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24 Apr 20. The Pentagon will have to live with limits on F-35’s supersonic flights. issue that risks damage to the F-35’s tail section if the aircraft needs to maintain supersonic speeds is not worth fixing and will instead be addressed by changing the operating parameters, the F-35 Joint Program Office told Defense News in a statement Friday.
The deficiency, first reported by Defense News in 2019, means that at extremely high altitudes, the U.S. Navy’s and Marine Corps’ versions of the F-35 jet can only fly at supersonic speeds for short bursts of time before there is a risk of structural damage and loss of stealth capability. The problem may make it impossible for the Navy’s F-35C to conduct supersonic intercepts.
“This issue was closed on December 17, 2019 with no further actions and concurrence from the U.S. services,” the F-35 JPO statement read. “The [deficiency report] was closed under the category of ‘no plan to correct,’ which is used by the F-35 team when the operator value provided by a complete fix does not justify the estimated cost of that fix.
“In this case, the solution would require a lengthy development and flight testing of a material coating that can tolerate the flight environment for unlimited time while satisfying the weight and other requirements of a control surface. Instead, the issue is being addressed procedurally by imposing a time limit on high-speed flight.”
The carrier-launched “C” variant and the short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing “B” version will both be able to carry out all their missions without correcting the deficiency, the JPO said.
The potential damage from sustained high speeds would influence not only the F-35’s airframe and the low-observable coating that keeps it stealthy, but also the myriad antennas located on the back of the plane that are currently vulnerable to damage, according to documents exclusively obtained by Defense News.
The JPO had classified the issues for the “B” and “C” models as separate category 1 deficiencies, indicating in one document that the problem presents a challenge to accomplishing one of the key missions of the fighter jet. In this scale, category 1 represents the most serious type of deficiency.
While it may seem dire that an aircraft procured for flying at supersonic speeds will be unable to do so for extended periods, the F-35 may not need to do it that often.
For the F-35, as opposed to the F-22 where supersonic flight is baked into its tactics, the ability to fly supersonic is more of a “break glass in case of emergency” feature, said Bryan Clark, an analyst with the Hudson Institute and a retired naval officer.
“Supersonic flight is not a big feature of the F-35,” Clark said. “It’s capable of it, but when you talk to F-35 pilots, they’ll say they’d fly supersonic in such limited times and cases that — while having the ability is nice because you never know when you are going to need to run away from something very fast — it’s just not a main feature for their tactics.”
In fact, going supersonic obviates the main advantages of the F-35, Clark said. “It sort of defeats all the main advantages of the F-35,” he explained. “It takes you out of stealthiness, it burns gas like crazy so you lose the range benefits of a single engine and larger fuel tank. When you go into afterburner, you are heating up the outside of your aircraft.”
That creates all kinds of signatures that can be detected by an adversary, Clark said.
But a retired naval aviator told Defense News last year that the limitations on the afterburner could prove deadly in close-combat scenarios.
The concept of operations for the F-35 is to kill an enemy aircraft before it can detect the fighter jet, but relying on long-range kills is a perspective that, for historical and cultural reasons, naval aviation distrusts. In the Vietnam War, when air warfare began heavily relying on missiles and moved away from the forward gun, it caused a spike in air-to-air combat deaths.
The lesson naval aviation took away was to prevent the latest and greatest technology from offsetting the learning of fundamentals, and it was the impetus behind the formation of Top Gun 50 years ago, a naval strike fighter course for training and tactics development.
“The solution is: ‘Hey, we’ll just limit the afterburner to less than a minute at a time,’ ” a retired naval aviator said when told of the issue. “Which, with what the aircraft is supposed to do and be capable of, that’s a pretty significant limitation.”
Primarily it would be an issue if the aircraft had to maneuver at high speeds to avoid a missile or survive a dogfight.
The issue is compounded for the Navy, which must operate forward for months at a time, because any significant issues with coatings or the structure of aircraft would require a depot-level repair. And so a damaged aircraft would remain damaged until its host ship returns to home port, reducing the combat effectiveness of the air wing.
“We might have to be operating at sea for eight months, so if you damage something on week one, guess what? It’s damaged for the rest of the deployment,” the aviator said. “And it affects your ability to evade detection by the enemy — you just degraded that asset permanently until you can get it somewhere where it can be fixed, at great expense and time.”
Three other category 1 deficiencies have also been officially designated as “closed,” meaning they have either been fixed or the performance of the aircraft is being accepted as is, the JPO reported.
The so-called green glow deficiency has been closed out as of last July. Green glow refers to a green light emitted by the helmet-mounted display’s LED lights. That glow obstructs a pilot’s view of an aircraft carrier’s deck lights during landing operations at sea in very low light, such as that experienced at night.
The issue was closed “as a result of incorporating an improved Organic Light-Emitting Diode (OLED) Helmet Mounted Display (HMD),” the JPO told Defense News.
“The Generation III F-35 OLED Helmet Display Unit (HDU) significantly reduced the ‘green glow’ experienced by pilots during night operations. The F-35 JPO has taken delivery of the first order of F-35 OLED HDUs to support the U.S. Navy (USN) and U.S. Marine Corps (USMC), and a second order of OLED HDUs has been placed,” the office’s statement read.
An issue created when the F-35A and F-35B blow a tire, which can result in a severed hydraulic line, will remain uncorrected, the JPO statement said, but it has not come up again since the program switched tires.
“The DR [deficiency report] was closed under the category of ‘no plan to correct’ based on the fact that the landing gear system design meets all F-35 safety standards,” the statement read. “Issues related to premature bursting of tires were resolved by tire design changes during early F-35 development and no instances of dual hydraulic system loss caused by a tire burst have ever been observed on an F-35.”
And an issue that forced the F-35 to land in cold weather because of battery trouble has been fixed, the JPO said. The issue was caused by extreme cold entering the plane when the doors to the jet’s nose landing gear were open, setting off alarm bells, according to “for official use only” documents exclusively obtained by Defense News.
The cold would enter the plane and overwhelm the battery heater blanket, which is installed to keep a 28-volt battery running at peak condition. The battery would not shut down, but because of the cold, the blanket could not heat the battery as quickly as intended, triggering warning lights in the cockpit that the battery was going to fail.
A software upgrade fixed the problem, the JPO said.
“This issue was resolved on July 22, 2019 due to improvements in the battery charger’s firmware,” the statement read. “The firmware changes were developed by the battery charger supplier, and integrated and tested by Lockheed Martin and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office.” (Source: Defense News)
24 Apr 20. Pentagon releases request for proposals on Next Generation Interceptor. The fight to build America’s next missile interceptor has officially begun. The Missile Defense Agency on Friday released its request for proposal for its Next-Generation Interceptor (NGI). The RFP aims to downselect to two companies who will then compete for the right to build the interceptor, which will form the core of America’s homeland missile defense going forward.
Proposals are due July 31, but the MDA notes that there may be some give in that schedule due to the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The agency requested $664.1m in fiscal year 2021 for the NGI program, as part of a $4.9bn five-year budget plan.
