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25 Sep 20. US Army to exploit crucial weakness in Russian, Chinese air defences. The US Army thinks it’s found a weak spot in the air defences of Russia and China. And just like Achilles’ heel, this vulnerability is down low. In particular, the service believes the lower tier air defences of its major adversaries have a soft spot.
When it comes to invading other countries, the kick-in-the-door, wipe-out-the-air-defence missions are typically handed out to the US Air Force (USAF) and its fleet of stealthy aircraft. The US Army, with its brown fatigues, tanks and helicopters, usually arrives later, after the enemy’s air defences, communications networks and air force have been destroyed.
However, the service believes it should play a leading role in the suppression of enemy air defences. It contends that new rotorcraft technologies give it an advantage that its brethren in the USAF lack.
“The lower tier of the air domain is, in fact, decisive,” says Brigadier General Walter Rugen, director of the US Army’s Future Vertical Lift Cross Functional Team. “We don’t have a problem that the high flyers do. We can hide in the clutter, show up at the time and place of our choosing to really create chaos in the enemy’s decision cycle.”
The US Army believes it can use terrain masking – that is, hiding from radar behind hills and in valleys – more effectively than it ever has before. Using innovative flight controls that automate parts of nap-of-the-earth flight, the service thinks it can fly its Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) at speeds that are higher and altitudes that are lower than previously thought possible or safe.
“We’re being very innovative in that space. Very, very innovative on how low we can get, how fast we can get,” says Rugen. “And so far, it’s working out. We’ve done a ton of runs.”
Using army rotorcraft to attack air defence systems is not unprecidented. At the outset of 1991’s Desert Storm operation to liberate Kuwait, AH-64 Apaches were employed to fly in low and destory Iraqi radar sites. This created a coverage gap that fixed-wing aircraft exploited.
The US Army’s claims come as the USAF, US Navy and US Marine Corps’ Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs, and other low-observable strike aircraft, are up against increasingly sophisticated and lethal air defences. In particular, US war planners worry about the Russian-built S-400 Triumf surface-to-air-missile system, which Moscow claims has anti-stealth capabilities.
That battery can hit aerial targets at ranges up to 135nm (250km), with a future missile upgrade possibly expanding its reach to 216nm, according to think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). After Turkey bought and received the missile system from Russia in 2019, Washington ejected its NATO ally from the F-35 programme saying the stealth fighter could be compromised.
Still, the S-400 has a problem. The weapon is optimised for hitting high flying aircraft and needs protection from low-flying threats such as loitering munitions, cruise missiles or helicopters, says Ian Williams, deputy director of CSIS’ Missile Defense Project. To shield it from low-altitude weapons, the Russian military typically surrounds the S-400 with short-range air defence systems, such as the Pantsir-S1 gun and missile battery. “They always co-locate them with their longer range air defenses, in order to protect them from these kinds of threats,” Williams says.
In fact, the Pantsir-S1, known also by its NATO reporting name SA-22 Greyhound, is exactly the type of threat the US Army is eager to take on with FARA , which is scheduled to be fielded by 2028.
“In the penetration phase for Future Vertical Lift, we’re certainly going after SA-22s with our advanced ingress tactics, techniques and procedures that we’re developing,” says Rugen. “We then go after command and control vehicles. We then go after enemy long range fires capability.”
The US Army wants FARA to be a nimble “knife fighter” that will duck and weave between enemy air defences. It is to have a cruise speed of at least 180kt (333km/h) and a rotor diameter no greater than 12.2m (40ft). The small helicopter is expected to not only hide behind hills, but between high-rise buildings in megacities.
Nonetheless, hiding behind terra firma – or even between structures – is not a new concept. During the Cold War, the variable swept wing Rockwell B-1 Lancer bomber was designed to fly low to the ground to avoid detection from radar-guided missiles on hypothetical nuclear strikes against the USSR.
The B-1B fell out of favour for penetrating strikes when it was discovered in the late 1970s that Moscow was developing a look down/ shoot down radar. Such radar would allow a higher-flying aircraft to spot in-coming, low flying bombers against the backdrop of the earth without confusing the aircraft with objects on the ground. Hence, the penetration and suppression of enemy defenses mission was handed off to stealth aircraft, starting with the Lockheed Martin F-117 Nighthawk.
In the same way that the B-1B was exposed to look down/ shoot down radar, it would seem that a helicopter with its many radar-reflecting angles, including main and tail rotors, would be highly vulnerable.
Not so, says Rugen. Instead, the US Army believes FARA can conceal itself by flying extremely low to the ground – far lower than jet aircraft are capable. Rugen declines to say how low and fast its next-generation scout helicopter will be able to fly, citing classification restrictions, but reiterates that the service’s “high fidelity model” shows the lower tier of the air domain is “decisive”.
“It’s much easier [to be spotted] when the air is clear and clean, higher than, depending on where you are, at 300ft above, or 1,000ft above or 3,000ft above [the ground],” says Rugen. “It’s very anecdotal to say that they can look down and shoot down. I have seen very little reporting on the ability to do that, if any. And, I’ve not seen any model or test that has been able to show that they can do that as routinely as they can with people who operate in the upper tier air domain.”
Distinguishing FARA from the ground, a building or a moving vehicle would be difficult, he says. “There’s a lot of clutter. A milk truck is clutter, right? Some of our stuff is just flying as slow as a milk truck,” says Rugen. “There’s a lot to sort out. I don’t know that anybody’s got an algorithm to do that.”
