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What the F-35 can teach us about not sharing lessons learned

As sophisticated and advanced as the F-35 is, the early fielding of the next-generation fighter reveals that there are some problems technology can’t solve.

The Government Accountability Office has dinged the Marine Corps and Defense Department as a whole for not sharing lessons learned as the aircraft is being deployed.

In January 2017, the Marine Corps moved F-35 jets to Iwakuni, Japan for the first overseas stationing for the fighter jet since its development. The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act asked GAO to conduct a review of that stationing.

A classified report was wrapped up in March and GAO has now released a public version of that report.

For the classified version, GAO had three objectives:

  • Describe warfighting capabilities and assess operational challenges.
  • Assess how will the Marine Corps is prepared to support distributed operations in the Pacific.
  • Determine how well the Marine Corps records and DOD shares F-35 lessons learned.

The detailed results of those first two remain classified, but DOD allowed GAO to release the findings for number three in the public version of the report.

And the bottom line is that while the Marines are collecting after action reports, DOD isn’t sharing them. In fact it sounds like each of the services deploying versions of the F-35 are keeping their lessons learned in siloed information systems.

GAO worries that this will be a problem as more F-35 are deployed in the coming years.

“Instead, Marine Corps officials stated that they currently rely on personal relationships to share lessons learned with other services, through methods such as phone calls to colleagues in the Air Force or the Navy,” GAO wrote.

The lack of sharing lessons learned has long been a problem at DOD. In fact, in 2000 it established the Joint Lessons Learned Program to build a joint capability for knowledge management. More sharing means better doctrines, policies, training and education.

The Marine Corps and the Defense Department didn’t dispute GAOs finding and DOD said it will create a new data repository or a new electronic forum through the F-35 Operational Advisory Group and its Supportability Advisory Group.

I have a feeling GAO will need to revisit this recommendation in the future.

It is remarkable that those managing the most sophisticated fighter jet history have to rely on phone calls to see what others are learning, but it also shows how deep culture goes.

And it doesn’t have to be something as complex and expensive as the F-35. I can’t help but think of the need for DOD to collect lessons learned as it rolls out the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure cloud in the coming years.

And of course, it is one thing to collect the lessons. You actually have to share them to get some value.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Apr 27, 2018 at 9:49 AM

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