Only Nixon Could Go to China. Only the GOP Can Clean Up Military Procurement.

 

f-35_jsf_jointstrikefighter_trillion_dollar_boondoggleDavid Axe, editor of the well-regarded online warfighting journal War is Boring, has obtained an unclassified but internal five-page brief from a former F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test pilot. The unnamed pilot blasts the military’s latest and “greatest” jet fighter’s ability to do, well, anything:

The F-35 jockey tried to target the F-16 with the stealth jet’s 25-millimeter cannon, but the smaller F-16 easily dodged. “Instead of catching the bandit off-guard by rapidly pull aft to achieve lead, the nose rate was slow, allowing him to easily time his jink prior to a gun solution,” the JSF pilot complained.

And when the pilot of the F-16 turned the tables on the F-35, maneuvering to put the stealth plane in his own gunsight, the JSF jockey found he couldn’t maneuver out of the way, owing to a “lack of nose rate.”

The F-35 pilot came right out and said it — if you’re flying a JSF, there’s no point in trying to get into a sustained, close turning battle with another fighter. “There were not compelling reasons to fight in this region.” God help you if the enemy surprises you and you have no choice but to turn.

These results should come as no shock to anyone remotely familiar with past attempts to create a one-size-fits-all fighter for America’s military. Fifty years ago, Robert McNamara, John F. Kennedy’s Defense Secretary, decided to combine the Air Force’s requirement for a long-range strike aircraft with the Navy’s need for a fleet-defense interceptor. The results were … less than optimal:

Excessive weight plagued the F-111B throughout its development. During the congressional hearings for the aircraft, Vice Admiral Thomas F. Connolly, then Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Air Warfare, responded to a question from Senator John C. Stennis as to whether a more powerful engine would cure the aircraft’s woes, saying, “There isn’t enough power in all Christendom to make that airplane what we want!”

Shockingly, when you design a plane around a compromise, you get a plane that’s good at nothing and bad at everything.

This is just more one tale of woe in long string of military procurement failures over the past ten years. The Future Combat System was put out of our misery in 2009, after the reality of Iraq and Afghanistan showed us that a heavy, well-armored combat force still had a vital role to play on today’s battlefield. The Littorral Combat Ship program has been dead in the water for years, with costs spiraling out of control and a mission that has yet to be defined. And the Army has spent decades deciding whether it wants to buy a new rifle or not, with millions of dollars spent on chasing an elusive dream.

Enough. It’s time for some sanity about how we buy weapons for our military, and only the Republicans are up to the task. Caspar Weinberger cancelled the Sgt. York anti-aircraft gun and the RAH-66 Comanche. The fact is, the military needs some tough love, and it has to come from someone who loves the military and wants it to stay strong, not from someone who can’t pronounce the word “corpsman” correctly, or can’t tell the difference between a Russian and an American ship.

Republicans need to show their commitment to fiscal sanity by demanding sanity from all branches of government — including the military.

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  1. Austin Murrey Inactive
    Austin Murrey
    @AustinMurrey

    Kate Braestrup:I’ve always wanted to ask someone this too: how does capitalist competition work to keep costs down and mission-readiness a priority when the ability to produce weapons systems of such complexity must, of necessity, be confined to an awfully small number of companies whose only real customer is the US government (plus maybe some allies?) How do LM’s stockholders’ interests (profits) intersect with the need of the US military to have the best equipment, or know whether they’ve got the best equipment to protect the collective (non-stockholders) interests? Is capitalism actually capitalism in this case? (I’m not being a useful idiot, just a plain idiot; it’s always struck me as a problem, and I lack the expertise to even frame my question properly).

    Capitalism should work for defense contracts the same way it works for everything else: multiple people are competing to provide the best product while the customer looks for the best deal. So the military says “you have to meet these specs” and the defense contractors search for the absolute best way to do that for the least cost to win the contract.

    Military aircraft – in theory – works on a bottom dollar, no-fail, no-frill principle. Everything has to work at maximum function for minimal cost and it has to work every time.