Nonetheless, the danger to FARA is that pilots might accidentally step out from the radar shadows and alert the enemy to their presence. “If we poke our head up too high, we’re in trouble,” says Rugen. “But that’s where a lot of this cognitive offloading work we’re doing [comes in], to make sure we can fly as fast as we possibly can, as low as we possibly can.”
The US Army is working on several initiatives to make it easier for FARA pilots to fly low. For instance, its “Holistic Situational Awareness—Decision Making” development programme, which is to launch in fiscal year 2021, is looking for data fusion technologies to simplify in-bound cockpit information and make it easier for pilots to make decisions, says a service request for information posted in April.
Moreover, Bell and Sikorsky’s proposals for the FARA programme are fly-by-wire rotorcraft that they say can be optionally piloted, meaning the aircraft’s flight computers should be capable of some precision autonomous flight without a pilot’s hand on the stick. Bell is building the 360 Invictus, a winged helicopter with ducted tail rotor and a booster auxiliary power unit; and Sikorsky is building the Raider X, a co-axial compound helicopter with a push propeller.
Rugen declines to discuss how automated nap-of-the-earth flight would work or to name the companies working on the FARA subsystems. It is also not clear to what extent such tricky manoeuvres would be automated.
In fact, entrusting a helicopter to fly itself at high speeds, low-to-the-ground and in-between obstacles is an enormous engineering task. Just avoiding power lines, mortal enemy No. 1 for helicopters everywhere, requires the constant attention of pilots.
Yet, the US Army wants to free pilots from the burdens of flying. In April, the service put out a request for information about potential mission systems for FARA. It requested sensors covering a 360-degree field of view for flying the helicopter in degraded visual environments, including day or night. Such sensors must be capable of detecting wires and obstacles in lowlight, as well as avoiding collision with terrain. “The FARA [project manager] is also interested in solutions and software applications that support supervised autonomy and optionally-manned flight,” says the request for information.
Recently, the service practiced using an undisclosed software to automatically reroute helicopters around bad weather and threats, says Rugen of the August and September “Project Convergence” exercises at Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona “Flying [and] ingressing a lot of that is going to be automated because we understand the terrain. We understand what’s going to reach up and maybe impact us in the terrain,” he says.
Penetrating Russia or China’s air space will require more than just terrain-masking flight techniques, however. Both countries have layered missile defences, which include not only radar-guided short-range missile batteries, but also easy-to-hide man-portable air-defence systems (MANPADS), such as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.
To avoid line-of-sight weapons, such as heat-seeking missiles fired from MANPADS, “rotorcraft would operate in relative sanctuary just outside the enemy’s weapon engagement zone and flood the zone with air launched effects pushing forward to detect, identify, locate and report [the most-dangerous] threats that would then be targeted and engaged using long-range precision munitions”, says Rugen.
Air launched effects are a form of unmanned air vehicle (UAV) that the service envisions launching from FARA and the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAV. The US Army wants FARA to hide in the clutter of the terrain and to use air launched effects to peak behind enemy lines. The small tube-launched drones would be used for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, electronic warfare, decoy and loitering munition strike missions.
Air launched effects could drastically increase the sight and striking range of FARA and could be networked together to pass back information. “We’ve had our air launched effects daisy chained out to about 61km,” says Rugen of exercises with Area-I drones at Project Convergence.
Once a target is spotted, via an air launched effect, MQ-1C or FARA, the service wants any soldier, helicopter pilot, artillery man or UAV operator with a weapon in range to strike (hence the exercise’s name Project Convergence). During the recent exercises in Yuma, the US Army passed targeting information around the battlefield using TrellisWare software defined radios and hardened tablet computers.
The US Army also aims to speed up the process by which targets are spotted and attacked. It is quickening the process in exercises using an artificially intelligent program. “We are working with our ground partners to have simultaneous execution of targets at extremely quick speed facilitated by some software we call Firestorm that distributes target [data] to the right shooter,” says Rugen.
Firestorm is even capable of automating Hellfire missile shots from the MQ-1C. “If determined to be the best shooter, Grey Eagle is assigned the fire mission, software on board the Grey Eagle automatically calculates the route and munitions needed to engage the target and sends this back to the ground commander who must approve,” says Rugen. “Then, the Grey Eagle flies itself into position and executes the fire mission with no further inputs.”
Ultimately, the US Army believes this sort of automation will give it an edge.
“It’s really refining our kill chain down, taking them from minutes to seconds,” says Rugen. (Source: News Now/Flight Global)
24 Sep 20. US Navy checks inventory to help US Marine Corps implement Force Design 2030 plan. The US Navy (USN) is combing through its existing inventory of weapons, equipment and systems to help the US Marine Corps (USMC) implement the USMC’s new Force Design 2030 plan, according to James Geurts, the assistant navy secretary for research, development and acquisition.
In his Force Design 2030 plan released in March, USMC commandant General David Berger outlined gaps he saw in the service’s current makeup. He said, “We have shortfalls in expeditionary long-range precision fires; medium- to long-range air defense systems; short-range (point defense) air defense systems; high-endurance, long-range unmanned systems with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), electronic warfare (EW), and lethal strike capabilities; and disruptive and less-lethal capabilities appropriate for countering malign activity by actors pursuing maritime ‘grey zone’ strategies.”
The USN has existing programmes that can help the USMC address some of these shortfalls, Geurts said on 22 September after a keynote speech at annual Modern Day Marine virtual conference.
