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07 Mar 20. U.S. judge says Amazon likely to succeed on key argument in contract challenge. A U.S. judge said Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) is likely to succeed on a key argument of its challenge to the U.S. Department of Defense’s decision to award cloud computing deal worth up to $10bn to Microsoft Corp. (MSFT.O)
The opinion by U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith was unsealed on Friday. On Feb. 13, she issued an order blocking work on the contract pending resolution of Amazon’s court challenge.
Amazon contends the contract was awarded to Microsoft because of improper influence by President Donald Trump.
The opinion did not mention Trump or address Amazon’s claims of improper influence, but instead focused on how the Pentagon assessed Microsoft’s data storage in one price scenario.
Campbell-Smith wrote that Amazon “is likely to succeed on the merits of its argument that the DOD improperly evaluated” a Microsoft price scenario. She said Amazon is likely to show that Microsoft’s scenario was not “technically feasible” as the Pentagon assessed.
Microsoft spokesman Frank X. Shaw said in a statement the company believes it will ultimately be able to move forward, noting the decision focused on a “lone technical finding by the Department of Defense about data storage” under one price scenario out of six. Shaw said in the one issue cited by the judge, “The government makes clear that in their view Microsoft’s solution met the technical standards and performed as needed.”
Amazon did not immediately comment on Saturday.
Campbell-Smith said, “In the context of a procurement for cloud computing services, the court considers it quite likely that this failure is material.”
Amazon, which had been seen as a front-runner to win the contract, filed a lawsuit in November just weeks after the contract was awarded to Microsoft. Trump has publicly derided Amazon head Jeff Bezos and repeatedly criticized the giant online retailer.
The Amazon lawsuit said the Defense Department’s decision was full of “egregious errors,” which were a result of “improper pressure from President Donald Trump.”
Bezos also owns the Washington Post, whose coverage has been critical of Trump and which has frequently been a target of barbs by Trump about the news media.
The Pentagon, which had planned to start work on the contract on Feb. 13, has said it was disappointed in the ruling.
As part of the lawsuit, Amazon asked the court to halt the execution of the contract, known as the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure Cloud, or JEDI. The contract is intended to give the military better access to data and technology from remote locations.
Last month, Amazon’s cloud computing unit, Amazon Web Services, said it was seeking to depose Trump in its lawsuit and suggested the president was trying “to screw Amazon” over the contract. (Source: glstrade.com/Reuters)
06 Mar 20. Department of Defense Statement on People’s Liberation Army Navy Lasing of U.S. Navy P-8A in Unsafe, Unprofessional Manner.
On March 3, 2020, Secretary of Defense Mark T. Esper spoke with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) Minister of National Defense General Wei Fenghe. During the call, Secretary Esper raised concern over an incident on February 17 in which a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was lased by PRC navy destroyer 161 while flying in airspace above international waters approximately 380 miles west of Guam. Secretary Esper called on the People’s Liberation Army to conduct itself safely and professionally in accordance with bilateral agreements and international standards of safety at sea.
The incident underscores the need for the two militaries to enhance bilateral crisis communication mechanisms to ensure incidents like this do not escalate or lead to miscalculation.
The full press release of the incident, published on February 28, 2020, by U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs, is below.
People’s Liberation Army Navy lased a U.S. Navy P-8A in unsafe, unprofessional manner
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) — The P-8A was operating in international airspace in accordance with international rules and regulations. The PRC navy destroyer’s actions were unsafe and unprofessional.
Additionally, these acts violate the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES), a multilateral agreement reached at the 2014 Western Pacific Naval Symposium to reduce the chance of an incident at sea. CUES specifically addresses the use of lasers that could cause harm to personnel or damage to equipment. The destroyer’s actions were also inconsistent with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between U.S. Department of Defense and the Ministry of National Defense of the PRC regarding rules of behavior for safety of air and maritime encounters.
The laser, which was not visible to the naked eye, was captured by a sensor onboard the P-8A. Weapons-grade lasers could potentially cause serious harm to aircrew and mariners, as well as ship and aircraft systems.
The P-8A is assigned to VP-45, based out of Jacksonville, Florida, and is forward-deployed to Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. The squadron conducts routine operations, maritime patrol and reconnaissance in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations.
U.S Navy aircraft routinely fly in the Philippine Sea and have done so for many years. U.S. Navy aircraft and ships will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.
U.S. 7th Fleet is the largest numbered fleet in the world, and with the help of 35 other maritime-nation allies and partners, the U.S. Navy has operated in the Indo-Pacific region for more than a century, providing credible, ready forces to help preserve peace and prevent conflict. (Source: US DoD)
06 Mar 20. DOD’s Chief Management Officer Leads Servicewide Reviews. The Defense Department’s chief management officer is leading each of the military, departmentwide reviews with the aim of ranking programs needed for the fight against near-peer competitors, said a DOD official.
This effort will be reflected in the fiscal year 2022 through 2026 defense budget cycles, he said.
In the past, this process took place within each of the services, he noted. Now, the chief management office will examine each of their budgets to better align all of them with the National Defense Strategy.
John E. Whitley, who is performing the duties of director of the Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation, said the National Defense Strategy — DOD’s playbook — is focused on possible future threats from China and Russia. He spoke March 4, at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference, in Washington, D.C.
As such, there are programs that are important in answering those threats, he said. The programs include hypersonics, missile defense, artificial intelligence, 5G, modernizing the nuclear triad and readiness.
In the aggregate, that’s a big expense, he said, and the department doesn’t anticipate increases in future budgets to cover them, so DOD had to look within to find savings.
The department already completed its Defense-Wide Review, which looked at all organizations not owned by the military services — such as the Missile Defense Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Information Systems Agency, and the Special Operations Command.
That review, which lasted from August through November, freed up about $6 billion for high-priority items that were reflected in the fiscal year 2021 budget, he said.
For instance, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency had gradually expanded its Cold War mission when it focused on nuclear materials. It had expanded, he said, into biological and chemical programs in non-threat areas, so sizeable reductions were made.
Likewise, 50 military treatment facilities were right-sized to better serve members and cut operating costs, he said.
That doesn’t mean programs that were cut, delayed or reduced were not important, Whitley added. Tough choices had to be made to free the needed funding for the most important programs.
Besides freeing up money, that review identified another $2bn in programs that made more sense to turn over to the military services, and that was done, he said.
“We anticipate additional savings from the defense wide accounts,” Whitley said.
