By Sandra I. Erwin
The subpar performance of the F-35 logistics information system has been a concern for years. But it has now drawn the attention of key lawmakers who got an earful from Joint Strike Fighter maintenance crews during a recent visit to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
“The committee received numerous complaints and concerns by F-35 maintenance and operational personnel regarding the limitations, poor performance, poor design, and overall unsuitability of the ALIS software in its current form,” said the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on tactical air and land forces in its markup of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act.
ALIS is the autonomic logistics information system that is hooked up to each F-35 to monitor every component of the aircraft and to alert operators of any breakdowns. The complaints heard by members of Congress range from the user-unfriendliness of the software and how slowly it responds to queries, to the high frequency of false alarms.
Military aviation experts said some of these issues are temporary and should be expected in new programs. Glitches like too many false alarms should be solved over time as the technology matures. Other shortcomings of the system appear to be more substantial and might take years to fix.
The F-35 program office and prime contractor Lockheed Martin assert that many of the current deficiencies will be plugged in future software releases. Program Executive Officer Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan traveled to Eglin this week to personally investigate the issues raised by the committee. “A lot of attention is being paid to ALIS,” said F-35 spokesman Joe DellaVedova.
By Bogdan’s own account, the system will have to dig itself out of a deep hole. “ALIS has a long way to go,” he told subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio. “It is a complicated, five million lines of code piece of equipment that we started treating like a piece of support equipment. It's not. It's an integral part of the weapon system.”
A major effort began two years to “change fundamentally the way we develop ALIS,” Bogdan said. “We've applied the same techniques we used in developing software on the airplane to now developing software in ALIS. It's just going to take us some time to realize those results.”
One of ALIS’ most vaunted features — the ability to predict when a component will fail and will need to be replaced — appears to be nowhere close to coming to fruition. According to sources close to the program, ALIS doesn’t have enough of the data that would allow maintainers to forecast part failures based on how components are used and how they perform in flight. It is not clear when the prognostics capability will work.
A significant concern for the Marine Corps — the first service scheduled to deploy the F-35 — is that ALIS is too incomplete for operational use, which means that a lot of the information crews will need to fix and maintain the aircraft will not be available so they will depend on remote tech support from Lockheed Martin technicians in Fort Worth, Texas. Experts said that process could end up being time consuming and increase aircraft downtime.
ALIS was conceived so that when maintainers have to remove an aircraft part and replace it, they would have easy and instant access to instructions and drawings. ALIS also would help them interpret any failure codes that come off the aircraft and determine what procedures to employ.
The Marine Corps will be the first service to deploy the short-takeoff vertical landing version of the F-35 later this year, and it has chosen to declare the airplane operational even with a less-than-optimal ALIS system. Maintenance crews aboard big-deck amphibious ships will be dependent on technical support from Texas if ALIS is unable to provide the information they need.
Software engineers at Lockheed Martin are rushing to deliver ALIS upgrades to the F-35 fleet, said Sharon Parsley, spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training.
“The F-35 military services understand that ALIS will continue to gain capability along with each release of block software on our newest aircraft,” she told National Defense in a statement.
Parsley said the Eglin maintainers who gave ALIS bad reviews were using the earliest versions, known as Block 1B and 2A. The jets that are now flying at two bases in Arizona — Luke Air Force Base and Marine Corps Air Station Yuma — have the latest version of software called 2B.
A new update, ALIS 2.0.0, was delivered to F-35 locations, including Eglin in March, she said. “We expect many of the issues the airmen there are experiencing to improve.” Two other releases currently are in development, ALIS 2.0.1 and 2.0.2. The full ALIS capability is due in 2017, said Parsley, “in line with the conclusion of the F-35 system development and demonstration program phase.”
An underlying question is whether the Marines will be able to get by with the 2.0.1 version of ALIS that still lacks the capability to manage life-limited parts. That feature is expected in ALIS 2.0.2, which is the version that the Air Force needs in order to declare its F-35A operational next year.
The software eventually will have to undergo rigorous tests in combat-like conditions by the Pentagon’s independent test and evaluation office. Operational tests of the Marine Corps’ Block 2B mission software, along with ALIS, were supposed to take place a year ago but were delayed. Testers still do not believe the system is ready, and Pentagon procurement officials agreed.
Turner’s language in the NDAA, meanwhile, could mean yet another probe of ALIS, this one by the Government Accountability Office. The scrutiny will persist, especially in light of the feedback lawmakers got at Eglin. The frustration that members saw in F-35 maintainers is likely to stick with them as such interactions tend to be rare.