Mark Wright, a spokesman for MDA, called the RFP “a vital step forward in designing, developing, and fielding the finest capabilities of both the DoD and American industry for the extraordinarily important purpose of defending the American homeland.”
“Notably, the intention of awarding two contracts for simultaneous development of the NGI effort promotes a healthy competition between the two contractor teams to produce the best NGI possible in the shortest time feasible,” Wright added.
In August, the Pentagon made the surprise decision to cancel the Redesigned Kill Vehicle program, with DoD research and engineering head Mike Griffin saying he didn’t want to keep throwing money at a program with fundamental technical issues.
RKV would have upgraded the U.S. homeland defense system’s interceptors designed to go after ballistic missile defense threats. The Pentagon decided that no more ground-based interceptors for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense System (GMD) would be built and all future interceptors that are fielded as part of the GMD system will be the new interceptor – that is, the NGI program.
Critics of the decision to cancel RKV and start over with a new design have raised concerns over the timeline, which could extend past 2030. But speaking in March, MDA head Vice Adm. Jon Hill said that waiting that long for the new capability is “unacceptable from a war fighter view” and “unacceptable to me as a program manager.”
Hill said once bids are on the table, the agency will be able to take a harder look at schedule and once an award has been made, it will hold industry accountable to meet “all the wickets.” If that happens, the schedule can be pulled to the left. (Source: Defense News)
24 Apr 20. DOD Plans for Resumption of Normal Operations After Pandemic. Defense Department planners are working on how to resume normal military operations following the coronavirus pandemic, Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Rath Hoffman said.
Because defense is a full-time necessity, the military cannot shut down, Hoffman said at a Pentagon news conference today. Still, officials curtailed exercises, limited training, stopped military moves and took other measures in an effort to flatten the curve of coronavirus infections.
“We’ll be evaluating many different areas,” Hoffman said. “One is training — how are we protecting our trainees, and how are we keeping the pipeline full? We’re continuing to look at that, continuing to adopt and adapt so that we can pursue full training classes in the future.”
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper is also closely following the stop-movement order. The order goes until June 30. “But once it is lifted — and the secretary is reevaluating that every 15 days — how are we going to deal with the backlog of individuals that need to move throughout the world?” Hoffman said.
This is a complex issue, and the planners at the U.S. Transportation Command have the lead for the department.
DOD has done a good job of protecting strategic forces, but officials are still going to look at the process to see if there aren’t better ways to do this in the future, Hoffman said.
Even if there is a return to normal, the virus will still be around. DOD planners are looking at the testing program, and officials are putting the final touches on the system it will employ and getting the supplies that will be needed. DOD scientists and doctors are also heavily involved in developing a vaccine and for treatment protocols for COVID-19, Hoffman said. “We’re going to be doing that for months and months going forward,” he added.
Finally, the department is looking at the industrial base with an eye to replenishing the DOD stockpile in case of future crises, and to produce more equipment for the coronavirus fight, he said.
Hoffman announced that the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort will soon leave New York City. It will return to its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, to restock and get ready for another mission, if needed. “We’ll be looking to [the Federal Emergency Management Agency] to identify where that next location is; they are the federal government’s lead on this, and so they’re the ones who will be tasking us,” he said.
Hoffman cited “modest progress” in mitigating the virus in the nation’s hardest-hit city, calling that “a welcome sign.” The rate of infections in New York is declining, he noted, adding that there are still many places where this is not the case, and that the department stands ready to assist.
“As of today, we have more than 60,000 personnel deployed nationwide, including 4,400 medical professionals on the front lines,” Hoffman said. (Source: US DoD)
24 Apr 20. Statement on the Status of the United States Navy Inquiry Into COVID-19 Outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Attributable to Jonathan Rath Hoffman, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs): “This afternoon, Secretary Esper received a verbal update from the acting Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations on the Navy’s preliminary inquiry into the COVID-19 outbreak on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. After the Secretary receives a written copy of the completed inquiry, he intends to thoroughly review the report and will meet again with Navy leadership to discuss next steps. He remains focused on and committed to restoring the full health of the crew and getting the ship at sea again soon.” (Source: US DoD)
24 Apr 20. The U.S. Defense Department is slowly but surely whittling down the number of F-35 technical problems, with the fighter jet program’s most serious issues decreasing from 13 to seven over the past year.
In June 2019, Defense News published an investigation delving into the details of 13 previously unreported category 1 deficiencies — the designation given to major flaws that impact safety or mission effectiveness.
Following the report, five of those 13 category 1 problems have been “closed,” meaning they were eliminated or sufficiently corrected. Five were downgraded to a lower level of deficiency after actions were taken to help mitigate negative effects, and three issues remain open and unsolved, according to the F-35 program executive office.
Four additional CAT 1 problems have also since been added to the list, raising the total CAT 1 deficiencies to seven. The program office declined to provide additional details about those issues for classification reasons, but stated that software updates should allow all of them to be closed by the end of 2020.
“The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program Office is keenly aware of these existing F-35-related category 1 deficiencies and is focused on developing and implementing solutions for these issues as quickly as possible,” the program office said in response to questions from Defense News. “F-35 operator safety is the F-35 JPO’s highest priority.”
In a statement to Defense News, F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin confirmed the number of open category 1 deficiencies. However, the company declined to provide further information about the path to fix current issues or how earlier issues had been ameliorated.
“We are actively addressing the deficiencies and expect all to be downgraded or closed this year,” the company said.
While the overall reduction in deficiencies is a promising trend, it is also important to track how problems are solved and how quickly fixes are pushed to the rest of the fleet, said Dan Grazier, an analyst with the independent watchdog group Project on Government Oversight.
“I’m not surprised that they are continuing to find issues. This is why we are supposed to be testing weapon systems before we buy a whole bunch of them. I am a little surprised that we are finding CAT 1 deficiencies at this point during operational testing,” Grazier said.
“I think that speaks to the level of complexity with this program that it’s taken us this long to get to this point, and even after all the testing that has been done and the time and money that has gone into this that we’re still finding category 1 issues,” he added. “It shows that the program wasn’t born in the right place. It was way too ambitious from the very beginning.”
Aside from four classified problems, there remain three open category 1 deficiencies in need of a fix. There are myriad reasons for that, the program office stated.
“Reasons for delayed issue closure vary according to the complexity of the solution and the availability of test assets needed to verify the solution,” the JPO said. “The U.S. services fund the F-35 program to address a prioritized set of DRs [deficiency reports], while at the same time, develop new capabilities. It is likely that some low-priority DRs will never be resolved because of their minor impact on F-35 fleet operations does not justify the cost of resolution.”
The F-35 program office provided some details on the path forward for resolving these technical flaws, but noted that many details regarding those plans remain classified:
Spikes in the F-35 cockpit’s cabin pressure have been known to cause barotrauma, or extreme ear and sinus pain.
This problem was documented when two Air Force pilots, flying older versions of the F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing model, experienced ear and sinus pain that they described as “excruciating, causing loss of in-flight situational awareness, with effects lasting for months,” according to documents obtained by Defense News. The physiological event is known by the medical term barotrauma.
The F-35 Joint Program Office believes barotrauma in the jet is caused when sensors on the outer mold line of the aircraft detect “rapidly changing static pressures” that, in turn, drive very quick changes of the cockpit pressure regulator valve.
