By Yasmin Tadjdeh
The relationship between the Army and the National Guard — which was for a time icy due to a once proposed plan to remove the Guard’s attack helicopters — has improved significantly, said the chief of the National Guard Bureau Oct. 26.
“Relations with the Army … and the Guard over the past several years … haven’t been all that good,” said Gen. Joseph Lengyel, who also serves as a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It has been “a little bit of a rocky road.”
However, Gen. Mark Milley, chief of staff of the Army, has “totally changed the tone of the relationship, the access, the utilization of the Guard force structure,” he said.
Milley has plans to use the Guard operationally in Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq and around the world, Lengyel told defense reporters during a breakfast meeting in Washington, D.C.
Tensions between the Guard and the Army reached a boiling point in 2013 after the Army — under what is known as the aviation restructuring initiative — proposed to cut the Guard’s attack helicopter capability and transition the helos to the active component.
The initiative would have eliminated 800 aircraft from the Army’s inventory by divesting older helicopters such as the OH-58 A/C/D Kiowa Warriors and would have moved all National Guard attack choppers to the active force, replacing the Guard’s 192 Apaches with 111 utility helicopters from the active force.
Congress put the initiative on hold pending a review by the National Commission on the Future of the Army. In a report released in January, the commission said the plan “results in a lack of strategic depth, providing for no wartime surge capability in the Army National Guard.” It also fostered disunity, the report added. The panel recommended that the Army maintain 24 manned Apache battalions: 20 in the regular Army and four in the Army National Guard.
Now that the dust has settled, the relationship between the Guard and the Army has improved significantly, Lengyel said.
“The relationship is great. But relations are always great when the news is stable. We’ve had bad budgets and … all of the bad news has cascaded and permeated and it’s out there and there has been no new bad news for a while,” he said. “There’s always going to be [tension] when resources are an issue.”
However, the Army and Guard now have better communication and transparency, which would help the two groups work together if another issue presents itself in the future, he said.
Additionally, Lengyel’s position as a member of the Joint Chiefs will help him make a case for the National Guard, should a need arise, he said. “If there is a disagreement inside the services I at least get one more chance at the OSD [office of the secretary of defense] level to raise this issue.”
“I’m optimistic that the relationship is going to stay good,” he added.
Lengyel — who took over as chief of the National Guard in August — said modernizing the Guard’s equipment is critical.
“We have all the same challenges the services do,” he said. “Those challenges are out there and the Air Force has real money challenges in trying to recapitalize its own fleet — the A-10s, tanker fleet, the new bomber fleet. They are all out there and we’re all a part of it.”
Lengyel wants to upgrade the Guard’s C-130s and its F-15s. “The F-15 fleet — it’s old and we need money to either recapitalize it or put new fighters in there,” he said.
Photo: Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengyel, National Guard Bureau chief, at the 2016 National Guard Association of the United States Conference (National Guard)
By Jon Harper
As the U.S. military buys more drone technology, there are opportunities to break away from the design constraints that have been imposed on the Navy by manned systems, service officials said Oct. 25.
“The number of traps on a carrier, the number of vertical accelerations that you can have … all these things – if you really trace them back and find the root, they go to having a man in the cockpit,” said Vice Adm. David Johnson, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition.
“If you’re working in the unmanned air game, that stuff is negotiable,” he said at an industry conference in Arlington, Virginia, hosted by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.
Designing drones along the lines of traditional aircraft or naval vessels would be folly, especially at a time when the cost of manned platforms is growing, Johnson argued.
“We can be our own worst enemy,” he said. “We can design our unmanned systems to essentially be a manned thing without a man, and that will be unaffordable.”
A key challenge facing the Navy and its industry partners is determining which system specifications, requirements or components are simply holdovers from an earlier era when drones were less prevalent or even non-existent. The problem is exacerbated by turnover within the ranks of the defense community’s engineering experts, Johnson noted.
Designers working on the next wave of unmanned systems need to take a fresh look at everything to make sure that the Navy isn’t being bound by unnecessary technical requirements, he said.
“For this industry, we’re relying on you to go back to these first principles and find out, 'Why the heck do I have to do that'" with a drone, he said. “Does it make technical sense? Does it map back to something that an unmanned vehicle has to deal with, or is there a derived requirement [from manned platforms] hiding in there that’s driving up the cost, weight and lowering the utility of our systems?”
Elliott Branch, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for acquisition and procurement, said the rise of drones gives the service an opportunity to be less cautious when experimenting with new capabilities and technology integration.
“We have turned over … especially in aviation and to some degree in the submarine community, some of these integration issues to industry because that’s where the expertise is,” he said during a panel discussion at the conference.
That trend was largely due to concerns about personnel safety. The Defense Department didn’t want to be in a situation where “every street on the base is named after a dead test pilot,” he said.
“That’s a price we’re not willing to pay. So we’re very, very conservative. We test, we test, we test. We absolutely run to where we know that center of expertise is,” he added.
But drones don’t present the same safety concerns, Branch noted.
“When you pull that man out of the loop, I think you have a great deal more freedom to decide to experiment,” he said. “I think those experiments will actually result in telling us where do we best integrate these capabilities across the spectrum of unmanned vehicles.”
Photo: A sailor conducts maintenance on an aerial target drone. (Navy)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
The Navy is preparing to unveil a new unmanned systems strategy that will guide it as it invests in aerial, surface and underwater robots, said the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems Oct. 25.
This will be a tool for the service, including the office of the chief of naval operations’ staff, “to help inform their investment and resourcing plans in the future and help inform their investment strategies,” said Frank Kelley during a speech at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s Unmanned Systems Defense conference in Arlington, Virginia.