A third review is now examining each of the combatant commands with an eye for rebalancing manpower and material for the high-end fight, he said. (Source: US DoD)
05 Mar 20. U.S., U.K. Leaders Discuss China, Russia, Afghan Peace in Pentagon Meeting. U.S. and United Kingdom defense leaders discussed a range of issues including China, Russia, Afghanistan and more during a Pentagon meeting today.
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said that the United States shares a “special relationship” with the UK and that the realm can always count on the United States for support.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stressed that special relationship and also stressed the role of NATO in both the U.S. and British defense strategies.
The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is the cornerstone of the international rules-based order put in place after World War 2. That order has served the world well. “It will remain equally important as we confront this era of great power competition,” Esper said. “In this respect, we look forward to contributing to the UK integrated review as Britain — like the United States — realigns its military to the security challenges of the 21st century, particularly those posed by China.”
The two also discussed Afghanistan. In the news conference following the meeting, Wallace was asked about an op-ed that ran in a British newspaper saying the agreement with the Taliban was rushed and puts the sacrifice of those who fought in Afghanistan in question. The sacrifices may have been in vain.
Wallace said the service members from all nations who served in Afghanistan did so to try and to get peace. “I think the biggest betrayal to the young men and women of all the allies who lost their lives would be to not try and achieve peace, for the investment in the work that’s been done,” he said. “That’s what this process is trying to achieve.”
Wallace said he was reassured by Esper that the deal with the Taliban is conditions-based.
The United States is grateful for the UK’s continued diplomatic, economic and military leadership on the global stage, Esper said. The nation is one of the few in NATO that exceeds the alliance’s 2 percent of gross domestic product to defense, goal.
Esper noted the UK has also recommitted to the defeat ISIS coalition, and its leadership of the international maritime security construct.
“On Afghanistan, we will remain in close consultation as the peace process moves forward and the all-important intra-Afghan negotiations commence,” Esper said.
He reassured Wallace that the United States will retain [in Afghanistan] “the necessary capabilities to protect our service members and allies and support the Afghan security forces. We will also ensure that a drawdown of U.S. forces is aligned with commensurate reductions by the UK and our other partners.” (Source: US DoD)
05 Mar 20. Readiness Up Across the Force, Chairman Says. The fiscal year 2021 Defense Department budget request is driven by the National Defense Strategy, and also furthers the department’s readiness and modernization efforts, said the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“We are recovering from readiness shortfalls and modernization deferments from 20 years of continuous warfare and a decade of fiscal instability,” said Gen. Mark A. Milley during testimony yesterday before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This year’s budget builds on previous readiness and modernization gains and I believe the fiscal year 2021 budget submission is the best allocation of resources in a balanced way to support the NDS. It builds a more lethal force, it strengthens allies and partners, and it reforms the department for greater performance and affordability.”
While Milley didn’t provide examples of readiness gains for either equipment or personnel, he told lawmakers that substantial gains have been made over the last two years.
“I can tell you that [readiness] has improved,” he said. “I would put it in about a third or so, as I look at these numbers — about a third improved over the numbers that you probably saw anywhere between 12 and 24 months ago.”
Milley said that with the continued support of Congress, all the military services “are scheduled to meet their readiness recovery goals in this future year’s defense plan.”
The fiscal year 2021 budget request, Milley said, is driven by the National Defense Strategy, which identifies both China and Russia as long-term strategic competitors.
“Our competitive advantage has eroded, and no one should have any doubt about that,” Milley said. “China and Russia are increasing their military capabilities to outmatch the United States and its allies in order to exert their global influence, and China’s objective is to do that by mid-century.”
As part of efforts to build a more lethal force — one of the strategic priorities of the National Defense Strategy — Milley explained to lawmakers why some existing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms, which have always been in high demand, may be retired.
“Many of the ISR systems that we have today that are in very high demand are very, very useful against terrorists and insurgents, against fixed sites, etc.,”Milley said. “They have clear penetration capability when there is no significant air defense threat or there are no other types of threats.”
But those types of ISR capabilities, he said, are less useful against peer or near-peer competitors.
“If you are talking about great power competition, which is what this NDS talks about, and what this budget is all about, that is a different type of ISR,” Milley said. “So we are trying to divest ourselves of the ISR that is not particularly useful against a Russia or China or even [the high-density] air defense systems of an Iran or North Korea, and invest in those ISR systems that do have penetration capability. … It makes no sense to me to continue to buy stuff that isn’t in alignment with the NDS.” (Source: US DoD)
04 Mar 20. F-35 program head pushes back on Elon Musk’s critique of the Joint Strike Fighter. Days after billionaire SpaceX founder Elon Musk shocked the defense community by criticizing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s head of the F-35 program countered that the jet will be relevant for decades to come.
“I guess I’m not all that interested in engaging in a battle of words with Elon Musk. I don’t necessarily share his opinion,” Lt. Gen. Eric Fick told attendees at McAleese & Associates’ Defense Programs Conference on Wednesday.
“I think the F-35 is a remarkable capability and will continue to be a remarkable capability with the initiatives and the process, procedure and transformation that we see within the program. I’m happy to see what comes next, be it manned or unmanned, but I think the F-35 is going to be here for a long time.”
Musk made national news after he shared a couple of provocative opinions at an Air Force Association conference on Feb. 28. During a discussion on the future of air warfare, Musk mused that “the fighter jet era has passed” and that it was only a matter of time before the Air Force pivoted toward autonomous combat drones.
Unprompted, Musk also shared his opinion on the F-35, built by Lockheed Martin, saying its past problems with cost and schedule performance could have been avoided if the Defense Department had retained a fifth-generation competitor to the jet instead of downselecting to a single vendor in 2001.
“There should be a competitor to [the Joint Strike Fighter],” he said at the conference, adding that he knew that was a controversial opinion.
He later upped the ante, tweeting that “the competitor should be a drone fighter plane that’s remote controlled by a human, but with its maneuvers augmented by autonomy. The F-35 would have no chance against it.”
Asked about Musk’s comments on Wednesday, Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said that the defense community may have misinterpreted Musk’s comments.
“I’m not sure Elon really meant that we should park them all today,” he said, referring to fighter jets more broadly. “I think he meant we should start thinking about what comes next, because something is coming next.”
While the Air Force may some day shift almost entirely to a combat aircraft inventory made of drones, existing artificial intelligence technology is not mature enough to deal with unknown information as well as a human fighter pilot, Holmes said. “For a long time, we’re still going to need manned aircraft [for] the fighter and bomber side,” he added.
Still, he acknowledged that the Air Force should explore unmanned technologies, saying that “we will increasingly be experimenting with other options.”
