to static assignment, but the difference is not that big. Including presence of virtual overlay networks.

Anyway, k8s is mostly for lower-criticality software to be quickly added/removed, iirc, partly because unlike the normal avionics setup it allows dynamic addition/removal.

I had not seen this, thanks.

They've been at this for more than 14 years. I was accidentally part of both the Boeing and Lockheed F-35 teams, and that was 23 years ago.

For a humorous take on the U.S. military platform problem, look for a movie called The Pentagon Wars [1] starring Kelsey Grammar and Cary Elwes. It came out in 1998, and very little has changed since then.


Back the day an engineer cold be there at the start of program, see the maiden flight and even go on to see a second program. Today, the same engineer probalby enters years after the concept phase and retires before the first prototype takes of.

A friend of mine working on a space telescope had to fix a mistake that someone had made on a diagram. When she tried to figure out who made the oopsie, turns out he had worked on the project more than a decade ago and retired while she was in middle school

I think this is the quintessential scene from that movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXQ2lO3ieBA

The movie was based on a book of the same name written by Colonel James Burton, highly recommended. It is a history of how and why the kinds of scope creep occurred in the DoD procurement. Eerily prescient.

... and quietly avoids mentioning that a lot of the problem came from Burton, or that his proposals were found detrimental to the program.

He also was staunch supporter of replicating Volksjäger concept, which was fortunately laughed out of the room (even dumbest Soviet design at the time wasn't that dumb)

Lockheed and Boeing were building protoypes in the 1990s and the contract was awarded to Lockheed in October 2001. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_Strike_Fighter_program


Clear requirements, small teams, small budgets, custom-built, no over-thinking, absolutely must work, chop a path through the jungle with a machete.

We do everything opposite these days: no thinking about requirements, huge teams, no budget, off-the-shelf everything, over-think everything, OK with failure (because golden parachutes, team churn, and "blameless" culture), and wait 5 months for the bulldozers to get shipped here.

I think the bigger thing is that we think about requirements, but they change so frequently they require rework. I was working on an FMS for a customer and they changed their high level requirements every 3 months or so, driving huge costs and timeline overruns. It's easy when the Air Force gives you a solid set of requirements to work with, but what happens when the Army 5 months later gives you something contradicting those?

The problem isn't that we don't think about requirements. The problem is that there are no requirements. The Bomb and the SR71 had two very clear things in common - they were built to address existential threats. The bomb was designed for one reason - to fight Nazis we knew they were building the bomb and we needed our own. We knew exactly what to build and we went and figured out how. The SR71 exactly the same issue - we knew exactly what we wanted, we wanted a super fast undetectable spy plane to spy on the Communists.

The problem today is that we've got no damn clue who we're meant to be fighting against and it's been 30 years since the US has engaged in a war where air superiority was even an issue. The level of development in the US right now isn't "We need to build a system that's better than North Korea's" it's more like "Hey guys, I totally think we could build a system that plucks NK's ICBMs out of the air before they even jettison their first shroud".

There's no reason clear and direct motivation for these systems. So the purpose gets lost and we build something with a thousand bells and whistles because we're desperately trying to find some reason for it to exist.

I wonder if this has to do with the overall decline of manufacturing in the US. Supply chains have been moving out of the US so iteration will be slower and more costly. Fewer talents would like to go to manufacturing. Fewer university professors are researching traditional mechanics now, for example, but more on "cutting-edge" stuff like nanometer materials. We also get fewer and fewer highly trained workers on lathing, welding, milling and etc over the years. As a result, it gets more expensive and more risky to build something as complex as F35.

No, its the acquisition process and administrative overhead.

If you give smart people with a good idea a lot of resources to chase it while insulating them from people who want to measure/validate/manage/mandate, you often get good results and sometimes get complete failures.

It is a problem of middle management interfering with the development process, red tape, trying to do everything at once, and requirements that constantly change.

I read a headline and article like that and my immediate reaction is the military leader probably wants to make a name for himself spearheading a new plane – ambition on the part of customers in military acquisition is a real problem. (why are navy ships so big? because navy captains wouldn't feel as important with more, smaller ships)

The problems have little to do with the end-stage production manufacturing, and a lot to do with the engineering R&D.

Part of the problem is that the F-35 was pitched as saving money by doing everything for everyone. It was going to be a lightweight fighter with carrier-landing durability (contradictory) that had options for both single-engine, multi-engine, and VTOL engine (all contradictory), with a big-wing and small-wing version, that could be a quasi-air-superiority, quasi-guided-missile, quasi-bomb-truck, or even wild-weasel/SEAD (all contradictory roles), and replace about 75% of the aircraft in the arsenal.

The SR-71 was designed to do one thing. Go fast and take pictures. It didn't carry bombs. They eventually tried to put a drone on it and it didn't work and was abandoned.

You don't even have to look back as far as the SR-71 though, the F-22 was a reasonably successful program - bumpy, expensive, but it produced what is the world's preeminent air-superiority fighter. It is not a bomb truck, it does not land on carriers. It does one thing well.

Others are not wrong about the fact that the F-35's merit to Congress was as a jobs program, either. This is in fact what a lot of military spending really is. We build tanks only to drive them into the desert and store them, all to keep those production lines running and keep people employed. They could be building trains or something else equally well.

The underlying problem there is that the US political system has become byzantine and cumbersome. When "played" adversarially with all "players" using the maximum extent of their political powers, it takes supermajority control of all three branches of government to govern. This has promoted a byzantine system on top of that to try and come up with mechanisms to fix a broken, unfair, and non-representative process. Massive over-spending on military as opposed to other types of government-sponsored research, production, etc are only one side effect of that.

> It does one thing well

The importance of this engineering principle cannot be overstated. It applies to everything - from home appliances to spacecraft to software.

Interestingly it does a bunch of things well, fast and takes amazing pictures, goes very high, etc.

But most importantly those are synergistic, they form a coherent whole, we even say one thing, because it does so well at these things simultaneously that we now consider it almost inseparable.

That's true. Doing one thing well does not mean a single characteristic - it means being fit to operate in a given role.

The requirement specs for this plane seem crazy. It has to be as agile and fast as an F-22. It needs to do ground support like an A-10. It has to be able to do carrier missions and on top of that it has to take off and land vertically.

And yeah do all this while being cheap and maintainable. It’s basically a unicorn.

> we just cant build cool shit anymore

JPL just landed Perseverance, and we have had weekly SpaceX launches with successful stage recoveries (thought to be impossible), Falcon Heavy sent a 1st Gen Tesla Roadster which is orbiting Mars as we speak... Thiel's windmill powered Bitcoin operation in Texas, which likely froze last week, is another example of how absurd his statement is. I think Thiel is not liked because he uses hyperbole to make blanket statements that are clearly not true. And his business acumen much like his actual tech skills, are dubious at best despite being immensely wealthy.

The US will always be a leader in innovation in the World, I'd argue this is the larges concentration of talent the World has ever seen, including Florence during the enlightenment.

What we have a problem with is an absurd amount of useless bureaucrats, politicians, lobbyists, Industries that get in the way and all want their slice of the pie for nothing more than being a middleman and ultimately pay no taxes to re-invest in the education of said future talent, all while the entrepreneurs and talented labour take all the risk and get little to no reward for their efforts due to a depreciating fiat currency and ever increasing taxes and more and more diminishing social mobility due the aforementioned concentration of wealth.

CRISPR is not going to solve much if any of your problems, maybe your kid's but not yours. If you think the US cannot build amazing things, and is somehow not a leader in this the problem is with you and, I guess Thiel.

> I know Peter Thiel is not popular here, but his conversations about technological progress seem to be spot on: we just cant build cool shit anymore.

As opposed to the other PayPal dude that is building spacecraft. It's more about what Peter Thiel can't do.

I work in defense and the approach to software development is hell. Imagine package managers and Git being newfangled scary technologies and not unit testing anything. Now slap tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on there and you've got a defense program.

I'm actually quite tired of it and I'm looking elsewhere.