Lockheed Martin has tested a fix that proved to be successful in a laboratory setting, Lockheed program head Greg Ulmer said last year.
But flight testing of that improvement has not occurred, slowing the pace of a solution. The F-35 program office now says flight testing of a new cockpit pressure regulation system is planned for mid-2020. If all goes well, the deficiency should be completely eliminated in 2021.
On nights with little starlight, the night vision camera sometimes displays green striations that make it difficult for all F-35 variants to see the horizon or to land on ships.
On nights where there is little ambient light, horizontal green lines sometimes appear on the night vision camera feed, obscuring the horizon and making landing on a ship more dangerous.
The problem is different than the notorious “green glow” issue, caused when the F-35 helmet-mounted display’s LED lights produce a greenish luminescence that inhibits a pilot’s ability to land on an aircraft carrier on nights with very little light.
At one point, both Lockheed and the government’s program office believed both problems could be solved by the F-35 Generation III helmet that the U.S. military began fielding last year.
Although the program office no longer considers the “green glow” problem a deficiency, it appears that the new helmet did not completely solve the night vision camera issue. The program office told Defense News that it intends to develop software improvements and test them in flight later this year, but the deficiency will not be considered “closed” until at least 2021.
The sea search mode of the F-35’s radar only illuminates a small slice of the sea’s surface.
Unlike the other problems, which are the result of the contractor not meeting technical specifications or the jet not working as planned, this deficiency is on the books even though the jet’s Northrop Grumman-made AN/APG-81 active electronically scanned array radar fulfills its requirements.
Currently, the radar can only illuminate what is directly in front of it when in sea search mode. That performance is not good enough for the Navy, which wants to be able to search a wider area than is currently possible.
Although this problem can be fixed with software modifications and an upgrade to the radar’s processing power, it will continue to be on the books for some time. According to the program office, “[the] U.S. services agreed to plan for an improved radar mode, which will require the Technology Refresh-1 avionics update, for software release in [calendar year] 2024.”
‘A line in the sand’
Although Defense Department and military leaders have criticized the F-35 program for high operations and sustainment costs, the operational community has rallied around the performance of the jet, praising its advanced computing capability that allows the aircraft to mesh together data from different sensors and provide a more complete picture of enemy threats.
Brig. Gen. David Abba, who leads the Air Force’s F-35 integration office, said in March that he was comfortable with the path forward to correct open deficiencies, downplaying the impact of those issues on daily operations.
“Is it important to hold folks’ feet to the fire and make sure that we’re delivering on the capabilities that we need? Yes,” he said. But, he added, it’s also difficult to balance the need to meet a stated technical requirement against the reality of a fielded technology that may already be performing well in daily operations.
“That’s the crux of the acquisition and the delivery problem that we have,” Abba said. “When we say ‘I need this to work exactly like this,’ I’m drawing a line in the sand. If I’m a half degree on one side of that line versus the other, is it really that different? That’s where the art comes in.”
“We’ve got to kind of get over ourselves a little bit and acknowledge that we never field perfect weapon systems,” he continued. “I don’t want to diminish the fact that it’s critical that we get after open DRs, but every weapon system in the United States Air Force — and frankly around the planet — has open deficiencies. What matters is the severity of those deficiencies and ensuring that we have a robust process between government and industry to triage those and deal with them appropriately.” (Source: Defense News)
24 Apr 20. DDTC Posts Major COVID-19 Update. The U.S. Department of State’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) has posted on its website a major update on registration, licensing, and compliance measures it is implementing in response to the COVID-19 crisis. those measures include:
- Effective March 13, 2020, a temporary suspension of the requirement in ITAR Parts 122 and 129 to renew registration as a manufacturer, exporter, and/or broker and pay a fee on an annual basis by extending ITAR registrations expiring on February 29, March 31, April 30, May 31, and June 30, 2020, for two months from the original date of expiration.
- DDTC Compliance is now granting an additional 30 days for responses to its request-for-information letters related to voluntary and directed disclosure matters. DDTC Compliance is also considering extensions for the submission of full voluntary disclosures on a case-by-case basis. Extension requests should be sent via email to DTCC-CaseStatus@state.gov on company letterhead in PDF format.
- DDTC is also pursuing a one-time temporary reduction in registration fees for certain categories of DDTC registrants. More information on any change will be provided on DDTC’s website.
- Effective March 13, 2020, a temporary suspension, modification, and exception to the limitations on the duration of ITAR licenses contained in ITAR Parts 120-130, including but not necessarily limited to ITAR §§ 123.5(a), 123.21(a), and 129.6(e), to extend any license that expires between March 13, 2020, and May 31, 2020, for six (6) months from the original date of expiration so long as there is no change to the scope or value of the authorization and no Name/Address changes are required. This six (6) month extension is warranted in light of the unique challenges applicants face in the current environment when attempting to coordinate with U.S. and foreign business partners regarding the scope of applications.• Effective March 13, 2020, a temporary suspension, modification, and exception to the requirement that a regular employee, for purposes of ITAR § 120.39(a)(2), work at the company’s facilities, to allow the individual to work at a remote work location, so long as the individual is not located in Russia or a country listed in ITAR § 126.1. This suspension, modification, and exception shall terminate on July 31, 2020, unless otherwise extended in writing.
- Effective March 13, 2020, authorization for regular employees of licensed entities who are working remotely in a country not currently authorized by a TAA, MLA, or exemption to send, receive, or access any technical data authorized for export, reexport, or retransfer to their employer via a TAA, MLA, or exemption so long as the regular employee is not located in Russia or a country listed in ITAR § 126.1. This suspension, modification, and exception shall terminate on July 31, 2020, unless otherwise extended in writing.
- DDTC is implementing new procedures and will send to the contact listed on the application email scans of final action letters for General Correspondence requests submitted in writing. If email information was not provided, final actions will continue to be mailed back to the applicant.
- DDTC is implementing new procedures and will send to the applicant email scans of unclassified final action letters for DSP-85s submitted in writing. If email information was not provided, final actions will continue to be mailed back to the applicant. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) will continue to receive original sealed copies through the mail. DDTC is re-issuing guidance for the expedited authorization of requests submitted in support of U.S. Operations (USOP) at DTCL SOP – USOPS Guidance.
- DDTC has moved to electronic submissions of Congressional Notifications of proposed Direct Commercial Sales (DCS) and Foreign Military Sales (FMS) to the Congress.
- DDTC is also working with the interagency and leveraging updated staffing protocols to ensure streamlined interagency licensing reviews.
- In addition to our March 19, 2020, website announcement about the acceptance of disclosures and related information pursuant to ITAR § 127.12 via email, DDTC is now also accepting electronic submissions of FMS Part 130 reports via email at DDTC-Part130Notices@state.gov.
- To facilitate timely responses to inquiries from the public and regulated industry, DDTC has added additional points of contact on the Key Personnel tab of the About DDTC page and additional staffing and IT resources to its Response Team and Help Desk functions. (Source: glstrade.com)
23 Apr 20. US Army confident any tech schedule slips are recoverable. The U.S. Army is girding for modernization program delays and a rise in acquisition costs as the coronavirus pandemic ripples across its installations and through its network of suppliers.
