By Valerie Insinna
Army aviation leaders said the service will continue to replace OH-58 Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters teamed with unmanned aircraft.
Col. Jeff White, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager for reconnaissance and attack, would not elaborate on whether the fiscal year 2016 budget contains any changes to the aviation restructure plan introduced last year.
But of the divestiture of the Kiowa Warriors and transition of those units to AH-64D and E models, he said “that decision is final.”
As part of the restructuring, the Army will mothball its OH-58 and TH-67 training helicopter fleets. The active Army will conduct reconnaissance missions with a combination of drones and AH-64 attack helicopters. In order to have enough Apaches to execute that mission, Army leaders ordered the National Guard to transfer all 192 of its AH-64s to the active component, with the Guard receiving 111 UH-60 Black Hawks in return.
Congress has vehemently opposed the initiative. The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act passed in December prohibits the transfer of National Guard Apaches to the active component until fiscal year 2016. It also called for the creation of a National Commission on the Future of the U.S. Army to look at the force structure of the service’s active, reserve and Guard components.
The Army plans to ramp up manned-unmanned teaming, commonly referred to as MUM-T, as Kiowa Warrior units phase out, White said Jan. 28 during a briefing to reporters in Arlington, Virginia. The service has already divested two OH-58 units and has started on a third.
It has recently started fielding AH-64Es that can transmit and receive full-motion video with Shadow and Gray Eagle unmanned aerial systems, he said. Eventually the pilots in those helicopters will be able to control the UAS’s sensors, weapons and the air vehicle itself — a capability the Army terms “level of interoperability” or LOI 4.
“We think that capability will be approved and starting to field in FY2019,” which is around the same time Army aviation leaders plan to have OH-58s completely divested from the fleet, he said. If cost or schedule delays postpone those operations, the service will rely on its existing Apaches and UAS to perform the Kiowa’s reconnaissance mission.
We don't think there will be [delays] because of the importance of the additional capabilities [we get] as we leverage the combined aspect of manned, unmanned teaming,” he said.
However, White noted there was risk involved not only in fielding the equipment and technology necessary for MUM-T operations, but also for training pilots and forming the doctrine. How the Army would mitigate that risk “depends on the specific situation and the specific dynamics at that current time,” he said.
Meanwhile, plans to replace AH-64Ds with new E-models are moving forward, with the Army in discussions with Boeing about a multi-year contract for fiscal years 2017 through 2021, said Col. Jeff Hager, the service’s program manager. The goal is for the secretary of defense to sign off on the deal in March 2016.
Several countries are also interested in acquiring Apaches, said Mark Balew, Boeing’s head of attack helicopter business development. The company will deliver the first South Korean AH-64 this year, and Qatar and Indonesia also plan to buy the aircraft.
“We don’t normally go and specify which international customers are coming to look at the Apache until they make some sort of announcement, but we have three or four new ones looking at the aircraft, making inquiries, asking questions,” he said.
Photo Credit: Army
By Stew Magnuson
U.S. Special Operations Command is on track to deliver the first working prototype of its tactical assault light operator suit by August 2018, SOCOM’s leader Army Gen. Joseph Votel said.
Better known in the popular press as the “Iron Man” suit, the TALOS personal armor system is envisioned as a protective layer for the commandos who kick down doors to root out insurgents.
SOCOM’s science and technology division is about 18 months into the effort. The program is progressing as planned, but “many significant challenges remain,” Votel said Jan. 27 at the National Defense Industrial Association Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict conference in Washington, D.C.
Officials indicated at the conference that the suit may not be intended for an entire squad, but rather for the lead operator tasked with going through a door first. It was just such a scenario that inspired now retired SOCOM commander Navy Gen. William McRaven to kick off the program in 2013.
Votel said: “We lost an operator at the most vulnerable point in the battlefield and we made a determination that we have to do better in the future.”
Anthony Davis, director of SOCOM science and technology, said at the conference Jan. 28 that, “We’ve gotten a lot of skeptical press over the past two years.” Much of it focused on the Iron Man “cartoony” vision of an armored suit with a nuclear power pack in the chest. The program isn’t about a superhero flying around, he added.