    Contractors shareholders get benefit because there’s military development that parlays into patents and trademarks that generate money and military airframes cost buckets of money. There’s still profit there, it’s just not as high as, say, hedge fund managing.

    One of the problems with the F-35 is that I believe it was a single-bid contract so there was no incentive to keep costs down; add to that the fact that the branches got it into their heads to have one aircraft for every purpose and the feature creep started: it had to have stealth, it had to have VTOL capability, it had to land on a carrier, it had to be able to carry bombs for close air-support, etc.

    Ask anyone who’s ever designed a product to spec: the customer is not always right. They’ll give you a laundry list of what they want and then when you give them a cost they can’t believe it because they just saw a wish-list and figured it would happen. Military procurement, and all government spending, subverts this because there really isn’t a consequence for overspending like there is in regular business.

    • #31
  2. user_331141 Inactive
    user_331141
    @JamieLockett

    David Knights: The F-111 as developed for the Air  Force was a great plane, as proven in the first Gulf war.  The initial attempts to develop it as a Naval fighter as well were the disaster.   This may possibly be the route that the F-35 goes down.  If so, the end result will be good, but we’ll have wasted a ton of money getting there, just like we did with the F-111B program.

    Many of the technologies that went into making the F111 such a great plane for the Air Force were developed on the F111B platform – swing wings and the robust undercarriage specifically. Yes the F111B was a failure but the technologies it helped to pioneer were instrumental in the overall development of one of the cold wars greatest weapons platforms.

    • #32
  3. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    KevinC:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:So what are some good procurement reforms? My understanding is that we make contracts very early on in the process and then get stuck with them even if we discover that a system still needs massive work. Do we need a longer, more competitive process for such things?

    As much as it pains me to say it, McCain is right: The military could learn a lot about scope creep and streamlined development by following Silicon Valley’s lead. The damning statistic from that article is:

    “Commercial R&D in the United States overtook government R&D in 1980, and now represents 75 percent of the national total. The top four U.S. defense contractors combined spend only 27 percent of what Google does annually on R&D. “

    We’re not interested in finding solutions anymore, we’re just interested in milking our cash cows.

    KevinC,

    I agree with you that the problem starts up at the pure $ level now. What sustains the problem is often the total ignorance of simple but critical ideas like different design criteria for different missions.

    The combination of the cash cow procurement pro and the design fantasy sheep amateur is killing our effectiveness. We have great stuff and it is getting mashed up before it gets to the battlefield.

    Make F35 prove all of its claims. Be in no rush to retire other fighter aircraft. Just give the A10 to Army & Marines because the Air Force has proven it can’t be trusted with something this useful to ground support.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #33
  4. Z in MT Member
    Z in MT
    @ZinMT

    For anyone interested in how aircraft procurement has changed you should read Ben Rich’s memoir Skunk Works.

    The problem with government procurement today is that it instead of being based writing contracts and holding companies accountable to the deliverables – it is based on compliance and monitoring.

    • #34
  5. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    Austin Murrey: it had to have VTOL capability

    It’s barely STOVL. But that is what screwed it up.

    As the F-4, A-4, and F-18 showed, it’s not a big deal to make a conventional take off version and a carrier version of a given aircraft. STOVL was insanity.

    The need to accommodate the lift fan in the STOVL version made the other versions unnecessarily wide (and draggy). It also made them space-inefficient. Without the need to accommodate the lift fan, the resulting aircraft would have had less drag, larger weapons bays or fuel capacity, and lower wing loading (due to the narrower fuselage allowing more wing in a given wingspan).

    • #35
  6. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    KevinC: David Axe, editor of the well-regarded online warfighting journal War is Boring, has obtained an unclassified but internal five-page brief from a former F-35 Joint Strike Fighter test pilot. The unnamed pilot blasts the military’s latest and “greatest” jet fighter’s ability to do, well, anything:

    That’s where I stopped reading. War is Boring is click bait pop-culture military journalism. It’s nonsense.