During an April 14 subcommittee hearing, Turner said he was “taken aback” by the operators’ critiques of ALIS. “I was also shocked that there's no spell check,” he said. That means users have to manually identify misspelling and correct errors, which causes delays and potentially could put lives at risk. Crews also were unhappy with the reporting system for the availability of parts or status of the inventory.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a former military aviator, said she, too, was alarmed by what she heard. Her impression was that the system is very labor intensive, slow to respond, and too bulky for use on ships. Duckworth said it was “troubling” that aircraft crews aboard ships at sea will have to reach back to Fort Worth for logistical support.
Bogdan agreed that the transportability of ALIS is a major issue. “Today ALIS sits in a squadron and it's a rack of computers that weighs probably 800 to 1,000 pounds,” he told Duckworth. “We recognized a year-and-a-half ago that was not going to work for deploying forces.” Lockheed is designing a deployable version that will be ready for the Marine Corps in July, he said. It is a two-man portable system made up of three or four different racks.
In the future, Bogdan said, ALIS will be made in a deployable configuration. “We will get rid of the old thousand-pound racks that we have at the squadrons now.”
ALIS is now deployed with more than a hundred operational F-35s from the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands.
F-35 aircraft ready for takeoff at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. (Lockheed Martin)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
The news that a CIA-led drone strike killed two hostages in Pakistan in January may serve as a catalyst to shift some operations of the controversial program from the CIA to the Defense Department, a panel of experts said April 24.
Stephen Vladeck, a professor at American University Washington College of Law, said the reason the CIA conducted this strike in the first place was because of an agreement between the United States and Pakistan, which stipulates that all attacks in Pakistan be kept secret.
“So long as that agreement remains in place, there are both legal, practical and bureaucratic reasons why it’s going to be a heck of a lot of easier for CIA to carry out strikes in Pakistan than DoD. Not because DoD can’t conduct covert action, but because they’re not set up for that quite as well,” he said during a panel discussion on drone warfare at the Stimson Center, a Washington, D.C. based think tank.
However, because of the strike, in which two hostages — American Warren Weinstein and Italian Giovanni Lo Porto — were killed, drone missions in other countries will likely be carried out by the Defense Department from now on, he said.
“It’s going to be DoD now increasingly everywhere else, Somalia, Yemen … and North Africa,” he said. “But Pakistan is still going to be CIA for the time being.”
In the past, there has been pushback against the CIA coordinating drone strikes because of its convert nature, resulting in a lack of oversight. CIA Director John Brennan and President Obama have both said they intend to move operations to the Defense Department, but whether that has happened is unclear because of a lack of transparency, said Rachel Stohl, a senior associate at the Stimson Center.
“Because of the lack of the information, we don’t know if any of that shift has happened. What we know is that in this particular case, all evidence points to this being a CIA operation,” she said.
During an April 23 speech, Obama said the United States was unaware that the two hostages were present at the targeted al-Qaida compound. “It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” he said.
However, the lack of clear intelligence suggests that the attack may have been a “signature strike,” Vladeck said. Such strikes go after targets who are unidentified, but are exhibiting suspicious behavior. He noted that Obama has previously said that strikes are only executed if there is “near certainty” that there will be no civilian casualties.
“What we learned about yesterday seems inconsistent with what we’ve been told,” Vladeck said. “I don’t know how you could be nearly certain there would be no civilian causalities if you don’t know who you’re striking.”
In a Stimson Center report released last summer, the organization’s task force on U.S. drone policy urged the government to move drone operations from the CIA to the Defense Department. Currently, the two organizations conduct their own drone operations, which can result in a lack of oversight, it said.
“Parallel CIA and military UAV programs are, at best, duplicative and inefficient. At worst, the existence of parallel programs makes oversight more difficult and increases the risk of error and arbitrariness, since the CIA and military may have different standards for evaluating intelligence and identifying appropriate targets,” it said.
Stohl said that the CIA has a vital role in helping with drone strikes, but they should not be the ones executing them.
“I would hope that the CIA should not be in the business of conducting these kinds of wars. They have an intelligence purpose to serve, a very important one, that would allow DoD to perhaps have the information that it requires to conduct its strikes more successfully,” she said.
Vladeck noted that the Defense Department is perceived to be more even tempered than the CIA, particularly with signature strikes. It has been suggested in some circles that there is an institutional reluctance by the Defense Department to carry them out, whether that be a legal, moral or historical opposition, he said.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
By Sandra I. Erwin
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is positioning the military to assume a key role in combating potentially devastating cyber attacks against the United States. Cyber threats are "one of the world’s most complex challenges today," Carter said April 23 during a lecture at Stanford University titled "Rewiring the Pentagon: Charting a New Path on Innovation and Cybersecurity."
The cyber threat against U.S. interests is "increasing in severity and sophistication," said Carter. "And it comes from state and non-state actors alike. Just as Russia and China have advanced cyber capabilities and strategies ranging from stealthy network penetration to intellectual property theft, criminal and terrorist networks are also increasing their cyber operations. Low-cost and global proliferation of malware have lowered barriers to entry and made it easier for smaller malicious actors to strike in cyberspace."
