By Valerie Insinna
The F-35 joint program office is closer to choosing a permanent fix for engine problems that resulted in the grounding of the fleet in June. However, delays to the test program are putting pressure on the Marine Corps’ ability to meet its initial operational capability scheduled for July 1.
"The engine problem put us behind about 45 days of flight testing,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, head of the F-35 Joint Program Office, told reporters Oct. 30.
The flight testing necessary to introduce the Marine Corps' variant was scheduled to wrap up Dec. 10. Bogdan projects it will be completed by Jan. 30. That testing is vital to collecting enough data so that the military can clear the aircraft for operations within its full flight envelope. The goal is still to meet the July 1 commitment, Bogdan stressed.
“There’s no way in the world we’re missing that by months. It’s not going to happen,” he said. “We’re talking weeks here. … And that’s good for this program, a program that has been years late on stuff.”
He added, “But if I don’t make it, I’ll apologize.”
Pratt & Whitney — manufacturer of the joint strike fighter’s F135 engine — has presented five potential permanent fixes for the “hard rubbing” of components that ignited a fire during the June incident. By the end of December, Bogdan hopes to have determined what option or combination of options the JPO will select.
“Probably towards the end of 2015, we will start producing engines with the [permanent] fix and then go back and retrofit any of the produced engines that are not in airplanes yet,” he said.
Results of the military’s root cause analysis confirmed that the problem originated with components in the third stage rotor fan section — namely the stator and the polymide seal it comes into contact with. Until a trench forms naturally because of repeated contact, Pratt & Whitney expected some rubbing between those components. However, the excessive rubbing caused temperatures almost double of what was expected.
The heat created micro fractures that propagated and ultimately caused the rotor “to liberate from the airplane,” Bogdan said. “The fire was caused not by the engine but by the pieces of the engine that flew out through the aft upper fuselage fuel tank.”
One of the long-term solutions is to change the polymide material to a similar material that can withstand heat above 1900 degrees, he said. Another option is to coat the titanium blade that hits the polymide with a material that makes it heat resistant to those temperatures.
Pratt has also suggested installing a polymide material with a trench already built into it.
There are also two short-term solutions that have been validated by the military, Bogdan said. The “burn in” method involves flying two 1-hour sorties with an F-35 equipped with a fairly new engine. By executing a series of controlled maneuvers, the pilot can gradually form in a trench without causing components to overheat.
The program office has successfully tested that approach on four Air Force test planes, he said.
The second method “pre-trenches” a canal in the polyimide material, so that components will not rub together during operations. That solution has been validated on AF2 and AF4 test planes, Bogdan said.
“As it turns out, that solution works very, very well,” he said. “We inspected the engine and we saw no signs whatsoever of any rubbing at all … which leads us to believe that we can fly through the full envelope of the airplane and not have any of that heating anymore.”
By December, all 19 test airplanes will have undergone either the “rub in” or “pre-trenching” method and can return to normal testing under their full flight envelope, he said.
“The minute we get the okay from the air worthiness authorities on either or both of those solutions, we will start to implement them on the fielded jets,” he added. “It will take a while for us to get through all of the fielded airplanes. I would expect months from now.”
The reason why the JPO needed two methods is because the “pre-trenched” method requires fabrication of a new stator. “Right now we’re only producing one [set] of those per week,” he said, but the program office is trying to accelerate the production of that component.
“If we just went with that method alone, it would take quite a while to replace all the engine fan sections,” he said. “With the rub-in procedure, we can start getting to the same result by flying those airplanes.”
Pratt & Whitney will pay to fix engines on fielded jets and will cover production costs caused by a change in material or procedure, he said.
Despite the engine problems, Pratt & Whitney and the program office reached a agreement today for the 8th batch of low rate initial production engines. The contract is valued at $1.05 billion for 48 engines. From LRIP 7 to LRIP 8, engine cost has decreased by 4.5 percent, Bogdan said.
Lockheed Martin and the JPO reached a similar agreement earlier this week for 43 F-35 airframes.
“The LRIP 8 contract procures 29 U.S. aircraft including 19 F-35As, six F-35Bs and four F-35Cs,” stated a news release from the program office. “It also provides for the production of the first two F-35As for Israel, the first four F-35As for Japan along with two F-35As for Norway and two F-35As for Italy. The United Kingdom will receive four F-35Bs.”
The joint program office plans on negotiating contracts for LRIP 9 and 10 at the same time for both the airframe and engine, Bogdan said. He expects an agreement to be reached next fall.
“This allows us to realize the dream that I had two year ago when I took this program over of finally being able to award a contract in the same year that Congress authorized me the money to do so,” he said. “We have not been able to do that ever on this program.”
In the request for proposals for LRIP 11, the JPO will ask Lockheed to do a block buy for partner nations and foreign nations that commit to buy “a substantial number of airplanes.”
“That gives the supply chain an opportunity to now invest in cost savings because now they have at least three years of production instead of year by year,” he said. “That is going to result in savings for our partners.”
Nations that participate in the block buy would pay even less than the United States, Bogdan said. “That’s just simply acquisition economics, and if the U.S. were able in LRIP 11 to commit to years of production, we would get that same reduction in price.”
The Air Force’s IOC in 2016 is on track, he said. However, the service needs 1,100 maintainers trained to support the F-35, including experienced personnel. “We anticipated that many of the experienced maintainers would come from our other fighter platforms to include the A-10,” he said. If the A-10 is not retired, those 800 experienced maintainers will not move to the F-35.
Meanwhile, the Navy is preparing for sea trials aboard the USS Nimitz beginning November 3, when CF3 and CF5 fly to the carrier and are “trapped” on the deck of the carrier. The planes flew from Naval Air Station Fort Worth Joint Reserve Base, Texas, to Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona on Oct. 30 to undergo maintenance ahead of the trials.
Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin
By Sandra I. Erwin
The U.S. military and intelligence agencies are concentrating efforts on defeating the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. But there are many ticking time bombs across the foreign policy landscape and in cyberspace that could set off bigger crises for the United States, several former government officials said.
“We can't just focus on ISIS,” said Michael J. Morell, former acting director of the CIA during the Obama administration.