    Here’s what people who understand what the particular test conducted was about, have to say:

    http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=27186

    The test was designed to figure out software improvements for the F-35. It was a “guns-only” test, which is about as unrealistic as it will ever get. And conducted in a manner to gather test data, not to actually see if an F-35 can match an F-16 in a guns-only fight.

    Details details.

    • #36
  7. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    KevinC: These results should come as no shock to anyone remotely familiar with past attempts to create a one-size-fits-all fighter for America’s military

    Like…the F-16. Or F-15. Or F-18.

    How about, leave politics out of military decisions? That’s what the military wants, and I’m pretty sure they know more about it than politicians.

    • #37
  8. Petty Boozswha Inactive
    Petty Boozswha
    @PettyBoozswha

    I believe I was the one who first half-facetiously suggested Letters of Marque and Reprisal in another thread. It seems we are already 85% of the way there with Blackwater, Triple-Canopy, the rest of the contractor/warrior complex not to mention the Halliburtons with their multi-million dollar chow halls and the rest. Remember those poor servicemen that just wanted to serve their country as Arabic translators but were kicked out for being gay? They were back at their desk next Monday making a six figure salary as a contractor [like Snowden] for what they had been doing as an E-5.

    If Lindsey Graham is the next SecDef and someone like Mitt Romney wants to make a contribution by chairing a new Grace Commission for the military budget we could save some real money. We are going to be slammed for cutting welfare and entitlements, we should try to show we are going to go after some of our pet projects too.

    • #38
  9. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    Petty Boozswha: I believe I was the one who first half-facetiously suggested Letters of Marque and Reprisal in another thread.

    No, I mean that the Ronulans seriously advocated this in 2012.

    • #39
  10. Guy Incognito Member
    Guy Incognito
    @

    So the F-35 is the M2 Bradley of the sky?

    • #40
  11. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Guy Incognito:So the F-35 is the M2 Bradley of the sky?

    Yes, the M2 Bradley, The most successful armored fighting vehicle in the world that proved to be the most survivable troop carrier ever, and never matched by any adversary.

    Ask the Iraqis what a failure the Bradley was ;)

    One would think after these sort of silly criticisms didn’t pan out for the usual critics with the M2, or the M1 Abrams (which was equally criticized on equally silly grounds)…or virtually every other US military program of the last 40 years…people would wise up.

    Apparently, not so.

    I’ll post this again: read what the people who know about this test are saying, and what this test was about: http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=27186

    • #41
  12. jetstream Inactive
    jetstream
    @jetstream

    ctlaw:

    Austin Murrey: it had to have VTOL capability

    It’s barely STOVL. But that is what screwed it up.

    As the F-4, A-4, and F-18 showed, it’s not a big deal to make a conventional take off version and a carrier version of a given aircraft. STOVL was insanity.

    The need to accommodate the lift fan in the STOVL version made the other versions unnecessarily wide (and draggy). It also made them space-inefficient. Without the need to accommodate the lift fan, the resulting aircraft would have had less drag, larger weapons bays or fuel capacity, and lower wing loading (due to the narrower fuselage allowing more wing in a given wingspan).

    ctlaw

    Do you know when the legislation for the JSF was introduced/passed?  If you know, who were the sponsors and proponents for the JSF?

    • #42
  13. user_75648 Thatcher
    user_75648
    @JohnHendrix

    For what it is worth, here is an opposing view: Why The “F-35 v F-16″ Article Is Garbage.

    • #43
  14. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    John Hendrix:For what it is worth, here is an opposing view: Why The “F-35 v F-16″ Article Is Garbage.

    Good article to point out some of the flaws of the original piece. Click bait indeed.

    Additionally, this was a test to figure out what the software changes were needed to the F-35. I.e., the F-35, like all modern panes, is limited by its flight control system on what maneuvers it can do. A prototype is especially limited, because the flight parameters haven’t yet been explored. So that’s why they do these sort of tests…to figure out what software changes are needed to allow for higher gs, higher AoA or thrust response.

    And that was one of the conclusions of the test. Open up the fight control system a bit more to allow for more maneuverability.