“This will be a living document,” he added. Kelley did not offer a timetable for when the strategy would be released.
Last year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that the office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for unmanned systems would be stood up. Since then, Kelley and his staff have submitted formal goals to the Department of the Navy and have held workshops that will influence the new strategy, Kelley said.
The plan, which will include strategic and comprehensive goals from a variety of stakeholders including industry, he said.
“We didn’t want to just do it in our shop. We wanted to reach out and that’s pretty challenging if you’re a new organization,” he said.
This year it held three workshops that involved industry, he said. Two were held in Newport, Rhode Island, at the U.S. Naval War College and the third in San Diego, he said.
Integrating unmanned systems — whether aerial, surface or underwater — will become the new normal for the service, he said. Every sailor and Marine, regardless of rank or where they are operating, will think about how they can use drones to enhance their mission, he said.
“That will become the goal for us,” he said. “I will tell you right now, … I do think that we are on that trajectory. I feel really good about it.”
As the Navy invests in new systems, it wants vehicles that can be used in a variety of environments, he said.
“One of the things that we’ve realized is we’ve got to break out of the domain paradigm and think more in terms of the environmental or mission domain,” he said. “Instead of thinking of underwater and air, think in terms of where you are operating. That’s been the biggest thing that we’ve had to crack open and I think over those three workshops we’ve been able to work through that.”
While challenging, the Navy needs systems that can launch an aerial drone from under the sea into the air, he said, “or even something that could march along the seabed and then march out of the water and onto to land.”
The Marine Corps is also thinking about how it can use unmanned systems to give Marines an operational edge, said Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of the Marine Corps’ Combat Development Command and deputy commandant of combat development and integration.
The service will soon host an exercise known as ship-to-shore maneuver exploration and experimentation or S2ME2 17. The Marine Corps recently released a special notice to industry and academia asking for mature prototypes that can be used during the exercise, he said.
"Whether its on the surface, under the surface or in the air, we’re looking at ... how will Marines move ashore in the future,” he said. “Instead of Marines being the first ones in, it’s unmanned robotics … moving in first, looking for mines that may be in front of them, looking for breach lanes that may be in the beach, sensing where the enemies may be located.”
The service plans to look at a variety of technologies, including unmanned surface and underwater vehicles, he said. Responses are due on Oct. 31. The event will take place between April and October 2017 and will be held at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton.
By Sandra I. Erwin
As the nation prepares to elect a new president, speculation is swirling in the defense sector about the prospect of a budget deal next year that could end mandatory caps on government civilian and military spending.
“People I talk to are encouraged,” said retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, a Pentagon adviser and author of a new book, titled, “On War and Politics: The Battlefield Inside Washington's Beltway.”
Drawing on his time in the military, in the Senate Armed Services Committee as a staff director, and as a consultant in the defense industry, Punaro is convinced that strong leadership from the White House is what it will take to break the logjam that has kept the government from functioning for years. One of the consequences of political gridlock has been partisan clashes that have kept federal agencies on the brink of shutdown. The erratic budget process of recent years has been denounced by Pentagon officials as disruptive and detrimental to the military.
“I remain one of the few people that’s optimistic that with a new president and a new Congress” there is a chance for a fresh start on a budget deal, particularly if the White House takes the first step, Punaro said in an interview. The president will have to reach out to a deeply divided Congress, regardless of which party wins the Senate majority.
Punaro said he was "encouraged" by presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s statements during the third debate between her and Republican Donald Trump, on the issue of government deficits and spending. Clinton said spending and revenues need to be addressed in a comprehensive way. What she expressed is what everybody in Washington knows, Punaro noted. “If we want to lift the sequester and have more top line for defense, if we don’t have the grand compromise that looks at entitlements, revenue and discretionary spending, we’re not going to get what we need.”
The Pentagon can expect tight budgets to continue for the time being, though. Congress would have to increase defense spending by $250 billion over five years just to fund the Obama 2017-2021 proposal, Punaro said. “Meanwhile, we can’t get the Republican caucus right now to increase the budget by $15 billion.”
There was a time when “we solved problems on a bipartisan basis,” he said. “We can do that again.”
Both the House and Senate should have compelling incentives to work with the new president. Each faction on Capitol Hill has its own agenda, but lawmakers in general should be motivated to help restore the public’s confidence in the legislative branch of government, Punaro said. “If they don’t, they will pay a price."
Other defense insiders are less buoyant about the political outlook. A bruising presidential campaign has focused on personalities and not on issues, so it’s unclear how the parties would come together to deal with sequestration and other fiscal challenges, said former Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Howard “Buck” McKeon, now president of The McKeon Group.
There is widespread frustration in the defense industry and the military about political dysfunction and the lack of proper budgets, McKeon told National Defense. "It is difficult for industry to plan. It’s difficult for the chiefs to ensure military readiness.”
The trench warfare of the Obama years has brought about a Congress that doesn’t know how to work in a bipartisan fashion, McKeon lamented. “Well over half of the Congress has never served under regular order,” he said. “That’s on both sides of the aisle. When you talk about regular order, a lot of them don’t even know what you’re talking about. Continuing resolutions is regular order now.”
The forthcoming lame-duck session is likely to be a taste of what lies ahead, he said. “The House picks a number, the Senate picks a number. You can’t conference that number. So they go off and pass their bills hoping that something will happen.” Defense budgets will continue to be squeezed, even though there’s a general consensus that the military is strained and needs more resources, McKeon said. To get more money for defense, “We need to solve runaway mandatory spending.”
Military analyst Michael O’Hanlon, senior foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution, warns that Washington gridlock could worsen if Clinton wins and Republicans in Congress decide to declare war on the administration from day one, as they did when Barack Obama was elected.
