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Official: Marine Corps Could Equip F-35B with Laser Weapon
By Yasmin Tadjdeh



The Marine Corps is working toward the day when it could equip an F-35B joint strike fighter with a directed energy weapon, a top service official said Aug. 30.

Putting a laser on board an F-35 is “absolutely,” something the Marine Corps would be interested in, said Lt. Gen. Robert Walsh, commanding general of Marine Corps Combat Development Command and deputy commandant of combat development and integration.

To get to that point, the service would start by putting the system on a KC-130, which would be a better fit
 because of current size, weight and power constraints, he said during a breakfast meeting with defense reporters in Washington, D.C.

“As soon as we could miniaturize them, we would put them on F-35s, Cobra … any of those kind of attack aircraft,” he said. Walsh said a laser could also be installed on an MV-22 Osprey.

So far, it has been a struggle reducing the size of directed energy weapons, he said. In order to produce enough power to be effective against a threat, systems are often large, he said.

Yet laser weapons technology is something that will be increasingly critical for the service going forward, Walsh said.

“It’s very important. It’s where we want to go,” he said. Lasers will lighten the Corps' loads by reducing the amount of energy, powder and kinetic ordnance it must carry into the field, he said.

The service is currently working alongside the Office of Naval Research on the ground-based air defense directed energy on-the-move program, he said. The goal of that effort is to mount a high-energy laser on a vehicle.

“The ‘on-the-move’ piece is trying to get it onto a vehicle that we can maneuver with," 
he said. ONR has demonstrated a 10-kilowatt laser and the intent is to move to a 30-kilowatt laser, he added. The system could be used against enemy unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.

Meanwhile, the Marine Corps is preparing to send the F-35B on deployment abroad, Walsh said. Its first operational squadron — VMFA-121 — will deploy to Japan in 2017 onboard the USS Wasp amphibious assault ship, he said.

“Our intent right now is to put six F-35s on to Wasp,” he said. “The squadron … will deploy with 16 airplanes … to Japan. Six will go on Wasp, 10 will stay there as the parent squadron. We can change that mix depending on the mission. So we could probably put up to 16 — all of them — onto the Wasp, but we would being moving capabilities off of it.”

There are also plans to deploy another squadron from another Wasp-class ship, the USS Essex, he said.

“Not only are we deploying it on the Wasp in the Pacific, we’re also going to deploy it on Essex during the same year in Central Command,” he said. “That’s quite the challenge, to put two squadrons aboard two ships and deploy them.”

The Essex will soon undergo modifications to support the joint strike fighter, he said. There are also plans to deploy a squadron with the USS America amphibious assault ship where the Marine Corps is preparing to do more F-35 integration testing, he added.

Putting the F-35 on board amphibious ships requires a number of modifications, he said. The service has "never had that kind of capability [on an amphibious ship] and it's forcing lots of change within the Navy and Marine Corps,” he said. “We’ll … continue to modify our big-deck amphibs to be able to take F-35s as deployments continue.”

The Marine Corps will take lessons learned from these deployments and make adjustments to the aircraft, he said.

“As the first one out the door in operational deployment, we’ll learn from that and see what capabilities … we have to grow into the airplane to continue to develop it,” he said. “A lot of it is going to be school of hard knocks when we put it out there.”

Photo: Lockheed Martin

Presidential Candidates' Defense Spending Plans Remain Murky
By Jon Harper



It is difficult to forecast how much money Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump would want to spend on the military if elected president, defense budget experts said Aug. 29.

Neither campaign has released detailed plans in this regard, analysts noted during a conference at the Brookings Institution.

“On the area of defense, there just isn’t the specificity at all to be able to figure out what would happen to the budget under either a President Trump or a President Clinton,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a non-partisan policy analysis group that focuses on fiscal issues.

“Both have said we need to spend more to strengthen our military and we need to get rid of waste, fraud and abuse,” she said. “But there have not been any specifics really that has allowed us to come up with a score or a cost” for what they plan to do.

Some analysts expect that both candidates would seek to increase defense spending if they occupy the Oval Office.

“There are a lot of important differences between those two candidates [but] I’m not sure this is one of them,” said Michael O’Hanlon, co-director of the Center on 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings, and a Clinton supporter in this election cycle.

“I think both would like to argue that they’re [planning on] improving the military,” he said. “I would expect either one of those two potential presidents to spend a bit more than we’re spending now [and] to advocate a military a bit larger and more expensive than the one President Obama favors.”