    • #44
  15. Carey J. Inactive
    Carey J.
    @CareyJ

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:So what are some good procurement reforms? My understanding is that we make contracts very early on in the process and then get stuck with them even if we discover that a system still needs massive work. Do we need a longer, more competitive process for such things?

    Shoot contractors that deliver shoddy merchandise?

    • #45
  16. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Austin Murrey: Military procurement, and all government spending, subverts this because there really isn’t a consequence for overspending like there is in regular business.

    Yes. And it seems to me that companies that produce war materiel inevitably end up as a virtual monopoly, not because of a sinister conspiracy among the Merchants of Death, but because so few companies have the personnel and facilities for producing a fighter plane. Once a given company is producing it, how is anyone else going to get into that “market?” It’s not like a geek in a garage can start a company that can offer a better F-35 to the US government for less. And if there’s really only one company that can make the thing we need, we can’t react to cost overruns or delays by switching to a competitor.

    And then there’s the “welfare” problem—that if a company in, say, Bath, Maine is building a ship…and the government realizes it doesn’t actually need that ship… you’ve got a lot of people who are going to be out of a job. So do you keep making the ship, and if so, how is paying a worker to make something we don’t need different from, say, the WPA (except that the taxpayers are paying the welder at the shipyard a lot more than we paid the poor slob painting a mural on the wall of the state house back in 1931).

    Maybe we want to keep making the ship and paying the welder so that we’ve got shipbuilders and welders for the next project that we actually do need?

    Very, very elementary questions, I know.

    • #46
  17. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    Carey J.:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:So what are some good procurement reforms? My understanding is that we make contracts very early on in the process and then get stuck with them even if we discover that a system still needs massive work. Do we need a longer, more competitive process for such things?

    Shoot contractors that deliver shoddy merchandise?

    This was the option communist countries were left with—If you can’t use the market to punish shoddy work, what choices remain?

    • #47
  18. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    Kate Braestrup:

    Carey J.:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:So what are some good procurement reforms? My understanding is that we make contracts very early on in the process and then get stuck with them even if we discover that a system still needs massive work. Do we need a longer, more competitive process for such things?

    Shoot contractors that deliver shoddy merchandise?

    This was the option communist countries were left with—If you can’t use the market to punish shoddy work, what choices remain?

    And all joking aside, that didn’t work well either.  Flaws in systems developed in those countries were hidden since all involved feared getting stood against a wall.

    • #48
  19. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup
    @GrannyDude

    David Knights:

    Kate Braestrup:

    Carey J.:

    Tom Meyer, Ed.:So what are some good procurement reforms? My understanding is that we make contracts very early on in the process and then get stuck with them even if we discover that a system still needs massive work. Do we need a longer, more competitive process for such things?

    Shoot contractors that deliver shoddy merchandise?

    This was the option communist countries were left with—If you can’t use the market to punish shoddy work, what choices remain?

    And all joking aside, that didn’t work well either. Flaws in systems developed in those countries were hidden since all involved feared getting stood against a wall.

    Well, exactly!

    When Reagan said—I think he was talking about public schools, or welfare or something—“you can’t just throw money at a problem,” I remember thinking: well, yes you can. We threw money at the military, and though there was a lot of waste, fraud and abuse, we came out of it with a better, stronger military than we had before.  And for some reason (maybe because intake must always be followed by outgo)  my father-in-law’s description of helping to decommission his submarine after the end of WW2, in which they dumped tons of good, solid, heavy silverware into the ocean rather than somehow recycle it (as a child of depression-era West Virginia, this was disorienting waste) comes to mind.

    • #49
  20. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Ma’am, fighting wars is different to most concerns of politics–it’s the dying that makes the difference.

    I suppose that’s similar, to an extent, to why the countries where people are prosperous throw so much money at medicine. That’s modernity in a wrapper for you.

    But when there is no dying, it gets harder to judge whether you’re doing anything right or more wrong than right or what.

    • #50
  21. user_385039 Inactive
    user_385039
    @donaldtodd

    James Gawron: #33 “Make F35 prove all of its claims. Be in no rush to retire other fighter aircraft. Just give the A10 to Army & Marines because the Air Force has proven it can’t be trusted with something this useful to ground support.”