Al-Qaida in Yemen and other extremist groups are of more immediate concern to the United States as they are actively planning to attack the U.S. homeland, Morell said Oct. 30 at the SAP National Security Solutions Summit in Falls Church, Va.
Even more alarming is how quickly the jihadist ideology is spreading in many parts of the world, which means the United States will find it increasingly tougher to stop terrorist attacks, said Morell. Islamic extremism is expanding rapidly across North Africa, including in Egypt for the first time in 25 years. It is also growing in Eastern Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. “The threat of small-scale attacks is significant in the United States, he said. “If al-Qaida in Yemen were able to bring down an airliner tomorrow, I would not be surprised.”
Morell also pointed to Iran as a potential threat that goes beyond that country’s nuclear ambitions. “Iran has a desire for hegemony across the Middle East. … It practices terrorism as a tool of statecraft, supports terrorists and insurgent movements throughout the region,” including in Bahrain, in Eastern Saudi Arabia and Yemen, he said. “These issues will not go away even if we have a nuclear deal.”
U.S. policy makers are unable to come to grips with the fundamental historical change that is taking place in the Middle East, nor are they able to predict its implications for U.S. national security, Morell said. “Anyone who tells you they know what the Middle East will look like five years from now doesn't know what they're talking about.”
There is also no viable U.S. strategy to deal with Russia’s aggressions against former Soviet republics such as Georgia and Ukraine, Morell said. Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not done in Ukraine yet. He has not yet succeeded in ensuring the autonomy of Eastern Ukraine,” he said. While the conventional wisdom in Washington is that Putin is a strategic “chess master,” he’s more of a reckless risk taker, and the United States has been slow to counter him, Morell said. Putin is like the entrepreneur who takes a risk, succeeds, and then is willing to take a bigger risk, he added. “I fear he may do something in Ukraine or the Baltic region that puts us in a very difficult situation.”
Former U.S. ambassador John Negroponte, chairman of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, said the United States has botched its response to Russian aggression and is now facing the prospect of Putin continuing to test NATO’s wherewithal.
“I worry that Russia might push the envelope too far,” Negroponte told the SAP conference. The United States in this case failed to apply the simple concept of deterrence by not assisting the Ukrainian government to make it more expensive for Putin to do what he wants to do.
Morell also questioned the U.S. strategy to deal with the rise of China. “China is by far the most important bilateral relationship for the United States in the world,” he said. “It's important we get the relationship right or it will become a threat.”
The United States shares with China a fundamental interest in the health of that country’s economy. They both also have overlapping interests in seeking stability in the Middle East. But the United States has yet to figure out how to adjust to China’s ascent as a regional and global power. “The Chinese want greater say in what's going on in their neighborhood,” he said. “Either we give them some increased room or we're going to have a problem,” said Morell. “We both have militaries in the same regions. So we have to train and equip against each other, plan against each other. That creates tension,” he added. “We will need statesmen in Washington and Beijing to work this out over the next five to 10 years.”
Negroponte said it behooves the United States to take the lead in preventing a war with China over territorial disputes such as islands in the South China Sea. “History is replete with examples of countries going to war over relatively insignificant things.”
Jack Devine, a 32-year veteran of the CIA, noted that Washington obsesses about China’s military buildup, while the more serious concern should be the possibility of an economic downturn. “The last thing we need is a collapsing Chinese economy,” he said. “We can manage the Chinese military buildup. It's not even close to matching U.S. capability.”
Devine lamented that important policy debates like China’s rise have been overly partisan. “Eventually we will have to have a bipartisan foreign policy,” he said.
Frances Townsend, a national security adviser during the George W. Bush administration, predicted that the chances of bipartisanship in foreign policy are slim to none.
She cited the impasse in Congress over cyber security legislation, which is now becoming a national security issue. In the wake of a reported Russian intrusion into White House computer networks, there is growing urgency for Washington to set guidelines, Townsend said at the conference. “Russia is going to force us to decide when is a cyber attack an act of war. If they attack the White House networks, how far do we let that go?” The private sector is becoming alarmed by the government’s inaction and indecisiveness on this issue, she said. “We don't know where the red line is.”
Morell called cyber the “fastest growing national security threat.” It is going to get worse, he said. “The number of adversaries and the degree of sophistication are growing.”
The dysfunction in Washington is not only stalling critical policy actions but also weakening the military, said Robert Gates, former CIA director who also served as secretary of defense under the George W. Bush and the Obama administrations.
Gates in his recently published memoir called out the Obama administration for incompetence and over-politicization in foreign policy. In his keynote speech at the SAP summit, his harshest jabs were aimed at Congress.
“President Obama is sailing in uncharted and increasingly perilous waters with respect to how his administration handles America’s global position in the wake of Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said. He does not see American elected leaders willing to fight to maintain the nation’s position as a global superpower, he said. America is war fatigued, but “Russia is not tired, China is not tired,” said Gates.
Despite a widening array of threats, Gates insisted that political gridlock in Washington poses the biggest menace to national security. Congress’ failure to pass budgets and support the military’s needs borders on unconstitutional behavior, he said. As defense secretary from 2006 to 2010, Gates said, the “most dispiriting experience I had was dealing with Congress.” Its failure to appropriate money is an abdication of the legislature’s constitutional duty, he said. Between fiscal years 2007 and 2011, Gates prepared five budges for the Pentagon. “Not once was a defense appropriations bill enacted before the start of the new fiscal year. That situation has only gotten worse.”
The Budget Control Act and the imposition of automatic across-the-board spending cuts also is damaging to essential government operations and national security, said Gates. “Hawks and isolationists on the right, and old-school liberals on the left believe further cuts to defense are tolerable and advisable,” The Obama budget also is inadequate, he said. Under the latest administration’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2015-2019, defense spending dips below 3 percent of GDP and will account for the lowest percentage of federal expenditures since before World War II, he said. “I tried to be realistic about the budget as defense secretary, but the money and the political support simply aren’t there."
By Stew Magnuson
The United States went on a two-decade “procurement holiday” when it came to updating its nuclear weapons arsenal and its delivery systems, but now the bill is coming due, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration said Oct. 29.
