By Allyson Versprille
A new coalition of sea service advocates called for Congress to fully fund the Navy in fiscal year 2017 with an additional $15 billion.
The Navy League of the United States, a nonprofit maritime advocacy group, launched March 26 a grassroots campaign, "America's Strength." The coalition comprises businesses, humanitarian groups, retired military officers and lawmakers. Representatives of the group urged Congress and the Defense Department to increase the Navy's fiscal year 2017 budget.
The Navy's fiscal woes can be addressed by shifting more of the defense budget toward its requirements, eliminating budget caps and raising the budget's overall top line, members of the coalition said at the campaign's unveiling on Capitol Hill.
"If the defense top line were simply raised or the Budget Control Act caps were eliminated and raised to the level of the president's budget proposal, that would address about half of the Navy's shortfalls," said Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Coalition advocates said the Navy is short about $15 billion for its annual operations, which could reduce the service's readiness. About $5 billion of that is needed to build up its fleet to required levels, according to Congressional Budget Office numbers shared by the coalition. That gap will expand to $8.5 billion between 2025 to 2035 when construction is slated to begin on the next generation of nuclear-powered Virginia-class submarines.
Today, the service has 289 ships but requires 306 to meet its needs, according to the coalition. If the Navy falls below 260 ships, it is in danger of being downgraded from a superpower to a regional power, said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee.
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of HASC's seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said a simple solution to the problem would be to move more funding to the Navy. "We're not talking about moving planets," he said. "If we could just shift 1 percent of the defense budget, we could do the shipbuilding we need to do."
Additional funding of about $4.5 billion is needed for aircraft procurement, $4 billion for temporary war funding before contingency funds are depleted, $1 billion for weapons procurement and $600 million for construction and maintenance of military facilities, a coalition fact sheet said.
If the Navy does not receive additional funding, there will be repercussions for several industries, including energy and telecommunications, said several members of the coalition. Eighty percent of the world's trade is conducted by sea and 95 percent of the world's international data traffic occurs in undersea water cables, which the Navy protects, according to a letter the coalition sent to Congress.
The Navy also plays an important role in medical diplomacy, said Matthew Peterson, deputy to the CEO of Project Hope, an international disaster relief organization. The service's presence during humanitarian efforts after disasters such as the 2005 tsunami in Indonesia can increase goodwill toward the United States, he said. If the Navy lacks resources for these missions, other nations such as China will fill that gap, he added.
Forbes said a lack of funding has translated into the Navy not being able to carry out all of its required missions. "When you go back to just 2009, we were able to meet 90 percent of the naval asset requirements of our combatant commanders. This year we will meet less than 50 percent of them," said Forbes.
Photo: Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., speaks at the America's Strength launch March 26 (Navy League)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The biggest story this year so far in the F-35 joint strike fighter world is not the soaring cost of the aircraft — a problem that appears to have been contained, according to the program manager — but the determination of the Marine Corps to put the aircraft into service even though its mission software is unfinished and cracks surfaced in one of its main bulkheads.
None of these issues is serious enough to deter the Marine Corps from declaring the F-35B — the short-takeoff vertical landing version of the joint strike fighter — ready for combat use. Marines insist that they would much rather take an incomplete F-35B than continue to fly their antiquated fighters.
The F-35B would eventually replace all AV-8B Harriers, F/A-18 Hornets and the EA-6B Prowlers. One of the shortfalls in the new airplane is that its mission software, called Block 2B, is still not able to perform “sensor fusion” functions that allow pilots to identify targets and share the data across a network of multiple F-35s. Fusion is one of the attributes that distinguish “fifth generation” fighters like the F-35 from older models developed during the Cold War.
The Marine Corps intends to start flying the F-35B in combat duties some time in July, a milestone called “initial operational capability,” or IOC. This move has been criticized by Pentagon weapon testers who frown on military programs that rush to meet self-imposed deadlines. The Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore cautioned in his 2014 annual report that the F-35B mission software will be delivered with "troubling capability shortfalls."
The full-blown F-35 mission software would not come until 2017, but the Marine Corps is looking at this in perspective: A less-than-optimum F-35B is still far more desirable than what they have now.
“The Block 2B software configuration that the Marine Corps will IOC with brings an immediate increase in combat capability compared to legacy aircraft,” said Marine Corps spokesman Maj. Paul Greenberg. “Most of the deficiencies we track are deficiencies when compared to the F-35's full combat capability in 2017.”
What matters, he said, is whether the aircraft can meet the basic needs of Marines at war, he said. In its current state, the F-35B can launch missiles, engage other aircraft in dogfights and drop bombs. “At IOC the F-35 will be able to target in real time, talk to forward air controllers over the radio and data-link, put weapons on target and do all of that in contested environments and in bad weather,” Greenberg said. The electronic attack features of the current F-35B, he added, represent a “transformation in electronic warfare spectrum management, and this is not possible with legacy aircraft.”
The officer who oversees the F-35 program on behalf of the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force said he is not bothered by the Marines’ decision to declare IOC much earlier than the other services. The Air Force is aiming for 2016 IOC and the Navy is eyeing 2019.
“It's their call, and I support them on this,” said Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the program executive officer.
Bogdan said the Block 2B software development was finished in February — four months after its original October 2014 deadline — but there are still glitches to be fixed over the course of this year. The next version, Block 3i for the Air Force, is scheduled for completion in 2016, and the one the Navy is waiting for, Block 3F, would be ready in 2018. F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin stands to lose $300 million in incentive fees if those deadlines aren’t met.
The software that will be delivered to the Marines in June is “good enough for IOC” and the Marines understand its limitations, Bogdan said March 24 during a meeting with reporters.