Army leaders told reporters Thursday they are confident the service can juggle schedules to make up for any emerging delays and would ask Congress to help address future cost growth. While some larger prime contractors have adapted quickly, officials said, they warned that lower-tier companies with less slack in their workforces remain vulnerable.
The Army’s Integrated Air and Missile Defense Battle Command System had several major tests and evaluations scheduled, including a long-awaited limited-user test, or LUT. However, Army Futures Command chief Gen. Mike Murray said in a call with reporters that the testing schedule “will slide a little bit, but we will be on time” for the program’s other milestone decisions.
“I am very confident we will get the LUT done this summer or early fall,” he said.
The Army is in the third year of an ambitious modernization overhaul, which depends in part on “soldier touchpoints,” or user evaluations of new equipment. The modernization efforts are now in question as commanders apply physical distancing measures to protect their soldiers.
For example, a touchpoint at Fort Riley, Kansas, for a future replacement of the RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aircraft system is going ahead, but the commander at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, decided to postpone one there.
Whether wider program delays are coming, “we’re still watching very closely, and what I am very much focused on is there may be some slips in key decisions and soldier touchpoints,” Murray said. “The current estimate is we will deliver that [UAS] capability to our soldiers by the time we said we would.”
The Army will also push a critical touchpoint for the Integrated Visual Augmentation System from the summer to the fall after Microsoft — a subcontractor for the prime — temporarily closed. The device is a set of goggles meant to provide soldiers next-level night and thermal vision as well as enhance navigation and targeting.
“Not only for that program but for all our programs, input from the soldiers that were actually asked to use this equipment has been critical,” Murray said. “That has been impacted.”
The comments came as the Pentagon expects a broader three-month delay for major acquisition programs and speeds progress payments to primes that should trickle to small businesses. Army acquisitions officials have worked to help get second- and third-tier suppliers access to small business loans as well as facilitate cash flow to them.
“The supply chain does have some challenges, and that’s probably where the vast majority of any slips would occur that are tied to individual companies,” said Bruce Jette, the Army’s acquisition chief. “These companies are small, and if one person gets COVID in the company, the next thing you know you’ve lost 14 days with the company because everybody that didn’t get it is in quarantine.”
BAE Systems coordinated a temporary closure with the Army and plans to scrap a planned summer break to make up the time. Boeing’s closure in Philadelphia also came and went.
“It’s like that down [the] chain for the primes: They tend to be coming back online,” Jette said. “The ones where we end up with two or three weeks are the ones where we’ve got small individual companies of maybe 20 to 30 people who were suppliers of cables, or connectors and things like that.
“There’s something there that tends to have a bigger impact or take a little bit longer time. And with them, we try to execute those portions of the program which aren’t dependent upon those components, and then we’ll come back and clean up the battlespace.”
Some big agenda items for the Army don’t appear to have been knocked off balance. For example, the Army is still planning on another flight test of Lockheed Martin’s Precision Strike Munition, or PrSM, by April 30, which will deliver a new long-range precision fires capability to the battlefield. The capability is the Army’s No. 1 modernization priority.
“I’m confident enough that we’re going to do the next test flight [of] PrSM that I scheduled a military aircraft to go out and see it, so I’m very confident,” Murray said.
The Army’s latest “night court” review — used to divest the service of unneeded programs — proceeded virtually, as much of the Pentagon shifted to remote work. As part of the review, Army leaders recently received the final brief concerning equipment.
“A lot of the recommendations are pretty much close to being finalized,” Murray said. (Source: Defense News)
23 Apr 20. Army Has Long History of Combating Diseases. Army researchers are working to rapidly develop and test experimental vaccines to combat COVID-19, Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy said. The Army is also collaborating with the private sector and other government entities on 24 vaccine candidates, some of which are headed for human testing after having been tested on animals, McCarthy told reporters at a recent Pentagon news conference.
If history is any indicator of future success, there is reason to be hopeful. Being at the forefront of medical breakthroughs is nothing new for Army researchers:
Due to their ability to carry and spread diseases such as malaria, mosquitoes are one of the deadliest insects in the world, killing an average of 725,000 people a year, said. Army Col. (Dr.) Deydre Teyhen, commander of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. That surpasses the combined annual number of deaths from combat (475,000), deadly snakebites (50,000), crocodile attacks (1,000) and shark attacks (10).
To reduce deaths caused by mosquitoes, WRAIR has acted on several fronts, she said: providing proactive medical diplomacy, delivering vaccines and vector control, and leading the world in malaria drug and vaccine development.
Fighting Multidrug-Resistant Infections
An antibiotic drug developed by Army researchers several years ago is now available to treat service members who have life-threatening, multidrug-resistant, or MDR, bacterial infections.
Arbekacin is a new antibiotic treatment for MDR infections. Those types of infections may complicate wounds suffered by soldiers in combat, said Army Col. (Dr.) Michael Zapor, an infectious diseases physician at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Of all the bacterial species found on the planet, relatively few are intrinsically multidrug-resistant pathogens,” Zapor said. “In Iraq and Afghanistan, the bacterium known as acinetobacter is one such MDR bacterium that has caused problems in our patient population.”
Acinetobacter is commonly found in the water and soil of regions such as Iraq and Afghanistan, he said. Although it’s intrinsically resistant to many antibiotics, it’s not especially virulent and generally not problematic in humans unless their immune system has been severely compromised or the bacterium is inoculated deep into macerated tissue, as would occur with massive open wounds resulting from battle injuries.
Infections caused by the bacterium were prevalent during the Vietnam War, he said. But at the time, antibiotics were usually successful in eradicating acinetobacter infections. However, over time, resistance emerged and antibiotics became less effective against many pathogenic bacteria, including acinetobacter.
Fighting Yellow Fever
A lot of service members were taken out of the fight in 1898 during the Spanish-American War due to yellow fever.
The Army created the Yellow Fever Commission, led by Army Maj. (Dr.) Walter Reed, which determined that mosquitoes were the carriers of the disease. The commission developed effective control programs to eradicate the mosquitoes.
Acute respiratory diseases were fairly common among service members in the early 1950s. Maurice Hilleman, a microbiologist with the Army Medical Center’s Department of Respiratory Diseases, discovered that the adenovirus was the culprit. WRAIR created an adenovirus vaccine in 1956, just three years after its discovery. (Source: US DoD)
22 Apr 20. USMC to divest legacy weapons for tech-oriented future. The USMC wants its future force to be more network and cloud oriented, and plans to divest of some legacy weapons and communications systems to get there.
“We’re trading artillery and cannons and tanks in order to get after command and control modernization, electronic warfare, alternatives for positioning, navigation and timing, long range fires,” said Ken Bible, the Marine Corps’ deputy CIO during a virtual AFCEA NOVA event April 17.
All of this, he said, has to be done on the assumption that defense budgets will be flat in the coming decade — an impetus for getting rid of storied programs and accepting more risk for developing technologies.