As the Air Force looks to replace its aging fighter inventory, it has multiple “on ramps” where it can start retiring legacy fighters like the F-15 and F-16, and swap them with new F-35s or other jets, Holmes said. For example, the service will buy F-35s and F-15EXs to replace the F-15C/D. The next decision point will be whether to replace Block 30 and older F-16s with the F-35A or other nascent capabilities.
“I want to work to do the experimentation to answer that question,” Holmes said. “Will I still want to replace them all with F-35s, or will I start cutting in something else like Elon talked about or what [Air Force acquisition executive] Will Roper and I are discussing?”
While Holmes did not elaborate on those options, they include developmental programs like Skyborg — an AI-equipped XQ-58 Valkyrie that the Air Force hopes to develop as a “loyal wingman” to augment manned fighters — or Digital Century Series aircraft that could be developed within years using mature technologies and new advances in digital engineering.
Holmes’ comments seem to hint that the Air Force would be open to combat aircraft that could compete or complement the F-35.
In his own comments on Wednesday, Fick argued that the F-35’s program had turned a corner, describing the jet’s performance as “eye watering” and saying the jet will improve as it receives a suite of modifications called Block 4.
However, he also acknowledged wanting to see improved affordability and reliability. Although the mission-capable rates for combat-coded F-35s increased to 72 percent in 2019, Fick said the jet is still “falling short” of operator readiness requirements for fully mission-capable aircraft. He also criticized the price of flying the aircraft, saying it was critical to get the cost per flying hour to $25,000 for the F-35A. (Source: glstrade.com/Defense News)
04 Mar 20. Military Aims to Reform Sustainment, Acquisition to Benefit Warfighters. The Defense Department’s acquisition and sustainment efforts are focused on supporting all three lines of the National Defense Strategy, a DOD official said.
Ellen M. Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said DOD is focusing on:
- Restoring military readiness as we build a more lethal force;
- Expanding and strengthening alliances and partnerships; and
- Bringing business reform to the Defense Department.
Speaking today at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington, Lord said DOD endeavors to enable the delivery and sustainment of secure and resilient capabilities to the warfighter and international partners quickly and cost effectively.
To do this, Lord said her office has focused on six lines of effort:
She said the first goal is to enable innovative acquisition approaches that deliver warfighting capability at the speed of relevance.
“Crummy programs start with crummy contracts,” Lord said. As such, the department has been reforming the way contracts are drawn.
Further, DOD has initiated a contract-financing study that will consider how best to attract highly innovative small businesses and non-traditional defense contractors, she said.
The study will also examine the existing contract financing methods, such as progress payments and performance-based payments, Lord said.
Another major accomplishment is the rewrite of the policy guide on DOD acquisition, she said. “This overhaul is the most transformational change to acquisition policy in years, and an effort that we anticipate to have long-lasting positive effects.”
The second line of effort is building a safe, secure and resilient defense industrial base, she said, noting that the industrial base is under cyberattack every day.
Lord said DOD can assist in cybersecurity, particularly with small companies that may not have the necessary resources.
Protecting intellectual property is also part of this goal, she added.
The third goal is to ensure safe and resilient DOD installations. Lord noted that the problem is that many installations are tied to the grid and depend on fuel for generators. If there’s a disruption in these, that impacts readiness.
The department is also looking at innovations to decrease outside reliance. Toward that end, DOD is working with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other agencies to design and build small, portable nuclear reactors in the neighborhood of two megawatts, she said. If successful, these reactors could also be used in remote or forward operating environments.
Fourth, the department is increasing weapons system mission capability while reducing operating costs. An important part of this, she said, is ensuring safe, secure and reliable modern nuclear deterrence.
Fifth, the U.S. can’t go it alone, Lord said. DOD is advancing numerous bilateral discussions with allies and partners to promote acquisition and sustainment initiatives and ensure interoperability.
Finally, the department seeks to recruit, develop and retain a diverse acquisition and sustainment workforce. “We want to think about our people first,” Lord said. (Source: US DoD)
04 Mar 20. McCarthy: Without budget growth, Army heads toward ‘collision course.’ Without top-line growth in the U.S. Army’s future budgets, the service is headed toward a “collision course,” Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy said March 4 at the McAleese Defense Programs Conference.
The Army has already gone through two-and-a-half years of deep budget scrubs through its “night court” process, which seeks to find funding areas in the budget that don’t align with the National Defense Strategy and the service’s modernization efforts, and moves those dollars into accounts that meet its priorities.
In the Army’s first night court, the chief, secretary, vice chief and undersecretary presided over decisions — big and small, easy and tough — for roughly 600 programs, shifting $33bn from programs across the fiscal 2020 through FY24 five-year plan.
In FY20, the Army is investing $8.6bn in modernization efforts and, across the next five years, investing a total of $57bn, a 137 percent increase from the previous year’s five-year plan.
The Army found another roughly 80 programs to scale back or cancel in order to free up funding in FY21, but Army leadership has admitted it’s getting harder and harder to find low-hanging fruit in the process.
The Army is now in the process of conducting its night court for FY22 in order to try to find more money to align with its modernization goals. Officials will have to start making choices in terms of restructuring procurement accounts to begin the divestiture of current capabilities in the force to make room for future programs that will enter Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) in the comings years.
But that may not be enough if the Army doesn’t get an increased top line of 3 to 5 percent in future budget years, McCarthy said.
“What is going to be a challenge for us in ‘22 and ‘23 when [modernization programs] start to mature, we have to make choices in this milestone process, you start buying LRIP tranches,” he said.
At the same time the Army has to grow the force because its current ratio of dwell time to deployment time is 1:1 worldwide, McCarthy said.
“If we don’t get 3 to 5 percent growth in the out-years, there is a collision course if you keep growing the force and starting bringing in all these capabilities,” he said.
“Choices will have to be made if we can’t increase the top line in ‘22 and ‘23, so will that mean will we have to flatten end-strength? Do we tier the weapon systems that we bring into the formations,” McCarthy asked. “These are the choices that we are talking about, we are looking at and we are going to be prepared to make.”
McCarthy referenced recent comments from Defense Secretary Mark Esper regarding the need to review combatant command demands and asked, “Can we reduce demand worldwide? … Are we being efficient with every soldier, sailor, airman and marine that we send forward? Can the allies do better? Can we increase their capabilities that do more of the burden that is everything from investing as well as putting more boots forward in the form of deterrence?”
McCarthy told reporters following his speech that if the demand doesn’t come down there, “there is no trade space left even if you are going to kill weapon systems that we’ve had for 40 to 50 years and if you are successful with Congress in getting that done.”