Software in general “always has been the number-one technical issue on this program. And always will be,” Bogdan said. The highly computerized aircraft runs on eight million lines of code. Much of that software manages the basic functions of the aircraft, such as flight controls, valves, fuel systems and radars. That software is working as intended, or the airplane would be unsafe to fly. The issues are with the so-called “fusion engine” that was designed to create a unified picture of the potential threats in the airspace so multiple F-35s can fight as a single information network.
The fusion engine combines the input from the F-35 sensors — radar, electro-optical targeting system and distributed aperture system — to create a single track on the location of enemy targets in the air and on the ground. The data then is shared across the network. The software today cannot display accurate data to more than two aircraft at a time. “Fusion is by far the most complicated and, in my mind, worrisome element of this program,” Bogdan said.
When four F-35s flew during a test exercise in recent months, the fusion engine created a confusing and inaccurate picture. Instead of identifying an air-defense missile battery on the ground, the software would “see” double or misread the location. “What we found is that when you have more than one F-35 looking at the same threat, they don't all see it the same,” Bogdan said. “When there's a slight difference, the fusion model can't decide if it's one or more threats.”
The fusion algorithms have to be tweaked, and that could take months. “This is not something you can test in a lab,” Bogdan said.
Marines are not losing sleep over this, at least not for now. They have come up with “workarounds” so they can use the F-35B in close-air support and air-to-air combat missions. “There are ways in which, with the software we have, pilots can work around those problems,” Bogdan said. One option is to only use certain sensors and turn off others. Targeting data would have to be acquired individually by each pilot instead of sharing it across the network. Pilot workload would increase.
Bogdan insisted that the glitches will be fixed, but he would back the Marines if they chose to delay IOC between now and July. “The aircraft will be able to do everything the Marine Corps needs it to do for IOC, it just require pilots to do workarounds.”
With just three months to go before IOC, there are other unresolved issues that Marines hope will be handled on time.
One is simply having enough production-quality airplanes to equip the first Marine Corps operational squadron MFA-121 based in Yuma, Arizona. To date, only two of the required 10 aircraft have been equipped for combat. The Marine Corps currently owns a total of 32 F-35Bs but most are test aircraft so they would not be suitable for combat.
Training also is a concern. Pilots need time to train in simulators that must have the same software as IOC airplanes. The simulators are expected to receive upgraded software over the next six weeks, Bogdan said. “We think we'll be ok.” Another requirement for IOC planes is to have files uploaded to its computers containing important data about global threats. The “mission data files” are in the works at Air Force Air Combat Command, in Langley, Virginia. “They'll get there in July, but it's really tight,” said Bogdan.
Marines also will need to rush their aircraft technicians through training on the F-35 maintenance system, known as ALIS, or autonomic logistics information system. The system is not yet mature and it has to be shrunk in size to make it more transportable. “We squeezed racks into a two-man deployable ALIS,” Bogdan said. “The software had to be modified.” Maintainers have to start training 90 days in advance of IOC, and ALIS will miss that deadline by about a month. To make up the time, Marine maintainers at Yuma will spend several weeks at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Orlando, Florida, where there is a prototype ALIS system for them to train.
“We know how to do ALIS. It's just going to take us a lot longer than we thought,” Bogdan said.
On aircraft reliability — a measure of how long airplanes fly before they need repairs — the Marine Corps B model is the worst of the three. “The A and C models today are very close to where they're supposed to be,” Bogdan said. “We still got some work to do on the B model.”
A potentially troubling flaw in the F-35B is in the structure, although Bogdan believes it is manageable. “I'm worried about bulkhead cracks on the B model,” he said. Based on test results, cracks develop after 4,000 to 5,000 hours of flight. The airplanes the Marines would fly this year only have a few hundred hours on them, so they would not be at risk, Bodgan said. The fact that cracks were found is not necessarily bad news, he added. “If you didn't have cracks, you didn't set up your test right. You want to know where the airplanes will break first.”
The Marine version has problems stemming from a major redesign of the airframe started in 2005 after it was determined the airplane was 3,000 pounds overweight. Five titanium bulkheads — including the major load-bearing structure in the center of the fuselage — were replaced with lighter aluminum components. “Some of that, unfortunately, is coming back to bite us now,” Bogdan said. “What we thought was a good engineering judgment back then, now we have issues.” There will be modifications to the airplane to address this problem, and the entire fleet eventually will have to be retrofitted.
Another hiccup in the F-35B have been the tires. An aircraft that takes off from short runways and lands vertically requires tires with enough bounce but also must be sufficiently rugged to maintain their form in 170 mph takeoffs. “We have been working hard to find the right balance between float and durability for vertical takeoff,” Bogdan said. “Our fourth tire is now in test. It appears to be working better than any of the others.” Tire manufacturer Dunlop has had difficulties producing the correct specs, he added, “But we’re moving in the right direction.”
Amid these technical setbacks, the Marines can at least breathe a sigh of relief that the cost of the F-35B is finally coming down. Between production lots 6 and 8 over the past two years, Bogdan said, the price of the B model has slipped from $145 million to $134 million. In its unofficial “wish list” sent to Congress, the Marine Corps requested $1 billion for six additional F-35Bs. The budget request for fiscal year 2016 includes funding for nine aircraft.
Marine officials recently have somewhat softened their stance on a July IOC, suggesting that it is not a hard deadline.
“We won't declare IOC unless we meet all of our targets,” Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, deputy commandant of the Marine Corps for aviation told the Senate Armed Services Committee March 25.
The F-35B with the current software provides “tremendous capability that we don't have today,” Davis insisted. “I have no fusion in the airplanes I operate today.” The pilots who fly it today “love the F-35B and they wouldn't go back to their original platforms.”
On the software, Davis said he would withhold judgment for now. If the squadron is not ready to declare IOC, he said, the Marine Corps will respect that. “The decision to declare IOC will be event-based and conditions-based, based on us achieving what we have to do to deliver a combat capability to our Marines,” he said. “If conditions are met, I will make a recommendation to [Commandant] General Dunford that we declare our IOC.”
