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02 Oct 20. US Army discontinues Rapid Equipping Force. The U.S. Army has discontinued its Rapid Equipping Force stood up during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to get urgently needed capabilities into the field in 180 days or less.

As the Army shifts from a focus on counterinsurgency operations to going up against near-peer adversaries like Russia and China across air, land, sea, cyberspace and space domains in large-scale operations, the REF’s utility and mission has been in question.

The service is also disbanding its Asymmetric Warfare Group.

“As our focus changes to great power competition and large-scale combat operations, Army analysis indicated that the personnel and resources could best be utilized in building the operational fighting force,” an Oct. 2 Army statement read. “To ensure the value of organization’s work over the past 14 years is not lost, all lessons learned will be maintained by the U.S. Army Combined Arms Center, via the Center for Army Lessons Learned, Centers of Excellence and other [Training and Doctrine Command] enterprise stakeholders.”

The discontinuation won’t happen overnight. Both organizations will be fully deactivated by the end of fiscal 2021 “and will transition the mission of providing immediate support to other organizations,” the statement noted.

Over the past several years, the REF hung on to certain missions and continued to advocate for its relevancy.

A year ago, Defense News sat down with the REF’s director in a new, smaller office space at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, in a conference room surrounded by small counter-unmanned aircraft systems that it was rapidly fielded to units and considered one of its success stories.

In 2017, the REF was focused on counter-drone technologies; dismounted electronic warfare equipment; tethered intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities; and urban operations equipment including up-armored commercial vehicles. But many of those technologies have found other homes within the Army.

As the service stood up its new security force assistance brigades, the REF expected a surge in work to support the needs of those units in the field as they deployed. The REF played a small role at the time, providing the first SFAB with a few items it needed ahead of deployment such as communications gear and an item that assisted the unit with indirect fires.

Last year, the REF was highlighting its nearly 10-year-old Expeditionary Lab, a 3D-printing trailer that can be deployed downrange to solve problems for units operating in austere environments.

Col. Joe Bookard, who is still the REF’s director, told Defense News at the time that the REF would continue to fill the niche of urgently supplying soldiers with capabilities to meet immediate needs while they are deployed. He said that, in a way, the REF has been doing what Army Futures Command is doing now, but on a smaller scale: providing capabilities that are rapidly procured to a small number of soldiers for evaluation, and then refining those capabilities as needed.

In 2019, the REF addressed 400 requirements sent from combatant commanders to address operational capability gaps, Bookard said. Among some of the recent success stories is the tiny Black Hornet, an unmanned aircraft system that is now a program of record and was fielded as the Soldier Borne Sensor.

The REF was also working to transition two hand-held counter-UAS capabilities — the DroneBuster and the Drone Defender — to the larger force as official programs. (Source: Defense News)

02 Oct 20. Pentagon’s Lord blames KC-46A’s fixed-price contract structure for further programme issues. The Pentagon’s top acquisition executive blames the Boeing KC-46A Pegasus aerial refuelling tanker’s fixed-price contract structure for the programme’s ongoing issues.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said during a 1 October hearing that Boeing cancelled a 2 October KC-46A delivery to the 157th Air Refueling Wing (ARW) in New Hampshire due to electrical problems with the aircraft. Ellen Lord, under secretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment (A&S), said in response that the root cause of the KC-46A’s problems is the contract type that was awarded to Boeing.

Lord said that one issue is the technical solution that was the aircraft’s original design, which is now being redesigned. The programme, she said, also has a myriad of manufacturing issues including ongoing foreign object debris (FOD) problems. The programme, Lord said, has an engineering design and execution issue as well as a manufacturing problem.

Boeing’s fixed-price contract structure, previously lauded as an example of improved government contracting, means the company pays the Pentagon for cost overruns. The contract structure was considered an improvement over cost-plus contracting, where the government reimburses the contractor for cost overruns.

One expert said that Boeing paying for cost overruns on the KC-46A disincentivises the company from improving its performance. Doug Birkey, Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies executive director, told Janes. (Source: Jane’s)

02 Oct 20. Irregular warfare strategies must move beyond special forces, Pentagon says.

The Pentagon has begun to shift the focus on irregular warfare away from the specific counterterrorism missions of the last two decades and toward a broader effort that includes information warfare and gray zone operations, a top special operations official said Friday.