“It’s about protecting the individual operator that is going through the door. That first guy through the door is the most vulnerable of our teams currently,” he said.
SOCOM officials said from the beginning that in order to put the technology into the field as soon as possible, it was forgoing traditional acquisition practices, and reaching out to labs and private companies that don’t normally work with the military.
Putting out requests for proposals, signing a contract with a company, then having it bring back an item that must be tested to see if it performs as promised is not going to work in this case, said James F. Geurts, SOCOM acquisition executive.
“Just doing an incremental approach to that is not going to get us where we need to get to,” he said. SOCOM needs to close the distance between the operator, the inventor and the person who buys it. “Co-inventing” is the buzzword.
SOCOM has a staff of almost 30 working full time on the TALOS project, Davis said. Twelve of them are Army and Navy special operators who have recently returned from battlefields. Their instant feedback is speeding up the development cycle, he said.
The program is already seeing spin-out products emerging from the effort, Geurts said.
Davis said the first year saw the delivery of a “passive” exo-skeleton, or one that is not powered. Carrying the heavy armor that the envisioned suit would require calls for some kind of mechanical assistance. This year, the program is moving on to powered exo-skeletons. SOCOM so far has issued three contracts for three different powered prototypes to be delivered this year, Davis said.
“The third through fifth years of TALOS are the ones that have the even tougher technological challenges,” Davis said.
State-of-the-art body armor weighs between eight to 12 pounds per square foot. One hundred percent coverage of an operator would require 500 to 600 pounds of armor. Today, with front and back plates, plus a helmet, only 20 percent of an individual is protected, Davis noted. The program will have to look at how the armor is distributed, carried and supported, he said.
“A lot of work needs to be done on control theory and how we control those actuators and how they will enable the suits,” he said.
Energy is also a hurdle, Davis said. An exo-skeleton will require three to five kilowatts of power for a 10- to 12-hour operation. “Currently, there is nothing available man-packable that can provide that kind of power source,” he said.
As for perception and situational awareness, digital optics latency is also a challenge, he said. “We are unable with the current state of the art in non-digital optics to provide the amount of information to the operator that they need,” Davis said.
“Current state-of-the-art digital technology is too slow to provide real-time situational awareness to the operators without making them queasy or even nauseous as they are attacking the target,” he added.
SOCOM has already held one challenge prize in the field of digital latency. Such prizes are becoming increasingly popular in the government. They attract teams of competitors who don’t normally work with Defense Department agencies.
SOCOM has $1 million set aside for TALOS prizes. Two more competitions are scheduled for this year. The first in March will be centered around the power challenge. A second in June will focus on actuator controls. Davis said.
Photo Credit: Army
By Stew Magnuson
A senior Defense Department official said the government has lost its technological edge and now must rely on industry to overmatch adversaries in the battlefields of the future.
"Many of our adversaries have acquired, developed and even stolen technologies that have put them on somewhat equal footing with the West in a range of areas," said Michael Dumont, principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations/low intensity conflict at the National Defense Industrial Association SO/LIC conference in Washington, D.C.
Examples of this can be found in advanced hacking technologies and weapons used for anti-access/area denial scenarios, he said. Both pose threats to weapons systems and war fighters, he added.
"Collectively ... we need to get out ahead of this and stay in front of it," he said. In that regard, there must be a better way for government to acquire technology and put it in the hands of special operators more quickly, he said. The military must do better to anticipate future needs and "make investments that take us beyond the reach of our headlights."
That expertise no longer lies in the U.S. government, he said. "Recognizing this future direction, requires understanding the current reality: the U.S. government no longer has the leading edge developing its own leading edge capabilities, particularly in information technology."
The private sector is now creating innovative products at breakneck speeds, he said. "Our government needs industry to win the fight," he said.
Dumont praised special operations forces as key players in fighting global threats. "Despite the austere budget environment that we currently face, this administration and Congress have demonstrated a clear commitment to the SOF community," Dumont said. The evidence is the strength of the SOF budget in the current year.
Given the constrained budget environment, the winding down of operations in Afghanistan and the complex, global threat, special operations forces will be called upon to address instability and maintain order in the "global commons," he said.