Photo: An F-35B aircraft flies at Edwards Air Force base (Lockheed Martin)
By Valerie Insinna
The first of the Army’s new training helicopters — the UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter — rolled off Airbus’ Columbus, Mississippi, production line March 25, the company’s program manager announced.
"Fresh off the production line, fresh off the flight line," John Burke told reporters. "If the weather is good, we expect that aircraft to leave Columbus, Mississippi, and fly to Fort Rucker, Alabama.” Delivery to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker could occur as early as March 26.
Airbus has already modified seven of the Army’s existing UH-72 helicopters for the training mission, said company spokesman James Darcy.
The training configuration of the Lakota differs from the baseline model in several ways, Burke said. It includes an observer seat for the instructor, and has a “buzz number” on its side that allows for easy identification. The training variant is also equipped with a flight control system that allows it to communicate with Fort Rucker.
“The major part of it is some de-modification of the aircraft,” he said. “It’s in some ways a simpler design than the fielded aircraft.”
Twenty-five Lakotas are planned to come off the production line this year, Burke said.
Airbus was the big winner of the Army’s aviation restructure initiative, which calls for the retirement of the TH-67 training helicopter and the purchase of new UH-72As to replace it. The initiative would also divest the service’s OH-58 Kiowa Warrior, swapping the reconnaissance aircraft with AH-64 Apache attack helicopters taken from the Army National Guard. Congress in the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act mandated a commission to study the restructure plan, which has been unpopular with the National Guard community.
Ultimately, 187 UH-72s are planned to be stationed at Fort Rucker for training, comprising 106 purpose-built trainers and 81 already-existing Lakotas that have undergone modifications, Burke said.
The active Army’s procurement of UH-72s is slated to end in fiscal year 2016, according to the president’s budget, which set aside $187 million for 28 helicopters in that fiscal year. After that, Airbus will have to look to potential foreign military sales or purchases by the other U.S. services.
The Army National Guard uses it for domestic missions such as providing surveillance in support of the Department of Homeland Security’s drug interdiction operations along the southwestern border of Texas, Burke said. Airbus has also delivered five UH-72s to the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland.
The company has demonstrated the Lakota and other aircraft for the Navy, which in 2013 issued a request for information for helicopters that could potentially replace its fleet of TH-57 Sea Ranger trainers, he said.
Airbus had also proposed the UH-72 for the Air Force’s Common Vertical Life Support Platform to replace the UH-1N Twin Hueys that support security at intercontinental ballistic missile sites, but the service’s current plan is to upgrade the Hueys instead of buying a new aircraft.
“You take a look at the current fiscal environment, and we understand the constraints everyone is under,” Darcy said. “Our position all along has been to say, when there is an opportunity, if we have a capability to match it, we will as vocally as possible share that with the customer and make them aware of the capability.”
So far, Thailand is its only international customer. The Royal Thai Army bought six aircraft last year.
“Those six aircraft should depart to Thailand … in April,” Burke said. “By July or August, those six aircraft will come off the ship in Bangkok, get configured to fly … and then support the Royal Thai Army.”
Burke said six or seven countries are interested in the Lakota either as a training or utility helicopter. About half of those are in formal discussions with Airbus, with the remaining nations currently in the business development stage.
Photo: Two UH-72A Lakotas (Army)
By Sandra I. Erwin
Striking international deals is a matter of survival for the F-35 joint strike fighter program. The aircraft was conceived with international partners in mind, to help lower the cost for the United States and also to promote closer alliances with buying countries.
The officer who oversees the $400 billion F-35 program says he is excited about growing international participation, but does not believe it is his job to promote the aircraft or serve as a program cheerleader.
"I am not a salesman for the F-35," says Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 program executive officer.
"I am not an advocate for the F-35 program per se. That is not my job," he says during a meeting with reporters March 24.
Military and civilian officials who run big-ticket Pentagon programs might be expected to serve as champions for their projects, but Bogdan does not believe that is an appropriate role for a manager.
"My job is to run the best program that I can," he says. "That means I take the requirements from the war fighters, the money they give me and I run the most effective and efficient program that I can."
In the cutthroat international arms landscape, aggressive marketing is the norm. The F-35 currently is competing for orders in Canada and Denmark, both of which are partners in the program but have yet to commit to buying airplanes. Again, Bogdan insists that it is not his responsibility to convince these countries' leaders to buy the F-35. "Partners' governments need to be advocates for this, too," he says. "For me to travel to Denmark any time in the near future to try to bolster the F-35's image while they're making this decision, that’s flat out wrong , I would never do it, not going to do it, can't do it, it's not my job. ... We provided Denmark the best information we could. If the F-35 is the right airplane for Denmark, I'm glad for them, and we'll do everything we can to meet that."
Bogdan believes the users of the aircraft and the manufacturers are best suited to market the program. "The war fighter has to be an advocate because he or she needs that capability. They have to want it and they have to say that they want it, not begrudgingly." Aircraft manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp. and engine provider Pratt & Whitney also should be vigorous marketers. "That's their business," he says. "It never bothers me when I hear that Lockheed Martin, Pratt and the other companies are out there marketing. That's what they're in business to do. I just want to make sure they're marketing with facts, and not overpromising so we can be fair to everybody."
At the Pentagon, part of the annual budget battles is over how many F-35s the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy will buy. Bogdan prefers to not weigh in on that issue. Although he has a personal opinion on whether the military services are buying enough airplanes, "It's not my job as program director" to shape that debate, he says.
Even in the unlikely event that the Pentagon decided to terminate its biggest weapon acquisition, it would be the duty of the program manager to follow orders and let others challenge that decision, he says. "If the department called me today and told me, 'Turn it off General Bogdan,' my job would be to turn it off as best as I could. It would not be my job to stand up and say 'Don't do that, that's not a good idea.'"
