The committee’s meetings with senior industry executives indicate that the defense industry is able to hire adequate numbers of engineers at the current work level and in all likelihood will continue to be able to do so in the near future. The real concern they expressed is whether the quality of these engineers will deteriorate (LMAC, 2000; LMSS, 2000; Northrop Grumman, 2000). The defense industry was attractive to engineers during the Cold War. Since then, large cutbacks in Air Force programs and uncertainties about the future have made it less attractive to the engineering profession. At the same time, the need for engineers in other economic sectors has increased, particularly in the areas of information systems and biotechnology, providing engineers with many new opportunities. Nevertheless, the defense industry can still compete successfully for high-quality workers if the Air Force makes the efforts needed to encourage and support them. Fortunately, the Air Force programs involve some of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge technologies and will continue to do so. Therefore, if working conditions can be improved, the Air Force should continue to attract high-quality people.
The committee’s concerns about prospects for a talented, well-educated, highly motivated, and appropriately experienced defense aerospace science and engineering work force were based on four factors (LMAC, 2000; LMSS, 2000; Kennedy and Lorell, 2000; Shelton, 2000).
First, recent reductions in defense projects combined with reductions in hiring have changed the age-experience composition of the defense aerospace work force.
Second, the reduction in projects means a decline in new starts, hence a decline in opportunities for design experience. This leads highly qualified technical workers to consider the defense aerospace field less desirable. The lack of opportunities makes it much more difficult to attract and retain top talent and to build and maintain the necessary experience base.
Third, the overall decline in Department of Defense (DoD) funding has increased unit weapon system cost; therefore, scientists and engineers will work on even fewer projects in their lifetimes and thus will have less experience across a broad spectrum of technologies.
Fourth, the increase in unit cost could lead to gaps of years, perhaps, between the development of new systems; in the interim, specifically trained and experienced workers may be lost.
The change in the age-experience composition of the work force occasioned by the decrease in defense spending raises serious questions about mentoring and the generational passing on of knowledge in the industry. One immediate effect is that older employees who qualify for early retirement may elect to retire because they see fewer opportunities ahead for interesting work (see Figures 3–1 and 3–2). Meanwhile, younger engineers may leave for what they perceive to be better opportunities to learn and gain experience elsewhere. In addition, the short-term result would be that the work force is predominantly middle-aged. As time passes with no new significant hiring, the work force will become disproportionately composed of older, more experienced employees. This has occurred in the aerospace industry and in government over the past 15 years, during which time the number of engineers aged 25 to 34 has fallen from 27 to 17 percent of the work force. In the space sector, only 7 percent of the engineers are under age 30 (CNN, 2000). At Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company, for example, new hires, which started to decline in the early 1980s, dropped to almost zero in the 1990s (LMAC, 2000). If this trend continues, as experienced workers age and retire, their knowledge and expertise will be lost. The number of available experi-
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense 3 Work Force Issues The committee’s meetings with senior industry executives indicate that the defense industry is able to hire adequate numbers of engineers at the current work level and in all likelihood will continue to be able to do so in the near future. The real concern they expressed is whether the quality of these engineers will deteriorate (LMAC, 2000; LMSS, 2000; Northrop Grumman, 2000). The defense industry was attractive to engineers during the Cold War. Since then, large cutbacks in Air Force programs and uncertainties about the future have made it less attractive to the engineering profession. At the same time, the need for engineers in other economic sectors has increased, particularly in the areas of information systems and biotechnology, providing engineers with many new opportunities. Nevertheless, the defense industry can still compete successfully for high-quality workers if the Air Force makes the efforts needed to encourage and support them. Fortunately, the Air Force programs involve some of the most sophisticated, cutting-edge technologies and will continue to do so. Therefore, if working conditions can be improved, the Air Force should continue to attract high-quality people. INDUSTRIAL TALENT BASE The committee’s concerns about prospects for a talented, well-educated, highly motivated, and appropriately experienced defense aerospace science and engineering work force were based on four factors (LMAC, 2000; LMSS, 2000; Kennedy and Lorell, 2000; Shelton, 2000). First, recent reductions in defense projects combined with reductions in hiring have changed the age-experience composition of the defense aerospace work force. Second, the reduction in projects means a decline in new starts, hence a decline in opportunities for design experience. This leads highly qualified technical workers to consider the defense aerospace field less desirable. The lack of opportunities makes it much more difficult to attract and retain top talent and to build and maintain the necessary experience base. Third, the overall decline in Department of Defense (DoD) funding has increased unit weapon system cost; therefore, scientists and engineers