“One of the things he talks about is the need for medium- and long-range precision fires,” Geurts noted. “We are looking at activities we have underway, like the Navy Strike Missile, on navy platforms, to help provide some capability for the Marine Corps in a rapid way.”
He added, “We are adding our expertise on what is going on in the navy and the joint force and the industrial base to help those activities. ISR is another one (and) air defence.”
The USN is informing Gen Berger of “programmatic options”, Geurts explained. “They are the customer; we are the supplier. Through our knowledge of programmes, the industrial base and activities in our group, we are making sure they’ve got informed options.” (Source: Jane’s)
24 Sep 20. F-35s Lure Buyers as a Question Looms: How Will It Do in Combat? Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35 has deployed from the Gulf of Aden to Alaska and is coveted by would-be buyers led by the United Arab Emirates. But the simulated combat testing needed to tell how well it would fare against Russian, Chinese or Iranian air defenses may be delayed yet again.
The intensive combat simulation testing of the fighter jet, which was supposed to occur in 2017 and most recently was set for this December, is almost certain to slip into next year because of difficulties finishing technical preparations, according to the Pentagon’s weapons buyer and testing office.
Resolution of “defects” in the simulation set-up “will likely drive” the tests into next year, Jessica Maxwell, a spokeswoman for Ellen Lord, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, said in an email. It’s the latest twist in a 19-year-long tale of setbacks spawned by the decision to build the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever even as it’s still being developed.
The one-month, 64-sortie “Joint Simulation Environment” exercise will use a full replica of the F-35 cockpit rigged with its combat sensors and electronics. A pilot at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland, will operate in a fully functioning simulator with a 360-degree view that depicts classified air and ground threats and incorporates allied aircraft as well. (Source: defense-aerospace.com/Bloomberg News)
22 Sep 20. Pentagon used taxpayer money meant for masks and swabs to make jet engine parts and body armor. Shortly after Congress passed the Cares Act, the Pentagon began directing pandemic-related money to defense contractors. A $1bn fund Congress gave the Pentagon in March to build up the country’s supplies of medical equipment has instead been mostly funneled to defense contractors and used for making things such as jet engine parts, body armor and dress uniforms.
The change illustrates how one taxpayer-backed effort to battle the novel coronavirus, which has killed roughly 200,000 Americans, was instead diverted toward patching up long-standing perceived gaps in military supplies.
The Cares Act, which Congress passed earlier this year, gave the Pentagon money to “prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus.” But a few weeks later, the Defense Department began reshaping how it would award the money in a way that represented a major departure from Congress’s original intent.
The payments were made even though U.S. health officials believe there are still major funding gaps in responding to the pandemic. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in Senate testimony last week that states desperately need $6bn to distribute vaccines to Americans early next year. There remains a severe shortage of N95 masks at numerous U.S. hospitals. These are the types of problems that the money was originally intended to address.
“This is part and parcel of whether we have budget priorities that actually serve our public safety or whether we have a government that is captured by special interests,” said Mandy Smithberger, a defense analyst at the Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group.
The $1bn fund is just a fraction of the $3trn in emergency spending that Congress approved earlier this year to deal with the pandemic. But it shows how the blizzard of bailout cash was — in some cases — redirected to firms that weren’t originally targeted for assistance. It also shows how difficult it has been for officials to track how money is spent and — in the case of Congress — intervene when changes are made. The Trump administration has done little to limit the defense firms from accessing multiple bailout funds at once and is not requiring the companies to refrain from layoffs as a condition of receiving the awards.
Some defense contractors were given the Pentagon money even though they had already dipped into another pot of bailout funds, the Paycheck Protection Program.
Congress, at Trump’s urging, is now debating whether to pass another massive stimulus package, and the Pentagon and defense contractors have called for another $11bn to be directed toward their programs.
The $1bn fund was allocated under the Defense Production Act, which allows President Trump to compel U.S. companies to manufacture products in the nation’s interest.
Trump has described the law as a “tremendous hammer” and boasted in August that he has “used the DPA more comprehensively than any president in history.” His administration was under intense pressure this spring to use the law to address dire shortages in medical-grade masks and other supplies.
But in the months after the stimulus package was passed, the Pentagon changed how the money would be used. It decided to give defense contractors hundreds of millions of dollars from the fund, mostly for projects that have little to do with the coronavirus response. Defense Department lawyers quickly determined that the funds could be used for defense production, a conclusion that Congress later disputed.
Among the awards: $183m to firms including Rolls-Royce and ArcelorMittal to maintain the shipbuilding industry; tens of millions of dollars for satellite, drone and space surveillance technology; $80m to a Kansas aircraft parts business suffering from the Boeing 737 Max grounding and the global slowdown in air travel; and $2m for a domestic manufacturer of Army dress uniform fabric.
DOD officials contend that they have sought to strike a balance between boosting American medical production and supporting the defense industry, whose health they view as critical to national security. The Pentagon, which as of 2016 employed more than 156,000 people working in acquisitions alone, has also lent its expertise to the Department of Health and Human Services as it seeks to purchase billions of dollars in needed medical equipment.
Ellen Lord, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, said her office has worked closely with Congress and federal agencies to meet the needs of both the medical and defense industries.
“We are thankful the Congress provided authorities and resources that enabled the [executive branch] to invest in domestic production of critical medical resources and protect key defense capabilities from the consequences of COVID,” Lord said in a statement. “We need to always remember that economic security and national security are very tightly interrelated and our industrial base is really the nexus of the two.”