Joe Francescon, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism, told reporters that the shift is needed to counter China, Russia and Iran.

Francescon was speaking as part of a rollout of an unclassified version of the Irregular Warfare annex of the National Defense Strategy. The strategy was rolled out Jan. 19, 2018, under then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, but the annex was not completed until early 2019 and took “a long time” to declassify to the point where even the 12-page summary could be shared with the public, Francescon said.

The goal in releasing the document now is to share a broad sense with allies, Congress and the general public about the thinking behind the department’s shift in how it approaches irregular warfare strategies, before a full-blown conflict emerges. Efforts the department is looking to counter include China’s use of economic power and Russian misinformation campaigns, he said.

“I think it’s important for the United States to characterize, both for us and for our allies, the military, national security impacts of what our adversaries are doing to us in the gray zone space before armed conflict. It can’t just be an armed conflict solution, is what we’re looking at,” he said.

“We believe the increased awareness of our adversaries’ activities is really essential, and it’s a pivotal indicator that we are making progress in this in this space. But I think we’ll always be underprepared” to an extent, given how quickly challenges can change in the modern era, he noted.

The biggest impact Francescon said he has seen since the completion of the classified annex is getting key members of Congress to understand that the Pentagon needs flexibility to shift away from the yearslong counterterrorism-focused operations. His hope is that change will be reflected in the department’s next budget request.

“Naturally, as the way were looking at it right now, we probably expect more of a drawdown in our CT [counterterroism] monies just because that’s where we are not doing these large-scale CT operations in some of these theaters,” he said. “We’re transitioning more to training and education. So you’ll see, hopefully, those budgets ramp up [including] distinct information operations capabilities.

“It’s ultimately our goal that we maintain a very cost-effective move towards irregular warfare, not away from CT but in conjunction with the CT drawdown. It’s just more important than ever that we be cost-effective with the very small resources that we do have.”

In order to avoid a boom-bust cycle of irregular warfare training and capabilities, the document lays out six key goals:

  • Break the reactive cycle of investment in information warfare, or IW, capabilities by institutionalizing lessons learned from past conflicts, and preserving a baseline of IW-focused expertise and capabilities.
  • Sustain IW as a core competency for the entire joint force, not just special operations forces.
  • Ensure widespread understanding and sufficient expertise in IW.
  • Ensure its approach to IW becomes more agile and cost-informed by developing and employing resource-sustainable IW capabilities.
  • Seize the initiative and use IW capabilities proactively to expand the competitive space, defeat our adversaries’ competitive strategies, and prepare for an escalation to conflict, if required.
  • Organize to foster and sustain unified action in IW with interagency partners as well as key allies and partners.

When asked about real-world implementation, Francescon pointed to last year’s downing of an American drone by Iran. While Iran claimed the drone was a threat to its airspace, the U.S. cited open-source flight information to dispute that claim; pushing that info out, along information claiming the drone was unarmed, was a win for the kind of irregular tactics on which Francescon is focused.

“Iran shooting down a drone doesn’t necessarily require some sort of military kinetic response back to them. And we’re looking to try to impose and create the menu of items that we have a wide range of options to impose costs on our adversaries to restore the competitive balance to our favor at the end of the day,” he said.

“Proper employment of irregular warfare capabilities looks to proactively shape conditions to the advantage of the United States and our allies, impose costs, and create dilemmas for adversary strategies,” Francescon added. “Our approach does not require significant new resources to adapt to great power competition, nor does it require violence. Instead, and I think this is important, we’re mixing the full range of our capabilities in creative, dynamic and unorthodox ways.

“So our summary here is going to reassure the American public, our interagency partners, and our global network of allies and partners that we will use all tools at our disposal to compete against revanchist states today, and will be prepared for the crisis of the future as they arise.” (Source: Defense News)

02 Oct 20. Great Power Competition Can Involve Conflict Below Threshold of War. The U.S. Special Operations Command is preparing to meet the challenges of irregular warfare, which the Defense Department could face in the future from nations like Russia and China, the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict said.

