HOW LOCKHEED CAN TURN AROUND THE PUBLIC’S PERCEPTION OF THE F-35 PROGRAM

Lockheed has done a good job at publicizing a program that is not in a good place to be publicized. Yet Lockheed’s big push to get the positives about the program out in the media is usually based on the F-35 program’s individual achievements and much of the broader F-35 material is dated or fragmented. In an attempt to better define what the F-35 is worth to the American taxpayer I would suggest to Lockheed that they totally repackage the F-35 and explain clearly to America not just the F-35’s winning technological aspects and how the fit together that will help America maintain its military edge well into the future, but also the geo-political, domestic economic, and other facets of the program that are as important, if not more so to the relevancy of the F-35.

Lockheed desperately need to re-paint a “big picture” of why the F-35, even with its ballooned price tag, is indispensable. Unless the F-35 is very misunderstood by most, and parts of it surely are, at first glance it appears to be a massive boondoggle and a shining monument to the inefficiency of the military-industrial complex. But even the most ardent critics of the program do see it’s incredibly positive facets as well, many of which are intangible in nature and are not intuitively understood by the layman. The F-35 concept, in every aspect really, is more than the sum of its individual parts. The avionics package alone can not be viewed through a soda straw, how all the systems integrate into an incredible product of information fusion needs to be fully explained to comprehend. Really, that can be said about the aircraft overall, the airframe, the engine, it’s serviceability, exportability and so on. Figuratively speaking, in order to understand the tree you have to understand the forest, and to understand the forest you need to understand the river that runs through it, and to understand the river you need to understand the ocean it runs into etc etc etc. With this in mind, there is a real opportunity for Lockheed to step back and repackage the F-35 via clearly illustrating the program from a 100,000 foot view instead of one piece of a time, which really only confuses the average observer.

I would go about doing this using the Walt Disney pitch model. Walt would pitch his investors via the use of short films, where he would literally make the case for his outrageous business plans himself. No power points or other boring mediums, but a hosted video, by someone within the program who is likeable, no CEOs, or generals, a guy that people can relate to who truly believes in the program. Than make the pitch on every facet, every key system, every “intangible” angle as to why the program is a winner, making sure to clearly illustrate how all of the F-35’s components and concepts tie together into a ground breaking weapons system. Then put it all out there so everyone can comprehend it conceptually. Be honest, explain what has happened in the past and admit where the program has faltered and what key lessons have been learned in the process. Discuss the errors in design and concept with humility, and then give your solution. Go line by line discussing all the main criticisms of the program, give those who question it’s validity the respect they deserve, then talk about solutions and misconceptions. If some of these criticisms are undeniably valid, than accept them and discuss them in relation to the “big picture.” Every weapon system has compromises and tradeoffs, by just ignoring the naysayers it makes the F-35 team look like they are living in total denial. Such aloofness appears as a symptom of the F-35’s disease more than an antidote to it, and thus actually hurts the program instead of helping it. Further, by putting out the same gung-ho propaganda videos where the only people quoted are those who have a vested interest in the program or make a paycheck because of it, makes the recent batch of Lockheed F-35 videos really a waste of time as they are clearly the same old sales pitch we have heard for over a decade. One that can be best defined as “bait and switch” in retrospect…

Lockheed, you are not selling Chevy Impalas or time shares in Mazatlan, try a different approach and face the bad press and broken promises head-on, in an honest and innovative way. Paint a big and truthful picture of what the F-35 really means to America, on every level, compare it to the alternatives realistically, then discuss the many mistakes and hangups without fear of the truth. If you continue down the public relations road you have been on it will not matter how glitzy your fragmented PR movies look, or how thumping their soundtracks are, people will simply stop listen and believing…

One of the greatest pitch videos of all time is posted below. It outlines Walt Disney’s dying dream for the Experimental Prototype City Of Tomorrow, which would be bastardized into a theme park known as EPCOT Center by his uncreative brother after Walt’s untimely death. This project could have changed urban development and sustainable living as we know it today, and is a much watch regardless of this article:

 

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11 Responses to HOW LOCKHEED CAN TURN AROUND THE PUBLIC’S PERCEPTION OF THE F-35 PROGRAM

  1. The Big Yak says:

    Wow, he was quite a salesman.