The Army is discussing the numbers it needs with the White House, McCarthy added, but noted that “this is an election year. This is tough. This is going to be a march for the next couple of months.”
But McCarthy stressed, the Army will “continue to grow until we are forced with a really difficult, really another inflection point, if you will, downstream.” (Source: Defense News)
04 Mar 20. The White House gave this nuclear agency a giant funding increase. Can it spend it all? Members of Congress used a hearing Tuesday to question whether the National Nuclear Security Administration, a semiautonomous arm of the Department of Energy that handles development of nuclear warheads, can spend an almost 20 percent funding increase requested by the Trump administration.
As part of its national security budget request, the White House asked for more than $46bn for nuclear programs in fiscal 2021. That includes $28.9bn for the Department of Defense, which develops the delivery systems such as the B-21 bomber and the new replacement for intercontinental ballistic missiles, as well as $15.6bn for NNSA’s nuclear weapons accounts and another $1.7bn for nuclear reactor work, run through the NNSA on behalf of the Navy.
That NNSA total represents a major increase in agency weapons funding over levels projected in the previous budget request, something that several members noted during an appearance by NNSA head Lisa Gordon-Hagerty at the House Armed Services Committee’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
Gordon-Hagerty defended the need for the funds, saying, “We have very limited margin for error” to keep both the warhead modernization efforts and the development of plutonium pit production capabilities on track. She described the funding as “requirements-based” and the result of consultations within the NNSA and DoD partners, and she expressed confidence that the money would be put to good use.
A different view was painted by Allison Bawden, director of the natural resources and environment team within the Government Accountability Office, who also appeared before the committee. Bawden warned that the “spend rate has to go up very quickly” for NNSA to be able to spend all the money coming its way.
Asked directly by Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., if NNSA could successfully execute a roughly $3bn increase from its FY20 to FY21 request, Bawden said it would be “very challenging” to do so.
Expect agency officials to face similar questions about how to spend its money on Wednesday, when they appear in front of the House Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, the appropriations panel with the most direct control of the NNSA’s budget.
The chairwoman of that subcommittee, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, told Defense News this week that the administration is “again proposing a nuclear weapons budget that does not establish clear priorities.”
“The proposed $3.1bn increase for weapons is simply sprinting toward failure, and Congress should right-size NNSA’s workload to match what the complex can realistically do,” Kaptur said.
For comparison, here are the five-year projections for NNSA’s weapons activities listed in the FY21 request, versus what was projected in the FY20 request:
- FY21: $15.6bn for weapons activities, up from $12.8bn projected in FY20.
- FY22: $15.94bn for weapons activities, up from $13bn projected in FY20.
- FY23: $16.27bn for weapons activities, up from $13.1bn projected in FY20.
- FY24: $16.6bn for weapons activities, up from $13.4bn projected in FY20.
- FY25: $16.96bn for weapons activities, up from $13.5bn projected in FY20.
All told, that equals an estimated $81.37bn to be spent on nuclear weapons programs, including modernization of a number of warheads. Combined with the Pentagon’s plan to spend about $87bn over that same time frame on nuclear modernization, the overall price tag for the Future Years Defense Program could be at least $163bn.
Stephen Young, an expert with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that the nuclear “bow wave” of spending that has long been predicted is finally arriving. But he agrees that the NNSA is likely to be challenged in spending its significant increase in dollars.
“The problem is, the NNSA will almost certainly fail to achieve its admittedly aggressive timelines, even though it is throwing money at the problem. If the United States does not have an achievable, realistic warhead plan, the Pentagon will face difficult choices going forward,” Young said. “The good news is, because the U.S. nuclear arsenal is so robust, even if the NNSA has significant failures, the U.S. deterrent will remain robust.” (Source: Defense News)
04 Mar 20. F-35 Stealth Fighters Are Now Ready to Launch From America’s “Light” Carriers. Why not build more of them? Light carriers are smaller than regular supercarriers, but they are cheaper to build and still function like a flattop. They also carry Marines and their supplies and weapons to any fight anywhere in the world.
Were the USS America to cruise alongside the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, the average Joe might struggle to distinguish their purposes. Both flat-tops measure longer than two-and-half football fields in length and carry jet fighters and helicopters.
But the America and her sistership Tripoli are technically “Landing Helicopter Assault” vessels numbered LHA-6 and LHA-7 respectively: super-sized members of the “gator navy” of amphibious assault ships designed to deploy the expeditionary units of the U.S. Marine Corps onto hostile shores. In addition to the Navy crew of 1,000-1,200 sailors and officers, each LHA can carry nearly 1,700 Marines.
Unlike the catapult-launched Rafale-M jet fighters on the Charles de Gaulle, the America and Tripoli can only deploy short-takeoff and vertical-lift capable jump jets from their decks. You can see a video of an F-35B hovering down for a landing on the America here.
Rather than using nuclear reactors to achieve brisk speeds of 30 knots, 45,000-ton LHAs use an innovative hybrid electric/gas-turbine propulsion system pioneered in the final Wasp-class LHD, USS Makin Island. The electric propulsion is used for slower cruising speeds while the gas-turbine becomes more efficient near the more modest maximum speed of twenty knots.
However, unlike the Wasp-class Landing Helicopter Docks (LHDs) they were based upon, America and Tripoli lack floodable “well deck” which can carry landing craft to ferry troops ashore. (This video shows how the Wasp’s cavernous well deck works.)
All that space has instead gone to dramatically expanded aviation facilities and fuel stores. The ship’s medical facilities were also reduced by two-thirds.
Instead of watercraft, the LHAs rely on squadrons of MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotors, sophisticated hybrid aircraft combining the vertical lift ability of a helicopter and the speed and range of an airplane—to insert troops by air.
Officially, a “typical” air wing on the America would include a dozen Ospreys, six Harrier or F-35B jump jets, seven AH-1Z “Viper” attack and four CH-53K heavy transport helicopters to support troops ashore, and two MH-60S choppers for anti-submarine and search-and-rescue duties.
But if the Navy wants to, it could instead cram up to twenty fighters on the LHDs, turning them effectively into light aircraft carriers—a class of ship the Navy hasn’t built since World War II. Like the lower-end escort carrier, the concept was that there were many missions like aircraft delivery and convoy escort that would benefit from air support, but didn’t require the massive firepower of a full carrier air wing with seventy to a hundred warplanes.
Indeed, during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Navy used the LHDs Bataan and Bonhomme Richard as pocket carriers primarily to launch Harrier airstrikes in Iraq.