Opponents such as the Islamic State are remarkably adept at information warfare and social media. Special operators who conduct military information support operations, once called psychological operations, can have a role in defeating terrorist campaigns, Dumont said.
"At a minimum we need to be able to shape events on the ground with as little force and as little risk as possible," he said. "Otherwise, we may be forced to deal with problems that require us to use more resources, more force, and under conditions that would require us to assume even greater risk than had we felt with them earlier on."
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
By Sarah Sicard
Minuteman IIIThe leaders of Air Force Global Strike Command expect to continue to operate aging bombers and missiles for the foreseeable future.
"We've got some old equipment, and we are certainly sustaining that, but we need to modernize," said Lt. Gen. Stephen W. Wilson, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command to reporters Jan. 27.
The Air Force Global Strike Command is responsible for three intercontinental ballistic missile wings, two B-52 bomber wings and the only B-2 stealth bomber wing in the country.
While the United States is cutting military spending, other nations like China and Russia, are investing more heavily, he said. "All of our systems that we're using today are old."
The Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) goes back to the 1950s, while the last Minuteman IIIs were made operational in the 1970s.
"They've been on alert 24/7, 365 [days a year] since then. That same infrastructure that was designed in the 50s, built in the 60s, needs to be replaced," Wilson said.
The nuclear triad of strategic bombers, ICBMs and submarine-launched ballistic missiles serves as a "national insurance policy," he added.
The price for the triad is less than one percent of the defense budget, he said. "No one likes paying insurance, but this is an insurance we need to pay" because it deters war.
"Right now, we have the right number of missiles for the mission that we've been given. Our ICBMs can be called 'the ace in the hole,'" he said. However, the capacity has been shrinking steadily. "We reduced the number of weapons that we've had by 85 percent since its peak," he added.
"It's not just the replacement of the missile; it's replacement for the infrastructure that supports it," he said. "There's a lot of improvements we can make to infrastructure of launch facilities."
Air Force Global Strike Command has long-term goals to modernize, replace outmoded equipment and facilities. "The way we built it, designed it in the 50s, we wouldn't do that today, so we're looking at all kinds of options, and … we cast a wide net for all the research labs and DARPA and all kinds of people to help us," Wilson said.
"That's what our new ground-based strategic deterrence is all about," he added. "It's not just the replacement of the missile, it's replacement for the infrastructure that supports it."
Photo Credit: Air Force
By Stew Magnuson
U.S. Special Operations Command leader Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel will travel to Norway within the next few weeks to discuss with his Nordic special operations forces counterparts growing tensions in the Arctic region, he said Jan. 27.
"Our Norwegian partners are paying particularly close attention to this and our SOF commanders in the region and I are going to go spend some time with them [Norwegian military officers] to understand what they are doing and how we can potentially assist in that," he said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict symposium in Washington, D.C.
The primary concern is Russia and its growing activities in the region, he said. "We don't know what we don't know, so it is important for us to engage and understand what is happening out there and understand the spaces in which they can begin to assert some of their influence.
"I consider this to be a current and a future challenge for us," he added.
Votel said the harsh Arctic environment would pose a challenge for special operators, but that the command over the past 14 years of operations in desert-like climates hasn't totally abandoned other areas of operations. Industry together with the command could ramp up the production of equipment needed to conduct missions there relatively quickly, he said.
"This is something we could deal with ... We do continue to focus on [other] environments," he said.
Another major cause for concern is the expansion of the Islamic State into regions outside the terrorist group's traditional territory in Syria and Iraq, he said.
"I think we have to watch this organization very closely. ... we are seeing the expansion of ISIL in North Africa. We need to be prepared to deal with them where they are," he said.
ISIL has attracted over 19,000 foreign fighters from 90 different countries to fight in Syria and Iraq, a number he called "staggering." SOCOM is playing a leading role in pulling together military efforts within the United States and overseas to fight ISIL, he added.
SOCOM is also seeing a "growing nexus" between terrorist organizations and transnational criminal organizations, he said. "The ability of criminal organizations to move money, people and weapons is very attractive to violent extremists. We don't fully understand or appreciate completely how these different networks interact wittingly or unwittingly, but the more they cooperate, the greater the threat."
