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From: (Henry Spencer)
Subject: Re: technology development cycles
Date: Sat, 21 Nov 1998 06:50:33 GMT

In article <kSk52.40$>,
Dwayne Allen Day  <> wrote:
>B-2, which was initially intended for high altitude, but later required to
>fly at low altitude, thus requiring major changes in wing design.  (An
>aside:  the whole high-low thing has always struck me as bizarre:  the Air
>Force always thought that low penetration increased survivability--until
>they actually tried it in places like Vietnam and the Gulf.  Then they
>went back to flying high and relying on the electronics to protect them
>from the missiles.)

Much depends on whether you are trying to nuke Moscow, with the nearest
friendly forces a couple of thousand miles behind you, and everybody from
the PVO Strany to the Young Pioneers trying to stop you, or trying to bomb
Baghdad six times a day, with massive air superiority largely eliminating
airborne threats, and defence-suppression forces killing any sophisticated
antiaircraft battery which is stupid enough to reveal itself.  The USAF
has historically been obsessed with the former problem to the near-total
exclusion of the latter (except when it is thrust in their faces).

Against dense, sophisticated air defences operating freely, there is no
question that it is better to fly low, the lower the better, to make
detection and tracking as difficult as possible.  Ask the Argentine pilots
who flew at wavetop height to attack British forces in the Falklands,
because they didn't dare fly higher.  Yes, it brings you down into range
of man-portable SAMs and light AA guns and lots of guys with rifles, but
they don't really have much chance of hitting you, and the alternative is
lots worse:  in the Falklands, a tiny force of Sea Harriers killed more
than twice as many Argentine aircraft as all the low-level ground-based
weapons combined, and would have gotten still more if the Argentines had
flown higher so surface radars could see them coming.

On the other hand, if the balance of forces is unequal enough that the
air-defence people are having a tough time mounting much high-quality
opposition, *then* you are better off at medium altitude, where the light,
unsophisticated weaponry (which is much harder to suppress) can't reach
you... especially if you are going back again and again, so even small
attrition rates really start to matter.

>: Indeed, with many such contracts there is strong incentive for the company
>: to *raise* costs, because that means higher profits...
>I am admittedly sketchy on procurement, but is the profit considered a
>percentage of the overall cost or is it fixed?

As Allen has already commented, the answer is "yes". :-)  Contracts can be
done either way, depending on the fashion of the moment, but some of what
shows up under "cost" is also of direct or indirect benefit to the company.
Mass-market software technology has |  Henry Spencer
been deteriorating, not improving.  |      (aka

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