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18 Jan 19. US Air Force’s plan to launch light-attack aircraft competition is now deferred indefinitely. The start of a competition to provide light-attack aircraft for the U.S. Air Force has been postponed for the foreseeable future, as the service decides the way forward for additional experiments, the Air Force’s No. 2 civilian said Friday. The Air Force started evaluating light-attack plane offerings in 2017 and was set to release a request for proposals in December 2018 to potentially lead to a program of record. But the service is not ready to commit to a program just yet, and wants to continue the experimentation phase, Under Secretary of the Air Force Matt Donovan told reporters after an Air Force Association event.
“We’re going to broaden the scope a little bit,” he said, potentially alluding for the possibility of new aircraft types to enter the competition.
Asked if this meant the two aircraft positioned by the Air Force as potential contenders for a contract — the Sierra Nevada Corp.-Embraer A-29 Super Tucano, and the Textron AT-6 Wolverine — were no longer in the running, Donovan responded: “We’re not excluding anything.”
The Air Force’s decision is a somewhat surprising one. The light-attack experiment began with four aircraft involved in flight tests at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico: the A-29 and AT-6, but also Textron’s Scorpion jet and L3’s AT-802L Longsword.
The AT-6 and A-29 moved onto the second phase of experiments in 2018, which were mostly centered around the planes’ maintainability and network capability.
When the Air Force put out a draft RFP later that year, the solicitation stated that Textron and the SNC-Embraer partnership were “the only firms that appear to possess the capability necessary to meet the requirement within the Air Force’s time frame without causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter.”
If the Air Force is considering alternative aircraft, it’s unclear what requirements are driving that search or whether a new entrant has caught the service’s eye.
Some foreign companies, namely South Africa’s Paramount Group and Czech aerospace firm Aero Vodochody, have expressed interest in competing for U.S. light-attack aircraft contracts. And it’s possible the T-X trainer jet, for which the Air Force chose Boeing to build, could be modified for a light-attack role.
But for the last six months, Air Force acquisition officials have firmly suggested the A-29 or AT-6 would be the only options under consideration going forward.
“The whole way we got to where we’re at, we put out an invitation to participate, and we only had two that met all of the criteria that we were looking for,” Lt. Gen. Arnold Bunch, the service’s top uniformed acquisition official, said in July.
“We experimented with those, and they performed well enough that we did another phase, and those are the only two that we invited in [for phase two]. So at this point right now I’m seeing it as a competition between two airplanes.”
If the Air Force is seeking more data from the current entrants or wants to conduct further demonstrations, the exact nature of those future experiments are also unclear — though Donovan said more information about the path forward would be released this year.
Although Friday’s announcement doesn’t shut a door on the light-attack aircraft program, it does highlight the difficulties of rapid acquisition.
In 2016, Gen. Mike Holmes, then the Headquarters U.S. Air Force’s top requirements official and now the head of Air Combat Command, spoke with Defense News about the prospect of dedicating funds to flight test a range of off-the-shelf light-attack planes.
The thought was that buying a low-cost, easy-to-maintain aircraft could effectively accomplish low-end missions in the Middle East at a lower expense than other Air Force planes, and that buying several hundred of such aircraft could also help the service absorb and train more pilots.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein repeatedly spoke about seeing a potential light-attack aircraft program as a way to increase interoperability with air forces that couldn’t afford an F-15 or F-16, but who would benefit from commonality with American-operated platforms.
More than two years later, Donovan said the Air Force is still learning, and hinted that perhaps there was not enough buy-in among international partners.