For fiscal year 2017, the Obama administration has proposed about $583 billion in Pentagon spending, including overseas contingency operations accounts that are not part of the base budget.

Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has said she would like to get rid of sequestration and lift the budget caps on defense and non-defense programs, MacGuineas noted. “The details need to be filled out,” she added.

Trump, the Republican nominee, has described the current state of the U.S. military as a “disgrace,” O’Hanlon noted, which suggests that Trump would move to beef up defense spending in certain areas.

Former Pentagon Comptroller Robert Hale, who is now a fellow at Booz Allen Hamilton, echoed the other analysts’ remarks regarding the plans of the presidential candidates.

“We certainly don’t know what either side would spend… [because] they haven’t been specific,” he said. But in future budget negotiations, he expects Republicans to initially push for more military spending than Democrats.

“Having watched defense budgets now for more than four decades, my sense is the Republicans would start a little higher and then … come down,” he said. “The Democrats tend to start low and … come up a bit.”

“I would guess they will end up roughly at similar places and … given the threats to security right now, it will be slightly higher than where we are now,” he added.

Neither the Clinton campaign nor the Trump campaign have responded to emails from National Defense asking how much the candidates would seek to spend on the military if elected.

Photo: An F-35A joint strike fighter (Lockheed Martin)

Government Watchdog Calls for Closer Patriot Missile Oversight
By Vivienne Machi



The Army needs to ensure that more robust oversight mechanisms are in place as it performs major upgrades to the Patriot surface-to-air missile system during the next five years, an Aug. 25 Government Accountability Office report found.

The Army failed to provide key accountability measures when it incorporated upgrade costs into the existing Patriot program back in 2013, the report said. It assessed whether the latest proposed upgrades to Patriot will address the system's capability needs and if here is sufficient oversight in place for the program. 

The GAO's assessment was requested as part of a provision in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, as members of Congress have been concerned with the Patriot modernization's large budget requests since 2012. Patriot, developed by Raytheon, was first deployed in the early 1980s, and since then has seen multiple upgrades in order to keep pace with growing global threats. 

The Army has about $2.9 billion to spend between fiscal years 2013 and 2021 to upgrade multiple Patriot needs. Key efforts include software upgrades — called Post Deployment Build-8 (PDB-8) and PDB-8.1, which will improve communications and system protection against threats, the report said.

Near-term upgrades include modern displays in command-and-control stations, training software and hardware devices and launcher upgrades, according to the report. Mid-term upgrades include anti-jamming hardware and cryptographic communication updates.

The program successfully completed developmental testing on near and mid-term upgrades this year, and multiple ground and test flights planned for late 2016 and 2019 should reveal whether those upgrades work as intended, GAO said. If performance shortfalls are revealed, the additional oversight would be crucial to helping defense and congressional decision-makers determine future budget requests and schedule estimates, the report said.

Long-term solutions include developing a new radar solution — the lower tier air and missile defense sensor, which will account for $364 million of the requested $1.8 billion over the next five years. The Army also plans to break Patriot down into its key radar, launcher and missile components to fold them into the Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System, a central network and command-and-control system.

The system's upgrade costs were previously high enough to be considered a major defense acquisition program, but the Army chose to incorporate those costs into the existing Patriot program, eliminating certain oversight mechanisms for new acquisition programs, the report found.

"Further, it decided not to put a mechanism in place to track or report the upgrades' progress against initial cost, schedule, or performance estimates … which GAO considers essential for program oversight," the report said.

The Defense Department should direct the Army to establish mechanisms to oversee the PDB-8 and PDB-8.1 upgrades, including an initial report following operational testing that provides cost, schedule and performance estimates for any additional development that is needed, the GAO said. It also recommended the department provide annual updates to Congress comparing the latest cost and schedule estimates.

The Defense Department partially concurred with the report's assessments, and pointed to ways it will track other 
major defense acquisition programs, like the battle command system.

"As ICBS is fielded, Patriot system software updates will cease and necessary updates will transition to ICBS," the department said in a written response. "These … updates will be developed and tested as part of the Army's Integrated Air and Missile Defense program subject to acquisition oversight and reporting required by law and regulation." The lower-tier sensor and the separate missile component will be developed as major programs as well, the report said.

