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28 Feb 20. Stratcom Commander: Failing to Replace Nuclear Triad Akin to Disarmament. With both Russia and China making great advances in their strategic weapons arsenals, the U.S. must update its nuclear triad or risk the prospect of existing systems needing to be dismantled due to age — an outcome tantamount to disarmament, a top Navy official said.
”When we talk about the modernization of the triad, what we leave out is the ‘or else.’ And the other choice that we have is not to keep what we have. The entire triad is reaching the end of its useful life,” Admiral Charles Richard, commander of United States Strategic Command testified. Richard appeared yesterday before the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. ”So, either we replace what we have now, or we start to divest, almost on a path to disarmament, in the face of this growing threat.”
Dr. James H. Anderson, who is currently performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, reminded lawmakers that the fiscal year 2021 budget request for nuclear forces is $28.9B — roughly 4.1% of the total DOD request. Modernization and recapitalization of those nuclear forces is a mere 1.7% of the total DOD budget request, he said.
“This committee is well aware of the age of the Triad systems and the challenge the department faces in sustaining these systems as we proceed with modernizing U.S. nuclear forces after decades of deferred recapitalization,” Anderson said. ”Funding these critical requirements ensures that modern replacements will be available before the nation’s legacy systems reach the end of their extended-service lives and we lose them altogether.”
Recapitalization of the U.S. nuclear triad involves new submarines, such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines; new intercontinental ballistic missiles as part of the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program; and new bomber aircraft, such as the B-21 Raider.
Richard told lawmakers he characterizes Russia’s efforts as an “explosion in capability,” that extends beyond a mere recapitalization of its own triad, and includes nuclear weapons and nuclear-powered weapons that are not strategic and are non-treaty-accountable. Russia is also developing new kinds of delivery systems — including hypersonic glide, nuclear-powered cruise and undersea unmanned nuclear-powered systems.
“But it goes beyond that,” Richard said. ”They have new command and control. They have new warning systems. They have new doctrine. They are exercising [at] a level that we hadn’t seen before. They even do civil defense. That is a concept the U.S. abandoned back in the early ’60s. This is a very comprehensive approach that Russia is undertaking.”
China, Richard said, is doing much the same thing — but the key difference is that China doesn’t talk about it.
“While they are very opaque and they don’t speak about it very frequently, they will have all the same capabilities that Russia has, giving them all the same options,” he said.
The U.S. maintains sea-based, land-based and air-launched nuclear capabilities — collectively referred to a ”nuclear triad.” The Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent is expected to replace about 400 existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Richard said eliminating one leg of the triad — for instance, forgoing ground-based missiles to create a two-pronged nuclear response — changes the calculus for executing U.S. strategic deterrence.
”We went through a nuclear posture review and determined that we needed tailored strategies for each of our adversaries,” Richard said. ”The triad is what gives me the capabilities; it’s the inherent flexibility in the triad that enables me to execute those strategies. If we don’t modernize, I don’t have those capabilities.” (Source: US DoD)
28 Feb 20. Acting Navy Secretary: We Need More than 355 Ships, and That’s Not Even Counting Robot Vessels. The Navy needs more human-crewed ships…and more unmanned vessels, than previously thought.
You can’t get to a 355-ship Navy by substituting autonomous vessels for more expensive manned ships, Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly said this week. But Modly affirmed that autonomy was going to play a growing role in the Navy’s future and that the service needs to begin experimenting with integrating self-driving ships into the fleet as soon as possible.
Addressing lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, and the Brookings Institution on Friday, Modly pushed back against the Trump administration’s three-year-old policy of aiming for a 355-ship fleet. The number came from a 2016 force structure assessment that called for 355 ships of then-existing types. Modly calls that number low and outdated. The Navy has recently undertaken a new integrated force structure assessment, looking out to threats ten years into the future, particularly an acceleration of China’s large shipbuilding capacity. The ultimate number of ships the Navy will need in 2030 “actually ended up increasing. But the mix is different,” he told lawmakers.
On Friday, Modly said that the new assessment will reduce its emphasis on large surface combatants, like destroyers. “You will see that number come down in favor of small, highly-capable surface combatants like the frigate.”
But could unmanned ships like the Sea Hunter get the Navy closer to that magic number? Not exactly, said Modly. “If you include unmanned, the number is like 435 with unmanned in there. It’s like 390 without unmanned in there,” meaning with only manned ships.
James Bellingham, Director of the Center of Marine Robotics at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, said in an email that an autonomous vessel “would not have the capability of a manned naval vessel. They would be different. Without humans to fix things, reliability would be a particular problem. But they would be a lot less expensive, more expendable.”
Modly said the Navy is looking to acquire two Sea Hunters, large surface unmanned vessels, this year. The number of large unmanned surface vessels in the future fleet is “still in flux,” he said. “I’m totally comfortable with them being in flux because, frankly, we don’t have any right now. So whether we wind up with 45 of something…or 50 or 75 of something, we don’t know. It’s sort of irrelevant. We know we have to start moving down the path to unmanned and figure out how that will work,” in terms of future concepts of operation and fleet configuration.