“Did we meet the cost targets that we’re aiming for? What’s the market out there for coalition partners? Are there a lot of folks interested in that, or is there something else?” he said. (Source: Defense News)
18 Jan 19. Trump space defence plan comes under fire. Proposals echo decades-old Reagan dream but cost and technology remain barriers. When Donald Trump announced on Thursday a new system that can “detect and destroy any missile launched against the United States”, he was channelling an ambitious vision to transform global nuclear defence strategy first laid out by Ronald Reagan more than three decades ago. “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack,” President Reagan asked in a famous televised address from the Oval Office in March 1983. In the many years since then, Reagan’s dream of ending the cornerstone of nuclear defence policy — mutually assured destruction — by switching to a space-based defence system has remained just that. The technological difficulties involved in creating an umbrella of missile interceptors in space, allied with the costs — estimated by one analyst at $300bn for a basic system — have left US plans for “Star Wars” on the cutting-room floor. And yet, included among a number of more realistic plans to boost ground-launched missile defence systems which cover the US territory, and to increase the number of space sensors to improve the detection capabilities of those ground systems, the Pentagon’s document this week includes a clear reference to basing anti-missile weapons systems in space. “Space-basing may increase the overall likelihood of successfully intercepting offensive missiles, reduce the number of US defensive interceptors required to do so, and potentially destroy offensive missiles over the attacker’s territory rather than the targeted state,” this week’s review states. A six-month Pentagon study is under way. Within hours of Mr Trump’s announcement, defence analysts were lining up to shoot down the ideas. “It would be technically unachievable, and economically ruinous if you tried,” said Laura Grego, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, an environmental action group. Recommended The FT View The editorial board Trump strikes a blow against nuclear stability Michael Elleman, a senior fellow for missile defence at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, cautiously welcomed the Pentagon’s proposal to expand the number of space-based sensors. But on the space weapons idea he added: “As it is conceived, it is far too expensive and it’s vulnerable. If you are talking about a nuclear war you could expect adversaries to take them out in space.” The US already has around 50 ground-based missile interceptors in Alaska and California, which are supposed to be capable of “hitting a bullet with a bullet”. The review this week set out plans to add another 20. But the complexity of launching many hundreds of satellite interceptors into space made Mr Trump’s plans “impossible”, according to Joseph Cirincione, president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation. “There have been advances in technology but nothing that allows the massive deployment of satellites in space.” This missile defence review and the rejection of existing treaties is throwing gasoline on a nuclear arms race Joseph Cirincione Critics added that Mr Trump risked escalating tension between the US and Russia over a new nuclear arms race. The US has threatened to pull out of the INF Treaty, which limits intermediate range nuclear weapons, in response to alleged breaches of the cold war era arms agreement by Russia. There are also growing concerns that the US could fail to renew the Start treaty, which limits nuclear warheads held by the US and Russia, when it expires in two years’ time. All of this comes against the backdrop of President Vladimir Putin’s announcement last year that Russia was advancing its nuclear capabilities with five new weapons capable of evading existing defence systems, and new threats from China, Iran and North Korea. “This missile defence review and the rejection of existing treaties is throwing gasoline on a nuclear arms race,” concluded Mr Cirincione. (Source: Defense News)
17 Jan 19. The Missile Defense Review is out. Will Congress fund it? The Missile Defense Review, formally unveiled Jan. 17 at the Pentagonby President Donald Trump, calls for major investments from both new technologies and existing systems.
“I will accept nothing less for our nation than the most effective, cutting-edge missile defense systems,” Trump said. “We have the best anywhere in the world. It’s not even close.”
But unless Congress approves the major funding increase that will be required to make it all a reality, many of those programs may fall by the wayside — and questions are emerging over whether these systems will be funded by a Democratic House of Representatives that is looking to cut defense spending.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., signaled at the competing budget pressures in a hallway interview after the rollout, saying: “It’s not sustainable to expand everything.”
“I mean, you saw the Air Force, they wanted 25 percent more planes than were currently projected.” Smith said. “We got the nuclear modernization program that’s enormously expensive; we’re hellbent to have a 355-ship Navy; they want an end strength — I forget what the hell it was Trump said about that. Missile defense, they want more for that.
“I would like to have a discussion about the choices involved.”
Rep. Mike Rogers, the outgoing chairman of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee and incoming ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security — and a big enough missile defense advocate to be invited to the review rollout with Trump — acknowledged the budget pressures under a divided government.
“It’s going to be a challenge, and the case for more interceptors is so compelling I don’t see how we can not go there — but not everybody agrees with me,” said Rogers, R-Ala. He added that his successor on the committee, Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., faces pressure from Smith to trim the nuclear weapons portfolio.
“That may be where we run into a buzzsaw,” Rogers said.
Tom Karako, a missile defense expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said if the Department of Defense doesn’t get its funding set up in this next budget, it may never get want it wants in terms of nuclear weapons and interceptors.