“There are many issues associated with management of the nuclear security enterprise in both [the Department of Energy] and the [Defense Department] that, quite frankly, we have to fix,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Frank G. Klotz, the Energy Department’s undersecretary for nuclear security and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
An interim report by the congressional advisory panel on the governance of the nuclear security enterprise released in April said the nation’s ability to have a nuclear deterrent is at risk over the long term.
The report said the NNSA “is on a trajectory towards crisis unless strong leadership arrests the current course and reorients its governance to better focus on mission priorities and deliverables.” The root of the problem is the complacency that took hold after the end of the Cold War.
Klotz, who became the agency head at about the time the report was released, agreed.
“Nuclear deterrence and its forces were at center stage during the Cold War. At the end of the Cold War it was almost as if we had all heaved a sigh of collective relief" that we didn't have to worry about it anymore, he said.
At the same time, the national security apparatus shifted toward conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East, and combating terrorism. “As a result of that, I think the attention, the focus and the resources that were given to our nuclear deterrent forces were not what they were in the past. And quite frankly, we lost focus.”
Klotz referred to Air Force scandals, when an armed nuclear weapon was flown on a B-52 bomber over the United States, sensitive parts were accidentally shipped to Taiwan, and missile silo officers were found to be sleeping on the job and cheating on tests.
As for his own agency — charged with developing, maintaining and integrating nuclear warheads onto Defense Department platforms — steps are already being taken to address some of the report’s concerns, he said.
“At the end of the Cold War we entered into a sort of procurement holiday as far as our strategic nuclear forces were concerned, and we were able to do that because they were extraordinarily capable systems, but now after a couple of decades of doing that, the bill is coming due.”
NNSA has to address its poor track record of completing large construction projects, he said. It has formed an acquisition program management organization, and brought in experts.
“It is important to bring that kind of expertise in to ensure you are doing the types of things that enable you to deliver projects on time and under budget,” he said.
It is also standing up an office of cost estimation and program evaluation.
“One of the challenges NNSA and DoD have had is accurately estimating the cost of projects and then making sure that the projects fit the cost profiles that were laid out,” he said.
The advisory panel’s final report is expected in mid-November. Klotz said he has not seen it yet.
“The situation we find ourselves in 20 years later is making sure we reinstitute that focus and that we step up to making the types of resources investments we need to make in order to continue to ensure that this part of our national security policy — that still remains important — is able to function the way it is expected to,” Klotz said.
The NNSA is in a decade-long process to modernize and replace its nuclear warheads.
The B61-12 bomb, which is delivered by aircraft, is one of the key life-extension programs that the NNSA has responsibility for over the next decade, he said. It is currently in the engineering and design phase. It will replace four existing variants of the B61 gravity bomb with a single one. He pointed to recent success testing the bomb’s fit into two aircraft, the F-15 and F-16, during wind tunnel tests.
The W76-1, which is employed on Navy sea-launched ballistic missiles, is well into the production phase, and Klotz recently visited the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas, to mark the program’s halfway point.
As for another gravity bomb, the B83, the NNSA will continue to monitor and do the work necessary to ensure its safety, security and effectiveness for as long as it remains in the stockpile, he said.
“We have phased these in such a way that we balance the workload across several years,” he said.
It is “extraordinarily important” that funding be consistent to execute these modernization programs, he said.
“If you are expecting a certain level of funding for a particular type of activity and it does not come in, it’s delayed, or it’s withheld, or it's less than you anticipated, then you have to take actions in terms of how much workforce you can have, how much work they can do, and this tends to ripple through programs that may extend for a decade,” he said.
Photo: B61-12 bomb (National Nuclear Security Administration)
By Sandra I. Erwin
The Army’s equipment modernization accounts are being drained faster than had been anticipated when the post-war drawdown began. Purchases of new combat vehicles, helicopters and drones are being terminated or deferred indefinitely in order to fund more pressing needs such as troop training, officials said.
“The research, development and acquisition account is where routinely you absorb a lot of the cuts,” said Brig. Gen. Frank Muth, who helps to plan the Army’s modernization strategy as director of the quadrennial defense review.
The sequester budget cuts that hit the U.S. government in 2013 rattled the Army. The service was caught unprepared for the abrupt spending reductions and had to take drastic measures such as canceling training for seven combat brigades. Congress bumped up the Army’s readiness accounts by $1 billion in 2014 but equipment spending has remained on a downslide. Between 2011 and 2015, research, development and acquisition accounts have plunged from $31 billion to $20 billion, Muth said last week during a roundtable with reporters. Procurement alone dropped from $21.3 billion to $13.5 billion. “That is a lot of buying power that we have lost across the board,” Muth said.
With another round of sequester cuts looming for fiscal year 2016, hundreds of programs are in limbo, he said. Without a stable funding stream, the Army only is bankrolling critical equipment needs. Since 2011, it has canceled 21 programs, delayed 125 and restructured 124, Muth said. “If we go to sequestration there will be 137 more programs affected per year.”
If Congress enforces the spending caps set in the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Army’s overall budget of about $120 billion would drop by $14 billion in 2016. Modernization would bear the brunt of the cuts, he said. Although the biggest share of the Army’s budget is in personnel, the service can only downsize so fast, said Maj. Gen. Gary Cheek, Army deputy chief of staff. The force is already losing 20,000 soldiers a year. If a faster drawdown were required, the Army could not keep up with its current commitments around the world, Cheek said.
Since the end of U.S. combat deployments in Afghanistan was announced, the Army has been drawing up plans for how it would operate with nearly 100,000 fewer troops. It is on a path to shrink from currently 508,000 active-duty soldiers to 490,000 by 2015, and 450,000 by 2017. To comply with the lower spending caps in 2016, the Army would have to downsize further, to 420,000, by 2019.
Each 10,000 soldiers cost $1 billion per year. Even if it has to live with the BCA-mandate reduced budget, the Army will oppose cutting more than the agreed-upon 20,000 per year, said Cheek. “If we start taking out more, you need involuntary separations and you lose some of your best people. Even now we have to separate officers and NCOs that have performed very well for us.”
