By Jon Harper
The Air Force needs to more aggressively pursue a next-generation platform capable of penetrating deep into hostile airspace, the head of Air Combat Command said Feb. 24.
The primary focus now is on ramping up production of the F-35A joint strike fighter, a fifth-generation aircraft with stealth features and cutting-edge sensors. But the Air Force is already thinking about acquiring a sixth-generation “penetrating counter-air” capability, or PCA, that would have longer range and greater ability to outmatch the most sophisticated enemy air defense systems.
Service leaders aim to have this new technology in the fleet in the 2030s. “We should try to accelerate that left if at all possible,” Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle said at a breakfast with defense reporters in Washington, D.C.
The Air Force should procure more joint strike fighters than planned over the next five years and then pivot to a new system, he said.
“What I believe will happen is if we can increase the buy rate and continue to recapitalize our force with F-35s in the near term … then we can in the ‘20s look at that PCA,” he added. “We’ll be able to make a decision at that point where we’ll transition from [buying] more F-35s to a PCA, or we’ll transition to a different instantiation of the F-35” that is more advanced than the latest version.
The Air Force also needs a “penetrating electronic attack capability” that could potentially accompany the counter-air platform into enemy airspace, he said.
A sixth-generation system or family of systems might be unmanned and could be equipped with autonomous capabilities, he noted.
“There are things you can do with a penetrating platform that can probably use some unmanned [technology] … and would be either autonomous or semi-autonomous,” Carlisle said. “We’re looking at different ways to do that. But I do believe that there is some kind of platform that’s going to have to get an electronic [warfare] capability into the battlespace.”
The Air Force also needs to more rapidly acquire next-generation weapons for its newest aircraft, he said.
“We’re still flying with fourth-generation weapons on a fifth-generation platform,” he said. For F-22s, F-35s and a future penetrating counter-air system “we need weapons that are fifth- and sixth-gen that go with that.”
U.S. warplanes are not the only assets that are at risk from enemy air defenses, he noted. The weapons that they launch could also be destroyed.
“Not only does the airplane have to get into the theater to get to a range to deliver a weapon, but the weapon has to get to its target,” Carlisle said. “When you’re using fourth-generation weapons, the ability of the adversary to counter those weapons through a variety of means” is enhanced, he added. “You have to get something that can actually reach the target.”
The Air Force also is fleshing out the concept of a “survivable strike weapon” and related technologies to meet future needs, he said. Whether they would by hypersonic and rely on speed to outpace enemy air defenses, or rely on stealth to avoid detection, has yet to be determined, he told reporters.
The F-35 program has been plagued by cost overruns and schedule delays. Carlisle was asked if he was concerned that the headline-grabbing setbacks associated with the joint strike fighter would make lawmakers wary of funding an expensive sixth-generation system or family of systems in the next decade.
“I’m hoping that we the Air Force, we the Department of Defense, do a good enough job of spending time with Congress and talking to them about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it and staying engaged at the maximum level possible so that we can prevent that from happening,” he said.
One of the biggest problems with the F-35 program was the “concurrency” of the engineering and manufacturing development phase and the production phase, he noted. In hindsight, pursuing that acquisition path was probably a mistake, he suggested.
“We thought … we could do EMD ... at the same time we’re producing airplanes,” Carlisle said. “That caused some of the problems that we had to go back and fix.”
The Air Force will take lessons learned from the F-35, F-22 and B-21 Raider programs and apply them to the penetrating counter-air project, he added.
Photo: Pilots with the 33rd Fighter Wing prepare to take off during exercise Northern Lightning. (Air Force)
By Vivienne Machi
The Air Force's supplemental budget request will include funds to pay for an experiment that may lead to the procurement of a commercial-off-the-shelf light attack aircraft, the service's chief of staff said Feb. 23.
The Air Force is working with the defense industry to find a light attack and/or low-end fighter aircraft that could provide close-air support, Gen. David Goldfein said at an event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. It intends to conduct an experiment known as OA-X, where it will look at contenders for the proposed program.
He did not say how much money would be requested, but noted, "it's not a lot of money to do an experiment … it's in the supplementary request."
Defense Secretary James Mattis this month issued a set of budget directives aimed at addressing department shortfalls. The Pentagon is expected to submit a supplemental budget request for fiscal year 2017 by March 1 to the Office of Management and Budget.
Though he has previously referred to the need for a less expensive attack-type aircraft, Goldfein noted remotely piloted aircraft could also fill the need for close-air support.
"There is no reason not to look at RPAs. We're going to be looking at those too," he said, adding that the service will be working with industry to see what is available immediately, can operate in contested environments and be used by allied nations and coalition partners.
Goldfein has previously mentioned Textron's AirLand Scorpion jet as a candidate for consideration in OA-X, and experts have pointed to Embraer's A-29 Super Tucano and Beechcraft Defense's AT-6 Wolverine as viable options.
"The next step of the process is to go to industry and say … 'show me what you got,'" he said.
Goldfein also praised the F-35 joint strike fighter. President Donald Trump has blasted the program's price tag and personally discussed the program with Marillyn Hewson, CEO of Lockheed Martin, who is developing the F-35 Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy variants.
He told the audience that the F-35A is "flying and ready for combat." It recently debuted at the Red Flag exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and it performed "beautifully," he added.
"We have already flown literally thousands of hours on this aircraft … The Marines have already done a combat deployment, we're getting ready to do a combat deployment."
Lockheed recently announced the cost for the aircraft's Lot 10 would be $8.5 billion for 90 new aircraft. The deal amounts to over $700 million in savings compared to the previous lot, and marks the first time the price for an F-35A fell below $100 million.