  2. aviationintel.com says:

    Yeah he had a way of presenting the grand vision, showcasing the overall concept, by starting from the ground up. He made things easy to understand and thus was able to sell his ideas to people who were not in the amusement business etc. A lot can be learned from classic pitch men like Walt. Today everything is about the soundbite or the two paragraph read. The reality is that people want more, they want to understand. That is why aviationintel exists and that is why Lockheed needs to stop thinking they are in the hollywood action film biz and start educating people on their product. Hey its our planes right, the government may sign the contracts but we buy them. Proving the necessity of the product is key, and not just in praising statements that have no content. PEOPLE WANT TO UNDERSTAND THE NUTS AND BOLTS without getting a degree in aeronautical science. Stick to the conceptual side of things and people will better understand your programs goals.

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  4. nico says:

    I completely agree, I have said pretty much the same thing for at least 3 years now that LMT needs to pull it’s head out of its ass and relaunch a massive PR campaign. Not just some power point slides, messages from think tanks like SLD or Lexington that are bought and paid for or another cardboard CEO but something tangible, easy to understand…It is so obvious but they won’t do it…

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Yeah its crazy right? Just play up the positive and the superficial elements instead of acknowledging the controversial issues and giving them their proper due. Its all a leadership thing, I mean there are great folks working on this program and I bet they are as frustrated with how the PR blitz is handled as we are. I get a lot of crap for being a “downer” on this program. When you read my posts I only talk about the facts as I have access to them both good and bad. I realize the positives and constantly evaluate the jet’s overall value honestly, but I am amazed that when it comes to the real issues at hand everything is just spun around superficially or ignored. Almost like we are idiots and its all over our head. This is when you get Senators talking irately about the program and terrible articles in the Wall Street Journal etc. The reality is that people, after well over a decade of being top of mind, still do not understand the F-35 concept, just bits and pieces of it.

      Another note, have you ever heard someone that is “slightly” for the F-35 program? Similar to how I am “slightly” against continuing production of the Osprey for a single solution for the Marine medium lift requirement. Seriously I don’t think I have ever read an article or comment where someone in the “for column” actually thought for themselves or made an objective analysis. I find this really strange. All I have heard is: They are going to fix this, and they say they are going to fix that, and its going to be the greatest plane ever produced.” Just taking the contractor’s word as it sits after we know that is a losing strategy. Or just ignoring the negative issues overall. Strange huh? I think Bill Sweetman did a piece on this a few months back. Sure it will get fixed and it will work but at what monetary and opportunity cost? It seems like the only people that believe hole heatedly in this program get a paycheck from it…

  5. nico says:

    Yeah, AVWeek is so weird, I don’t post there, what is the point? You already know what the pro and anti crowd are going to say, everything has been rehashed to death. I find humorous the comments from the pro crowd that despise Bill Sweetmen that he is bought by Boeing or Eurofighter but everything Amy Butler says is gold LOL! They have written together a couple of articles but the proJSF crowd can tell what she wrote from what Bill wrote! Hilarious! If Amy writes something “slightly” negative, that’s OK or not even mentioned!

    Bill is running an article about costs,etc…I believe the STVOL requirement was the bridge too far for this program. One, was it really necessary for it to be so fast or have LO compared to USAF/Navy? Two, I believe that it did impact the design of the entire project in terms of airframe/drag/engine to the point where -A/-C versions are less performing because of the need for such a wide frontal area to accommodate the lift fan. Did -B really need internal bays but not an internal gun??? With hindsight, the French had it right, make a faster/slimmer/stealthy version for USAF/Navy ( a la Rafale) with common engine and avionics,etc and then develop a Marine version with maybe small supersonic capabilty/ reduced stealh, maybe not even an internal bay, same engine/avionics. If you remember what Vought did with the F8 and then developed the A7, kind of like that. I think that would have been faster and cheaper way to go.

    After all these years, the whole 3 versions idea was just too much and we are going to end with a fighter that can’t really do ANY job really well. That’s the sad part…

    • aviationintel.com says:

      Nico- Yep, exactly, I have been pushing that here since the site began. It seems like people are starting to realize just how bad of a move the B-model integration was. The sad thing is that if the F-35 was just a conventional and carrier bird, it would most likely be already fielded at a much lower price and it would be a real performer with all that thrust and internal bays. Supercruise, even at M1.2 or so would be a great advantage over in Asia where transit times can be a killer. In the end America will probably get their B model, and rightfully so as the project is a major failure without it, but the ones who get hurt the most are those countries who did not buy the B, and thus will not benefit from its overall enhancement of the “total force.”

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