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21 Sep 19. America to send weapons and troops to Saudi Arabia. Donald Trump orders ‘defensive’ deployment to boost air defences following Riyadh request. Donald Trump has put new sanctions on Iran’s central bank in response to the attacks in Saudi Arabia, which have deepened the crisis that has escalated between Washington and Tehran. The Pentagon is preparing to send weapons and hundreds of troops to Saudi Arabia to help the nation boost its military defences following the alleged Iranian attack last weekend that knocked out half of the kingdom’s crude oil production.
General Joe Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs, and Mark Esper, defence secretary, said Donald Trump ordered the deployments after requests from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Mr Esper said they would be “defensive in nature, and primarily focused on air and missile defence”. One official said the troops would only be sent to Saudi Arabia. Earlier on Friday Mr Trump put new sanctions on Iran’s central bank in response to the attacks in Saudi Arabia, which have deepened the crisis that has escalated between Washington and Tehran in the 16 months since Mr Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. Mr Trump also hinted that he was wary of taking military action against Iran, while warning Tehran not to become complacent and underestimate the US.
“The thing that does show strength would be showing a little bit of restraint,” Mr Trump said, before adding: “Iran knows that if they misbehave, they are on borrowed time.” Speaking alongside Australian prime minister Scott Morrison, the US president rejected criticisms that he was being weak: “Going into Iran would be a very easy decision . . . most people thought I would go in within two seconds . . . I’m showing great restraint.” Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, on Saturday condemned the White House move, noting that Congress had passed a bipartisan resolution over the summer to block arms sales to the Saudis and the UAE.
“Once again, President Trump is turning a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s continued violence against innocent Yemenis, as well as its horrific murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its gross abuses of human rights, which represent a moral and humanitarian crisis. The United States cannot enable more brutality and bloodshed.” Mr Esper said the attack on the oil facilities had not originated from Yemen — as Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in that country claimed — and that the weapons included drones and cruise missiles.
“The weapons used in the attack were Iranian produced, and were not launched from Yemen,” the defence secretary said. “All indications are that Iran was responsible for the attack.” The Trump administration is debating whether to publicly release some of the evidence next week in New York when Mr Trump attends the UN General Assembly. Gen Dunford said the deployment of US forces would be “moderate” and would not be in the thousands. The move comes after the US in July announced that it was sending 500 troops to Saudi Arabia to deter Iranian aggression.
He also called on US partners and allies to provide more support to help the Gulf countries defend themselves. “No single system is going to be able to defend against the threat like that. But a layered system of defence capabilities would mitigate the risk of swarms of drones or other attacks that may come from Iran,” Gen Dunford said. Mr Esper repeated the US line that the Trump administration was not seeking conflict but warned Iran not to be complacent. “The US does not seek conflict with Iran. That said, we have many other military options available, should they be necessary,” he said. Some foreign policy experts have suggested that Iran has become more emboldened since Mr Trump abruptly reversed his decision to strike the country in June in response to the shooting down of a US drone.
But Mr Trump this week rejected those criticisms, saying that his decision not to pull the trigger was a sign of strength. Mr Morrison said he wanted to “commend” Mr Trump for demonstrating restraint and added that the US had not made any requests about future actions against Tehran. The Treasury said the sanctions would target the Central Bank of Iran and the National Development Fund of Iran, the country’s sovereign wealth fund, which the US says has been a big source of funding for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force. Steven Mnuchin, Treasury secretary, said the US had “now cut off all sources of funds to Iran”.
Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury official in charge of sanctions policy, said the move would put other governments on notice that they were “risking the integrity of their financial systems” by continuing to work with the Iranian central bank. Recommended The Saudi oil attack Why Saudi attacks changed the calculations on regional security While the US cast the sanctions as significant, some experts said they would have limited impact. Daniel Tannebaum, a sanctions expert and partner at Oliver Wyman, said the Iranian central bank and its governor had already been designated by the US. “This is optics, and in reality it doesn’t necessarily apply more pressure to the Iranian government,” said Mr Tannebaum. “With that said though, it is another shot across the bow to any countries that continue to trade with Iran as a reminder, given that through secondary sanctions the US could impose penalties.”