Carter's plan for combating these threats is articulated in the Pentagon's new cyber strategy, which he chose to release in front of a premier audience of technologists attending Stanford University's prestigious Drell Lecture on public policy.
Of significance in this new roadmap is a clearer definition of the Pentagon’s role in defending the nation.Whereas the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are the lead agencies that deal with domestic cyber crimes and network intrusions most of the time, the Pentagon would be in charge if there were a catastrophic attack that rose to a level considered a threat to national security.
"We’re also going to work more closely with our law enforcement partners at the FBI, Homeland Security, and elsewhere," Carter said. "There are clear lines of authority about who can work where, so as adversaries jump from foreign to U.S. networks,we need our coordination with law enforcement to work seamlessly." In a simulated war game about two weeks ago, Pentagon cyber experts and their FBI counterparts practiced how exactly this would work.
The 2015 cyber strategy updates the one published in 2011. Four years ago, there was still interagency tension between DoD and DHS on how cyber defense responsibilities would be divvied up. Since then, the Defense Department has gained “more clarity on our missions in cyber space,” a senior defense official said. Per White House guidance, the Pentagon would have the lead role in rare cases — about 2 percent of attacks — that are considered the most serious. With the release of this strategy, the official said, the “lanes in the road are much clearer.”
The new strategy should "help guide development of DoD’s cyber forces, and it is also a reflection of DoD being more open than before," Carter said. "Another goal is to be better prepared to defend DoD information networks, secure data, and mitigate risks to military missions. We’ll do this in part through deterrence by denial, in line with today’s best-in-class cyber security practices, building a single security architecture that’s easier to defend."
The strategy cautions the Pentagon is not seeking to encroach on domestic law enforcement but only intends to intervene under extraordinary circumstances. Americans expect the Defense Department to protect the nation from hostile missile strikes or other acts of war, but in the cyber realm the military role is more difficult to understand. “Only when those attacks rise to the level of an armed attack” would the Pentagon’s Cyber Command take over, the official said. Events like the hacking of corporate networks or denial of service attacks would not meet that standard.
A large portion of the strategy is devoted to the notion of “deterrence” in cyberspace. While the Pentagon over decades of Cold War against the Soviets perfected strategies to deter nuclear strikes, it is finding that dissuading hackers or cyber spies is far more complicated. The strategy calls for a “clear response” to attacks, even if it is just a statement to make the perpetrator aware that there will be consequences to his actions.
"In some ways, what we’re doing about this threat is similar to what we do about more conventional threats," said Carter. "We like to deter malicious action before it happens, and we need to be able to defend against incoming attacks – as well as pinpoint where and whom an attack came from." The Pentagon would be ready to take offensive action if necessary, he said. "And when we do take action, defensive or otherwise, conventionally or in cyberspace, we operate under rules of engagement that comply with domestic and international law."
Another component of the new strategy is a greater effort by the Pentagon to motivate the private sector to step up investments in cyber security and spur technology developers to work with the Defense Department. “The Department of Defense has had a strong partnership with the private sector and research institutions historically, and DoD will strengthen those historic ties to discover and validate new ideas for cyber security,” said the new strategy.
American businesses own and operate nearly 90 percent of U.S networks. "The private sector must be a key partner," said Carter. "The U.S. government has a unique suite of cyber tools and capabilities, but we need the private sector to take its own steps to protect data and networks. We want to help where we can, but if companies themselves don’t invest, our country’s collective cyber security posture is weakened."
Eric Rosenbach, assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and global security, told the Senate Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee last week that the Defense Department is building a cyber mission force of 133 teams. Much of that talent will come from the National Guard and Reserve, he said. The cyber mission force will include nearly 6,200 military, civilian, and contractor personnel.
Photo: Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (Defense Dept.)
By Sandra I. Erwin
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is making a big play for Silicon Valley startups and tech innovators that so far have shown little to no interest in working with the Pentagon. Carter is seeking to repair those ties by creating a permanent Pentagon presence in the Valley and committing to help fund promising ventures.
Carter’s trip to the Valley April 23 marks the first official visit to the area by a secretary of defense since William Perry went there nearly 20 years ago. After delivering a lecture at Stanford University, Carter is meeting with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and joining an executive roundtable hosted by the Andreessen Horowitz venture capital firm in Menlo Park, California.
The message to the Valley is that Defense will be pivoting toward the commercial sector as it seeks to equip the U.S. military with the most advanced technology. Whereas the Pentagon led the way in decades past, today privately funded industries are lobbing micro-satellites into space, building autonomous robotics, pushing the biotech revolution and breaking ground in big data — all technologies that the Pentagon now needs.
To show its seriousness about engaging Silicon Valley, the Defense Department will stand up a permanent office there called “defense innovation unit experimental” — the first time the Pentagon will have a full-time outreach presence in the Valley. It will be staffed by civilian and military officials, including reservists with private-sector experience.