Yes, and the user community and PMs on the gov't side are terrible at defining requirements. Even moreso as the number of stakeholders increases.

Exactly. How can I build and test a system when you change the system requirements and scope every 6 months?

> Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.

I think that I am misunderstanding this paragraph. You mean the speed at which a new inventions was put into production, right?

It could be my English failing me but putting it through a translator did not help.

Of course, I don't mean killing hundreds of thousands of people was good, but it did end WWII, and presumably saved lives that would have been lost via a land invasion (US + USSR)

This is far from how I learned it. I am not saying either of us is right, just noticing how interesting it is that historical facts taught differently completely change a person's perception.

We will probably never learn the truth as none of us were there.

I have always been told that Japan was already ready to surrender and that dropping the bombs was simply the first step into the cold war -- a bombing to show strength to the USSR.

"The Japanese had, in fact, already sued for peace. The atomic bomb played no decisive part, from a purely military point of view, in the defeat of Japan." - Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet

"The use of [the atomic bombs] at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons" - Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, President Truman's Chief of Staff

"The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment ... It was a mistake to ever drop it ... [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it." - Fleet Admiral William Halsey Jr., 1946


I researched this for a while some years ago. I'm no professional historian, but I did find some key points that are accurate to the best of my knowledge:

The key debate within Japanese leadership was what conditions of surrender to accept. They'd known for some time they were going to lose, but hoped to drag out an invasion of Japan enough to get better concessions, keep the Emperor in power etc.

The nuclear bombings ended up not playing a huge role in their decision making. At the time all the major cities in Japan had been firebombed except Kyoto. The fission bomb technology was shocking, but ultimately it meant they did with one bomb what had already been happening via thousands. When the US firebombed Tokyo it killed over 100,000 people in a single night, mostly women, elderly men, and children. McNamara has said he believes he'd have been convicted of war crimes for that had the US not emerged the winner.

Russia steamrolling through Manchuria in just under 30 days, utterly routing the Japanese forces there weighed heavily on the minds of Japan's leadership. Once Russia declared war and was clearly committed to being part of the invasion of Japan, they realized they most likely would not be able to extract concessions by further resistance.

It's a bit more complex than all that, and there is a debate among historians on details of these points, but I believe it's reasonably accurate. The simple narrative that it saved US lives is a way of avoiding looking at just how ugly things got.

> This is far from how I learned it

I'm also not from the US, and I was similarly surprised when I found their position on this piece of history differs with how it's learned in pretty much the rest of the world.

Speak to someone outside the US about the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: most, if not all, will say it was a terrible thing, almost a war crime. In some (Western!) countries the consensus is that it was a crime, but because it was perpetrated by the victor, it went unpunished. We outside of the US are also aware of the dissenters who spoke against the bombing, how it wasn't necessary, etc.

Speak about the same with someone from the US: more likely than not, they'll admit it was a terrible thing, but emphasize it was necessary to win the war, how the Japanese were fanatical and weren't going to surrender without heavy bloodshed, etc.

If anything, it's an interesting exploration of national perceptions...

Americans are finally accepting the truth around Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Especially now that so many documents around the war on declassified.

But from the American perspective: it's easy to buy into the false narrative that the nuclear bombs "saved lives." We've all been raised with this notion that American is Inherently Good and that anything Bad America did was for the Greater Good.

The Post-911 world has made it more socially acceptable to say that the country isn't inherently good (well, maybe the Post-GFC world). We are allowed to acknowledge the atrocities perpetrated in the past and have more open and honest discussions about it.

> Americans are finally accepting the truth around Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Especially now that so many documents around the war on declassified.

I think portraying it as the "truth" isn't very accurate. There's many versions of history and none is the "truth".

It may have been a war crime, not sure about that, it was never officially a war crime, so it is what it is. My understanding is basically the following:

Right before the bombs were dropped, the US was in a situation where they were trying to end WW2 and they did not want the Soviets to invade Japan (which they did anyways). Before Trinity, the US was bombing the hell of out of Japan already. ~100K Japanese died in Toyko in a single night [2], and other cities were being bombed also. The US was also under the impression (because of a few previous land invasions) that the Japanese were fighting to the death. There were mass suicides of 1000s because the Japanese wanted to die instead of get captured [1]. (The emperor did not agree to the Potsdam Declaration after until the 2nd bomb was dropped) The US was planning to invade but then Trinity worked and we of course didnt.

I'm from the US, and I did not learn anything I am saying in school, I read it on my own accord. It may be wrong, but if it is wrong, tell me why it is wrong so I can learn what is right.

Basically, if you are not from the US, what scenario do the education systems think would have played out if Truman didnt ok the bombs? Also, given the US avoided the land invasion, how did that not save lives (US lives, but lives nonetheless)?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_Cliff [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombing_of_Tokyo

This is a short version of what may be taught outside of the US.

Japan knew it had lost the war. The only question remaining were the conditions of surrender. Japan hoped that they would be able to negotiate a conditional surrender, with the help of the Soviet Union. Then the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, on August 8, 1945, by invading Manchuria, forcing Japan in accepting an unconditional surrender.

To quote wikipedia: "The Soviet entry into the war was a significant factor in the Japanese government's decision to surrender unconditionally, as it made apparent that the Soviet Union was not willing to act as a third party in negotiating an end to hostilities on conditional terms" [1]

Another quote: "The Japanese army went so far as to believe that they would not have to engage a Soviet attack until spring 1946. But the Soviets surprised them with their invasion of Manchuria, an assault so strong [...] that Emperor Hirohito began to plead with his War Council to reconsider surrender." [2]

Personally I don't think we will ever know why Japan War Council members made this decision. Even if the members were still alive, we (humans) have a tendency to rationalize decisions after the fact. Between nuclear bombs, that new war in Manchuria, loss of lives, and ultimately loss of hope, reasons to surrenders were aplenty.

US will push the US narrative, and dismiss the Soviet Union. Russia will do the opposite. I'm neither American nor Russian so I don't really care one way or the other.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soviet%E2%80%93Japanese_War

[2] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-declare-...

To be clear: I'm not seeking to challenge your view, and the kind of "learning" I'm talking about is not only the formal education system, but also the consensus among people who discuss these things, news articles, etc.

What I find interesting is how the average US person and the average Westerner (I.e. people in the US sphere of influence during the Cold War) differ on this. To the former, it was a necessary act -- terrible but just -- to end the war. To the latter, it's an abhorrent and immoral act committed by the US.

More importantly, the US seems unaware of how the rest of the world remembers the atomic bombings. It seems many in the US readily accept the Vietnam war was immoral (the domino theory becoming less and less accepted as justification), but not as many think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki likewise.

To repeat it once more: I'm not that interested in discussing whether it was moral or justified (I've had my share of this discussion over the years) but more on why the perception of the US and the rest of the world differs so much.

> The first atomic bomb was an unnecessary experiment ... It was a mistake to ever drop it ... [the scientists] had this toy and they wanted to try it out, so they dropped it.

That is a shockingly flippant quote that shows a lack of critical analysis. Disappointing.

There was a political message in bombing Japan that communicated to Russia (and supported China). There was utility for the US. The Japanese were both divided and weighing on who to surrender to. The Japanese Imperial Army were notoriously staunch in their bushido teachings and with a lack of cohesion at the highest ranks, some would undoubtedly continue to follow orders. eg There were tens of thousands ready to repel an American land invasion in Kyushu* It had the desired effect in practical Japanese military planning.

* https://www.stripes.com/news/special-reports/world-war-ii-th...

> There was a political message in bombing Japan that communicated to Russia (and supported China). There was utility for the US.

Agreed, outside the US this is a common understanding. If you've visited the Hiroshima museum in Japan, you'll note that's also the stated position of the museum: the purpose of the bombings was not so much to defeat Japan, but to show Russia what the US was technically capable of and willing to pull off (I can't remember the exact words, but this is the gist of the museum's position). I'm not saying the museum is impartial on this topic, of course -- that's just an example, and there are many outside Japan too.