In his role as F-35 manager, he should not be the one to “pump up or pump down the program,” he says. “My job is to try to provide the best information I have so you can form your own opinions. … I work for the war fighters and I work for the taxpayers.”
Photo: An F-35B test aircraft executes a vertical landing to the deck of the USS Wasp (Lockheed Martin)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Air Force is just months away from choosing a design for its ultra secret stealth bomber.
Some time this year, Air Force leaders will pick either Northrop Grumman Corp. or a Boeing-Lockheed alliance to design and eventually build the United States’ next-generation bomber. The highly anticipated decision will be seen as a momentous occasion and perhaps as the beginning of a new era of combat aviation. The bomber selection also will be fateful for the competing firms, which view losing the contract as an existential threat.
Amid much excitement and buzz in the industry over the prospect of a shiny new aircraft, however, are growing concerns about the bomber’s long-term future. Program champions have said they harbor no doubt that the next stealth bomber will be able to evade enemy missiles, but question whether it can survive the Pentagon procurement gauntlet.
The long-range strike bomber program will be getting off the ground at a crucial time when the Defense Department is seeking to regain its footing on major weapons procurements. A number of acquisition reforms are being introduced in an effort to avert the troubles that have dogged big-ticket programs in recent years. Skeptics and congressional critics will be holding up the bomber as a litmus test of the Pentagon’s presumably improved buying practices.
After decades of failed procurements, the Air Force will be under pressure to bring this one home. Program supporters and contractors are especially anxious to prove that this will not be a repeat of the B-2 saga. The procurement of the last stealth bomber, the B-2 Spirit, was truncated after just 20 aircraft and has lived in infamy for its $2 billion per unit price tag. The Air Force has promised the next one will cost no more than $550 million, or $55 billion for a projected buy of 100 bombers. They would begin service in 2025.
Controversy has been swirling about these estimates being unrealistic. And analysts have cast doubts on the Pentagon’s financial wherewithal to fund this program over the coming decade when other expensive weapon systems also will be competing for a limited pool of defense dollars.
The Air Force’s top weapons buyer William LaPlante recently brushed aside media reports that suggested the new bomber is destined to become a white elephant.
The program is moving forward, “despite what’s in the press,” LaPlante told an industry conference. The negative punditry, he said, is “like Seinfeld, a show about nothing. There is nothing new,” LaPlante said. “After source selection, we’ll tell you what happens.”
The new bomber will be a major test for emergent military procurement reforms — some that will be introduced by Congress this year and others already launched by the Air Force under an initiative known as "bending the cost curve."
The Defense Department’s top procurement official Frank Kendall — who is in the midst of a new effort to improve the performance of weapons programs — has warned about the hurdles that lie ahead for brand-new weapon systems.
“Development of new products is inherently risky,” Kendall said at a Bloomberg Government meeting. Without mentioning specific programs, he suggested that it is becoming increasingly difficult to build complex weapon systems in the current fiscal and political climate.
“The only way I know to avoid overruns or delays is to buy off-the-shelf products,” he said. “If we're going to do cutting-edge designs, we have to take risks.”
For the bomber, the risks are plenty. Officials have said little about the missions or capabilities of the aircraft, as most of the program’s details are classified. It would almost certainly be the most advanced combat aircraft the United States has ever built. Technical hiccups and cost overruns are virtually unavoidable in a program of this complexity.
“You have to understand what's feasible. You have to have realistic cost estimates, not commit too early to production,” Kendall said. He cited a 2014 study by the Institute for Defense Analyses that showed that when budgets come under pressure, Pentagon buyers and contractors tend to make poor decisions. “It’s astonishing,” he said. “The difference in cost growth between a tight and loose budget environment is a factor of three to one. You get 30 percent cost growth on average in a tight environment and only 10 percent in a loose environment.”
When money is tight, he said, “People in government try hard to convince themselves they can do things they can't. They talk themselves into doing more aggressive budgeting, and unrealistic cost estimates. On the industry side, they are motivated to bid more aggressively. They take chances because there are fewer opportunities. It's much better to win the contract now, stay alive and hope the problems are fixed later than to lose the contract,” he said. “Today we are in a tight budget environment. We have to watch this.”
Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said Kendall is seeking to draw attention to the findings of the IDA report and their potential implications for future programs. “The current budget climate makes it all the more critical we pay close attention to managing risk, getting requirements right, and continuing to enforce affordability caps throughout the lifecycle, Schumann said in a statement.
LaPlante told the House Armed Services Committee that the Air Force fully understands the risks in this program. The service intends to pay for design and development costs, rather than expect the contractor to do it under a fixed-price contract. The issue, he said, is “how confident are you in the technologies you're developing when you're cost estimating those technologies?” With clean-sheet designs of advanced weapon systems, “It's very hard to estimate how much it's going to cost because you're actually developing something cutting edge. That's why we tend to go cost-plus.”
The Air Force has requested nearly $14 billion for bomber research and development over the next five years. Development costs for the B-2 approached $20 billion, and that was nearly three decades ago.
A fixed-price contract would be too risky a gamble, LaPlante said. If contractors have to absorb all cost overruns, “they may not survive, and the program may not survive.” Once the bomber is safely out the development, the Air Force would seek a fixed-price bid for full production.
LaPlante insisted that the Air Force has learned from past procurement failures and does not intend to repeat them. “There have been a lot of studies on why acquisition goes wrong,” he said. First on the list of proposed remedies is to “fix your requirements, understand your requirements and don't change your requirements.”
He rejected critics’ predictions that sticker shock could derail the program. Analysts have argued the $550 million cost target for the bomber is unrealistic because it is based on 2010 dollars and didn't take inflation into account. “You can go to the Internet and run an inflation calculator and find out that $55 in 2010 is $57 or $58 today, so we know that.” The Air Force has set a goal to buy 100 airplanes for no more than $550 million each by 2040. “Industry has to design to that number and we're going to assess against that number.”