“If serious funding for these capabilities is not in the 2020 budget submission, then they kind of aren’t real,” Karako said. “As senior DoD officials have said so frequently, the time for studies is over. Ticktock.”
The good news for advocates? John Rood, the undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the lead voices in crafting the review, made it clear the fiscal 2020 budget request will incorporate some of the missile defense spending plans.
“Obviously the budget that will be rolled out is consistent with the Missile Defense Review and will carry it forward,” Rood said to one of many questions about funding. “Wait for it when the budget comes out next month.”
Rood, along with Pentagon technology chief Michael Griffin and Missile Defense Agency head Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, repeatedly declined to go into detail about what will be included in the budget. However, Griffin hinted that funding for a new layer of space-based sensors, something Congress itself has requested, will be notably present.
More broadly, Griffin said he believes the space-based layer is going to be “very affordable.”
“It’s not some outlandish number. I’m not able, at this point, to give you a specific number, but you’re not going to see us working on something that is out of family, if you will,” Griffin said.
He also offered a belief that many of the cost assessments for these technologies in the past, which concluded they were too expensive, are no longer applicable.
“I think one of the underling difficulties with cost assessment for systems which haven’t been built yet is that they fairly regularly assume a business-as-usual approach to new developments. We have newer technologies now. We have commercial capabilities coming into being which can help with this,” Griffin said. “It has been a very long time since we’ve deployed any large numbers of any sort of space asset at scale. All of these affect cost estimates, and we have to take that into account in order to produce a reasonable value, and I’m not sure that’s always been done.”
Just how much money the department will have in its FY20 request, and how much will go toward missile defense, remains unknown.
The Pentagon’s budget figure has seesawed dramatically over the last three months. The department had been planning for most of the year according to a $733bn defense top-line figure, until the moment at an October Cabinet meeting when Trump announced the figure would be $700bn.
That number, delivered close to the planned budget finalization date of Dec. 1, sent planners into a frenzy as they attempted to develop a pair of budget offerings matched to both levels. The situation changed again when, following a meeting with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and congressional defense leaders, Trump reportedly boosted the budget to $750bn.
The department has since received a final figure to work toward, but has not revealed if it is that $750bn number or not. The DoD appears headed for a large figure, however, with Trump telling the audience at the Pentagon on Thursday it would top his previous two requests. (Source: Defense News)
15 Jan 19. Russia, US: No Progress in Talks Over 1987 Nuclear Arms Treaty. Russia and the United States said Tuesday there was no progress in talks over Washington’s intention to withdraw from a 1987 nuclear arms treaty because it says Moscow is violating its terms.
“On the whole, we are forced to state that there is no progress. The U.S. position is frozen in its uncompromising and peremptory demands,” state news agency Tass quoted Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying after talks with U.S. Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson in Geneva.
The U.S. side described the meeting as “disappointing.”
The three-decade-old Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty bans production, testing and deployment of land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. President Donald Trump said the U.S. would abandon the pact on Feb. 2 because of Russian violations. Ryabkov contended that “responsibility for (the possible demise of the treaty) fully and completely rests with the American side.” He said the two sides failed to agree on anything and that Washington did not appear to be willing to negotiate further. The U.S. has demanded that Russia dismantle missiles that Washington claims violate the treaty. Ryabkov said Russia proposed holding more negotiations but got no answer from the U.S.
“We are ready for dialogue on the basis of equality, mutual respect, (and) without putting forward ultimatums,” Ryabkov said.
Ryabkov said Russia would brief European diplomats Friday on the status of the talks. Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that collapse of the treaty would threaten a new arms race. Putin suggested that he was open to other countries joining the INF treaty or to starting talks on a new agreement. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Voice of America News)
15 Jan 19. Reform panel warns Congress to overhaul Pentagon acquisitions, or lose technological edge. For the United States to maintain its technological edge against China and other competitors, Congress must radically simplify the way Pentagon acquisitions work with companies outside the beltway, according to an influential advisory group established by Congress. The Section 809 Panel on Tuesday released its third and final volume of recommendations to streamline the Defense Department’s lumbering acquisition bureaucracy. In 500-plus pages, it emphasized changes to revamp the way the military buys commercial products, information technology and major weapons programs, among other far-reaching ideas.