Leidos, maker of the Sea Hunter, is spending its own money to make the ghost ship more capable, better able to handle a wider variety of missions. Today, the autonomous systems aboard the Sea Hunter can adhere to International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea, or COLREGs, while also performing a mission like surveying. The ship can even make some rudimentary decisions when it encounters another ship, said Bob McCummins, the Ocean Electronic Systems manager for Leidos’s Maritime Systems Division. “We identify the risk of collision, then we determine the situation that we’re in, based on COLREGs. Are we going to cross somebody? Are we going to be head on? … Then the autonomy determines what role we’re in. Should we be in a stand-on role, or a give-way role? And what do we do?…Not everybody obeys the rules of the road on the ocean. Then we have to determine, are they in a noncompliant COLREGs behavior?”
Once the autonomous ship deals with the other vessel, it can return to what it was doing. Leidos is now self-funding an effort to show that the vessels can do hydrographic surveying, essentially using multibeam sonar to map the ocean floor. The hope is also to show, within the next 12 to 18 months, that the vessel can process that data onboard, rather than collect it and send it back to port for human analysis.
The Sea Hunter was originally intended to trail very quiet diesel-powered submarines around the ocean. Some former defense senior leaders, such as former Defense Department Deputy Secretary Bob Work, have suggested that it could also be outfitted with missiles to defend the fleet or serve as a type of attack ship. The most recent budget request indicates that sort of experimentation isn’t likely this year. While there’s an increase in funds for the large unmanned surface vehicle, there isn’t an ask for a vertical launch system to integrate onto one of the vessels, even for experimentation.
Said Modly, “We have to really accelerate our investment in unmanned platforms…trying to do it at a reasonable pace so we can understand how these technologies might work, and, more importantly, how they might operate together. Without having the platforms it’s very difficult for us to do that type of testing… We are proceeding at a somewhat cautious pace. We need to start experimenting with concepts.”
Even if autonomy doesn’t exactly help the Navy cut back on the number of manned ships it has or wants (according to current plans), it will still play a big role in the future of maritime security.
In ten years, Bellingham said, “We will see the perception software approaches and skills [companies are developing] for consumer products [going toward] the marine environment. So our visual systems will be automated; our radars will be increasingly sophisticated; sonar will be transformed; and our at sea systems increasingly networked to offboard sensors. You might expect that there will be substantial commercial investment that will drive technology development just as much, maybe more, than defense funding.” (Source: Defense One)
28 Feb 20. Elon Musk: ‘Radical Innovation’ Needed To Beat China Militarily.
“The fighter jet era has passed,” says Musk. The future, he averred, is “autonomous drone warfare.”
China’s economy is going to eventually reach “at least twice” the size of the America economy, says SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk, so the only way for the United States to remain the dominant military power is for the US to rapidly innovate.
“The foundation of war is economics,” Musk told an audience here in Orlando at the annual Air Force Association meeting today. “In the absence of radical innovation, the US will be militarily second.”
Musk, who made his first fortune with Paypal, spoke on a panel with Air Force Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), about fostering innovation. The two were reprising their ‘fireside chat’ at the service’s Space Pitch Days held in San Francisco in November.
Musk explained that China “has a lot of smart, hardworking people that are going to do a lot of great things,” in spite of the country’s authoritarian political system.
Musk’s words echoed those of Will Roper, Air Force acquisition czar, who spoke earlier today. Roper, who has said that innovation is the next battlefield, said that ensuring rapid, ubiquitous machine-to-machine connectivity is critical to winning the 21st Century war.
“If we can’t move at digital speed, we’ve lost,” he said bluntly.
SpaceX, Roper said, is one of only three industry “unicorns” — startups that have morphed into profitable firms — that DoD investment has helped to foster. The other two are data management firm Palantir, and Anduril Industries, an artificial intelligence startup with a primary focus on the defense market.
“That is the saddest thing I can say — only three,” Roper bemoaned.
For this reason, he said, the Air Force is putting a lot of emphasis on Air Force Ventures (AFVentures) which as I reported on Tuesday is pumping increased investment into commercial startups to try to drive innovative products that also bring military benefits. Over the past 18 months, Roper said, the Air Force has invested $360m in commercial startups, that it has “turned into a billion” dollars via harnessing matching funds from private venture capital firms.
Over the next year, Roper told reporters afterwards, he hopes to see AFVentures pump more than $500m into the dual-use industry ecosystem.
Musk, for his part, said the key to successful innovation is putting into place an incentive structure that rewards innovators, does not punish those who try to innovate and fail, but that does punish those who fail to try.