But the department did not clarify how it would track any additional PDB-8 or PDB-8.1 upgrades in the meantime, the GAO report noted.

"The Army would have put itself in a much better position to oversee its Patriot upgrade efforts had it made the decision in 2013 to manage Patriot upgrades as a separate major defense acquisition program," the report said.

Photo: The Patriot surface-to-air missile (Raytheon)
Selva: Pentagon Must Emulate Industry’s Innovation Strategy
By Yasmin Tadjdeh


Gen. Paul J. Selva


As the Pentagon steps up its effort to streamline its acquisition strategy and cut bureaucratic red tape, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the Defense Department must learn from the private sector.

“For the better part of my career, most of the technology changes that happened inside of our military were born inside of our military. … They were the product of internal innovation and that is no longer true,” said Air Force Gen. Paul J. Selva Aug. 25.

Innovation now is more likely to come from the commercial sector than from the military, 
he said during remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. “We have to learn how to capitalize on that."

Selva compared industry’s knack for innovating to a brushfire. “It moves at the speed of a small brushfire and it fertilizes everything in its path. … The people who are successful at it are astronomically successful at it,” he said.

Innovation within the Pentagon, however, resembles a forest fire. “We treat every bit of innovation like a forest fire. We bring out the fire brigades and we try to put it out because innovation is only good if you’re right. Failure is not an option. Asking hard questions is only acceptable if you know the answer,” he said. “None of that fosters innovation.”

If the Defense Department wants to capitalize on the growth in commercial technology it must start now, he said. For example, Selva noted that there has been an increase in commercial satellite imaging that could provide the military with better intelligence. But unless it can develop big data algorithms to sift through that information, it would take 8 million service members working 24 hours a day to “analyze all the pixels that will come up in all of the commercial satellites that will be taking pictures of our planet,” he said. “If any of you happen to have 8 million analysts in your back pocket sign me up. But I suspect no country in the world has that capacity.”

Fostering a culture where junior officers with good, new ideas can step forward is critical, he said. “I need people with ideas who are wiling to experiment and who are willing to fail, because a problem that big isn’t going to be solved with one bright idea,” he said.

The Defense Department must also reach out to academia to solve its innovation conundrum, he said. “We’re very interested in getting into university laboratories and [working with] scientists and individual researchers,” he said. Basic science in autonomy, artificial intelligence, deep learning and big data has all come from individual scientists or laboratories, he added.

The Pentagon’s push for innovation, particularly under its third offset strategy — a plan to maintain the United States’ military overmatch through investments in emerging technology — is critical as the nation tackles a variety of threats, he said.

These challenges include Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and violent extremism, he said. “What we face over the next couple of decades is several very imaginative competitors who have actually looked at what we have done” and emulated it, he said. That presents the United States with a difficult situation to counter, he said.

Within "those five challenges I think there is room for … reform in the institutions of our government and our department, that [would] help our leaders manage and understand those challenges and react quickly,” he said.

There is also room for substantial innovation, he said. “Innovation is about tactical, operational and strategic-level choices inside the organizations to adopt new ways of doing things that can make them more effective or more efficient or possibly both. And that might represent step changes in their capacity to respond to those five challenges,” he said.

Being innovative in an organization as large the Pentagon isn’t easy, he said. It requires that personnel bring new ideas to the floor and take risks.

“I’ve been told the military is genetically predisposed not to innovate. I would suggest to you that is far from the truth. … The military that brought you GPS doesn’t innovate?” he said.

While the Pentagon is talking more about innovation, that doesn’t necessarily mean there will be more investment, Selva noted.

Photo: Army
GAO: Air Force Doesn’t Grasp Implications of its Own A-10 Warthog Decisions
By Stew Magnuson
 


The Government Accountability Office said in an Aug. 24 report that the Air Force and Defense Department don’t possess the necessary information needed to make wise decisions about the A-10 Thunderbolt II divestment.
 
“The Department of Defense and Air Force do not have quality information on the full implications of A-10 divestment, including gaps that could be created by A-10 divestment and mitigation options,” said the public version of a classified report released in July, “Better Information Needed to Support Air Force A-10 and Other Future Divestment Decisions.”
 
Both the Air Force and Defense Department in its written response sharply disagreed with the report’s findings.
 
The report said: “The Air Force has not established clear requirements for the missions the A-10 performs, and in the absence of these requirements, has not fully identified the capacity or capability gaps that could result from the A-10 divestment.”
 