When panel members on the hunt for ways to make the acquisition process more accessible visited one Silicon Valley firm flying under the Pentagon’s radar, the members were alarmed to learn a Chinese delegation had visited only a week before, offering to buy the company’s production capability, if not the company itself.
“These are companies that the United States I guess knows about at some level, but the Department of Defense didn’t know existed, they weren’t interested and wouldn’t know how to do business with them,” Section 809 Panel Chair David Drabkin, a former General Services Administration official, said at Tuesday’s rollout event.
“The whole focus is to speed up the process to deliver what the war fighter needs,” Drabkin said of the panel. “We’re at war. We won’t declare it, but there’s a cyberwar going on. And the Chinese and the Russians are beating us, and they’re buying stuff we don’t even know about, but in some cases we invented.”
Since its launch two years ago, the panel has made 98 recommendations — some of which have been synthesized by Congress into the 2019 defense policy law. The effort — just the latest in a long line of acquisition reform efforts — has worked closely with Capitol Hill all along, and Drabkin was optimistic many of the recommendations, while bold, would be adopted by the congressional defense committees.
With an eye toward rapidly buying cutting-edge capabilities for troops to address emerging threats, the panel would create new acquisitions categories under a “Dynamic Marketplace Framework.” The framework would separate defense-unique development and replace commercial buying procedures with new procedures for “readily-available capabilities” and capabilities that are “readily available with customization.”
The idea is to give Pentagon officials more latitude to buy “the most up-to-date products and services in the least amount of time possible from the open, accessible marketplace, including nontraditional and other private-sector suppliers,” according to a summary.
Panel member Ross Thompson, a former Army acquisitions official and industry executive, spoke passionately about the need for Pentagon and congressional leadership to quickly adopt the panel’s recommendations.
“Time to me today is turning faster than the Chinese and the Russians,” Thompson said. “If we can’t turn faster than they do, we’re going to have people killed the next time we have a conflict. … Our sons and daughters are going to be affected by the inability to speed this process up without sacrificing quality and sacrificing cost.”
Protecting against budget chaos
The panel also made a series of recommendations for Congress to grant Pentagon acquisitions officials more spending flexibility — both to protect against Capitol Hill’s budget chaos and dysfunction and to speed the acquisitions process.
Congress’ late budgeting has normalized stop-gap continuing resolutions that might keep the government running but bar funding for new-start programs, production rate increases and multiyear procurements. The panel recommends voiding those prohibitions.
“Current rules limit the flexibility of DoD’s acquisition workforce in dealing with the realities of the marketplace such that near-peer competitors and nonstate actors have a decided innovation advantage,” the summary argues.
Of the 12 recommendations in this area, one most likely to make waves is to increase the threshold for reprogramming requests that need congressional approval relative to inflation. The $20m threshold for procurement and $10m threshold for development programs would both double, according to panel member Allan Burman, a former administrator for federal procurement policy.
Another recommendation would delegate that below-threshold reprogramming decision authority down to portfolio acquisition executives.
Those recommendations aren’t intended to weaken Capitol Hill prerogatives, according to Burman, but just how protective appropriators will be of their authorities remains to be seen.
“Our prime recommendation, it goes without saying, is to pass the budget on time,” Burman said. “We haven’t for a number of years been too successful at that.” (Source: Defense News)
15 Jan 19. 2019 shaping up as a big year for US Navy Future Frigate program. 2019 will be a big year for the US Navy and its pursuit of a Future Frigate (FFG[X]) to provide the force with an up-armed, interoperable surface combatant to complement the existing surface fleet and allied naval capabilities, with industrial opportunities for allies like Australia. Growing concerns about the combat capability and survivability of the Freedom and Independence Class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) has prompted the US Navy to pursue a new, multi-mission, highly capable surface combatant capable of integrating with US Navy and allied surface battlegroups.
As part of the request for information (RFI), the US Navy expects the FFG(X) will provide a capable, survivable and cost-effective platform, with an expected unit price of US$950m ($1.32bn) and capable of “aggregating into strike groups and Large Surface Combatant led surface action groups but also possess the ability to robustly defend itself during conduct of independent operations while connected and contributing to the fleet tactical grid”.