Ezra Cohen spoke today at a virtual symposium sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association, “2020 Virtual SO/LIC.”

Last year, the department published the Irregular Warfare Annex to the National Defense Strategy.

The IW Annex provides clear guidance and objectives for the Joint Force to adapt and apply its IW capabilities to counter near-peer adversaries’ malign activities below the level of armed conflict, Cohen said, mentioning that the document has five core themes.

First, DOD cannot afford to discard IW knowledge developed as a result of 19 years of irregular conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan. “We must adapt and institutionalize those skills in ways that challenge our adversaries’ strategies and shape the competitive landscape to our advantage,” he said.

Over the past 75 years, the United States has been slow to recognize and accept the irregular character of the conflicts it enters, Cohen said. “Our doctrine, acquisition and training for conflict is excessively focused on maintaining deterrence or winning the high-end conventional war fight, when the simple reality is that modern warfare is not nearly that clear-cut.”

When the United States has chosen to embrace IW, it has been prone to overextending itself through indefinite, direct action campaigns, nation building and other endeavors that call IW’s value into doubt, he said, meaning that improvements in IW doctrine and capability must stem from those lessons learned.

Second, the department must prioritize IW innovation and increase readiness for IW conflicts, he said.

The U.S. Special Operations Command has historically served as a test bed for innovation, able to evaluate new technologies in the field or in warfare prior to integration across the conventional force.

Great power competition elevates the requirement to innovate, as near-peer adversaries increasingly adapt their strategies to challenge the department’s strengths, he said. “We must be aggressive in evaluating new technologies and techniques on the front lines before conflict forces us to field untested tactics, techniques and procedures.”

For example, artificial intelligence and machine learning are important capability areas to hone as requirements continue to evolve, he said. To ensure an AI-ready workforce, U.S. Socom has enrolled a number of personnel in this year’s AI program at DOD’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

This year, the department streamlined its procurement processes and brought better business practices into the acquisition process, Cohen noted. “This benefits our partnerships with industry.”

Third, the department must be more proactive in competition and not solely reactive to crises and hostile provocation.

“Indeed, our adversaries have proven that irregular activities can proactively shape the environment to their advantage, all below the threshold at which we are likely to respond with conventional force,” he said.

The IW Annex calls for the United States to embrace IW and employ a suite of tools to impose costs on malign activities, deter further aggression, shape the environment to maintain a favorable balance of power, and create dilemmas for adversaries — all well before armed conflict necessitates doing so at scale, Cohen said.

There is implied operational risk in this proactive approach, he noted. However, accepting some operational risk significantly buys down strategic risk and the risk of inaction. “By preparing for the extremes of all-out war or high-end deterrence alone, we risk missing the contest already underway and risk discovering that conditions are against us when crisis begins.”

Fourth, the department must emphasize operations in the information environment, he said.

“Our adversaries have weaponized disinformation and propaganda to their advantage. They poison public discourse, undermine democratic processes, turn citizens against each other, and deflect blame for their malign activities,” he said.

Adversaries embrace the anonymity of social media platforms and the viral nature of information flow as they employ information statecraft as an integral element of their approach to competition, he continued.

State and non-state actors alike can create non-lethal military effects through the manipulation of the information space, he said. “To compete in the information environment, the United States must accept that influence is an integral aspect of modern warfare, not just a niche capability.”

It requires a whole-of-government approach that integrates technical capabilities and institutional knowledge across civilian agencies, foreign partners and other entities, Cohen said. DOD also needs new information operations technology that will enable it to identify and isolate disinformation, as well as create and amplify fact-based narratives — and to do this at the speed of today’s information environment.

Fifth, irregular warfare is inherently an interagency affair, and the department must foster its interagency partnerships, including with non-governmental organizations.

In recent years, DOD has had closer cooperation with diplomatic, law enforcement and intelligence partners for counterterrorism activities. The IW Annex calls for expanding that cooperation to address the requirements of great power competition, he said.