Cheek said the Army already has thinned its overseas ranks as much as it can, and further reductions will come from U.S. based units. “We see global instability, and the demands for us are growing,” he said. The number of troops, if it falls below 450,000, is insufficient, Cheek added. “We think those numbers don’t match the missions you’re asking us to do.” As the pressure on end-strength and readiness has grown, Cheek insisted, modernization accounts have become hugely vulnerable.
If sequestration continues next year, the administration and Congress should reevaluate the current national strategy that requires having troops in key regions of the world, he said. The Army is now focusing its readiness dollars on six maneuver units and one combat aviation brigade. Home station training probably will be curtailed, Cheek said.
The Army on average has nine to 10 combat brigades committed to support overseas commanders. That translates into 150,000 soldiers deployed, 20,000 of whom are reservists.
Although the current force of 508,000 in theory should support these commitments, Cheek explained why it might not. Even the deployment of small units like a company requires enormous resources, he said. Higher level headquarters has to provide leadership to the small units, in addition to transportation, logistics, communications, medical support. “All of this belongs to the bigger part of the Army,” Cheek said. “What appears to be 150 soldiers on a deployment is more like 500 soldiers.”
Among the Army’s activities that will be most affected by modernization cutbacks is aviation. After it decided to retire its fleet of Kiowa Warrior combat helicopters, the Army proposed to realign its aviation units, including deactivation of three of its 13 active-duty combat aviation brigades. The plan also includes a controversial move to shift the National Guard’s entire fleet of 192 Apache attack helicopters to the active force in return for 111 Black Hawk utility choppers. The Apaches would take over reconnaissance missions currently flown by the Kiowa Warrior.
The realignment would save $12 billion in costs that will not be incurred by divesting the Kiowa Warrior fleet, said Col. John Lindsay, director of Army aviation.
Lindsay said the Army intends to “keep an eye” on aviation modernization under an R&D project called future vertical lift. “We are looking for growth in speed, range and payload, and the development of new blades and engines.”
Photo Credit: Army
By Sandra I. Erwin
The goal is plain and simple: "Ease the burdens on program managers." That about sums up the gist of the acquisition reforms that the Defense Department hopes Congress will pass in 2016.
"Our legislative proposal is not a radical rewrite," said Andrew Hunter, director of the joint rapid acquisition cell. His office is at the center of ongoing exchanges with House and Senate leaders who criticize the Pentagon's weapons acquisition process as grossly inefficient.
Hunter is leaving the Pentagon next week to join the Center for Strategic and International Studies, but he expects the reform initiative he started with the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will stay on track.
"We've come up with some proposals that we hope will be favorably received," Hunter said Oct. 23 during a meeting with reporters.
His boss, Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall, wants the next round of reforms to attack questionable regulations and laws that keep weapons programs bogged down in red tape.
"We think we can reduce the burdens on program managers," said Hunter. That means possibly eliminating portions of legal statutes and Defense Department policies that create busywork without adding substantive value to a program. The mandate from Kendall is to scrub laws and regulations and identify items that, program managers claim, consume too much of their time and distract them from more important priorities.
Hunter has been trying to persuade congressional staffers involved in the reform effort that one of the keys to success in weapon acquisitions is "flexibility," he said. "Program managers should be geared on what they want to buy and not geared on the checklist" and bureaucratic drills.
The Pentagon will not be asking for major rewrites of landmark legislation such as the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 or the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984, Hunter said. "Our recommendations build off foundational statutes, and keep the 'goodness' of the statutes." The changes sought would apply to individual provisions that procurement officials consider redundant or duplicative.
Whether and how this will be accomplished is still uncertain. Hunter said there are still "trust" issues between the Defense Department and Congress and it remains to be seen whether lawmakers are willing to take a leap of faith in rewriting rules that might increase the authority of the department to make decisions.
In a separate procurement reform effort, the Defense Department's rulebook, the DoD 5000, is being updated with new instructions on how to do "rapid" acquisitions. The new draft policy, called "enclosure 13," gives acquisition officials more detailed guidance on how to manage fast-track programs. "We talk a lot about rapid acquisition, there is a lot of enthusiasm and need," Hunter said. But many of the rules have been fuzzy on issues such as how exactly rapid acquisition should be done, compared to the traditional procurement process. "We have put those rules in place," he said.
The revised policy captures emergency procedures the Pentagon put in place for wartime procurements, such as drones and mine-resistant armored trucks.
Most recently, the Pentagon used fast-track measures to equip the U.S. ship MV Cape Ray to destroy Syrian chemical weapons components. A land-based hydrolysis system was deployed on the ship in just five months. Hunter said the Cape Ray project is seen as the new poster child for how to move programs quickly.
Since the Pentagon created the joint rapid acquisition cell eight years ago, more than 500 urgent equipment requests have been handled. Thirty are still active.
Despite the success of wartime rapid acquisitions, Hunter recognized there is no easy way to shake up the lumbering non-emergency weapon acquisitions process. The current system cannot respond as quickly as the Pentagon would like, especially as new threats pop up, he said. "That's just life. It's not an indictment of the system.”
The defense industry is closely watching Defense Department and congressional reform initiatives, and has actively supported actions that would speed up the procurement process.
But the industry wants reforms to go further, to include specific measures that incentivize contractors to save the Pentagon money. It is widely accepted that change is needed, said Tom Captain, vice chairman and principal of Deloitte's aerospace and defense sector. “The problem is not what to do, but how to do it," he said. “We need cooperation and leadership amongst the three parties: Congress, the Defense Department and industry," he said.
Defense contractors would like to see reforms reach into areas where Congress has resisted, such as allowing the Pentagon to sign multiyear contracts with vendors and letting the private sector take on more depot maintenance work, Captain said. Reforms in the past have been "well intentioned, much of which has been said before, but hard to execute," he said. "Like many previous initiatives, it is not clear we are moving the needle of progress. We are still $300 billion over budget on the 99 major defense acquisition programs. Only 30 percent of programs are on schedule and budget," Captain noted. "Unfortunately, the commercial sector is negatively conditioned, and relations with industry are strained."
Photo: Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-TX (left), Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall (center), Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. (Thinkstock/Wikimedia Commons)
By Sandra I. Erwin
J. Michael Gilmore (left) flies on a C-5M at Dover Air Force Base
At a time when two-thirds of the Pentagon's major weapon programs are behind schedule and over budget, the release of J. Michael Gilmore's annual report to Congress can be as welcome as a skunk at a lawn party.