Carter also is proposing a pilot program to invest in startup ventures under the CIA’s existing In-Q-Tel technology incubator. According to a senior defense official, the Pentagon will make “small investments” in promising technologies in areas like electronics, software and automation.
The Pentagon will work with Silicon Valley-based White House advisor Todd Park to create a defense-focused arm of the U.S. Digital Service. The service was created last year after a team of technologists led by Park salvaged the healthcare.gov website from virtual collapse. The defense branch of USDS will focus on daunting information-technology problems like integrating the electronic health records of the Defense Department and of the Department of Veterans Affairs. “This is a novel away to attack some of our core problems,” the senior official said.
Back in Washington, Carter’s outreach is being received with a mix of hopefulness and skepticism.
A central question is how the Pentagon plans to go about recruiting tech companies and whether it will be willing to ease rigid procurement rules that commercial firms find unacceptable.
Nobody expects Carter’s initiative to cause any seismic shift in the defense industrial base. He clearly is not looking for Google or Apple to jump into the weapons-making business. But Carter has been emphatic that the Pentagon needs a massive injection of commercial innovation.
Carter is calling for “rewiring” the Pentagon for an era when technology moves at blinding speed and global tech firms vastly outspend the Pentagon in R&D.
Efforts to bridge defense and commercial technology have been pursued for years, with mixed results. The problem, according to analysts and executives, are the enormous bureaucratic and administrative barriers that keep commercial suppliers away.
Although Carter has vowed to address this issue, the Pentagon continues to be viewed as an undesirable customer by most commercial tech firms, except perhaps by small businesses in dire need of cash.
“Ultimately, DoD will have to bargain a lot to induce the Valley to do business,” said Teka Thomas, a business attorney who works with Bay Area entrepreneurs. “But I think there are bargains to be had,” he told National Defense. There are companies that have good software with no commercial market and need cash, and many small businesses are looking for opportunities, Thomas said. “All solutions will take a lot of legwork from the government.”
A likely outcome of Carter’s initiative will be a more aggressive push to integrate commercial innovation into old-fashioned weapons programs. Commercial vendors will never replace the dominant heavyweights like Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon, but they will become essential partners to the defense giants.
“The traditional separation of military industrial complex and private sector goods is fading rapidly,” said Jason Tama, a federal executive fellow at The Brookings Institution.
Tama has spent time in Silicon Valley brainstorming with venture capitalists. His take: Defense will have to work really hard to lure these innovators. “DoD is a decidedly bad customer,” he said. “It’s a good market for startups interested in cash, but the barriers are formidable.” Companies see “no viable way to win. … It takes too much effort to get a sale.”
Every company wants to make money, but tech investors don’t like their chances in the defense market, Tama said. “The defense workforce is a huge issue,” he said. The cultural divide is wide. “The demographics are out of step with the rest of the economy and the tech sector.”
In the near term, the Pentagon should borrow a page from the DARPA playbook, he suggests. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been successful at luring tech firms with fast-track contracting vehicles and other incentives. Simpler contracting mechanisms, known as “other transaction authority” are legally allowed but many contracting officers are reluctant to use them.
How the defense business might change as a result of Carter’s initiative remains to be seen. At a minimum, the Pentagon will need to find ways to expand DARPA-like contracting practices, Byron Callan, industry analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, said in a recent report to investors. “We just don’t know how feasible it is to graft on commercial practices to the current acquisition ecosystem.” More commercial contracting might change the minds of companies like Google that have elected not to do business with the Defense Department.
The U.S. defense budget has been on a downward slope, but the Pentagon still gets about $180 billion a year to spend on products and services, so it is not a small market. Winning a slice of that pie comes with added costs, however, Callan points out. “There are costs to set up the unique oversight, compliance and accounting systems to do business with DoD.” Intellectual property rights and cost disclosure also are key impediments to commercial vendors, he noted. Other barriers are requirements for security clearances and employment of only U.S. citizens.
Within the defense industry, Carter’s determination to capture commercial innovation already has stirred concern about how it might impact incumbent contractors. Executives privately have grumbled that the Pentagon’s rhetoric implies that established defense and aerospace contractors are stale, and the only innovation comes from Silicon Valley.
They wonder how the Pentagon might woo companies that are accustomed to 30-40 percent profit margins to work in an industry where margins are less than half that, and whose customer takes years to make decisions.
Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, said Carter deserves praise for trying to broaden the market and motivate the defense industry to draw innovation from the commercial world. But the reality is that the Pentagon’s own actions are undermining that goal, said Soloway, whose association represents federal contractors.
