There is keeping secrets and then there is KEEPING secrets…

And it looks like the Air Farce went just a ‘bit’ over the top with the B-2!

Mark Thompson, a national-security analyst at the Project On Government Oversight, brought our attention to the notice, which seeks an engineering effort that will reverse engineer key parts for the B‐2’s Load Heat Exchangers. While it is not exactly clear what part of the aircraft’s many complex and exotic subsystems these heat exchangers relate to, the bomber has no shortage of avionics systems, for example, which could require cooling. 

Sigh… Full article, HERE.

I mean it’s one thing for the military to not have parts because the aircraft is old/at the end of service life, but…

I can’t help but wonder what ‘else’ they don’t have parts for.

And this one is from 2012, from Canada. Military C-130s with counterfeit instruments in some panels in the cockpit…

Despite repeated government denials, CBC News has confirmed that some of Canada’s new Hercules military transport planes have counterfeit Chinese parts in their cockpits that could leave pilots with blank instrument panels in mid-flight.

Documents show the Canadian military has known about the bogus electronic chips in the giant Hercules C-130J aircraft since at least July 2012, but continued to hide the fact during a CBC News investigation months later.

Full article, HERE from the Canadian Broadcast Corp.

We’ve known for a while about the counterfeit replacement parts that are flooding the aircraft industry, most from China…

According to an FAA estimate, about 520,000 counterfeit or unapproved parts are currently making it into planes annually, which is about 2% of the overall 26 million active parts. While 2% may seem like a small number, consider that a typical passenger aircraft contains up to 6 million parts, and consider the extreme tolerances for failure to which each part must adhere.

Full article, HERE.


YGTBSM!!! — 28 Comments

  1. The Air Force probably never knew how to build the part, like most military equipment. It’s all made by defense contractors. This is probably yet another part that was made by a small business because the military was forced to use lots of stuff made by small businesses, and a few years later that small business probably went under, and there’s no documentation for how they made the part. The Air Force routinely has to spend quite a bit of money figuring out how to replace parts made by small businesses that go under. This one probably isn’t the Air Force’s fault. They’re just the ones who got stuck with it because every single member of Congress wants a couple more defense jobs in their constituency that they can take credit for.

  2. Good comment from Scott. Then there are the desk jockies who will buy anythiong from a low bidder with no idea if it works or not. That crushes the original small business and leaves the military holding the bag. The desk guy shows how valuable he is and nothing works. But it was cheap!

  3. I remember the time I couldn’t bring my equipment back on line by getting a mil-spec common transistor from Radio Shack because it wasn’t sourced properly.
    So my TRC-97 was down until the approved device arrived a week later.

  4. Both things are at least partly the result of forced competitive bidding. I wrote a lot of specs. in one of my prior lives, and I can assure you that there is someone out there who can finagle a spec. to outcheap you — and it’s almost impossible, if you have to go by the spec., to prevent.

    • And for comparison the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) was commisioned in November 1961 and then deployed in June 1962.

    • Hey Jack,
      That’s some great sea duty arrive to the precomm as a E-1, leave as PO1 getting the sea pay kicker and never made a cruise with 6 years on your sea service clock and a college degree.

      Only the LCS is better.

  5. We can only hope our adversaries are even more screwed. A question. Does the Chinese military suffer from off spec Chinese made parts?

    • Yes. Just recently it was a really big thing when their PLAAF managed to fly near Taiwan and do aerial refueling where other people could see it. Previous refueling was only done over mainland where nosy people couldn’t film the failures.

      And the PLAN tends to sortie only in short bursts, like the Russkies/Soviets because their equipment breaks down over long duration. Say what you can about how American ships look, we’ll keep them at sea for way long times. The PLAN just recently completed some sorties all the way to Africa and it was, again, a BIG THING because they actually completed without major engineering catastrophies right and left.

      They’re getting better. But still not good.

  6. Part of the problem is within the contracts themselves. That specify tooling and plans are to be destroyed after production. Which is why there was no replacement for the B2 that crashed and burned.

    Back in the 50’s and 60’s and 70’s, a plane would be bought in the hundreds, if not thousands, and production would remain for pieces parts way after production of the plane stopped, and if a new needed part couldn’t be found, just go to the desert and yank it off a mothballed plane.

    But in the era of small production, like the B-2 and the F-22, you are seeing the tooling and computer files being destroyed for all the various pieces parts and main assemblies, for a limited production of aircraft. What happens if someone lands a wunderplane too hard and stresses a main component that can’t be replaced? Or, well, a heat exchanger in a B-2? All because the contracts stated that the pieces-parts design information had to be destroyed after production?