Abdolnaser Hemmati, the Iranian central bank governor, said the latest US sanctions showed “how empty their hands are” in the face of Iran’s resilience. Iran’s banking system is already unable to conduct transactions in the global banking system. Iranian businessmen mostly rely on their western and eastern neighbours, Iraq and Afghanistan, to bring in hard currency while they use the hawala system — an informal money arrangement system — in Turkey and, to some extent, in the UAE. While the sanctions may not have a big practical impact, they are a further setback to French-led European efforts to use the UN General Assembly to make progress on de-escalating US-Iran tensions and move towards a negotiated solution to the crisis. French president Emmanuel Macron said last month in Mr Trump’s presence that he hoped the US leader would meet his Iranian counterpart within weeks. But European diplomats said last weekend’s attacks had stalled any momentum the Macron initiative had. (Source: FT.com)
20 Sep 19. These three weapon systems will face delays under a short CR. As Congress heads toward the start of fiscal 2020, potentially under a continuing resolution, the Pentagon has identified three key modernization programs that will suffer under the restrictions of such an approach.
At a press briefing Thursday, Jonathan Hoffman, the department’s top spokesman, said Defense Secretary Mark Esper met with congressional leaders this week to urge them to avoid a CR. However, that path appears unlikely, with the House passing legislation to keep the government open under a CR through Nov. 21.
Under a CR, budgets will be locked at FY19 levels. More importantly for a department which made modernization a key focus of its FY20 request, no new programs can be launched under the budget mechanism.
“The hope is that if it’s kept within, you know, a few weeks to a little bit more than that, that it’s something we can manage and work through, but once we start getting into months and quarters, the impact grows exponentially, and [it] becomes more difficult to recover from those impacts,” Hoffman said.
On Friday, the department stated that a one to three month CR would “disrupt major exercises and training events, affect readiness and maintenance, curtail hiring and recruitment actions, and adversely impact contracting negotiations.” But more specifically, it called out three modernization priorities that would be hurt:
- Long-range hypersonic weapon:Hypersonic systems have been identified by Pentagon officials as a top priority for investment, with the various services looking at options. A CR “delays critical long lead purchases, putting planned delivery at risk; adversely impacting the ability to deter and defeat near-peer adversaries,” according to the department.
- Advanced helicopter training system:A contract to buy 32 training helicopters (24 for the Navy and eight for the Marine Corps) is scheduled to be awarded in November; that contract award, and hence getting the program underway, would face delays.
- B-52 GPS interface unit replacement:The venerable B-52 bomber needs a number of upgrades, with this particular system serving as the kind of under-the-radar impact that a CR would cause over the long term. A short-term CR, the Pentagon said, would delay procurement of “critical processing chips/circuit cards” and cause an 18-month slip in the program, which could impact mission-capable rates for the B-52.
Should the CR extend beyond Nov. 21, expect concerns from the Pentagon to expand. (Source: Defense News)
19 Sep 19. DOD Spokesman Provides Border Wall Update. The Army Corps of Engineers expects to build 450 miles of wall along the U.S. Southwest border, a Defense Department spokesman said.
At present, about a mile of border wall is being built each day, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, told reporters at a Pentagon news conference today.
The Army Corps of Engineers is the executive agent for DOD’s border wall construction. In April and May, the Corps awarded about $2.5bn in projects to build a portion of the wall that will span 129 miles in New Mexico, Arizona and California, Hoffman said.
As of this week, virtually all of that $2.5bn has been obligated and is on contract, and officials expect to have the remaining $3m obligated before the end of this month, he said.
Hoffman pointed out that some of the property used for the wall construction already belongs to DOD — most notably, the Barry M. Goldwater Air Force Range in Arizona — and other land is in the process of being transferred from the Interior Department to DOD. Another allocation of $3.6bn authorized under Title 10, U.S. Code, Section 2808, will go for 175 miles of border wall, he said.
Hoffman said the Department of Homeland Security has the lead on prioritizing which sections of wall get built first. “We’re working on their priorities,” he said. “We’re relying on border patrol agents on the ground, the people who have the most knowledge, to tell us where the border wall should be built.”
Building the wall takes time, Hoffman said. Besides the actual construction, other factors include planning, buying property and doing environmental assessments. Once those are completed, he said, the construction itself can be rapid. (Source: US DoD)
19 Sep 19. Pentagon Officials Discuss Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities. All indications to this point are that Iran is in some way responsible for the Sept. 14 attack on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, a senior Defense Department official said.
At a Pentagon news conference today, Jonathan Rath Hoffman, assistant to the secretary of defense for public affairs, said the attack on two civilian facilities has had a dramatic impact on global markets.
Regardless of whether the attack involved a proxy or was a direct attack, Hoffman said, it represents a dramatic escalation that was well-planned and sophisticated. “We need to get the parties back on the diplomatic path and [past] this type of action,” he added.
Air Force Col. Patrick Ryder, special assistant for public affairs to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that Pentagon reporters have seen the same photos that Defense Department officials have seen. “You look at the precision,” he said. “I think that is not something we’ve seen in the past.”