Musk said he believes the hardest part of innovation is not coming up with the idea or the technology– it is producing it at scale. One way of ensuring that an innovative product can be massed produced is to build the production line concurrently as you develop the design, he explained. This allows you to figure out what pieces of the product are easy to mass produce and what pieces are either really hard, or impossible, to build at scale. This knowledge, then, feeds back into the next design iteration until you reach a final design that is new and different, but also easy to mass produce.
This is what SpaceX did, for example, with its Starlink constellation, designed to create a space-based Internet using massive numbers (up to 30,000) of small satellites in Low Earth Orbit.
The Air Force is experimenting with Starlink under Air Force Research Laboratory’s Global Lightning program. under the exercises Roper has stood up to test out technologies related to the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) that is intended to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2).
Asked by Thompson what he sees as the future of air warfare, Musk hesitated slightly before saying bluntly that the “fighter jet era has passed.” Instead, he said, the “really dangerous” future is “autonomous drone warfare.” He rushed to explain that this isn’t a future he wants, and called on the military to maintain “human in the loop” control over drones that were targeting anything but other drones.
Finally, Musk said that the “holy grail” of space the is full reusability of future rockets. While SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is partially reusable, the company’s goal is to build a fully reusable rocket — working under a program it calls Grasshopper. Such a rocket is key to enabling Musk’s long-standing dream of colonizing Mars, but he also argued that it is important for future US “leadership in space.”
“We’ve got to make Star Fleet happen,” Musk said. “We should want the sci-fi futures, the good sci-fi futures, to become real.”
(Source: Breaking Defense.com)
28 Feb 20. Trump eyes talks with Japan to ensure access to titanium sponge. President Donald Trump has decided not to take action on imports of titanium sponge, a key input in military aircraft, after a Commerce Department investigation found imports hurt U.S. makers of the material and threaten national security, a memo showed.
The memo signed by Trump on Thursday said 94.4 percent of titanium sponge imported into the United States in 2018 came from Japan. The United States has “an important security relationship with Japan,” it added.
Trump agreed with a Commerce Department recommendation that rather than curbs, the United States would seek to open talks with Japan on measures to ensure access to titanium sponge in emergencies. Trump also directed the defense secretary to take measures to increase access to the material and support domestic production to meet national defense requirements.
The Commerce Department launched its investigation of the national security implications of titanium sponge imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.
The department has used the law to investigate, among other things, imports of steel and aluminum from Canada, the European Union and Mexico.
Titanium sponge is a porous form of titanium resulting from the first stage of processing the metal for use in aerospace, electronics, architecture and sports gear.
Titanium is also used in infrastructure and commercial products including civilian aircraft, chemical plants, oil and gas plants, electric power and desalination plants, building structures, automobile products and biomedical devices.
Imports accounted for 68 percent of U.S. titanium sponge consumption in 2018, the Commerce Department said. (Source: Reuters)
26 Feb 20. Esper says he didn’t seek authority to gut DOD unions. Testifying at a congressional hearing, Defense Secretary Mark Esper gave no indication about whether an administration policy authorizing the restriction of collective bargaining by civilian defense employees will be put into practice.
The Jan. 29 memo, which could affect 750,000 DOD civilian employees if implemented, delegated to Esper the authority to exclude unions from defense agencies for reasons of national security.
Esper, testified before the House Armed Services Committee Feb. 26 that he didn’t seek the authority from President Donald Trump and he didn’t know why the memo delegating the authority to eliminate collective bargaining was drafted.
The memo, Esper said, “has not come to me with any recommendations or analysis” and said under questioning that such an analysis and recommendations was being prepared by his staff.
Rep. Donald Norcross, (D-N.J.), who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, probed Esper on whether he was planning on implementing the president’s guidance.
“The idea of creating potential havoc when we work well together seems rather crazy,” Norcross said.
The 1978 Civil Service Reform Act permits the elimination of collective bargaining on national security grounds.
That authority “was provided by Congress for genuine emergencies,” Everett B. Kelly, national secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of Government Employees said in a Feb. 14 letter to HASC Chairman Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.). “No rationale related to any emergency has been offered by the administration has having motivated the issuance of this Presidential Memorandum,” saying that the national security language in the new policy “strikes us as a mere pretext.” (Source: Defense Systems)
26 Feb 20. Strategy-Driven Budget Helps Hedge Against Capability Erosion. The U.S. military remains the best trained, best equipped and best led military force in the world, but that lead is eroding and technology changes have stressed the United States’ industrial-age capabilities, concepts and processes, fundamentally changing the character of war, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Testifying today before the House Armed Services Committee, Army Gen. Mark A. Milley joined Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper in strongly supporting President Donald J. Trump’s fiscal year 2021 defense budget request. Milley said the submission is the best allocation of resources and lines up with the National Defense Strategy.
The $705.4bn budget request is to build a more lethal U.S. force while strengthening allies and partners, Milley said. It also reforms the department for greater performance and affordability.