However, I've noticed that in online discussions with people from the US, they often don't acknowledge this. Perhaps because as a strategy it was long-term and cold-blooded. So they focus on how Japan was a genocidal empire, how the average citizen blindly followed the Emperor and would fight to the death, how the atomic bombs helped prevent more bloodshed, etc.

The common view in the US is distorted because as the cold war developed people were shown a lot of propaganda lionizing the US's victory and distracting from things like the firebombing. When you talk to more serious people in the US there's awareness of the point you're making, you just won't find it in Hollywood's movie version of things anytime soon.

A similar issue is how Band of Brothers, an otherwise excellent show, re-enforced the idea that D Day happened to stop the holocaust. Those who've read a bit more history however know it was to stop the soviets from marching all the way to Portugal, and that the US and allies declined to take even simple measures like bombing the railway lines to the death camps to fight the holocaust. In particular the treatment of holocaust survivors like a game of hot potato afterwards makes clear what the priorities actually were.

Yes, I have to disagree with that quote. Erico Fermi and Leo Szilard explicitly tried many times to prevent the bomb from being used. They were key scientists who were responsible for the bomb (Fermi discovered beta decay i think), and they knew what it mean once it was dropped.

This book tells a different tale, but the author is American:


Great book nonetheless.

As a native English speaker I had the same reaction (i.e. "WTF what a disturbing sentiment!")

You need a purpose behind progress. Look at any of the major developments of the 20th century and there is something huge providing the motivation.

Science continues on and incredible discoveries are made all the time. But when it comes to building incredible things... there just isn’t any push for it right now.

For more detail on how effective Skunkworks was, read Kelly Johnson's book. It was recommended to me by a buddy at JPL and it's a wonderful view into how they did things on time and below budget on projects like the SR71.

Not an affiliate link: https://www.amazon.com/Kelly-More-Than-Share-All/dp/08747449...

I love the problem solving stories. My favorite is the one about transporting the prototype from Washington to Nevada on a very wide trailer- which involved sawing signposts apart and bribing a bus driver...

>The saddest thing about all of this IMO is they have been working on this for 14 years, and how much money was spent/wasted?

You think that's bad? In Canada my government funded the F-35 program but we're not buying any F-35 jets. Spending a bit less than $1 billion for nothing.

The phone in my hand is a miracle of cool shit technology. And a large fraction of the population of the world owns one.

We take the miraculous for granted when it’s frequent, sigh about the things we don’t have, and declare its all terrible.

A lot of it enabled by Defense projects too! (Internet, GPS)

I don’t have a fully formed opinion around how I feel about defense spending, but it’s definitely complicated.

I thought the Singularity is near because innovation is accelerating. I'm perpetually confused.

It is digital technology specifically where we are seeing accelerating progress, largely because the progress compounds, using one generation's machines to design and produce the next generation's.

Also, most digital technology is developed outside of the government procurement / military industrial complex, so all the problems inherent to those systems do not apply.

If the Singularity is reachable, it doesn't depend on the ability to create aircraft or weapons of any sort, whereas it would be impossible to reach the Singularity without digital technology.

It's not accelerating, IMO innovation has stalled quite a bit.

If you compare the speed of innovation between now and 30 years ago, the change is quite dramatic.

There will not ever be a Singularity.

Why? Even if we upload a mind, even via whole brain emulation, that then becomes modifiable, optimizable. If uploaded minds start enhancing the process it can become a lot faster.

Sure, probably for them that will just look like how it looks now to us.

I think your points are certainly common ones, but unfortunately they rely on three major misunderstandings.

The first is that all the "cool shit" we built in the first half of the century was the low-hanging fruit of new scientific understandings and materials.

It's not that we were smarter, it's nothing to do with toxicity, it's just that we exhausted most of what you can easily do with nuclear, steel, engines, etc.

The second misunderstanding is that we're not still building amazing things. Being able to access Wikipedia or Google through speech recognition, or talk to anyone in the world from a cheap videophone in your pocket, is astonishing.

And the third is that flying cars somehow respresent the future. But flying car enthusiasts only focus on the "cool" aspect of it, rather than nuts-and-bolts issues like how they could be fuel efficient, how an average driver will avoid fatal crashes, if we really want urban skies filled with visual, noise and emissions pollution, etc. Flying cars exist. But they don't make any economic or practical sense to use.

If you think we're still not accomplishing astonishing things today, you're not paying attention. Did you notice, for example, how multiple companies put together COVID vaccines in record time? How is that not amazing?

Flying cars marry terrible airplanes with terrible cars. I’m not sure what would cause that general rule to be broken, but the demands of crash safety for cars add a lot of weight and weight is the killer negative metric for aircraft.

If you're going to fly do you really need the car to be highway worthy? A flying car that goes up to 30 mph could be acceptable.

If you're going to license it as a low-speed vehicle (limited to 25 mph federally by Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 500), you will be barred from many surface streets with speed limits of greater than 30 mph, depending on state law.

In trying to map out whether I could get from my house to my local airport exclusively on roads with 30 mph or lower speed limits, I had a hard time proving it. All of the obvious routes that I actually use had at least one segment with a speed limit of 35 mph or higher, which is barred by my state law (Massachusetts).

>Being able to access Wikipedia or Google through speech recognition

Terrible. Absolutely hopeless. Every few years I have another go at speech recognition, and it still sucks.

The glass is always half-empty I guess, right?

Well it's worse than all the alternatives, so... yes?

Not when you've got your hands tied up with messy dough or kids or your computer is across the room.

Or you're dictating an urgent message on your watch while you're out running without your phone.

Or, you know, you're physically impaired.

How many urgent messages do you need to dictate while you're running without your phone?

I'm actually surprised that the watch would work for that without the phone.

It wouldn't have network, so it works offline by itself and saves the urgent message until it regains a network connection?

I'm very thankful that I'm not physically impaired so I'm not forced to rely on the garbage that is the current state of voice commands.

I find it so infuriating to use that I won't do it, but you go for it. Perhaps your training data will improve it enough to eventually arrive at a usable state.

We did send multiple car sized rovors to mars on a pretty decent budget. And have reusable rockets. So, not sure if we "can't build cool things" anymore. More so that were not at risk of global war is a driving factor for not having to innovate military much.

> all I have is 140 characters

Well actually we've had 280 characters since 2017. Talk about progress!

Broad statements like Thiel's shouldn't be taken too literally. I don't think the main point is the broad statement about the trends themselves.

The main point is the classification: Flying Cars vs 140 Characters or Bits vs Atoms. FB is worth almost $1trn. No real technical achievements or advancement. If fb didn't exist, something else would be the friendster. Tesla, Apple, MSFT, Google, etc. are closer to the flying cars end of that spectral dichotomy. We could debate where.

Thiel attracts antagonists in the same way like leftists do. Paypal, Palantir, his capital allocation theories & such are not very performant on his own flying cars VS 140 characters test. It's a hazard of being an idealist. The traditional question a leftist authors get (chomsky, etc) is about selling his books on amazon.

But yes. There certainly is a lot of failure in western economies, especially in the "public-private" realm. These aren't constructive failures, and this sort of stuff is deeply limiting. You know, cutting edge aerospace engineering is risky. Let's take easier examples. Why can't we procure buildings or do basic infrastructure without scandals and runaway costs?

Ancient civilizations managed to build incredible aqueduct systems, public buildings, etc. We've regressed.

I'm no fan of FB, but to dismiss the value of a platform where you can reach 5B users is a mistake.

I'm not dismissing the value, I'm dismissing the notion that fb itself is necessary in order to have that value.

Huge communication networks is what the internet does. Social networks always proliferate online. They're not technically that hard to build. Etc. We're not going to want for any of the "goods" that fb provides. That overall space is abundant.

I thought the name of that platform was the World Wide Web.

> Ancient civilizations managed to build incredible aqueduct systems, public buildings, etc. We've regressed.

This feels like an extreme take.