Though he had no announcements on increasing troop strength in the region, Ryder said, “we certainly believe that we have the forces in the region that we need to protect our forces and to deter potential future threats.”
Hoffman said the U.S. position has been that Saudi Arabia will assess what took place. the Saudis make the declarations on where they believe the attacks came from and the ultimate responsibility,” he said.
U.S. Central Command is in consultation with the Saudis to discuss potential ways to look at mitigating future attacks, Ryder said.
As a long-standing partner in the region, the United States has worked closely with the Saudis, he added, noting that the United States helped them defend their southern border from the Houthis.
“And to that point, I would highlight the fact that the Saudis have had some effect … in terms of countering missile and drone strikes in the south, where the attacks have been relatively more common,” Ryder said.
A Centcom forensics team is still in the area of the attack in Saudi Arabia, working with the Saudis in their investigation, Ryder told reporters.
“Our goal has been to deter conflict in the Middle East, [and] we’ve said that repeatedly,” Hoffman said. “The president has said that, the secretary has said that. We do not want conflict. What we do want is … for Iran to return to the international rules-based order and to cease the malign activity they have been promoting in the region and to get back on the diplomatic path.” (Source: US DoD)
17 Sep 19. Modernized Nuclear Triad Is Best Deterrence. Chinese, Russian and North Korean advances in cyber and space technologies mean the Atlantic and Pacific oceans no longer provide safety buffers for the U.S. mainland, said Air Force Gen. Timothy Ray. Speaking Monday at the Air Force Association’s Air-Space and Cyber Conference, Ray said we must modernize our space and cyber defenses and maintain our nuclear triad in order to protect our homeland and our allies.
The U.S. nuclear triad consists of 400 intercontinental ballistic missile Minuteman IIIs and 156 strategic bombers, as well as ballistic missile submarines, said Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, Air Forces Strategic-Air and U.S. Strategic Command. He noted that both Russia and China also have their own nuclear triads.
Although a foundation of the National Defense Strategy is an emphasis on partnerships, Ray said that strategy doesn’t work very well when it comes to the nuclear triad because the U.S. is the only nation among the allies and partners that has intercontinental ballistic missiles and strategic bombers. He said the last allied bomber squadron retired in 1984.
“So there’s no coalition capability in this mission set,” he said, noting that Russia and China have nuclear triads.
There are currently only 156 U.S. strategic bombers. But studies have shown that between 225 and 386 are needed to get the U.S. to the low-risk posture,” Ray said.
In addition, many of the current bombers — the B-52, B-1 and B-2 bombers — are very old, and the planned replacement bomber, the B-21s, are years away from production, he said.
Regarding the ICBMs, Ray said there’s no open production line for a new Minuteman. The first were installed in 1962, with the latest version — the Minuteman III — coming out in 1970.
“We’re living with a very ancient fleet,” Ray said.
And the replacement for the 18 Ohio-class submarines — the Columbia-class submarines — are also years away from production, he said.
While Congress has authorized funding to modernize the nuclear triad, Ray cautioned that in the meantime, “we really have to think about using these resources as wisely as we can for the next few years until we get ourselves to the new capacity.” (Source: US DoD)
17 Sep 19. F-35’s $1.2bn Savings Claim Dwindles, Senate Panel Finds. The Pentagon’s F-35 program office promised $1.2bn in savings from buying parts and equipment in bulk for Lockheed Martin Corp.’s fighter jet, but it now estimates only about a third of those savings, according a Senate panel. The estimate of $435m saved from buying in bulk was disclosed by the Senate Appropriations Committee in the new report accompanying its defense spending bill for fiscal 2020.
While the Defense Department has boasted of progress in controlling costs of the F-35, the most expensive U.S. weapons system, the shortfall on savings from bulk-buying underscores the continuing challenge for a fleet of planes expected to cost at least $428bn to develop, build and upgrade. Additionally, it will cost as much as $1.1trn to support and maintain the fleet through 2077.
F-35 program officials sought and won congressional approval in 2017 to spend $661m as a down payment on parts for 207 U.S. aircraft to be purchased this year and in 2020. The pitch was that this would save $1.2bn for the U.S. and allies that buy the fighter, split evenly.
Officials testified to Congress that the estimated savings were validated by in-house evaluators, “an industry analysis and an independent assessment conducted by Rand Corp.”
The latest estimate of $435m in savings follows an earlier projection of $595m from the Pentagon’s independent cost analysis office, according to the committee.