"We've seen a lot of discussion lately with the cost of the F-35. … Part of what we struggle with right now is that it has been so long since we've procured a new aircraft that we've lost a little bit of our muscle memory of what it's like to actually bring on a new weapons system," Goldfein said.
He also discussed the Air Force's efforts to streamline the acquisition process by coordinating earlier and more thoroughly with the defense industry in the request for proposals process.
The service has taken longer to release the final request for proposals for the T-X trainer jet and the UH-1 Iroquois helicopter replacement because of the "ongoing, robust dialogue" with industry to nail down the requirements for the programs.
"If you're going have a more robust dialogue, that is going to generally delay, potentially, the release of [a request for proposals], he said. "We want to make sure when the RFP is going to hit the streets, it's right."
Goldfein remained tight-lipped about how the service might tweak the UH-1 Iroquois requirements in its final RFP, citing the ongoing dialogue with industry. The Air Forces uses the Hueys to do security at nuclear land-based missile sites. It has a requirement for 84 replacement aircraft.
He also discussed the Air Force's role as part of the European Reassurance Initiative, assisting NATO allies to deter increasingly aggressive tactics from Russia.
"What we need to have first and foremost is bases," he said, adding that the focus has been investing in infrastructure "across a variety of bases across Europe so I can rapidly bring forces to bear" if needed.
He used the example of a recent of an attack on Islamic State militants in which the Air Force deployed B-2 bombers based at Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to illustrate his point.
"Whiteman Air Force Base was as much a part of that strike as the B-2s it launched," he said.
Photo: Gen. David Goldfein with CSIS senior vice president Kathleen Hicks (Vivienne Machi, Staff)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
The Navy’s research-and-development arm is drafting a 30-year plan to help it map out the introduction of new technologies, a service official said Feb. 23.
The plan will provide a “framework for aligning and focusing Navy R&D investments as well as technological and engineering efforts to deliver game changing warfighter capabilities over the next three decades,” said Allison Stiller, who is performing the duties of assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition until a permanent replacement is nominated.
“Our adversaries are exploiting speed and precision through new technologies to counter U.S. military advantages,” she said during a meeting hosted by the Navy League of the United States in Arlington, Virginia. “Over the next 30 years the department’s R&D investments must develop and deliver dominant warfighting capabilities to outpace emerging and disruptive threats and ensure operational advantage and technological superiority of our U.S. naval forces that make our adversaries ineffective.”
The roadmap — which has been in development for the past year — will focus on a number of areas including accelerating the development of promising technologies and engaging with industry and small businesses to better inform them of future Navy plans, she added.
The Navy intends to update the document every two years, Stiller said. Critical technology areas include autonomous and unmanned systems, electromagnetic warfare, high-energy lasers, advanced power and energy management and electric weapons, she said.
The Navy will have to learn to take risks as it invests in these technologies, she noted.
“Some things will work, some may not. But we will leverage lessons learned from those experiences,” Stiller said. “We can’t shy away from what some call failure. We can’t be controlled by the fear of a bad headline or a critical audit or we’ll never be able to move ahead with the speed and innovation the warfighter demands.”
Rapid acquisition is critical for the Navy, she said. Putting technology into the hands of users within a two-year window is ideal, she said.
Last year the Navy said it would stand up a maritime accelerated capabilities office to create a speed lane to field technology. The Air Force and Army have recently established similar organizations, though Stiller noted those are set up more as program executive offices.
“Inside the Department of the Navy, that’s not how we’re going to approach it. We’re going to approach it program by program,” she said. By doing so, the Navy can leverage support from U.S. Navy Naval Air Systems Command or Naval Sea Systems Command.
“What we will do is look at the program, the maturity of the technology, how much risk there is in the program, figure when we can enter the acquisition process [and then] we’re going to tailor documentation. We’re going to tailor the people that can oversee it,” she said. “For each program it’s going to be a little different.”
Stiller noted that specific programs already have been picked and will be announced at a later time.
As the Navy drafts its fiscal year 2018 budget, it hopes it will be able to put money toward rapid prototyping, she added.
“We’d like to have money that’s identified for that … [though] we may not be able to say today exactly what we’re going to do,” she said. “There’s a lot of reluctance to have a pot of money unidentified … so we’ve got to work through that and make sure we’re explaining exactly what we’re doing when we make that decision so that money is traceable.”
Photo: Laser Weapon System (Navy)
By Sandra I. Erwin
Two memos signed this month by Defense Secretary James Mattis offer a glimpse into how he plans to steer the Pentagon toward his intended goal of fiscal responsibility.
Unlike the rest of the federal government that is bracing for steep budget cuts, the Pentagon is poised to receive a funding boost. President Trump’s campaign promise to build up the U.S. military, however, does not amount to a blank check, Mattis has said.
The Pentagon expects to get about $570 billion in fiscal year 2017, and will request an additional $18 billion to $25 billion to cover immediate war expenses. But to fund next-generation weapons and expand the size of the force over the next several years, the Defense Department will need tens of billions more per year.
With the entire government under a fiscal squeeze, Mattis will have to generate funds from within the Defense Department to help pay for the modernization of the military. He is quickly moving to attack overhead, administrative and contracting expenses. And he will lead efforts to dramatically change the Pentagon’s procurement organization.