Partnering with law enforcement agencies will be critical to countering this nexus, he added.
Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram is a destabilizing threat to West and Central Africa, he added. "It is creating fertile ground for expansion into other areas," he said.
Regarding technology, SOCOM's number one shortfall is manned and unmanned intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance systems, Votel said.
"Our ability to see and understand is an important requirement for all our operations and as a result airborne ISR remains one of our chief concerns," he said. SOCOM will continue to invest in these technologies and collaborate with industry, he said.
Photo: Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel (Defense Dept.)
By Sandra I. Erwin
Thousands of U.S. soldiers train alongside troops from Southeast Asian countries as part of a larger strategy to strengthen alliances in the region and secure U.S. access to key seaports, airfields and bases during a crisis.
But despite a huge investment by the United States — in troops, military trainers, logistics support and weaponry — throughout the Pacific theater, there are persistent shortfalls in communications technology and data networks that keep countries from sharing information and collaborating more closely.
"One of the challenges we have is, when you go forward of the international dateline, how you work communications," said Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, commander of the Army’s I Corps at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
I Corps has been assigned to provide forces to U.S. Pacific Command. With 60,000 soldiers, the corps is responsible for supplying troops and equipment to the Army’s Pacific Forces, led by a four-star commander, Gen. Vincent K. Brooks.
Lanza is emphatic about the importance of keeping the Army engaged in the Asia-Pacific region. "How do we achieve access? Through our relationships with military forces there," he said Jan. 23 during a meeting with reporters at the Pentagon.
"On any given day, I have forces all over the Pacific," he said. It would help the Army's efforts to have interoperable communications and information systems to create a "common operating picture" that could be shared with different countries, Lanza added. "One of the big issues we're working on is the net architecture. ... Our ability to communicate forward of the international dateline is extremely important."
U.S. commanders in the region also could use better communications to reach back to the United States, Lanza noted. "As our forces become smaller, our ability to reach back to capabilities inside the United States is extremely important."
The Army already is committed to helping allies train and equip their militaries — an activity called “building partner capacity” — under international treaty obligations. The United States has security agreements with South Korea, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines. It also has forged regional partnerships with Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and India.
A new initiative known as "Pacific Pathways" organizes simulated combat deployments with partner nations. Lanza said these exercises help allies and also keep U.S. soldiers combat-ready at a time when training budgets are being squeezed.
One of the difficulties for the Army as it pursues more bilateral and multinational ties is to be able to communicate with countries that use different types of equipment and that might not be allowed to log into U.S. networks for security reasons. “The concern is how do you sustain interoperability and the ability to operate collectively together,” said Lanza.
The reason the United States wants a military presence there is to build “trust and relationships,” he said. “You have to be forward.” The militaries of countries like the Philippines, Japan, Malaysia and Indonesia are undergoing sweeping reforms, and “we have to be part of that dialogue.”
Many of the armies in Asia-Pacific see their primary role as “first responders,” said Lanza. During a recent conference in Bangladesh where 25 militaries participated, a key topic was how to better communicate with civilian agencies during emergencies. They are seeking “innovations about how they link to the interagency,” he said. “They are working through the same process we are.”
How to protect networks from cyber attacks also is becoming a concern as the U.S. military seeks to improve communications and interoperability. “That will be a big discussion in the future,” said Lanza. In a multinational architecture, cyber security becomes a collective issue, he said. “We are integrating cyber training in I Corps.”
Lanza’s concerns are not new. U.S. military communications shortfalls in the Pacific have been known for years and have gained more attention since the 2012 rollout of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” strategy.
Gen. Herbert J. Carlisle, who commanded Pacific Air Forces at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii, said the Pacific theater is especially tough because of its size. During a meeting with reporters in 2013, Carlisle said Pacific commanders would like to have a system comparable to what the U.S. military built in Afghanistan, which allowed for communications via satellite and airborne nodes.
In U.S. Pacific Command, there were talks about building a comparable layered communications backbone. That would help networks cope with the large distances and the lack of satellite coverage in some areas, and would give the system resilience in case satellites were disrupted.