    The problem with giving the A10 to the Marines is that the Marines work from aircraft carriers and from vertical/short take-off locations including the Iwo Jima and America class ships, which makes the AV8B wonderful and the A10 unusable.  The A10 is not designed to fly off of an aircraft carrier and has no vertical lift capability.

    The problem with giving the A10 to the Army is that the Army does not get to fly this kind of aircraft.  The part of the Air Force which supports the Army gets to fly this aircraft.  So, unless the Air Force makes a bid to continue flying the A10, it won’t happen.

    • #51
  22. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Petty Boozswha:I believe I was the one who first half-facetiously suggested Letters of Marque and Reprisal in another thread. It seems we are already 85% of the way there with Blackwater, Triple-Canopy, the rest of the contractor/warrior complex not to mention the Halliburtons with their multi-million dollar chow halls and the rest. Remember those poor servicemen that just wanted to serve their country as Arabic translators but were kicked out for being gay? They were back at their desk next Monday making a six figure salary as a contractor [like Snowden] for what they had been doing as an E-5.

    If Lindsey Graham is the next SecDef and someone like Mitt Romney wants to make a contribution by chairing a new Grace Commission for the military budget we could save some real money. We are going to be slammed for cutting welfare and entitlements, we should try to show we are going to go after some of our pet projects too.

    Hey there, Petty Boozswha, I sent you a private message. :)

    • #52
  23. Misthiocracy Member
    Misthiocracy
    @Misthiocracy

    AIG:

    Here’s what people who understand what the particular test conducted was about, have to say:

    http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=27186

    The test was designed to figure out software improvements for the F-35. It was a “guns-only” test, which is about as unrealistic as it will ever get. And conducted in a manner to gather test data, not to actually see if an F-35 can match an F-16 in a guns-only fight.

    Details details.

    Furthermore, the F-35 that was used in the test

    • was an early prototype, not a production model,
    • was not equipped with the fancy targeting helmet that allows a pilot to aim without having to point the airplane at the target, and
    • was not equipped with the radar-absorbing stealth paint job.

    .

    Now, I’m no F-35 booster. I think it’s a boondoggle and that Canuckistan should invite companies like Saab, Eurofighter, and McDonnell-Douglas to submit their own bids to replace our aging CF-18 fleet.

    That being said, one should compare apples to apples.

    Source: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/07/f-35-project-team-says-dogfight-report-does-not-tell-whole-story/

    • #53
  24. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    Misthiocracy:

    AIG:

    Here’s what people who understand what the particular test conducted was about, have to say:

    http://www.f-16.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=27186

    The test was designed to figure out software improvements for the F-35. It was a “guns-only” test, which is about as unrealistic as it will ever get. And conducted in a manner to gather test data, not to actually see if an F-35 can match an F-16 in a guns-only fight.

    Details details.

    Furthermore, the F-35 that was used in the test

    • was an early prototype, not a production model,
    • was not equipped with the fancy targeting helmet that allows a pilot to aim without having to point the airplane at the target, and
    • was not equipped with the radar-absorbing stealth paint job.

    Now, I’m no F-35 booster. I think it’s a boondoggle and that Canuckistan should invite companies like Saab, Eurofighter, and McDonnell-Douglas to submit their own bids to replace our aging CF-18 fleet.

    That being said, one should compare apples to apples.

    Source: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2015/07/f-35-project-team-says-dogfight-report-does-not-tell-whole-story/

    I do not understand why Canuckistan doesn’t just by F-18E/Fs.  They’ve had great success with F-18A/B models.  It seems a no brainer and you could by 3 times the number of 18E/Fs for the same money as the F-35s.

    • #54
  25. ctlaw Coolidge
    ctlaw
    @ctlaw

    David Knights: I do not understand why Canuckistan doesn’t just by F-18E/Fs.  They’ve had great success with F-18A/B models.  It seems a no brainer and you could by 3 times the number of 18E/Fs for the same money as the F-35s.