One of the directives signed Feb. 17 is strictly in response to legislation that disestablishes the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. Whereas Mattis’ predecessor Ashton Carter sharply criticized the language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, the incoming secretary appears to see this change as an opportunity to make the Pentagon more efficient. He asked Deputy Secretary Bob Work to lay out an implementation plan for restructuring the AT&L job and, per congressional mandate, break it up into two new undersecretary positions, one for research and engineering and one for acquisition and sustainment. He also will recommend whether the Pentagon should have a chief innovation officer. Plans are due to Congress March 1.
The other memo deals with less controversial but potentially more impactful issues: Shrinking the Defense Department’s bloated bureaucracies and lowering overhead costs across the board. “If we are to ask the American taxpayers to provide more resources to our nation’s defense, we must do the same — by making our business operations more efficient and freeing up funds for higher priority programs,” Mattis wrote. Work and teams of senior officials from across the Defense Department and the services will examine every business function and figure out ways to consolidate offices, reorganize operations and slim down overhead functions.
Mattis wants savings to materialize relatively soon, so money can be shifted in the 2019-2023 budget to areas that shore up military capabilities such as advanced training and equipment.
How much money might be saved with these initiatives is unknown. Past secretaries of defense have attempted similar efforts and the results were negligible. The math is pretty daunting considering that Trump’s proposed defense buildup could cost as much as $100 billion per year when all is said and done, analysts estimate.
The president has called for a 15 percent increase in the size of the armed forces, and for a massive naval buildup. That could put the annual defense budget closer to the $700 billion mark, noted Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow and military analyst at the Brookings Institution. The current budget, including a war supplemental, is about $600 billion.
Trump has bragged about slashing the cost of the F-35 joint strike fighter, but that is hardly going to put a dent in the problem, said O’Hanlon. In fact if the Pentagon ends up cutting production short, the unit price of the airplane will go up.
The bulk of the Pentagon’s budget pays for personnel, health care, maintenance of aging equipment and facilities. “We have a small but expensive military,” said O’Hanlon. Overall, defense spending is just over 3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, and 1/6th of government spending. Nevertheless, fiscal pressures will be the norm for the foreseeable future, he said. “We still have a huge deficit so all government programs will have to be watched carefully.”
Former Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale said the Trump administration should make bold moves to close unneeded military bases and downsize its civilian workforce if it wants to save serious money. “Let’s strike while the iron is hot on business reform,” he said during a panel discussion at Brookings. “We have a business reform president. Let's put forth an aggressive proposal on business reform. That should include BRAC and civil service reform. It should look at the mix of people in the military, civilians and contractors.”
Unless the Pentagon deals with its rising personnel, infrastructure and maintenance costs, any future increases to the topline will be eaten up without allowing for the military to modernize, Hale cautioned. Procurement accounts are the first to be cut when budgets are squeezed. “If defense is going to go up, procurement certainly needs to be a major part so that we can begin to build the base we will need to meet this bow wave of needs and 2020.”
If and when the acquisitions office is reorganized, the expectation is not only to find ways to run procurement programs more efficiently, but also to speed up the injection of new technology. Initiatives like the “third offset” strategy started by Carter to develop next-generation weapon systems should continue, possibly under a different name, said Hale. “The department under Mattis recognizes it needs to look for ways to do R&D and capture what is going on in the private sector.”
Whatever reforms are rolled out this year will have to create savings rather quickly for the Trump administration to deliver on its pledge to increase the size and capability of the military.
For the fiscal year 2019 five-year defense program, Mattis told the department to focus on “increasing the lethality and capability of the joint force for the high-end fight,” said retired Lt. Gen. Mike Moeller, who is a vice president at engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney.
“Those words are very specific,” said Moeller. “What that means is that the department for the long term is going to look at those capabilities that will defeat a very capable adversary in the 2025-2030 timeframe,” he added. “What the department has to do is look at the capabilities they are building, do a gap analysis, including a comprehensive cyber review, and build a robust experimentation program to identify breakthrough capabilities they need to get to 2025.”
Moeller said procurement reforms will be imperative in order to bring Mattis’ vision to life. “Every administration has taken a very hard look at the institutional defense, both from a cost perspective as well as from what is the capability you are getting. Is it delivered on time, and is it on cost?”
Past defense secretaries have talked about accelerating acquisitions programs that average 10 years down to three, “But you need to reform the acquisition system,” said Moeller. Former procurement chief Frank Kendall got the ball rolling, but far more needs to be done, said Moeller. Kendall’s signature initiative known as “better buying power” was embraced by senior leadership “but it did not make it through all the layers down to the individual acquisition and contracting officers,” he said. “You need to take a hard look and go all the way to the very tip of the spear when it comes to getting new programs.”
The modernization of the military also will require Mattis to improve the Pentagon’s relationship with Congress, said Moeller. “You really have to have support from Congress to get budgets on time” and to give the Pentagon long-term fiscal stability. “You really have to get long-term funding stability if you want to talk about getting fast.”
Contractors also have to do their part by keeping their commitments on program schedules and costs, he said. The system is overdue for a shakeup, insisted Moeller. “If the services, if the department continue on the traditional path of ‘This is how we have always done it, we tried it before and it did not work,’ as we move forward with programs the secretary wants to get done by the 2020s, then the department will not be able to get there.”
PHOTO: Defense Secretary James Mattis (Defense Department)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Pentagon has been adamant that Defense Secretary James Mattis will put forth a budget proposal that boosts military readiness.
Details on how Mattis’ fiscal guidance reshapes spending priorities or results in higher top-line funding levels will surface in the coming weeks when the Pentagon submits supplemental request for fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
“His vision, his thinking and his priorities are very much in line with his goal of building military readiness,” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis said of Mattis’ budget plan.