The Air Force has 282 A-10s, which were built in the 1970s, but have undergone several upgrades since then. Its primary missions are close-air support, coordination of close-air support and combat search and rescue.
 
“Without a clear understanding of the capability or capacity gaps and risks that could result from A-10 divestment, it is also unclear how effective or necessary the Air Force’s and the department’s mitigation strategies will be,” the report continued.
 
The A-10 platform has certain capabilities that make it well suited for the combat search-and-rescue mission, including long loiter time, communications capabilities, survivability, forward-firing munitions, and ability to fly low and slow, the report said. The Air Force has looked at other aircraft for this mission, but has not identified a replacement, it added.
 
The Air Force and Congress have been wrestling with when and how to retire the close-air support aircraft, better known as the Warthog, since the service proposed divesting itself of the fleet in 2012. Under Congressional pressure, it has moved the aircraft’s retirement back to 2022. The report suggested it may not be ready to do so. It singled out the aircraft’s combat search-and-rescue mission, where it coordinates the retrieval of down pilots behind enemy lines as a mission that may have a capability gap. It said the service has not yet identified how this capability will be replaced.
 
“Depending on the specific mitigation strategy chosen, the Air Force may have to address a number of different secondary impacts that could affect its ability to execute existing missions,” the report said.
 
On the accounting side, GAO questioned the Air Force’s cost estimates for divestment. It only partly used best practices, it said. “As a result, the Air Force cannot ensure that it has a reliable estimate of the cost savings it would generate by divesting the A-10.”
 
And that has a domino effect, for without reliable budget estimates it does not have a sound basis for considering alternatives to the A-10, the report said.
 
“Divestment decisions can have far-reaching consequences and should be based on quality information,” the report said. The Air Force “does not have guidance identifying the factors it must consider before choosing to divest a major weapon system before the end of its expected service life.”
 
GAO recommended that the secretary of the Air Force develop quality information that fully identifies gaps in capacity or capability that would result from A-10 divestment, including the timing and duration of any identified gaps, and the risks associated with those gaps; and to use that information to develop strategies to mitigate any identified gaps.
 
It also recommended the secretary when considering any divestment, develop a high-quality, reliable cost estimate utilizing best practices.
 
In her written response to the report, Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said she did not concur with any of the recommendations. She cited two reports that indicated that the A-10 divestment “was the most acceptable strategy to remain within the Air Force budget authority while controlling risk across all Air Force mission sets.”
 
She also refuted the allegation that the Air Force did not use high quality data and best practices to come to its conclusions about the A-10.

Photo: Air Force
Analysts Expect Continued Budget Gridlock Regardless of Election Outcome
By Jon Harper



Budget gridlock will likely continue regardless of whether Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump wins the 2016 U.S. presidential election, defense analysts told reporters Aug. 24.

With Republicans expected to retain control of the House and Democrats in a position to retake control of the Senate, both candidates would likely face challenges in dealing with a divided or potentially hostile Congress, the analysts noted during a meeting with reporters at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Washington, D.C.

“There’s a difference between what I think they would like to do and what they’re going to be able to do” if elected, said Christopher Preble, vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato.

Both candidates have signaled that they would like to increase defense spending, he said. But Republicans and Democrats in Congress have been at loggerheads over whether to increase non-military spending as well.

“Hillary Clinton would like to increase defense while also increasing taxes and also increasing domestic spending. In other words, removing the sequester entirely [and] doing away with” the Budget Control Act, Preble said.

“The trouble is of course that she still has to deal with a Congress [where] at least some number of people are still committed to that sort of deficit containment if not reduction. So where is the money going to come from?” he said. “That’s the … $64 billion question right now and I don’t see that changing.”

If Trump wins, Democrats in the Senate would likely block efforts to increase military spending without proportional increases in non-defense spending, he noted.
Republicans are “still going to be strong enough to resist a major tax increase to fund spending for both military spending and domestic spending … and I don’t see the Democrats pushing through a military spending only increase,” he said. In that case, “we’re still at the impasse we’re at right now.”

The political dynamics on Capitol Hill are further complicated by the fact that wariness about military intervention overseas remains strong among some elements of both parties, noted Emma Ashford, a research fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato. 

“You’ve got people on the Republican side like [Sen.] Rand Paul [and] you’ve got people on the Democratic side like [Rep.] Tulsa Gabbard,” she said.