Besides discussing the IW Annex, Cohen mentioned that on Sept. 10, he and U.S. Socom jointly signed a memo on diversity and inclusion in the organization. “As it stands today, the force is not reflective of our larger society — a fact that should give us all pause. Barriers exist that prevent us from accessing full population segments and their unique skills and perspectives — effectually leaving needed talent outside of our formations.

“The contest for influence and legitimacy will require diverse perspectives and new ideas that resonate among relevant audiences. This is especially true as the department attempts to coordinate and integrate its operations in the information environment against foreign propaganda and disinformation,” he said. (Source: US DoD)

01 Oct 20. The Navy Is Building A Network Of Drone Submarines And Sensor Buoys In The Arctic. As the Arctic literally and figuratively heats up, the Navy is looking to drastically.

The U.S. Navy has awarded the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution a contract worth more than $12m to develop unmanned undersea vehicles and buoys, along with a networked communications and data sharing infrastructure to link them all together. The project is ostensibly focused on developing a overall system to support enhanced monitoring of environmental changes in the Arctic for scientific purposes. However, it’s not hard to see how this work could be at least a stepping stone to the creation of a wide-area persistent underwater surveillance system in this increasingly strategic region.

The Pentagon announced the award of the contract in a daily notice on Sept. 29, 2020. The Office of Naval Research (ONR) is managing what is officially called the Arctic Mobile Observing System (AMOS), which is also described as an “Innovative Naval Prototype” effort. ONR’s secretive Netted Emulation of Multi-Element Signature (NEMESIS) electronic warfare program and its work on an electromagnetic railgun, which you can read about, respectively, here and here, are also an Innovative Naval Prototype projects.

“The work to be performed provides for the design, development, integration and testing of an acoustic navigation network, a distributed communication system, gateway buoy nodes and unmanned vehicle capabilities to support the Arctic Mobile Observing System,” according to the Pentagon’s contracting notice. Woods Hole’s work under this contract is expected to wrap up by the end of the 2024 Fiscal Year.

ONR envisions the AMOS prototype as consisting of various kinds of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV), including fully-autonomous types, along with fixed sensors. All of this would be tied together through a series of communications and data sharing nodes, suspended underwater underneath buoys installed on the surface of the ice. “AMOS will be designed to persist/endure for 12 months, have a sensing footprint goal of 100 km [approximately 62 miles] from the central node and have 2-way Arctic communications (vehicle to vehicle, vehicle to node and node to shore),” according to an official project website.

The primarily publicly-stated goal of the AMOS program, which began in 2018, is provide a means of readily monitoring and assessing what is going on underneath the ice in the Arctic across broad areas. Receding ice and other environmental changes in the region as a result of global climate change has led to increased U.S. military activities in the region and prompted a new demand to better understand what is going on above and below the surface. Just being able to predict when and where significant amounts of ice will develop, or recede, which can be influenced by underwater conditions, such as water temperature, could have significant impacts on naval operations in the far north.

“If the Navy’s thinking about having to run operations up there with submarines, surface vessels and aircraft, you really need to understand that operational environment,” Scott Harper, ONR’s Program Manager for Arctic and Global Prediction, told Defense News in an interview in May. “Where is that sea ice and how quickly is it retreating? And what is it doing to the upper water column in the ocean?”

“You have satellites that can look down at the surface of the Arctic Ocean and the sea ice conditions,” Harper continued. “But what we don’t have [is] the ability to look under the ice and understand what the ocean conditions are, and that’s what we’re really trying to enable with Arctic Mobile Observing System prototype.”

It’s also worth noting that AMOS is the latest in a series of research efforts aimed at addressing these challenges that ONR conducted since 2011. The proposed overall architecture for this new prototype system is, in fact, very similar to the one developed for the Stratified Ocean Dynamics in the Arctic (SODA) experiment in the Beaufort Sea, part of the Arctic Ocean, which concluded last year.

If the AMOS prototype successfully meets the Navy’s goals, it possible that the service could expand the use of such networks in the Arctic or use lessons learned from this program to support follow-on efforts. ONR has indicated in the past that there are a number of “leap ahead technological goals” that will be necessary to achieve first in order for the system to work as intended.

