The Cutting Edge: A Half Century of U.S. Fighter Aircraft R&D

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9780833025951: The Cutting Edge: A Half Century of U.S. Fighter Aircraft R&D
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The proposition that innovation is critical in the cost-effective design and development of successful military aircraft is still subject to some debate. RAND research indicates that innovation is promoted by intense competition among three or more industry competitors. Given the critical policy importance of this issue in the current environment of drastic consolidation of the aerospace defense industry, the authors here examine the history of the major prime contractors in developing jet fighters since World War II. They make use of an extensive RAND database that includes nearly all jet fighters, fighter-attack aircraft, and bombers developed and flown by U.S. industry since 1945, as well as all related prototypes, modifications, upgrades, etc. The report concludes that (1) experience matters, because of the tendency to specialize and thus to develop system-specific expertise; (2) yet the most dramatic innovations and breakthroughs came from secondary or marginal players trying to compete with the industry leaders; and (3) dedicated military R&D conducted or directly funded by the U.S. government has been critical in the development of new higher-performance fighters and bombers.

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From the Publisher:

This book assesses the major trends in the history of jet-fighter design anddevelopment in the United States since World War II in order to evaluate the role of prior fighter and bomber and related research and development (R&D) experience among prime contractors in promoting successful R&D programs. The research is based primarily on open published sources. The goal is to assist the U.S. Air Force in developing policies that will preserve the capabilities of the combat aircraft industrial base in an environment of declining budgets and few new program starts.This book builds on earlier RAND research reported in Maintaining FutureMilitary Aircraft Design Capability.1 This research is part of a larger study effort intended to provide a conceptual framework for analyzing the future of Air Force industrial-base R&D activities. It complements an earlier parallel study on the importance of experience for bomber R&D: Mark Lorell, with Alison Sanders and Hugh Levaux, Bomber R&D Since 1945: The Role of Experience, MR-670-AF, December 1995.Decisionmakers and budget and program planners who are concerned about how the declining size and experience base of the U.S. military aerospace industry may affect the industry's ability to support future programs based on military requirements will find this work helpful. This research should be of interest not only to our sponsor, the U.S. Air Force but also to other government agencies that are responsible for supporting military aerospace R&D as well (Navy, Army, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration).This research was sponsored by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (Acquisition) and the Aeronautical Systems Command at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. It was performed within the Resource Management and System Acquisition Program of Project AIR FORCE, RAND.PROJECT AIR FORCEProject AIR FORCE, a division of RAND, is the Air Force federally fundedresearch and development center (FFRDC) for studies and analyses. It provides the Air Force with independent analyses of policy alternatives affecting the development, employment, combat readiness, and support of current and future aerospace forces. Research is being performed in three programs: Strategy and Doctrine, Force Modernization and Employment, and Resource Management and System Acquisition.

About the Author:

Mark A. Lorell is a senior analyst in the international studies group at RAND whose research interests include weapon system acquisition policies and force structure modernization, and Japanese, Korean and NATO military force structure planning/issues, among other international policy studies.

Hugh Levaux (M.A. International Relations, Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies) is a Rand Graduate School Fellow.

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Lorell, Mark
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