19 Nov 20. Anytime, Anywhere: Keeping LITENING ready. It could be raining for days. A sandstorm might blacken the sky. Or maybe there is a cold so deep that the mere mention of the place brings the chill back into your bones. But none of that matters. The pods must remain ready.
They are LITENING advanced targeting pods, used by aviators worldwide to carry out targeting, surveillance, intelligence, search and rescue, and humanitarian relief missions. And they do remain ready, more than 95 percent of the time, thanks in part to the LITENING field service engineering team.
“The secret to LITENING’s high availability comes down to the dedication of the entire team, but especially the field team, and the modular design of the pod,” said Ryan Tintner, vice president, navigation, targeting and survivability, Northrop Grumman. “Our field service engineers and specialists do whatever it takes to make sure pods are mission capable, even under the most challenging circumstances.”
After more than 20 years of keeping pods ready, the team has it down to a science. The process often starts with a call from a unit to the 24-hour LITENING support line. The unit may be readying for deployment or a major exercise and needs a pod health check or a software upgrade. Under the firm fixed price performance-based logistics model, the field team provides comprehensive service and support.
More than 700 LITENING pods are in the U.S. government inventory and they have accumulated more than three million operational hours (a million in combat), so the team has had ample opportunity to refine its quick response preparations. However, recent calls for on-site support present a different challenge since travel to and work inside military bases is changing.
“Travel is more complicated now and software updates and troubleshooting need to be performed with social distancing in mind and while wearing personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Brian Kenny, field service engineer, Northrop Grumman.
In one instance, a National Guard squadron had just transitioned its F-16 aircraft to LITENING after flying with another pod for years. The squadron was about to begin training in preparation for deployment later in the year. However, they were working with limited manpower and equipment. A planned week-long visit was condensed to three days to accommodate the schedules of available support personnel. The LITENING team upgraded the software and resolved issues the operators had identified, with all pods receiving a thorough checkout in time for comprehensive mission system training.
Most customer site visits follow a similar path. Given the reliability of the pods – the mean time between removal is more than 200 hours – field service engineers spend much of their time adding capabilities to pods, and training operators and maintainers. Refresher training provided on site keeps maintainers proficient with the pod and familiar with any changes to the software or hardware.
The modular architecture of the pod is one reason for LITENING’s resilience. The pod’s electronics are packaged in multiple line replaceable units (LRUs). Rather than taking a pod out of service for diagnosis and repair, maintainers can use built-in-testing to identify an LRU for investigation. The unit can be swapped out and the pod returned to service within minutes. During overseas deployments, with only limited support facilities available, this arrangement allows for the continuity of operations. It is critical at sea, where spares are limited due to scarce space below deck.
When upgrades or changes cannot be made on base or at sea, Northrop Grumman’s depot team brings advanced diagnostic and technical expertise to bear. As with employees in the field, the depot team faced challenges. Assessing customer needs, the team remained on duty and supported depot repairs every day. Employees took appropriate measures ensuring continued LITENING operations and a safe, healthy work environment.
The modular architecture also mitigates diminishing manufacturing sources and obsolescence issues, with no significant cost to the Department of Defense. Just as repairs can be accomplished with LRU swaps, new capabilities can often be integrated by changing an LRU and updating the software. LITENING’s road map points to a future of significant increases in capability to meet changing warfighter needs.
“LITENING was designed for the long haul, remaining relevant and available as missions change,” said Tintner. “Upgradeability has always been a part of LITENING, and it’s how we will keep supporting the fourth generation fleet throughout the life of these aircraft.”
The bottom line: Extreme weather, combat stresses and high operational tempos can’t stop LITENING. The only thing tougher than the pod might be the experienced field team behind it. For members of the team, the mission is personal.
“All our field specialists are prior military and have been in the customers’ shoes,” said Todd Czubinski, field service engineer, Northrop Grumman. “So, we go the extra mile to ensure that the warfighter has what they need to get the job done in an accurate and timely manner. We take a lot of pride in what we do.” (Source: ASD Network)
19 Nov 20. Skyfront Unveils Control Handoff Capability During 1st Drone Delivery to a Submarine.
The long-endurance hybrid-electric Skyfront Perimeter drone was recently used to perform the first ship-to-submarine delivery via small unmanned aircraft. During the historic flight, the Perimeter took off from a moving surface vessel and delivered supplies to the crew of the ballistic missile submarine, in a quick and cost-effective way to resupply submarines at sea.