But significant political roadblocks stand in the way of funding the Pentagon’s wish list, obstacles that also would deny the military the long-term fiscal predictability it has sought for years, said former defense officials and lawmakers.
A deteriorating atmosphere on Capitol Hill is diminishing the odds that Congress will even pass a budget for the current fiscal year, possibly extending temporary funding, known as a continuing resolution, beyond the current April 28 deadline, said John McHugh, a former New York Republican congressman and secretary of the Army during the Obama administration.
“I’m very concerned about a CR through the end of fiscal year 2017,” he said last week during a webinar hosted by Bloomberg Government. Based on recent conversations with appropriators, he said, “It’s likely we’ll get a CR.”
Lawmakers from both parties told McHugh they would like to move forward with an appropriations bill but hopes are fading. “Both sides said they will give it a shot to get an omnibus. The bills are written. Not a lot of technical work is needed. But it’s the politics,” McHugh said. And he worries this will hurt the Defense Department because new programs cannot be started without a proper appropriations bill.
“CRs are devastating for the military,” said McHugh. “We need a ‘regular order’ way to deal with the imbalance in defense. Every service chief and secretary, it’s what keeps us up at night, not having forces fully trained and equipped.”
Appropriators also have to decide whether the “overseas contingency operations,” or OCO supplemental funding for the Pentagon will be bundled with the 2017 spending bill.
The outlook might improve for the fiscal year 2018 budget. “I’m hoping we can break the stalemate,” said McHugh. “But the fact is that a dark cloud remains, the Budget Control Act caps. We are still going to have to find a way to balance domestic and defense to bring some Democratic votes.”
The spending caps on discretionary spending set in law until 2021 cannot be repealed with only Republican votes, and Democrats will not cooperate unless military budget hikes are matched for nondefense agencies. Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration have shown no sign of wanting to cut such a deal, and may actually move to cut nondefense programs.
Although the House could pass legislation with just Republicans, the 60-vote threshold in the Senate “really makes it hard,” said McHugh. “I can’t imagine they’ll allow defense to go up without domestic spending,” he added. “Obama found it politically necessary to tie the two together. I see why he did it but it makes it that much harder.”
A deal to lift the caps similar to those negotiated in 2014 and 2015 confronts tough odds because they would require some compromise on nondefense spending. “Grand bargains are like Big Foot,” said McHugh. “Everyone talks about it but you never see it.” For Congress, the easier choice is to “kick the can,” which means the BCA may stay in place, he said. “This is such a fundamental problem for defense.”
During the past four years, separate deals were made to raise the caps, and were paid for with user fees and entitlement cuts,” noted Richard Kogan, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
There is no procedural maneuver that Republicans could use to remove the statutory restrictions with a simple majority. “In a budget resolution, you cannot override statutory caps,” he said. “It can happen if both parties want it to happen. I don’t think that situation applies now.”
A more effortless approach to raise defense would be to increase the OCO account, said Kogan. “Defense appropriations could declare the excess over the caps OCO.”
Kogan cautioned that he has no idea how the politics will play out. He observed that the BCA issue is one illustration of the limits of power in Washington. “People assume that with the GOP in control, they can push it through,” he said. “Not so quick.” The administration will encounter similar challenges securing support for tax reforms and infrastructure spending bills.
On defense, specifically, even the OCO option will encounter hurdles as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, former GOP congressman Mick Mulvaney, is a staunch deficit hawk and has criticized maneuvers like the defense supplemental as budget gimmicks.
“With Mulvaney in charge of OMB, OCO may be entering a new era,” said McHugh.
Congressional defense hawks appear alarmed by the tougher than expected environment. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, told reporters last week he worried that the administration’s lagging efforts to fill Pentagon top jobs might jeopardize Mattis’ push to shore up military budgets.
Davis, the Pentagon spokesman, dismissed the suggestion that Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, an Obama administration holdover, has clashed with Mattis over budget priorities. He noted that senior defense officials have been in “continuing conversations with Representative Thornberry.”
The budget inputs “when they leave this building and go over the transom to the White House and OMB, they will go out of here in Secretary Mattis’ name, and they will reflect his vision, his thinking and his priorities,” Davis said. “That is very much in line with his goal of building military readiness.”
He insisted that Work has the “full confidence and trust of Secretary Mattis.” Work’s deep familiarity with the budget process, with how to coordinate the military services’ proposals and overall corporate knowledge is “critical to building the budget,” Davis said. “But ultimately this will be Mattis’ guidance.”
The Pentagon is working to meet a March 1 deadline to submit the 2017 amendment for supplemental funding to OMB. The fiscal year 2018 request likely will be sent over in May.
Underlying these statements are larger difficulties for the Pentagon as it tries to make the case for a bigger budget, such as enduring struggles breaking through the gridlock on Capitol Hill.
“One issue is that the new administration does not yet have its own people in key positions to start steering the Defense Department in a new direction, and there is some frustration on the Hill over that,” said defense budget expert Todd Harrison, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The other issue is that people are talking past each other about readiness,” said Harrison. “Readiness is one of the most overused and misunderstood words in defense. A lack of readiness can be used to mean shortfalls in personnel, training, and maintenance funding, which contribute to near-term readiness. Other times it is used to mean having the right technologies and capabilities to meet future threats, which contributes to long-term readiness.”
Work's advocacy for investments in next-generation technology is one way to improve long-term readiness, said Harrison. “And Thornberry's push for greater force structure and end strength is intended to improve near-term readiness.”