“This is a fundamental problem. Even as Carter is trying to do this, actions being taken within DoD are making it harder for commercial capabilities to enter the market,” Soloway said. “They’re increasing the barriers to entry. Until defense leaders can get their arms around that part of the problem, he said, the outreach to the Valley might be fruitless. “As appealing as this might be to companies there that want to support the defense mission, they simply are not going to be able to do it.”
Soloway cited policy directives from the Pentagon that restrict buyers’ ability to acquire commercial products and services under a streamlined contracting process. Congress in 1994 passed key legislation that compelled the Pentagon to buy commercial products when at all possible. But the Defense Department in recent years has moved in the opposite direction, Soloway said, and has made doing business with the Pentagon more cumbersome. “It’s completely counterintuitive that at a time when everybody is looking to new partnerships, that we’re taking these regressive steps back to where we were before the reforms of the 1990s.”
Carter is “absolutely right to be trying to build alliances with Silicon Valley. That’s just one community of many where there’s a lot going on.” But unless these contracting barriers are lowered, he said, “I don’t think you can make a lot of progress.”
The Pentagon can’t have it both ways, said Soloway. Trying to recruit commercial vendors while continuing to insist on government unique requirements and standards are goals squarely in conflict with each other. “We’re relitigating some issues that we thought we’d come to some closure 20 years ago.”
A group of defense executives and former Pentagon officials is now working with the Center for a New American Security on how to bridge the gap between old-line defense contractors and cutting-edge innovators.
“DoD is trying to generate innovation from any source they can,” said Ben Fitzgerald, industry analyst at CNAS. The Pentagon’s intent is not to brand traditional contractors as dinosaurs, but rather to bring everyone together, Fitzgerald said. “The key challenge is the bureaucracy, processes and laws that govern defense acquisition and were set up for the 1970s,” he added. “They made sense then.” There is wide recognition now “that we need new ways to maintain our technological edge.”
To spur innovation, the Pentagon is going to need help from its own bureaucracy and from its current contractors. “Leaders are trying to communicate to the workforce that we should open our apertures and look more broadly at where we can bring technology,” said Fitzgerald. Defense has to control its proclivity to build things in-house and learn how to tap commercial technology. This is already happening in fields like cyber security, unmanned systems and data mining.
Despite these shifts, the allocation of work between the defense and commercial sectors will not change substantially, he said. “There is a significant role for traditional suppliers. The issue is how we update our business model so we can take advantage of innovation in commercial sector.”
Infusion of commercial technology into the defense sector already is seen in many areas.
Pentagon contractor Textron took a commercial aircraft design from its nondefense business and built a military platform it is now trying to sell to the Defense Department.
Lockheed Martin sought help from Silicon Valley’s Splunk Enterprise to analyze data in the F-35 joint strike fighter’s logistics support system.
The Raytheon Co. has moved aggressively to acquire commercial cyber security firms in an effort to secure access to the latest innovations.
The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall has warned defense contractors that he will more closely scrutinize their internal R&D spending, or at least the portion that contractors claim as a reimbursable expense. Kendall wants companies to spend their IR&D on “meaningful products for the government,” which in many cases means buying more commercial technology, he said at a Brookings conference.
He suggested that greater competition should compel defense contractors to inject commercial technologies into programs. Analysts like Callan caution that this is easier said than done. “Commercial firms are not going to give up intellectual property rights and probably work at much faster speeds and with more risk than defense acquisition programs,” he observed. “There is a fundamental misalignment between DoD aspirations to sustain military technology dominance and its inability to work with commercial technology.”
This misalignment, he noted, could be fixed with procurement reforms like those already proposed by Kendall and by the House Armed Services Committee.
Intellectual property rights continue to be a major sticking point, especially for software companies, said Jon Etherton, a federal procurement expert who served on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The rules haven’t changed since 1995,” he noted.
Carter’s courtship of Silicon Valley is part of a larger gameplan that also includes reshaping the military’s R&D spending plan and changing buying practices. The latest policy guidance, “Better Buying Power 3.0,” emphasizes innovation and access to emerging technology.
“The devil will be in the details as this plan gets implemented and put into action by thousands of acquisition professionals spread in organizations throughout the country,” said Andrew Hunter, director of defense industry initiatives at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“DoD has big and increasing challenges in gaining awareness of and access to the cutting edge of technology, particularly those originating outside the traditional industrial base,” he wrote in a CSIS report. “Even after military users are fully aware of the potential of new technologies, getting access to outside innovation remains difficult when the innovation they want comes from nontraditional sources,” Hunter said. “The new plan seeks to address these challenges, but success is by no means guaranteed.”
If the Pentagon wants to shore up U.S. technological superiority, it will need to invest in “building a culture of innovation and experimentation and deploy new technologies faster,” Hunter said. “For example, it may need to consider different approaches to intellectual property rights for inventions developed in part with funding from DoD. An intellectual property system that allows companies and individuals to protect and commercialize their inventions is a bedrock for innovation.”