will work on even fewer projects in their lifetimes and thus will have less experience across a broad spectrum of technologies. Fourth, the increase in unit cost could lead to gaps of years, perhaps, between the development of new systems; in the interim, specifically trained and experienced workers may be lost. Depth of Experience The change in the age-experience composition of the work force occasioned by the decrease in defense spending raises serious questions about mentoring and the generational passing on of knowledge in the industry. One immediate effect is that older employees who qualify for early retirement may elect to retire because they see fewer opportunities ahead for interesting work (see Figures 3–1 and 3–2). Meanwhile, younger engineers may leave for what they perceive to be better opportunities to learn and gain experience elsewhere. In addition, the short-term result would be that the work force is predominantly middle-aged. As time passes with no new significant hiring, the work force will become disproportionately composed of older, more experienced employees. This has occurred in the aerospace industry and in government over the past 15 years, during which time the number of engineers aged 25 to 34 has fallen from 27 to 17 percent of the work force. In the space sector, only 7 percent of the engineers are under age 30 (CNN, 2000). At Lockheed Martin Aeronautical Company, for example, new hires, which started to decline in the early 1980s, dropped to almost zero in the 1990s (LMAC, 2000). If this trend continues, as experienced workers age and retire, their knowledge and expertise will be lost. The number of available experi-
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense FIGURE 3–1 Number of engineers who left Boeing in 1999. SOURCE: Boeing, 2000b. FIGURE 3–2 Rate at which engineers left Boeing in 1999. SOURCE: Boeing, 2000b. enced leaders will be small, and if the need is there, which seems extremely likely, the gap must be filled by young and inexperienced people. Many companies are now planning formally arranged mentoring procedures, as well as more training programs for new workers. When new engineers are hired, mentoring and teaming arrangements have to be carefully planned to capture the experience of those about to retire. Nevertheless, experience is lost, as is efficiency, when work tasks involve significant learning curves. For example, since 1982 when
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense the production base started to decline, Raytheon has reduced its work force by 6,000 engineers. The company recently hired 2,200 new engineers, including 500 straight out of colleges and universities. Because Raytheon anticipates that a large percentage of its experienced work force will retire in the next 10 years, it is also bringing retirees back to work on a short-term basis as a stopgap measure. The company has also implemented a mentoring program, popular with both mentors and apprentices, in which experienced people work with new people two days a week. It is also supporting classes during and after working hours (Shelton, 2000). The Ford Motor Company has also recognized that the company is losing previous practical knowledge when experienced workers leave. To remedy the problem, Ford tried to archive in a database the experience and knowledge for one automobile engine component subassembly. This study showed that at the parts level, about 90 percent of the necessary knowledge and experience could be captured; at the assembly level, this fell to 60 percent; at the system level, it fell to 30 percent. The remainder of the necessary information and experience was potentially lost when employees left (Hastings, 2000). Historical experiences at the two airplane manufacturing companies of the Lockheed Corporation, the Lockheed California Company and the Lockheed Georgia Company, revealed a need for measuring experience by work association. Because the workloads of the two companies varied, major subassemblies, such as the C-130 wing, were transferred from one company to another. However, a number of cost increases and schedule delays followed. Lockheed found that the most effective solution was to transfer key personnel prior to the move of the hardware. The new team then worked alongside the old one for several weeks or months, developing from observation and conversation the critical information for a smooth-running assembly operation. The significant cost of these temporary reassignments was more than offset by the decrease in start-up costs at the new assembly location. The experiences at Ford and Lockheed suggest that practical production knowledge cannot be captured in written descriptions suitable for textbooks or manuals. This knowledge includes many judgments about subtle trade-offs learned mostly through experience and best passed on from more experienced employees to their less experienced colleagues. As Ford’s experience shows, the more complex the task, the greater is the need for the transfer of knowledge. Loss of Breadth of Experience Another issue of concern is the loss of workers with broad experience in working on several different programs. As Table 3–1 shows, the number of fixed-wing, manned, combat aircraft programs has declined steadily since the 1950s. Many aircraft engineers today, even with 10 years of experience, have worked on only one fighter design project, so the breadth of experience is narrowing as older engineers re TABLE 3–1 Decline in Fixed-Wing, Manned, Combat Aircraft Programs Decade Number of New Aircraft “Starts” 1950s 46 1960s 15 1970s 12 1980s 7 1990s 4 2000s 1 (to date) SOURCE: Kennedy and Lorell, 2000. tire.1 This loss of breadth of experience is at least partially offset by the fact that during the development lifetime of a fighter aircraft it will go through several complete avionics system designs due to the rapid change of avionics weapons technology. The F-16 and F/A-18 are examples; the F-22 will be another. Compounding the problem of fewer procurement dollars