Milley and Esper hammered home that the budget request is strategy-driven. It prioritizes the Indo-Pacific region to deter Chinese aggression, maintain stability and ensure access to the common domains, Milley said. “Additionally, this budget accounts for continued efforts in Europe to counter Russian aggression, and it will continue to allow the United States military, in concert with our allies and partners, to deter a provocative North Korea or Iran from aggressive actions in their regions,” he said.
The budget also allows the U.S. military — with worldwide allies — to conduct counterterrorist operations.
Milley noted that the U.S. military is recovering from a readiness shortfall caused by mandatory sequestration budget cuts and continuing resolutions. The budget request continues the readiness recovery, Milley said, and if it’s approved, all services are scheduled to meet their readiness recovery goals inside the Future Years Defense Program.
The budget funds the projects needed for great-power competition with China and Russia, he said. It also continues the department’s first priority: the safety, security and reliability of our nuclear enterprise.
Additionally, the budget provides for the U.S. Space Force and increases the resilience, deterrence capability and warfighting options in both space and cyberspace the chairman said. “It funds joint, all-domain command and control to improve our interoperability across all the services and with our allies.”
Milley noted that the budget invests in the people of the department — their pay, health, education, families and more.
The military also needs to emphasize the processes needed to develop junior leaders with the values and intellectual abilities to fight and win future conflicts, the chairman said.
“The captains and ensigns of today will be the admirals and generals of tomorrow,” he said. “Ultimately, our military needs sustained, predictable, adequate and timely funding to retain its competitive advantage in this era of great-power competition.” (Source: US DoD)
26 Feb 20. Lawmakers fight Trump’s border wall cash grab from DoD. A host of Democrats and one Republican defense leader announced new actions Wednesday to fight the Trump administration’s move to shift $3.8bn meant for 17 Navy and Air Force aircraft and other military programs toward the president’s border wall project.
In a pair of separate moves, the top Democrat and Republican on the House Armed Services Committee denied the transfer in a letter Tuesday, while 32 Senate Democrats ― led by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin ― introduced legislation to reverse the transfer. The Senate bill would also reduce the Pentagon’s authority to transfer funding between accounts to head off similar moves in the future.
While both actions provide Democrats a messaging opportunity ― to portray President Donald Trump as a foe of the military in an election year ― it’s unclear whether either effort will produce a practical effect. Trump has previously claimed the authority to bypass Congress when siphoning defense funds, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would have to be willing to buck the president to allow the Senate bill a floor vote.
HASC Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., and ranking member Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, in their Tuesday letter to acting Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker, denied the Trump administration’s reprogramming action. They also hinted of further action to limit the Pentagon’s reprogramming authority.
“When Congress acts, the Department of Defense cannot ignore congressional will in pursuit of their own priorities. The steps taken in this reprogramming put the Department at risk to lose the flexibility Congress has historically granted to effectively manage the resources provided,” their letter said.
The duo, and other HASC members, expected to question the move when Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley appear before the committee Wednesday morning. The administration’s move strips money from major aircraft and procurement programs that touch Republican and Democratic districts and states.
“Besides being an affront to Congress’ constitutional prerogatives to authorize and appropriate, this is clearly not in line with the [National Defense Strategy],” Smith said in his opening statement. “What risks does this diversion raise for the force? Do they further the stated aim to achieve ‘irreversible implementation of the National Defense Strategy?’ ”
Ahead of the hearing, House Armed Services Committee Vice Chair Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., decried the reprogramming’s use of funding for the C-130J transport aircraft, F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and P-8 submarine-hunting aircraft.
“Critical equipment damages our ability to engage in great power competition,” Brown said. “President Trump has twice taken funding from military construction projects, including the development of a new child care center on Joint Andrews Air Force Base, to pay for a wall he promised voters would be paid for by Mexico. His actions are yet another reckless abuse of power.”
The Senate bill from Durbin, who is the top Democratic appropriator for defense in the Senate, called on the upper chamber to reassert Congress’ power of the purse. The bill would slash the Pentagon’s general transfer authority from $4bn to $1.8bn, and slash its war fund transfer authority from $2bn to $371m.
“Every dollar diverted from our men and women in uniform for President Trump’s ‘big, beautiful’ border wall was appropriated by Congress to address a need identified by our military. This latest reprogramming was not just an attack on Congress’ power of the purse, it was an attack on military readiness” said Durbin, of Illinois.
Despite congressional opposition, Trump faced no consequences when making similar transfers last year, when the Pentagon canceled dozens of military construction projects to free up $3.6bn and transferred $2.5 bn in counter-drug money.
Trump declared a national emergency roughly a year ago to move the money and bypass Congress, after it denied him the bns of dollars he has requested for the U.S.-Mexico wall.
The president enraged lawmakers when he renewed the national emergency this month, netting a joint rebuke from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
All together, Trump has obtained just over $3bn for border barrier construction by working through regular congressional channels, subject to limitations imposed by lawmakers. And he used various transfer and emergency authorities to shift almost $7bn more from the emergency declaration, a forfeiture fund containing money seized by law enforcement, and funding for military counter-drug activities.