Under current law, any technology or intellectual property developed with DoD funds is owned by the government. And the government has the right to share it with whomever it wants, Hunter said. The United States also has the authority to allow other contractors to manufacture and use the patented invention “for or on behalf” of the government without obtaining a license from or compensating the patent holder, he explained. “Concerns about the intellectual property rights regime for federal contracts discourages truly innovative companies and individuals from working with DoD.”
Photo Credit: Defense Dept., Wiki
By Stew Magnuson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After a two-year delay caused by a nonfunctional navigation payload, the Air Force's next-generation GPS program is back on track, senior officials said. But the service is looking for more competition for future block buys.
Lockheed Martin is on contract to build the first eight GPS-3 satellites and has an option on four more. They will begin launching in 2017. Subcontractor Exelis Geospatial Systems had problems developing the navigation subsystem, which pushed the program back by two years.
"I was pretty upset with Exelis at the time," Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, told reporters April 15 on the sidelines of the Space Symposium. "We had this beautiful GPS-3 production line built south of Denver. And we had satellites built up just waiting for a [navigation] payload," Hyten said.
The good news is that the payloads are integrated and work, and everything is progressing well, he said.
However, as frustration mounted over the delays, the Air Force announced in June 2014 that it would open up a competition for future block buys. It previously said it would award $100 million to $200 million worth of contracts to new entrants to develop alternatives, according to Space News.
Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told Space News April 14 that that number would be curtailed to $6 million for each potential new entrant. Industry would be expected to absorb more of the upfront research and development costs, with the winner of a large block buy recovering the investment later.
The R&D phase is expected to last 38 months with a contract for 22 satellites expected in 2018, she said.
Hyten said he would like to see the next GPS block be brought into the digital age. "In the long term, we are going to move off the traditional analog payload and move into a digital payload, which is why we are interested in competition in the future," he said.
The question is the timing of when the Air Force will make the switch, he said. "Particularly now that the GPS program is moving again. Unfortunately, we are two years behind."
Photo: GPS-3 concept art (Lockheed Martin)
By Stew Magnuson
Deborah Lee James and Gen. John Hyten
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- The Air Force is making preparations for a conflict on Earth that escalates into space, senior leaders said April 15.
Space systems are facing "advanced demonstrated and evolving threats," Deborah Lee James, secretary of the Air Force, said at the Space Symposium. There is a potential for "hostile actors" in the domain and the service must "have a new mindset when it comes to space," she added.
"The Chinese have continued to test [anti-satellite weapons] since the year 2007," she said in a speech. That was when it destroyed one of its own defunct spacecraft with an anti-satellite missile and left a debris field with some 3,000 pieces that will remain in orbit for years to come.
"There have been additional tests that didn't destroy a satellite since that time. The testing has continued so that is an ongoing concern, something that we are watching," she told reporters later. Russia is also a cause for concern, she added.
"We need to be ready. We must prepare for the potentiality of conflict that might extend from Earth one day into space," she said.
Last year, the Defense Department conducted a strategic review of the space portfolio. One conclusion was that current space systems were designed in an era when space was not contested or congested. "This is no longer the case," James said.
"We need to ensure that our mission can get done despite what could be a very challenging environment in space to include challenges of one day having warfare effects in space," James said. "We must not let potential adversaries ever deny us the use of space."
The review also concluded that the Air Force must improve its space situational awareness. "Knowledge is power and we need ever improved eyes in the sky," she said.
"We will invest in our training, doctrine and tactics," she said. U.S. Strategic Command is creating the joint space doctrine and tactics forum to address this. "There will be investments in modeling and simulation, training and operational exercises."
"If we have any non-space people in the audience, people who are involved in other aspects of the military, you're probably thinking, 'modeling and sim? Training. Exercises. This is what we do in every part of the military.' And you're right. It is. We need to do this now increasingly in space."
This will be a substantial culture change, which can be the most difficult aspect to alter in the military, James said. "But we have to stick with it."
Further, the Air Force is investing in defense capabilities such as detecting satellite jamming and pinpointing where it is coming from. It is also important to boost space situational awareness, she added.
Two geosynchronous space situational awareness program vehicles, better known as G-SSAP, launched in July 2014. They are observing satellites in geosynchronous orbit and look for unusual activity. They have the ability to maneuver around to investigate other satellites. "We think of this as our Neighborhood Watch program," she said. The space fence, a ground-based radar system that can detect spacecraft and debris, should be completed by 2019, she added.
Air Force Space Command Commander Gen. John Hyten said during a press conference, "We have a responsibility to defend against all threats. That's what our job is. ... There is no doubt we have seen threats appear in the last decade, and we have to be prepared to respond to those threats. It's that simple."
He declined to speak about U.S. offensive capabilities in space. "We are not going to talk about offensive capabilities, but we will develop and continue to operate capabilities to defend ourselves."