Photo: Lt. Gen. Stephen R. Lanza, Commanding General, I Corps (left) and Army Chief Lt. Gen. Hernando DCA Iriberri (right)
By Valerie Insinna
The new House Armed Services Committee chairman said he would be willing to get tough with F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin if necessary, but the program has become too vital to kill.
"With the F-35 we have no choice," Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Tex., said Jan. 22 during a briefing to reporters. "Not only the United States, but many of our allies are dependent upon the F-35 being successful. It has to be successful. At the same time, we need to learn the lessons of why it has taken longer and cost more than we expected."
“I don't think there is an option of saying, 'Okay, never mind, we don't really need that plane anymore,’” he added.
The F-35 is one of several ongoing defense acquisition programs that have been plagued by cost overruns, schedule delays and other problems, he said. The Ford-class aircraft carrier — the first of which Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently called “a prime example of how not to build a ship” — and the littoral combat ship are others.
In the LCS’s case, "I think there are definitely lessons to be learned there as well as questions about the role that it should play,” Thornberry said.
One of Thornberry’s biggest concerns, he said, is a burdensome defense acquisition process that bloats costs and delays the time it takes to go from development to production. One of the problems with the F-35 was the complexity of its requirements. “They keep thinking of cool things it can do,” he said. In future programs, congressional oversight could inject discipline into the process and help streamline requirements.
“If it takes you 24 years to field a fighter aircraft, you're not keeping up,” he said. Even smaller, off-the-shelf items are not making it to troops in a timely manner. “There’s a reason why a lot of these guys, when they deploy, take their own cell phones with them or had to go buy their own body armor."
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall will be the first witness to speak to the new House Armed Services Committee in a hearing that will look at acquisition reform and whether the United States is keeping up with changing technology, Thornberry said.
Research-and-development funding is easy to cut when money is tight but is necessary to create innovative equipment, he said. "I worry about shortchanging the investments we're making today that we will count on tomorrow." Areas that need continued resources include cyber security, space and technologies that detect and protect against biological threats.
The HASC chairman is already working with Kendall to eliminate duplicative acquisition regulations, he said. “We've made, I think, a lot of progress. Some of it he can do on his own. Some of it, he needs our help, but we've got a list, and we're trying to thin out and simplify the system to improve it."
Presumptive Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work also have a deep understanding of the workings of the Pentagon and the defense industry, both of which will be necessary to make meaningful changes to the way the Defense Department acquires new technology, he said.
“That gives us a very good opportunity to make some of the reforms that need to be made, and so I’m pretty optimistic at the chances of doing that,” he said.
Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
By Sandra I. Erwin
Signs of technology malaise can be seen across the federal government. The Pentagon has warned that it is losing its military technological superiority as other countries rush to develop advanced conventional and cyber weapons to counter U.S. armaments and satellites. The U.S. intelligence community worries that technologies it used to own almost exclusively — like high-resolution satellite imagery, encryption and biometrics — are progressing far more rapidly in the civilian world.
These appear to be symptoms of a widespread ailment that affects government contracting, say procurement experts. "Agency acquisition professionals are not focused on innovation," says a new report by the consulting firm Grant Thornton LLP and the Professional Services Council, a trade group that represents government contractors.
The report is based on a survey of 51 acquisition executives. Asked to rank issues based on their importance, innovation placed low. It was rated as the fifth of six objectives of a "sound acquisition process" even though senior administration officials have been emphatic about the need for agencies to become more innovative.
"Innovation is the word of the day," and yet the bulk of the federal acquisition community has neither the incentives nor the skills to change the status quo and attract innovative vendors, says Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council.
The behavior of the acquisition workforce is "in direct conflict with what the leadership says," Soloway says at a PSC news conference Jan. 22.
When buying technology products and services, government buyers worry about regulatory issues and price more than anything else, he says. "Industry continues to view the use of LPTA [lowest price technically acceptable] as one of the most significant challenges to offering innovation and top quality." A risk-averse culture does not promote innovation, Soloway says. According to one executive quoted in the survey, "We are trying to promote innovation but we send a message of regulation and oversight."
Poor communication between government buyers and vendors also hurts innovation, notes PSC Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin.