The flight unveiled Skyfront’s command and control handoff capability. During the flight, pilots aboard the surface vessel launched the drone and flew it near the submarine. Once there, pilots aboard the submarine took control of the drone and released the package onto the top of the sub.
Command and control handoff is offered as an option on all Skyfront Perimeter unmanned aerial vehicles, including those integrated with Silvus Technologies’ best-in-class Streamcaster radios for the data link and Optimum Solutions’ long range tracking antennas. The option allows an unlimited number of pilots and ground control stations to seamlessly view video from and take control of the Perimeter UAV at any time. Pilots can control the drone with joysticks or with Skyfront’s satellite map software.
The capability is essential for long range missions to maintain line-of-sight control by using multiple distributed pilots to comply with some countries’ aviation rules and regulations. It also allows pilots to maintain full control of the vehicle while flying over rugged terrain where radio links are likely to be compromised by line-of-sight obstructions.
(Source: ASD Network)
18 Nov 20. Exercise demonstrates PLAGF’s ability to requisition and modify commercial flatbed trucks to transport MBTs. China’s People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) has conducted an exercise in the municipality of Chongqing demonstrating its ability to requisition and modify civilian flatbed trucks to transport Type 59D main battle tanks (MBTs), as seen in a 17 November report by state-owned China Central Television 7 (CCTV 7) channel.
CCTV 7 reported that in order to carry the MBTs the width of each of truck had to be expanded and additional supports were welded onto each of the vehicles, taking their maximum load from 20 tonnes to 40 tonnes. This enabled each truck to carry one Type 59D, which is thought to weigh around 37 tonnes.
The TV report also showed how a Hisun Motors factory was used to manufacture the company’s lightweight 4×4 all-terrain vehicle (ATV) called ‘Strike 1000’ for military purposes. Although unarmoured, the ATVs would presumably provide a rapidly available form of mobility should a large war break out, requiring the mobilisation of PLA reserves.
The latest developments come after the Ministry of National Defence (MND) in Beijing published in 2015 a White Paper, entitled ‘Building and Development of China’s Armed Forces’, outlining a general direction for the PLA.
A significant part of the document was dedicated to the aspect of civil-military integration (CMI), with the MND stating at the time: “China will forge further ahead with CMI by constantly bettering the mechanisms, diversifying the forms, expanding the scope, and elevating the level of the integration, so as to endeavour to bring into place an all-element, multidomain and cost-efficient pattern of CMI.” (Source: Jane’s)
17 Nov 20. Iraqi F-16s log first combat mission since return of contractor support. Iraqi Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons have undertaken their first combat operation since the recent return to the country of contractors who had been evacuated earlier in the year.
Both the Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) and the US Central Command (CENTCOM) announced on 17 November that an undisclosed number of F-16s had participated in air strikes against the Islamic State group north of the capital Baghdad.
“Iraqi F-16 fighter jets carried out air raids against [Islamic State] safe houses in al-Zour area, Diyala,” CENTCOM said. “The mission reflects the growing capabilities of the Iraqi Air Force in fighting terror to maintain the hard-fought victories over [the Islamic State].”
News of the raid came days after Janes first reported the return of US F-16 support personnel to Iraq in September. As noted in the latest US Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report on Operation ‘Inherent Resolve’ published in early November, “A combination of threat levels in the region and impacts of Covid-19 prevented contractors from directly supporting Iraq’s F-16 programme since early 2020. (Source: Jane’s)
17 Nov 20. USN acquires Skyways aircraft prototype for Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS. The US Navy (USN) in October acquired a logistics unmanned aerial system (UAS) prototype developed by Skyways of Austin, Texas, to demonstrate long-range naval ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore cargo transport.
Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) engineers, testers, and military test pilots are evaluating the commercially-procured aircraft, called the Blue Water Maritime Logistics UAS. The division is also tailoring it to requirements set by Military Sealift Command (MSC) and Fleet Forces Command (FFC), according to a Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) statement.
The USN solicited offerors to demonstrate potentially viable platforms that existed commercially. Industry was required to prove its UAS could autonomously transport a 9 kg payload to a moving ship 40 km away without refuelling. More than 65 UAS platforms were analysed for this effort with two systems deemed technically advanced enough to partially meet the requirements.
Bill Macchione, the Blue Water’s project lead, was quoted by NAVAIR as saying that naval cargo transport requires vehicles that can successfully operate through difficult environments that include high winds, open water, and pitching vessels at sea. The USN said that historic data from casualty reports show that ships often move to non-mission capable or partially mission capable status due to logistics-related issues.