Industry analyst Byron Callan, of Capital Alpha Partners, calculated that if inflation is 2 percent annually, by 2022, the bomber’s unit price could be $698 million. Also, the $550 million is the average unit procurement cost, so the early batches of aircraft should be more expensive.
A fixation on the cost of the bomber is understandable but it can go too far, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula. “We have to stop looking at cost per individual unit as a measure of merit, and look at cost per desired outcomes,” he told National Defense. The question that should be asked, he said, is “How many targets can you kill with a couple of long-range bombers versus an armada of short-range aircraft? It is far cheaper to get the same results.”
Deptula predicts the focus will be disproportionately on cost rather than on the value of the bomber. “Stealth bombers are part of what makes the United States a superpower,” he said. “Our bombers are worn out, they are over 50 years old. And you only have 20 B-2s which are the only ones that have a modicum of survivability.” Meanwhile, the “world is becoming more challenging to short-range, close-in forces.”
The Air Force was set to launch a new bomber program in 2009 but the effort was nixed by then Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He believed the service was headed down the B-2 path. “We can't afford a $2 billion bomber,” Gates said in 2010.
Deptula said the Defense Department and Congress were responsible for that exorbitant price tag. Significant design changes the Air Force made in the early phase of the program doubled development costs from $10 billion to more than $19 billion. Then the order was truncated from 132 to 20, resulting in massive overhead costs having to be absorbed by fewer aircraft. Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing plant in California had been designed to build 36 B-2s a year. “It was driven to astronomical prices because the Congress made the decision to cut it,” Deptula said. If the Pentagon had bought all 132 aircraft, “We wouldn't be having this discussion of why we need to recapitalize the force today. We'd have sufficient numbers to handle the workload.”
The good news for the Air Force is that the technologies it needs to build a new bomber have advanced by leaps and bounds since the B-2 era, said Rebecca Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research. “It's been 30 years since a bomber was designed. This time, industry has made so much progress on other programs. I'm hoping that progress in design and manufacturing helps this bomber,” Grant said. “During the B-2 development, much of the technology had to be invented during the program. The B-2 had a very steep hill to climb in technology. This time it should be a smoother transition from development to manufacturing.”
Without any direct knowledge of the proposed designs, Grant speculated that they will be some form of a flying wing. Northrop Grumman’s Superbowl ad didn’t reveal much, she noted. “We don't know what was under that tarp.” In general, the physics hasn't changed much. “We are going to see some version of the delta shaped blended wing. It will be a stealthy design.”
Grant believes the Air Force is much better poised to build a new bomber now than it has been in the past. “This bomber has the best chance for a smooth path. That's the key to affordability: staying on the path. They ought to be able to bring it in for the cost they want.”
Industry consultant Loren Thompson, of the Lexington Institute, recently revealed in a Forbes.com article a number of key insights about the new bomber, including its likely designation of B-3. “It won’t contain breakthrough technologies. Everything from its low-observable technology to its landing gear to its on-board software will likely be adapted from other programs in order to hold down costs and speed the path to production. The aircraft that results will be cutting-edge, but not in the sense that key features will have to be invented from scratch. Although many experts have guessed that the new bomber will be a “flying wing” design similar to the B-2, it probably won’t be, Thompson said. “Even though the new bomber will probably lack a fuselage, it is not likely to be mistaken for a B-2.”
Thompson also made a bold prediction that the Boeing-Lockheed team will win the B-3 contract. Northrop Grumman is the incumbent manufacturer of the last stealth bomber, but its capacity to build airplanes is far smaller than Boeing’s and Lockheed’s, he said. They delivered more than 300 military aircraft last year, whereas Northrop Grumman delivered nine, none of them stealthy. Thompson also gives Boeing and Lockheed the advantage for their deep pockets. The Air Force has warned contractors that they will be expected to invest in the program, Thompson said. “They’ll make money in the end, but the early years could involve significant financial sacrifice — sacrifice that the Boeing-Lockheed Martin team looks far better positioned to absorb.”
Aerospace industry analyst Richard Aboulafia, of The Teal Group, has hypothesized that the bomber selection could upend the defense industrial base. If Northrop doesn’t win, its days as a military airframe prime contractor could be numbered, he said. “When the bomber program gets decided, someone is going to be without a seat at the table.”
Northrop Grumman officials are confident that the company's expertise building stealth bombers gives it a competitive edge. “As the only company to ever design, build and deliver a stealth bomber, a future bomber is simply an evolution of our 30 years of expertise,” said a company spokesman. “This is what we do. We have continually evolved our design, prototyping and production capabilities; leveraging our knowledge from the B-2 stealth bomber and other programs.”
Northrop, Boeing and Lockheed executives have said that the formula for success in any major program is a combination of stable requirements and a predictable production schedule.
Boeing officials declined to comment specifically on the bomber program. In an effort to lower the cost of future programs, Boeing recently combined its defense and space development projects into a new organization, said Caroline Hutcheson, spokeswoman for Boeing Military Aircraft. “This is central to where we are heading with development programs,” she said. “You have to leverage mature technologies on development programs to manage cost and schedule risk. That's just as important as new inventions.”
Photo: Two B-2 Spirit bombers in flight refueling (Northrop Grumman)
By Allyson Versprille
The Navy should consider phasing out its use of highly enriched uranium as fuel for nuclear-powered vessels in favor of a low enriched alternative, which is not as easily converted into nuclear weapons, a new study recommends.
The Federation of American Scientists study said there is enough highly enriched uranium stockpiled for naval purposes to last at least 50 years. When that finite amount is depleted, the U.S. will have to spend money to produce more. This would undercut the United States' goal of ending the worldwide production of highly enriched uranium, members of the task force that complied the report said at a press briefing.