This latest plan would build 30-foot fencing on federally controlled land in six border areas: San Diego and El Centro, California; Yuma and Tuscon, Arizona; and El Paso and Del Rio, Texas. Defense officials said its review concluded that all the sectors are “high intensity drug trafficking” areas and that money from military operations and maintenance accounts will be transferred to the counter-drug fund to be used for the barriers, roads and lighting.
The Department of Homeland Security last month asked the Pentagon to fund the construction of 271 miles of border wall at a cost of about $5.5bn, as part of a counter-drug effort. Esper approved a portion of that. (Source: Defense News)
26 Feb 20. Esper: DOD Budget Request Reflects Readiness Priorities, Tough Choices. The 2018 National Defense Strategy provides a road map for the Defense Department to address the reemergence of strategic competition from China and Russia, Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said.
Esper testified today before the House Armed Services Committee on DOD’s fiscal year 2021 defense budget request. The $705.4bn request represents a minor increase from last year’s $704.6bn request; however, it does not keep pace with inflation, so it’s actually a 2% decrease, he noted.
As a result, the secretary said, tough decisions were made to ensure that DOD’s highest priorities were adequately funded.
For example, Esper noted, the budget request funds eight surface and subsurface battle-force ships, including a Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine and a Virginia-class submarine.
DOD would have preferred funding to get the Navy closer to its goal of 355 or more ships, Esper said, but there were two competing pressures: the first was the topline budget itself, and the second was the need to move nearly $4bn from shipbuilding to maintenance.
The concern is that the nation has a “hollow” Navy, Esper said. A General Accountability Office report in December stated that over the last five years, 75% of surface ships didn’t leave maintenance on time. Half of those ships took more than three months to get to sea. That means last year 19 ships were unavailable to go to sea.
Esper provided a second example of tough decisions the department made to fund high-priority programs. A comprehensive Defense-Wide Review focused on reallocating resources from programs and activities that offer low return on investment in terms of the National Defense Strategy’s goals and objectives, he said.
Over a four-month period, he said, DOD conducted more than 20 review sessions, examining almost $100bn in programs, agencies and activities in the department that are not service-specific. As a result, he told the committee, this review reallocated $5.7bn budgeted in fiscal 2021 in areas such as nuclear modernization, space, missile defense, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence and 5G communications.
To make room for investments in future capabilities, he added, the services have divested some legacy systems, and currently, the department is evaluating each of the combatant commands to ensure the force is balanced to meet the National Defense Strategy’s requirements.
The department will rely on allies and partners to help provide the necessary global security, Esper said. (Source: US DoD)
25 Feb 20. Will Flying Cars Help the US Beat China? The Air Force Hopes So. The U.S. Air Force wants flying cars. But more than that, it wants to give U.S. manufacturers a head start in a hot future market.
On Tuesday, service officials released a request for proposals for the Agility Prime program, which seeks a highly modular vertical-lift aircraft that could play a variety of roles. The service dubs them ORBs, for organic resupply buses.
“Given their flexibility, an ORB could act as an organic resupply bus for disaster relief teams, an operational readiness bus for improved aircraft availability, and an open requirements bus for a growing diversity of missions. ORBs could enable distributed logistics, sustainment, and maneuver, with particular utility in medical evacuation, firefighting, civil and military disaster relief, installation and border security, search and rescue, and humanitarian operations,” the request said.
Will Roper, the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition, said last week that that program is much broader than just building a flying bus. He’s looking to create the circumstances by which the industry can take off in the United States before it swims to China.
Roper made his remarks to a handful of Pentagon reporters, but he could have been speaking to an international crowd of policy-makers and Fortune 500 CEOs in Davos or Munich. Helping to launch flying car market in the United States is “equally” as important as acquiring them for the Air Force, he said.
DOD provides about “20 percent of the [research and development] funding in this country,” he said. “Twenty percent is not going to compete with China long-term, with a nationalized industrial base that can pick national winners.”
A January report from data analytics company Govini supports that view. Govini found that while the U.S. government and U.S. businesses are spending more on research and development than China, the pace of China’s investment is surpassing that of the United States.
Among the tech winners that China has been able to poach from the United States is the consumer drone market. Roper described it as a cautionary tale for what could happen with flying cars. “The Pentagon didn’t take a proactive stance on it and now most of that supply chain has moved to China. If we had realized that commercial trend and shown that the Pentagon is willing to pay a higher price point for a trusted supply chain drone,.” the drone market would be different, and the U.S. military would be the direct beneficiary.
“We probably could have kept part of the market here and not have the security issues we do now when someone wants to use a foreign-made drone at an air force or service event.
Agility Prime is saying, ‘we’re not going to let that happen again and we’re going to be part of the global tech ecosystem.’”
The Air Force has created a venture arm, Air Force Ventures, to persuade the venture capital community to invest in projects with military relevance. Roper said that partnering with the big-money houses of Silicon Valley has already helped to bring $400mi in private investment into companies working on defense problems.