These technological milestones include the development of UUVs and buoys that can withstand the extremely cold conditions in the region for extended periods of time. There is also a requirement for an “under-ice acoustic navigation system” to make up for the fact that UUVs operating deep under the ice will find it difficult, if not impossible to utilize GPS. Satellite coverage in the Arctic is limited, in general, which also limits access to satellite navigation and communications and data sharing networks.

“The fact that we can put sensors out that will know where they are without having to come to the surface to get a GPS fix – because they can’t come to the surface because there’s sea ice there for nine months out of the year,” ONR’s Harper said in his May interview with Defense News. “That’s a big win.”

“You can go out there and you can put your sensors in the ice, but a lot of times they’ll fail,” Harper added. “And they’ll fail because they’ll get crushed in the ice or tipped over or toppled by changing ice conditions. And so the ability to deploy a buoy that is robust enough to survive the sea ice is one of the technological hurdles to doing this.”

A system that networks together a fleet of UUVs, together with an array of fixed sensor and communication nodes for the purposes of monitoring activity underwater would also seem readily adaptable to other roles, such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in Arctic waters, especially with regards to foreign submarine operations. Just being able to provide U.S. military commanders and American intelligence agencies with additional basic situational awareness of what’s happening under the ice, as well as above it, could be a major boon.

“We have significant domain awareness challenges, and that really begins in the high latitudes,” retired Admiral Paul Zukunft, who was previously the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, told a gathering at the 2020 Defense News Conference earlier in September. “Things start to get pretty dark once you get up higher than 72 degrees north.”

“We sent a national security cutter to patrol that region in a relatively ice-free portion of the season,” he continued. “And we stumbled upon a joint exercise between Russia and China. Our intelligence community did not have awareness that this was going on. So we were the originators of this information and otherwise we would not have known. We need to continue to invest in domain awareness.”

An armada of drone submarines patrolling even autonomously, tied together with a sensor network, could be a major step forward in gaining this kind of insight into how other navies are operating in the region. Navies around the world have long used the Arctic as a place to conduct discreet submarine operations that are difficult for potential adversaries to monitor.

In many ways, this adaptation of AMOS would mirror other Navy efforts to develop new and improved underwater sensor networks, with both fixed nodes and unmanned vehicles, to help monitor submarine traffic and other maritime movements across broad areas of the open ocean.

The Navy is hardly the only one looking in expanding its underwater infrastructure, both in the Arctic and elsewhere. Russia is reportedly working on various projects in this vein in the Arctic, including potential underwater facilities and nuclear reactors to power them, that are again ostensibly for research purposes, but could easily have military applications. The Chinese have also established underwater monitoring stations, officially for scientific research, in the Pacific that could also be used to collect information about the goings and comings of foreign submarines and other vessels.

When it comes to the Arctic, Russia is steadily expanding its overall military footprint in the region with the establishment of a constellation of bases, many of which are still growing significantly in size and scope. Work is notably in progress to dramatically extend the runway at Nagurskoye Air Base, Russia’s northernmost outpost, which you can read more in this past War Zone piece.

Competition in the Arctic region will only grow in the near future as global climate change makes it more accessible, in general, opening up a host of new potential economic opportunities. This includes the exploitation of natural resources, from oil to fish, as well as lucrative maritime shipping routes.

All told, the Navy’s AMOS project looks set to be an important effort, both with regards to its immediate objectives to collect important information about Arctic conditions and as a stepping stone to further developments to support an increasing U.S. military presence in the region.  (Source: Defense News Early Bird/https://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone)

01 Oct 20. US State Department cleared $83.5bn in foreign military sales in FY20. The U.S. State Department cleared $83.5 bn in Foreign Military Sales cases in fiscal 2020, the highest annual total of FMS notifications since the start of the Trump administration.

The dollar total — spread over 68 FMS cases notified to Congress — represent an increase of roughly $15bn over FY19 figures. However, that dollar figure comes with a number of caveats that will lower the overall dollar figure of actual sales when negotiations are complete.

FMS notification figures represent potential arms sales that the State Department internally cleared, then passed to Congress through the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. The notifications do not represent final sales; if Congress does not reject the potential sale, it then goes into negotiations, during which dollar figures and quantities of equipment can change.