“You’ll see some traditional systems probably will not get funded. There will be things that we will give up…things like the amphibious assault vehicle, even some of the vertical lift pieces,” Bible said.
That pivot means absorbing more “near-term risk” to get future-proof information technologies that can survive and perform tasks like data analytics uninterrupted in remote, contested environments.
The Marine Corps released its 2030 force design in March. The report called for smaller units of deployment widely dispersed in large areas, more unmanned systems, and highlighted the need for better electronic warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.
The report also named the network as fundamental to the future force design, specifically creating a “federated system of networks to ensure all elements can fight in a degraded command and control environment.”
With an increased load on the network, Bible said the service has to determine what weapons and subsequent communications systems are needed to bring that vision to fruition. The CIO is currently working on a network modernization plan slated to be released in May.
But can the network handle it? Right now the simple answer is: there are gaps, especially when it comes to cloud, which is needed to support information and data environments interconnected across the services.
“I need to be able to have communications paths that can’t be disrupted,” he said. “I need to be able to have different models of how I do intensely computational capabilities with organic sensors at the edge rather than necessarily always being connected robustly on the larger enterprise.”
Bible said the Marine Corps Enterprise Network is already deployed tactically, such as marines being able to access the service’s main website from the battlefield, but resiliency is a consistent challenge.
Workforce presents another set of problems, especially if resources become constrained.
Bible said mass teleworking is the future, and may be what the force needs with practically all Marine Corps C4 staff working remotely amid the coronavirus crisis.
But there have been cyber challenges as operators have had to work quickly to contend with new threats.
“Our cyber defenders [are having] to rapidly pivot to understand what those tools are and to train against those tools, to defend against that environment,” he said. “I think there’s a significant workforce piece both to recruit the right workforce, pay it correctly, to continue to train it, and give it the educational opportunities.” (Source: Defense Systems)
17 Apr 20. Navy speeds acquisition amid COVID-19 outbreak. The Navy has been awarding contracts faster since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, but one of the biggest gains have been systems that can assess supply chain weaknesses, according to James Geurts, the Navy’s acquisition chief.
The Navy has spent the past two years building systems that can provide real-time visibility into its supply chain, where there were gaps for major programs. They’ve now overlapped that capability with hot-spot data, indicating where companies have shut down or there’s been an influx in cases, Geurts said during a virtual fireside chat for the Navy League’s Sea Air Space 2020 conference April 15.
Geurts said doing that allows the Navy to “see what suppliers are at risk. When we understand that, we can start managing those potential delays into our supply system.” That information is then used to inform continuing operations, move supplies if needed and understand when suppliers are back online.
Geurts also said the Navy has geographically networked all of its 3D printers, which provides insight into where the need is on the local levels, “ensuring that we’re not competing or conflicting with each other.” Many organizations are using 3D printers to fabricate parts for medical devices and other needed materials that are not readily available through existing supply chains.
With contracts going out faster than anticipated, Geurts also said the Navy has been examining its business practices, learning how to better collaborate, reduce backlogs and not duplicate functions. All of that will hopefully aid in a faster recovery from the coronavirus, he said.
“Ships still have to come out on time, we’ve got to do the maintenance and continue to supply lethal capabilities to our sailors and Marines, and we can’t afford to lag the recovery.” (Source: Defense Systems)
22 Apr 20. American quandary: How to secure weapons-grade minerals without China. The United States wants to curb its reliance on China for specialized minerals used to make weapons and high-tech equipment, but it faces a Catch-22. It only has one rare earths mine – and government scientists have been told not to work with it because of its Chinese ties.
The mine is southern California’s Mountain Pass, home to the world’s eighth-largest reserves of the rare earths used in missiles, fighter jets, night-vision goggles and other devices.
But the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has told government scientists not to collaborate with the mine’s owner, MP Materials, the DOE’s Critical Materials Institute told Reuters.
This is because MP Materials is almost a tenth-owned by a Chinese investor and relies heavily on Chinese sales and technical know-how, according to the company.
“Clearly, the MP Materials ownership structure is an issue,” said Tom Lograsso, interim director of the institute, the focal point of the U.S. government’s rare earths research and a facility that typically works closely with private industry.
“We’re going to allow the people in Washington to figure this out.”
The DOE instruction, which has not been previously reported, illustrates the competing pressures facing officials looking to resurrect the U.S. commercial rare earths industry, which has all but disappeared since its genesis in World War Two’s Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. Lograsso did not say how the guidance was delivered to the institute.
Reviving domestic rare earths production has become a priority in Washington as relations with China, which dominates global supplies, have become increasingly frayed and U.S. lawmakers warn of the dangers of relying on a competitor for critical defense components.
Even as the DOE has blacklisted MP Materials, the company is a candidate to receive up to $40m in funding from the Pentagon to produce light rare earths, according to two sources familiar with the matter. Light rare earths are the most-commonly used of the specialized materials.
The Pentagon has yet to announce its decision on that funding, which could go to more than one project, after delaying the decision from March due to the coronavirus crisis.
Late Wednesday, MP Materials said it had been awarded Pentagon funding for a facility to process heavy rare earths, a less-common type of the specialized minerals. The amount was not disclosed, but the funds will be used for planning and design work. MP will have to solicit the Pentagon again for construction-related funds.
MP Materials is by far the most advanced player in the U.S. rare earths industry, given no rival project has even broken ground. As such, Mountain Pass is widely seen by industry analysts as a front-runner for Pentagon funding.
The DOE did not respond to requests for comment on the instruction to scientists or any potential conflict with Pentagon policy.
The Pentagon is working closely with “the president, Congress, allies, partners and the industrial base to mitigate U.S. reliance on China for rare earth minerals,” said spokesman Lt Col Mike Andrews. The department did not respond to requests for comment on whether it might fund Mountain Pass or potential conflicts with DOE policy.
APPLE TO LOCKHEED
MP Materials, which bought the mine in 2017, describes itself as an American-controlled company with a predominantly U.S. workforce. The privately held firm is 9.9%-owned by China’s Shenghe Resources Holding Co (600392.SS), though, and Chinese customers account for all its annual revenue of about $100m.
“Had we not had a Chinese technical partner helping us do this relaunch, there’s no way this could have been done,” said James Litinsky, chief executive of JHL Capital Group LLC, a Chicago-based hedge fund and MP Materials’ majority owner.
Litinsky declined to comment on the Pentagon funding.
Asked for comment on the DOE instruction to scientists, Litinsky said: “MP is on a mission to restore the full rare earth supply chain to the United States of America, whether the government helps us or not.”
Shenghe did not respond to requests for comment.
MP Materials is among a slew of U.S. companies dependent on China’s rare earths industry. Apple Inc (AAPL.O) uses Chinese rare earths in its iPhone’s taptic engine, which makes the phone vibrate. Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) uses them to make the F-35 Lightning fighter jet. General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) uses them to build the Virginia-class submarine.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further driven home the global nature of supply chains and just how heavily Western countries rely on manufacturing powerhouse China for a host of key products, including drug ingredients.
Mountain Pass first opened in the late 1940s to extract europium, a rare earth used to produce the color red in televisions. It drew heavily on technology developed by Manhattan Project government scientists to separate the 17 rare earths, a complex and expensive process.