As for fiscal year 2017, Preble doesn’t expect a new appropriations bill to be signed into law before the election or during a lameduck session before the next president takes office in January. He anticipates a long-term continuing resolution that would continue funding the government at fiscal year 2016 levels.

“I see a CR,” he said. “I just see [them] sort of bumping along and not some great breakthrough on the budget.”

Trevor Thrall, a senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at Cato, said more gridlock would be likely if Clinton takes office. She is currently leading in most national polls and in key swing states. 

“I don’t see fast movement in any direction” if she takes office, Thrall said.

Photo: iStock
Air Force Tests New Wideband High Frequency Comms System
By Stew Magnuson



The Air Force and contractor Rockwell Collins have completed a series of recent live tests for a powerful new communications system that will allow aircraft to exchange large amounts of data over high frequency channels without the need for satellite links.

Wideband high frequency channels offer users four to seven times more capacity than the legacy high frequency channels, Ron Broden, account manager for high frequency systems at Rockwell Collins, said in an interview.

High frequency communications have been used since the 1930s as a means to communicate beyond line of sight. It uses the ionosphere to bounce signals from one point to another. Broden said it is mostly seen as a back-up system in today’s aircraft as most pilots use satellite links. Legacy systems use three or four kilohertz wide channels, while the wideband system goes up to 48.

“By using more of the spectrum, realistically, you are able to push more of the data over the link,” he said. “That is really the big change here.”

Rockwell Collins over the course of two days collaborated with the Air Force Mobility Command to prove the viability of wideband data transfer using a C-17 flying between Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.

Since the ionosphere changes conditions, much like Earth’s weather, there are good days and bad days for using it as a means of communications. The experiment took place on average days — not the worst that a radio operator could encounter but not the best, either, he said.

The demonstrations included streaming video, real-time chat, file transfers and digital voice audio. Teams were able to prove performance and reliability with changing variables such as environment, geographical position and time of day. Data was passed over a distance of more than 1,500 miles, a statement said.

The experiments showed that the normally underutilized high frequency infrastructure aboard aircraft could be used to vastly increase the amount of bandwidth available in flight, Broden said.

Rockwell Collins for the purpose of the experiment installed a ground wideband HF radio aboard the C-17, but was able to hook it up to the plane’s existing electrical system and antenna. All of the Air Force’s bombers, tankers and airlift fleets operate Rockwell Collins’ current generation high-frequency radio systems.

Broden said the wideband HF could be seen as a back-up system in contested battlefields where commercial satellite coverage is being jammed or is spotty. But it also could be used to simply augment capacity.

“What we found is that there is tremendous interest for data on and off the aircraft, Broden said. Customers are saying they will take “as much data as we can get.”
 
“It’s repurposing something that is not traditionally thought of as a source of data,” he added.
 
While Air Force Mobility Command provided the C-17 for the demonstration, there is no program or funding to convert the high frequency radios currently aboard aircraft to wideband HF radios, and no endorsement of the technology. For now, the command was interested in showing the rest of the Air Force and Defense Department the system’s potential, Broden said.

Photo: A C-17 (Air Force)
Global Hawk in Line for New Ground Control Stations
By Vivienne Machi



Raytheon has been awarded a subcontract valued at up to $104 million to modernize the ground segment for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, an unmanned aerial vehicle used by the U.S. Air Force for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

Raytheon, who partners with Northrop Grumman as the ground integrator for the Global Hawk, will develop new mission control stations and incorporate an open architecture to allow flexibility for adding new platforms and mission payloads to the Global Hawk.

Todd Probert, vice president of Mission Support and Modernization at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, called the subcontract "an exciting move forward" for the Global Hawk's ground segment.

"The Global Hawk was put into service to serve an immediate mission need, and this architecture allows us to gain some pretty significant efficiencies on the sustainment side," he said. As new capabilities or software come online, the open architecture allows for easy incorporation into the system as a "graceful and efficient evolution of the system," Probert said. 

The ground segment, which includes the mission planning, sensors control and command and control, will have "better cyber hardening," as a result of these modernization efforts, he said.

Raytheon will develop and install new building-based mission control stations at Beale Air Force Base in California and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota, the Global Hawk's operator headquarters. The current stations are shelter-based, described by Probert as cargo containers. They "will be done away with" in a "large cosmetic upgrade," he said. 