“The committee notes that the actual savings will be realized and confirmed when parts are delivered,” the panel said in its report, which directed the F-35 program office to provide a final tally of the savings no later than 30 days after passage of the final fiscal 2020 spending bill. A spokesman for the F-35 office didn’t have an immediate comment on the Senate report. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Daily Republic)
16 Sep 19. The US Air Force’s radical plan for a future fighter could field a jet in 5 years. The U.S. Air Force is preparing to radically alter the acquisition strategy for its next generation of fighter jets, with a new plan that could require industry to design, develop and produce a new fighter in five years or less. On Oct. 1, the service will officially reshape its next-generation fighter program, known as Next Generation Air Dominance, or NGAD, Will Roper, the Air Force’s acquisition executive, said during an exclusive interview with Defense News. Under a new office headed by a yet-unnamed program manager, the NGAD program will adopt a rapid approach to developing small batches of fighters with multiple companies, much like the Century Series of aircraft built in the 1950s, Roper said.
“Based on what industry thinks they can do and what my team will tell me, we will need to set a cadence of how fast we think we build a new airplane from scratch. Right now, my estimate is five years. I may be wrong,” he said. “I’m hoping we can get faster than that — I think that will be insufficient in the long term [to meet future threats] — but five years is so much better than where we are now with normal acquisition.”
The Century Series approach would be a notable departure from the Air Force’s former thinking on its future fighter. In its “Air Superiority 2030” study released in 2016, the Air Force described a long-range, stealthy sensor-shooter called “Penetrating Counter Air,” which would act as NGAD’s central node networked with sensors, drones and other platforms. The Air Force would use prototyping to speed along key technologies in the hope of maturing them early enough for inclusion in advanced aircraft fielded in the early 2030s.
But what Roper calls the “Digital Century Series” would flip that paradigm: Instead of maturing technologies over time to create an exquisite fighter, the Air Force’s goal would be to quickly build the best fighter that industry can muster over a couple years, integrating whatever emerging technology exists. The service would downselect, put a small number of aircraft under contract and then restart another round of competition among fighter manufacturers, which would revise their fighter designs and explore newer leaps in technology.
The result would be a networked family of fighters — some more interrelated than others — developed to meet specific requirements and including best-in-breed technologies aboard a single airframe. One jet might be optimized around a revolutionary capability, like an airborne laser. Another fighter might prioritize state-of-the-art sensors and include artificial intelligence. One might be an unmanned weapons truck.
But the point, Roper said, is that instead of trying to hone requirements to meet an unknown threat 25 years into the future, the Air Force would rapidly churn out aircraft with new technologies — a tactic that could impose uncertainty on near-peer competitors like Russia and China and force them to deal with the U.S. military on its own terms.
Imagine “every four or five years there was the F-200, F-201, F-202 and it was vague and mysterious [on what the planes] have, but it’s clear it’s a real program and there are real airplanes flying. Well now you have to figure out: What are we bringing to the fight? What improved? How certain are you that you’ve got the best airplane to win?” Roper wondered.
“How do you deal with a threat if you don’t know what the future technology is? Be the threat — always have a new airplane coming out.”
How does the Air Force get there?
Three industrial technologies enable a Century Series approach for NGAD and will set requirements for participants, Roper said. The first is agile software development — a practice where programmers quickly write, test and release code, soliciting feedback along the way from users.
The second, open architecture, has long been a buzzword in the defense community, but Roper said industry often uses it to describe a system with plug-and-play hardware. NGAD, ideally, would be fully open, with interchangeable hardware and the ability for a third party to develop software for the system.
The final technology, digital engineering, is the most nascent and possibly the most revolutionary, Roper said. While aerospace engineers have used computers for decades to aid in the creation of aircraft, only recently have defense companies developed 3D-modeling tools that can model an entire life cycle — design, production and sustainment — with a high level of accuracy and fidelity. The process would allow companies to not only map out an aircraft in extreme detail, but also model how a production line would work using different levels of manning or how maintainers would carry out repairs at a depot.
“You could start learning so much before you ever bent the first piece of metal and turned the first wrench, so that when you did do it for the first time, you already have learned. You’re already up to a level of proficiency that in the past you would have to be in the 100th aircraft to have,” he said. “And then if you kept going and you modeled the maintenance, then you could go after the part of the life cycle that constitutes the 70 percent of what we pay.”
Few defense programs have used digital engineering so far, Roper said. The Air Force is requiring Northrop Grumman and Boeing to use the technique to develop their respective versions of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.
Boeing has also demonstrated the technology with its clean-sheet T-X trainer, taking its design from concept to first flight in three years and beating out two competitors that offered modified versions of existing jets.
