By Yasmin Tadjdeh
TAMPA, Fla. — Special Operations Command will test a laser weapon on an Apache helicopter this summer, said one official May 26.
SOCOM's program executive office rotary wing is working alongside the Army’s project office for Apache Attack Helicopters to conduct a feasibility test this summer, said Col. John Vannoy, program manager for rotary wing.
“There is absolutely a niche I believe for use of directed energy weapons,” he said during a briefing at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. “The lens we are looking at this through right now is: ‘Is it feasible to do this?’ We’re not at the point where we’ve laid out a business case to advance it.”
The office envisions using a laser weapon to destroy vehicles or generators versus sending in a missile that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said.
Vannoy’s office and the Army's Apache office have entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with Raytheon to put a podded laser on the aircraft, he said.
“We really want to understand the environment on the wing, the beam quality we can get off the wing and the ability to beam steer and keep power on a target,” he said.
Environmental factors such as dust could affect beam quality. In addition, the vibrations on an Apache’s wing could affect steering, he said.
Vannoy did not disclose a specific timeframe for the test or when results would be made public. “Most of that will be internal quite frankly,” he said.
The effort is still in its infancy, he said. “I wouldn’t say that we’re at the tipping point and you’re going to see a Star Wars like effect or a Death Star laser hanging off the side of a rotary wing aircraft,” he said.
A directed energy weapon could also be mounted on an MH-60 Black Hawk, he said.
If SOCOM decides to move forward with the effort to equip a laser on a helicopter, PEO rotary wing would work closely with its fixed wing counterparts in the command, he said.
Currently, PEO fixed wing is working in earnest to outfit an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship with a directed energy weapon by the end of the decade. The laser will have between 60 kilowatts to 150 kilowatts of power.
“We communicate between the two offices daily,” Vannoy said. “There will be limited redundancy. We’ll be working together to advance that. But their requirement, I would expect — and I haven’t seen it, … would be different. They’ve got a larger capacity on a C-130 than we do.”
Directed energy weapons have become an increasingly popular piece of technology in the military because they offer a cheaper cost per shot over traditional munitions. The Navy’s laser weapons system costs $1 per shot, for example.
Photo: An AH-64 Apache (Navy)
Photo: An AH-64 Apache. (Navy)
By Vivienne Machi
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh III said May 26 that reopening the F-22 manufacturing line was within the realm of possibility, and that it may cost less than developing a sixth-generation fighter.
Congress recently asked the Air Force to look into resuming the canceled fighter program. Welsh, who will retire on July 1, said it wasn't a "wild idea."
"Rather than thinking of a sixth-generation fighter, can you modify the F-22 and reopen the line, cheaper?" he asked. That might keep the number of fighters the Air Force must maintain up, he said at an Air Force Association breakfast in Arlington, Virginia.
The Lockheed Martin manufactured stealthy fighter jet was discontinued in 2009, when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates insisted the money required to build more would be better spent on other priorities.
Welsh said the Air Force is currently conducting a cost analysis to see what it would take to revive the Raptor.
"Looking back at somebody raising the idea to build more is not a crazy idea," he said. "I think you've heard ... the secretary of the Air Force say that we think it's cost-prohibitive. We're going back right now and looking in detail at the number of what would it cost."
"The success of the F-22 — the airplane and the crews that fly it — is pretty exceptional," he told the audience. "I think it's proven that the airplane is exactly what everybody hoped it would be … it has been spectacularly successful and its potential is really, really, really remarkable."
His remarks were in contrast to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, who previously said he was against resuming production of the F-22, calling it "an inefficient way to proceed," and "not something the Air Force has recommended to me." He also said that the Pentagon is upgrading the 187 fighter jets it already has.
Though the House Armed Services Committee has recently asked the Air Force to report on how much would be needed to bring the program back, Welsh said that the Air Force was conducting an analysis prior to the annual defense budget bill talks.
"We've been asked in the past … by Congress to look at this number," he said. "We've been doing this for a while."
Welsh said he has not seen results from that cost analysis yet. A timeline of when the cost analysis will be complete was not immediately available. The Rand Corp. estimated in a 2010 report that it would cost over $500 million in 2008 dollars to restart production.
Welsh linked the renewed debate to bring back the F-22 to the need for more air power. "The good news is, a lot of people are understanding that we can't keep cutting the number of fighter squads we have," he said. "Fighter squads and bomber squads and [intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance] … that’s the meat and potatoes of our Air Force. They're not always the sexiest things people want to talk about … but they are the things we're using every day."