Will a desire to get rid of sequestration bring both sides to the table? O’Hanlon doubts it. “The Republican Congress will be angry from losing. I’m pretty sure the Republicans are going to start their 2020 campaign on Nov. 9 to deny Clinton’s reelection.”
Washington will not be the place to find “big answers and big initiatives,” O’Hanlon said. “We’re going to be constrained in our ability to do anything big,” he said. The federal deficit, currently at $600 billion, is headed for a trillion dollars in the 2020s,” he said. “It’s not a bleak situation. But we don’t have lot of room to maneuver.”
Unless Washington finds a way to break the budget impasse, the military will be in a tough spot, said retired Navy Rear Adm. Sinclair Harris, vice president of the consulting firm LMI.
“The demand for military forces is going up,” he said in an interview. “We face a low-end fight and at the same time a higher end threat is coming to the fore.” Russia and China will “continue to push,” he said. The military doesn’t have enough money to keep fighting current wars and prepare for future ones, “but nobody ever tells you what you can stop doing, that's the conundrum,” Harris said. “You can't stop doing anything, so you can't save money to improve your capability to deter more complex high end threats.”
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Pentagon’s notoriously slow and ponderous weapons procurement system is a favorite target of pundits and think tanks. And it frequently incites the wrath of congressional committees, resulting in thousands of pages of legislation each year that aim to correct dysfunctions.
Congressional annoyance with the defense procurement system reached new heights over that past year, leading to language in the Senate version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that dismantles the office of the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, a post currently held by Frank Kendall.
In a 174-page report released Oct. 24, Kendall rebuts the critics point by point. To sum it up, he says their assertions about the poor performance of defense programs are not based in reality.
“We open this volume with some accrued insights and an attempt to refute some popular myths about defense acquisition. Too much of our decision making on acquisition policy has been based on cyclical and intuitive conventional wisdom and on anecdote — or just the desire, spurred by frustration, to affect change,” Kendall writes in the 2016 “Performance of the Defense Acquisition System” annual report.
This is the fourth such report produced by Kendall’s office, with help from analysts and statisticians from Pentagon-funded nonprofit research firms.
One of the most frequent digs made about defense programs, that they are plagued by runaway costs, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, Kendall said during a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon. Improving cost trends started to show up in last year’s report, and today, “We are at a 30-year low in cost growth for major acquisition programs,” he said. “We reversed a trend. That’s a pretty big deal.”
Naysayers have put forth many ideas for improving acquisitions but most lack data to buttress their claims, Kendall insisted. “I have seen a number of attempts to reform acquisition. They were intuitive, not driven by data.”
A common complaint is that the defense acquisition system is broken. One of its toughest critics, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Rep. Mac Thornberry, said in March: “We simply can no longer afford the current acquisition system. It costs too much, it takes too long, and our troops simply don’t get enough out of it.”
Kendall’s report is emphatic that the defense acquisition system produces useful equipment for military forces. “The data in these annual performance reports indicate that the system functions reasonably well compared to the past and continues improving.” In four annual reports produced so far, he said, the Pentagon has provided “strong evidence that the DoD has moved, and is moving, in the right direction with regard to the cost, schedule, and quality of the products we deliver.”
Cost growth on major programs has almost halted, the report stated. “The Department has also seen a statistically significant decline in the number of critical Nunn-McCurdy cost breaches from a high of 7 in 2009 to about 1 per year at present. Cycle times for major programs have increased from about five years to seven years since the 1980s, which the Pentagon sees as good news. “The portfolio of programs that achieved initial operational capability in the last two decades showed schedule growth measured in months — not years — on average.”
The Pentagon argues that the budget process is more to blame for sluggish programs than any other factor. “Much of the challenge in responsive acquisition lies more in quickly obtaining funding to begin acquisition than a magical shortcut to developing and fielding systems.”
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has called on the Pentagon to step up the pace of innovation in the face of rising adversary capabilities. Kendall agreed this is a major concern. “Rapid acquisitions generally are limited by available technology and restrictions on reprogramming appropriated funds,” the report said. “We have good processes in place to acquire systems rapidly, but finding the money is often the biggest impediment, because we do not have a ready reserve of funds.”
On the improving cost trends in programs across the board, Kendall credits the progress to persistent emphasis on “affordability” in the procurement workforce and contracting methods that incentivize suppliers to lower prices. He also noted that fewer new programs were started over the past several years due to a budget squeeze so performance trends have to be looked at in that context.
The 2016 report on the state of defense acquisitions is being released just weeks before Congress returns for a lame-duck session when lawmakers will be pressed to pass a federal spending bill for the rest of fiscal year 2017 and the National Defense Authorization Act.
The Senate version recommends doing away with the position of undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics — currently the third-ranking job in the Defense Department — and replacing that post with an undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.
House and Senate negotiators said they expect the NDAA to be passed by the lame duck Congress but it’s unclear how they will work out differences over whether to eliminate Kendall’s office.
Kendall for months has pushed back on the Senate language. “That’s why we did the report. We hope it will inform the legislative provision,” he said. Doing away with his job would be a “bad decision,” he added. “My position has been successful. The secretary of defense needs in his office someone to effectively oversee acquisition programs,” Kendall said.
He rejected assertions made by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain that Kendall’s office micromanages programs and slows them down. “Sometimes my role is misunderstood. I don’t manage programs. The services do.” Kendall said he only “makes a small number of milestone decisions that set up a program for success or failure at the start of development, start of production and full rate production.” His office reviews plans but it is up to the individual military services to execute them.