has been the increased cost per unit (in constant year dollars) due to inefficient procurement rates. Procurement dollars can no longer buy as many weapons as they did in the past. Therefore, the number of new systems that can be developed and procured even for the same budget in constant year dollars has decreased. Data for military aircraft show that after adjusting for inflation, the average procurement cost of an aircraft in 1993 was between five and six times as much as it was in 1973. Data show similar trends for other DoD-procured advanced technology systems, such as helicopters, ships, and tanks (GAO, 1997). The increase in unit cost is partly a function of a high-technology approach to the incorporation of very sophisticated, high-cost technologies, such as advanced avionics, night and all-weather capability, precision munitions, and stealth characteristics, into new weapon systems. DoD adopted this approach to take advantage of U.S. world leadership in technical areas and to minimize potential U.S. casualties and collateral civilian damage in time of war. In extreme cases, the increase in unit cost could lead to gaps of years before the development of a new system. In these cases, development teams would have to be maintained during the hiatus or teams would be disbanded and formed again. If teams are maintained, they must have something valuable to do or they will lose people and skills. In either scenario, costs would be increased and group experience would be lost. Reconstituting an experienced design organization may take as long as 10 to 12 years. If a competitor is already up to 1 This problem has also arisen in the nondefense aerospace industry. Many more U.S. commercial designs were developed in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense speed, playing catch-up may be difficult. On the other hand, a new organization using new technology may be able to leapfrog an old organization. A new organization of capable people can sometimes be better than an old organization set in its ways, but this cannot be counted on. If this time delay is unacceptable, then technical experience must be preserved. According to Etter (2000), “By the time you’re worried, it’s too late.” RAND looked into the question of the cost of a work lull between major programs, specifically in the development of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). In its study of this problem, RAND’s Project AIR FORCE defined a minimum core work force to sustain a capability for producing fixed-wing air vehicles as 2,000 people (1,000 specialists in airframe and air-vehicle integration, 500 specialists in avionics, and 500 specialists in propulsion and other areas). The cost of sustaining this core team would be about $500 million per year ($250,000 per year per engineer, plus the cost of facilities, prototyping, materials, support, etc.). Full-scale engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) would cost about four times as much, or $2 billion per year. If a core team were lost during a long hiatus, the report estimated that it would take seven years and cost $3.5 billion to reconstitute the team. The costs of a hiatus, or layoffs and recalls for that matter, include one to two years for hiring and training new workers (even if they are brought in from other firms) and inferior design work and judgment in risk and performance trade-offs (Kennedy and Lorell, 2000). It is difficult to weigh the costs and benefits of reconstituting a work team as opposed to sustaining an experienced technical team. One consideration is that the military services, and the Air Force in particular, will have to be more flexible than in the past as warfare shifts from traditional platforms to a combination of high-technology platforms and smaller, innovative, new technologies. We must change our approach as threats change. We must deal with the new asymmetric threats such as biological warfare and rogue national ballistic missiles. Buying more traditional weapon platforms (like ships, planes, and tanks) will not be sufficient and may be the wrong response. We must be able to take advantage of the rapid improvements in technology, the majority of which are coming from non-traditional defense suppliers who are developing technology for strictly commercial markets. (DSB, 1999) The mission for the Air Force is changing in ways that are not yet completely understood. The shift from an air force to an aerospace force and an expeditionary force will require technology systems that may not yet be envisioned. Despite the difficulties of attracting qualified people to work in defense, the committee believes the industry has enough capable people to carry out current Air Force programs and should be able to attract qualified people in the future to develop and build the systems that are now planned. The Air Force is still a major source and sponsor of challenging aerospace research. In addition, the very large reserve of technical talent elsewhere in the national economy could be brought to bear if an emergency arises, perhaps not in a period of months, but certainly in a relatively few years. The Air Force and industry can, however, do more to ensure that the highest-quality technical people will be available by establishing conditions that will attract and retain them in Air Force research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) and procurement programs. Level of Program Opportunity Opportunities for innovative design work that could attract new engineers and ensure broad program experience may be provided by technologies outside of the traditional defense platform programs. Based on the committee’s cursory survey of acquisition programs, between 2000 and 2017, 10 of the top 20 DoD acquisition programs will be aerospace programs, including JSF, the F-22, the F/A-18E/F, a new bomber (the Future Strike Aircraft, or FSA), the Comanche attack helicopter, the V-22, the C-17, the National Missile Defense (NMD) Program, the C-130J, and the KC-XX tanker replacement for