The US Navy expects the FFG(X) program will deliver 20 vessels capable of multiple mission parameters, including:
- Destroy surface ships over the horizon;
- Detect enemy submarines;
- Defence convoy ships;
- Employ active and passive electronic warfare systems; and
- Defend against swarming small boat attacks.
“The Navy is interested in the FFG(X) to provide Combatant and Fleet Commanders a uniquely suitable asset to achieve select sea control objectives and perform maritime security operations while facilitating access in all domains in support of strike group and aggregated fleet operations,” the RFI explains.
As part of delivering these requested capabilities, the US Navy has mandated that the successful vessel be capable of supporting and/or incorporating key capabilities, including:
- A fixed, phased-array radar;
- An ‘Aegis derivative’ combat system (COMBATSS-21);
- Capacity to accommodate a single MH-60R Seahawk helicopter;
- Four cannister-launched over-the-horizon weapons;
- Integration of the Mk 110 57mm main gun system;
- SeaRAM anti-ship missile defence systems; and
- Accommodation for an MQ-8C Firescout unmanned aerial system.
In order to avoid price, research and development cost increases, the US Navy has sought tenders from a group of five established shipbuilders delivering evolved variants of proven frigate designs currently in operation with US or allied forces around the world.
Interoperability with allies including Australia, Canada and the UK is a core focus for delivering the FFG(X) program with a focus on integrating either a ‘common combat system’ or an interoperable combat system.
The design contenders include:
- Austal USA – Independence Class Frigate: A modified variant of the Independence Class LCS, incorporating additional anti-ship missile systems, a shortened flight deck and optional Mk 41 vertical launch systems (VLS) to exceed the minimum required by the US Navy’s request.
- Lockheed Martin – Freedom Class Frigate: Based on the in-service Freedom Class LCS, the Freedom Class variant incorporates a common architecture to the Royal Saudi Navy’s multi-mission surface combatant, which includes eight Mk 41 VLS, advanced air search radars and enhanced combat capabilities.
- Huntington Ingalls Industries – Patrol Frigate (PF4501 and PF4921): Two upgraded variants based on the National Security Cutter (NSC) design currently in operation with the US Coast Guard. The evolved variant includes a 12-cell Mk 56 VLS, two quad launch systems and incorporation of the SPY-1F air-defence radar. The PF4921 variant has been displayed incorporating the Australian designed and manufactured CEAFAR radar system.
- Fincantieri Marine Group – FREMM Multipurpose Frigate: Based on the joint Italian/French multipurpose frigate program, it incorporates US-specific capabilities including the Mk 41 VLS and Mk 110 gun system with Aegis derivative COMBATSS-21 system.
- General Dynamics/Navantia – F-100 Frigate: The basis for the Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyers, the F-100 design delivers a common design currently in service with Spain and Australia and incorporates the full SPY-1D Aegis combat system, combined with a five-inch Mk 45 Mod 4 naval gun and 48-cell VLS.
The focus on a proven platform reveals the US Navy’s desire to avoid “sticker shock” by getting the design correct in the early-stages of the program and also provides opportunities for Australian industry.
Australian expertise developed throughout the design, build and integration phase of Australia’s Hobart Class destroyers, combined with technical expertise in phased-array radar systems in the form of CEA Technologies and the CEAFAR radar systems that will serve as the basis of the Royal Australian Navy’s future Hunter Class frigates’ radar system, build on the US Navy’s focus on delivering proven technologies and systems to minimise unit introduction, cost overruns and capability delivery.
CEA’s phased array technologies provide modular and scalable phased array products suitable for use in the maritime and land environments. The CEAFAR active phased array radar provides a multi function digital beam forming radar capability able to perform 3D volume search, surface search, fire control support, target classification in demanding, cluttered and jamming environments.
Australia recently used combat system evaluation and missile testing operations for the HMAS Hobart with the US Navy to demonstrate the capability of the evolved F-100 Frigate platform, key Australian-specific components and capabilities and the capability of the vessel to operate seamlessly as part of a US Navy battlegroup through the co-operative engagement capability.
The US Navy expects to purchase the first FFG(X) in 2020 with the first vessel expected to be in service from 2024, and the request for proposal (RFP) to be made in 2019 following the final definition of specifications for the FFG(X) program. (Source: Defence Connect)
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