"While survey respondents indicated they had seen some improvement in communication and collaboration with industry, this issue remains a prominent concern," says the survey. "This lack of communication and collaboration (both within government and between government and the private sector) has been a consistent and prominent problem."
Executives also blame Congress for creating a "punitive environment that leads to risk aversion in the acquisition workforce." Managers should be "encouraged and empowered to think and decide rather than check a box to avoid a mountain of congressional attention for the tiniest of errors." The survey reveals a "clear concern about the increasing politicization of acquisition over the last decade [as one of the] key causes of the risk aversion, lack of collaboration, and general fear that often permeate the acquisition environment."
Similar conclusions are found in another study by the consulting firm Accenture and the Government Business Council. The pool of 334 respondents included GS-11 through senior executive service levels in at least 30 different civilian and defense agencies. "There is room for increased support for innovation, especially at the leadership level," the Accenture/GBC study says. "Federal agencies are constantly driven by the need to reduce costs, which 46 percent of respondents identify as a goal of innovation."
Tom Greiner, managing director of Accenture’s federal technology business, says there are numerous cultural and institutional barriers to innovation. Sixty percent of respondents say that a lack of management support deters them from adopting new ideas. In the private sector, by contrast, failure is expected. In venture capital funds, the expectation is that only one of 10 ideas they invest in will return 1,000 percent or more, Greiner says in an interview.
In most agencies, innovation is largely unstructured and unsupervised, he says. The government’s emphasis on following procedure may stifle creative efforts.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox notes that innovation does not happen by decree. "It slips on us," she tells an industry conference last fall. When she worked at the Pentagon's program evaluation office under Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Fox was asked to investigate how investments in research and development ultimately materialized as useful weapons for the military. "We found over a lot of very important programs like stealth and precision munitions that they were rarely recognized at the beginning" as disruptive innovations. "We need to be willing to assume some risks ... and make an environment that lets that happen."
Spurring innovation at the Defense Department is a major concern of Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics. In his latest policy directive to procurement managers, titled "Better Buying Power 3.0," he calls on the Pentagon's acquisition workforce to engage new vendors and think in nontraditional ways.
The Professional Services Council's report suggests agencies like the Defense Department need to retrain their buyers if they truly want to change the system. "Survey respondents have shifted their focus to the workforce’s lack of key skills," says the report. "Gaps in negotiating skills, business acumen and the ability to acquire complex IT have been prominently identified in each of the last two successive surveys. ... The general view of federal acquisition leaders is that the workforce remains an issue of real concern."
The message heard from the Defense Department is that "workforce improvements are not showing up despite substantial budgets for training," says Soloway. "We are not training our acquisition workforce for the fight they have to wage," he adds. Critical skills like negotiating contracts with commercial vendors that develop cutting-edge technology are not emphasized in training programs.
"The acquisition workforce is increasingly buffeted between policy prescriptions and on-the-ground expectations," the survey says. "Immediate budget pressures often drive less than optimal buying behaviors. The workforce is told to pursue innovation but too often lacks the tools and institutional support to do so. While administration and agency leaders have stressed the importance of innovation and reducing barriers to entry into the government market, these objectives are not seen as top priorities by those responsible for executing acquisitions."
Soloway says demographic trends portend future changes that could eventually reshape government procurement. "A new generation of acquisition professionals will be entering the federal workforce in the next five years. That creates an enormous opportunity to change the culture."
PHOTO (from left to right) Professional Services Council Executive Vice President and Counsel Alan Chvotkin, PSC CEO Stan Soloway and Grant Thornton Principal Phil Kangas.
By Sandra I. Erwin
Just two weeks before the Obama administration submits its budget proposal to Congress for fiscal year 2016, at least on the defense side, the battle lines have been drawn.
The Pentagon can forget scrapping the A-10 attack aircraft, taking warships out of service or closing any more military bases in the United States. The military, too, will have to keep funding the remanufacturing of main battle tanks and continue to buy other hardware it says it doesn’t need.
“Sometimes their priorities are just plain wrong,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.
Thornberry said he respects the difficult job of Defense Department leaders who have to make “tough choices” following five years of steep budget cuts. But Congress, he said, is not going to rubber stamp any budgets and will put its foot down on any proposals to “give things away” that might be needed in the future, including aging hardware that the military says it can’t afford to maintain.