Manpower, he repeated frequently, was a huge issue for Air Force readiness moving forward. He estimated that the force would need between 40,000 and 60,000 more personnel in order to be at maximum end strength, continue to work on the F-35 and add the ISR, space, cyber and other capabilities that are being requested of it. Boosting those numbers probably will not happen, he conceded.
"We have to be ready and capable to win the fight today … and 20, 30, 40 years from now," he said. "All the stuff we have today won't be enough to win the fight in 2030."
Where the Air Force fits into the military's joint scheme and where its priorities will be is a debate worth having, Welsh said. "We ought to be debating capabilities," he said. "But without air power, we will lose — that's just the way warfare is."
Photo: An F-22 Raptor (Air Force)
By Jon Harper
TAMPA, Fla. – United States Special Operations Command is pushing the delivery of new technology to foreign partners, as it seeks to strengthen an international web of elite commandos.
The effort is being spearheaded by James “Hondo” Geurts, SOCOM’s top acquisition, technology and logistics executive, who sees the command as the leader of a “global AT&L network.”
Special operations forces around the world often have unique requirements and seek special equipment to fulfill their needs.
“We’re starting to see lot of foreign military sales and direct commercial sales of SOF-unique gear, which traditionally has not been an area where we spent much time,” Geurts said during the 2016 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.
SOCOM and its partners are taking advantage of the coalition warfare program and foreign comparative test program, which enable cooperative research, development, test and evaluation of technologies, Geurts said.
Geurts and Tony Davis, SOCOM’s science and technology director, are promoting SOFWERX, an initiative that began in 2015 to facilitate interaction between the command and industry. The SOFWERX facility, located in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, is designed to enable rapid prototyping in an open, unclassified venue.
Technology developed there can be transferred to international partners. One example is a 3D-printed robot that can fly and drive. Since there are no export restrictions, the multi-use drone can be shared with foreign forces.
“We network with those … international providers and …. speed change into their system,” Geurts said. “We’ve spent a lot of time in the last year getting those relationships together, and hopefully on the industry side they’re seeing the same thing where you can see us moving acquisition programs across the different fences.”
There is a memorandum of understanding between SOCOM and special ops organizations of several-English speaking countries designed to facilitate technology procurement, retired Australian Maj. Gen. Timothy McOwan told National Defense at SOFIC.
“Those requirements definitions are shown to or shared with other members of the communities so that they understand … what one another is looking to procure in the future,” said McOwan, a military trade specialist at the Australian embassy in Washington, D.C., and the former head of Australia’s special operations command.
Robotics, nanotechnologies, sensor systems, soldier systems and lightweight power sources are just some of the technologies that special ops organizations are looking for, he said.
Geurts said SOCOM wants to help its friends acquire a variety of tools to meet their requirements. “It’s quite a broad range depending on the partner and their need and their capacity and all those different things,” he said, citing interoperable communications equipment as a key technology gap.
“One area we’re starting to focus more on quite frankly is how do we take advantage of technology to speed our ability to partner with folks,” he said. “Now technology is getting to the point where you can use that to simplify activities [and] enhance interoperability instead of causing bigger gaps. And those are the areas I’m really looking at.”
Gen. Raymond Thomas, commander of SOCOM, praised Geurts’ “progressive approach” to sharing technology and tools with partner forces.
They “know what our toys are,” he said. “Then you get to breech the question: ‘Can I get some of that, can I have some of that, what’s it going to cost?’”
“[Geurts] is pushing it to the point of making it as rapidly available as possible, as opposed to some of the more archaic systems we have for providing equipment to partners,” he added.
Guerts noted that technology sharing is not a “one-way street.” At SOFIC, international firms and trade organizations swooped in to promote the products. McOwan was there representing Team Defence Australia, which brought 14 small- to medium-size enterprises to the exposition.
“Each … has some unique attributes and skillsets and products which they are seeking to introduce into the U.S. SOF-related security market,” he said.
“Some already have contracts … but they come … here to explore opportunities for themselves unilaterally, to look at the innovation and to try and understand from the user’s point of view — special operations forces — what they require so that they can meet those requirements,” he added.
Nils Johansson, a senior adviser for defense industry cooperation at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., said Swedish companies have already made inroads to SOCOM, selling it a variety of products including anti-tank weapons, satellite equipment, ammunition, rifle sights and uniforms.
A popular Swedish-made item among foreign special operations organizations is shoulder-fired weapons, he said, although SOCOM has yet to buy them.