Drawing on four decades of experience in the acquisition field, Kendall said, “it has become clear to me that there is no ‘acquisition magic,’ no easy solution or set of solutions that will miraculously change our results. Most attempts to direct or legislate acquisition ‘magic’ in some form have been counterproductive and often only increased the system's bureaucracy and rigidity.”
Amid the favorable trends laid out in the report, there are a few red flags. One is diminishing competition in the defense market. This should reinforce frequent criticism lobbed at the Pentagon that it has created high barriers to entry for commercial companies and nontraditional contractors. Analysts have cautioned that the defense contracting market is poised for more corporate mergers and acquisitions, which could leave the Pentagon with even fewer industry competitors.
“We’re seeing a little bit less competition,” Kendall said. Industry consolidation is not the reason though. He attributed reduced competition to budget cuts and the simple economic reality that the Pentagon does not have the money to fund multiple contractors’ prototyping and development efforts before programs are ready for production. “We don’t want to have to pay that twice,” said Kendall. “And when we get to production: quantities aren’t enough to sustain two suppliers.” One way to stimulate competition in the future might be to break up large programs and allow companies to bid for “subsystem” work. “Not sure how we’ll get at that,” said Kendall. “A lot of that is managed by the primes.”
Putting too much work into the hands of few contractors is not the way to do business in the future, said Kendall. That was a tough lesson learned from the Pentagon’s largest procurement program in history, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, “We should not put so much capability in the hands of one prime contractor,” he said. That is an example of a program where there should have been more competition earlier in the development phase.
The report fires back at industry and congressional critics who have charged that the Pentagon is determined to slash costs at the expense of contractor profits. “Major defense companies remained profitable in recent years despite the DoD’s increased success at tying profits to performance,” the report said. Data shows that “efforts to improve cost performance are not a war on profits but a reasonable alignment of industry and government goals.” Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization since 2010 for the six largest prime contractors have been consistently better since 2010.
The Pentagon also seeks to counter assertions made by weapon manufacturers that prices are higher because the government buys too small quantities of items. “Contrary to popular belief, most major defense programs actually produce nearly as many units as originally expected — or more,” said the report. This finding is “surprising because well-known exceptions such as the Air Force F-22 fighter and DDG 1000 Navy destroyer programs tend to claim the spotlight.” Extrapolating from a few instances, the report noted, “does not necessarily lead to a reliable representation of the general population.” It cited data from the last 19 years of program records. “Over 80 percent of programs delivered at least 80 percent of their originally planned units.”
Photo Credit: Air Force Association
By Sandra I. Erwin An underwater vehicle is being transported during the Unmanned Warrior exercise.
For the U.S. Navy, it’s not a matter of if but when autonomous ships begin to take on duties across the fleet. Naval warfare experts and technologists have drummed up a long list of potential missions for robots at sea, such as hunting enemy submarines and sea mines, medical evacuations, ship repairs and other jobs that have become too taxing, dangerous and expensive for human operators.
Companies in the robotics industry and defense contractors that are making multimillion-dollar bets on unmanned ship designs are impatient for this vision to materialize. The Navy for now appears to be in no hurry to pour big money into drone ships and submarines. And there is little tolerance these days for risky gambles on technologies.
The Pentagon’s new strategy — to test, and keep testing, equipment before it buys — comes after decades of costly “rush to failure” missteps in military procurements. The Navy’s unmanned ship efforts are a stark illustration of the more cautious approach.
“Our prototyping efforts are a hedge against an uncertain future,” said Stephen Welby, assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering. “They allow us to avoid early commitment to procurement, and they provide options to leadership to help shape future system portfolios.”
In a presentation at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Welby threw light on the Pentagon’s new approach. “Our strategy to accelerate maturation of capabilities in a constrained budget environment is an increased focus on prototyping and experimentation,” he said. Beginning with the fiscal year 2017 budget proposal, the Pentagon is providing only enough funds for a “limited number of representative prototypes for operational users, to be exercised with, in the field and with the fleet.”
The unmanned ship known as Sea Hunter is a “great example” of how the Pentagon wants to go about procuring big-ticket autonomous systems. This surface vessel, developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency with a team of Pentagon contractors — is capable of fully autonomous operation. It was originally designed to track stealthy, diesel electric submarines but the Navy decided to spend the next two years experimenting with the ship “to help understand how unmanned capabilities will intermix with manned capabilities and future systems,” said Welby. “When I put sensors on it, how will this interact with other ships? Can I use them in a mine-clearing role?. All these kind of questions that come up,” he asked. “Can I use unmanned ships to free up manned ships, to do the missions that they’re most capable of, can I avoid having to use a destroyer?”
As it sorts out future requirements for unmanned ships and matches them up with available technology, the Navy has to be careful about how it spends its funds, said Chief of Naval Research Rear Adm. Mathias Winter. “What keeps me up at night? Inefficiency,” he told a CSIS forum in July. “Somebody's doing something that's already been done before and it's on the shelf and just didn't know it was on the shelf, so you duplicate that effort.”
The Pentagon assigns budget lines to different stages of the technology development process, starting with basic science, research, experimentation and demonstration, and then prototyping. But these budget lines have become a “blurred area, because we're not really sure if this technology is going to be effective in a particular domain or be a technology that's useful to a war fighter.”
The thinking now shaping the Navy’s plan for autonomous vehicles is that ship prototypes will have to prove their mettle in an integrated network, similar to what would happen in a real-world scenario. Swarms of unmanned aircraft, for example, were deployed over the Gulf of Mexico this summer to test how they worked together. Mathias said these demonstrations, if successful, will motivate the military services to fund programs. “We've already had the conversation with our resource sponsors and the appropriate other stakeholders in the Navy on what's the next step,” he said. This is also the time when he would want to discuss “cost share opportunities” with contractors “to keep moving this forward.”