Capitol Hill insiders warn that the Pentagon could be in for more of the same fiscal battles that became par for the course during the Obama years. A change in administration does not remove the entrenched dynamics that have stalled federal spending bills for nearly a decade — one of them being that lawmakers no longer pay a political price at home for not passing budgets on time.
“Earmarks are now a real discussion in the Republican Congress,” said former GOP congressman from New York, James Walsh, now a lobbyist at K&L Gates. “Since earmarks went away in 2008, bills aren’t getting done, they aren’t getting to the president,” he said.
The factions that pushed back on government spending during the Obama administration are still in power, and have been strengthened by the appointment of Mulvaney at the helm of OMB, Walsh noted. “The conservatives are together. What motivates them is the debt.”
This does not bode well for bigger defense budgets, which consume about half of the government’s discretionary funding. Mandatory spending on Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security amounted to 30 percent of the budget in 1970, whereas today it’s the exact opposite. “You can’t balance the budget on discretionary spending. … And the president doesn’t have the concern about debt and deficits that the party does,” said Walsh. “Anybody who gets discretionary funding should be very worried.”
For defense, the wild card is whether the president and congressional Republicans can gather the votes. “The House will plus up defense and send it over to the Senate. That’s when the negotiations begin,” said Walsh. And what about Mulvaney’s anti-spending views? “He’ll do what the president wants him to do.”
A test will come later this year when the administration will need Congress to vote to raise the federal borrowing limit to avoid a U.S. default. Mulvaney in the past voted against raising the debt limit.
PHOTO: Gen. Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary James Mattis (DEFENSE DEPARTMENT)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Army is embarking on a new effort to equip soldiers with digital handheld radios that can be used for both voice and data communications.
A solicitation for contractor bids is expected in May, and the Army says it might select a vendor as early as September. If all goes as planned, the Army could buy as many as 100,000 radios over the next several years.
Given the Army’s rocky history with radio procurements, vendors are watching this one with a wary eye.
It was just about three years ago when the Army chose two manufacturers — Harris Corp. and Thales — to start mass production of a “rifleman” radio that would be fielded to every soldier. Initially conceived as a five-year $4 billion program, production was halted last fall after 8,000 units. It had become apparent that the single-channel radio — designed for data transmission such as maps, pictures and text messages — was less than functional because it could not be used for voice communications.
The next radio will be a dual data-voice device that will be supplied to unit leaders, and will be comparable — if not identical — to the radios that currently are being acquired by the U.S. Special Operations Command.
Harris and Thales both intend to bid for the two-channel Army leader radio, and said they are optimistic that the Army will stick with the program for the long haul.
The Trump administration’s emphasis on shoring up the combat readiness of U.S. forces should help the Army’s tactical radio procurement efforts, executives predict. “Every indication I've seen, including recent correspondence from Defense Secretary James Mattis, is encouraging for us,” William Brown, chairman and CEO of Harris told industry analysts earlier this month. If the priority is to make sure the force is “prepared, ready, sized appropriately, and has mission-critical capabilities,” that should include having modern radios to communicate within the U.S. military and with coalition partners, Brown said. “Every indication is that there remains strong support going into our fiscal 2018 for modernization. SOCOM is moving along well both on the handheld radio as well as on the manpack.”
Army Col. James Ross, project manager for tactical radios, said the industry was informed last fall that the Army intended to change course on the rifleman radio, and noted that officials have gone to great lengths to keep vendors up to date on changing requirements.
“We still plan to field both single-channel and two-channel rifleman radios,” Ross said in an interview. “The Army decided it wanted a two-channel to reduce the burden on the soldier. Instead of having to carry two radios, the SRW [soldier radio waveform] for data and SINCGARS for voice, we can go to one radio to reduce weight, the logistics tail and increase technical functionality.”
Ross expects bids from multiple manufacturers for the new radio. “We are finalizing the documentation for the two-channel program. We met with industry. We are looking to release an RFP [request for proposals] in May and award a contract in late September,” he said. “We believe there’s enough of a viable market for a two-channel radio. We will move forward with testing and plan to buy as many as we are funded.”
The total quantity — which could still be revised by the Army Training and Doctrine Command — is about 100,000 two-channel leader radios to be acquired over several years.
In a statement, a Thales spokesman said the company already produces a two-channel handheld radio that is used by U.S. special operations forces and meets the Army’s specs. Thales officials worry, however, that if requirements change once again, manufacturers will think twice before committing resources to these competitions.
“Anytime there are changes to funding or acquisition programs, instability and long-term planning challenges are created for industry,” said the Thales statement provided in response to questions from National Defense. “The DoD must be mindful of these effects if it wants to maintain a competitive industrial base.”
Dennis Moran, Harris vice president of government business development, said the company also makes a two-channel handheld radio for SOCOM. “That blends very nicely into the leader radio we’ll be offering to the Army,” he said in an interview. Harris also expects the Army to allow vendors to sell the radio internationally, understanding that manufacturers need larger orders to recoup their investment.
“It’s a global market,” said Moran. “A smart company is going to invest in products that satisfy both international foreign military sales requirements and commercial, as well as the DoD market.”
Ross, the Army project manager, said the military tries to minimize export restrictions for tactical radios. “We have several radios where the basic technology could be sold to other markets, whether it be first responders, or overseas markets,” he said. “We try to ensure they’re not overly restrictive and don’t limit competition. We want to get the best possible technology that is flexible so it can grow in the future.”
There are nevertheless security features that are unique to the U.S. armed services. “We are the military. We must operate under the rules of the National Security Agency,” he said. “That’s something that will never go away. Vendors have to be certified,” he added. “Overall we are looking at largely commercial technologies. But the rules are what they are.”