Newcon Optik, a Canadian firm that makes thermal imagers, night vision systems, laser rangefinders and tactical day optics, has sold its products to governments and commercial customers in more than 70 countries. Having already sold its gear to U.S. law enforcement agencies, the company is trying to establish a foothold with the U.S. special operations community, said Alex Rudiy, the firm’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.
“People [from other organizations] are lining up to have a supply of those products,” he said. “That’s the reason we are here to show them [SOCOM officials] that this equipment is available. As far as the U.S. military, the sales are not as high as we would like.”
Bombardier Recreational Products, another Canadian firm, has teamed with U.S.-owned RP Advanced Mobile Systems to supply militaries and other government agencies with the Strike family of all-terrain vehicles. The platforms have been sold to U.S. special operations components as well as those of partner nations, said Terry Wilmeth, co-owner and chief technology officer at RP Advanced Mobile Systems.
Sales of the Strike-C Commander vehicle, which was on display at the show, have gone up since the rise of the Islamic State group. “It has been a substantial increase in the past year,” he said.
McOwan said special ops is a strong niche market.
“If it is a good product, it is very quickly known about in the U.S. SOF community or in the international SOF communities, and most special operations forces have their own innovation funds,” he said. “They are looking for emerging capabilities, things of practical use, and they are able to devote resources to it. We’re not talking about multi-billion dollar programs necessarily, but it’s a lucrative area for small business, particularly those that are innovative.”
Yasmin Tadjdeh contributed to this story.
Correction: The name of Newcon Optik's executive vice president and chief operating officer Alex Rudiy was previously misspelled.
Photo: Multinational students attend the International Special Training Center's Advanced Close Quarter Battle Course at the Hohenfels Training Area, Germany. (Army)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
TAMPA, Fla. — Following a high profile dispute with Apple earlier this year, the director of the FBI said there needs to be greater dialogue in the United States about the balance between public safety and privacy.
“I love strong encryption,” said James Comey. “Encryption is a very, very good thing. I also love pubic safety.”
Currently, the two ideas are “crashing into each other,” he said May 25 during keynote remarks at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference here.
There needs to be thoughtful debate across the country about how to balance the two, he said. “How can we optimize both those values? These are things that we all care about.”
The FBI made headlines earlier this year after the agency and Apple became engaged in a high profile dispute over encryption. Following a deadly shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California, last year the FBI acquired an iPhone 5C that was used by one of the shooters, Syed Farook. The phone — which was owned by Farook’s employer — was encrypted and after 10 wrong attempts at inputting the passcode, would clear the smartphone of its contents. In February, a federal judge ordered Apple to help the FBI get around this feature, but the company refused, claiming that could set a dangerous precedent. In the end, the FBI was able to break into the phone on its own.
“The litigation in San Bernardino was not about trying to send a message or demonize Apple. I don’t think anybody should be demonized in this conversation,” he said. “It was about trying to confidently investigate a terrorist attack that slaughtered innocent people at an office gathering. That’s all it was about.”
The FBI had consent from the owner of the phone, a search warrant and, according to a Justice Department lawyer, a valid basis for asking the court to force Apple to help the FBI gain access to the phone, he said.
Encryption also became a major issue following the revelation that the National Security Agency collected enormous amounts of information about U.S. citizens via its bulk phone metadata collection program. Since then, there has been a major push for encryption on mobile phones, Comey said.
This has had major ramifications on the FBI, he said. Even with court orders, many times agents are not able to access data on encrypted phones, he said.
“We are increasingly finding devices … that we can’t open,” he said. During the first six months of fiscal year 2016, FBI agents received about 4,000 or so devices it wanted to investigate. Five hundred of them couldn’t be opened. That number will only grow, Comey said.
Encryption has made it harder for the FBI to track Islamic State supporters, he said. ISIL uses social media platforms, such as Twitter, to reach out to potential sympathizers around the globe. “[For] 24 hours a day that terrorist is in your pocket,” he said.
Once ISIL finds a potential supporter through a social media platform like Twitter, they quickly move them to a mobile messaging app that is end-to-end encrypted, he said.
“In that moment that needle that we found … went invisible,” he said. “When the needles get most dangerous they go invisible.”
This model breaks the old one that the FBI used for years with al-Qaida supporters, he said. “Our task in those days was to find those watering holes on the internet where people would go to consume the poison of al-Qaida and talk to each other,” he said. “If we found that watering hole everybody drinking out of it was of interest to us.”