The Democratic-controlled House Committee on Appropriations has made clear that the Defense Department’s decision to funnel the DPA funding to defense contractors went against its intent in that section of the Cares Act, which was to spur the manufacturing of personal protective equipment.
“The Committee’s expectation was that the Department would address the need for PPE industrial capacity rather than execute the funding for the DIB (defense industrial base),” the committee wrote in its report on the 2021 defense bill.
Pentagon officials counter that they have been fully transparent with both Democrats and Republicans in Congress on their plans for the funds.
Defense officials say the Pentagon’s funding priorities were influenced heavily by an industry study drawn up in 2018. The study, prompted by an early executive order from Trump and by economic adviser Peter Navarro and carried out in close consultation with defense industry associations, pointed to several hundred supply chain shortfalls that could hamper the U.S. military’s ability to compete with China.
The Pentagon receives funding under the Defense Production Act each year to shore up companies it deems critical, but in much smaller amounts — the 2020 allocation was about $64m. The money is disbursed by the Pentagon’s industrial policy office under the law’s Title III, which gives the president broad authority to mobilize domestic industry. (Source: Washington Post)
21 Sep 20. Funding patch would avert shutdown through Dec. 11, fund Navy’s Columbia program. House Democrats have filed a stopgap spending measure to avoid a government shutdown and keep the Department of Defense and other federal agencies operating through Dec. 11.
The continuing resolution would allow the Navy to begin detailed design and construction work on two Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, but leaves out White House requests for Space Force and nuclear weapons programs.
The bill would also extend the window for reimbursing government contractors for costs related to COVID-19 through Dec. 11. Trade groups had urged lawmakers for an extension as the pandemic has, for defense firms, created weapons program slowdowns, temporary factory closures and cash flow problems, particularly for smaller companies.
The CR, expected to be taken up by the House this week, was released Monday by the House Appropriations Committee.
The bill comes amid weeks of stalled negotiations on a new pandemic relief bill, but lead lawmakers have committed to reaching an agreement to avoid a government shutdown. While some Democrats sought a CR that would last into early 2021, party leadership took a path more in line with desires by the GOP to have the CR go into December.
Defense officials and industry leaders had said they preferred a shorter continuing resolution, because they cannot start new programs or increase spending on existing priorities under the restrictions from previous fiscal year funding.
In addition to the $1.6bn for the Columbia-class sub, the bill would bar the Pentagon from launching new start programs, and omits funding for several so-called anomalies the Trump administration requested.
Without congressional intervention, the Navy would not have the money or authorization to begin work on the boats the sea service announced in June as part of a planned $10.4bn contract with General Dynamics Electric Boat.
Failing to pass a CR would mean a government shutdown ahead of the Nov. 3 elections. Funding expires for the federal government on Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2020.
With there bill’s release, House Democrats blamed Republicans, who control the Senate, for not passing appropriations bills as the Democrat-led House did earlier in the year.
“While the House did its job and passed bills funding nearly every government agency, Senate Republicans did not even begin the appropriations process. Because of their irresponsibility, a continuing resolution is sadly necessary,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
“This clean continuing resolution keeps government open while giving Congress additional time to negotiate annual appropriations bills that will invest for the people.” (Source: Defense News)
21 Sep 20. US Marines wants to move fast on a light amphibious warship. But what is it? The U.S. Marine Corps is moving as fast as it can to field a new class of light amphibious warship, but it remains unclear what it will do, where it will be based or what capabilities it will bring to the fight.
The idea behind the ship is to take a commercial design or adapt a historic design to make a vessel capable of accommodating up to 40 sailors and at least 75 Marines to transport Marine kit over a range of about 3,500 nautical miles, according to a recent industry day presentation.
While the presentation noted that the ship should have few tailored Navy requirements, that also creates a problem: If the Navy is going to pay tens of millions to develop, build, crew and operate them, should it not provide some additional value to the fleet?
Analysts, experts and sources with knowledge of internal discussions who spoke to Defense News say the answer to that question is a source of friction inside the Pentagon.
The idea of the warship arrived on the scene in 2019 with the ascension of Gen. David Berger as commandant of the Marine Corps. His planning guidance called for a smaller, more agile amphibious force that could operate inside the Chinese anti-access, area denial window in the South China Sea.
In a recent virtual meeting of the Surface Navy Association, the chief of naval operations’ director of expeditionary warfare, Maj. Gen. Tracy King, emphasized that above all, the platform must be cheap and come online quickly.
“I see the efficacy of this [light amphibious warship] is really to help us in the phases and stages we’re in right now,” King said Aug. 27. “We need to start doing things differently, as an extension of the fleet, under the watchful eye of our Navy, engaging with our partners and allies and building partner capacity: We ought to be doing that right now. I think we’re late to need with building the light amphibious warship, which is why we’re trying to go so quickly.”
When asked whether the ship should contribute to a more distributed sensor architecture to align with the Navy’s desire to be more spread out over a large area during a fight, King answered in the affirmative.
“[But] I really see it benefiting from [that architecture] more,” he said. “We need to build an affordable ship that can get after the ability to do maritime campaigning in the littorals.”
The unstated implication appeared to be that if the ship is loaded up with sensors and requirements, it will slow down the process and increase the cost. Analysts who spoke to Defense News agreed with that, saying the Navy is likely trying to put more systems on the platform that will make it more complex and more expensive.
The Navy has said it wants to keep the price under $100m per platform and begin purchasing them as early as the latter half of 2022.