However, while not solid dollars, notifications are a notable way of tracking interest in American arms from foreign partners, and are seen as a leading indicator of final sales to come.

Geographically, the Pacific region led the way with 25 requests totaling $44.1bn in potential sales. Following that was Europe with 20 requests totaling $21.1bn; the Middle East with 14 cases totaling $11.5bn; and Africa with five cases totaling $5.1 bn. Central and South America (three cases) and Canada (one case) each totaled less than $1bn.

July was the busiest month, with 15 announcements worth $32.5bn, followed by September with nine announcements worth $17.4bn. Japan was the largest single customer, with five cases worth an estimated $27.9bn. The second-highest dollar total for one nation was Switzerland — which leads to the biggest caveat from these numbers.

FMS deals sometimes never come to fruition, and that is particularly true with two cases included in the FY20 figures: Switzerland and the Philippines. In both cases, the State Department moved to preapprove those nations to buy high-end American technology, even though the governments had not selected the winner of their respective internal competitions.

That means that while the Philippines has not decided on its next military helicopter, the U.S. State Department in April announced it cleared potential sales for both AH-1Z helicopters at $450m and AH-64E Apaches at $1.5bn.

The case was even starker in Switzerland, where the country was cleared this week to purchase both the F/A-18 Super Hornet for $7.45 bn and the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter for $6.58bn. In both those situations, the country has yet to decide if it will purchase any American system, and will not be purchasing both; a decision to buy from elsewhere in both cases would drop the FMS total by almost $16bn. (Source: Defense News)

30 Sep 20. Future Defense Task Force: Scrap obsolete weapons and boost AI. A bipartisan congressional panel is recommending that the Pentagon must “identify, replace, and retire costly and ineffective legacy weapons platforms,” and prioritize artificial intelligence, supply chain resiliency and cyberwarfare in order to compete with China and Russia.

The House’s Future of Defense Task Force’s 87-page report issued Tuesday echoed the accepted wisdom that the Pentagon must expand investments in modern technologies and streamline its cumbersome acquisition practices or risk losing its technological edge against competitors.

The task force is co-chaired by House Armed Services Committee members Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Jim Banks, R-Ind., who both signaled they’ll champion elements of the report in future defense authorization legislation. While lawmakers are broadly in favor, efforts to retire specific platforms often meet resistance on Capitol Hill.

On weapons systems, the task force offered some practical steps to this end. Congress, it said, should commission the RAND Corporation, or similar entity, and the Government Accountability Office to study legacy platforms within the Defense Department and determine their relevance and resiliency to emerging threats over the next 50 years.

Then a panel should be convened, comprising Congress, the Department of Defense, and representatives from the industrial base, to make recommendations on which platforms should be retired, replaced or recapitalized, the report reads.

Investments in science and technology research need to be prioritized nationally, and at the Pentagon level such investments should meet 3.4 percent of the overall defense budget, as recommended by the Defense Science Board. Funding ought to be expanded at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, national and defense research laboratories and partnering universities, the report says.

The report recommended that each of the military services ought to spend at least one percent of their overall budgets on the integration of new technologies.

The Pentagon must, the report says, scale up efforts to leverage private sector innovation, which is leading the government. The report calls for a tenfold increase in spending for Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX, Army Futures Command and others ― and more collaborative opportunities like Hacking for Defense.

The report calls for a Manhattan Project for artificial intelligence, saying DoD must go further than its increased investment in AI and Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to assist with the transition and deployment of AI capabilities.

“Using the Manhattan Project as a model, the United States must undertake and win the artificial intelligence race by leading in the invention and deployment of AI while establishing the standards for its public and private use,” the report’s authors wrote.

(The Manhattan project is the U.S.-led World War II-era research and development effort that produced the first nuclear weapons.)

The report calls for every major defense acquisition program to evaluate at least one AI or autonomous alternative prior to funding. Plus, all new major weapons purchases ought to be “AI-ready and nest with existing and planned joint all-domain command and control networks,” it says.