Meanwhile, Comey said there had been some positive trends in the fight against the Islamic State. Since August 2015, the number of recruits attempting to travel to ISIL-controlled territory from the United States has dropped from six to 10 a month to one per month, he said.
“I don’t want to fall in love with a trend, but it could be that the brand … has lost its attraction,” he said. “It could be that the great work of our special forces colleagues and coalition nations has hampered their operations in such a way that they are no longer so effective in attracting people. That trend is very positive.”
At the same time, however, the number of people in the United States who are consuming ISIL’s propaganda has remained steady, he said. The FBI is currently tracking 900 cases around the country, he said.
Photo: Director of the FBI James Comey (FBI)
By Jon Harper
TAMPA, Fla. – Special Operations Command plans to acquire new uniforms and a suite of wearable technologies for its warfighters, a program official said May 25.
After years of fighting in the desert climates of the Middle East, U.S. commandos need to be prepared to operate in the Arctic and the jungle, said Adam Fields, SOCOM’s program manager for survival, support and equipment systems.
“We haven’t been fighting in those areas,” he said in an interview following a briefing on his portfolio at the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. “It’s going to be different things that we need.”
Operators in the Arctic must be able to tolerate temperatures 50 degrees below zero, he said. “We want to reduce bulk as much as possible so the guys aren’t simply surviving in the Arctic but they’re actually able to do their job,” he said “It’s mostly about reducing weight and bulk.”
In the jungle, uniforms need to counteract heavy rainfall and high humidity, Fields said. “We want to be able to get the moisture off of the operator [and] we also don’t want the uniforms to get soaked after five minutes,” he said.
The uniform needs to be durable in heavy brush, which can tear materials when troops are on the move. “You need to make it strong but absorb water but quickly dry and protect them from that sort of thing,” he said.
The command is looking for gloves that provide similar advanced protection, Fields noted.
A single company doesn’t need to produce the entire uniform, which will consist of multiple layers, Fields said during his briefing to members of industry.
Oftentimes, “the layers are all made by different manufacturers,” he said. “We tie them all together with multiple contracts. If you have got a piece [of technology] that may apply to one layer, that’s great.”
SOCOM could hold an industry competition for new uniforms as early as fiscal year 2017, he said.
The command is also seeking a range of other types of advanced wearable gear. Although the command is in the middle of a multi-year contract for backpacks, officials are still looking for superior components.
“You might have a buckle that’s the greatest buckle in the world,” Fields told members of industry. If “it’s smaller and lighter than what we’re using right now, I want to hear about it.”
SOCOM will have a “big recompete” for a ballistic plate contract in fiscal year 2019, he said. The command is looking for lighter body armor for its warfighters.
“Typically you have in the pocket of your vest … the hard armor and the soft armor,” he said. “We’re moving away to the soft armor to a one-point solution so we can be smaller, lighter and tighter to the body.”
Officials are conducting market research to seek what types of protection technologies are available.
For headgear, the command is looking for new helmets that offer ballistic and impact protection. There is a new requirement for maritime operations: the helmet must provide a stable and comfortable platform to mount night vision goggles during high-sea state and high-speed maneuvering missions.
A solicitation for a new helmet is expected to go out to industry in the first quarter of fiscal year 2017, with a contract award anticipated in the third quarter.
The command is also recompeting contracts for modular communications headsets. The recompete for the maritime version is ongoing. The competition for the land version is slated for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, Fields said.
SOCOM also wants superior eye protection for its troops, and officials plan to initiate a new round of market research in fiscal year 2017.
“What I’m really looking for here is one of the ones that does it all – day, night, laser protection, perhaps something that does some active transitioning,” Fields said. “It has to do it really fast. … We need to go from inside to outside, outside from inside, [and] the operators need to be able to not wait for their glasses to catch up with them.”
Photo: U.S. Air Force combat controllers with the Special Tactics Training Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. (Air Force)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
TAMPA, Fla. — Air Force Special Operations Command is on track to equip an AC-130J Ghostrider gunship with a laser weapon by the end of the decade, officials said May 25.
Working alongside Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren in Virginia, the service has wrapped up the first phase of a two-part study that will give the command greater clarity on the maturity of commercially available systems and potential design concepts, said Lt. Col. John DiSebastian, director of fixed-wing tech insertion at Special Operations Command.
“We have identified our partners that have responded to our [request for] information [and] we are in the process of evaluating that,” he said at Special Operations Forces International Conference, sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association. “We have not downselected away from any, or chosen any. We are still, as part of this architecture, looking at what is the best operational capability and determining which vendors can support that.”