the Air Force (Thompson, 2000). These programs are of different scales and in different stages of the development cycle. Programs in Production Boeing is producing the F-15E, F/A-18E/F, C-17, and the V-22. Boeing is continuing to build F-15Es since the F-22 is replacing only the F-15C (Boeing, 2001a). The Navy plans to buy at least 548 F/A-18E/F aircraft through FY10, and Congress has approved the construction of 222 aircraft through FY04 (Boeing, 2000a). Plans call for the procurement of 120 C-17s through FY04 (Boeing, 2001b). If technical difficulties with the V-22 program can be resolved, the V-22 will represent a sizable amount of business for Boeing and its partner, Bell Helicopter Textron, Inc. The Air Force has committed to buying 50 V-22s, the Navy 48, and the Marine Corps 360 (USAF, 2000a; USN, 1999). Lockheed Martin currently has two major aircraft production programs, the F-16 and the C-130J. The Air Force has expressed a need for 70 new F-16s, and 30 have been budgeted through FY04. Lockheed also has contracts to sell 80 Block 60 aircraft to the United Arab Emirates and more than 50 Block 50+ aircraft to Greece and Israel (LM, 2000). On December 22, 2000, Lockheed Martin received a contract for $734.5 million to build 12 C-130Js through FY06 (OASD (PA), 2000). Programs in Preproduction Work on the F-22, by Lockheed Martin and Boeing is currently in the EMD phase and is scheduled to enter pro-
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense duction in FY03. Plans call for 339 aircraft to be built in the entire production run (LM, 2001). To fill out the structure of the Expeditionary Air Force, the Air Force has expressed the desire to increase the number of aircraft to 415 (Wall, 2000). The JSF is currently in the concept demonstration phase. The cost of the work in this phase, which began in FY96 and will last until sometime in FY01, is $2.2 billion (JSF PO, 2001a). Total production is projected to be 5,000 aircraft, at a total cost of $400 billion; production will continue through FY27 (JSF PO, 2001b; Morrocco, 2001). Programs in the Conceptual and Development Phase Work on the unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) is well under way. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is running an advanced technology demonstration program valued at $120 million through FY02 (DARPA, 2000). The Navy is also conducting tests to evaluate the suitability of UCAVs for carrier deck operations. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman all have exploratory UCAV programs for the Navy. If the cost of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and UCAVs can be kept down, they may offer many development opportunities for high-quality technical personnel. Boeing and Lockheed Martin are doing conceptual work on the next generation of tanker and airlift aircraft for the Air Force. The replacement of the KC-135 is not expected until the 2013 to 2040 time frame, but it could happen as soon as 2009 according to the Air Force (Boeing, 2001c; Erwin, 2001). Table 3–2 shows Boeing’s scope of involvement in the life-cycle support of various programs and systems. The Air Force X-vehicle technology programs involve some of the most interesting aerospace research in the world. The Air Force is interested in or is pursuing several space X-vehicle technologies. Development of a space maneuver vehicle is the object of the Air Force’s X-40A Program, which relies heavily on the results of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) X-37 reusable launch vehicle (RLV) program. In July, 1999, Boeing received a $173 million, four-year contract for work on the X-37 (David, 2000). The Air Force is also interested in an orbital transfer vehicle and has several experimental satellites in the works; the XSS-10 with a projected launch date of 2001, the XSS-11 with a planned launch date of 2004, and the TechSAT 21 also with a planned launch date of 2004 (Anderson, 2000). More conceptual systems under consideration by the Air Force include microsatellites, on-orbit maneuver and spacecraft servicing, sensorcraft (a multisensor unmanned air vehicle), space optics and lasers, and miniaturized munitions (Carlson, 2000; Ruck, 2000). If support for these programs and other advanced concepts increases, it may signal an intensification of the shift from airframes to avionics that began after World War II. This would create some concerns about maintaining existing expertise in airframes but would increase future needs for software development, a highly competitive area. Exciting work is also going on in the civilian sector. RLV technology was being developed as part of NASA’s X-37 technology test bed program. The X-37 is currently undergoing drop tests and is scheduled for an orbital autonomous reentry and landing test in 2002. Other NASA programs include the reduced-cost, small-payload technology experiment; the ceramics-for-sharp-leading-edges experiment; and a Hall-effect thruster. The next round of Pathfinder explorations could include a crew escape system demonstrator (Little Joe III); a reusable, first-stage, glide-back demonstrator (Flybac); an International Space Station fast package delivery demonstrator (Fastpac); a space tug-transfer stage to haul cargo between Earth and the Moon; a nuclear precursor vehicle; and an advanced vertical takeoff-vertical landing demonstrator (London, 2000). TABLE 3–2 Boeing Life-cycle Support Future Concepts Emerging Growth Mature Declining UCAV JSF C-17 F-15 B-l Common support aircraft Comanche F/A-18E/F T-45 B-2 Advanced theater transport KC-767 F-22 AV-8B B-52 Blended-wing-body F/A-18G V-22 Apache F/A-18C/D Canard rotorwing JDAM CH-47 Hellfire Affordable rapid response missile demonstrator Brimstone C-40 AGM-130 CALCM SLAM-ER C-32 NOTE: UCAV, unmanned combat air vehicle; JSF, Joint Strike Fighter; JDAM, joint direct attack munition; AGM, air to ground missile; CALCM, conventional air launched cruise missile; and SLAM-ER, standoff land attack missile-expanded response. SOURCE: Boeing, 2000a.