“The hardest part is going to be appetite suppression, especially on the part of the Navy,” said Dakota Wood, a retired Marine officer and analyst with The Heritage Foundation. “This is what we saw in the littoral combat ship: It started out as a very light, near-shore, small and inexpensive street fighter. And then people started adding on requirements. You had ballooning costs, increasing complexity of the platform, and you get into all kinds of problems.
“The Marine Corps wants this quickly. It needs it to be inexpensive so you can have 28-30 of them over a three- to four-year period.”
There is the additional challenge of where the ships will be based, since they will probably not be built to the kinds of standards of normal Navy vessels built to last for 30-40 years in service. The minimum service life for the light amphibious warship will be about 10 years, according to the industry day presentation.
Wood said that would be a challenge for the Marines and the State Department to work out in parallel with the effort to get the hulls quickly built.
Jerry Hendrix, a retied Navy captain and analyst with the Telemus Group, agreed with that assessment, saying the Marines are eager to move forward to get something fielded, in part to make sure this transition to a lighter, more distributed force being pushed by Berger actually happens.
“The commandant can’t divest of some of the legacy platforms he’s building — these big, expensive and vulnerable platforms — until he has something that replaces it in the water. And so he’s anxious to get going with something else so he then has a reason to move away from what he has.
“The commandant is well aware he has a four-year clock and its ticking. So if he’s going to make changes, he’s got to get moving to get those changes in place and commit the Marine Corps to them to make sure it’s going to last. And right now I’m not sure there’s a lot of high confidence that they are going to last.”
Hendrix acknowledged that the Navy has good reason to want the light amphibious warship to have more capability, but added that the Corps is more interested in something simple than something costly and elaborate.
“What that does,” Hendrix said, “is drive up unit cost and drive down the numbers that can be purchased.” (Source: Defense News)
21 Sep 20. Pentagon acquisition boss talks industry, mergers and coronavirus. A longtime industry executive, Ellen Lord was confirmed as the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment in August 2017. In that role, Lord — who is now the longest serving political appointee at the department from the Trump administration — oversees billions of dollars in weapons procurement and sustainment, while also overseeing the health of the defense industrial base, a particularly important role in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Lord was a keynote speaker at this year’s Defense News Conference, where she touched on a number of issues affecting the Department of Defense. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
We’re about six months after COVID-19 first hit the defense industry. How do you judge the health of the defense industrial base?
We use the Defense Contract Management Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency to track about 22,000 key companies that the department works with. And going back over the last six months, we did have hundreds of companies shut down, but now we’re down to only about 30. So that’s very, very good news. We monitor them on a daily basis; we look at on-time deliveries, deliveries missed and, most importantly, we listen to what the issues are, really leveraging the industry associations to do a lot of listening.
What we are looking for is whether or not we’re maintaining war-fighter readiness for our production programs, and then relative to modernization, whether we are hitting key milestones relative to development programs. We have seen some slowdowns. We are carefully monitoring, using monthly metrics, where we are. That’s something that I’m actually extremely proud of the team over the last few years — we have developed a very data-driven way of doing business.
The Pentagon is seeking billions of dollars from Congress to help fund reimbursements for the defense industry’s pandemic-related costs. But we’ve heard criticism of this from a number of sectors, with some saying financial reports last quarter were not so bad. Why is that funding needed, and why now?
All the [quarterly] reports that have come out in large part don’t reflect the hits that were taken by business. I would contend that most of the effects of COVID-19 haven’t yet been seen because most companies gave their employees time off, they stretched out production, paid a lot of people for working 100 percent when perhaps they were only getting 50 percent of the hours in and so forth. So I think the system has absorbed it up to this point in time. Now when we get to the point where we’re having payments and incentive fees and award fees earned, and if we haven’t done the deliveries, that’s where you’re going to see the hit. So I believe there’s a bit of a delayed response.
We want to make sure that we have a one-time accounting for these major COVID hits — very, very well defined in terms of a period of time, March 15-Sept. 15, that we take a very, very data driven approach [saying]: “Send us a proposal showing what the impact was; we will assess them all at once and get back.”
However, we can’t do that at this point in time because we have an authorization through Section 3610 [of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act] and so forth, but we don’t have an appropriation. We believe we need that appropriation to maintain readiness because if we do not get that, what we are going to find is we are not going to get the number of units delivered, we are not going to maintain war-fighter readiness, we’re not going to move forward in modernization. We would like to take the one-time hit and then see where we go from there.
Assuming you get the appropriation, much money is needed? When will industry see it?
We think it’s somewhere between $10bn and $20bn. We think it would take five to six months because once we got an appropriation, we would go out for a request for proposals, and the larger companies are going to have to flow down those RFPs through their supply chain, gather the data — because again, this has to be a very data-driven drill. So we would get all of that back; we think that would take two to three months. Then we want to look at all of the proposals at once. It isn’t going to be a first-in, first-out [situation], and we have to rationalize using the rules we’ve put in place, what would be reimbursable and what’s not. So overall we think five to six months, in terms of a process.
We’re at about the two-year mark from the executive order 13806 study, which assessed the health of the defense industrial base and included some dire warnings about the supply chain. How has work on fixing those issues gone?