AFSOC plans to use commercially available technology to develop the laser but it will be the lead integrator of the system, he said during a panel discussion at the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference.
“We’re not looking for a single company to come in and take the lead. We’re looking for individual components where the government will control the interfaces,” he said.
“We believe that … taking the existing capabilities that industry can provide, that we can pull those pieces together and provide a system that is operationally useful to the warfighter,” he said. “It may not be the final configuration that they are looking for, but similar [to] our previous gunships, we would put one capability on and then grow it and then add another and build upon it.”
The goal is to start the program in fiscal year 2017, with a flight test in 2020, he said. The demonstration will focus less on research and development and more on what the command can obtain from the system operationally, he said.
AFSOC is still determining how powerful it wants the laser to be, he said. The system will range from 60 killowatts to 150 killowatts and will be outfitted in the Ghostrider's 30mm gunport, he said.
The command is currently waiting for the results of phase two of the Dahlgreen study, which is slated for completion in August, he said. That will give officials more information on cost, schedule and capability.
While the program hasn’t had any hiccups, the biggest hurdle will be drafting an appropriate funding strategy, he said.
“We feel like it has gone smoothly. Dahlgreen has been doing excellent work for us. We’ve been able to present at various levels within the Department of Defense,” he said.
“We’re on a path. It’s just whether or not the department agrees that we are at the proper maturity. So we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and try to push too far beyond the bounds of what is currently available, and so that’s what we’re waiting for later this summer — just to get the final assessment of phase two and then we’ll get the senior leadership’s decision,” he said.
Following the release of an official acquisition strategy, AFSOC will solicit a request for proposals from industry, he said.
Photo: An AC-130J Ghostrider (Air Force)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The F-35 joint strike fighter, in the words of the program’s top official, is at a “pivot point,” poised to wrap up development in late 2017 and begin a transition to mass production and follow-on upgrades.
With more than 150 aircraft delivered so far, the F-35 is looking to grab more international buyers and is preparing for its big international airshow debut in July at Farnborough, England. The per-aircraft cost of the estimated $400 billion program has come down, and prime contractor Lockheed Martin is standing up a cutting-edge lean manufacturing line to start assembling nearly 3,000 aircraft through 2040. The Pentagon is budgeting about $14 billion annually for the F-35 over the next two decades.
At the same time, the program is coming under fierce political attack from a number of fronts. Long-time critic Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is calling for a sweeping management overhaul. Lawmakers and government watchdogs have put forth proposals to ensure there is tighter oversight before the F-35 moves into its next “Block 4” upgrade phase. Other members of Congress, meanwhile, continue to pounce on the Pentagon’s decision to push out the A-10 close-air-support plane before it is clear that the F-35 is ready and able to perform that mission.
The latest bomb lobbed at the program came from Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman McCain in the committee’s version of the fiscal year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. The language would eliminate the massive F-35 joint program office by 2019 and reassign its responsibilities to the Air Force and the Navy. The Air Force buys one of the variants, the F-35A, and the Navy is acquiring the F-35B for the Marine Corps and the F-35C to serve aboard aircraft carriers.
A defense official told National Defense that the F-35 program office was surprised by the SASC provisions. To be sure, it is early in the NDAA process and observers believe it is unlikely this provision will survive conference negotiations between the Senate and the House. Officials continue to be puzzled by congressional actions that reflect deep skepticism of the F-35 program while, at the same time, committees continue to add funding beyond what the Pentagon requested. Many lawmakers frequently point out the necessity to start fielding fifth-generation combat aircraft as soon as possible to stay ahead of tactical aviation advances by emerging competitors Russia and China.
The SASC bill provides a waiver that would allow the secretary of defense to avert the disbandment of the F-35 joint program office if he or she certifies that the office is indeed needed. The defense official said this provision greatly weakens the chances that the office will be shut down because the defense secretary would have ample justification to keep the JPO in place. The requirement by the United States to support 11 international customers would be a case in point.
McCain often has made a point of the large size of the JPO, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. The office employs about 2,600 federal workers, military personnel and contractors, including testers at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, and Edwards Air Force Base, California. McCain said the size and the cost to operate the JPO — about $70 million a year — is “pretty disturbing.”
The SASC fiscal year 2017 NDAA report said the F-35 program is “in need of change” and noted that promised “common requirements” among the three variants aren’t being met. The commonality issue has been a sticking point in the F-35 program since it was conceived in the mid-1990s. Merging three fighters into one program was viewed then as efficient — as it would force the three services to share equipment and work collaboratively. In reality, the JPO has managed three separate development programs. In terms of physical components, just 20 to 25 percent are common across all three variants. Only the software and some of the digital systems in the cockpit are truly common.