Growing pressure on the military to protect its communications systems from hackers and from potential satellite disruptions is fueling demand for encrypted and jam-proof software for tactical radios. “What we’re seeing is an emphasis on the development of waveforms that can operate in platforms in a denied environment,” said Moran. “We’re seeing this specifically in the Army, as well as in the Marine Corps, who want secure waveforms.”
Ross insisted that security is a never-ending challenge. “Our capabilities are constantly emerging,” he said. “The enemy has a vote. We have to plan for as much resiliency in our network as we can. That’s not to say that we can overcome every single challenge out there.” Security can be boosted with technology but also with tactics, he said. “There is no magic solution in a box or piece of software.”
By Stew Magnuson
BETHESDA, Md. — The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, the spy agencies’ technology incubator, celebrated its 10th year by transitioning a large number of programs to its clients, its director said Feb. 15.
Founded in 2006 under the office of the director of national intelligence, last year saw the kickoff of 12 new research programs, two new challenge prizes, 46 workshops with 2,700 attendees, 250 peer reviewed publications, and 22 technologies being transitioned to one of its client agencies.
It has worked with 500 organizations — half universities or small colleges, a quarter small businesses, and a quarter a mix of large companies, federal laboratories and federal agencies, Jason Matheny, IARPA director, said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference.
It serves 17 intelligence agencies in the U.S. government. “Their problem sets are broad,” he said. They involve everything from the hard sciences such as physics, biology and chemistry to political science and psychology with neuroscience, computing and engineering kicked in.
“The way that I used to describe this to my family was that we are the United States' version of Q Branch from the James Bond movies,” he said. Except when his daughter came to visit on family day, she remarked that it was just a bunch of filing cabinets with contracts inside.
“We have outsourced Q Branch. … We fund the best and the brightest in academia and industry to solve our hardest problems,” he said.
The agency modeled itself after the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency because it was so successful, Matheny said.
Over the past decade, IARPA has emerged as the largest funder of academic research into quantum and superconducting computing. It also pours money into machine learning, speech recognition, imagery analysis, facial recognition, and automated video analysis.
About one-third of its budget is put toward human judgment programs. This field helps analysts make better assessments based on partial data or wrong information, Matheny said. “How can they make more accurate judgments quickly? How can they resist certain universal cognitive biases?”
“Ultimately, judgments in the intelligence community come down to a human being. We haven’t automated analysis and we don’t expect to automate that kind of analysis,” he added.
Other technologies it’s pursing include sensors that can pick up chemical traces from stand-off distances and in-place unattended chemical sensors that can be dormant for years, then “phone home” when it detects an agent. It’s also looking at detectors for nuclear weapons and synthetic genomes in the environment.
“Very” quiet unmanned aerial vehicles and persistent undersea sensors are two other needs, he said.
New opportunities include the Janus program, which focuses on the hard facial recognition problem, he said. “Let’s say you have faces that are covered, that are captured from an angle with very low resolution cameras or video.” The goal is to piece together various images from multiple angles and try to compose a
composite facial image.
It’s also looking into high-resolution 3D modeling created from overhead imagery. “Can you build a 3D model of not just a building, but an entire city with 5 centimeter accuracy?” If so, that could be helpful for special operators planning raids, he added.
It is also searching for knowledge discovery tools in multi-lingual domains. This is intended for languages for which there isn’t a common automatic translation system such as those provided by Google.
IARPA prefers a competitive set up. It issues similar contracts in parallel to pursue the same technical goal. Multiple teams then research the same target. “We obsessively keep score. We spend about a quarter of our budget on testing and evaluation. And then we exercise options ... for the teams that are outperforming others," Matheny said.
This is stressful for the teams but results in more innovation, more quickly “in ways we don’t see otherwise in federal contracting,” he said.
“Prize challenges are one of the more cost-effective ways we have for funding innovation,” he said. The organization has found hobbyists willing to solve problems for $10,000 prize purses. The competition levels the playing field for anyone who is able to participate.
Like DARPA, it issues broad area announcements that it always keeps open so it can rapidly provide seed money for those with good ideas. The “informal process” begins with as little as a paragraph describing an idea, followed by a phone call with a program manager. “The program manager has been trained to be brutally honest — to give a thumbs down on an idea that we don’t want to see a full proposal on, or a thumbs up.”
The phone conversation is key, Matheny said. “If the program manager tells you they really want to see a proposal, they really do want to see that proposal.” Ninety percent who are asked for a full proposal go on to be funded, he noted. The more formal way of proceeding only resulted in 20 percent moving forward, he added.
By Stew Magnuson
BETHESDA, Maryland — Special Operations Command's much talked about tactical assault light operator suit is on track to make its debut in 2018, SOCOM's chief acquisitions executive said Feb.15.
TALOS, also dubbed the Iron Man suit, is about a "year and a half-ish away," said James "Hondo" Geurts, who serves as SOCOM's director of acquisitions, technology and logistics.
"I think we will deliver a prototype. Will it do everything we want? That was never the intention," he said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference.
The suit has gone through about five iterations since the program kicked off in 2013, he said.
The program began at the request of then SOCOM Commander Navy Adm. William McRaven, who wanted more protection for special operators kicking down doors during raids. Operators are particularly vulnerable to small arms fire or bomb blasts, he said. He gave the command's acquisition community five years to come up with a solution.
One of the unexpected benefits of the program has been the spinning off of several technologies needed for the suit that have already reached the field with other programs, he said.
"The amount of spinoffs — things that we have developed to drive into the force — has been absolutely phenomenal," he said. Power struts, augmented reality and symbology for night-vision goggles are some of the applications that have been adapted from research going into TALOS, he added.