(Most) Every city in America has a functional clean water delivery network. Every city has electricity. Most cities have sewage. Most cities have very nice paved roads.

This is billions of miles of pipes, wires, roads, bridges, dams... Billions. And you're comparing what the US, and actually most economies, have accomplished in this domain to a handful of ancient roman aqueducts made of stone, transporting barely potable water, and saying that modern society has regressed? That's wild.

The public library in my city of ~800,000 people is twice the size of the Parthenon. Hell, there's a LITERAL 1:1 Parthenon replica in Nashville TN, which they basically built for the hell of it as a showcase for a fair. Across the street from me, they just finished up construction on a (I dare say, beautiful and modern) 32 story apartment building; a building like that would be the singular crown jewel of an ancient civilization, more advanced and useful than anything Rome ever built, and its not even remotely the only one in my 3rd tier US city, let alone worldwide.

Sure, the Pyramids of Giza are impressive. 455 feet tall, probably took a lifetime to build. You know who has a bigger pyramid? Fucking North Korea; the Ryugyong Hotel, 1082 feet tall, constructed in 1992. The Luxor Pyramid in Las Vegas is 350 feet tall, and its part of a fucking casino. The Memphis Pyramid in Tennessee, 321 feet tall, and its a BASS PRO SHOP. The pride-and-joy of Ancient Egypt, the effort of an entire civilization for decades, is nearly replicated in the US, and we use it to sell bait and tackle for fishing.

Is that regression? No. Its progression. We've gotten so good at putting buildings up and laying infrastructure that people are no longer impressed by any of it. Its easy to look at a Roman aqueduct as a massive feat of engineering; no one sees the miles upon miles of pipes below an average city that enable you to turn on a faucet and always have water (anomalous events aside like bad storms or the Flint crisis).

And now, squarely in the 21st century: No one sees the thousands of servers it takes to power google.com. No one sees the billions of miles of tiered fiber criss-crossing the country. No one sees the ten million dollar cooling systems, and the billions of person-hours that went into making it possible for you to search for "boobs" and receive back 1.4 billion fully indexed and browseable results. People ignore the 3.8 million pixels used to display those results on your screen. They disregard the 13.2 billion transistors in their graphics card, capable of 12 trillion floating point operations per second, and that any human in the country can order a laptop that has all of this and have it delivered to their doorstep in 48 hours. Even more impressively; most people can afford it.

The problem isn't that we've regressed. The problem is that we've lost appreciation for where we have progressed. Sure, a lot of it is by private corporations; but a lot of it isn't. And if that's what it takes to actually drive humanity forward, maybe that's the path we need to take.

Nitpick because I used to live there: the Memphis Pyramid, aside from being a miserable goddamned eyesore, is actually an arena. I think if anything that would make it more legible to a lot of ancient cultures, which also took sport seriously and invested heavily in their own venues for it. Bass Pro Shops just pays upkeep to put their logo on it, just like with every other stadium in the country - Camden Yards here in Baltimore has gone through probably five or six such sponsors in the two decades I've lived here.

(It's not even a miserable goddamned eyesore on account of being monumental! If they'd faced it in basalt or nitrided steel, it could be an amazing excrescence of the Blade Runner aesthetic into reality, and I'd love it. But, in a literally blinding display of architectural tastelessness, they had to go and make it reflective...)

I believe the Memphis Pyramid used to be a basketball arena, but that was shut down a few years back, and now it just serves as a Bass Pro Shop storefront.

Oh wow, OK. Wikipedia:

> In 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops "megastore", which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with an outdoor observation deck adjacent to its apex.

I was going to make a Laser Moon joke [1], but then I read further down in the same article and saw that the Pyramid does in fact now also have laser tag, and I just don't know how to top that.

[1] https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu9dUG3_KNA

I think you might be taking me to literally. I didn't mean that we've regressed technologically, or on average as a civilization. Of course our technology, ability to build pyramids, is greater.

I'm mean that we're having a very hard time with problems that are ultimately tractable. Pyramids, aqueduct systems and other impressive endeavours were big achievements. They put a lot of resources into these things, pushed boundaries and succeeded. When it comes to public works these days, it seems that fiasco avoidance is the high bar we set.

Can we add a train system to a city from scratch? Impossible. More expensive than WW2. Think smaller. Well... such things aren't impossible. They're just hard. Equivalent projects have succeeded in the past.

Well, IMO what you're really advocating for is massive government-initiated research and development that ISN'T outsourced as pork to contractors.

The lobbyists destroyed those types of programs.

We used to have a pipeline for PhD candidates to these government programs, but that doesn't seem to exist anymore.

Speaking of unpopular guys, Musk's Tesla and SpaceX are very much "skunkworks" companies. Maybe the US could, say, incubate more companies like that? The irrational hate of Musk reflects America's deep and strong anti-intellectual anti-nerd anti-engineering popular culture bias. Sure Musk isn't a boy scout, but the list of evil noxious business executive that are objectively worse than Musk in the last 50 years is probably about 10,000 to 20,000 longer than anything Musk has done. Possibly 100,000. Huge numbers of healthcare insurance, petroleum, defense, mining, and manufacturing executives. Microsoft and Intel's run of market manipulation and monopoly. Cable/Telephone companies sitting on their monopolies.

The 50s and 60s still had the overarching group achievement and patriotism from WWII. But our modern era has steadily fallen more and more to greed, apathy, laziness, and especially narcissism.

The F-35 program is spread across hundreds of vendors with representatives grabbing a piece for their constituents. I wouldn't be suprised if different diameter o-rings are coming from different suppliers.

This is a strategic approach that both jacks up the price and gives you plenty of powerful allies who will fight to keep the program afloat.

They could very put such an aircraft together at half the cost and time if cost and time were targets for the people deciding to fund this.

> Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. > No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.


Covid-19 has a vaccine less than a year into the first death in The US, that’s pretty nuts

Not just a vaccine. A 95% effective vaccine. That's never happened before in such a short time frame. The high efficacy vaccines that most of us have been injected with took decades to develop.

I can't believe that you're talking about the mass-murder of civilians like it's some sort of triumph, especially since you could have made the exact same point citing the trinity test. And it's so weird that you use the term "toxic environment" right after that.

IMO AI progress in the last 10 years has drastically exceeded reasonable expectations.

You can buy a helicopter any time you want.

I dont think the "mass-murder of civilians like it's some sort of triumph", although I can see the way I wrote it sounds like that is what I mean (and I cannot edit it because of HN). Quit assuming bad faith in my comment. Why on earth would I think that ?

I meant that we discovered fission and then we built a bomb in under 6 years. Even if you disagree with the outcome of what happen in Japan, the Manhattan Project was an amazing scientific accomplishment, and there is no way the US could do something of that scale, scientifically in 2021.

Ok, sorry for assuming bad faith and ranting.

Still, I think it's pretty hard to compare engineering achievements like this. Is it harder to make a fission bomb in 6 years with 1940s technology, or a COVID vaccine in 1 year with 2020s technology?

Also, I seems like we could be having this conversation in 1940 about an american battleship program.

No problem!

The COVID vaccine was an achievement, without a doubt, but i still think we need time to see how effective it will be as the virus mutates and make sure there are no long term side affects. If the vaccines achieve herd immunity ends the pandemic then history will be very kind to it and the scientists that created it.

One thought is the actual creating of the vaccine must have been considerable less complicated than the atom bombs if it was really created in one day.

It’s only less complicated if you exclude the years of research into the techniques and we’re seeing delays manufacturing because those are not easy to scale. This work started in the 2000s so I think it’d be closer to thinking of how long it took to build a bomb after you had developed the physics, built the mines and processing systems, etc. To me it really highlights how easy it is for us to forget how much science depends on less publicized work - there must have been hundreds of people whose careers went into the manufacturing techniques alone.

NASA just successfully sent a helicopter to Mars. We developed two very effective vaccines using mRNA technology in a few months and had it through FDA trials in under a year. CAR T cell therapies (3 FDA approved and more coming) are changing how we treat cancer. There's amazing technology all around you.