Only when unmanned aircraft, ships and submarines figure out how to talk to each other, operate seamlessly and navigate in complex environments will they become a game-changing technology, officials contend. “I want to be domain-agnostic in the next demonstration,” Winter said. “I want a UUV, USV and UAV swarming together.” The technology is advanced enough to do this, he said. “A lot of this is not the science, it's the business of the science. Understanding how we bring that together takes day-to-day program management and leadership.”
Manufacturers of underwater drones — some having developed privately funded vehicles in anticipation of future Navy demands — are watching how the service moves forward with a program known as LDUUV, or large diameter unmanned underwater vehicle. The concept is an autonomous mini-submarine launched from a surface ship or attack submarine. A demonstration is planned for next year off the coast of California. Future experiments will include unmanned surface ships and aircraft.
The U.K. Royal Navy last month hosted one of the largest-ever naval robots war games, called Unmanned Warrior. The U.S. Navy brought 10 underwater vehicles to demonstrate. Dozens of systems privately developed by military contractors also participated.
Navy mine warfare expert Damion Dunlap said the exercise gave officials a taste of how coalition operations could be waged with a network of systems from different countries. “They were able to task each other,” he told reporters in a conference call.
Mine warfare is emerging as one of the most promising applications for UUVs. For the U.K. exercise, the Navy deployed two vehicles in mine-hunting roles, one six feet long, and another 18 feet long. The Navy would want a mix of vehicles to tackle undersea mines. “Sometimes you want something to neutralize the mines,” Dunlap said. “Sometimes you want something small and cheap. Or something that can do wide sonar sweeps.”
During the exercise off the coast of Scotland, Dunlap said, unmanned underwater vehicles were connected with surface and air vehicles. Surface vessels served as communications links between underwater and aerial systems, and the aircraft operated as communications nodes to connect the robots to human crews ashore. Approximately 50 aerial, surface and underwater autonomous systems were deployed in surveillance, intelligence gathering and mine warfare roles.
General Dynamics' hovering-autonomous underwater vehicleU.K. Royal Navy Cmdr. Peter Pipkin said the event was the first large-scale demonstration of marine robotic systems ever hosted by the United Kingdom. As part of its “defense innovation initiative,” the U.K. government is actively scouting the market for commercial off-the-shelf technology that it can quickly insert into the fleet. “Mine countermeasures is an obvious example, with really exciting opportunities,” he said. The point is not to replace manned ships but to examine “how we might use unmanned capability to do our jobs in a different way.”
The Navy’s top leadership has championed the use of autonomous ships for nearly a decade, and current Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson has called for an “HOV lane” for the transition of mature commercial technology to the fleet.
Such high-level advocacy compelled a number of Navy contractors and ship builders to design vehicles that they could provide as turnkey systems. Some defense companies also moved to acquire commercial robotics specialists to beef up their talent base.
Boeing has teamed with Liquid Robotics to produce the “sensor hosting autonomous remote craft” solar and ocean powered autonomous wave glider, which the company is marketing to the U.S. and other navies. Company officials said they regarded the U.K. Unmanned Warrior exercise as a significant opportunity to show navies the state of the technology.
Also jumping on the autonomy bandwagon is commercial ship designer Juliet Marine Systems. CEO Gregory Sancoff recently announced the company plans to build a submersible unmanned surface vehicle. “We expect it to transform the way navies fulfill their operational requirements,” he said in a statement, noting that the vessel can be manufactured in 18 to 24 months.
The next hurdle for manufacturers is proving that they can produce autonomous systems at prices that would motivate the Navy to buy them in large numbers.
“Driving the price down, that’s our ticket to get the Navy to make a decision to go forward,” said Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Mission Systems.
The company made a big move into the UUV market by acquiring an established player in the industry, Bluefin Robotics. One of the latest products is an autonomous underwater vehicle that scans large ship hulls to help find structural issues.
Zaffanella said the company is under contract with the Naval Sea Systems Command to produce up to 15 vehicles. He believes the Navy will buy more “at the right price point.” Navy leaders are “extremely interested” in using underwater robots for mine neutralization, he said, “But you need to bring the price down because they're expendable.”
The Navy is treading carefully in its efforts to deploy mine hunting robots following the cancellation of the troubled “remote minehunting system.” The Navy had intended to buy 54 RMS vehicles as part of the Littoral Combat Ship’s mine countermeasures variant. As costs soared and the vehicle showed poor performance, the service terminated the program after it bought just 10. It will consider other options to fill that mission, one of which is General Dynamics Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle, also a Bluefin design.
Again, the Navy “wants the price down,” said Zaffanella. “I think you'll see Knifefish as a solution.
The 21-inch Knifefish falls in the mid-size category that fits in torpedo tubes. The large diameter UUV is being designed at the Navy’s undersea warfare laboratory but eventually contractors will be asked to provide bids. A new emerging program is the extra large XLUUV, virtually an unmanned submarine. “It will be quite large, complex, capable of doing many missions,” said Zaffanella. “It’s creating a lot of buzz in the industry. People are thinking about how to build it, and how to control the price.”
In addition to mine warfare, the Navy has an obvious need for autonomous vehicles for antisubmarine warfare. “More submarines are being built by potential adversaries,” he said. U.S. Navy vehicles need more power and endurance for long missions.
Companies are reluctant to disclose their own estimates of what these vehicles might cost. “You'd like to get small UUVs into the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, down from hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Zaffanella. The mid-size models should come down from $10 million to $1 million or less. “All that is happening,” he said. “Prices probably will be coming down in half. Volume makes a big difference, but this market has not had the benefit of that.” When the Navy starts to see the maturity of the designs, it should commit to larger production runs.