Gilmore's response: Don't shoot the messenger.
As the Defense Department's director of operational test and evaluation, Gilmore is required by law to provide an independent assessment of the performance of major weapon systems. His findings might be bad news for some programs, but as he points out, the first step in correcting a problem is to identify the causes of the problem.
"My office has to make certain that DoD leadership, Congress and military users understand what major weapon systems can and cannot do, what the problems are, the operational implications of those problems, and prioritize resources to fix those problems," Gilmore tells National Defense in an interview.
The Pentagon has come under renewed political pressure to shake up its acquisition process and lower the cost of weapon systems, which heightens the importance of testing, he says. "Defense Department systems are complex. It should come as no surprise to anyone that it can take a long time to get them to work."
Many successful programs along the way experienced false starts and problems in operational tests. Whereas earlier "developmental tests" are done in labs and controlled environments, operational tests and evaluations are realistic live-fire drills that are mandated by law and must be performed before any weapon systems goes into full-rate production. In his next annual report due in January, there will be a litany of programs that did not perform as expected. "Does that mean programs are failing? No," he says. "History clearly supports that."
Even programs that live in perpetual procurement purgatory like the F-35 joint strike fighter eventually break free. "The F-22 fighter took two decades to field. We are still working on upgrades," Gilmore says. "JSF will be around for 30 to 40 years. We'll continue to work on it, and there will be many problems discovered. It should be no surprise."
Congress created the office of the director of operational test and evaluation in 1983. The director is appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. DOT&E currently employs 80 government civilians and 20 military officers.
Testers historically have had a tense relationship with the acquisition bureaucracy. Before DOT&E existed, program offices had more direct control of test reports. Some acquisition offices and contractors view DOT&E as a nemesis whose reports make executives run around with their hair on fire.
Gilmore insists that his job is not to kill programs, but to inform the decisions makers. "The purpose of my office is to highlight problems in a straightforward way," he says. "People can decide how important they are and how to fix them."
There is no evidence that major programs have been canceled because DOT&E declared them ineffective, Gilmore says. "Sometimes that happens." If the problems are too severe, the Pentagon could decide to terminate a program. "I don't make those decisions," he says. "We don't engage in rationalization of the problems. We don't try to rationalize their significance."
Gilmore says his office gets unfairly blamed for things it does not control. As Congress prepares to once again consider proposals to reform the Defense Department's acquisition process, Pentagon officials have suggested that changes might be needed in weapon testing and evaluations.
Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall wants tests to be conducted earlier in the development cycle. In his view, operational tests identify problems so late in the process that they become cost prohibitive to fix. Earlier tests, Kendall says, could help the Pentagon catch problems before the military sinks huge amounts of money into a program. This would help avert expensive redesigns and modifications — a costly lesson the Pentagon learned over the past decade from the F-35 fighter and other programs.
Gilmore says he support Kendall's initiative. "It's common sense." But he cautions against taking it too far. Programs go through developmental testing in their early stages. Operational tests require a fully assembled prototype that can function in combat-like conditions.
If the Defense Department wants operational tests to occur earlier in the schedule, it will need to have "production representative" systems before the low-rate production milestone, says Gilmore. Typically that does not happen. He suggests that, in advance of operational tests, program managers conduct unofficial evaluations known as "operational assessments" that can give them an early sense of what might happen in OT. There is no requirement in the law to do operational assessments, he says, but nothing in the law precludes them.
Gilmore warns that moving up tests schedules alone will not accomplish much if earlier developmental tests are not thorough enough. "Developmental testing is one the first places that suffers when programs run into schedule and cost problems," he says. "That shows up when we get to operational testing."
Gilmore's website is full of examples of programs that were technologically immature and as result, many problems were discovered in operational testing for the first time. "That is very late in the process," he says. "The issue is that sometimes there is inadequate developmental testing."
Any discussions about changes in test regimens stir suspicions that the Pentagon will cut test budgets in the name of efficiency. Gilmore has resisted suggestions that the cost of tests causes programs to run over budget. His office in August posted a presentation called "Reasons Behind Program Delays: 2014 Update" that seeks to discredit the accusations.
Infighting between program managers and testers is par for the course at the Defense Department. Kendall's predecessor Ashton Carter commissioned an independent team in 2011 to probe complaints that developmental and operational testing led to cost and schedule slippages in programs. The investigation failed to prove that tests were to blame.
In a speech at a recent industry conference, Gilmore reinforced that point. "How are you going to compress testing in this era of constrained budgets? I think it's a mistake," he tells the conference. "It accepts the premise that testing is driving increased cost. The facts don't support that premise."
Many of the Defense Department's current procurement woes are the result of decisions that were made long before the equipment was tested, Gilmore says during the interview.
One example is the Army's multibillion-dollar mobile communications system called WIN-T, or war fighter information network tactical. The system is about to go through its third operational test and its outcome will determine whether it can transition to full-rate production. WIN-T in earlier tests got bad reviews from the users for being too complex, unreliable and cumbersome for combat operations.
When soldiers tell testers the system is not suitable, that is a deal breaker for any program, Gilmore says. "We don't test systems to exquisite golden standards. It doesn't have to be perfect," he says. "But soldiers are smart. They can work around some problems. But others, like the great complexity of the WIN-T soldier network extension and problems with its reliability, they can't deal with."
After last year's tests, the Army was wise to make modifications to WIN-T and schedule a new round of operational tests, he says. Sometimes the military services rush programs to failure, he says. "You should not be schedule driven, you should be event driven, and think hard if you're actually ready for the test," he says. "Program managers are always under a horrible schedule pressure, because schedule delays means additional costs. The longer it takes to fix a problem the longer the engineering pool has to be funded." There is also political pressure from contractors and their congressional backers to move systems into full-rate production in districts where hundreds of jobs might be at stake.
Gilmore also has recommended that the Pentagon revisit how system requirement are defined. That alone can set up a program for success or failure, he says. Usually requirements are written as technical specifications, but that is insufficient to ensure a system is militarily useful. Gilmore has repeatedly held up the Navy's P-8 maritime surveillance antisubmarine airplane as an example of how to not define requirements.