Life sciences is about the only area of science that has promising new technology coming out of it. Almost every other area is incremental.

Nuclear reactor design: mostly already considered by the Navy in the 50s and 60s.

Space Exploration: Space shuttle was reusable too. Rockets that could land were demonstrated in the 90s IIRC (admittedly SpaceX improved on this quite a bit).

Electric/Renewable Powered Aircraft: Soviet Union had a hydrogen powered airliner.

I'm not saying the new stuff isn't impressive. It is and those small improvements add up to a lot, but it's not revolutionary in the way a jet engine or a nuclear reactor was.

We as a species were sending stuff to Mars and to Venus (which imho is a lot more interesting than Mars) back in the '70s and '80s, not that much novelty in recent events (even though I must admit the helicopter gimmick was interesting, until the novelty very quickly worn off, that is).

> had it through FDA trials in under a year.

That was by political decision, at least that is my understanding.

Fun fact: the mRNA vaccines were developed in about 2 weeks after the publication of the SARS2 DNA sequence. (At least the Pfizer/BioNTech one was.)

Was it though?

The science that made this possible was in the works for decades, and it took Moderna and BioNTech many many years to get the technology right.

So that's many years of effort with the stated goal of getting a vaccine out the door fast when it's needed. But there was relatively little "science" left to be done when COVID struck.

The only interesting aspect here are the logistics to make vaccines in the required quantities, and honestly it's not looking too great, considering where we are with vaccinations. Though maybe it just wouldn't have been possible to make doses any quicker, regardless of effort.

Interesting. You are arguing with something I've never said. I was just responding to the comment above that said "We developed two very effective vaccines using mRNA technology in a few months". That indeed those few months were about two weeks. Of course, given all the preexisting research that went into both creating the mRNA platform and the coronavirus vaccines in general. (The spike protein can be produced by itself due to the replacement of two amino acids, which allows it to keep its shape without being on the surface of the actual virus. This is a 3-4 year old result.)

So, yeah, I'm fully aware of it, I was just responding to the comment above, using the same context. (The very point of the mRNA vaccines is that they are a generic and easy to use platform where we can get a vaccine candidate very quickly.)

There are of course many different reasons to "we just cant build cool shit anymore", but one is not understanding tradeoffs.

I think it is more likely for everyone involved, team, management, project, product, client, end user etc, to understand & accept that you have to make tradeoffs when you are on a tight time frame and/or budget. You solve one thing, not a hundred different things, even though they can be equally as important in the grand scheme of things.

F-35 tried to replace fighters in three different branches (Air force, Navy and Marine) and be multirole and also do close ground support, all with a long time frame and huge budget.

Some tradeoffs can be solved with a bigger budget, but many tradeoffs can't. If you want your bombs to be stored inside the fuselage to be more stealthy like the F-35, then of course the fuselage will become bigger, thus creating more drag. No amount of money will change that.

F-35 seems from the outside like a project that didn't understand & accept tradeoffs.

SpaceX is an interesting exception. They innovate really fast, their pace resembles that of the positive examples you mention.

Their advantage is that they are very mission driven and don’t really have to answer to anyone. I think its one of the key ingredients why Elon’s companies & adventures are so successful. A company or organization which is pulled in different directions because of politics or financial influence is always at a disadvantage.

But SpaceX can can develop a tin can fast because it is not expected to have martians shooting at it. Imagine planning to go to Mars but your tin can had to be stealthy, manoeuvrable and armed to the teeth. You'd get Ripley's drop ship!

Agree 100% Literally all the "experts" said it was impossible to land the booster, and now it's almost routine.

Nobody else in the industry can achieve what SpaceX have done successfully 40 times.

Experts from EASA didn't say it was impossible, but rather not economicaly feasible. And with SpaceX not publishing any financials we have no way to tell which side is right.

Are you really suggesting that throwing away a booster worth many tens of millions of dollars is more economically feasible than reusing it?

Elon makes it pretty clear in this tweet it's very financially sound to bring back a booster

"Payload reduction due to reusability of booster & fairing is <40% for F9 & recovery & refurb is <10%, so you’re roughly even with 2 flights, definitely ahead with 3"


A payload reduction of 30-40% is huge. And even if refurb and recovery is less than 10%, you still loose the 2nd stage at every lunch (18% of the rocket by weight). You then have to include the extra development costs and additional risk of failure.

I highly doubt they hit break-even with only two launches, the math just doesn't add up.

If reusing rocket was so profitable, there is a high chance someone else would have done it before. Landing a rocket isn't totally new tech. NASA did it on the moon 50y ago.

After the massively incorrect analysis by popular YouTuber Thunderf00t, I made a video analyzing SpaceX's reusability https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36o4UrS9OS4 It's 8 minutes but I recommend watching at 2 times speed.

The latest numbers are that the marginal cost of relaunch is $15 million, with $10 million of that the second stage. Refurbishment cost is 27 days with a $1 million refurbishment cost (not $250,000 as I mistakenly said in the video, see description). The net effect is the cost of marginal cost of reflight is approximately 25% but the payload reduction is 30%, which leads to a break even point of 3 launches. After 10 flights, the cost to orbit per kilogram is halved. SpaceX has demonstrated 8 flights of a single booster.

Note, these are all using SpaceX's own numbers (but so was the payload reduction and original reuse cost figures). It depends on recovering the $6 million fairing (which does not happen every mission). All numbers are sourced from an Aviation Week May 2020 podcast that I linked to. Yes, the cost numbers are from SpaceX but the only public refurbishment cost analogue we have is their 27 day turnaround time.

SpaceX are currently operating at a sixth of the rest of the industry and use their cost advantage to launch 60 Starlink satellites at their $15 million marginal cost.

The traditional military-industrial complex with cost-plus accounting is "subcontractors all the way down", and the incentives weren't aligned to make an industry dominating rocket until arguably the 1990s commercial satellite boom (eg, the original Iridium constellation). Until 2008, there hadn't ever been a privately funded rocket reach orbit ever. Until SpaceX. Prior rockets we designed, owned and approved by the US government under World War 2-era cost-plus accounting arrangements.

While the 2nd stage is 18 % of the rocket by weight, it only has one engine. The booster has nine. Engines are by far the most expensive part of the rocket, or used to be. (ULA says that engines make 65 per cent of the total cost of their first stages.)

> If reusing rocket was so profitable, there is a high chance someone else would have done it before.

AFAIK it is only like 10-12 years that computers and engineering software got good enough to simulate everything that happens in a rocket engine, sloshing of fuel etc. Cruder simulations were available before, but not good enough for that.

SpaceX engineers did most of the design and testing on computers. It took them only a few tries in the real world to nail the first landing.

Earlier pioneers would have to try in practice, which would mean a lot more failures and a lot more money, with a possible deadly incident in between.

There were mutiple reason, citing from top of my head as I don't find he old paper anymore. Reasons were:

- Reliability and insurance costs - limited number of launches - refurbishment costs of boosters ompared to new ones - heavier and more expensive boosters to make them reusable

This paper was way before SpaceX tried that. And whther or not reusable boosters are really a financial success is impossible to tell without published financials from SpaceX. The paper alsosaid, that reusable boosters become interessting with a high number of commercial launches, something they didn't see to happen. And that part alone makes Starlink so interessting, because it is basically SpaceX increasing its own number of launches.

If you're seriously arguing that F9 reuse is not a financial success, then you're not paying attention. Flight insurers "like" the F9 since it has proven itself reliable. Otherwise you're arguing that SpaceX is either a welfare queen, or a ponzi scheme.

I am citing an old paper from EASA. Again, how the true financials are is impossible to tell without SpaceX finances. Which we don't have. Except for really old leaks. And even with these numbers, we would have to account for Starlink launches.

We know the Falcon 9's marginal cost for relaunch (with fairings reused is $15 million). Of this $10 million is for the second stage, $1 million is for booster refurbishment, the rest is for operations (including the landing barges) and fuel (which is $300,000 to $400,000 at the moment). These numbers are from Elon Musk's May 2020 Aviation Week podcast. I haven't yet found a good recent figure for the sticker price of relaunches though.