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense Barriers to Continued Aerospace Programs Despite the diversity of potential programs, program uncertainties are a constant worry for defense aerospace prime contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman. Any slips or the cancellation of either the F-22 or the JSF aircraft programs would have significant near-term consequences for the engineering work force, because of the absence of equivalent programs.2 Even if the JSF enters the EMD phase, there will be a 16-year gap between FY08 and FY24 before the Future Strike System is planned to enter the EMD phase. Therefore, even if the JSF enters the EMD phase on schedule, the work force faces an uncertain future (Northrop Grumman, 2000). Attractions of a Career in Defense Aerospace Engineering Layoffs in the aerospace sector and abundant opportunities for higher salaries or benefits in other sectors of industry may discourage engineers from pursuing careers in aerospace, and defense aerospace in particular. No company told the committee that it was currently unable to carry out its defense aerospace projects because it could not find good people. However, several “early-warning” signs were cited that the defense aerospace sector is becoming less attractive to talented engineers. For example, Raytheon reported that the acceptance rate of offers to its most desirable potential employees, referred to as the “go-getters,” has fallen dramatically (Shelton, 2000). The shortage of software engineers is an acute problem in the commercial and defense aerospace industry. Even if the supply increases with time, the demand will probably still exceed the supply. Advanced aviation systems have a higher software content than traditional systems, and they require the education and training of software-proficient system engineers. High-potential young software engineers often leave for jobs in nondefense industries where pay scales are higher and perceived opportunities are more exciting. On the other hand, this is becoming less of a problem since the economic downturn of the technology sector as a large number of nondefense industries are proving to be unreliable sources of employment and therefore less competition for the defense industry (CNN, 2000). The growing gap is illustrated by problems with the upgrading and maintenance of avionics software. Recent studies have shown that the technical competence of maintenance personnel is eroding, particularly in the area of software technology, in both the government and the defense industry. Most of the new avionics software (in a modular open systems architecture [MOSA] environment) will be designed by avionics suppliers, but only engineers at governments depots are familiar with legacy equipment. At the same time, government depots are increasingly using industry personnel to compensate for the diminishing in-house capability that is clearly occurring. Ultimately, government and industry will have to work together to solve the software engineer problem. The increasing complexity of software systems will exacerbate the problem. The Air Force can mitigate the problem somewhat by sharing best practices in software design and maintenance with industry, by encouraging increases in personal productivity to reduce the need for more software engineers, and by exploring ways to consolidate software support. However, to attract new technical personnel, the Air Force may have to offer hiring incentives to narrow the gap between government and industry offerings (NRC, 2001). The two JSF prototype design teams at Lockheed Martin and Boeing involve people with critical skills that are easily transferable to the commercial sector, such as computational fluid dynamics, thermodynamics, and avionics and systems engineering, who are constantly being recruited. Because of the relatively high attrition rate among younger engineers, Boeing and other companies have initiated programs to improve productivity, thereby lessening demand. The Boeing effort to improve productivity has resulted in 29 percent less effort being put into drawings, 18 percent less effort into manufacturing engineering, 74 percent less effort into tool design, and 21 percent less effort into software work. To retain employees, Boeing has also initiated other changes, such as work at home for software engineers, software training for nonsoftware engineers, and generous tuition reimbursement programs (Boeing, 2000b). If the Air Force wants good people to work on its projects, it must provide attractive working conditions, job stability, a competitive salary structure, and efficient program management. A healthy organization, whether in industry or in government, must also provide reasonable physical conditions, benefits, and opportunities for growth and advancement. ACADEMIC TALENT BASE The academic sector of the defense aerospace infrastructure is also feeling the budget squeeze. Overall research funding to universities for aerospace research peaked in 1990 at $106.3 million and averaged only $78.8 million from 1991 through 1998 (Table 3–3). DoD agency 6.1 and 6.2 funding, NASA funding, and DARPA funding have all deceased. College and university engineering programs are the major source of technical personnel entering the defense aerospace field. The number of engineering students in aerospace disciplines—aerospace engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, and electrical engineering—is down. As Table 3–4 shows, substantially fewer B.S. degrees were granted in aerospace engineering in 1998–2000 compared to 2 Although the recent award of the international UAE F-16 program to Lockheed Martin may mitigate the problem, 40 percent of its design work force is involved in the F-22 and JSF programs (LMAC, 2000).