Under the Pentagon's procurement regulations, officials from the Joint Staff's joint requirements oversight council, or JROC, must sign off on a system's most important requirements, dubbed "key performance parameters." In the case of the P-8, none of the KPPs specified that the aircraft needed to detect and destroy submarines, he says. In operational tests last year, the aircraft showed it could fly, but it was not able to perform wide-area antisubmarine surveillance. In an test that is supposed to replicate combat conditions, says Gilmore, the aircraft needs to do much more than just fly.
"I'm an advisor to the JROC," says Gilmore. "I do make them aware of my concerns. But it's up to the JROC to set requirements."
Perhaps the most dramatic illustration of what happens when a major weapon system's requirements, procurement strategy and test plans are out of kilter is the F-35. The aircraft's mission systems have yet to be tested in the F-35, even though the program is already in production. Gilmore expects the program will move forward, albeit at a slower pace than many had hoped.
Almost every setback in the F-35 can be pinned on decisions that were made more than a decade ago, long before the current program leaders took over.
In the early days of the George W. Bush administration, the Pentagon agreed to proceed to low-rate production at the beginning of engineering development, with little to no testing. Normally, low-rate production starts after development is completed.
"The assumption was that models and simulations were so good that very limited testing would be needed either in flight sciences or mission systems in order for the plane to mature," Gilmore says. "Those were bad assumptions. It took the department a number of years to realize that." A program restructuring in 2010 added more time and money for developmental testing.
F-35 program executive officer Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan has put pressure on the contractors to improve the reliability of the aircraft. Poor reliability, says Gilmore, is a direct consequence of the decision to rush the program. "It is not a surprise that the aircraft availability rates are between 30 to 40 percent in the squadrons that have production aircraft," he says. "I expect that to improve over time." These are issues that should have been worked on before the aircraft went into production, with more component-level testing. It should not shock anyone, he adds, that as a consequence of the decision to start building airplanes before key components were fully tested, the aircraft remained immature.
The F-35 program office now has to play catch-up, and live with the consequences of those early decisions, he says. "You can't test reliability at the end of the program."
Gilmore is working closely with F-35 managers in preparation for operational tests in 2018. His office had recommended the aircraft undergo an "operational utility evaluation" in 2015 after software development is completed. But Gilmore later concluded that the mission systems would not be ready. "We continue to work on plans to do formal operational testing which probably won't occur until 2018," he adds. "We're beginning preliminary work laying out some of the details of the operational test but we're still several years away."
Photo Credit: Air Force
By Jon Barney and August Cole
Global commercial aerospace and defense markets are far more competitive than is currently appreciated in Washington.
The sales of manned and unmanned military aircraft, satellites and advanced sensor systems are no longer shoe-ins for American firms selling to U.S. allies. Being underbid by state-backed companies from China is not the only competitive threat. There is broad-based competition from multiple countries, including Brazil, India and Israel, among others. These global players are also making faster-than-expected commercial and technological advances.
Rising defense spending overseas is a big driver of this latest wave of new competitors. Spending outside the U.S. should rise to more than $500 billion in 2016, up from $300 billion in 2008.
Concurrently, American aerospace and defense firms are looking to offset decreased spending by the Defense Department and allied European governments by pursuing new markets and opportunities. Yet current roadblocks in the form of export rules and policies endure despite the ongoing export control reform initiative led by the Obama administration.
Regulations and rules are a necessity in the aerospace and defense sector to ensure business is done in a legal, ethical and effective manner. The market is moving faster than these rules are being changed.
According to a recent Avascent and FleishmanHillard survey, 80 percent of aerospace and defense executives believe their competitive landscape will increase next year, led by disruptive competitors with low cost offerings in China, closely followed by those in other Asian countries, the Middle East and North Africa region, and Latin America. Nearly all of the surveyed executives, some 93 percent, believe international sales will be increasingly important in the coming years.
They are clearly not alone in this ambition. The survey revealed executives are starting to see competitive threats in key segments where U.S. firms are largely accustomed to being the uncontested leaders. These areas include unmanned aerial vehicles, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, and missile technology.
This illustrates a larger trend where there is increasing competition. A proliferation of rivals is a true sea change for the defense industry, one that has until now dodged the most difficult aspects of globalization.
Just as the industry is going to have to catch up to this new reality, so too must the regulatory environment. The competitiveness of America’s aerospace and defense sector depends on reforming current laws that are holding up the sales of technologies and systems, effectively forcing U.S. firms to cede ground to rivals in strategic and commercially vital markets.
Some of the biggest challenges with current export controls are out-of-sync lists of prohibited exports, overly complex oversight management, and an overall sluggishness. Attempts to align and simplify Defense Security Cooperation Agency, Commerce Department and State Department processes are well intended but are moving too slowly. While DSCA has announced improvements in the foreign military sales review process, there remains a perception within the defense industry that there is a real competitive disadvantage.
According to former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., partner at Banner Public Affairs, “While export controls serve an important purpose — preserving America’s tactical military advantage — outdated policies can have the same negative effects on competition and innovation as burdensome over-regulation. When America’s defense industry base is disadvantaged, our nation and its allies pay the price measured in economic and military strength.”
Within the next five years, certain segments of the aerospace and defense industry are especially vulnerable if current export control rules persist. Avascent believes the sectors most at risk to rising competition are unmanned systems, intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, cyber security and air traffic control management. The latter is of growing importance given the soaring market projections for global air travel in the coming decades.
Unlike the highly political fight over the Export-Import Bank, which has become a battleground in the larger struggle over the role of the government in supporting America’s corporations, reforming export-control rules can be a non-partisan priority. Not only would reform improve the competitiveness of one of the nation’s most strategically important industries, it could also be a political win for all involved.
Exports help support America’s defense and aerospace industrial base, which is going through a difficult period as it rebalances to lower levels of government spending. Exports also help sustain current well-paying jobs in technical fields that are crucial to the foundation of tomorrow’s aerospace innovation. Moreover, the next generation of engineers evaluating where they want to work will be hard pressed to choose a field they see as globally uncompetitive.