"This will increase the operators' experience … giving more tools to do his or her mission," he said. Ground segments for the launch and recovery element of the Global Hawk in Italy, Guam and classified locations will also receive upgrades, although not as extensive as at Beale and Grand Forks, he said.

Probert said that Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have had "roadmap discussions" about developing an open architecture model for about two years now.

"Many of these [Global Hawk] programs came online as quick responses, to serve a particular mission or need, and in doing so, were not particularly elegant in their fielding," he said. The Air Force Global Hawk was originally developed from Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency technology and was deployed overseas shortly after the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, according to Northrop Grumman. 

"Functionally, the open architecture is the big move, in opening it up to more cyber capabilities and additional automation and additional analytics," Probert said, adding that the subcontract would take advantage of the advanced state of capabilities now available for the Global Hawk.

A production timeline has not yet been established, Probert said.

The Fiscal Year 2017 President's Budget Proposal
 includes $256 million for research, development, test and evaluation funds for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, up from $188 million allocated to the program in 2016. The budget includes a request for $49 million in procurement costs, down from $80 million in 2016. 

The 2017 program "funds the development and modification efforts for the Block 30, Block 40, ground stations, and Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion programs; the Global Hawk modernization program; and the U.S. contribution to the NATO [alliance ground surveillance program,]" according to the defense department.

Photo: Air Force
Navy Tests Underwater Drones at Exercise
By Yasmin Tadjdeh


Lockheed Martin's Marlin AUV

NEWPORT, R.I. — In Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay, unmanned underwater vehicles bobbed up and down during a three-day exercise designed to test cutting edge technologies for the Navy. The drones ranged from 
systems that could fit in a backpack to vehicles that required cranes to drop them into the sea.

Rear Adm. Moises DelToro III, commander of Naval Undersea Warfare Center, said Aug. 18 that the Annual Naval Technology Exercise is "designed to demonstrate future naval technologies in action today. Naval warfare centers, universities and our industry partners are here showcasing their latest unmanned systems and related technologies in water."

At the
exercise — known as ANTX 2016 and hosted by NUWC's Newport division — scientists and engineers were able to evaluate their technology at the research and development level before the systems become militarized and are integrated at the operational level, he said during a speech on the last day of the exercise. ANTX 2016 focused on cross-domain communication between unmanned systems, he added. The exercise featured more then 300 personnel and 30 companies, he said.

“ANTX takes the idea of collaboration one step further by giving participating organizations the opportunity to demonstrate their technologies and products live in the water here at Narragansett Bay,” said Mary S. Wohlgemuth, technical director at NUWC Newport.

The Narragansett Bay Test Facility provides an ideal, low-cost environment for industry to test their technology, she said.

Three members of Congress — Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. and Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. — spoke at the exercise.

Murphy, who recently visited the Arctic during the Navy’s Ice Exercise in March, said developing unmanned underwater vehicle technology would be critical as adversaries beef up their spending on defense.

“We are watching some of our competitor nations making big investments in their Arctic fleets, both on top of the sea and underneath it,” he said. “I saw firsthand all of the new capabilities that we will need … as we head into a quarter century in which the Arctic is going to be up for grabs, in which there is going to be more navigation, there’s going to be more undersea activity than ever before.

“The advancements we are making here are going to help,” he added.

Murphy, along with a congressional delegation, also recently visited Japan, the Philippines and South Korea, he said. During conversations with government officials, “we talked non-stop about the activities of the Chinese,” he said.

China has been making major investments in its naval fleet as it attempts to control the South China Sea, he said.

“As our adversaries and our competitors have new means and new capabilities to find us, as they rapidly advance their technologies to catch up with us, it provides a mandate for us to get much better — not only our means to figure out what they’re doing as they try to exert more control in places like the South China and East China Sea, but also our ability to be able to conduct our activities in a means that we have become accustomed to,” he said.

Industry present at the event included companies such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman, Ocean Aero and more.

Lockheed Martin brought an autonomous underwater vehicle known as the Marlin to the exercise. The system, equipped with a canister, was able to launch a Vector Hawk unmanned aerial vehicle when it surfaced, said Gregory Lester, thought leadership lead at Lockheed Martin.

“Together that’s a novel cross-domain … communication activity,” he told National Defense.

Marlin was also able to examine the floor of the bay, Lester said. Using information collected by the system, Lockheed created a model of the ocean floor using a 3D-printer onsite.