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense TABLE 3–3 Funding by Federal Agencies to Universities for Aeronautical and Astronautical Research (in millions of constant FY01 dollars) 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 Aeronautical research 68.3 61.2 73.2 85.7 59.5 58.1 53.2 64.5 53.7 48.5 50.3 63.4 72.5 Astronautical research 14.4 18.2 20.2 20.6 22.3 25.6 20.8 21.1 20.1 18.3 18.0 9.0 41.0 Total 82.6 79.4 93.4 106.3 81.8 83.7 74.0 85.6 73.8 66.7 68.3 72.3 113.5 NOTE: Distribution of 6.1 funds: universities, 60–70%; laboratories, 27–37%; federally funded R&D centers, contractors, 3%. SOURCE: NSF, 2000, 2001. TABLE 3–4 Aerospace Engineering Degrees Awarded from 1991 to 2000 Type of Degree 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 Bachelor’s degree 2,898 2,915 2,707 2,311 1,789 1,722 1,372 1,291 1,221 1,274 Master’s degree 969 1,007 1,080 1,098 875 771 720 638 640 696 Doctorate degree 205 239 207 247 245 262 285 236 195 205 SOURCE: EWC, 2001. the early 1990s, although the number of doctorates has increased slightly. Most of the work force in applied aerospace have master’s degrees; holders of doctorate degrees tend to seek employment in universities and government research laboratories. However, the increase in doctoral degrees may reflect students’ decisions to stay in school as long as employment opportunities are low. The number of bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and electrical engineering has diminished somewhat from peak levels in the mid-1990s, while the number of doctoral degrees has remained flat or increased slightly. The proportion of bachelor’s and master’s aerospace engineering degree recipients who are foreign nationals has grown over the past decade by three times and roughly one-and-a-half times, respectively. A slightly decreasing but significant number of doctoral recipients are non-U.S. citizens. Foreign nationals are limited in their opportunities for working in classified defense aerospace, further reducing the number of aerospace engineers available for defense-related aerospace work (EWC, 2001). The effects of decreasing defense investments are multiplied by the loss of talented students to other fields. Reports from graduates on job opportunities and the quality of work influence faculty perceptions of the attractiveness of aerospace engineering as a career. DoD and the Air Force must maintain their connection to university research to ensure that faculty and students remain engaged in research on technologies important to the military and the Air Force. Students choose to pursue a particular discipline not only because they are interested in the subject, but also because they expect to be employed in the field. Today, however, the defense aerospace sector is less attractive to engineering graduates for several reasons: financial rewards are lower than those offered by small, high-technology, rapid-growth commercial companies, especially in telecommunications, e-commerce, and biotechnology (although this may be changing); downsizing and continuing mergers and acquisitions have resulted in layoffs, reorganizations, and turmoil in the workplace; and because of the oppressive and intrusive oversight of defense programs, they do not provide as much opportunity for creativity and innovation as private companies. Although the Air Force can offer unique opportunities in some of the most exciting engineering projects in the world, the message that usually reaches students is about layoffs in the aerospace sector, limited opportunities, and decreasing funds for research. The only program with certain funding, students believe, is for one fighter aircraft, the JSF. The Air Force must overcome the perception that defense aerospace research is no longer important and that opportunities in the field are severely limited (Table 3–5). Continued investment in university research is crucial to the future defense aerospace infrastructure. The S&T products of university research are often innovative and creative, and investment fuels the pipeline of faculty and students interested in military problems. In fact, the Air Force Office of
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense TABLE 3–5 Projected Job Growth in Engineering Fields (in thousands) Employment Change in Field 1998 2008 Number of Jobs Percentage Aerospace engineers 53 58 5 8.8 Chemical engineers 48 53 5 9.5 Civil engineers 195 236 41 20.9 Electrical or electronics engineers 357 450 93 25.9 Industrial engineers 126 142 16 12.8 Materials engineers 20 21 2 9.0 Mechanical engineers 220 256 36 16.4 Nuclear engineers 12 12 1 5.8 Petroleum engineers 12 12 0 (3.6) All other engineers 415 509 94 22.6 Total 1,462 1,752 290 19.9 NOTE: Numbers may appear not to add or compute correctly. The Bureau of Labor Statistics rounds its numbers to the nearest 1,000. Any apparent errors are attributable to rounding. SOURCE: BLS, 1999. Scientific Research has supported 37 people who went on to become Nobel Prize winners. Academia is also being squeezed by having to share the costs of research, particularly the costs of equipment. Most federally sponsored research is based on cost sharing to ensure that grant recipients are truly dedicated partners in the research enterprise. In the current climate, however, many universities may not be able to provide cost-share funds at the usual level. Research by universities, faculty, and students supported by U.S. government science and technology (S&T) funds forms an indispensable base for providing young, well-educated technical people for careers in defense technology and Air Force laboratories. The relationship between universities and the Air Force is symbiotic. Universities need S&T funds, and