Defense exports are also a cornerstone of U.S. national security. Supporting allies through the sales of systems and services helps shore up military relationships using up-to-date technology and a fundamental commitment to a position of strength. That is not to say looser export controls should unleash a flood of arms sales worldwide. The Islamic State wresting control of American-made military equipment from the Iraqi army should be seen as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong. The U.S. government should use forward-looking judgment concerning military aid, and export control reform will free up resources used for unnecessary reviews while allowing for a stronger focus on cases needing the most scrutiny.
For its part, the defense industry needs to ensure it is the first choice for America’s allies. U.S. firms looking at overseas markets should conduct a thorough portfolio analysis, evaluate and prioritize markets and develop a strategic approach.
Ultimately, reforming export-control policy is both a commercial and a strategic issue. Doing so will improve the competitiveness of American aerospace and defense firms while also making sure that U.S. partners around the world can continue to count on America when it comes to bolstering their own national security. The best way forward is to enact speedy reform, and show that there will be real benefits for America and its allies.
Jon Barney is a managing director at Avascent, a strategy and management consulting firm. August Cole is a writer-in-residence at Avascent. He is also a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council where he serves as the director of the “Art of Future Warfare” project within the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.
Photo Credit: Defense Dept.
By Valerie Insinna
The Navy is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in state-of-the art technologies such as lasers, rail guns and assorted radar and sensor suites. What it doesn’t have, however, is a ship that can power all of those systems at once.
That’s why the Office of Naval Research is developing new electrical components and systems to help the service better distribute and manage its power supply, Sharon Beermann-Curtin, ONR’s power and energy technical lead, told National Defense in September.
The idea is to be able to move the power available on the ships today “when you want and where you want, on demand,” she said.
If the Navy can't get a handle on this problem, it risks having to build one ship for a rail gun, one ship for a radar, and so on, she said. “What you want to do is ... [to] allow all of these multiple functions in one ship."
The Navy also wants enough energy to optimize the performance of all of its onboard systems, she said. For example, some radars are energy elastic and can have a longer range if given more power, she said. Other weapon systems can shoot targets at a greater distance when consuming more electricity.
Currently, Navy vessels are limited in the way that they source power and move it among its various components. The DDG-1000, for instance, is electrically propelled but uses auxiliary turbines to power weapons and sensor systems, Beermann-Curtin said.
“What we want to do is be able to use the propulsion power, as well as any other power and then put the power where we want it, when we want it,” she said. "We want to make everything very flexible,” including being able to store energy for later use.
Developing the necessary technologies and putting it onto a ship will be a long process, Beermann-Curtin said. So far, ONR has undertaken basic research on subsystems and components, including energy storage, controls and new, more-efficient silicon carbide power converters. The next step will be designing a system architecture that takes into account safety, stability and maintainability, she said.
ONR has founded a research-and-development consortium comprising nine universities with expertise in electrical engineering. The participants develop and test new technologies and components, she said. Using a physics-based modeling tool, the consortium can simulate how an electrical system would perform with both new and old components and obtain data on potential vulnerabilities.
The consortium’s goal is to create a 100-megawatt system with 20 kilovolts of direct current that can fit it into the DDG-51 hull, she said. Meeting the size and weight requirements is a major challenge for the project.
ONR is also focusing on increasing the autonomy of electronic systems, so that sailors wouldn’t have to manually control how power is distributed, but could make adjustments as needed, she said.
Eventually, Beermann-Curtin would like to produce a prototype electrical system on land, which would test the systems architecture and evaluate component performance. Her team has not yet secured the funding to do so, but a working prototype could be built and demonstrated as early as 2022, she said.
ONR’s research would likely apply to future ships because “it would be too expensive to backfit an entire electrical system design” on a legacy vessel, she said.
Potential system designs may require radical changes in how vessels are powered, including revisiting Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla’s debate between direct and alternating current, she explained. Today, most electrical systems — including those on the majority of Navy ships — use alternating current. Only the DDG-1000 incorporates both direct and alternating current. However, with recent advancements in solid-state power converters, it may be more efficient to power vessels with direct current, Beerman-Curtin said.
ONR and its consortium have developed 3-megawatt silicon carbide power converters that perform at higher voltages and frequencies than the legacy equipment, as well as reducing volume by 60 percent and weight by 30 percent, she said.
“With the silicon carbide [converters], we have built and proven the weight and volume reductions, and then the ability to control the power very, very precisely and safely,” she said.
"If you just stayed with the silicon semiconductors that you use today, they get very cumbersome. You would need like, a thousand of them versus 10,” she added.
Photo Credit: Navy
By Sandra I. Erwin
DoD budget, 2001-2019
There is a growing consensus in Washington that military spending — despite the looming threat of across-the-board federal budget cuts in 2016 — could be ticking back up. Stepped-up combat operations in the Middle East, an escalation of military efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the possibility of Republicans winning the Senate have created upbeat expectations.
New data on Defense Department contracting trends, however, pours some cold water on these forecasts. Pentagon contracts did plunge as a result of the 2013 sequester, but the squeeze on contractors is likely to persist into the future, analysts from the Center for Strategic and International Studies predict.
Defense Department contract obligations dropped by 16 percent to $314 billion from 2012 to 2013, a decline four times as steep as was seen from 2009 to 2012, a CSIS study estimated. The reduction in Defense Department contract obligations under sequestration was nearly three times as steep as between 2011 and 2012. From 2009 to 2013, contracts plunged by 26 percent.
David J. Berteau, senior vice president of CSIS and director of the study, said the abrupt decline is not likely to be a one-year anomaly.
"I think that when we see the 2014 data, we are going to see the trends all across the board continue," he said.
The report provides overwhelming evidence that the sequester, which was designed to cut government spending across the board, has affected contractors far more dramatically, Berteau said. Non-contract outlays, by comparison, remained mostly flat from 2012 to 2013, an indication that when budgets fall, federal agencies target contract spending as a measure of first resort. The study, conducted annually by CSIS, looks at contracting trends from 2000 to 2013 drawn from the Federal Procurement Data System.
"Contractors are paying the largest share of the impact of the decline," Berteau said. As a percentage of total gross defense outlays, defense funded contract obligations have declined from 53 percent to 49 percent in 2013, the lowest share since 2002.