The report released March 19 — "Naval Nuclear Propulsion: Assessing Benefits and Risks" — said creating a new HEU stockpile would be an expensive endeavor that could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
"There are potentially large savings once you have switched over entirely from HEU to LEU," or low enriched uranium said Alan J. Kuperman, an associate professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project. "You would not have to pay for the extremely high security costs that are currently applied to facilities that produce HEU, fabricate HEU fuel [and] store HEU fuel."
Additionally, replacing highly enriched uranium would save millions of dollars per year based on estimates he has seen regarding the increase in security costs at similar facilities following 9/11.
The task force recommended that the Obama administration allocate $2 billion for research and development of advanced low enrichment uranium fuels no later than fiscal year 2017 because it could take 10 to 15 years to fully assess the benefits and risks. That would synchronize with the construction of the first Virginia-class submarine replacement, scheduled to begin in 2032.
It also recommended that the National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for supplying the Navy with fuel and reactors, come up with a cost-benefit analysis for converting from HEU to LEU. When asked about their own estimates, the authors said it wasn't yet clear that total savings would outweigh costs.
Over three-quarters of the total global amount of highly enriched uranium that is not used for nuclear weapons is used to fuel naval propulsion reactors, said Kuperman. Less than 1 percent of that would be enough to make a nuclear weapon.
The other advantage, according to the study, is that switching from highly enriched to low enriched uranium would eliminate the need for the NNSA to build a new facility that enhances uranium to levels above 90 percent — the amount currently used in U.S. naval reactors.
There are some drawbacks to using low enriched uranium according to the report. Low enriched uranium-reactors produce plutonium, which increases radiation levels and the costs associated with waste disposal. Low-grade uranium also requires larger reactors, expanding the volume of the ship and potentially restricting the Navy's ability to carry out missions, according to the report.
It is unlikely that the Navy will agree to replace its current reactors unless adequate resources are provided and the design meets the service's performance requirements, said the study.
Replacing highly enriched uranium has political and nonproliferation implications as well, said Kuperman. If the U.S. continues to use nuclear-grade uranium, certain non-nuclear states such as Iran could use a naval propulsion program as a back door to obtain nuclear weapons.
"Under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, if a country says that it wants to have a naval nuclear propulsion program, it can produce HEU and then remove it from safeguards, remove it from international inspection, for the entire time that it ostensibly is in the naval sector," said Kuperman. That period of secrecy could last 20 to 50 years. Iran has said explicitly that it wants to produce HEU for its navy, he added.
Photo: The USS California, a Virginia-class attack submarine, underway during sea trials (Navy)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
An Army aviation battalion out of Fort Bliss, Texas, is the first unit to be equipped with the latest version of the Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle, which will be used alongside Apache attack helicopters for manned-unmanned teaming.
The RQ-7Bv2 tactical common data link Shadow — which is used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions — features a number of enhancements that will greatly improve an Apache’s situational awareness, Army Lt. Col. RJ Garcia, commander of the 3rd Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment said March 19.
“What the Shadow provides and what the Apache provides is extended situational awareness across the battlefield and the ability to transmit live, real-time, full-motion video to multiple people across the battlefield so that as we execute mission command at the higher levels we have a situational understanding of what’s going on,” Garcia said during a phone call with reporters.
Further, the Shadow/Apache teaming provides “a capability for the soldier on the ground and the commander in the field to be more lethal, effective and efficient,” he said.
The Shadow has been in the Army’s inventory for over a decade and has logged hundreds of thousands of flight hours. The UAV has a length of 12 feet, a wingspan of 20.4 feet and weighs 467 pounds.
This week, Garcia’s regiment converted from the 1/501st Aviation Battalion, 1st Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to a heavy attack reconnaissance squadron. It is the first Apache battalion to be converted under the Army’s new aviation restructuring initiative, which calls for the service to divest its fleet of OH-58 Kiowa Warriors and instead use AH-64 Apaches — largely taken from the National Guard — for reconnaissance missions.
“The Shadow adds an incredible capability to the Apache helicopter’s mission and especially as we look at the manned-unmanned teaming piece,” he said. The UAV will be able to fly out father than the Apache, extending a pilot’s visuals.
Some improvements to the Shadow include encryption protection for video and control data links and increased interoperability between Army UAVs with new software upgrades and a common control station and control terminal.
Additionally, lifecycle costs are reduced with the new system and endurance is improved, going from six to nine hours. Operators and maintainers will be training with the system until May, he noted.
The new Shadow platform will be fielded at a rate of two to three systems per month over the next five years, said Army Lt. Col. Tory Burgess, product manager for Shadow tactical UAS at PEO Aviation. The first few models will be new systems. The Army will later refurbish existing Shadows from combat aviation brigades throughout the service with the new configuration, he noted. There are currently 102 systems in the Army’s arsenal.
“It’s a monumental task for the folks in the office but we’re trying to get this capability out to the force as quickly as we can,” Burgess said. Textron Systems, the builder of the Shadow, will complete the refurbishments at its Hunt Valley, Maryland, facility, he added.
Photo: Shadow version 2 (Bic Green, PM UAS)
By Yasmin Tadjdeh
Air Force Special Operations Command may one day fire more than cannons and small-diameter bombs off its gunships, its commander said March 18.
AFSOC is considering how it could integrate emerging technologies such as laser guns and high-powered microwaves on its AC-130J Ghostrider gunship, said Air Force Lt. Gen. Bradley Heithold.
“We’re moving in that direction,” Heithold said during a discussion at the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute in Arlington, Virginia. “Industry partners out here have got the technology.”
Retrofitting AC-130Js with lasers is still in the distant future, he noted. “We think that there’s going to be a small number of them in the Block 50 configuration that might have high energy lasers.”
The Navy already has successfully deployed and operated its directed-energy laser weapon, known as LaWS, on the USS Ponce. The technology is appealing to military leaders because of its destructive power and its affordability compared to traditional kinetic weapons. LaWS — which runs on electricity — costs less than $1 per shot.