However, the subsonic Harrier, though a versatile support platform, was substantially inferior in performance to equivalent land-based or catapult-launched fighters.
The new supersonic-capable F-35B Lightning II stealth jets entering service with the Marine Corps are far more capable of taking on fourth- and fifth-generation fighters and launching longer-range strikes. Combined with the F-35’s surveillance capabilities, this means future air wings on LHDs and LHAs will be far more versatile.
As the Pentagon’s chief strategic contingency is preparing for the possibility of conflict with China, the Marine Corps sees the Pacific Ocean as its most important likely battleground.
A U.S.-China conflict might play out over small islands in the South China Sea in which the Chinese military has installed airfields, missile batteries and naval bases. And it may prove inefficient or risky to delegate a full-sized supercarrier to operations targeting these islands, or defend islands to which Marine and Army forces have deployed their own missile batteries.
Indeed, the LHD USS Wasp deployed in April 2019 with ten F-35Bs onboard and buzzed Chinese troops deployed at Scarborough Shoal, an occupied by Chinese troops but claimed by the Philippines.
Light carriers might also be appropriate in scale for protecting vital convoys traversing the vastness of the Pacific against sporadic air and submarine attacks using their onboard fighters and helicopters respectively.
The cost of the America-class LHAs reflects the efficiency argument well: the three ships ordered together were developed and built for $10bn. That’s less than a single $13bn Gerald Ford-class supercarrier.
Bringing Back the Well Deck
Nonetheless, Marines have understandable objections to the removal of the ability to deploy landing craft from a nominally “amphibious” ship.
Afterall, air-cushion landing craft (LCAC) can carry up to 180 soldiers, 60-75 tons of supplies on each load, and vehicles as large as an Abrams main battle tank. Meanwhile, an Osprey can only carry 10-15 tons or thirty-two personnel. The only vehicle the MV-22B is certified to carry internally is a Growler jeep.
The Marine Corps, however, is increasingly convinced that D-Day style amphibious landings on defended beachheads are less and less likely to be viable in modern warfare.
It’s not merely that they fear a bloodbath on the beaches of the sort depicted in Saving Private Ryan or Letters from Iwo Jima.
Strategists worry that long-range shore-launched anti-ship missiles will make it unlikely that landing craft, and even the larger LHDs and LHA carrying those landing craft, will be able to approach close enough to even deposit their troops in the first place. Surely, giant amphibious ships stuffed full with over a thousand Marines would be particularly tempting targets.
America-class LHAs can at least thin out threats up to thirty miles away with their two Evolved Sea Sparrow missile launchers before having to rely on Phalanx gatling cannons and Rolling Airframe Missile launchers and Nulka decoys for point defense. But none of these systems can even hope to stop anti-ship ballistic missiles entering service in Iran and China.
Thus, the Marine Corps recently abandoned its former objective of maintaining thirty-eight amphibious assault ships in service (it currently has thirty-two) which can deployed two full brigades into battle between them, in favor of dispersing troops amongst more numerous, though less capable, auxiliary and even robotic ships.
That may explain why the Navy prioritized the ability to launch additional troop-carrying Ospreys from over a hundred miles away which can land behind enemy lines rather than exposed beachheads.
But that doesn’t change the issue of logistical throughput: if you need to rapidly reinforce a beachhead with heavy weapons, vehicles and supplies, landing craft are preferable—especially once nearby enemy defenses are suppressed.
The Ospreys themselves, while highly flexible, are also expensive to maintain and operate per flight hour. Furthermore, exhaust from both the Osprey and, especially, the F-35Bs inflict heat damage to the flight deck over time, limiting the advisability and increasing the cost of surging high-intensity flight operations over prolonged periods. The Navy has been continuously adapting the ships to prevent heat damage for years.
Therefore, in a bid to restore flexibility, the third America-class ship, Bouganville (LHA-8) which was laid down in March 2019 in Mississippi, will see the well-deck restored with a capacity for two LCACS. The island is trimmed down to allow more flight deck parking spot in compensation for lost hangar space. Armament and sensors are re-situated onto the vessel’s “island” superstructure, including a brand-new EASR radar also destined to equip future Gerald Ford-class carriers.
The new configuration inevitably requires tradeoffs. According to a chart at Navy Recognition, Bougainville falls squarely in between the Wasp-class LHD and the first two America-class boats with 38,000 square feet of deck space dedicated to aviation, but has less than half the aviation fuel capacity of her sister ships and more limited vehicle stowage.
Despite these downsides, the restoration of the ability to carry landing craft should improve the America class’s flexibility. Still, naval planners will hopefully bear in mind the carrier’s secondary potential to serve as economy-size aircraft carriers for missions that don’t require $13bn supercarriers.
Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. (Source: News Now/https://nationalinterest.org)
04 Mar 20. DOD Outlines Priorities in Combating Coronavirus. Military officials and their civilian counterparts are learning together how to combat the coronavirus, Defense Department officials said today.
DOD has an advantage it is sharing with civilian agencies in that the Defense Department has been doing pandemic planning for more than 20 years, said Robert G. Salesses, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense.
In addition, DOD conducts rigorous after-action reviews of real-world operations and situations, such as the ones against severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS — first discovered in 2003. DOD also examined the response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014.
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper’s priorities are the protection of service members, their families, and the DOD workforce — and to safeguard DOD mission capabilities or readiness. Additionally, the department must continue to work in support of partners, Salesses said.
DOD also has to contemplate logistics support inside and outside the department.
Air Force Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Paul Friedrichs, the Joint Staff Surgeon, said the process started in mid- to late-January. “There’s still a lot that we’re learning,” he said.
First reports called the virus “novel coronavirus” meaning new virus. As the department has learned more it put out guidance on health protection. Friedrichs stressed that everything DOD has put out has been aligned with and derived from the guidance that the Centers for
But DOD does adapt the CDC guidance. “Our policy has to cover the soldier in Africa as much as it does the sailor who’s on a ship somewhere in the Pacific, or the family member or retiree who’s here in the continental United States,” Friedrichs said. “So, we start with whatever the federal guidance is, and then we add additional guidance to help clarify what the standards are and how we’re going to minimize the risk of force across the world.”
DOD provides the broad guidance and then encourages geographic combatant commanders to provide additional guidance specific to where they are located.
The department has also been involved in discussions about medical countermeasures and vaccines. “For years, [we] have had a very robust research and development program looking at viral illnesses,” Friedrichs said. “Our labs have been working on vaccines, and we are partnering with [Health and Human Services] and CDC on developing vaccine candidates.”