The Air Force has also introduced processes meant to get more money to companies that aren’t traditional defense contractors. In the beginning phase, there’s AFWERX, which the Air Force created in 2017 as a seed investor. AFWERX is making investments of roughly $50,000 in small companies as part of the Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, program. Companies that make it to phase II of the SBIR program could get $1m. Finally, the Air Force is looking to match the investment of private venture capitalists for bigger bets.
That’s a big departure from the way defense contracting happens traditionally, with a known defense contractor snagging a big multi-year contract and then working it until it’s canceled. “We’re not going to get a new defense prime. It collapses every year through mergers and acquisitions. Trying to recreate the 20thcentury industrial base is a losing strategy,” Roper said.
Early-stage investments in technology that could have dual military and civilian use, Roper said, is the only way the United States is going to stay competitive with China. But the military has a lot of other assets it can bring to bear on tech innovation that the private sector can’t, such as testing ranges for experimental aircraft.
The acquisitions program for Agility Prime would feature a “challenge-based acquisition plan. We’ll have different durations of flight and payloads that have to be carried. And if you pass the hurdle, you will move further down the wickets of getting safety certified and moving onto a procurement contract. We’re working with our operators right now on what missions” that might entail, he said.
Roper hopes that certifying companies to produce flying cars for the Air Force will go a long way to convincing other federal authorities to give their stamp of approval. “The companies that are able to make it to that point are able to go to domestic certifiers and say, ‘You should trust that I am able to fly commercially,’” he said.
Peter W. Singer, a strategist at New America, said, “Pentagon leaders are putting far more thinking into supply chains than they were in the past, in both already established programs of record as well as what might be the programs 20 years from now. So I am supportive of this kind of thinking. A challenge, though, is in areas where the consumer side might take off, pun intended. The Pentagon’s buying power might be enough to aid a startup at the early stage, which is obviously valuable. But the long term prospects of a firm selling into a mostly civilian market are going to be decided outside the E-Ring.”
Paul Scharre, a senior fellow and the director of the Technology and National Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, said, “I think it’s good that DoD is thinking about supply chain security and how commercial markets evolve. Keeping a demand signal in the marketplace for trusted suppliers is important for shaping how an industry evolves.”
Stephen Rodriguez, a senior advisor at the Atlantic Council, said “China came to dominate the commercial drone market not only by investing heavily out of their federal coffers but also, and probably more importantly, coordinating their industrial policy with commercial technology developers. This enables Beijing to clearly see what technology they need to buy or build and what technology wasn’t important. We still wrestle with this paradigm. Whether we have a ‘trusted market’ or not, Washington still needs to understand what technologies are truly game-changing on an ongoing basis, and then building programs around that policy.” (Source: Defense One)
25 Feb 20. Esper To Navy: Rethink Your Shipbuilding Plan. “The secretary is currently looking at that plan,” a senior defense official confirmed. The Navy has been struggling to define when and how it’ll reach 355 hulls, and no answers appear forthcoming.
PENTAGON: Defense Secretary Mark Esper has put a stop to the the expected release of the Navy’s long-term shipbuilding plan, telling the service on Monday to hold off and take another look, several sources confirm.
The plan, announced last year and slated to be wrapped up by Jan. 15, has run into serious headwinds. The Navy insists it can grow the fleet to 355 ships as early as 2030 despite its shipbuilding budget being cut in the recently released 2021 budget, and as officials concede there’s little hope of significant growth in the near-term. Now Esper, who has been reviewing the plan for the past two weeks, is unwilling to sign off on it.
“The secretary is currently looking at that plan,” a senior defense official confirmed Tuesday. Since taking over the department in July, this is his first opportunity to influence a budget, and “he’s taking time to review things.”
Another official confirmed that during the Monday meeting, Esper told the Navy the plan isn’t ready to be released. It is now unclear when it will see the light of day. A separate, but complimentary, Marine Corps plan to reform its own force mix was expected to be released this month, but that also appears to be on hold.
The halt was initially reported by USNI Tuesday afternoon, and confirmed independently by Breaking Defense.
The 30 year plan will kick in on the 2022 budget submission.
The request for 2021, however, has already come under significant fire from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and was labeled “dead on arrival” by Rep. Joe Courtney, chair of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces sub-committee.
The proposal calls for a $4bn reduction from last year’s shipbuilding budget, and asks Congress for $3bn less overall from 2020, part of an overall reduction of 11 ships the Navy had planned to buy by 2025.
Speaking to a group of shipbuilders earlier this month, Rep. Mike Gallagher, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said “Congress can’t want a bigger and stronger fleet more than the Navy and Marine Corps want a bigger and stronger fleet,” adding “there’s a lot of confusion about the budget,” on the Hill, as the Navy proposes cutting budgets and ships while promising to grow.