the Air Force needs both the results of S&T and the new engineers. If the Air Force does not shoulder its share of the cost of overhead recovery or facilities, the universities and, ultimately, the Air Force itself will both suffer. GOVERNMENT TALENT BASE The other component of the work force is employed by government organizations involved in defense aerospace. These workers have slightly different concerns. Based on site visits to government aerospace organizations (Appendix A) and other information, the committee identified the following general concerns: Substantial downsizing of the technical work force has led to a loss of technical expertise and experience. Government rules and regulations on hiring, employment, and retention or firing make it difficult to attract and keep talented individuals. Because modernization of facilities and equipment has been deferred, scientists and engineers are no longer working with the best, most modern tools. Innovative personnel programs have been initiated to meet these challenges. Hiring Constraints The Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC), which employs about 90,000 people at 13 sites, has lost 35 percent of its civilian technical work force since 1989 (personal communication, K.Compton, Public Affairs, Air Force Materiel Command, February 22, 2001) and 45 percent of its military technical work force since 1994 (personal communication, K.Compton, Public Affairs, Air Force Materiel Command, March 21, 2001). Although a slight increase is projected for 2001 and 2002, AFMC has had difficulty attracting new employees, partly because of government hiring regulations. As a result, the work force is skewed toward older workers (Stewart, 2000). Similar reductions have been made at NASA laboratories. At Langley Research Center, for example, the full-time employment ceiling was lowered from 4,000 in the 1970s to 3,000 and is about to be lowered again (Creedon, 2000). The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) expects to lose 25 to 30 percent of its people in the next five to seven years, an estimated 25 percent loss in the knowledge base, some of it in obsolete and older technologies (Hastings, 2000). It, too, cannot replace its losses by direct hiring because of low salaries and hiring delays related to government constraints. The mean salary difference between scientists and engineers at AFRL and comparable workers at five different government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) facilities was $20,000, with the greatest shortfalls at higher-level positions. Examples of hiring delays at AFRL include a number of cases at one facility where delays ranged from
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense six months to more than a year. The average time to hire at another AFRL facility was five months after the candidate was identified. In one instance, five top candidates were lost because of the hiring delay (CSAF, 1999). Government organizations simply cannot maintain a world-class in-house science and engineering capability as long as they are required to operate entirely within U.S. civil service policies and procedures. It should be noted that the Defense Science Board (DSB) Task Force on Human Resources and Strategy found similar situations in the course of its in-depth review of trends and opportunities to improve the ability of DoD to attract and retain critical personnel. The DSB Task Force recommended that necessary legislation be enacted to transfer authority for the DoD civilian work force from the Office of Personnel Management to the Secretary of Defense (DSB, 2000a). It is the opinion of the committee that this recommendation has considerable merit and should receive serious consideration. To fill out its work force, AFRL plans to augment its cadre of career civil service and military personnel with an equal number of university, nonprofit, and industry personnel. The industry-academia personnel would have limited-term appointments of four to six years. The objective of this arrangement is to make the work force more “agile” in responding to technical and research needs; to improve government personnel management processes; and to mix government staff, which provides continuity and corporate memory, with top industry-academic talent, which provides a different perspective and broader exposure. The initiative takes advantage of newly streamlined hiring authority and other special arrangements (Paul, 2000). Since World War II, the government has established special long-term contracts with a number of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDCs), which have close working relationships with the government but have the flexibility to operate under private-sector rules. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), an FFRDC managed by the California Institute of Technology for NASA, is a good example. Its employment structure is not constrained by civil service rules, and it has been relatively successful in recruiting and retaining technical people. According to a spokesperson for JPL, work on space technologies continues to enjoy a mystique and popularity among engineers, and the acceptance rate of employment offers at JPL is between 85 and 90 percent. Despite this success, JPL has experienced a decline in systems engineering experience and a somewhat higher turnover rate among communications and computer specialists who have been lured away to commercial companies, including entertainment firms and software start-up companies (Stone, 2000). DARPA has initiated a five-year program, Experimental Personnel Management for Technology Workers, to increase its flexibility in hiring 20 “eminent experts in science and engineering” for R&D