    Fortunately, in these days of 3D imaging and multi-axis machining, an existing part can be removed, imaged, milled, and replaced relatively easily.

    Electronic parts? Not so much. We as a nation shot ourselves in the foot, knee, gonads on that one. Companies were actively targeted by the EPA and other Fed Agencies during the Clinton, Bush II and Obama eras and driven overseas. And what sensibilities returned during Trump went out the door after Xiden’s coup d’etat. (yes, let’s see, fairly elected government kicked out by nefarious means, sounds like a coup to me!)

    One of the reasons behind the B-21 was, in fact, that pieces parts specifications for the B-2 weren’t available anymore.

    Brilliant. Just brilliant.

    And we see the same thing in the Navy. Having to rob ships that are basically harbor queens for parts to keep the ‘active’ ships floating.

  7. FYI,
    Tinker has quietly been seeking new B-2 sources to fix manufacturing shortfalls since 2010.

  8. It isn’t just the tooling, specs, and drawings being destroyed for the sake of secrecy.

    Point of drawings is preserving the information necessary to manufacture a thing. Thing is, records are never perfect, there is almost always something that someone forgot to put down. That is okay when you have the people right there to question.

    Air Force has a lot of issues with needing to re engineer stuff.

    If you have a plane that is only sixty years old, even if you made an effort to preserve the drawings, toolings, etc., almost everyone who designed it is dead, and the modern techniques are different enough that asking young people to figure it out from what has been preserved is asking for challenges.

    I’m too young to have a really good example of a common historical technique that freshly trained engineers, machinists, etc., have never heard of, and are clueless about. Okay, slide rules…

    Just putting paper drawings into a computer system correctly is a challenge. Okay, scanning is easy, but going between the 2D drawing and 3D CAD data may still be difficult to automate reliably. For getting that many old parts fabricated, you would at least want to be able use a computer drawing inventory system that can at least provide a vendor with scanned drawings.

    B-2 and the F-117 were, and this is wikipedia, the production follow up to two parallel programs to implement some tools for designing an airframe for not just aerodynamics, but also electromagnetics. F-117 is faceted because of picking one type of theoretical solution to implement. B-2 was another, that allowed curves.

    I’d would have to check wikipedia again to see when the publicly known earliest stages were. They had a design by 1990, and production ended in 2000. We do know that they used computer tools for part of the design, so it isn’t purely an issue with paper drawings.

    You would still have an issue with CAD files from even 20 years ago. Because the CAD programs are changed. Yes, backwards compatibility may be very good. Software, generally, tends to be pretty bad at maintaining compatibility. So, even with every effort not to break things, there will be something broken, and making sure that you can still use the old files will be a specialized skillset, likely rarer than the amount of work that would be desired.

    You guys probably know more of what is what than I do.

    It may well be secrecy, but there would be a real need for re engineering without secrecy issues.

    It would make sense for this to be a result of management carried out as a deliberate program of sabotage. The deliberate sabotage explanation is not necessary, because at this scale, bureaucracies are often stupid or incompetent.

  9. I think I recall that Tinker services the B-2.

    I think I also recall that Tinker services the RQ-4, a slightly more recent design.

    I think I am not party to controlled information, but I’m not sure that I should lay out the explanation for why an item on the RQ-4 wikipedia page implies a lot of expensive re-engineering.

    So, the cooling system strikes me as probably routine, and inoffensive compared to Fat Leonard, the Afghanistan withdrawal, or the alleged Woke SJW reincarnation of McNamara. It may be that my lack of experience with defense contracting means I’m overlooking some really bad aspect of this that should be more obvious to me.

  10. Bob- Those are valid points, but the real issue revolves around the lack of production/spares after the end of the ‘production’ run… NG knew better, but I’m betting some beancounters stuck and oar in and said, ‘overruns’ cut any replacement parts to keep it on/under budget. sigh…

  11. even more terrifying, i saw a report last year that they hd forgotten to record a key step in making nukes work. there’s some little tweak they made back in the day that enabled the chain reaction to go off reliably, but all the old guys are dead and nobody wrote it down. it has to do with using tritium in the process. came up when they decided the icbm fleet needed upgrading. as of a couple years ago, they used floppy disks in the icbm computers. now that’s scary.

    • Probably 5.25″ floppies. IIRC, they never progressed to the smaller hard-cased ones.

      • Knowing how resistant to change some people are, I would not be surprised to hear they still use 8″ floppies – the original single-sided ones.