President Trump campaigned on building a 355 ship fleet in 2016, but under the administration’s current plan, which includes early ship retirements and cuts to previously planned submarine and destroyer builds, the Navy would only have 305 ships by 2025, 50 short of the 355 goal by 2030. That would make it a smaller fleet than the 317 ships projected by 2025 in Obama administration’s 30-year shipbuilding plan released in 2016.
The Office of Management and Budget ordered the Navy to consider counting unmanned ships as traditional ships late last year in order to help them along the path of reaching 355, but Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday have said their plan would have 355 manned ships, “plus” a number of unmanned vessels.
The two officials will appear before the House Armed Service Committee Thursday morning in what is expected to be a heated meeting with lawmakers clearly frustrated with the service’s inability to come up with a plan for the future.
In a bid to scrape up more money to pump into new hulls, Modly kicked off a “Stem to Stern” review of the entire force this month to find $40bn in savings over the next five years, by eliminating commands, slashing logistics costs, and cutting or outsourcing back-end functions. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
25 Feb 20. Esper’s Combatant Command Review to Finish by September. Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper is reviewing the combatant commands’ force posture to ensure the forces have the right mix of personnel and resources to meet the National Defense Strategy’s priorities, a senior defense official told reporters at the Pentagon.
Speaking on background, the official said the combatant command review is a prudent step as the department faces the return of great-power competition with China and Russia.
U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Southern Command already have been through the process, officials said. The rest of the combatant commands will undergo the same scrutiny, with all reviews finished by September.
Esper will personally oversee the reviews, the official said, just as he did the reviews of defense agencies in his review of Fourth Estate organizations late last year. Those are the organizations in the Defense Department that are not military services.
Under that review, the secretary looked at defense agency budgets for efficiencies. Those reviews found $5bn that can be applied to higher-priority needs in the department. “We need to take a look at our foundation and we need to do a ‘zero based review,'” the official said. “That is what this is all about, and every [combatant command] has to go through this process.”
The official stressed that the process isn’t just about cutting money or resources, but using the money and resources where they make the most sense and where they will do the most good with regard to the National Defense Strategy. “It’s not about savings,” he said. “But you can assume that large, high-performing organizations like … combatant commands, over time will build up a certain amount of inefficiencies. So I think there will be some savings.”
The process is about aligning strategic guidance and priorities with resources, the official explained. He noted that U.S. Africa Command — a relatively new combatant command — still had thousands of tasks it was ordered to perform. Some of those tasks are outdated, but they are still on the books, the official said. This needs to change.
The department’s effort mirrors what any high-performing large organization does, the official said: It is taking stock of the crucial missions and making sure they are resourced correctly, and the National Defense Strategy is a good guiding document, he added. Competing with China and Russia is the strategy’s priority, followed by countering Iran and North Korea. Overarching all this is the problem of violent extremist organizations. The U.S. military also needs to reset force readiness.
This process does not mean combatant command winners and losers, the official said, noting that the United States needs to compete with China and Russia globally. “So we care about their activities in Africom, we care about their activities in Southcom and around the world,” he said. “But we have to be judicious on how we apply our resources.”
The review will look at the full range of activities in the geographic and functional commands. These commands also bleed over, in some instances, into the area of other federal agencies. DOD officials must ask if a mission is core to the department or not, or if another agency should be footing the bill. “These are tough questions,” the official said. “But they must be asked.”
Esper will chair these reviews, and the combatant commander will participate, along with DOD policy, Joint Staff, comptroller and evaluation personnel. The secretary goes back to basics, noting that combatant commands posture forces as a result of decades of operations that have evolved over time, the official said. He asks the commanders to imagine a blank slate and then — given the situation today — how the forces would be arrayed. The secretary will also ask what the ideal makeup of forces should be and what missions those forces should be performing, the official said.
“Some of it may be aspirational, but you have to start looking at that in that regard and seeing where it makes sense,” the official said. “So all of that comes into play.”
Some aspects of the review will be announced immediately, such as Esper announcing the deployment of an Army Security Force Assistance Brigade to Africa to train partner nations, rather than a regular infantry brigade. The security force brigade is designed to train local forces, and the infantry brigade would be better served getting ready for full-spectrum operations, the official explained.
Other changes will have to wait until the full review is completed. The official said there will undoubtedly be capabilities — in information technology, for example — where there can be some economies of scale, but this cannot be known until the review is completed. (Source: US DoD)
24 Feb 20. Convincing Congress: Secretive programs could prove harmful to Air Force funding plans. The words “classified program” conjure up images of experimental planes, highly advanced super weapons and unidentified flying objects operating under cloak and dagger at Area 51. But as the U.S. Air Force gears up to defend its fiscal 2021 budget on Capitol Hill, lifting the veil of secrecy on some of these programs will be key to getting lawmakers on board with controversial retirements of legacy aircraft, defense analysts said.