The Pentagon should be reminded that Congress has a constitutional authority to determine the “size, shape and soul of the military,” Thornberry said Jan. 20 at the American Enterprise Institute. “It’s not clear that everyone understands our constitutional system. Congress is sometimes criticized for exercising its proper role in defense.”
In a speech that sought to send a stern message to the Pentagon about who’s in charge, Thornberry defended lawmakers’ right to be “imperfect” and “parochial.”
Congress consists of 535 “human beings from all over the country, from many walks of life,” he said. Members are accused of directing the Army to buy tanks to satisfy donors and lobbyists. The reality, said Thornberry, is that “we make a judgment call” to ensure the manufacturing plant is not shut down.
Further, the military has shown it can’t be trusted to make sound decisions, he said. The Air Force, for instance, one year recommended nixing production of the Global Hawk drone and, instead, deploying 50-year-old U-2 manned aircraft. The next year it reversed course. The Navy similarly proposed to retire seven cruisers and later changed its mind in favor of temporarily mothballing 11 ships until it has money to modernize them. Thornberry called out the Navy for not funding the refueling of the George Washington aircraft carrier, even though the ship has 25 years of service life left.
“The administration has proposed retiring a number of ships in recent years, arguing that modern ships are more capable,” said Thornberry. “That’s true. But each ship can still only be at one place at one time.” He then blasted the Air Force for asking to retire the A-10, and a few months later sending it to fly attack missions in Iraq and Syria.
Defense officials, for their part, insist they have no other choice but to shed equipment and infrastructure so they can free up money to pay for “force readiness” priorities like training and maintenance. After Congress passed the budget law in 2011 that set strict caps on defense and nondefense discretionary spending, the military has had to make these difficult choices, said Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James.
“Congress restricted our tough choices regarding the retiring or the reducing of aging force structure,” she said last week at a Pentagon news conference. Unless the spending caps are lifted, Congress is putting the Air Force in a financial bind by forbidding these cutbacks, she said. “We are going to be asking the Congress of course to eliminate sequestration, we will renew that call, as well as to allow us to get rid of excess base infrastructure. And we will once again ask for the authority to divest some of our older aircraft in order to free up money to plow back into people, readiness, and modernization.”
For the Air Force, retiring the venerable A-10 is not an “emotional issue, it's a sequestration-driven decision,” said Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh. “We don't have enough money to fund all of the things that we currently have in our force structure.”
James added: “If we had a lot more money, I mean a lot more money, we could do it all. But of course, we're not going to have a lot more money. So we have to make choices.”
Thornberry agrees with the Pentagon that the military does need more money, but he recognizes that lifting the budget caps will be a steep uphill battle.
The Defense Department's baseline budget (not including war funding) has dropped by 21 percent since 2010. “That has to have an impact,” Thornberry said. He sees issues like funding for the A-10 and for aircraft carrier refueling as potential catalysts that might propel fiscal hawks to support the repeal of the Budget Control Act. “It just adds a sense of urgency that we have to get this budget on a more reasonable footing,” he said. “Are there going to be difficult choices? Of course. But with the volatility in the world situation right now, most of us want to be pretty careful about giving things away because it’s going to be really hard to get them back. … If we give up a base or a training range, it’s gone forever.”
Undoing the sequester would require 218 votes in the House, 60 in the Senate and the president’s signature. That might seem unrealistic, but it’s not impossible, Thornberry said. “I don’t know that anyone has a magic formula to do that.”
He is confident that his committee can help influence the debate by educating members on national security issues. “We’ve got to do a better job helping other members understand why it’s important. That’s on our shoulders,” he said. “I really believe most members agree that sequestration for defense needs to be fixed. But there is no agreement on how to do it.”
Thornberry said he expects military officials to be candid about their funding needs, even if they sidestep the party line. “We expect the chiefs [of the military services] to shoot straight with us,” he said. However, “I don’t think it’s fair for them to become advocates of our positions, especially if they contradict the president’s. But we have to have the information. Their obligation is not just to the president but to the country and to Congress.”