The department also has international connections, and research benefits from regular discussions with allies and partners.
So far, few DOD personnel have been affected. Medical officials said the elderly and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk.
Most service members are under 30 and healthy, but they shouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief. “We’re still learning which groups are at most risk,” Friedrich said. (Source: US DoD)
04 Mar 20. F-35 Program Continues to Make Progress, DOD Official Says. The F-35 program is strong, but not perfect, said its top manager. Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric T. Fick, program executive officer for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office, spoke today at the 11th annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference in Washington, D.C.
In 2019, 135 F-35s were delivered, and three days ago, the 500th aircraft was delivered, he said.
These aircraft are flown by the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps on land and afloat in 24 locations worldwide, he said. Additionally, the United Kingdom, Norway, Israel, Japan, Belgium, Poland and Italy will be taking delivery of F-35s, and Singapore is likely to, as well.
The program is now close to initial operating capability, he said.
The F-35 is a complicated program, he said. “The organizational structure was difficult to navigate for those on the inside and difficult to understand for those on the outside. To address this complexity, we created a new organizational construct that better aligns authority and accountability to the program deliverables and outcomes.”
With this new organization, decision authority is pushed lower, and leaders are empowered to lead, he added.
As the needs of the warfighter change, the F-35 has been designed to adapt to those changes, he said.
A process called “continuous capability, development and delivery” or C2D2, allows incremental software and hardware add-ons as they become available, he said. “It provides the flexibility to add or subtract capabilities as the warfighter’s priorities and needs evolve.”
Four new software builds were already delivered using the C2D2 process, he said.
In the past, aircraft availability has been a problem, Fick said.
However, “with the insight and help of the warfighters and aircraft maintainers, we’re improving our operational fleet’s availability,” he said, noting that last year, the average combat mission capability rate was 73.2% — nearly 20% better than in 2018.
That’s progress, but we must do better, he said.
An important aspect of the program is working with allies and partners, Fick said.
For example, regional warehouses in North America, Asia and Europe have been stood up to use the industrial innovation of other nations that fly the F-35.
Bringing the cost of the program down is very important, as well, he said. Improvements in cost reductions are being made in the development, production and sustainment areas.
Lastly, Fick said the strength of the program is the warfighters, who are figuring out how to better fight, fly and maintain the F-35. They are identifying changes they’d like to see in the ever-changing threat environment.
Fick said his people are listening to their feedback and acting on it as rapidly as possible. (Source: US DoD)
03 Mar 20. U.S. Seeks to Maintain Credible Nuclear Deterrent. The United States maintains a robust nuclear arsenal that consists of ground-based, air-launched and sea-launched weapons. Together, it’s commonly called the “nuclear triad,” and it remains the centerpiece of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. The triad is fast approaching the end of its service life and must quickly be replaced before it’s lost.
Victorino G. Mercado, currently performing the duties of the assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities testified today before the House Armed Services Committee, subcommittee on strategic forces. He told lawmakers that efforts to replace the triad are not part of an arms race.
“The U.S. seeks only what it needs to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent,” he said. “In contrast to Russia, who maintains about 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons and are pursuing and fielding other novel nuclear capabilities, we have no desire or intent to engage in an arms race nor match weapon-for-weapon the capabilities being fielded by Russia.”
The DOD’s fiscal year 2021 budget request for nuclear forces, Mercado said, is $28.9bn, or 4.1% of the total DOD request. The funding request to modernize the existing triad is about 1.7% of the budget request, he added. “The nation’s nuclear modernization program is affordable,” he said.
Mercado said that after decades of deferred recapitalization of the nuclear triad, the U.S. must move ahead with modernizing its nuclear forces. Additionally, as defined in the Nuclear Posture Review, the U.S. must also pursue additional flexibility with systems like the sea-launched cruise missile, he said, “to ensure that there are no gains to be made through the use of any nuclear weapon, strategic or otherwise.”
As part of the modernization of the triad, the DOD is asking for around $2.8bn for the B-21 Raider long-range strike bomber. The Air Force eventually expects to purchase 100 of the aircraft, which will carry the B61-12 and B83 nuclear gravity bombs, as well as the long-range standoff cruise missile. The Department also seeks funds for the procurement of the Columbia-class ballistic submarine for $4.4bn and the ground-based strategic deterrent for $1.5bn. The ground-based strategic deterrent is expected to replace about 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles.
“Nuclear attack is the only existential threat to the United States, and our nuclear arsenal is the nation’s only ultimate insurance policy against such an attack,” Mercado said. “Our nuclear triad underwrote every U.S. military operation around the world and also provided extended deterrence guarantees to over 30 allies and partners, precluding the need for them to pursue their own nuclear arsenals. This is the return on investment of our nuclear forces.” (Source: US DoD)
03 Mar 20. Expert explainer: Will Trump vs Iran leave us on the brink of war? The US assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iran’s vows of revenge have created tensions between the two countries that could escalate into an international crisis. With President Trump threatening further strikes and Iran refusing to observe the limitations imposed on its nuclear programme, we ask what will happen next and what the implications are for the US, Iran and their allies.
What happened to spark tensions?
On 3 January the US killed Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, in a targeted drone strike after the general was leaving Baghdad airport. According to the US the assassination was intended to prevent attacks being planned by Soleimani against US military personnel and diplomats.
The US said the drone strike was undertaken in response to the December 27 attack on a coalition base in Iraq which resulted in the death of a US contractor, and the later attack on the US Embassy in Baghdad’s Green Zone by members of Iranian-backed Kata’ib Hezbollah militia. The militia attacked the embassy after the funerals of fighters killed in US strikes against the militia, which were launched in response to the December 27 rocket attack.
Who was General Qasem Soleimani?
Soleimani was a pivotal figure in Iran’s network of foreign influence as the head of the Quds force. A popular figure in Iran, he was close to the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Soleimani came to prominence during the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-1988 instigated by Saddam Hussain. He proved himself in the conflict and was later appointed to the head of the Quds force.
Soleimani took an influential and often personal role in the cultivation of Iran’s influence in the Middle East, including the country’s support of Syrian president Bashar Al ’Assad and a number of proxy groups across Iraq and Lebanon, in particular Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and Shi’ite militia groups that form a part of the Iraqi army.
Before his death he and the Quds force were labelled as terrorists by the US, marking the first time the US had ever branded a faction of a foreign military as a terrorist organisation. Upon his death, his deputy, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, replaced Soleimani as the head of the Quds force.
What was the immediate response to the assassination?