In its FY21 budget proposal, the Air Force asked to cut 17 B-1 bombers, 44 A-10 jet aircraft, 24 Global Hawk Block 2 and 3 surveillance drones, as well as 13 KC-135 and 16 KC-10 tankers. It is also cutting the number of contractor-flown MQ-9 Reaper combat air patrols, and it will replace 24 C-130H airlifters with 19 C-130Js coming online.
Those reductions net $21bn in savings over the next five years, with about 40 percent of that spent on classified programs buried in the black budget, creating the initial appearance of capabilities disappearing without any kind of a replacement and no obvious boost to research and development funds.
That could create a challenge for the Air Force as it tries to get members of Congress and their staff on board, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Dave Goldfein acknowledged during an exclusive interview on Feb. 18 with Defense News.
“Most of what we’re giving up is unclassified. On the minus column you’re going to see things that are real, that are flying right now that are all legacy, real legacy capability. It’s a real risk to combatant commanders today. What we’re buying — not all but a lot of it — is in the classified realm,” Goldfein said.
“As we go forward with Congress, I think our biggest challenge, quite frankly, is we were able to talk up to the secret level and above inside the Department of Defense in most of our conversations. That’s harder to do with Congress,” he added.
The Air Force is trying to combat that by “doubling down” on office calls with lawmakers and congressional staff to discuss the classified investments. Goldfein said the service has done “well over 20” meetings with members of the congressional defense committees and is on track to brief every lawmaker willing to sit down for a classified briefing before public budget hearings start next month.
But Mackenzie Eaglen, a defense budget expert at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that such briefings are time-consuming and may not be of interest to most lawmakers.
“The members that are going to take the time to go to a [secure room] and get read in and figure out what’s what — there are even some members of the armed services [that won’t do that]. It’s pretty limited who is going to have that kind of time,” she said.
It will be important for the Air Force to publicly justify — at unclassified hearings and other venues — what its classified investments are going to enable, said Todd Harrison, a budget analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“How does it contribute to implementation of the [National Defense Strategy]? How does it address vulnerabilities in the force? How does it create strategic challenges for our adversaries? If they can talk about that and then [be] more explicit with Congress about how the money is being used, I think that could help mitigate some of this,” Harrison said. “If you can’t talk about the new investment, the positive aspect for 40 percent of the cases, I think the Air Force is effectively going into this fight with one arm tied behind its back.”
While the large investment in classified programs is a challenge, it is not insurmountable, said David Deptula, the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies and a retired Air Force lieutenant general.
“Because a good chunk is classified, that’s a good thing. These are truly strategic advantages that we’re investing in, and they’re not items that you’d want out there in the public space,” he said.
Goldfein is confident he will be able to convey to Congress the importance of retiring key aircraft at this point in time.
“At least we can lay out the why,” he said. “It’s going to be hard. Asking Congress to retire legacy aircraft is always hard. But I think we have a really positive story to tell, with the analysis behind it.”
Across the board — whether the Air Force has to defend cuts to the B-1, A-10, Global Hawk or tanker fleet — the argument comes down to fleet management, he said.
“We’re putting on the table 17 B-1s, at least to this point,” Goldfein said. “Many of those 17 B-1s are on the ramp, but they were not flying. Then you do your business case on what it would take to actually get them back to a high enough readiness rate, and the business case actually doesn’t justify it.
“You’ll see the same methodology we used for each of those weapons systems. How do you retire the oldest of each, refunnel that money into the remaining fleet so you can keep that fleet flying for longer?”
But any skeptics in Congress will want to see hard data proving there are benefits to retiring some of these aircraft, or a plan to drive down risk, Harrison said.
For instance, the Air Force is retiring its oldest, least capable B-1 bombers, but it will keep all associated maintainers and infrastructure, which cuts down on the savings. To make a case to Congress, the Air Force must make a strong argument on why that reduction could improve mission-capable rates, and the service must provide the statistics, he said.
Regarding the KC-10 and KC-135 tanker reductions, Harrison said the Air Force must describe exactly what it will do to ameliorate a demand for aerial refueling that already exceeds what the service can provide.
“What is the Air Force going to do over the next few years to mitigate the lack of tanker support? Is the Air Force going to go forward with some of the plans they’ve previously had to do contracted tanking as an interim solution like the Navy has been doing?” he wondered.
And to justify the Global Hawk fleet, Harrison said, the Air Force may be called to defend why it is getting rid of those highly utilized assets instead of the aging inventory of U-2 spy planes.
The biggest arguments in favor of keeping legacy aircraft will likely come from lawmakers in districts affected by retirements of legacy aircraft. It will be up to the Air Force to explain to those members what capabilities will come on board to replace it, or why these divestments need to take place even if there is no immediate replacement, Deptula said.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said. “I think in some districts you’ll see understanding and support. If you look at the bomber issue … with the promise of modernized B-21s that are coming on board, I think that there are some congressional districts and members who will go: ‘Yeah, OK, we understand that logic.’ ” (Source: Defense News)
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