“The illusion of jointness perpetuated by the structure of the F-35 joint program stifles the proper alignment of responsibility and accountability this program so desperately needs,” McCain said.
In parallel to efforts to reorganize the F-35 office are initiatives to split future aircraft upgrades — dubbed Block 4 — into a stand-alone program subject to stepped up regulatory oversight. This was first proposed by the Government Accountability Office in April.
“Although the estimated F-35 program acquisition costs have decreased since 2014, the program continues to face significant affordability challenges,” said GAO’s defense acquisitions expert Michael Sullivan. Block 4 upgrades are projected to cost $3 billion over the next six years, “which would qualify it as a major defense acquisition program in its own right,” he told lawmakers in a prepared statement. The Pentagon plans to keep Block 4 as part of the existing baseline. As a result, it would not be subject to the oversight typically expected in new programs, such as providing Congress with regular status reports.
GAO cautioned Congress that it should have learned the lessons from the F-22 Raptor modernization program, where it was difficult to separate the performance and cost of the modernization from the baseline program. GAO suggested Block 4 should be managed as a separate acquisition program to ensure transparency.
During the House Armed Services Committee’s NDAA debate, Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., offered an amendment that would have placed the F-35 Block 4 modernization program in a separate acquisition process known as “major acquisition defense project.” The amendment was defeated, but an impetus to seek greater accountability in the F-35 program has not disappeared.
The Defense Department’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall told McCain he opposed separating Block 4 into an independent program. “That will bring a lot of additional bureaucracy and costs. I was hoping to avoid that.”
Robert Hale, former Defense Department comptroller, agreed. He called GAO’s proposal an unproductive initiative that creates more red tape. “You balkanize these programs and they require separate reporting,” he told National Defense. “Congress needs to continue to exert oversight. But separating out the modifications doesn’t sound like a good idea to me.”
McCain was emphatic during a SASC hearing last month that the committee does not trust the Pentagon when it comes to the F-35. “The program's record of performance has been both a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance, and it's a textbook example of why this committee has placed such a high priority on reforming the broken defense acquisition system.”
McCain not only wants Block 4 upgrades to be spun off but also will push the Pentagon to use fixed-price contracts.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, program executive officer for the F-35, assured McCain that things are moving in the right direction. “The program is at a pivot point,” he said. “We'll see production grow from delivering 45 aircraft in 2015 to delivering over 100 airplanes in 2018 and up to 145 by 2020. Additionally, in the next four years, we will continue a stand-up of 17 new operating F-35 bases all over the world.” The cost of an F-35A with an engine and fee in then-year dollars will drop to less than $85 million in fiscal year 2019.
There are still development hiccups that Bogdan said would be fixed in the coming months. J. Michael Gilmore, director of operational test and evaluation for the Defense Department, estimated the F-35 will not be ready for operational tests and evaluation until mid-calendar year 2018 at the earliest. That's about one-year later than the original schedule.
Gilmore told the SASC that he continues to have concerns about the F-35 maintenance software, called the autonomic logistics information system. “ALIS remains immature requiring problematic and resource-intensive workarounds not acceptable in combat,” he said. Gilmore generally has been skeptical of the program from day one. “The F-35 is an extreme example of optimistic, if not ridiculous assumptions about how a program would play out.”
One of Gilmore’s most highly anticipated actions is a comparative test of the ability of the F-35 to perform close air support, combat search-and-rescue, and other missions against the A-10. This followed a relentless campaign by A-10 supporters on Capitol Hill that ultimately compelled the Air Force to delay the retirement of the venerable Warthog. “The Congress will not allow any more of these legacy aircraft to be retired from service until there is no doubt the F-35 can adequately replace them,” said McCain.
“To me, comparison testing makes common sense,” Gilmore said. “If you're spending a lot of money to get improved capability, the easiest way to demonstrate it is to do a rigorous comparison test.”
Former Defense Department comptroller Hale said the congressional reforms and attempts to micromanage the F-35 are nothing to panic about.
“Big developments programs always struggle,” Hale told National Defense. “I liken big-ticket weapon programs to kids. When they’re young they generally do what you say. When they’re teenagers they almost always drive you nuts. Most grow up to be productive adults. The F-35 is probably a late teenager now. It has gone through many of its growing pains but not all,” he said. “I think it will become a productive airplane for the United States and we’ll buy it for decades.”