High-powered standoff microwaves are also on Heithold’s list. He noted there was “great value” in the technology, and that it is also a nonlethal weapon that can effectively stop enemies.
AFSOC currently hasn’t put any money into these initiatives, but researching innovative weapons and technology is something SOCOM commander Army Gen. Joseph L. Votel has demanded. “He wants some leap ahead technologies,” Heithold said.
AFSOC is focusing on recapitalizing its fleet, which includes the AC-130J, Heithold said. The AC-130J — which will be used for close-air support and air interdiction — is meant to replace aging AC-130 H/U/W gunships. The first is currently in testing and a second is being built.
J. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s top weapons tester, recently found that gunship developers were having trouble integrating the precision strike package.
“Problems integrating the PSP weapon kit onto the aircraft continue to delay portions of developmental testing by prohibiting weapons employment,” the 2014 office of the director, operational test and evaluation report said.
“The visual acuity of the electro-optical/infrared sensors installed on the AC-130J is not sufficient for accurate target identification and designation because the new aircraft causes more vibration than the legacy AC-130W aircraft on which the PSP was previously installed,” it said.
Heithold said the vibration issue is now resolved. “Anytime you have an aircraft in test you begin to get the deficiencies report, they start to pile up. And initially we had some issues with vibration of the sensor. That’s already been resolved,” he said. “That issue is a non-issue at this point.”
In general, no showstoppers have been found during testing, he said. “There are no significant issues with the AC-130J at this point.”
Heithold noted the program is facing some delays because AFSOC decided to equip the new gunship with a 105 mm howitzer.
“I have caused a little friction because I put a 105 [mm howitzer] gun on it. I upgunned it because I want it to be a bomb truck with guns,” he said. Currently the aircraft can drop small diameter bombs and laser-guided weapons.
The 105 mm howitzer was originally not required, but Heithold said the weapon — which is on legacy AC-130s — was a critical need. It will first be integrated onto the third iteration of the AC-130J. AFSOC will add the gun to the first and second aircraft at a later date, he noted.
Photo: AC-130J Ghostrider (Air Force)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The U.S. military arsenal historically has been regarded as a deterrent to aggression. But somehow along the way, the trends have reversed and the United States is now the one being deterred by the threat of massive enemy firepower.
The Pentagon is working on a new a game plan to regain its edge against increasingly well armed enemies, but there are no immediate solutions, Pentagon officials said March 17 at a defense industry conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by Credit Suisse and McAleese & Associates.
“We are losing our margin,” said Air Force Assistant Secretary for Acquisition William LaPlante. The enemies of the United States have “watched us fight and learned from it,” he said.
U.S. forces expect to face hostile barrages of smart missiles and bombs in a future war. “We are trying to figure out what we’ll do” to tackle that threat, said Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work. “We’ve seen the damage that anti-ship missiles can do. We’ve seen the damage that missiles can do on the ground,” Work said. Adversaries are gaining access to satellite-guided munitions and other advanced weaponry that previously were only available to Western militaries.
How to cope with massive enemy firepower is a top priority in the Defense Department’s latest effort to spur technological innovation, Work said. “Our adversaries are getting guided munitions or soon will have them,” he added. “We need to win a guided munitions salvo competition.”
Work is overseeing a technology investment plan that started out of concern that the United States is falling behind the curve and will be increasingly inhibited in the battlefield. “If you cannot convince your adversary that you cannot dominate, then they may feel emboldened to pull the trigger,” he said. The question of how to counter a salvo of guided munitions is one “we have to think through.”
LaPlante said these problems can’t be fixed with technology alone, and also will require fresh thinking on how to fight wars. “Every year the briefings get worse,” he said, referring to the intelligence reports about enemy capabilities. “We often say the best thing we do is ‘shape and deter,’” but the tables are now turning. “They are the ones shaping and deterring. I’m not sure the trend is going in the right direction, frankly.”
The Pentagon is actively seeking input from the private sector to deal with these challenges. Although many companies are eager to grab a share of the Pentagon’s R&D dollars, relationships between the Pentagon and the private sector have been frosty in recent years. Work said he would like to see a return to the days when the government and industry operated as a team. “In the 1970s, we really had a close collaborative effort with the commercial sector. It’s different today.”
The plan is to recruit innovators outside the Beltway, he said. “Secretary [Ashton] Carter spent the past year in Silicon Valley. He’s done a lot of thinking on this,” Work said.
Carter has asked the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer Frank Kendall to “set up meetings, start bringing in the young innovative entrepreneurs and say, ‘What are the key things we have to do for you to work with us?’”
High-tech commercial companies that are successful in civilian markets generally shun defense work because of the onerous red tape and auditing burdens. “A lot of commercial businesses say it’s not worth dealing with government. We recognize that problem. Secretary Carter is really focused on it,” Work said. “He’s going to introduce new energy into the system. I think you’ll see in the next 22 months a really big focus on this, on trying to become more closely aligned with commercial industry. … We have to be able to attract that talent and their ideas, or we’re going to lose this race.”
It is not clear how much money the Pentagon will be spending on these initiatives. Officials have said investments are sprinkled across the Pentagon’s $70 billion R&D portfolio.
Projects will be monitored closely by the Pentagon’s top leadership, and R&D investments are going to deliberately target problems rather than technology for its own sake, Work said. “We are looking to solve very specific operational challenges.”
To regain the munitions advantage, the Pentagon is looking for a breakthrough comparable to the Cold War-era “assault breaker” project that led to the development of tank-killing munitions with intelligent guidance systems, and later to the Hellfire missile that has become the hallmark of U.S. drone strikes.
“We need a demonstration that shows that if someone throws a salvo of 100 guided munitions, we’ll be able to ride it out,” Work said. “It doesn’t have to be a kinetic solution. Hell, I don’t want a kinetic solution” that would be so expensive that it could not be deployed in large quantities.