We had several areas that we pointed out were problematic, that we were concerned that the U.S. had too great of a dependency on non-friendly nations and that we just didn’t have the security and resiliency that we were looking for. In fiscal 2019, we actually had 14 presidential determinations, which is the process you go through to actually say: “Yes, these are areas that are worthy of looking at.” Then we go to get the appropriation to be able to use [the Defense Production Act’s Title III authorities]. A number of the areas we looked at were small unmanned aerial systems, rare earth [minerals], that type of thing.
When COVID-19 hit, it shone a spotlight on the concern we had with this fragility and helped us tell the story. Because of another executive order coming in declaring a federal emergency, we no longer had to go through the presidential determination route, which is a bit time consuming, to identify areas where we needed to invest.
Then [with the pandemic] we had new areas bubble up, probably the most significant of which was aviation propulsion, where we have a number of our key suppliers who are extremely dependent on commercial aviation that was grinding almost to a halt for a while — huge impacts there. So what we did was we were now able to move a little bit more quickly, which is always helpful. And we made a number of awards to aviation companies that literally kept those companies in business, which allowed us to continue to support the war fighter.
COVID-19 has helped us accelerate some of those areas. Others are perhaps not getting as much attention as they were pre-COVID-19, looking at our defense industrial base for nuclear modernization for instance, also for hypersonics. But overall, the team is working very hard, and we have put out almost a billion dollars in DPA Title III over the last six months.
It sounds like the pandemic may have been beneficial in addressing these long-term issues.
What it did was allow us to really put speed in the system, peel away all of what I would call the non-value-added bureaucracy. COVID-19 gave us a burning platform to really demonstrate we could be very responsible in terms of taxpayer dollars, very responsible in terms of security of the war fighter, but move at the speed of relevance to get things done. So I don’t want to backslide there. And I want to make sure we really take advantage of all of that.
Companies are concerned about being in compliance with the Section 889 rules, which prohibit the government from buying a system that might have Chinese equipment in it from the telecommunications supply chain. Are more waivers for companies possible?
We are incredibly supportive of making sure that we don’t have Chinese technology in a lot of our telecom systems, which has proven to be a problem in terms of exfiltration of data. So what we did is we got a waiver from [the Office of the Director of National Intelligence] for noncritical weapon systems. We continue to discuss an extension beyond September of that with them. We are getting waivers on a case-by-case basis, we will look at those. However, we are encouraging industry and we are very, very pleased at how we see industry still stepping up to really get these systems out of their supply chains. So it will be by exception that we will do waivers, and we are looking to really have a clean path through everything.
There have been significant mergers and acquisitions during your tenure at the Pentagon. Are you seeing a downside for the department, given the desire for more competition on programs?
I actually put a process in place early on, when we are notified of M&A deals, that we go out very formally to all the services and agencies and ask for objective evidence as to whether or not these mergers or acquisitions will constrain competition in any way. We then work very, very closely with either [the Federal Trade Commission or the Justice Department] on those deals to make sure there are divestitures if needed.
Where I’m really focused, and the team is focused, is really getting the small companies going. That’s where the predominance of our innovation comes from. That’s what bubbles up to these larger companies. So we are holding all kinds of webinars and meetings connecting not only our traditional defense industrial base, small company partners, but nontraditional [firms] with our DoD efforts. We’re partnering with the services to get more of that activity. So we want that diverse group coming in, and I’m really excited about what I see coming up through.
That doesn’t sound like you have many concerns about what you’ve seen.
We watch very carefully. And at this point, we think we’ve made some smart divestitures on some of those. And we like competition. It’s our friend. (Source: Defense News)
21 Sep 20. DOD Approaches Goal of Destroying All Stockpiled Chemical Weapons. This month, the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant team at the Army’s Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado completed the destruction of nearly 300,000 155mm projectiles, which each contained 12 pounds of mustard agent, said Walton Levi, site project manager.
Chemical agent destruction operations in Colorado began in March 2015 and are scheduled to be completed by 2023, said Levi. More than 780,000 munitions were in the original chemical weapons stockpile in Pueblo.
Mustard agent is a blister-producing chemical weapon contained within three types of munitions stored at the Pueblo Chemical Depot, each named after the diameter of its shell: 155mm projectile, 105mm projectile and 4.2-inch mortar round, he said.
This marks the end of the 155mm projectile campaign at PCAPP and the safe elimination of approximately two-thirds of the original chemical agent stored at the depot, said Levi. ”We proudly completed this campaign ahead of schedule — and while implementing strict, new protocols to keep our workforce safe amid the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.
Since the late 1960s, the U.S. government has been taking steps to reduce and eliminate the U.S stockpile of chemical weapons. This was reinforced by a presidential directive and the U.S. ratification in 1997 of the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that calls on all member nations to destroy their chemical weapons and production facilities.
To comply with the treaty, the U.S. is destroying its last remaining chemical weapons stockpile, said Levi.
”Our ultimate goal is keeping the workforce and community safe from these World War II-era weapons,” said Army Col. Michael Cobb, commander of the depot. ”We use the utmost care and follow strict safety procedures when delivering the munitions from their storage igloos to PCAPP.”
”Destruction of 155mm projectiles is a great accomplishment for the PCAPP team,” said Ken Harrawood, project manager of the Bechtel Pueblo Team. ”Innovative solutions are key to solving issues that arise with a complex and one-of-a-kind operating facility like PCAPP. This would not have been possible without the dedication and professionalism of our amazing workforce.”
”I give credit to our team of employees dedicated to the munitions destruction effort, as many have spent their entire careers ridding the world of these weapons,” said Kim Jackson, plant manager. ”We reached this milestone because of the amazing workforce and their diligence, hard work and support to the PCAPP mission.”