Photo: An F-35A Lightning II gets ready to land Sept. 13, 2013, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (Air Force)
By Jon Harper TAMPA, Fla. – Special Operations Command is looking for a few good ideas to help it fight the Islamic State and other adversaries, a top acquisition official said on May 25.
It has niche requirements for tools that will help it defend against drone and electronic warfare attacks, and to navigate the world of social media, said Tony Davis, the command’s science and technology director.
While special operators may be best known for their commando skills, psychological operations, known today as military information support operations, is also part of its purview. And much of that takes place on the Internet.
“How do we step up our game in social media influence [and] understanding public sentiment?” he asked at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, which is hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association.
“There’s been a lot of press about how successful … ISIS has been in recruiting and other things and how limited the government’s capability is to counteract those,” he said. “We’re also trying to increase the SOF ability to understand our environment and interacting with those social media tools as successfully as we can.”
The command has also been looking at technologies that near-peer competitors are developing which could threaten U.S. commandos’ ability to fight effectively. To thwart advanced adversaries, SOCOM needs defensive capabilities to operate on battlefields where cyber and electronic warfare tools are part of the enemy’s arsenal, Davis said.
A range of cyber capabilities are “a huge area of growth” for the Defense Department writ large, he said. But SOCOM has more niche requirements.
“We’re looking at how we protect small teams rather than how we protect an entire service or an entire network,” he said. “It’s a little bit more of a tactical cyber requirement.”
The science and technology chief noted that Russia has been engaging in electronic warfare against Ukrainian forces.
“That’s something that maybe we should have anticipated. We should have been able to tailor our systems better,” Davis said “It’s that kind of gap that we’re trying” to close.
“We do have similar needs to the services, but at the more tactical level for how we protect the small team against that kind of capability,” he added.
Small drones present opportunities and challenges, he said, noting that the command is looking for swarming and autonomous capabilities for unmanned systems. “There’s a lot of interest in that space and … how do we grow that capability,” he said.
Special operators also need to be able to defend against swarming attacks, he noted. “Some of our potential adversaries are quickly adopting those commercial technologies just about as fast as we can,” he said.
The command is pushing forward with several initiatives to bring new technology into the force and learn more about what industry and academia have to offer, Davis noted.
SOCOM launched the SOFWERX initiative a few months ago to facilitate interaction between the command and industry. The SOFWERX facility, located in Tampa’s Ybor City neighborhood, is designed to enable rapid prototyping.
“It’s an open, unclassified collaboration venue,” Davis said. “A lot of stuff is going on in there.”
Once a month SOFWERX hosts “capability collaboration events,” and each focuses on a specific technology area and program executive office. A calendar of events is available on the organization’s website at sofwerx.org.
SOCOM also has a technical experimentation program that selects venues tailored for evaluating specific types of technologies. Companies can bring in technologies they are developing to receive input from the command.
“Let us provide feedback to you early and directly from the SOF operator on what you can do to make it better, how it can better fit our needs, and how we can collaborate together to get that product so that it’s more likely for us to procure,” Davis said.
There will be two more technical experimentation events this year. One, scheduled for July in Camp Atterbury, Indiana, will be focused on urban/unconventional warfare. The other, scheduled for September in Little Creek, Virginia, will be focused on maritime surface platforms.
The command is starting to do semiannual rotation of experiments centered on maritime systems, Davis noted. Next year the experiments will have an underwater platform focus. “You don’t necessarily have to build underwater platforms,” he said. “If you build something that enables it in terms of sensors or communications or [other] capabilities, then that’s great area for you to come to and show it to us.”
Photo: A U.S. Air Force special tactics Airman assigned to the 24th Special Operations Wing pulls security while another special tactics Airman communicates using a radio to talk to an incoming aircraft during Exercise Emerald Warrior 16 at Camp Shelby Joint Forces Training Center, Miss., May 7, 2016. (Air Force)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
TAMPA, Fla. — Advanced unmanned aerial systems, big data analysis software and communication systems are on the wish list of Special Operations Command’s leaders.
Special operators face complex operational environments, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Joseph Osterman, commander of Marine Corps Special Operations Command. That requires improved intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, he said.
“As we become more dispersed on the battlefield, we need to be able to launch and have that sensor capability in a distributed fashion,” he said May 25 during a panel discussion at the 2016 Special Operations Forces Industry Conference. SOFIC is hosted by the National Defense Industrial Association, the publisher of National Defense.
