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Lessons from the making of the F-16 fighter







There is much discussion and some implementation in augmentation of India's security by acquiring 148 fighter aircraft for her needs. Every aircraft manufacture in the world wants as big a slice of this great business opportunity this  order represents.   

The American Company (Lockheed Martin), has offered to jointly produce its famous F-16 fighter plane locally in India. The offer is being examined by experts and bureaucrats. 

What caught my interest was, the history behind,  how this aircraft was developed? Why it was the most advanced and yet competitive aircraft of its time? Why was it a winner?
What are the lessons that can be learnt, by leaders, managers etc.?



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The history of the development of the F-16 program is a fascinating one, full of intrigue for   the program was destined to be killed.
The story begins with the father of the F15 and F-16 fighter aircraft program, Air Force Col. John Boyd, who had served with distinction as a fighter pilot during the 1950s in the Korean war. A strategist, result oriented, talented, intelligent, and very courageous, Boyd was greatly respected.

In 1966 Boyd was assigned to the Pentagon to help design the next generation of lightweight jet aircraft. Boyd assembled a top notch, close knit team consisting of designers, pilots, maintenance people etc. to develop his idea of a low cost, very high performance aircraft. This was the easier part,  the more challenging part was the bureaucracy and the politics.

The greatest strength and also the greatest weakness of real soldiers are that they are people of honour, for they expect everyone else also to behave honourably. However Boyd soon discovered that at the Pentagon honour seemed to be in shortage. 
Boyd was completely unprepared for the political back stabbing, vested interests etc. 

The government bureaucrats were more interested in their own careers and more concerned with pleasing contractors than focussing on national defence. Boyd's colleagues at the Pentagon had their own pet projects and worked very hard to sabotage 
his project.

He understood that this was another battle but would have to be fought with completely different rules. Boyd knew if he had to succeed he would have to use his combat experience in a radical new situation to win this war within.

Visually he pretended to be a bit dumb on may things, just another emotional pilot promoted too fast and too soon, shabby clothes, a nasty cigar and many idiosyncrasies. Intellectually he made sure he knew more than his opponents,  had all the facts and statistics, theories etc. 

Boyd also set up a network of allies in all departments, tapping into the pool of people disgusted with the lack of commitment, inefficiencies, bureaucracy and the vested interests. He also made sure that he had the support of powerful superiors.

When competitors made incredulous and unsubstantiated commitments, Boyd caught them out and exposed that glitzy presentations do not represent facts. When people proposed frills and designs which were too expensive, or where they compromised performance he shot them down too.  When Generals tried to pull rank on him by issuing damaging instructions verbally, Boyd requested that the General issue it in writing, the aghast Generals backed off. Eventually he was left alone to pursue his project. 

In 1974 Boyd and his team finished the design, and as he readied his presentation he learnt that his competitors and enemies had an ace up their sleeves. At the final approval presentation a group of 3 Star generals would give Boyd a decent hearing and kill his project. Boyd turned to his most powerful ally and supporter Defence Secretary James Schlesinger and made a presentation to him directly by passing the Generals.  
Schlesinger loved the innovative approach the performance promised and the attractive pricing as compared to all other contenders and  Schlesinger gave his consent and approval.

At the final approval meeting, Boyd devastated the Generals. He said the purpose of the 
meeting was for information purposes only. It was not to seek approval, because the design and project had already been approved by Schlesinger, 

The F-16 went on to be the highest performance fighter aircraft in modern history for a long while, with 3000 aircraft sold to and operating with 26 different air forces.

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Additional Note:

This article was difficult for me to write and post. It compelled me to challenge my beliefs. 

I abhor violence, but realistic to accept that violence in life is unavoidable.
5,000 years of history prove that even though India never attacked any other land, it also never prepared itself adequately against attacks by outsiders. Hence India and her people have lost much in the past 1,000 years.

Lasting peace within humanity has not yet succeeded inspite of Avatars of God, Saviours, Great Gurus, Messengers etc. To obtain lasting peace requires great strength in military might, superior technology, finance, resources, courageous, intelligent and noble people, etc. 
The hallmark of a great civilisation is that its people are peaceful but always prepared  
yet restrained. They never fear to attack and destroy any power or ideology that threatens them.

This gave rise to the belief that 'The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in war.' 
Those that have abandoned preparation for war have lost everything, their families, wealth, their freedom and also their lives.

All wars begin with political objectives and end with a political settlement and therefore politics and the military are deeply intertwined, in the protection of a nation's people, resources and way of life.
Sometimes soldiers and often politicians let their personal greed or ego get in the way of their duty, which leads to a compromise of the well being of their people.  The worst is ofcourse the soldiers who acts like politicians, that too a corrupt one.
The larger and more complex the organisation the greater the risk of intellectual, and financial corruption.

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