”The United States is fully committed to destroying 100% of its remaining chemical weapons stockpile by Dec. 31, 2023,” said Mike Abaie, program executive officer of Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives.
As of Aug. 14, the destruction of 1,673.5 tons of mustard agent in the U.S. has been reported to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, an intergovernmental organization whose goal is to eradicate chemical weapons worldwide, said Abaie.
How the Process Works
Under the close supervision of trained operators, the pilot plant uses dozens of automated systems to disassemble and drain the munitions and thermally heat the drained munition bodies, said Levi.
The liquid agent is neutralized, and the product, hydrolysate, is then fed to living microorganisms in a process known as biotreatment, Levi explained. Water is recycled at the pilot plant and the remaining salt is shipped off-site to a permitted treatment, storage and disposal facility. The plant is equipped with a robust pollution abatement system made up of 12 carbon filter banks that filter out particles before air from inside the plant is released back into the atmosphere.
During the next several months at PCAPP, technicians will retrofit the plant’s robots and systems to begin processing the next munitions campaign, which are the 105mm projectiles, said Levi.
In July, workers finished assembling three static detonation chambers to augment PCAPP by destroying problematic munitions, which are unsuitable for processing using the main plant’s automated equipment, said Levi. The SDC units will destroy the 4.2-inch mortar rounds, which is the third and final destruction campaign.
The other remaining chemical weapons facility in the U.S. is PCAPP’s sister site, the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant near Richmond, Kentucky. BGCAPP is safely destroying 523 U.S. tons of the nerve agents VX and GB (sarin) and mustard agent stored in rockets and projectiles at the site, Levi said.
BGCAPP is using neutralization or an explosive destruction technology to safely destroy the munitions, he continued. BGCAPP began agent destruction operations with explosive destruction technology on June 7, 2019, and its main plant began operations on Jan. 17, 2020. Operations will be completed by Dec. 31, 2023.
An important element in the process of safely destroying chemical weapons is the coordination and collaboration with the local communities. The Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program works closely and supports state and local governments and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to educate, prepare and protect communities surrounding the stockpile sites, Levi said. (Source: US DoD)
22 Sep 20. US Marines prepare for distributed amphibious warfare ship capabilities. Distributed warfare is emerging as a key focus for the modernisation efforts of US Marine Commandant, General David Berger. At the core of these efforts is developing a new, lighter, more cost-effective amphibious warfare ship – the catch is, the Marines have to work out what it will be.
Global history has been defined by the competing economic, political and strategic ambitions and the ensuing conflagrations of “great powers” as these interests bring them into direct, kinetic confrontation with one another.
These powers typically combine a range of characteristics that set them apart from lower-tier middle and minor powers, including a complementary balance of hard and soft power dynamics, such as military and economic strength and diplomatic and cultural influence.
Nevertheless, modern warfare has rapidly evolved over the last three decades, from high-tempo, manoeuvre-based operations that leveraged the combined capabilities of air, sea, land and space forces to direct troops, equipment and firepower around the battlefield during the first Gulf War, to low-intensity humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in southern Europe and the south Pacific, and the eventual rise of asymmetrical, guerilla conflicts in the mountains of Afghanistan and streets of Iraq.
Now, the rise of China as a peer or near-peer competitor, driven by its unprecedented military build-up, namely the development of key power projection capabilities, including aircraft carriers and supporting strike groups, fifth-generation combat aircraft, modernised land forces, area-access denial and strategic nuclear forces, combined with growing political and financial influence throughout the region, is serving to shake-up the thinking of the US and Australia.
The geographic makeup of the region, combined with the precedent of amphibious warfare operations established throughout the Second World War campaign against Imperial Japan provides the US and, to a lesser extent, Australia with a basis from which to develop and overhaul force structures long-focused on responding to humanitarian or asymmetric contingencies.
The US Marine Corps and its globally deployed MEUs and MAGTFs provide the US with an unrivalled rapid response to contingencies ranging from humanitarian disaster relief and counterinsurgency to sea control and high-intensity power projection combat operations against a peer competitor.
Both the MEU and MAGTF concepts utilise US Navy LHDs and landing platform docks (LPD) supported by surface combatants to rapidly deploy integrated, “combined arms” forces, including amphibious landing, infantry, artillery, armour, combat engineers, rotary and fixed-wing air support (both lift and attack), logistics, medical and supply chain services.
As a combined arms force, both the MEU and MAGTF models incorporate four key elements:
- Command Element (CE): Providing command and control, including management and planning for manpower, intelligence, reconnaissance, operations and training, and logistics functions;
- Ground Combat Element (GCE): Composed primarily of infantry units, the GCE also includes reconnaissance (scout/sniper units); forward air controller; nuclear, biological and chemical defence; communications; logistics support and service; artillery; armour (including amphibious armoured vehicles and armoured reconnaissance); and combat engineer capabilities;
- Aviation Combat Element (ACE): Contributes to the airpower component, including fixed-wing aircraft (ranging from strike to airlift and aerial refuelling), helicopters (both attack and airlift), tiltrotor (airlift) and UAV capabilities; and
- Logistics Combat Element (LCE): Provides the majority of combat service support including heavy motor transport, ground supply, heavy engineer support, ground equipment maintenance, and advanced medical and dental support roles.