By the early 1980s, the mine was a top global rare earths producer. Its minerals were in much of the equipment that U.S. soldiers used during the first Gulf War in 1990.
However, China ramped up development of a massive rare earths refining network and began boosting exports, undercutting other producers. “The Middle East has oil. China has rare earths,” then-Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping said in 1992.
In 2010, China halted supplies to Japan during a diplomatic dispute, unnerving U.S. military officials who wondered if China could one day do the same to the United States.
That refocused Washington’s attention on the mine and its then-owner Molycorp, which launched a $400m initial public offering the same year.
Even as U.S. government scientists began research projects with Molycorp, though, the company went bankrupt in 2015 under the weight of its debt – partly built up to comply with tightened environmental regulations from the Obama administration – and cheaper Chinese competition.
Two years later, Litinsky’s group and Shenghe bought Mountain Pass out of bankruptcy. The processing equipment installed by Molycorp, however, remains unused because of poor design, Litinsky said.
For now, MP Materials ships more than 50,000 tonnes of concentrated rare earths per year to China for processing, the Achilles heel of the U.S. industry.
The company aims to restart its own processing by the end of 2020, Litinsky said. The goal is to produce about 5,000 tonnes per year of the two most common rare earth metals, more than enough for U.S. military needs.
Some rare earths analysts and academics have doubted whether Mountain Pass can resume processing so soon, citing concerns about its plans for waste disposal and water filtration.
‘NATIONAL SECURITY MALPRACTICE’
Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio told Reuters that the United States’ reliance on China for defense components could pose a strategic military threat.
“It would be national security malpractice not to address this,” said Rubio, who sits on the Senate’s Intelligence and Foreign Relations committees.
This was echoed by Representative Chrissy Houlahan, a Pennsylvania Democrat, who said the issue of creating a viable domestic industry had been ignored for too many years.
“This isn’t an issue we can just kick down the road,” said Houlahan, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
The Pentagon asked miners in early 2019 to outline plans to develop rare earths projects and processing facilities, according to documents seen by Reuters.
President Donald Trump sharpened the directive last July, telling the Pentagon to fund U.S. rare earths projects and find better ways to procure military-grade magnets made from rare earths.
Earlier on Wednesday, Australia-based Lynas Corp (LYC.AX) and privately held Blue Line Corp also said they were chosen by the Pentagon to process heavy rare earths imported from Australia in a plant to be built in Texas. The deadline to apply for that for that project was in December.
Other applicants for the Pentagon funding programs included Texas Mineral Resources Corp (TMRC.PK); a joint venture between Alaska’s UCore Rare Metals (UCU.V) and Materion Corp (MTRN.N); Medallion Resources Ltd (MDL.V) and Search Minerals Inc (SMY.V), both of Canada; and Nebraska’s NioCorp Developments Ltd (NB.TO).
For a FACTBOX about these projects, click here:
Meanwhile, U.S. government scientists at the DOE institute are studying ways to recycle rare earth magnets, to find substitutes and to locate new sources of the strategic minerals. None of that research is shared with MP Materials.
“MP Materials recognizes they have become the elephant in the room that the U.S. government doesn’t want to acknowledge, given their relationship with Shenghe,” said Ryan Castilloux, a rare earths industry consultant at Adamas Intelligence. (Source: Reuters)
22 Apr 20. US, Japan Bomber-Fighter Integration Demonstrates Dynamic Force Employment. In demonstration of the U.S. Air Force’s dynamic force employment model, a U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bomber flew from the continental United States and integrated with the Koku Jieitai (Japan Air Self Defense Force or JASDF) to conduct bilateral and theater familiarization training near Japan April 22.
The B-1, flew a 30-hour round-trip sortie from Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to the Indo-Pacific and teamed up with six U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, seven JASDF F-2s and eight JASDF F-15s over Draughon Range near Misawa as part of a joint U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM) U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM) Bomber Task Force (BTF) mission before returning home.
“This operation showcases our unwavering commitment to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific region through the employment of strategic forces from around the globe,” said Gen. CQ Brown, Jr., Pacific Air Forces and INDOPACOM Air Component commander. “From confronting invisible threats of a global pandemic to addressing military aggression and coercive activities, we remain a lethal, innovative and interoperable force focused on a shared vision of upholding a free and open lndo-Pacific.”
In line with the National Defense Strategy’s objectives of strategic predictability and operational unpredictability, the U.S. Air Force transitioned its force employment model to enable strategic bombers to operate forward in the Indo-Pacific region from a broader array of overseas and CONUS locations with greater operational resilience.
“Like the advancements of our Agile Combat Employment concept of operations, we continue to innovate and adapt our approach, to include how we deploy and employ the various weapons systems we integrate with our allies and partners,” Brown said. “Bringing the B-1 into theater ensures our bilateral interoperability accounts for any combination of flying operations to prepare for and outpace the rapidly growing threats in the Indo-Pacific region.”
This marks the second CONUS-based bomber bilateral training to occur this year with the JASDF. On Feb. 3, two B-52s integrated with six USAF F-16s and more than 45 JASDF fighter aircraft in the vicinity of Misawa Air Base, Japan. Those bombers flew from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, and Minot Air Force Base, N.D.
“The rapid employment of airpower directly supports the National Defense Strategy and assures we can provide overwhelming force anywhere, anytime in support of American interests or our Allies and partners,” said Gen. Tim Ray, Air Force Global Strike Command and Air Forces-Strategic commander. “This mission is a demonstration to our friends throughout the region: we will continue to remain fully predictable in our commitment to ensuring peace, while also demonstrating that we have the ability to operate from numerous locations across the globe, even during the global pandemic.”
The B-1 is assigned to the 28th Bomb Wing and the F-16s are assigned to the 35th Fighter Wing from Misawa Air Base, Japan.
The last time the B-1 was in the INDOPACOM area of responsibility was January 2018, when the airframe and crews completed a six-month Continuous Bomber Presence mission at Andersen. During that time, the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron from Dyess Force Base, Texas, conducted a number of sequenced bilateral missions with the Republic of Korea Air Force and the JASDF.
USSTRATCOM has conducted BTF missions (previously known as Bomber Assurance and Deterrence missions) since 2014 as a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to collective security, and to integrate with Geographic Combatant Command operations. The first mission included B-52H Stratofortresses and B-2 Spirits traveling from the continental United States to Joint Base Pearl-Harbor Hickam in April 2014.
(Source: defense-aerospace.com/US Pacific Air Forces)
22 Apr 20. Defense Officials Express Agreement With President’s Warning to Iran. Defense Department officials are in full agreement with President Donald J. Trump’s warning to the Iranian regime on Twitter, senior Pentagon officials said today.
“The president issued an important warning to the Iranians,” Deputy Defense Secretary David L. Norquist said during a Pentagon news conference today. “What he was emphasizing is all of our ships retain the right of self-defense, and people need to be very careful in their interactions to understand the inherent right of self-defense.”
The president tweeted, “I have instructed the United States Navy to shoot down and destroy any and all Iranian gunboats if they harass our ships at sea.”