When the president unveils his budget request Feb. 2, Republicans like Thornberry are likely to be put in a tough spot because Obama is expected to request $68 billion more in discretionary spending than is allowed by the Budget Control Act. For defense, that would be $34 billion above the $516 billion cap by the BCA.
Most Republicans do not want to be seen as supporting the president, but they are also unlikely to vote for a budget that is lower than the administration’s request, given their traditional pro-defense orientation, said Bloomberg Government analyst Cameron Leuthy. A likely outcome is a “mini-deal” that would give the Pentagon some additional money and also satisfy the deficit-hawk wing of the GOP.
Photo Credit: C-SPAN
By Stew Magnuson The Air Force general who oversees the service’s nuclear weapon delivery systems fired shots Jan. 20 at critics who say the planned long-range strike bomber is either too expensive, not technologically feasible or not needed in the first place.
“There are publications out there that are already saying, ‘You don’t need this. It’s too expensive. It’s not going to work.’ We don’t even know what it is yet, per se,” Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration said at an Air Force Association breakfast in Arlington, Virginia.
“It’s already starting. … They are already out there, the usual suspects that have been against every modernization, every recapitalization out there. Don’t listen to them ladies and gentlemen,” he said.
Harencak answered those who have suggested that the bomber’s mission could be carried out by other systems such as remotely piloted aircraft, or stand-off missiles.
Having spent 31 years as a bomber pilot, Harencak said he was biased. However, the need for a penetrating, long-range persistent strike capability has been a constant. “The ability to go anywhere in the world, anytime, and to get through enemy defenses and be able to provide a lot of ordnance on a consistent basis” has never disappeared, and never will, he added.
Stand-off weapons are equally important because the nation’s nuclear forces are a system of systems, he said. Nevertheless, “We have to be able to answer all potential adversaries out there and all potential scenarios,” he said.
“No one has ever been right about the next war we’re going to fight. Those who say, ‘Don’t worry. You won’t need this,’ have been wrong before. … They are wrong today. And they will be wrong in the future,” he said.
“Stand-off is absolutely important, but it has never in history been enough,” he added.
As for critics who say the Air Force won’t be able to build a bomber capable of withstanding the air defenses of the future, Harencak pointed to similar statements said before the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. Estimates on how many aircraft would be lost proved to be way too high. “Our own models showed that. And yet, we were able to do it and accomplish the mission.”
As for how the Air Force will accomplish its missions, he noted that much of the program is classified. “To our critics out there: why don’t you wait until you actually know something about it before you criticize it? I know that is asking a lot,” he said.
“It would be great if we could talk about this in a rational way, and talk about facts, as opposed to emotion,” he added.
“If we don’t make these modest and affordable investments to defend America, then we will create in the future for our children sanctuary for our enemies and our adversaries. It makes absolutely no sense to me why we would accept that outcome,” he added.
Air Force officials have repeatedly said that the program will be completed on budget with each bomber costing $550 million per copy, and a fleet of 80 to 100 aircraft. Harencak sought to quell criticism that this too, was an unrealistic goal. Pundits have pointed out that the B-2 bomber was built more than 25 years ago at a cost of some $737 million per aircraft. How could it be less expensive more than two decades later?
“It happens all the time. We are able to make things better and also have them cost less. … We have done it with cell phones. We have done it with microwave ovens. We were able to leverage technology to give us something better and it actually costs less. And that’s what we’re going to do when it comes to the long-range strike bomber,” he said. New manufacturing techniques, for example, will help drive down the price tag, he added.
The plan to procure 132 B-2s fell well short of its goal after Congress lost faith in the program and cut the fleet off at 21. Once that economy of scale is lost and development costs are factored in, the price per aircraft skyrockets, analysts have said.
“We are going to move mountains to make sure it is affordable. We still may not get everything [in terms of requirements]. I get that, but certainly give us an opportunity to try,” he said.
To do otherwise, would mean relying on the aging B-52 bomber. His son is flying a B-52 and it is conceivable that his newly born grandson may someday.
“In what world do we send our grandchildren into combat in 80-year-old aircraft?” he asked.
“This is an easy decision. There are a lot of hard decisions we have to make out there. This is not one of them,” he said.
Photo Credit: Air Force