The heart of these formidable the large-deck amphibious warfare ships have grown increasingly complex, costly and vulnerable to the increasing capability of China’s growing network of advanced anti-ship cruise and ballistic missiles (ASCM/ASBM) systems like the DF-16 and DF-21 series, combined with their own fleet of aircraft carriers and under construction large-deck amphibious warfare ship. The Commandant of the US Marine Corps, General David Berger, has emerged as a major advocate for implementing a concept of distributed lethality across the ‘Gator Navy’.
This vulnerability has prompted a shift in the operational, tactical and strategic planning for the Marines and their amphibious warfare capabilities, while platforms like the big-deck, amphibious warfare ships, bristling with fixed-wing, fifth-generation fighters will play a role, Gen Berger is looking to adapt to the growing challenges and increase the survivability of the Marines in a contested environment.
We need a more flexible amphibious warfare ship and quick!
In response the Marines and Navy are moving quickly to meet the growing need, particularly as the Navy struggles to meet its global responsibilities with a diminishing number of ships, at the core of this is a new, flexible and relatively cheap amphibious warfare ship to provide the Corps with a distributed, survivable amphibious warfare capability.
David Larter, writing for DefenseNews, has shed some light on the Marines’ thinking and methodology behind the pursuit of a new amphibious warfare ship capability, stating, “The US Marine Corps is moving as fast as it can to field a new class of light amphibious warship, but it remains unclear what it will do, where it will be based or what capabilities it will bring to the fight.
“The idea behind the ship is to take a commercial design or adapt a historic design to make a vessel capable of accommodating up to 40 sailors and at least 75 Marines to transport Marine kit over a range of about 3,500 nautical miles, according to a recent industry day presentation.
“While the presentation noted that the ship should have few tailored Navy requirements, that also creates a problem: If the Navy is going to pay tens of millions to develop, build, crew and operate them, should it not provide some additional value to the fleet?”
While Commandant, Gen Berger has long been an advocate of the ‘Lightning Carrier’ as a means of directly supporting deployed Marines ashore, separate to any airpower provided by the Navy or Air Force. The concept of a new, lighter amphibious warfare ship appears to also be the brainchild of Gen Berger as he continues to reshape the Marines in response to mounting A2/AD pressures.
Larter explains, “The idea of the warship arrived on the scene in 2019 with the ascension of Gen. David Berger as commandant of the Marine Corps. His planning guidance called for a smaller, more agile amphibious force that could operate inside the Chinese anti-access, area denial window in the South China Sea.
“In a recent virtual meeting of the Surface Navy Association, the chief of naval operations’ director of expeditionary warfare, Major General Tracy King, emphasised that above all, the platform must be cheap and come online quickly.”
“I see the efficacy of this [light amphibious warship] is really to help us in the phases and stages we’re in right now. We need to start doing things differently, as an extension of the fleet, under the watchful eye of our Navy, engaging with our partners and allies and building partner capacity: We ought to be doing that right now. I think we’re late to need with building the light amphibious warship, which is why we’re trying to go so quickly,” MajGen King said on 27 August.
A core component of this evolution is integrating the proposed vessel into a distributed lethality network across the fleet, enabling the Marines to more directly and adequately respond, without putting manpower and larger, expensive ships and their embarked forces at risk.
MajGen King explained to Larter, “[But] I really see it benefiting from [that architecture] more. We need to build an affordable ship that can get after the ability to do maritime campaigning in the littorals.”
Food for thought and supporting the Australia-US alliance
For Australia, a nation defined by its relationship with traditionally larger yet economically weaker regional neighbours, the growing economic prosperity of the region and corresponding arms build-up, combined with ancient and more recent enmities and competing geopolitical, economic and strategic interests, place the nation at the centre of the 21st century’s “great game”.
Further compounding Australia’s precarious position is an acceptance that “Pax Americana”, or the post-Second World War “American Peace”, is over and Australia will require a uniquely Australian approach and recognition that the nation is now solely responsible for the security of its national interests, with key alliances serving a secondary, complementary role to the broader debate.
Today, strategic sea lines of communication support over 90 per cent of global trade, a result of the cost-effective and reliable nature of sea transport.
Indo-Pacific Asia is at the epicentre of the global maritime trade, with about US$5trn worth of trade flowing through the South China Sea and the strategic waterways and chokepoints of south-east Asia annually.
Meanwhile, the Indian Ocean and its critical global sea lines of communication are responsible for more than 80 per cent of the world’s seaborne trade in critical energy supplies, namely oil and natural gas, which serve as the lifeblood of any advanced economy, including Australia, which has become vulnerable, as events in both the Middle East and south-east Asia show.
Enhancing Australia’s capacity to act as an independent power, incorporating great power-style strategic, economic, diplomatic and military capabilities, serves as a powerful symbol of Australia’s sovereignty and evolving responsibilities in supporting and enhancing the security and prosperity of Indo-Pacific Asia.
In the second part of this detailed analysis, Defence Connect will take a closer look at the force structure development, acquisition and capability development responses outlined in the Marine Corps ‘Force Design 2030’ and what they mean for the future of both the Marine Corps and potentially Australia’s own burgeoning amphibious operations forces.
Both fixed-wing naval aviation and amphibious capabilities are key force multipliers reshaping the regional balance of power, as the world’s premier amphibious operations and maritime-based power projection force, the restructure of US Marines to better respond to ‘great power competition’ presents interesting concepts for Australian consideration.
The growing prevalence of fixed-wing naval aviation forces in particular serves to alter the strategic calculus and balance of power. (Source: Defence Connect)
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