The Iranian regime has a history of harassing U.S. vessels operating in the Persian Gulf. In the past, small, quick Iranian boats have charged at U.S. ships in international waters.
The president’s tweet does not signal a new policy, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, as U.S. forces in any environment retain the right to defend themselves. “Every ship that deploys in harm’s way has the inherent right of self-defense,” Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten told reporters. “What that means is if we see a hostile act, if we see hostile intent, we have the right to respond, up to and including lethal force.”
Hyten warned Iran that, if threatened, U.S. commanders “will respond with overwhelming lethal force.”
Norquist said Trump was responding to Iran’s poor behavior. “He is emphasizing and warning them about the challenges of what they will create,” the deputy secretary said. “I think it was a very useful thing that he put out, and I think it’s an important thing for other people to understand and take very seriously.”
Hyten emphasized that he thinks it is a good thing that the president warned an adversary. He said that if the Iranians want to go down that path, “we will come, and we will come large.” (Source: US DoD)
22 Apr 20. F-35 deliveries could slow down, as COVID-19 jolts Lockheed’s supply chain. The coronavirus pandemic has rattled Lockheed Martin’s aeronautics business, with the F-35 joint strike fighter program facing the prospect of a slowdown in deliveries, company executives said Tuesday.
“The disruptions introduced by the virus have caused us to reduce our 2020 sales expectations as production and supply chain activities have recently slowed in our aeronautics business area,” Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson said during an April 21 earnings call with investors.
The company now projects its total sales for 2020 will amount to anywhere from $62.25bn to $64bn dollars — down from the $62.75bn to $64.25bn it had previously estimated in January.
Production of the F-35 has been the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic so far, said Ken Possenriede, the company’s chief financial officer.
“There’s more analysis that we’re going to do over the next couple of weeks working with our supply chain, our Fort Worth production line to determine — if any impact — to what extent it will be, including deliveries,” he said.
Lockheed’s acknowledgement of COVID-19 related challenges comes a day after the Pentagon disclosed schedule delays across its major weapons acquisition efforts, with aviation programs hit particularly hard by the effects of the pandemic.
“We believe there will be a three-month impact that we can see right now. So we’re looking at schedule delays and inefficiencies and so forth. That isn’t a particular program, that’s [major defense acquisition programs] in general,” Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told reporters Monday.
While Lord did not name specific programs that could be delayed, Possenriede said Tuesday that disruptions to the F-35 program were likely due to pressures faced by domestic and international companies within the jet’s global supply chain.
“There are local distancing requirements that are being more stringently applied across the globe. There is workforce disruption,” he said. “We’ve actually had some issues with shipping constraints.”
Most recently, Lockheed’s supply chain team discovered an issue with suppliers’ performance-based payment invoices, which get delivered to Lockheed after certain milestones are completed, Possenriede said.
“There are a couple suppliers that are going to be delinquent in April. Some of them are for administrative reasons — we’ll work through that. That’s just timing. Some of them is due to them not achieving their milestones,” he said. “Most of it is going to be COVID-related. We’re looking at that.”
Despite the challenges in keeping F-35 production smooth, there has been little change to other aspects of the program, Possenriede said. Development and follow-on modernization activities have continued with “little to no impact.”
And while Lockheed contractors have faced some barriers reporting to work at certain bases where they help perform repairs or stand up maintenance operations, Possenriede said there has been minimal impact to F-35 sustainment. (Source: Defense News)
20 Apr 20. COVID-19 Plant Closures Affect DOD’s Industrial Base. The most serious impacts to the Defense Department from COVID-19-related industrial closures domestically are in the aviation supply chain, shipbuilding and small space launch, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment said.
Speaking at a Pentagon news conference today, Ellen M. Lord said that internationally, several pockets of industrial base closures are affecting DOD, particularly in Mexico.
Lord said she’s working with the State Department and with the Mexican government to try to get those companies reopened. ”These companies are especially important for our U.S. airframe production,” she added.
The Defense Contract Management Agency is carefully tracking the state of the military’s industrial base for the large prime companies, Lord said, and the Defense Logistics Agency is monitoring smaller vendors.
Out of 10,509 prime companies, 106 are closed, Lord said, noting that 68 other companies had closed, but have since reopened. Out of 11,413 vendor-based companies, she said, 427 are closed, with 147 that had closed and are now reopened.
Lord also provided an update of current COVID-19 actions taken by DOD.
The department is working closely with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, contracting for about $500m in lifesaving supplies and equipment to service members and federal agencies, she said.
This support includes providing 60 decontamination systems that can sterilize up to 80,000 N95 masks per day. They are on order, she said, with some already delivered.
DLA is working closely with the services to better understand COVID-19 requirements, such as quantities of personal protective equipment for various locations, Lord said. DLA has provided 1.8 million N95 masks, 3.2 million nonmedical surgical masks, 54.8 million exam gloves, 8,000 ventilators and 275,000 isolation and surgical gowns to the services and several federal agencies, she said.
Additionally, Lord said, 3 million face coverings have been ordered for DOD personnel, with deliveries starting this week. She said she expects 135,000 delivered by the end of this month and 580,000 by the end of next month.
Last week U.S. Transportation Command was able to use the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Transport Isolation System to move three COVID-19-positive cases from Afghanistan to Germany. These systems were developed during the 2014 Ebola outbreak but were never used until now, she said.
At-risk contractor employees in Afghanistan will leave that nation due to insufficient medical capability there, Lord said, noting that the projected number who redeploy will likely be less than 1,000. (Source: US DoD)
21 Apr 20. US Navy study looks to cut two carriers, recapitalise with unmanned ships. They are the most visible symbol of America’s presence and global reach, and their absence has not gone unnoticed in the Indo-Pacific – nevertheless, a US Navy study has called for the scrapping of two supercarriers and a pause on major surface combatant acquisition to focus on unmanned or lightly manned vessels.
For the first time in nearly a century, two great powers stare across the vast expanse of the Pacific, the incumbent heavyweight champion – the US, tired and battle-weary from decades of conflict in the Middle East – is being circled by the upstart – China, seeking to shake off the last vestiges of the ‘Century of humiliation’ and ascend to its position as a world leader.
Meanwhile, in the Indian Ocean, these two titans continue to jockey for access and primacy over some of the most lucrative sea lines of communication (SLOC) and access to critical markets, strategic resources and of course prestige amid the slowly developing Cold War 2.0 transforming the global and regional balance of power and competition.
Naval power has always played a critical role in the way great powers interact – competitions to design the most powerful warships often characterising the great power competitions of the past.
Drawing on perhaps one of modern history’s most powerful ironies, the naval arms race in the decades leading up to the outbreak of the First World War saw an unprecedented competition between the UK and German Empire, with much of the emphasis placed on Dreadnought battleships echoing a similar, albeit smaller, naval arms race gathering steam between the US and China.
Despite President Donald Trump’s commitment to achieving a 355-ship fleet, capable of guaranteeing global maritime security, freedom of navigation and stability in the face of increased peer and near-peer competitors – the funding question remains an important one for consideration.
Indeed recently, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper explained the importance of balancing readiness with force and platform modernisation to the Senate Armed Services Committee:
“This need to balance current readiness with modernisation is the department’s central challenge and will require strong leadership, open and continuous dialogue with others, and the courage to make tough decisions.”
