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TALENT DRAIN LOOMS RETAIN MILITARY AIRCRAFT DESIGNERS, STUDY URGES.

Byline: Charles F. Bostwick Staff Writer

PALMDALE - The United States faces less competition and innovation in its military aircraft industry as a result of post-Cold War downsizing and mergers, a think tank says in a study for the Pentagon.

To retain skilled designers, the Rand Corp. study suggested that the Pentagon pay American aerospace companies to design and build advanced experimental aircraft prototypes, without putting them into costly production.

```Unless something is done, business practices will dictate that they reassign their talent to other areas. Indeed, this already is beginning to happen,'' John Birkler, a Rand senior analyst, said in Rand's announcement of its conclusions.

In 1960, Rand said, the United States had 11 companies able to design and build military aircraft. That had dropped to eight in 1990, and today there are only three: Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman.

The number could shrink further because the United States has only one major aircraft project in development - Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter, potentially worth $300 billion worldwide - and no others planned, according to an analysis by Rand's National Defense Research Institute.

Smaller projects - like a robot bomber and a planned tanker - that are being planned will provide work for military aircraft designers only through the end of the decade, the study concluded.

The study, presented in two reports, was financed by the Defense Department's Industrial Policy Office to answer a question from the Senate in 2001 whether the dwindling number of military aircraft builders could hurt national security.

One alternative, Rand said, would be to fund a number of projects to design and build prototype aircraft, which could provide an incentive for manufacturers to keep their design teams and other infrastructure in place, according to the Rand reports.

Military aircraft designers have skills unneeded in the civilian aircraft industry, such as designing pilot and weapon system interfaces. Once those skills are lost, they cannot be easily replaced, Rand said.

``While the fundamentals are taught in the classroom, you cannot substitute for 20 to 30 years of experience,'' Birkler said. ``If these skills are allowed to be lost, the only way to regain them is to spend a lot of time and money building and training a new generation of designers.''

Paying for a continuing series of advanced design studies and development of experimental planes to demonstrate concepts would yield new technology and system concepts for use by the military in the future, the study said.

The Rand researchers, looking at the U.S. aircraft industry's history, concluded that competition was a key part of the technological success of the U.S. military aircraft industry over the past century.

Most innovations came from smaller companies that were working to gain a larger role, the study said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Date:Oct 26, 2003
Words:456
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