These issues include electronic parts or assemblies, 90% of which are logistical deliveries weighing less than 23 kg. Tactical aircraft, such as the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor, currently fly these missions. (Source: Jane’s)
17 Nov 20. Defense Logistics Agency Advances Government’s Category Management Efforts. The federal government’s push to share contracts for common items to achieve widespread savings and efficiencies through an effort called category management is advancing as the Defense Logistics Agency expands supply and acquisition support outside the Defense Department. Category management emerged in 2014 with the Office of Management and Budget’s directive to transform the federal marketplace by eliminating duplicate contracts for a variety of things, including office supplies, construction equipment, information technology and janitorial services.
“If multiple agencies are buying the same, exact things, it makes sense to consolidate requirements and have one contract that everyone can order off of instead of 15 or 16 separate contracts,” Robert Warnick, with DLA’s Industry Engagement Program Office, said. “Not only does it save contracting resources and time, buying in bulk rather than in pieces usually leads to better prices.”
DLA has been consolidating requirements since it was established to do that for the military services in 1961. Of the 4.5m contract actions carried out by the federal government in fiscal 2019, 3.6m belonged to DLA, DLA Acquisition Director Matt Beebe said.
“Despite the volume, DLA has a four-year “spend under management” average of 81% compared to a governmentwide average of 46%,” he said. SUM is the percent of an organization’s spending that’s actively managed according to category management principles to ensure best-value solutions, remove redundancies and save money for multiple buyers.
OMB assigns best-in-class designations to contracts that represent a preferred governmentwide solution because they incorporate pre-vetted, market proven strategies. DLA Energy’s Direct Delivery Fuels Program and DLA Troop Support’s Electronic Cataloging System for medical items are both rated as best in class.
ECAT allows customers to browse, compare and order items ranging from pharmaceuticals and lab equipment to commercial medical supplies with U.S. delivery within 72 hours of order receipt. The Direct Delivery Fuels Program provides worldwide acquisition, material management and shipment of commercial fuel.
“Any time an organization like NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration or Customs and Border Protection lands a plane at an airport and uses our DLA AIR [Aviation Into-Plane Reimbursement] card, that’s considered use of a BIC contract,” Warnick said.
DLA has spent the past decade expanding contract support for common items to whole-of-government partners. Although the agency’s primary mission is warfighter support, $7bn of its $40bn in contract obligations during fiscal 2020 supported government organizations at federal, state, local and international levels, he added.
In 2015, the agency began working with officials from the Department of Agriculture’s Wildland Fire Protection Program and the Forest Service to determine types and quantities of items to order and pre-stock in DLA warehouses for wildfires across the nation. DLA now manages 295 wildland firefighting items, allowing the USFS to focus on fighting fires rather than acquisition and logistics.
DLA’s support during disaster relief and humanitarian assistance operations to agencies like the State Department, Federal Emergency Management Agency and Army Corps of Engineers also fall within category management.
“Category management really comes to light when there’s a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster because nowadays other agencies immediately turn to DLA for support. They realize we’ve been doing this, we’ve built the relationships with suppliers and already have the strategic-level contracts, vendor management and demand management in place to surge quickly,” Warnick said.
Though category management strategies often focus on price, Beebe said aspects like agility and flexibility are just as important. DLA’s ability to procure rapid COVID-19 test kits within a week of requests from the Department of Health and Human Services illustrates the importance of being able to rapidly acquire direly needed supplies, he said.
“It’s the same with hurricane support,” Warnick added. “You never know when a storm is going to happen, but when it does you want somebody to be able to provide a quick response. That’s exactly the capability we’ve developed through our long-term contracts with vetted, trusted contractors.”
Making other federal agencies aware of DLA’s existing contracts and sharing information about the supplies and services it offers is a key part of category management, he continued. DLA is working with the Defense Health Agency and Department of Veterans Affairs officials to assess how they can benefit from contracts already in place for the services. Contracting officers also take extra steps when reviewing new requirements to determine whether an existing contract could be leveraged.
Even without category management initiatives and federally recognized designations like best in class, Warnick said DLA would still consolidate requirements and compete for the best prices.
“Our business model has always been about looking at ways to be the most efficient as we meet customers’ needs; that’s what DLA is about,” he said. (Source: US DoD)