Berteau said the industry might not want to keep pretending that its defense sales have hit bottom and are going to come back up. World events and new contingencies such as the war on the Islamic State and the Ebola crisis might boost emergency spending, but will not immediately lead to a broad bipartisan agreement to increase the current caps on government discretionary spending, he added.
At the Defense Department, uncertainty and churn will continue to delay weapon modernization programs. "It is only going to get worse from a contractor point of view," Berteau said. "I do no see the votes to change those caps any time soon."
Many defense CEOs believed when sequester hit, that it would be a one-time event, that "Congress would come to its senses, that we'd get our money back in 2014, and the caps would be raised," said Berteau.
A big warning signal for contractors is the precipitous fall in Defense Department research and development spending. R&D contract obligations dropped by 21 percent from 2012 to 2013, and by 39 percent from 2009 to 2013. The Army's R&D contracts went down by 35 percent and the Air Force's by 27 percent, compared to only 10 percent for the Navy.
These numbers show that the Pentagon, contrary to the official rhetoric, is paring back investments in advanced technology and modernization of the force, said CSIS analyst Greg Sanders, one of the authors of the study. After Congress passed the Budget Control Act and military spending took a dive, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called for a smaller, but more technologically advanced force. The data contradicts that vision, Sanders said.
As shown by impressive gains in stock prices over the past two year, large primes have pulled through the sequester better than small firms. The study provides compelling proof that the largest contractors are more sheltered from cuts. From 2012 to 2013, contracts for the Pentagon's top six contractors — Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and L-3 Communications — dropped by 9 percent. For everyone else, they fell by 19 percent.
The numbers in the CSIS study should not come as a surprise to industry investors, says analyst Byron Callan, of Capital Alpha Partners. "The data likely conforms to many investor perceptions of what’s happened in recent years," he writes in a research note.
"Investors and analysts need to keep in mind that the data is for contracts — this is not the same as outlays," he warns. Contract awards more closely track company orders while outlays are more closely related to sales. Of particular interest to investors, he says, is that foreign military sales contract obligations fell 20 percent between 2012 and 2013 — from $26 billion to $21 billion. "FMS should not have been impacted by sequestration, but the data is a bit surprising given general optimism surrounding international defense growth opportunities."
Retired Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Arnold Punaro, chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association, said the report should raise red flags about the Defense Department's investment priorities. “The report makes clear that the bill payer for defense cuts and sequestration has been our technological edge. From 2009 to 2013, overall defense spending is down 20 percent, but research and development spending is down 40 percent,” said Punaro. “We should not cut investments in technology if we want to remain the preeminent global military power. Senior defense officials such as Undersecretary of Defense Frank Kendall have underscored this point repeatedly.”
Photo Credit: CSIS
By Valerie Insinna
NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy in 2015 will deploy the first squadron of its new airborne early warning aircraft, the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, a Navy official said Oct. 16.
The Advanced Hawkeye reached initial operating capability Oct. 10, meaning that a squad of five aircraft is manned, trained, equipped and ready to deploy, said Capt. Drew Basden, commodore of the Navy’s airborne command, control and logistics wing. The aircraft will move to the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier next year.
The Navy has flown its predecessor, the E-2C Hawkeye, for 50 years, said Capt. John Lemmon, program manager for E-2/C-2. The aircraft can detect and identify what is happening in the air or on the sea’s surface, and then communicate that information to commanders, increasing the carrier strike group's situational awareness.
The E-2C was designed for a blue water environment, said Cmdr. John Hewitt, head of the VAW-120 squadron that trains pilots and maintainers on the E-2D, "and it did that job very, very well.” However, "it had its limitations in a littoral and over-land environment."
With the Advanced Hawkeye, operators have the ability to see very small air and surface targets "over land, over water, it really doesn't matter. The aircraft does not care about its operating environment,” he said.
Although the E-2D is completely new airframe, it looks mostly the same as the older E-2C. That’s because the original was built and designed for the airborne early warning mission, so there was no need for Northrop Grumman to completely redesign it, said Bart LaGrone, the company’s vice president for E-2/C-2 programs.
The newer airplane is about 2,500 pounds heavier in order to accommodate more equipment, he said. “We had to redesign 60 percent of the fuselage to handle the heavier weight of the aircraft.”
The biggest draw is the E-2D’s new APY-9 radar system, designed by Lockheed Martin, Lemmon said. "It can detect smaller targets at greater ranges [and] track them,” and is advanced enough to support naval integrated fire control-counter air missions — the Navy’s concept to better network every aircraft and ship in a carrier air wing and strike group, allowing them to cooperatively engage an adversary. Lemmon declined to state the radar’s range.
The increased size of the radar meant that Northrop had to beef up the E-2D’s engine, choosing the T56-A-427A manufactured by Rolls Royce, LaGrone said.
Another new feature of the aircraft is that one of its pilots can serve as a fourth tactical operator when not taking off or landing the plane, LaGrone said.
It can also play a role in humanitarian operations, he said. Its communication suite allows it to search for survivors of natural disasters, for example, and prioritize rescue missions.
So far, Northrop Grumman has delivered 15 E-2Ds with a 16th scheduled for November, LaGrone said. The company will manufacture about five aircraft per year.
The Navy has contracted for 50 Advanced Hawkeyes, but plans to buy a total of 75 to replace its 52-aircraft legacy fleet. It will begin sunsetting the E-2C in 2017, and the entire Hawkeye fleet is expected to have transitioned to the newer aircraft by 2027.
Program officials plan on incorporating additional capabilities on the aircraft in the coming years. The Navy in August conducted a preliminary design review on aerial refueling, which could be on the E-2D as early as 2020, Lemmon said.
Adding that capability “will play a huge role in extending our persistence and reach,” he said.
The service also wants to begin integrating and testing the Tactical Targeting Network Technologies data link on the aircraft within the next year, Lemmon said. The link will reduce transmission latencies and provide additional bandwidth.
Northrop Grumman is exploring foreign military sales of the Advanced Hawkeye to countries including United Arab Emirates and India, LaGrone said. Current international operators of the E2C include Japan, Taiwan, Egypt and France.
Photo Credit: Northrop Grumman