During a May visit to Boeing’s production facility, Paul Niewald, the company’s chief engineer for the T-X program, described how the company crafted its digital T-X design with such precision that parts could be joined without shims — the material used to fill in gaps between the pieces of an aircraft — and only one master tool was needed during the plane’s production.
In total, Boeing was able to reduce by 80 percent the manual labor needed to manufacture and assemble the aircraft, Niewald said.
But creating a simple training jet like the T-X is much different than manufacturing a penetrating fighter jet like the NGAD, and there is no proof that those new manufacturing techniques will work for a more advanced aircraft, argued Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group.
Aboulafia suggested the Air Force might be “overreacting” to the struggles of the F-35, where a “one-size-fits-all” approach and a focus on software and sensors produced a very expensive aircraft that took almost two decades to develop. But a Century Series approach, he warned, could prioritize the development of new air vehicles at the expense of investments in new weapons, radars, sensors, communications gear or other enabling technology.
“With the F-35, we had too much [emphasis on] systems and not enough [on the] air vehicle. Maybe this is going too far in the other direction,” he said. “Isn’t the truth somewhere in between where you have two or three air vehicles but a greater resource allocation for systems? In other words, the truth isn’t the F-35 and the truth isn’t the Century Series. Can’t we just think in terms of something in between, a sensible compromise?”
Rebecca Grant, an aerospace analyst with IRIS Independent Research, expressed enthusiasm for a new fighter design effort, saying that engineers could push out options for a Century Series style effort “extremely quickly.” However, she added that the choice of engine, the integration of its communications suite, and the decision whether to make the platform manned or unmanned would be key variables influencing the design of the air vehicle.
“[A Century Series approach] strikes me that it truly is traditional in a way because this is how it was done in the past. And I think that’s what they’re trying to get to. They want fresh designs. But the difficulty is always as you start to make the most important trade-offs and identify the most important criteria,” she said. “Those become pretty serious driving functions pretty quickly.”
A (potential) game plan
The new NGAD program office will determine the final acquisition strategy for the Digital Century Series — including the length of the development cycle, procurement quantities and contracting mechanisms. However, Roper revealed to Defense News his thinking for how the program might work:
- Put at least two manufacturers on contract to design a fighter jet. These could include the existing companies capable of building combat aircraft — Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman — as well as new entrants that could bring a unique technology to the table.
- Have each company create a hyper-realistic “digital twin” of its fighter design using advanced 3D modeling. Use those models to run myriad simulations of how production and sustainment could occur, hypothetically optimizing both and reducing cost and labor hours.
- Award a contract to a single fighter manufacturer for an initial batch of aircraft. Roper said that industry could build about a squadron’s worth of airplanes per year, or about 24 aircraft. Include options in the contract for additional batches of aircraft. Air Combat Command leadership has told Roper that 72 aircraft — about the number of aircraft in a typical Air Force wing — would be a viable amount for normal operations.
- While that vendor begins production, restart the competition, putting other companies on contract to begin designing the next aircraft.
As it forms the NGAD acquisition strategy, the new program office will also explore how defense primes would be compensated for their work. Most current Air Force programs are awarded to the company that can provide the most capability at the lowest price, leading to a status quo where vendors underbid to secure a contract and reap profits only when platforms are mass-produced and sustained.
But if a Digital Century Series construct is adopted, the Air Force may pay companies more money upfront during the design phase and require them to produce planes with a shorter design life; for instance, a jet with a lifespan of 6,000 flight hours instead of manufacturing aircraft designed to be kept in the skies for 20,000 hours, Roper said.
“That opens up the opportunities to do things very differently, different structural designs, not doing full-scale fatigue testing and all of things we do on the geriatric Air Force to keep things flying,” he said. “Where is the sweet spot where we are keeping airplanes long enough to make a real difference but not so long that we’re paying a premium to sustain them or not able to refresh them with better aircraft?”
One obstacle to the Digital Century Series approach may be persuading Congress to approve the necessary funding. The House Armed Services Committee already recommended cutting funding for the NGAD program in the fiscal 2020 budget request, from $1bn to $500m — a sign that the committee may not be sold on the Air Force’s path forward.
Roper said the idea has generated a “good response” from the congressional defense committees but acknowledged that lawmakers have questions about the approach. He also noted there will need to be a means to pay the bills, particularly in the early stages of the development cycle when multiple companies are on contract to design aircraft.
“I think the theory is sound, it’s the funding required and how big of an industry base we can sustain,” he said. “I don’t want to leave companies out, but I also don’t want to go so big that we fail because of funding, not because of the soundness of the idea.” (Source: Defense News)
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