    The F-18 E/F is already obsolescent. Frankly, it was obsolescent when being designed.

    The Navy wanted an all new fighter to replace the F-18 A/B/C/D. The Navy had gotten burned in the A-12 fiasco so it was not going to get a new fighter. So they came up with a scam: design an all-new fighter but make it look like an F-18 and tell people you are just buying more F-18s.

    We basically got all the costs of an all-new fighter but got one hamstrung with 1970s aerodynamics (or worse when you learn that the aerodynamics did not scale well when they made the thing a bit bigger than the original).

    It might make more sense for the operators of legacy F-18 to come up with an upgrade package to carry the planes out for another decade or so.

    • #55
  26. user_82762 Inactive
    user_82762
    @JamesGawron

    donald todd:James Gawron: #33 “……”

    The problem with giving the A10 to the Marines is that the Marines work from aircraft carriers…

    The problem with giving the A10 to the Army is that the Army does not get to fly this kind of aircraft….

    Don,

    It seems to me that this issue is of very great importance. I don’t think the importance of ground support has been fully thought through as a matter of strategy. I’m quite sure that the tactic is very well understood but in the asymmetrical wars that are so likely to be part of the future an A10 gets promoted to a “strategic weapon” because its niche mission will be in so much demand. What seems very important to me is that somebody here takes responsibility for the A10 and ground support.

    I would describe the procurement process for F35 as the giant octopus approach. Make a single plane project so gigantic that it sucks everything else into it while we wait for the bugs to be worked out. It stretches all credulity to imagine that a single plane can perform all the missions in all the circumstances. I am very glad to compare apples to apples as long as the results are going to be interpreted realistically. I wouldn’t want to see F35 killed just to let somebody else connive the orders for equally false reasons. However, the choice of the Air Force to abandon A10 rather than make improvements on an already vital and effective platform suggests that it is playing way too much procurement politics and gambling with the outcome.

    BTW, my attitude on F35 has transitioned over time. Three years ago I was talking casually-socially with someone who turned out to be an authority on procurement. We discussed it over time on numerous occasions. He was getting the F35 “treatment” from the press as he had been at least hesitant and wouldn’t endorse it. I thought he was being sucked in by the left wing into a position that was anti-military. As time went on I realized it was I who was being unfair to him. It’s all well and good to have the greatest plane in the world on paper. If the process is so weak & time consuming, the cost so massive and, worst of all, use the whole thing as an excuse to mothball other proven effective platforms before their time, then it is the super plane that is the threat to the military.

    Old Story from my process control days: Guy at a huge industrial corporation says to his boss “I can build anything by the 100, 100, 100 theory”. His boss looks at him and asks “OK, what’s the 100, 100, 100 theory?”. Guy says “Give me 100 of the brightest people in the world, 100 trillion dollars, and 100 years and I can build anything.”

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #56
  27. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive
    Ball Diamond Ball
    @BallDiamondBall

    ctlaw:

    David Knights: I do not understand why Canuckistan doesn’t just by F-18E/Fs. They’ve had great success with F-18A/B models. It seems a no brainer and you could by 3 times the number of 18E/Fs for the same money as the F-35s.

    The F-18 E/F is already obsolescent. Frankly, it was obsolescent when being designed.

    The Navy wanted an all new fighter to replace the F-18 A/B/C/D. The Navy had gotten burned in the A-12 fiasco so it was not going to get a new fighter. So they came up with a scam: design an all-new fighter but make it look like an F-18 and tell people you are just buying more F-18s.

    We basically got all the costs of an all-new fighter but got one hamstrung with 1970s aerodynamics (or worse when you learn that the aerodynamics did not scale well when they made the thing a bit bigger than the original).

    It might make more sense for the operators of legacy F-18 to come up with an upgrade package to carry the planes out for another decade or so.

    OTOH, the original F-18 was a miniaturized piece of junk, and the more recent edition was finally the plane it should have been.  Nobody seriously intended to replace the F-14, A-6, KA-6D, EA-6B, and A-7 with the original tiny Hornet.

    • #57
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