Threats of retaliation were on the lips of Iranian officials in the immediate aftermath of the drone strike, while other countries across the world called for a de-escalation of tensions. Iraq’s parliament, at the behest of the country’s prime minister, voted to ask foreign military forces to leave the country.
The UK raised the alert level of its forces in the region, moved non-essential personnel out of Baghdad and resumed escorting commercial shipping through the Strait of Hormuz for fears that they may become targets of reprisals.
NATO allies began to withdraw their forces from the country before things took a turn on 7 January when Iran began retaliatory missile strikes on bases housing US personnel in Iraq. The overnight attack originated directly from Iran, with over a dozen strikes directed against the Al-Assad air base west of Baghdad and another base just outside the Northern Iraqi city of Irbil.
What happened next?
The world held its breath waiting for the US response, however, early indicators showed the missile attack was the start of a de-escalation of tensions. On the night of the attack US President Donald Trump tweeted: “All is well! Missiles launched from Iran at two military bases located in Iraq. Assessment of casualties & damages taking place now. So far, so good! We have the most powerful and well equipped military anywhere in the world, by far! I will be making a statement tomorrow morning.” Meanwhile Iranian officials said its retaliation efforts had “concluded”.
The next day Trump reaffirmed an earlier commitment stating that the US would never let Iran develop a nuclear weapon, and said that European partners should walk away from the Iran nuclear deal. This move re-committed the US to a path of sanctioning Iran, rather than intervening.
Later it emerged that on the night of the missile attack, Iran also shot down Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, killing 176 people. Iran originally said the plane crashed, however, after evidence trickled out from Western intelligence agencies the country’s revolutionary guards admitted that they had in fact shot the aircraft down. The crash has sparked on-going protests in Iran.
The future of the nuclear deal
The biggest question now, after the US and Iran pulled back from the brink of war, is the Iran Nuclear Deal. While Trump reasserted his preference for the deal to be dissolved, European partners have on many occasions shown support for the deal and the progress it had made before the US pulled out.
With the US taking a hard line on Iran, the UK, France and Germany issued a statement committing to the future of the deal. However, Iran has signalled its intention to pull away from the deal. If Iran now sets itself on a course to developing a nuclear weapon, another clash with the US may be on the cards again soon. (Source: naval-technology.com)
02 Mar 20. Why the USAF is buying fourth-generation Boeing F-15EX fighter jets. In a boost to Boeing’s fixed-wing business, the US Air Force’s (USAF) FY2021 budget request has set aside $1.6bn to purchase 12 F-15EX fighter jets. The US has issued official plans to purchase the F-15EX, an upgraded version of the F-15 fourth-generation fighter jet, from Boeing to act as an in-the-air arsenal for the F-35 and, in future, to possibly fly alongside unmanned wingman drones.
The fourth-generation fighter is being eyed by the USAF as being a means of carrying a large number of missiles in support of the F-35 to support the advanced sensors and stealth capabilities of the fifth-generation fighter. The idea is where the F-35 can penetrate, the F-15EX can follow behind and bring the firepower to destroy threats the F-35 detects.
In December, US Congress enacted the 2020 National Defence Authorisation Act, giving the USAF $1.1bn to acquire the first eight F-15EX aircraft; the new requested budget ups this funding to $1.6bn for a further 12 fighters.
Under the NDAA, however, the USAF has been limited to buying two F-15EX initially before funding is made available for the next six, making a total of eight aircraft. The further acquisition and purchase of a full fleet of F-15EX will be on condition of the USAF delivering a report on the programme.
The sale marks the first time in nearly two decades that the US has looked to acquire new fourth-generation fighters. As previously reported by Air Force Technology, the USAF’s service acquisition executive Dr Will Roper touted the F-15EX as a unique opportunity to ‘inject fifth-generation capabilities into a fourth-generation asset’.
Commenting on the fighter a Boeing spokesperson told Air Force Technology: “The F-15EX is the most affordable way for the US Air Force to refresh its F-15C fighter fleet and solve its capacity issue now and into the future. It is an improvement over every other F-15 ever flown, incorporating technologies developed in part by the fighter’s international customers.
“Additionally, there is no need for new logistics chains, training squadrons, infrastructure modification at bases, programme offices or even weapons integration. The F-15EX can easily and affordably be integrated into the current US Air Force structure.
“This cost-effective solution refreshes the F-15 force while delivering increases in payload capacity, range and airframe life. The F-15EX is highly complementary to other aircraft in the US Air Force inventory and is ready today to prosecute the most demanding missions.”
The FY21 plans for the F-15EX are for the aircraft to ‘refresh’ the US existing F-15C/D fleet with plans to buy 144 aircraft. Budget documents imply that the US could then look to ‘refresh’ the remainder of its F-15C/D and F-15E fleets.
The F-15, despite being a fourth-generation fighter, has seen continued upgrades, with international purchases of the aircraft adding more advanced systems to the existing airframes. The purchase of the F-15EX is seen as good news for Boeing’s fixed-wing fighter business which delivered 34 fighter jets in 2019, compared with Lockheed Martin which delivered 134 F-35s in the same period.
Last month, the USAF officially confirmed its intentions to move forward with the F-15EX with a pre-solicitation request for sole-source acquisitions of the F-15EX and for the jets F110 engines.
Improvements baked into the F-15EX include capacity to carry 22 sidewinder and AMRAAM missiles, an upgraded digital ‘backbone’, new mission computer with capacity for upgraded and more advanced software, better display systems and a new threat detection system. Plans for the F-15EX include scope for it to be included in the USAF’s Skyborg programme, which would see the aircraft supported by an unmanned Valkyrie drone as an autonomous wingman.
Commenting on the sale, GlobalData defence analyst Anthony Endresen said: “From a Boeing commercial point of view, the United States ordering F-15EX platforms is a tangible endorsement of the platform, which can be used for offering the platform internationally, as we see Boeing have done to India this week. Notably, the F-15EX competes with the F/A-18 and complements it, as is also the case in the India offer.”
By revenue Boeing’s defence business in 2019 accounted for around $26bn in revenue, overall the business saw revenues of $76.5bn. In a year where Boeing’s commercial business saw revenues fall due to ongoing issues with the 737 Max passenger airliner. Despite this companies Defence, Space & Security business has remained steady. (Source: airforce-technology.com)
02 Mar 20. USAF looks to ‘two-bomber’ force as service prepares for future fight. The arrival of the next-generation B-21 Raider will see the first major recapitalisation of the US Air Force strategic bomber fleet in close to three decades, but its arrival will breathe new life into the venerable B-52 as the service develops what amounts to a ‘high-low’ bomber mix.