SOCOM units prefer small drones that require minimum infrastructure. They do not have the luxury of an airfield to launch a large unmanned aircraft — like the Reaper, he said. Additionally, operators will need to recover the aircraft in jungle and urban environments. A vertical take-off and landing system would be ideal for these situations, he noted.
MARSOC is also looking for systems that can counter enemy drones, he said. More capable unmanned aircraft are less expensive to procure and organizations such as the Islamic State have already used unmanned aircraft for surveillance purposes.
“We are only a couple degrees away from having the airborne IED,” Osterman said. “How do I counter that capability whether it be kinetically or non-kinetically?”
Air Force Maj. Gen. Albert “Buck” Elton III, deputy commanding general of Joint Special Operations Command, said enemies are exploiting emerging technology. SOCOM must stay on the cutting edge of innovation, he said.
“We need to be faster and accept some acquisition risk,” he said. “Our enemies … are willing to fail multiple times. In fact, they are willing to accept tremendous losses to advance their cause.”
These terrorist organizations are determined, innovative, redundant, resilient and distributed, he added. They develop affordable but lethal weapons, especially in the area of explosives, which are made from commercially available materials. Additionally, they are working on chemical and biological weapons, he said.
SOCOM is also looking for software that can rapidly analyze mounds of data, said Army Lt. Gen. Kenneth Tovo, commander of U.S. Army Special Operations Command.
“We’ve got endless amounts of data but we still have not found what I call the holy grail of … the ops center, and that’s the ability to seamlessly integrate … all these data streams,” he said. SOCOM needs technology that can analyze information at the tactical and operation level and put it on a single pane of glass, he said.
Another need is to be able to reach out to populations where governments or enemies are blocking access to information, Tovo said.
“In order to influence populations, targeted groups or key individuals, we need the ability to project digital access into denied or contested areas. A 21st century Voice of America, if you will,” he said. “Obviously our adversaries have denied and controlled public access in a lot of places, so what we’re looking for are systems and payloads that can project 3G/4G-wide WiFi coverage over wide areas to enable employment of secured, commercial communications.”
Such a technology would be a game changer in an electronic warfare environment, he added.
Photo: A U.S. Navy X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System demonstrator aircraft flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) May 14, 2013, in the Atlantic Ocean. (Navy)
By Jon Harper
TAMPA, Fla. — U.S special operators are uncovering intelligence overseas that is helping U.S. law enforcement root out homegrown terrorist cells, the White House’s top counterterrorism advisor said May 24.
“Building on relationships with the law enforcement community, special operators are sharing information to help identify terrorists who are recruited and radicalizing Americans here in the United States,” Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.
Special operators are making multi-faceted contributions to U.S. counterterrorism efforts. “The value of SOF goes far beyond removing terrorists from the battlefield,” Monaco said.
Special operations forces will continue to play a leading role in the United States’ efforts to combat violent extremists, she said. They form “the backbone” of the U.S. approach to defeating militant groups like the Islamic State and thwarting homegrown terrorists, she said during a speech at an Special Operations Industry Conference sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association.
SOCOM is also trying to undermine terrorist groups in the digital realm, which the Islamic State has exploited to recruit and to motivate likeminded individuals to carry out attacks at home.
“For the last several years, our SOF community has supported cutting-edge research and programs designed to more fully understand the ideological roots that drive extremism and terrorism,” Monaco said. “Since [the Islamic State] is using the internet and social media to recruit. We’ve got to counter them online.”
But more needs to be done to combat the group’s digital presence, she emphasized.
“These challenges cross borders and agency boundaries. They demand that we partner even more closely together. And your global SOF network will be central to confronting all of these threats,” she said.
In addition to taking out enemy fighters with raids and airstrikes, U.S. commandos are heavily involved in training, equipping and advising foreign partners who are battling militants, including in hotspots like Iraq and Syria.
“With a unique set of capabilities, even a small number of special operators working across countries and agencies can bring the full might of their partners’ power to bear against these threats,” Monaco said.
Unconventional troops have played a critical role in intelligence gathering, she said, noting that information found during a raid against the Islamic State’s oil chief in Syria provided significant insight into the group’s finances. The information helped disrupt the flow of money to the terrorist organization and its fighters.
Terrorist threats are transregional and diffuse, Monaco noted. The Islamic State now has eight different branches across the world. And al-Qaida’s offshoots have become more dangerous than the core element in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has been severely degraded, she said.
“Whenever [and] wherever the next ISIL branch or al-Qaida affiliate gains momentum, it will likely be SOF ready to take them on,” she said.
Photo: A U.S. special operator provides security during a counter-terrorism operation. (Navy)