        In the early ’90s, IBM mainframe computers – you know, the multi-million dollar, room-sized machines – still used 8″ floppies to load the instruction set on startup – NOT the operating system, the INSTRUCTION SET. That is, the microcode that tells the CPU what to do in response to a machine code command.

        On a more related note:
        Back in the late ’60s, the Israelis had a problem with sourcing spare parts for their French-built jet fighters. The French being, well, French, decided that selling parts for planes that they sold in the first place was inappropriate, and Israeli industry had the skill, but not the process knowledge to reverse engineer the parts.

        At about the same time, the French reneged on a contract for patrol boats by refusing to deliver the completed craft to Israel, and coincidentally were in the middle of a plan to convert the paper drawings of the aircraft plans to micro-fiche.

        Israelis being ingenious, industrious people, inserted a team into the micro-fiche process by winning the contract to transport the plans, and went the long way, via their own, hidden, micro-fiche lab. They then transported the film to the patrol boats that the French were refusing to deliver, and sailed the lot home.

        Necessary replacement parts for their aircraft were being manufactured and delivered to maintenance bases shortly thereafter.

        The whole saga was fictionalised in Mirage by Ken Follet.

  12. I heard an interesting comment once from someone who had been at one of the Air Logistics Centers.

    He said that warehouse space was cheap, compared to some of the things stored in those warehouses.

    He claimed that from time to time people would decide that cost of warehouse was wasteful, the spares would be sold as surplus or something, and then later that the Air Force would have to try to buy them back.

    I’ve also heard that Tinker has a reputation. I once knew someone who worked there, and he was very unhappy because he felt that productive problem solving was not well rewarded there. Moved to a different location, I think he was happier.

    So, if both of those anecdotes were correct…

  13. A defense contractor where I was previously employed made a low volume item that came around about every ten to fifteen years. It was the spotter round for the aiming system of the SMAW rockets. They were the first to make these rounds and were the only contractor who could get them to work properly. The rocket launcher (British designed rocket system) used a special cartridge (9mm non-standard tracer projectile shot from a modified .308 case using a .22 hornet for a primer with non-standard magazines) shot from the launcher to aim the weapon. If the spotter round hit the target, you toggled a switch and pulled the trigger again and it launched the rocket.

    All of the people that knew all of the little tricks are either dead or retired. The main one just turned 80 this year. As I understand it, they have recently received an order for a new contact of production. As big of a pain as it was to get these to perform as required back a dozen or so years ago, I’ll bet they are going to have a real fun time trying to produce these this time.

  14. hey Old NFO;

    Even in the Civilian plane market, “Fake” parts are an issue, to get a part installed on our planes there has to be an 8130 form properly filled out with the origin of the part and the serial number and other pertinent information, and that information is tracked because most parts are considered “rotable” or rebuild-able if a certified repair shop does the repair/overhaul. Counterfeit parts are a problem and we reject parts on a regular basis that come from our vendors because the paperwork ain’t right or the part fails the induction inspection due to shoddy build. Some airlines especially in the 3rd world are not as picky and will accept parts that we reject.

  15. River- That doesn’t surprise me…sigh

    Bob- Yep, damn beancounters…

    Feral- Wow…

    Bob- Yep, Boeing is fighting that with the 737s, and apparently Airbus has a ‘number’ of issues with fakes.

  16. I’ve read that the B-52s are getting updates (or new parts).

  17. It doesn’t take decades to lose assembly info that isn’t documented correctly. All it takes is a business downturn that has the company tossing more than half it’s employees out the door.

    A couple months later, I got a call from a dept that I hadn’t worked in for several years, to help them troubleshoot a problem with the airbearings on the stages that floated on the granite block the machine was built on. The problem was the threaded hole for the mounting screw wasn’t quite deep enough, and attempts to correct the part drawing had never gotten finalized. With the standard screw bottomed, the airbearing mount would wobble, and the bearing foot would get damaged from scuffing. The fix was to run a modified bottom tap to clean up the bottom of the screw bore. The only remaining tech had ruined a set of bearings, 8 @ about $300 each (1985 price). The tech seemed clueless, and proceeded to ruin 2 more sets after being supplied with the tool and training needed.

  18. Over on ATH, someone pointed me in the direction of a slashdot account purporting to be of a Russian expatriate living the UK.

    Interestingly enough, he mentioned something about an alleged B-2 system for reducing the IR signature of the engines. Sounded like this same matter, and I think the date would have been before this was mentioned here.

    Also had the theory that the Communist Chinese had written the spec for 5G to create a passive radar network that could detect US stealth aircraft.