Survivability and armor is a big part of the program, but situational awareness, receiving vital information and the ability to communicate are also part of the equation, he added.
Despite his confidence that the 2018 deadline will be met, Geurts said there are still "tremendous hurdles" that have to be overcome. Powering the exoskeleton has been mentioned since the outset of the program as a problem and still is an issue, he said. SOCOM could use industry's help help with that and miniaturizing components, the algorithms that help the operator control the suit, and communication links, he added.
"We continue to look for ways to on-board process or bring in data for situational awareness," he said.
"When you think of TALOS, don't just think of an exoskeleton and armor, think of the whole equation," he said. About 215 organizations have been involved in the project since its outset, according to a slide in his presentation.
Geurts also touted another high-profile project that began under his tenure, SOFWERX, an innovation hub located in Ybor City in Tampa that is intended to being in ideas from outside the military acquisition community.
It is not a means to bypass the traditional acquisition system, he said, describing it as a "mosh pit of ideas." It is intended to garner ideas that are "left of requirements," he added. One of its strengths it its neutral location. It's not located on any military base, company or university campus. It invites anyone to drop in and share their ideas or to participate in its events.
One of its events brought in interested parties to look into augmented reality for SEAL team small tactical boat drivers, he said.
Geurts expected SOCOM's robust research-and-development budget to continue, with projections from fiscal year 2018 to 2021 to range between $470 million to $483 million. The 2017 budget has $497 million, down from $554 million enacted for fiscal year 2016.
Research-and-development priorities he listed include: signature management, or stealth, for personnel and platforms; advanced armor for better ballistic protection; for froward combat casualty care; counter-terrorism tracking, tagging and locating; cyber and social media analysis tools and; leap ahead power and energy systems.
By Vivienne Machi
BETHESDA, Md. — U.S. Special Operations Forces are seeking portable and flexible technologies, particularly in the realm of sensors, unmanned systems and data processing, to counter an ever-growing and diverse mission set, the command’s leader said Feb. 14.
“SOCOM has achieved a historic level of transformation over the last 15-plus years of the living laboratory of combat, however we are keenly aware that much of our technical operations in the fight against extremism is non-transferable to dealing with near-to-peer competitors,” Army Gen. Raymond Thomas III said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations-Low Intensity Conflict Symposium in Bethesda, Maryland.
In the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance realm, forces are looking for help from industry to miniaturize sensors “in order to get more capability per platform,” as well as technology to help reduce the cost of munitions, Thomas said.
“It is difficult to rationalize” the use of a $100,000 missile to kill a $3,000 vehicle, he noted.
SOCOM is also eager to leverage automation and deep learning technologies that could help with data processing and dissemination, he said, adding that the force finds itself “drowning in data” and “spends hours sorting the wheat from the chaff.”
All of these technology requests are “irretrievably linked” to the need for rapid technology refreshment to keep up with current cycles, as well as open architectures that will allow for frequent upgrades, he said.
The SOCOM commander also spoke of the need for technologies to counter violent extremist groups in the Middle East.
Special Operations Command recently issued a solicitation seeking small businesses to provide 100 quadcopters for commandos and allies, with the option to procure an additional 300. This would provide transportable capabilities to compete in the ISR realm, particularly in the fight against the Islamic State, Thomas said.
“In Syria and Iraq, we now have an adversary who is is flying armed ISR at our forces” he said. “It’s a whole new world … and we’re clearly trying to beat them in that arena.”
The fight against ISIL has been more successful than the American public may realize, he noted, adding that SOF forces have killed over 60,000 ISIL members in the last year. Commandos and foreign allies are working to take back the Syrian city of Raqqa, which ISIL has declared the capital of its caliphate. U.S. commandos recently killed 1,500 ISIL members in Libya.
“I don’t know if that resonates in the United States … the nature of the threat and how aggressively we’re getting after it,” he said. “When folks ask, 'Do you need more aggressive authorities? Do you need better [rules of engagement]?' I would tell you that we’re being pretty darn prolific right now.”
The command’s mission set has expanded in recent years, to include the fight against violent extremist organizations, an expansionist China, a resurgent Russia, the unpredictable state of North Korea, as well as providing support to Defense Department efforts and supporting homeland security, Thomas said. He noted the need to foster international partnerships with allies to counter weapons of mass destruction proliferation and transregional threats, both with foreign militaries and industries.
The command uses the office of the secretary of defense’s coalition warfare program to receive funding for coalition research-and-development projects, which has leveraged over $6 million for five projects, resulting in more than a 600 percent return on investment for SOCOM, Thomas said.
“We identify foreign industry solutions to benefit SOF projects,” he added. “To date, SOF has pursued over 78 projects, representing industries from 22 countries, that resulted in $506 million worth of procurement,” including air tactical extraction projects from France, targeting and tracking location kits from Denmark, and sniper rifle scopes from Germany.
The SOCOM commander met with President Donald Trump upon his visit to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa Florida, and said that the president offered “a very profound statement of support” to the force.
“I took it as a very open conversation on what do you need, the strategy you need to win, describe the win,” Thomas said, adding that the president asked “pretty pointed questions on what does a win look like and what do we need to get there?”
Photo: Gen. Raymond Thomas (EPNAC)
By Sandra I. Erwin
Household robots and smart electronics have grown into massive, rapidly expanding industries that innovate at a fast and furious pace. The technology arms race underway in these sectors could be a boon for U.S. military efforts to automate routine tasks such as patrolling and delivering supplies.