In spite of these factors, the President has sought to capitalise on a surging US economy to pass yet another increase for the US defence budget – expected to see the Pentagon receiving US$738bn for FY2020-21.
While the figure is less than the US$750bn President Donald Trump called for earlier this year, the US$738bn figure will still see a major ramp-up in the modernisation, recapitalisation and expansion of the US military at a time of increasing great power rivalry.
Aircraft carriers have long served as the basis for America’s global reach and forward-deployed tactical and strategic supremacy, however the proliferation of advanced anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile systems, combined with increasingly cost-effective, asymmetric threats are increasing pressure upon the capital ships.
In response, the US Navy has sought, in some way to pivot away from costly platforms to ensure the US Navy is capable of maintaining its qualitative advantage over peer and near-peer competitors, namely, China.
Shifting away from the carrier
Many strategic policy experts and defence analysts have long claimed that the era of the aircraft carrier and its well-established force structure is at an end, particularly given advances in anti-access/area-denial weapons systems and the advent of peer competitor platforms, often citing the immense costs associated with fielding and defending carriers.
Recognising these mounting threats, the US Navy has sought to recapitalise the nation’s carrier fleet, leveraging a range of existing and newly developed platforms to adapt to the changing, multi-domain battlespace and threat environments.
In response, the US Navy, working in conjunction with the Office of the Secretary of Defense as part of a broader national defence review has launched a review of the contemporary force composition, culminating in the plans to scrap two Nimitz Class supercarriers to better allocate manpower and resources, in a decentralised, less vulnerable ‘system-of-systems’ network of platforms and capabilities.
As explained in DefenseNews, this new review would herald a major restructure and shift in the way the US Navy seeks to respond to the mounting challenges, stating: “The study calls for a fleet of nine carriers, down from the current fleet of 11, and for 65 unmanned or lightly manned surface vessels. The study calls for a surface force of between 80 and 90 large surface combatants, and an increase in the number of small surface combatants – between 55 and 70, which is substantially more than the Navy currently operates.”
While discussion about the size of the US Navy has been a contentious issue for some time – recent efforts to get the force to 355 ships has seen growing support, particularly as China continues to exert its own influence and presence throughout the Indo-Pacific.
Despite concerns about a small number of increasingly expensive platforms – think the troubled Zumwalt and Ford classes, respectively – US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday remains optimistic about the US Navy’s capacity to adapt and win the fight.
“Our fleet is too small, and our capabilities are stacked on too few ships that are too big. And that needs to change over time. [But] we have made significant investments in aircraft carriers and we’re going to have those for a long time,” ADM Gilday stated.
“Look, people don’t give us enough credit for the gray matter between our ears, and there are some very smart people we have thinking about how we fight better. The fleet that we have today, 75 per cent of it, will be the fleet we have in 2030. So, we have to think about how we get more out of it.”
Former acting US Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly, has reinforced the President’s push for a 355 ship force, stating: “It was also the President’s goal during the election. We have a goal of 355, we don’t have a plan for 355. We need to have a plan, and if it’s not 355, what’s it going to be and what’s it going to look like?”
Building on this, he raised the important question around next-generation weapons systems including hypersonics, unmanned and autonomous systems and new operational concepts to support the objectives of the US Navy.
“How many more hypersonics are we going to need? Where are we going to put them? These are long-term investments that we will have to make, but we have to get our story straight first. So, I’m going to focus a lot on that this year,” Modly said at the time.
This shift would serve to have a dramatic impact on the way in which the US Navy operates globally, with a significant impact on key global allies, including Australia. This is something highlighted by DefenseNews:
“With nine carriers, the Navy would have between six and seven available at any given time with one in its mid-life refuelling and overhaul and one or two in significant maintenance periods. The net result would be significantly fewer carrier deployments in each calendar year.”
This is particularly concerning given recent movements made by China, which have sought to capitalise upon the diminished presence of US aircraft carriers in the Indo-Pacific, highlighted by ASPI executive director, Peter Jennings, where he states: “Beijing’s increased military activities are meant to be seen as a show of strength and to contrast with the challenges the US Navy is facing with maintaining a viable presence in the western Pacific. The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt has been tied up in Guam since COVID-19 infected many of its crew. China claims that three other American aircraft carriers have COVID-19 outbreaks and that there’s currently no viable US carrier presence in the Pacific.”
This paints a concerning image for Australia, as the nation has long depended on the US to provide it with the strategic umbrella enabling tactical freedom and manoeuvrability in contested operating environments.
Jennings adds, “Beijing is clearly showing it can operate forces around the so-called first island chain that includes Japan, Taiwan and maritime south-east Asia. How might this play out across the rest of this year and into next year? I anticipate a dangerous situation arising over Taiwan as President Xi Jinping seeks to seize a strategic advantage while the US remains dangerously incapacitated.”
These manoeuvres all have a startling impact on Australia, its national interests, security, resilience and position within the contested Indo-Pacific, something Jennings believes should be the focus for Australian policy makers, post COVID-19. (Source: Defence Connect)
20 Apr 20. Pentagon bracing for three-month slowdown on major defense equipment. The U.S. Defense Department expects to see a three-month delay across the majority of its Major Defense Acquisition Program portfolio as the result of workforce and supply chain issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We believe there will be a three-month impact that we can see right now. So we’re looking at schedule delays and inefficiencies and so forth. That isn’t a particular program, that’s MDAPs in general,” Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s top acquisition official, told reporters Monday. “And we are just now looking at key milestones that might be impacted.”
Lord declined to identify specific programs that are starting to struggle, but said: “Particularly, we see a slowdown in the shipyards, to an extent. Aviation is actually the most highly impacted sector we have right now.”
In addition to shipbuilding and aviation, Lord expressed concern over the small space launch sector.
Delays are largely the result of closures, temporary or otherwise, up and down the supply chain, from small firms to defense giants. For example, Boeing recently shut down production lines for weeks at a time, while 106 prime contractors have closed since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, with 68 having reopened.
For vendor-based companies, 427 have closed, with 147 having closed and then reopened, Lord said.
The international supply chain is experiencing negative effects of the pandemic, particularly in Mexico where a number of U.S. aerospace companies have outsourced work in recent years, as well as India.
Lord said she is writing to Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard to look for help in reopening local factories.
Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, the Pentagon received $1bn. Of that, $750m is earmarked for procuring medical supplies, while $250m is earmarked for the department to use to help keep critical suppliers in business.
Lord said that latter funding will go toward a number of priorities, including “machine tools and industrial controls, aircraft supply chain illumination, chem-bio, directed energy, radar, munitions and missiles, space, shipbuilding, soldier systems, and ground systems.”
Under Section 3610 of the coronavirus relief act, the Pentagon has the ability to reimburse industry for payments to employees, should they be prevented from working due to facility closures or other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lord said funding for that requirement will likely be in the second version of the act, currently being hashed out between the White House and Congress.
Lord described those potential reimbursements as “billions” of dollars, but declined to put a more specific price tag on it. (Source: Defense News)
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