I did some analysis based on these numbers in this 8 minute video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=36o4UrS9OS4

Spacex couldn't afford to launch Starlink if F9 wasn't dirt cheap. So either it's cheap or some financial strategy is hiding money? EASA has underestimated SpaceX from day one.

> EASA has underestimated SpaceX from day one.

EASA is the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. I think you meant to say ESA, the European Space Agency? But ESA's not that relevant here, as the European governments fund and develop launch services through Arianespace, a consortium of space industry companies led by the French aerospace companies Airbus and Safran.

Correction aside, I agree with your point that Arianespace did underestimate SpaceX.

You're correct; the one I was replying to wrote EASA and I mentally farted. I was also unaware that ESA had a smaller role in developing spaceflight in Europe. Thanks for correcting me :)

The time from project start to first flight of the SR 71 was 47 months - with slide rules and manual drafting.

With heavy use of computers, including one special that was built just for the project effectively - and it was critical for the project getting off the ground at all. And even then a lot of the calculation was done on specialised scientific calculators operated by low-status (human) "computers".

How much can we attribute to the financialization of capitalism? I think it's the driving force. Some historical societies have recognized paying interest on capital at every level of the value stack creates an anti-competitive costs of production. Maybe they just didn't like creditors.

Islam prohibits dealing with interest, yet that didn't stop the incredible progress and flourishing during the Islamic Golden Age. Interest is immoral and parasitic, there are other ways which aren't to achieve progress.

The point is that if every project is just for the votes and friends then essentially you are going to ignore the engineering and other parts. I'd argue further that it's the same for business projects as well, just that you do it for the stocks and friends.

What’s going on with all the Reddit level comments below your post?

I think you bring up great points. This could be a case of low hanging fruit being picked. We are at the point where everything being added is just bells and whistles since the foundation has already been built.

Not sure, I accidentally started a flamewar! I wouldnt consider the atomic bomb low hanging fruit either, it took many different breakthroughs in nuclear physics and structural engineering to procure the isotopes.

That's what I was thinking, I wonder to what extent this is a symptom of stagnation in physics.

Maybe it’s just the calm before the storm.

Well your single customer is your paycheck and your deal with the devil. If you triple the price of what you really think it will take because the gov will be inflating dollar supply by double digits every year and you're working a 10 year project, then the gov may go for a different/multiple contractors. So you have to just milk the project for as long as you can beyond 10 years and hope you can dollar/cost over time for the best profit. Lockheed should offer a store of value price and a dollar price. Otherwise, this is the new standard for long-term gov contracts. Lockheed can't lay their legendary game down when dealing with this kind of client. Is what it is.

They have to rip the government off to stave off inflation? How's inflation been looking, oh, these past 40 years or so?

I'm sure that the 50th time in the last 20 years I've heard we will have hyper inflation will be the time it happens. Any day now the house of cards build will fall and gold will be the only currency worth anything.

As I say to all the goldbugs, unless you have the gold in your physical possession, owning gold is meaningless.

And if you have it, the government has already shown it is willing and capable enough to confiscate it.

The only way to make money is to be willing to sell when things look like they are going down the drain.

And if things are ever that far gone, we are back to a barter economy.

What makes you think that there will be a food shortage? The USA produces enough food to feed itself. It would take a war to destroy the food supply.

Hyperinflation isn't something a central bank is causing. It's a response to an underlying event. It happens precisely when the government has no choice but to print money.

Right now the US government has zero obligations that force it to produce more dollars. The stimulus packages are entirely voluntary and designed to help the economy and therefore reduce the need for future stimulus.

Hah, and throw in this dimension: Don't need F35's patrolling the Persian Gulf, because the need for oil is disappearing. Can't fuel those planes with petrodollars, just burning paper. This is not good.

Since your customer also will bail you out when you fail what's the point in even trying? It's a lot more profitable to bill like your planes work, but to provide planes made out of cardboard.

Until you start executing companies (or CEOs) for incompetence you will keep getting the same results.

Yeah, but that's a pots and kettles issue. We are commenting from our mountain about a business that has dropped into the gutter. None of the parties will change.

I love the SR-71 as much as anyone else, but I don't think that's entirely fair. 12/32 were lost in an accident, so it looks like we lost a lot of reliability in exchange for a much faster development.

It also pushed the boundaries of what aircraft were capable of. Required all sorts of new materials technology, probably required new controls as well. I think it is fairer to compare the development of the SR-71 to something like the early development of rockets/missiles, than to the F35, which is much more incremental.

> It was also pushes the boundaries of what aircraft were capable of

Are capable of.

The SR-71 remains a marvel and it's unlikely that we could build something better today with the same design constraints. Which is part of why the successors to the SR-71 removed the on-board pilot (UAV) or the ability to lift-off without aid (satellites).

The saddest thing about all of this IMO is they have been working on this for 14 years, and how much money was spent/wasted?

If you're a defense contractor, none of it. If you're a tax-payer, all of it...

Because Boeing is now ran by MBAs who want to maximize profit. A low cost F-35 means less money for Boeing in the short term.

What about the long term? Fuck the long term. It is all about quarters, and short term bonuses.

If it stops us producing Civilization Ending technologies like the A-bomb then I'm all for the toxicity... Not all progress is linear, efficiency is no as vitrue unto itself!

Well, someone would have invented it sooner or later, because after the discovery of nuclear physics it doesn't take that much brainpower to figure out the basic concept of "if we smash a bunch of neutrons in these unstable isotopes, then we're going to get a big kaboom!" The actual technological legwork is a bit more effort (and the Germans famously failed at it, although they probably would have gotten there eventually), but not insurmountably hard either.

This is the curse with a lot of these technologies.

IMHO innovation isn't linear: when you discover something new (say the combustion engine for example) you make great progresses at first but then you spend decades or even centuries refining these progresses.

Add to this the office politics, corruption and big players crushing any hint of competition and you have general stagnation.

I have read about the eventual failure of the F35 for years now. The naysayers had solid arguments but were ostracized by people with conflict of interest.

> we just cant build cool shit anymore

I sadly agree. Unis spend so much time teaching CAD software, processes, etc, you wonder how much understanding engineering grads actually have. I just think we've stagnated as a technological society. We rely so much on computers to do everything, that we can't innovate in the same way anymore. Unless our new x has an onboard super-computer, we just can't get it to do anything.

> Unis spend so much time teaching CAD software, processes, etc, you wonder how much understanding engineering grads actually have

That's interesting. The popular sentiment in programming world seem to be Unis don't tech practical stuff enough, or interviews for (junior) developers don't test their practical knowledge enough- a point I always found a bit strange.

I'm in a university dealing with this stuff and we get both ends at the same time, they (companies) want more immediate technical skills (e.g. programming) while also complaining that grads don't know their math fundamentals enough.

In an engineering department (as in not CS) I'd say the bias is overwhelmingly towards the math end of the spectrum, partly because faculty largely don't even keep up with the technology. You'd have to heavily revise your course constantly (imagine teaching how to use google products...). Plus it just feels less worthwhile teaching things that will become obsolete in a few years.

Oh and by the way we need to teach them to write better too. Kids can't communicate these days. And economics. And ethics. It ends up being a very tight squeeze we can cram in maybe two courses on programming if it's a top priority.

I've seen theories that it's more related to how, at least aerospace graduates, appear to have much less practical experience at least passed as theoretical knowledge, and churn out designs that might be generally good when assembled, be possible to assemble... but totally impossible to maintain. Things like too small tolerances on pretty much everything, having to disassemble huge portions of an aircraft because there was no maintenance hatch of appropriate size, etc.

In a way, F-35 (but also recent F-16) suffer from related issues, where the complexity of maintenance is staggering, and the tools you're given to help manage that suck too much.