projects (Seffers, 2000). The program allows DARPA to cut the time of the hiring process from several months to about three weeks. Employees hired under the program are limited to a maximum rate of pay, just as other federal workers are, but they are not assigned pay grades, pay bands, or steps, and initial salaries are negotiable up to the maximum level. Although organizations throughout DoD are seeking ways to overcome the personnel constraints imposed by government policies and procedures, these initiatives are piecemeal attempts and do not represent an across-the-board effort to improve the government’s hiring of technical manpower. Military Technical Personnel The committee recognizes the value of having military personnel in the S&T and acquisition communities. The committee did not devote significant time to addressing the status of military technical personnel; however, DoD’s policy of assigning uniformed personnel to S&T activities, both in laboratories and in technical oversight positions, is considered valuable to the overall attainment of service goals. A significant source of Air Force officers with advanced technical degrees is the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (AFB). During the 1990s, the Air Force contemplated closing the inhouse school at Wright-Patterson. A key factor during this consideration was cost. Congressional concern arose that was reinforced by the trend toward declining Air Force S&T work force size. The Air Force decided not to close AFIT; however, AFIT remains a congressional interest item. The committee supports the decision to maintain AFIT as a major source of technical competence in the uniformed ranks. The committee strongly supports technical education for Air Force personnel at both AFIT and civilian universities. The appropriate balance between them is beyond the scope of this study. This military S&T work force has been experiencing problems similar to those experienced by the civilian work force. Young, highly motivated officers with advanced scientific and engineering degrees are affected by the same factors that affect civilian S&T workers, including low morale and plentiful challenges, and opportunities outside the military. In addition, there appears to be a perception among some military officers that S&T assignments provide limited career opportunities or are even detrimental to their careers. For example, only nine current Air Force general officers have ever served a tour in an Air Force laboratory (CSAF, 1999). As a result, the number of officers seeking such assignments has dwindled. In 1999, only half of the allocated positions for uniformed personnel at AFRL were filled (CSAF, 1999). This is a telling statistic about the perceived importance of S&T by Air Force officers regarding their career development. The Air Force is a highly technical organization. It mat-
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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense ters that Air Force leadership has the technical training and experience to understand and guide their core technologies. Outsourcing Another result of the constrained work force at government facilities is a reduction in in-house S&T and an increase in contracting out the work while maintaining a management function. In the past, employees in government laboratories were personally involved in R&D, as well as in managing contracted-out work. Their own research provided a valuable background for their informed supervision of contract research. As the level of in-house research falls (e.g., the airborne laser [ABL]), government researchers are losing this valuable experience. If this trend continues, government contract monitors will have no R&D experience, which could undermine the effectiveness of contract management. In addition, top-quality people are not likely accept a job that only promises management of others’ R&D. Inflexible civil service regulations, hiring practices, and employment conditions, as well as salary realization, have seriously impeded efforts to attract and retain high-quality technical civilian personnel within the Air Force, particularly in a laboratory environment. The resulting degradation of government research talent has caused more government research to be contracted out to industry and university laboratories. The people who remain in government laboratories are spending more of their time as contract monitors than as researchers. Under existing rules and in the present business climate, the government has difficulty maintaining a highly qualified technical work force, except in a few instances where progressive personnel programs have been allowed on a pilot basis. Allocation of Funds DoD personnel responsible for funding and overseeing programs face serious and increasingly difficult challenges. With the decline in defense investment in S&T and R&D, policies and programs must be organized and executed effectively. Efficient management and allocation of funding are critical factors in technology advancement, especially when resources are diminishing. The lack of industry experience in the Air Force senior leadership is a significant problem. These leaders must create policy; must manage, craft, and execute programs; and must be “smart buyers” for the Air Force to continue to generate advanced technologies. The committee examined, for example, 70 biographies of senior Air Force civilians involved in funding and overseeing programs. Of the 70, only 10 percent had at least one science or engineering degree and had worked for an aerospace manufacturing firm; 43 percent had a technical education only; 3 percent had industry experience only; and 44 percent had none of these (USAF, 2000b).