The Army has mostly restricted the use of robots to narrow niches such as bomb detection but is now under pressure to broaden their use, and entrust them to do more of the dull, repetitive but also dangerous duties that currently are performed by soldiers.
Progress thus far has been held back by mistrust of the technology and the high cost of customized, military-compliant systems, which can command six-digit price tags. But as commercial technology reaches new milestones and machines are able to do more complex tasks, industry officials say the market is reaching a watershed moment.
Machine-learning robots developed for the consumer market have perfected capabilities, such as maneuvering around obstacles, that the military needs for its unmanned ground vehicles, says Shahar Abuhazira, CEO of Roboteam North America.
Electronic gadgets that obey voice commands are commonplace and increasingly more sophisticated. “These consumer technologies are critical to the future of military robotic systems,” Abuhazira says.
The faster the Defense Department can adopt commercial robot technology, the greater the potential payoffs, he asserts. “Cost is a big reason. They can get reliable technologies at low cost that can meet military needs. It will save DoD a lot of time” as well as research-and-development money.
Roboteam, founded in Israel in 2009, has moved to penetrate the U.S. military market by focusing on multi-purpose, lower cost robots. The firm recently announced it is plunging into the consumer robot business and spun off a new company called Roboteam Home.
The Army, by far the company’s largest customer, is ready to unleash more robots into the force, he says. “One big trend is pushing systems into bigger audiences.” Beyond the traditional explosive ordnance disposal robots, the goal is to field them to infantry units and special operations forces, says Abuhazira. The military also is becoming more comfortable with delegation, even if systems are never allowed to operate completely autonomously. “We see more ‘semi-autonomy,’ and less ‘remote control,’” he says. “We do see systems that can do tasks and could replace soldiers.”
The Army is beginning to grasp how it might exploit robots when it makes sense. For instance, when a driverless vehicle flips over, only a very skilled operator would be able to flip it back upright, whereas some autonomous vehicles today can do that on their own. “The Army needs to have semi-autonomous applications so a vehicle knows to flip itself back, so robots climb stairs automatically, scan a room automatically, look for threats, without the need for an operator to control each mission,” says Abuhazira. “These are things we are seeing, less remote control.”
Another approach that is gaining traction is “robotic teaming.” One system is controlled by an operator, and others follow behind. The Army sees the potential efficiencies of having just one operator controlling potentially a whole convoy of vehicles. Abuhazira calls this a “breakthrough.”
The military could be tapping into a whole universe of technology that could make its robots more capable and less costly, but there are still barriers in the defense procurement system to widespread use of commercial technologies, Abuhazira says. The acquisition system is counterproductive, he adds, because commercial robots are increasingly sophisticated. “They navigate around your house, around furniture, on different types of floors and carpeting. Avoiding obstacles is a complicated mission and these are solutions we can use for military UGVs.”
The voice-recognition products developed by Amazon and Google could be useful as well. “Why not start using these applications in the military instead of remote control?” he says.
A major gulf between the defense and consumer market is that military systems are not made to interact with commercial devices. “You can buy a camera that works with any computer. In the military world we are not there yet. I need integration in DoD systems.”
The Army has been moving in that direction of late. It has adopted a standard called “unmanned ground vehicle interoperability profile,” or IOP. The shift to interoperable systems was a cri de coeur of former Army acquisition executive Heidi Shyu. Roboteam hired Shyu shortly after her retirement in 2015, and she was recently promoted to chairman of the board.
Roboteam also named Yossi Wolf, the former chief of the company’s defense business, CEO of Roboteam Home. Although the military remains the primary customer, the company decided that in order to draw investors, it needed to play in the consumer world, where most of the action is taking place.
“We’ll be able on the defense side to learn from the technologies they are implementing on the consumer side,” says Abuhazira.
He sees commercial hardware and software migrating to military unmanned vehicles like robotic cargo trucks. “Logistics carriers have to drive for days autonomously. And they must avoid obstacles. There are commercial solutions that we will bring it to the military,” he says. Voice recognition is how people control electronics. “This is the way to go in UGVs, too, ‘Talk to your robots.’”
The auto industry and Silicon Valley powerhouses like Google and Uber, meanwhile, are racing to invest in driverless technology in anticipation of a future revolution in that sector. But Abuhazira does not see as much synergy with the military in that space.
“The challenge for them is safety. Can you trust machines to park your car?” he says. To make the transition from experiment to mainstream, driverless automobiles need to be highly reliable and have acute situational awareness. The bar is lower for military UGVs in that regard, says Abuhazira. “If a UGV hits a wall, the cost of the mistake is minor” compared to the risk of human passengers being killed. “We are very different from those companies. We are facing the challenge of making operations and control of the systems very intuitive and simple, while keeping the operator in the loop. This is different than the driverless car vision.”
Companies like Roboteam and its competitors — including Endeavor Robotics, QinetiQ North America and General Dynamics — are gearing up to fight for upcoming Army procurements that could total thousands of robots over the coming decade. The Army plans to buy small robots for urban warfare, and the Navy is acquiring a new bomb-disposal robot.
“The next conflict will be with UGVs,” says Abuhazira. Robots will carry wounded soldiers, ammunition, and provide eyes on the battlefield, he adds. “There will be robots for everybody, not just for EOD.”
Outside the United States, militaries and police forces are watching the U.S. Army for clues on how far robots are being pushed as weapons of war and as homeland security aids. Australia and the United Kingdom are investing in tactical robots, he says. Other countries in Europe are buying them for law enforcement and counter terrorism units.
PHOTO: Tactical robot (Roboteam)