Throughout history, military operations have favoured those who occupy the high ground. Command of the skies empowers both offensive and defensive operations while also providing powerful deterrence options as part of the broader implementation of power projection and national security doctrines.
While air dominance reflects the pinnacle of the high ground, where both a qualitative and quantitative edge in doctrine, equipment and personnel support the unrivalled conduct of offensive or defensive air combat operations.
Long-range strike is typically conducted by a range of platforms, ranging from strategic and tactical strike bombers or smaller fighters supported by air-to-air refuelling and airborne early warning and command aircraft.
The US Air Force has long held the position of the world’s premier air dominance and long-range strategic strike force enjoying both a qualitative and quantitative edge of peer and near-peer competitors as a result of decades of investment and doctrine perfecting during the Cold War.
However, the combination of extensive budget cuts and the ageing nature of many Cold War-era platforms is placing increased pressure on the US Air Force to meet both the tactical and strategic responsibilities required to support the national security objectives of the US.
This is perfectly encapsulated by the 2020 National Defense Autorization Act will see a number of major acquisitions, organisational restructures and modernisation programs to support America’s shift away from decades of conflict in Afghanistan and the Middle East towards the great power competition focus of the Indo-Pacific.
A core focus of the US pivot towards the Indo-Pacific and countering the economic, political and strategic assertiveness of China is modernising and expanding the capability of the US Air Force and it’s Indo-Pacific-based Air Force assets.
Supporting this is a US$15bn ($22.3bn) increase to the US acquisition budget, bringing the Pentagon’s total acquisition budget to US$146bn ($217.3bn) – despite this, it isn’t all good news for the US Air Force.
Major acquisitions and reorientating the force for ‘great power competition’
Much like the Army and Navy, the US Air Force’s budget is dominated by large, big ticket, expensive research and development and acquisition programs, like the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and Northrop Grumman’s B-21 Raider long-range strategic bomber and Ground Based Strategic Deterrence Minuteman recapitalisation programs.
This focus on large-scale programs has long hampered the USAF’s ability to meet its global commitments as increasingly expensive, complex weapons systems hinder the ability to deploy based on available numbers and manpower resourcing further complicating tactical and strategic capability.
In response, the US Air Force’s ageing platforms, namely Cold War-era strategic enablers such as the aerial refuelling platforms including the KC-135 and KC-10 platforms, alongside the long-range strike B-1 Lancer fleet and the venerable A-10 Thunderbolt II close air support aircraft, will account for modernisation and expansion programs.
As part of this, the Pentagon has asked for US$56.9 bn ($84.7bn) for a number of major capability investments, including: US$11.4bn ($16.9bn) for 79 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, US$1.6 bn ($2.3bn) for new-build Boeing F-15EX Advanced Eagle fighter aircraft and US$3 bn ($4.46bn) for the troubled, but next-generation KC-46 aerial refuelling tankers.
US Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein said in January, “We didn’t get everything we put on the table. Some was walked back. But we got a lot of what we put on the table.”
A key focus of this is the planned retirement of the Cold War-era B-1 Lancer aircraft and the planned retirement of the B-2 Spirit stealth bombers following the planned introduction and nuclear certification of its successor, the B-21 Raider, planned at the earliest for later this decade, but more realistically in the 2030s.
Explaining this to US law makers of the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower and projection forces, Lieutenant General David Nahom, Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Programs, stressed the importance of preparing the US Air Force for a period of ‘great power competition’ and preparing for a conflict with a peer or near-peer nation such as China or Russia.
Lt Gen Nahom expanded the importance of the US Air Force’s strategic bomber force, stating, “On the bomber fleet, there’s nothing more important to the Air Force. If you look at what the bombers bring, no one else brings it. Our joint partners don’t bring it, our coalition partners don’t bring it.”
A ‘high-low’ strategic bomber force?
The recent high-tempo of operations conducted by the B-1 Lancers has placed increasing pressure on the capacity of the US Air Force to reliably and consistently keep the platforms in operation – citing major concerns about air frame fatigue and rising maintenance costs as a result of increased operational pressures.
Lt Gen Nahom stated, “We’ve used that airplane [B-1 Lancer], and overused it over many years. It’s broken, in many ways.”
Retiring some of the older, more fatigued airframes, Lt Gen Nahom believes that the US Air Force will be able to extend the life of the aircraft until the delivery of the B-21 alongside the B-2 Spirit, ensuring that the US is capable of having both high capacity and stealthy penetrating strategic strike aircraft.
Additionally, the US Air Force and law makers are committed to keeping the venerable B-52 Stratofortress in the air, bringing some of the airframes to a century of service – with some US lawmakers stating that while the B-52H airframes are old in terms of years, they are comparatively not as old based on the flight hours.
Lt Gen Nahom added, regarding the importance of keeping the B-52s to operate alongside the B-21 Raiders, “we’re going to be able to do things with that airplane that we would not be able to do with a B-1 or a B-2”.
Currently, the B-25H are undergoing a modernisation process, including a re-engining, radar replacement and additional new technologies designed to expand the capability profile of the aircraft, future-proofing the aircraft for well into the 2050s.
Building on the legacy of the world’s first stealth bomber, the Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit, the next-generation B-21 Raider will serve as the backbone of America’s strategic bomber fleet for decades to come.
Acting Secretary of the US Air Force Matthew Donovan said during the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference, “The first flight of the Raider will take it from Palmdale to Edwards Air Force Base, where the legacy of excellence will continue with the reactivation of the 420th Flight Test Squadron.”
According to the US Air Force, the B-21 is a “new, high-tech long-range bomber that will eventually replace the Air Force’s ageing bomber fleet” and “must be able to penetrate highly contested environments, have top-end low observability characteristics and loiter capability”.
The Air Force’s original plan for the B-21 contract called for “80 to 100” aircraft, but USAF leaders over the past two years have been touting “at least 100” airplanes. However, this could grow to 150-200 airframes in light of growing great power competition.
The first aircraft is currently under construction at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale facility and is expected to be rolled out to the public in the next 20 months, making its first flight a few months later.
The B-21 is believed to be somewhat smaller than the B-2, with a payload of approximately 30,000 pounds (13,607 kilograms) and estimated unrefuelled range similar to that of its predecessor at 19,000 kilometres, and is just large enough to carry one GBU-57 Massive Ordnance Penetrator precision-guided conventional bomb, the largest in the Air Force inventory. (Source: Defence Connect)
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