General Dynamics also tested its SandShark and Bluefin-21 underwater systems at the event, said Tracy Howard, director of undersea programs at the company.

The Bluefin-21, a heavyweight UUV, carried four SandSharks during one demonstration. Two systems then were launched from it to complete other missions, he said.

Once launched, the SandSharks collected information, surfaced and sent that data to a Black Wing unmanned aerial vehicle, which then relayed it to a simulated submarine combat control system, he said.

Photo: Yasmin Tadjdeh
MQ-25 Unmanned Aircraft Poses Design Challenges for Navy, Industry
By Jon Harper


The Navy's X-47B demonstrator

The Navy and its industry partners are faced with major design challenges as they seek to develop a dual-mission, carrier-launched drone, the commander of Naval Air Forces said Aug. 18.

The MQ-25 Stingray is expected to perform tanking missions as well as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The Navy sent out a request for proposals last month and responses from industry have been received, Vice Adm. Mike Shoemaker said at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“As I talked to those industry partners, I realized … designs to do one or those other mission sets alone are different,” he said.

For the ISR mission, you ideally want a high-endurance platform with a large wingspan and “probably not a lot of fuel on board,” he noted.

But “if you’re going to be a tanker at range, you’ve got to obviously be able to carry a fair amount of fuel internal to the platform. So that drives a different design for those two” missions, he said.

The Defense Department has commissioned a tanker study to examine the problem.

“We’re kind of looking at where the trade space is,” Shoemaker said. “It’s really to get at the design of the two mission sets we think that airplane will do.”

The Navy and industry are trying to find the “sweet spot” that would optimize the performance of the drone for those two distinct roles. Issues that need to be fleshed out include the size of the plane, and the number and types of personnel that would be needed to operate and sustain it, he noted.

“We’ve get a way to go there,” the air chief said.

The Stingray would likely be piloted differently than existing Air Force drones, he told reporters after the conference. Rather than use a “joystick and throttle,” Navy controllers would probably use computers with “point and click” features, he said.

As potential adversaries develop more sophisticated fighter jets and anti-aircraft weapons, the survivability of the proposed tanker is in question. For now, stealth capability is not a key performance parameter for the Stingray. But the Navy is still interested in designs that would make the aircraft less observable to the enemy.

“If you look at where we’ve been with many of the industry partners, there are some shapes that they have designed already that help in that survivability piece,” Shoemaker said.

“If there’s a way to capitalize on existing designs in … whatever the MQ-25 ends up being, even though we’ve not said survivability is a key parameter this time around, I think there are ways to take advantage of some of the shapes already out there,” he added.

Nevertheless, Shoemaker is still concerned that the aircraft could get shot down in contested airspace. Other assets in the fleet such as electronic warfare aircraft would likely be needed to protect the plane, he said.

Later versions of the Stingray or a follow-on system might incorporate more low-observability technologies, Shoemaker said.

“As we look to operate and understand that integration [with the rest of the fleet] better, there may be ways to bring in some more of that stealth at a later date,” he said.

The Navy hopes to have an operational MQ-25 by the early 2020s, and there is a sense of urgency within the service.

“We need to get that to the fleet as quick as we can so we can start learning about that manned-unmanned teaming and integrate that into the air wing,” Shoemaker said. “I’m encouraged by NAVAIR’s and our [program executive officers’] efforts to accelerate that process. But we need that … ISR and tanking asset.”

During his remarks, the head of Naval Air Forces also provided an update on the F-35C joint strike fighter, which is currently undergoing another round of sea trials with the USS George Washington aircraft carrier.

The Air Force A-variant of the F-35 was declared operational earlier this month. The Marine Corps B-variant reached the milestone last year. The Navy is aiming to declare initial operating capability for its C-variant by late 2018, Shoemaker said.

“Right now we’re working through some challenges with operational tests but … everything is on track from a training [and military construction] perspective to be ready to accept and declare IOC” by the target date, he said.

The joint strike fighter program has been plagued by technical problems and schedule slippage. The complex software that accompanies the aircraft has been one of the biggest development hurdles.

“The big concern I think is that 3F software,” Shoemaker said, noting that the readiness of the technology would factor into the Navy’s calculations when it comes to declaring the F-35C operational.

“I’m confident that we’re going to get there,” he said.

Photo Credit: Navy
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