Less than one year after China demonstrated its ability to destroy a satellite in low-Earth orbit, the U.S. Navy shot down an errant National Reconnaissance Office satellite that was going to de-orbit. The government denied that it was a response to the Chinese test.
"We will not get bested in space," Hyten said.
Photo Credit: Stew Magnuson
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had a familiar message for the crowd of Pentagon officials and defense industry executives: “The dysfunction in Washington, from my point view, is probably the greatest national security threat we face,” he said April 15.
Panetta spoke at the National Defense Industrial Association's annual awards dinner in Tysons Corner, Virginia, where he received the organization's Dwight D. Eisenhower Award.
“If the leadership of this country can’t come together to agree on what is in our national interest and what we need to do in order to maintain the strength of this country, and if all they are going to do is basically fight each other to gridlock, … then we’re going to pay a hell of a price for that,” said Panetta, who left the Defense Department in 2013. Prior to that, he led the Central Intelligence Agency.
There is a lack of leadership throughout government, and Americans are “starving” for it, he said. “Today I’ve never seen Washington as partisan and as a gridlocked as it is. And in many ways I think that will determine kind of what the path of the country will be in the 21st century."
If Washington continues to govern by crisis, the United States will decline and it “will not be able to protect our freedoms, our economy or our national security.”
Policy makers just keep kicking the can down the road, Panetta said. This should not be happening at a time when the United States is facing “an unprecedented set of flash points around the world."
He slammed Republicans and Democrats in Congress and President Obama for their inability to even agree on the country’s strategy to combat the Islamic State.
“This country ought to be unified in terms of what kind of authority do we want to provide the president of the United States in order to confront an enemy,” he said. “To not be able to do that sends a hell of a message to the world.”
When Panetta served in Congress, “we thought that governing is not only good for the nation, but that governing is good politics,” he said. “I’m not so sure that the parties have come to the conclusion that governing is good politics right now.” A case in point was the government's failure to reach a debt ceiling agreement, which led to the Budget Control Act and painful budget cuts for federal agencies, he noted. “In my day, frankly, the leadership at that time would never have allowed that to happen. You don’t just stand back and allow the country to be hurt."
Photo: Leon Panetta receives the Dwight D. Eisenhower award from NDIA Chairman Arnold Punaro (left) and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Vice Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld. (Scott Rekdal)
By Stew Magnuson
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Exelis Inc. and Harris Corp. here at the 31st annual Space Symposium have set up exhibit booths directly next to each other. By next year's conference, they will be occupying the same spot.
Harris in February announced that it would acquire Exelis for $4.75 billion, making it the latest in a wave of consolidation for companies who do business in the space industry.
And mergers, large and small, continue. SolAero Technologies Corp. of Albuquerque, New Mexico, announced April 14 that it was acquiring Alliance Spacesystems LLC of Los Alamitos, California.
SolAero manufactures solar power systems for satellites and Alliance makes composite materials that go aboard spacecraft. Brad Clevenger, SolAero CEO, spoke of the two companies' synergies.
"The acquisition combines highly complementary core businesses to create a stronger company that will drive value for our worldwide customer base," Clevenger said in a statement. The combined company will employ about 400 with revenue totaling about $100 million per year, the statement added.
The hall at the Space Symposium has lost some of its largest exhibitors as consolidation continues. The last few years has seen United Technologies Corp. in 2011 buy Goodrich Corp. for $18.4 billion and change its name to UTC Aerospace Systems. The year 2013 saw GenCorp. acquire Pratt & Whitney's Rocketdyne division and combine it with its competitor in the rocket motor business to form Aerojet Rocketdyne.
More recently, satellite and rocket manufacturer Orbital Sciences acquired one of its chief suppliers, ATK.
Neither Harris Corp. nor Exelis, are exclusively in the space business. Both offer a variety of products to commercial and military customers. Jamie O'Keefe, a Harris spokeswoman, said executives couldn't comment at the time on where the two companies may overlap or complement each other. The deal is expected to be completed this summer pending regulatory approval. Until then, they are not at liberty to speak publicly on the deal.
Free to talk was OrbitalATK's Vice President of Investor Relations Barron Beneski, who said the acquisition created a vertically integrated company, which fits with more recent business trends.
The two companies had been doing business with each other for a couple of decades, with ATK being the supplier of several rocket and satellite components to Orbital, which serves as a prime contractor. From a business standpoint, there was little overlap in what they did, he added. ATK had built up,a success sporting goods business, which was spun off.
"We are already seeing the benefits of a combined organization," he said. The deal was announced in April 2014 and was completed Feb. 10. The Department of Justice wanted assurances that there would be firewalls when other satellite makers shared specifications when purchasing subsystems from the ATK side of the company, Beneski said. ATK specialized in rocket motors, solar arrays, fuel tanks, antennas and heat pumps.