> That's interesting. The popular sentiment in programming world seem to be Unis don't tech practical stuff enough,

I think the point might be that there might be a sweet spot somewhere between

- demanding Java code to be created by students using only Notepad and javac


- just teaching the latest js trends

I think it is fully possible - and a lot more motivating - to teach theoretical problems hand in hand with practical problems.

You may be overreacting to one news story. The US Air Force designed the F-35 successor and built a prototype much faster and less expensively - in just one year - using advanced digital engineering and manufacturing simulations:


I wonder if anyone has any theories as to why? Assuming it's true that technological innovation peaked in the mid 40s/50s, it begs the question why it has ground to such a halt now.

Recognizing that is a big assumption of truth, would anyone here be willing to posit an explanation?

It’s a combination of factors but all with the same theme.

Basically nobody is willing to take any risk for anything.

This is on every level, from being wrong about a simple decision all the way up to not taking any personal risk with your life.

And it’s impossible to argue against it because at any point you can always make an argument for reduction of risk, and anyone arguing against it is demonized.

How can you argue against more health and safety standards after all? More rigourous engineering standards? More environmental protection standards? More consultation with the public?

But it’s not just a government thing, it’s on a societal level. In large companies it’s the same exact phenomenon of buck passing and responsibility dodging.

Each thing only has a tiny multiplicative cost, but the sum total of all of it is the inability to make any progress.

Because it’s not worth it. People built all the low hanging fruit of cool shit already. A plane would have been “cool shit” 100 years ago, today it’s just a glorified bus.

What else is there to build? Spaceships? For what? We’ve seen Mars and the Moon. More military crap? USA already won now it’s just showing off. AI stuff? Turns out people think it’s creepy and they like to keep their jobs anyway because it makes them money. Mega structures and arcologies? NIMBY!

We’re in the long tail of cool shit now. Each generation gets harder and harder to impress.

Necessity is the mother of invention. In the mid 40s a very large urgent necessity, the war effort, went away. There were some residuals after that as motivations and industries shifted.

Maybe check out Ross Douthat's recent book about "decadence" as a place to start. Not sure I buy the argument, but this is part of what he's talking about.

For me personally, I think it's just the point we're at in the current technological revolution (in the Carlota Perez sense). We're due for a new one (maybe biotech, eg. driven by crispr, mrna, etc.) so things feel stale.

I mean, it's kinda well known that war is the mother of all innovation right?

That explains it right there if you take the theory as true. WW2, Cold War. I mean even the moon landing was part of that cold war era technology advancement.

So now instead of governments/military pushing for needs, it's now companies trying to innovate for money. Which can work, but you need CEOs to take risks like Musk or even Jobs.

1940s-1950s two big factors - necessity to win a war.

But also opportunity. Even widespread mains electricity is fairly new back then, there were a lot of fairly obvious opportunities to quickly exploit.

We don't have a government anymore... it started breaking down with the death of FDR. The only thing that kept it going was the cold war.

We don't invest in research like we should.

My pet theory is we rely too much on computers.

Nah, we build cool shit all the time. We just rolled out a whole new vaccine technology across the world in under a year. You never really wanted a flying car, and AI-driven tech is everywhere but you just don't call it AI any more.

I might be mistaken, but I thought I'd seen the Skunkworks logo being used when talking about the F-35. Which is kind of pissing on the legacy of Skunkworks as Skunkworks effectively stopped existing in the 1970s.

I think it's a combination of science is simply harder because the low picking fruits have mostly been picked, and environments that lead to breakthroughs like fission appear only under exceptional circumstances


Also, well

"Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today"

I believe some people consider WW2 and the nuclear wipeout of 2 cities of common people to be "toxic environment", too.

The core problem is the failure of the contracting agency to set requirements and stick with them. Once a contractor gets galloping requirements you get instant proof that better is the enemy of good.

I want just to add that Peter Thiel is one of the reason why we cannot have / invent ‘cool stuff’. But he is also not wrong about what he saying: I’m just saying that it is not so simple.

How do you blame Thiel for bureaucratic bloat in the US government? NASA, the canonical example of a formerly productive organization becoming hopelessly turgid, was dysfunctional by the time he was a teenager.

Thiel believes that rent seeking monopolies are desirable and necessary to enable innovation. He's plainly wrong about that as a mater of economic science. Lockhead's use of regulatory capture to extract as much money as possible is directly in line with how Thiel thinks business should be done.

I don't think Thiel thinks this. I think Thiel's argument about monopolies is that good businesses act like monopolies because they have no competition, i.e. it's better to be Tesla[0] than to be starting a fast food franchise. I don't agree with Thiel on this, I think you're more likely to get rich in an area where there is already demand, but Thiel is more focused on people that pioneer new industries.

[0]: Yeah, I know there are other EV manufacturers, Tesla is really not competing with them at this stage and never really was.

He's been quite explicit about it in his talks for years. He sees monopolies as necessary to concentrate enough capital under one person's control to enable them to be an innovator.

To be rather blunt about it, much of his rhetoric is ultimately just about saying indirect forms of "let John Galt do whatever he wants and be grateful peasant."

This is why he's financially supported Yarvin, who quite literally wants to turn the world into a technocratic monarchy, with some very nasty "scientific racism" style stuff mixed in. It's a drop in the bucket compared to Thiel's wealth, but he clearly has no problem providing millions of dollars in support of this kind of thinking.

Also pay attention to how Palantir does business. They behave very similarly to Lockhead Martin when it comes to over promising their technology and under delivering in order to pull as much money off the table as possible, including from governments.

Ehhh, I've read his book (which is really just a rehash of Michael Porter) and I've seen some of his talks and while I see where you're coming, I wouldn't be quite as harsh, although Thiel might be sailing a bit close to "real monopolism has never been tried."

With regard to Yarvin I have no idea what Yarvin wants because he takes 10,000 words to explain himself and I can never find the energy to finish reading anything by him. He has a much less long winded brother who has a somewhat interesting blog though (totally unrelated topics to the better known Yarvin). I do think it is good that people like Thiel support these sort of thinkers though. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and I'm sure some of their ideas have merit.

No, Yarvin's thinking does not have merit, and his entire approach is to exploit attempts at good faith debate with his own bad faith behavior. It's similar to the approach a lot of creationists use. There's no reason to indulge it. Here's a piece that's mostly about the Star Slate Codex drama, but covers the issue well: https://modelcitizen.substack.com/p/climbing-the-bell-curve-...

Rent seeking monopolies are the only organizational forms that have generated fundamental military-industrial innovation, historically speaking.

History is just what happened. Counterfactual questions are more tricky.

You're giving NASA way, way, way too much credit. The organization was a clusterfuck from the very beginning. The only reason they managed to get anything done is because top brass quickly figured out that they are primarily a presidential vanity project.

There are some great interviews from the 70s on YouTube with some of the first high ranking officials within NASA speaking rather candidly about how terrible it was there. Everyone hated them: Congress, Military Brass, the American public.

SR-71 was based on the existing A-12 design. Plus it didn't have a bunch of missions. Much less opportunity for feature creep when it has one purpose.

But isn't the main reason for that "decline" that things get complicated while all those easy and fast things have already been invented?

We want nuclear propulsion, not more boring jet engines. we can't have jets, so why should we care if the Army has better ones then 15 years ago.

Nuclear propulsion in an aircraft? Isn't that going to spray radioactive matter everywhere?

That's why it doesn't yet exist! Find a way to either contain or limit the radiation. Use hydrogen fission. I'm not fussy about the details. Tony Stark managed to fit a reactor in his chest! why can't we?

Thiel is wrong. What is happening in batteries is insane. SpaceX is doing amazing things in space and many smaller companies are doing great things too. Starlink itself is revolutionary, Starship is arguably even more so.

And btw the advancements in batteries and EV is exactly what is needed actually do flying cars, if that is even a good idea in the first place.

Government programs are often massively badly managed, politically captured, this is not new. But it doesn't mean nobody is inventing anything new anymore.

I might be digging my self in some mud here but when you say:

> Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.