The manufacturer of the now terminated RMS, Lockheed Martin, has moved to develop commercial autonomous underwater vehicles.
Lockheed Martin's Marlin autonomous underwater vehicle
The company designed the Marlin Mk2 for military and civilian use, Doug Prince, Lockheed’s director of business development for unmanned underwater vehicles, said in a statement. “We also designed the Marlin Mk3 as the deep water version of the Marlin product line,” he said. Lockheed has provided variants of the Marlin Mk2 to the Navy to refine launch and recovery capability from submarines, Prince said. The vehicle is participating in at-sea evaluations of Navy sensors and payloads to demonstrate the potential utility of autonomous vehicles.
At the annual Navy Technology Exercise in Newport, Rhode Island, in August, Lockheed launched a small unmanned aerial vehicle, remotely, from the Marlin MK2 autonomous underwater vehicle. It used an unmanned surface vehicle developed by Ocean Aero for reconnaissance and surveillance. "This effort marks a milestone in showing that an unmanned aircraft, surface vessel and undersea vehicle can communicate and complete a mission cooperatively and completely autonomously," said Kevin Schlosser, chief architect of unmanned systems technology at Lockheed Martin.
Photos: Navy, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin
By Vivienne Machi
The often overlooked field of human performance monitoring is one of several cutting-edge technologies the Air Force Research Laboratory is focusing on — along with autonomous systems, hypersonics, electronic warfare and more — as part of the department-wide third offset strategy, the lab's commander said Oct. 19.
"Somebody asked me at a panel … what do we not talk about, and I actually think it's human performance," Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry Jr. said at an National Defense Industrial Association executive breakfast in Washington, D.C.
Measurements, tests and evaluations are conducted "on every system we have, except the person," he said.
"We are now creating sensors that can, through basically sweat analysis and pulse tracking, look at whether somebody's really at the top of their game. And if they're not, start to figure out how to help them get there," he said.
AFRL's human performance wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio in 2015 conducted the first successful human trials of a usable sweat sensor prototype, according to the Air Force. The team collaborated with researchers from the University of Cincinnati to develop the sensor.
McMurry said he is often asked what technologies will be needed to face the challenges of the third offset — the Defense Department's strategy, that attempts to offset a diminished military force by investing in new and emerging technologies.
"The answer is, bluntly, I don't know … if you talk to someone and they say, 'We know exactly what the third offset is' … I think you may want to question that," he said. "But what I am pretty confident of is that the elements of establishing a third offset are going to be founded on … efforts that the Air Force Research Lab has been working on for the last three decades."
The area of additive manufacturing — that includes 3-D printing, rapid prototyping and layered manufacturing — "is probably the highest buzz slang term area" of technologies needed to overcome the challenges of the third offset, he said. "Everybody's excited about that."
Those efforts will particularly benefit the way the service manages its supply lines, and will help in areas of sustainment, he said.
"Anything that doesn't have a high-performance demand in terms of … structural criticality, we've been able to build solutions pretty quickly," he said. The laboratory is also working on identifying where additive manufacturing could fail, he said.
"We're also trying to figure out … where is the variability, how do we determine whether these systems are going to build something reliably," he said.
Autonomous systems — including man-machine teaming, machine-to-machine teaming and information-sharing across those teams — will help address future challenges, and AFRL is conducting research on how to establish trust between man and machine, McMurry said.
The "lead candidate" for autonomous applications is the laboratory's "loyal wingman" program, where a remotely piloted aircraft could assist a jet fighter in a variety of missions, he said.
"We're really looking at something with the ability to pilot almost any … aircraft and operate as a wingman," he said, adding that this concept is at "the high end" of how autonomous systems could help airmen. On the low end, robotic systems could help with counterinsurgency efforts in urban environments, he said.
Artificial intelligence is an area where private companies including Google, Apple and Amazon are more financially capable of conducting research and development, but an office like the Defense Innovation Unit-Experimental (DIUx), which has recently championed by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, could help coordinate with those companies to bring the technology to the department, McMurry said.
"I cannot outbid those guys," he said. "Being the driver, probably not going to happen, so the question is, how do I set an environment that allows them to collaborate with us … where I can kind of keep track of what's going on without jeopardizing" the companies' investments or national security, he said.
"This is McMurry's opinion, but that's a little bit of where the secretary's going with DIUx," he said.
Hypersonics, directed energy weapons and simulations are other areas AFRL is "deeply engaged in" that will come into play in the third offset, McMurry said.
Photo: An Air Force Research Laboratory researcher holds up a sweat sensor prototype. (Air Force)
By Stew Magnuson
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will transfer to the Air Force a powerful Earth-based telescope capable of tracking thousands of objects in a wide expanse of space, the agency announced Oct. 18.
The space surveillance telescope will be sent to Australia, where U.S. Air Force Space Command will operate it jointly with the Australian Royal Air Force. It is currently located at White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico. Officials wanted to monitor the geostationary belt from the southern hemisphere where it has few situational awareness assets, a statement said.
Its developers touted its revolutionary ability to look at the sky with a “windshield” sized view rather than the traditional soda straw view. It can track 10,000 objects at a time, some as small as a softball. It can scan an area the size of the continental United States within seconds.
Lindsay Millard, the telescope’s program manager at DARPA, said in a conference call that the program has already catalogued more objects than the Air Force had previously known about. “SST has an order of magnitude better performance than the existing space surveillance network optical sensor.”
It can survey up to a quarter of the geo-synchronous belt, some 23,000 miles above Earth, multiple times per night. Geosynchronous orbit is where spacecraft requiring fixed orbits are placed. The telescope can detect 10 times fainter objects at the orbit at 10 times the speed, a fact sheet said.