"That was a big piece of the Department of Justice review to make sure that those protections are fully adequate, in place and that we are committed to selling those subsystems on an equal opportunity basis," he said.
About 500 "back office personnel" that duplicated tasks such as accounting and logistics were laid off. But since the two companies had different products, the engineering, science and research and development workforce was kept intact, he said. The company is anticipating about $100 million per year in cost savings.
There are other benefits of vertical integration, he said. "Where ATK was once our biggest supplier, now we are supplying ourselves," he said.
"For the government customer, on cost reimbursed, cost-plus contracts, they get the savings. We pass the savings on to them because our costs are lower," he said. "That was very well received by the government."
In theory, it will help make the company more competitive and win more contracts, he added. That is the advantage of a more vertically integrated company. "It helps us drive costs out of our products, and make us more competitive on fixed-price contracts."
He cited launch provider SpaceX as an example of how vertical integration creates savings. It manufactures all its subcomponents.
Beneski estimated additional profits of $150 million to $200 million per year by 2017.
Photo Credit: Harris Corp, Exelis Inc.
By Stew Magnuson
The Air Force has almost completed launching its fleet of space-based infrared sensing satellites, and is looking to the day when it can make all of its data publicly available, just as it does with GPS.
"There is a movement afoot under the space modernization initiative to start opening up that [space-based infrared radar system] data to industry and commercial partnerships to understand what are the innovative ways we can use that data," said Col. Mike Guetlein, director of Air Force space and missile center's newly formed remote sensing systems directorate. "Those discussions are just starting to occur."
GEO-1 was launched in 2011, GEO-2 in 2013. "The rest of the SBIRS satellites are undergoing manufacturing and are on solid footing," he said. The third in the series will be delivered this summer and the fourth next year.
The geosynchronous infrared satellites in fixed positions some 25,000 miles above Earth work in conjunction with two smaller payloads integrated on other spacecraft placed in an elliptical orbit. The system can either scan or "stare." The infrared scanners search for missile launches. The stare feature looks for heat signatures in wider swaths for battlespace awareness and intelligence gathering.
"Now that all the sensors are starting to deliver, it's time to start looking at what synergies we can get out of the data," he said.
The directorate, which also is in charge of military weather satellites, set up a division that will look at how to exploit the data that these spacecraft produce. It is going out to commands and asking leaders what kind of hard problems the Air Force might be able to solve, he said. "We are currently working security channels to see how we can get maximum distribution of that data."
It is also working with the intelligence community to see how it could use either raw data coming off the sensors or processed data, he added. Intel agencies are already receiving the stare data. It is also working with the Army to see how it can meet some of its needs, he added. The question is whether the infrared data can be pushed down to soldiers so they can see it on a view screen and use it to their advantage, he said.
"The policy is still catching up with what we can do with the data," he said. "There is an explosion coming and a growth area of being able to use this data in a variety of applications."
The infrared data would be released to commercial industry for manufacturers to come up with their own applications, he said. "It is our objective to take advantage of what industry can bring to the table for both military as well as civil applications," Guetlein said. It would be disseminated to the "widest audience possible," he added.
One of the civilian applications might be spotting forest fires, which give off heat signatures.
Photo: GEO-2 (Air Force)
By Allyson Versprille
Navy and Marine Corps leaders worry that spending restrictions will slow down the sea services’ pivot to Asia. A greater presence in Asia-Pacific is a key tenet of the current U.S. defense strategy and of the sea services’ blueprint, “Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.”
If Congress approves funding for fiscal year 2016 at the levels set by the Budget Control Act, a new strategy would have to be written, said Rear Adm. Barry Bruner, director of the programming division for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
Bruner spoke at a panel discussion on the budget during the Navy League’s 2015 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
Under restricted funding, the Marine Corps would not have enough combat-ready forces in its rotational programs in the Pacific and would have serious equipment shortfalls, said Brig. Gen. John Jansen, assistant deputy commandant for programs and resources. Marine rotational forces, comprised primarily of infantry battalions, deploy to the Pacific for six months at a time. “Under the BCA, we have not talked about taking risks there, necessarily, relative to our forces [stationed in the Pacific],” he said. However, “I can tell you there have been conversations about taking risks.”
Jansen mentioned recent negotiations with Japan and Australia to move forces off Okinawa and establish a rotational presence in Australia. “The funding lines for those activities are related to a treaty with Japan under which they pick up some portion of the military construction and other operations for maintenance to set up the new base down in Guam and some training ranges down in Saipan and Tinian,” said Jansen.
The Guam base is going to be a particularly difficult fiscal challenge, he noted.
“While the rest of the [Defense Department] is talking about [defense base closure and realignment], the Marine Corps is adding a base in Okinawa and it’s expensive, both for military construction and then for sustained costs over time for operations and maintenance,” said Jansen.Photo Credit: Navy