Another innovation gap the United States must bridge is in electronic warfare, Work said. “Electronic warfare is regarded as a combat enabler. For our enemies, it is a key part of their offensive and defensive arsenal,” he said. “We still have a lead but it is diminishing rapidly.”
Work signed a memo March 17 that directs the Defense Department to set up an “electronic warfare programs council.” The group will scrutinize EW investments across the military services and make recommendations on future spending. The council will be co-chaired by Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Sandy Winnefeld and by Kendall.
LaPlante said the Pentagon will need to shed outdated business practices if it hopes to become a technology incubator. U.S. forces in combat are “agile and adaptable” in the battlefield, he said, “but the [procurement] enterprise is not adaptable.”
The “salvo of missiles” challenge laid out by Work is a “hard problem,” LaPlante said. “You have to throw everything at it. You have to war game it, and adjust. If we don’t do this, we’re going to be out of business.”
The private sector needs to step up, LaPlante said. But the Pentagon should not expect contractors to invest in risky projects without specific guidance, he said. “When industry asks, ‘What should we invest in?’ we can’t say, ‘You tell us,’” he said. “That’s not right. We need to show them where we’re headed.”
The Pentagon should pony up R&D dollars, but by the same token, industry needs to put its best talent on programs and contribute its own independent research funds. “You should embarrass us,” he told executives at the conference. “Look at what we’re doing, find what we’re missing, and put your IRAD against it. Show it to us and embarrass us. And we’ll probably put you on contract,” La Plante said. “We need to put money against it. You need to play.”
Photo: Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work speaks at the McAleese/Credit Suisse defense programs conference at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. (Defense Department)
By Valerie Insinna
Ukraine is seeking aid from the United States that would boost its ability to grapple with the sophisticated electronic warfare threats emanating from Russia, the commander of Army forces in Europe said March 17.
Russia is getting better intelligence than Ukrainian forces because of its extensive electronic warfare and command-and-control capabilities in Eastern Ukraine, said Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, commanding general of U.S. Army Europe. “What the Ukrainians have asked for, obviously, is real-time information."
It also wants counter-fire capabilities and Javelin man-portable anti-tank missiles, he said during a roundtable discussion with reporters.
What military equipment the United States gives to Ukraine is still under discussion. President Barack Obama has considered supplying Javelin and other “lethal defensive weapons” to the country, but so far has only sent nonlethal equipment such as radars and Humvees.
“The lightweight counter mortar radar that we're providing to the Ukrainians turned out to be better than we expected, and the Ukrainians have been very adept at using this radar as an early warning to help protect them from incoming fire," Hodges said.
Ukraine is seeking assistance from other nations besides the United States. During the International Defense Exhibition and Conference held last month in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a contract with French defense contractor Thales for electronic warfare equipment and unmanned aerial vehicles. Poroshenko also reached an agreement during IDEX with the UAE for unspecified military assistance.
Hodges warned that providing lethal weapons is not a substitute for an actual strategy that would bring about a diplomatic end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.
"I think the focus on lethal versus nonlethal aid is the wrong argument to have,” he said. "The actual focus I believe needs to be on what is the desired end state? What are the West and the United States going to accept in terms of can somebody use force to change the internationally recognized sovereign border of a European country? What do we want the security situation to be in that part of Europe?"
Hodges comments to the press came a day after the one-year anniversary of Russia’s takeover of Crimea, which had been held by Ukraine since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russian officials have repeated that the country will not return Crimea to Ukrainian control despite sanctions from the West.
Russia’s occupation of Crimea has broader implications across Europe and to the NATO alliance. Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks to fracture the NATO alliance and “put doubt in the minds of some members,” Hodges said.
“His number one objective is to create instability in those areas along the perimeter of Russia, particularly the countries that are not yet in the [European Union] or in NATO,” he said. "He wants to make sure that they don't connect to the West."
A ceasefire between Russian and Ukrainian forces has been in effect since Feb. 15, but disagreements over the terms in recent days have threatened that peace.
That ceasefire also delayed U.S. Army training of Ukrainian ministry of interior troops, which was slated to begin next week, Hodges said. Training will likely begin in April.
"I think they wanted to make sure that the beginning of the training didn't derail [the ceasefire] or give the Russians an opportunity to say, 'Look the Americans are bringing in all of these soldiers and they're not serious about it,’” he said, adding that “The beginning of the training absolutely does not signify an assessment that the [ceasefire] has failed."
Once training starts at the Yavoriv training center in Western Ukraine, three Ukrainian battalions will be matched with three battalions of the Army’s 173rd airborne brigade, Hodges said. U.S. forces will train the Ukrainian MOI troops how to thwart Russian electronic warfare, artillery and rocket fire threats. Those troops will then assist the Ukrainian Army in protecting critical infrastructure and route security.
Analysts worry that Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, which are NATO allies, could be the next targets of Russian aggression. Hodges said that Russia currently lacks the capacity to engage both Ukraine as well as the Baltic states in an armed conflict, but could in a matter of years.
"This is not the Red Army of the 80s that had millions of troops and thousands of tanks," he said. However in 2007, Russia began modernizing its forces and "we're seeing some of the results of that modernization effort in terms of electronic capability, secure tactical radios, new tanks, etcetera.” In three to four years, it could be powerful enough to try to seize territory from the Baltic states.
Still, Russia has other economic and legal weapons that it is using against those nations, he said. Cyber attacks have been increasing in Estonia and Lithuania.
Additionally, a recently-passed Russian law calls for the extradition of Lithuanian “draft dodgers” who, during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, had been told by the government that they didn’t need to report for duty. To those who brush off such moves as symbolic, Hodges said, “It’s not symbolic if you’re a Lithuanian dairy farmer.”
Photo credit: Thinkstock