In addition, the telescope can detect asteroids and other space rocks hurtling near Earth for NASA.
“SST has also discovered 3,600 new asteroids, four comets, and 69 near-Earth objects, including four potentially hazardous asteroids that could possibly hit the Earth,” the fact sheet said. It had 7.2 million asteroid observations in 2015 and is now the most prolific telescope that can detect such objects, it added.
Tracking objects in near to high orbit has become a concern for the Air Force and other space agencies in recent years as space junk has proliferated along with an increase in the number of spacecraft. A recent Euroconsult study on the satellite construction market estimated that there will be to 9,000 new spacecraft launched over the next decade. That is opposed to some 1,450 deployed over the past decade.
The telescope features the most steeply curved primary telescope mirror ever made, the fact sheet said. This mirror, developed by L3, enables it to collect more light to see images across a wider field of view than any other space surveillance telescope. It also features the fastest shutter speeds of any telescope.
The program office with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Labs developed the first-ever curved charge-coupled device, or CCD, to provide clear imagery across its wide field of view because current digital cameras with flat CCDs are unable to record images from such highly curved mirrors without distortion.
“This was and is a huge technological advancement and perhaps the only place in the world to make this right now is the Lincoln Labs,” Millard said.
Millard said to have global coverage would require three more telescopes. It will be up to the Air Force to decide whether it will want full coverage, she added. Development of the telescope cost about $150 million. Shipping and setting up the telescope in Australia will take about three years, with initial operating capability expected in 2020.
Photo: Space surveillance telescope (DARPA)
By Sandra I. Erwin
DigitalGlobe three years ago survived a bruising corporate battle to secure its position as the Pentagon’s sole commercial provider of high-resolution satellite Earth imagery. The company has since been challenged to deal with dramatic changes in the defense market, and has moved to buy up other companies in an effort to supplement the imagery business with increasingly lucrative intelligence and analysis services.
Overhead satellites today can photograph objects on the ground that are smaller than a home plate on a baseball field, but that alone is not enough to satisfy defense and intelligence agencies’ demands for more complex data. The government has a growing appetite for services such as advanced software apps and intricate analysis of collected images. Satellite imagery providers like DigitalGlobe not only are under pressure to deliver “valued added” services but are also coping with the emergence of lower-cost competitors and the democratization of the remote-sensing market.
Longmont, Colorado-based DigitalGlobe made its most aggressive move into the government services sector last week when it announced its intent to acquire The Radiant Group, a Chantilly, Virginia-based company with deep ties to the intelligence community and the secretive National Reconnaissance Office that builds the military’s classified satellites. Access to NRO contracts is vital to DigitalGlobe as its primary customer, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, recently signed a “strategic purchasing” agreement with that office.
“We have to go beyond data to deliver more information-based products and insight to the government,” Tony Frazier, DigitalGlobe senior vice president of U.S. government solutions, told National Defense.
The $140 million acquisition would significantly boost DigitalGlobe’s services business. The Radiant Group projects about $100 million in revenue for 2016. Of DigitalGlobe’s approximately $700 million in projected revenue, $130 million is for services. The addition of Radiant could boost DigitalGlobe’s share of government work from about 65 percent of total revenues today to 75 percent.
The Radiant Group buy follows other takeovers of services-focused firms during the past two years. DigitalGlobe bought Spatial Energy, a company focused on analyzing complex geospatial information; and Tomnod, a business that specializes in using crowd-sourced information to add value to imagery.
“Radiant allows us to go much further,” Frazier said.
The geospatial intelligence business over time has broadened beyond data collection and analytics. A key asset that made Radiant Group an acquisition target is 400 employees with secret security clearances, including 250 software developers. This talent would allow DigitalGlobe to expand its turf beyond the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. Radiant brings 80 new contract vehicles not just with NGA but also with the NRO, the Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Operations Command.
The software development and engineering workforce is crucial, said Frazier, as government agencies transition to cloud-based applications and applied data science to “realize the full power of imagery,” he said. “Analysts need to access data from the cloud.” The Radiant Group has been known in intelligence community for exploiting open-source software and cloud computing.
Established players in the remote-sensing business have been hit on multiple fronts in recent years. Commercial demand has slowed down. And small-satellite launchers are disrupting the market. “There are more providers of data,” said Frazier. What DigitalGlobe now needs to stand out is to be able to “produce more value from the data,” he said. “The government wants more answers, not more data.”
Intelligence agencies continue to rethink their approaches to buying technologies from the private sector. NGA last month announced several new initiatives to increase its reach into the commercial geospatial industry.
Congressional committees for years have been concerned about the perceived slow pace of innovation in the geospatial area. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee during a September hearing pressed NGA Director Robert Cardillo to explain how the agency was stepping up efforts to monitor global flashpoints like Russian operations in eastern Ukraine, Iran’s compliance with last year’s nuclear deal and China’s development of new islands in the South China Sea.
Cardillo said the agency plans to shake up its longstanding methods of acquiring technologies. DigitalGlobe remains a “traditional partner,” he said, but NGA also is actively reaching out to commercial imagery suppliers dubbed “new space providers” such as Planet, formerly Planet Labs, Google’s Terra Bella, Black Sky Global and Earthcast.
The era of “multi-year, multi-billion dollar awards for decades types of service had their place and their time” but not any more, he said.
Just six years ago, NGA signed 10-year $7 billion deals with DigitalGlobe and archrival GeoEye Imagery Collections Systems to provide satellite images under NGA’s “enhanced view” commercial imagery program. A fiscal crunch slashed projected spending on imagery in half, and without enough work to keep two companies in business, DigitalGlobe and GeoEye merged in 2013.