Are you for real? It is hard to find any more toxic place in resent history then during the horrors of World War 2.

This time saw a holocaust with forced labor and mass killings of religious and ethnic minorities in multiple countries accross at least 3 continents. It saw indiscriminate bombing of heavy civilian population centers in densely populated centers in Asia and Europe. It saw mass famine and starvation in several regions of the world. About 3% of the entire world population died in these horrors, and many more lost their homes and livelihoods.

And you mention the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as some kind of an achievement. Between 129,000–226,000 people died in that terror, and two whole cities were leveled to the ground, with the mass homelessness and medical and social emergencies that follows.

Perhaps it is not your intention to devalue these horrors and you are simply trying emphasize what was possible when the political climate was more unified. But please be careful with your words. Don’t describe our time as toxic while glorifying the most toxic times ever witnessed in our recent history.

Speaking of military expenses. One would think spending fraction of military budget towards vaccine research would protect our country better.

Alas, building machines of destruction seems to the prerogative.

Not dropping radioactive bombs = toxic.

The point was how quickly it went from theory to implementation.

I know what your point was. But the expedience of those times came at an incredible human cost.

Is this a race to Godwin's law?

seeing as how nobody mentioned nazis, no.

The Holocaust also quickly went from theory to implementation. Those were the days, right? /s

What's the source for the Thiel quote about "we just can't build cool shit anymore"?

Fraction of the cost? Might I ask how much each A-12 and SR-71 cost, and the total cost of development?

You think dropping nukes on people is cool shit? I think doing that is literally toxic.

I would put up designing an mRNA vaccine in less than a year to show that we can make technological progress when the desire is present.

Given a compelling need for innovation we could potentially do that. But today’s innovation is about social equities. Billions will be pumped into that for the next decade until - heaven forbid- there’s a new need for tools to perform catastrophic things.

I test drove a Tesla.

Imo, it is cool shit.

On the other hand, we just managed to create an effective vaccine against a novel virus in something like 48 hours (and another 8 months to get it FDA approved but still!)

In general I don't think that we've forgotten how to build cool shit. It's just that in a lot ways we don't have the incentive to do so anymore. When we DO have the incentive (like with COVID) we are capable of feats of engineering an innovation that are amazing. More to the point, the incentives now seem to work against rapid innovation. We tend to think of infrastructure projects and defense projects as jobs programs so nobody wants it to be done quickly.

I’m in the UK, over here we developed a vaccine to an unknown virus in about 10 months and then gave it to nearly 20 million people in 2 months. I’ll take that over the next generation of pointless aircrafts any day!

They had a huge advantage then. No email.

When it matters, I think we have shown to be perfectly capable of moving fast. Just look at how quickly we came up with a vaccine for covid. In a state of war (or cold war, or pandemic) you cut the red tape. Approval processes that typically take weeks magically take only hours.

But it is true that when there is no particular urgency, the multiplication of bureaucracy and regulations compounded with the complexity of modern technologies makes it difficult to deliver cheap and fast.

Yeah, it's really sad how we can't have nice things anymore like nuking hundreds of thousands of civilians.

You are obviously taking my comment in bad faith, but even if you ignore the the two bombs, I believe nuclear energy is the cleanest renewable.


The year over year progress on computing power/efficiency/size is beyond impressive. Modern computer hardware is an amazing feat of engineering.

The first complete sequences of the Human Genome was completed in 2003, as part of the Human Genome Project which started in 1990. Total cost of $100,000,000. That's actually not so expensive given the payoff is literally a complete copy of our own genetic code. Today, less than 20 years later, the cost of sequencing that same genome is about $1,000.

The LHC? Super fucking cool.

We do build cool shit. Incredibly cool shit. WAY cooler than dumb ass killing machines like fission bombs and space-age fighter jets. And BTW, going from fission in theory to something actually useful for doing something other than killing people did take a couple decades (first nuke power plant turned on in 1954).

We can build all that cool shit you want, too. Flying cars? We've been able to do that for decades. You don't have a flying car because you'd almost certainly end up killing yourself or someone else and probably couldn't afford the fuel to operate it on the daily. There's a reason you can't just rent a Cessna and go out for a joy ride without any training.

The "no cool shit" thesis always uses killing machines and rich person toys as examples. I don't want stupid rich person toys that even rich people don't actually use when they get them (flying cars). I want to be able to Zoom with my parents during a pandemic.

COVID vaccine had entered the chat. 6 months vs 4-10+ years previously, and 4+ vaccines at once.

Crispr, while awesome, has not yet turned into real concrete technology that is making our lives better. I think the best example of serious technological advances recently is the mRNA vaccines.

We already have flying cars; they are called helicopters. I'm not sure you want to live in a neighborhood that has people commuting by helicopters; it would be very noisy.

Want an example of crazy cool shit we just accomplished? Covid vaccine. Creating a vaccine/testing in less than a year and now distributing it at such a massive scale will likely go down in history as an event akin to the Manhattan Project.

> Fission was discovered in 1938/1939 and we dropped two bombs on Japan in 1945. No chance we could do something like that in this toxic environment of today.

The first thing that springs to mind is the fact that the covid-19 vaccine was imagined, developed and started to be synthesized over the course of a single weekend.

> The first thing that springs to mind is the fact that the covid-19 vaccine was imagined, developed and started to be synthesized over the course of a single weekend.

Piggy-backing off the efforts of mRNA vaccines for the past decade or two, and existing efforts for personalized cancer immuno-oncology vaccines.

There ain't no chance you figure out the lipid nanoparticle magic in a weekend.

(Indeed, it's not really figured out: what we have is inadequate for mRNA drugs, which are the holy grail... but the shortcomings were realized to be useful for vaccines ~a decade ago).

We found multiple vaccines for Covid in less than 1 year.

Look at current society. Who wants to spend decades studying STEM and working for average salary these days?

Tik Tok stars and Twitch bros and ethots are making multi million dollars playing games.

This country can’t build a functioning high speed rail system, that other countries built 30 years ago. How can we build an airplane now?

Public school teachers and teachers unions are opposed to opening schools. They never cared about kids and education.

US is at bread and circuses stage of decline. Time to accept reality and deal with it appropriately.


Except you haven't had a socialist government so you can't really blame socialists for the problems you have.

Well we built two mRNA vaccines in less than a year. I'd call that pretty fucking awesome.

Technically the vaccine (at least the moderna one) was built in 48 hours. They had it prepared before they even had a sample of the virus. Chinese researchers uploaded the genetic sequence to the net and that was all moderna needed to build the vaccine. It was trials/testing/approval that took the rest of the time. Truly some mind-blowing stuff.

Thiel and his ilk are the reason we can't build cool shit anymore. Look at PayPal, horrible outdated interface that is still a kluge with old functionality glued to new functionality because it's just too big to be too concerned, and horrible customer service too. There is so much corruption and profiteering due to monopolization of various industries that this sort of behavior happens, Thiel is the guy who walks away with all his money before shit from his philosophy hits the fan; society being the bag man. Look at Trump who Thiel supported or his general idea of a monopoly. Monopolies are bad, competition and distribution is good. Thiel does not know what he's talking about. The rich can capture all the value, but what happens after that, they continue to capture all the value and don't have to improve or innovate to continue to exist, you can't hold them up to anything because what are you going to do you are locked in.

Do things 10x better he says, and then you will have so much network effect that you can do things 10x worse and people still have a hard time getting rid of you.

That is a very strange sentiment about the bombs.

We're just fat, lazy, entitled, and lacking all motivation at this point. In the 20th century we went from dropping grenades out of cloth covered biplanes to shooting radar guided nuclear missiles from supersonic jet fighters in 20 years because our survival was at stake. Global hegemony has a predictable way of softening societies that is empirically observable throughout human history. Compare the pace of change and development in the US to what is happening in China now, and you can see where the global locus of innovation has shifted.

Yep, is it Fahrenheit 451 or another Ray Bradbury story where the planes zip around the globe to start and end a war within a couple minutes, without anyone really realizing or caring?

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