NGA is working with the General Services Administration to set up a contract vehicle that is targeted at small companies. Cardillo said this vehicle will be available in early 2017. The plan is to move from long-term contracts to “swipe my government credit card to do some testing and some evaluation, some exploration of the interfaces” arrangements.
Planet, for instance, has dozens of very small satellites up in space that are scanning the globe. Under a new agreement with NGA, Planet will give the agency access to data from those satellites. “More importantly, what I'm excited about is beginning to apply algorithms and models against that data set to find out not just what you can image but what can you sense,” said Cardillo. “Think of a service that we could subscribe rather than a pixel flow.”
Cardillo said he supports DigitalGlobe making bigger inroads into services such as “algorithms and models” because that is what the government needs now. NGA just entered the seventh of a 10-year contract with DigitalGlobe and agency leaders have suggested those long-term deals are out of favor. “We negotiated that eight years ago,” when the industry was very different, Cardillo said. “Today in our conversations with these new space providers, there's very little about square kilometers. It's more about data sets and algorithms, and what kind of filter can they put on that screen to understand what's happening.”
DigitalGlobe’s Frazier said the company is pursuing its own partnerships with nontraditional firms as it adapts to the realities of the government market. It teamed up with CosmiQ Works and NVIDIA in a venture called SpaceNet, a blend of commercial satellite imagery and labeled training data that is made available at no cost to the public. The goal is to encourage development of computer vision algorithms to automatically extract information from remote sensing data.
This is one way to generate new customers for satellite imagery, said Frazier. “People can build algorithms at no cost,” he said. “One of our goals is to help build ecosystems, encourage more providers of algorithms to help answer questions and create new demands for imagery.” The SpaceNet consortium, for example, organized an “image mining challenge” to engage developers and data scientists to automate the extraction of map features and indicators of activity from satellite imagery.
In the face of fresh competitive challenges at home, DigitalGlobe is looking to expand its non-U.S. sales. High-resolution imagery is a tightly controlled export and the regulatory hurdles can be significant. After submitting a license request in 1999, the company received approval in 2014 to sell images with a resolution of 25 centimeters, a step up from the previous export license that only allowed 50 centimeters.
Executives have been waiting for three years on a request to allow sales of the company’s native-resolution shortwave infrared imagery. DigitalGlobe SWIR imagery was used during Canadian wildfires to penetrate the heavy smoke, showing where the fires were burning. Current restrictions required the company to degrade the SWIR resolution, “effectively throwing out 75 percent of the data and needlessly reducing the firefighters’ decision-making confidence,” DigitalGlobe founder and chief technology officer Walter Scott wrote in a Space News op-ed.
“It’s time for the U.S. government to rethink the basic premise underlying commercial remote sensing regulation,” Scott argued. “The U.S. space technology edge has eroded, and satellite imagery is now available from dozens of countries.” Scott and other industry executives have advocated for an end to the current restrictive environment of “no, until foreign competition catches up,” to a permissive one of “yes, unless there is a compelling national security or foreign policy reason to deny approval.”
Photo: Earth Day concert at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (DigitalGlobe)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The Marine Corps is looking for a slew of new technologies that will better equip the infantry of the future with better, more capable devices and weapons.
The service — which recently rolled out a new operating concept that discussed how the Marines will fight in 2025 and beyond — is looking for a variety of systems, Brig. Gen. Joseph Shrader, commander of Marine Corps Systems Command said Oct. 12.
High on the list are active protection systems, he said during the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Expeditionary Warfare Conference. NDIA is the publisher of National Defense. Active protection systems intercept incoming projectiles before they can hit a platform. The Marine Corps must use such technology to get better at detecting and destroying direct and indirect fires on its vehicles, he said.
“We have to move to active versus passive protection systems,” he said. “We can’t just keeping adding steel and weight to our vehicles.”
“This is a tremendous technical challenge,” he added. But “make no mistake about it, we’re moving in that direction.”
The service will also need to operate in contested network environments, Shrader said. “Information is a weapon and our enemies are using it against us on a daily basis. So while we’re preparing to fight and win on physical terrain like we’ve done in the past we have to simultaneously take action to protect our networks,” he said.
That will require the service to invest more heavily in protective systems for its command-and-control infrastructure. The Marine Corps will also need to look for ways to exploit networks for its own advantage, he added.
In the Marine Corps operating concept — also known as the MOC — the service said Marines would be more dispersed when necessary. “To conduct maneuver warfare in the 21st century, we must have forces that can avoid the disadvantages of mass when required and employ the benefits of mass when operationally favorable,” it said.
If Marines are to patrol areas with smaller units, they will need to have better ammunition, Shrader said. “As we operate in more distributed fashion … we’ve got to have the ability to bring an extended range of munitions to the battlefield,” he said.
Ammunition will need to be lighter, have better range and be more lethal and precise, he said.
Water purification machines are another need, he said. The Marine Corps is looking for systems that can take advantage of what Marines already have on hand or systems that could be carried in a kit or on their back.
The service needs “systems that allow small units to purify … on site,” he said. “We simply cannot continue to rely on bottles of water. … We just can’t do it and operate the way the MOC tells us we need to operate on the 2025 battlefield.”
Fuel usage is another cause for concern, he said. The service is exploring ways it can reduce its consumption and make vehicles more efficient. “We’ve got to find ways to reduce the logistics burden,” he said.
The Marines are also looking for ways to get more juice out of batteries, Shrader said. “We’re looking for systems that use less of it for longer times … [and for ways] to create or renew it on site with portable, rechargeable devices.”
Photo: Marine Corps