Warning the country’s supply chain is one of its “greatest national security and economic vulnerabilities,” the report calls for a national supply chain intelligence center under the Office of Director of National Intelligence and the elimination of single points of failure within DoD’s supply chain.

The task force, launched last October, includes several lawmakers with practical national security experience: Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., a former Air Force officer who studied technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; as well as Reps. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Michael Waltz, R-Fla., who have served in senior Pentagon policy jobs.

HASC members Reps. Susan Davis, D-Calif., Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., and Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., also served on the task force.

In a statement, Moulton said the bipartisan plan could be used, no matter the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections. “America needs a plan to confront the dual threats of Russia’s aggression and China’s rise. This is it,” he said. (Source: Defense News)

01 Oct 20. Trump issues fresh rare earth mining executive order. U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered his Cabinet secretaries to look into the country’s reliance on rare earths in his latest bid to end China’s dominance of the industry. The move could lead to tariffs, quotas or other possible import restrictions, according to an executive order released on Wednesday.

Trump, a trade protectionist seeking re-election in the Nov. 3 election, has wielded similar threats in previous executive orders related to the minerals.

Rare earths are an obscure group of 17 minerals used to build a range of goods including weapons and consumer electronics. There is no known substitute for them.

While the United States used to be the leading producer of the minerals, China has used its heft in the industry to its advantage in the trade dispute between the two world leaders.

Last year, Trump told the U.S. Defense Department to find better ways to procure samarium cobalt rare earth permanent magnets, which are often found in precision-guided missiles, smart bombs and military jets. Two Republican senators have introduced separate mineral-related legislation in the past year or so that have not passed so far. (Source: Reuters)

29 Sep 20. New COVID bill dampens hopes for defense industry aid. Democrats unveiled a $2.2trn coronavirus relief package Monday night without defense industry stimulus funding, hinting that the billions of dollars defense firms sought to diffuse the economic impact of the pandemic are not coming.

Defense officials warned they will have to tap modernization and readiness funds if Congress does not appropriate about $10bn for defense contractors’ coronavirus-related expenses, as authorized by Section 3610 of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. However, neither the new Democratic measure nor the last draft from Senate Republicans contained any such aid.

Smaller than the $3.4trn bill that passed the House in May in order to come closer to a compromise with Republicans, the new bill comes as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are attempting to revive long-stalled aid negotiations. The House bill could be a final attempt to pass coronavirus aid legislation before the Nov. 3 presidential and congressional elections.

The House bill does propose nearly $2.5 bn for defense: $320m in emergency operations and maintenance funding for the services to buy personal protective equipment; $1.4bn to pay salaries and other needs of military base facilities like child care centers and post exchanges that are usually paid by revenue-generating accounts; and $705m for the Defense Health Program to cover COVID-19 prophylactics, therapeutics and personal protective equipment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., proposed his own $300bn bill, but that legislation failed in the Senate earlier this month. That bill left out the $29 bn for defense ― which included $11 bn in Section 3610 reimbursements ― that Republicans proposed in their $1trn stimulus in July.

The Senate is set to vote on a House-passed continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown. It would extend the window for Section 3610 reimbursements through Dec. 11, a step sought by trade groups. But there has been no matching appropriation.

Defense industry sources say lobbying for aid hasn’t gained traction beyond a handful of hawkish Republicans, despite a public push from Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord. The Pentagon’s senior-most officials have not been as vocal as Lord, and lawmakers from both parties have been wary of new spending that favors industry after the Pentagon won a timely budget at record levels.

“There’s never been an appetite for defense stimulus from the parties that matter,” an industry source told Defense News. “I would be shocked if defense, being in neither of the two chambers’ bills, ended up in the final bill.”

Undercutting the argument that defense industry relief would immediately stimulate the economy, Lord said earlier last week that it will likely take five to six months before industry receives any reimbursements under the CARES Act. Lord also said that only 30 of the hundreds of defense subcontractors shuttered by the pandemic remained closed.

Days ago, Lockheed Martin reportedly signed off on a 8.3 percent quarterly dividend increase to pay $2.60 per share and announced plans for an additional $1.3bn share buyback. Lockheed is one of the main recipients of the Pentagon’s accelerated payments to contractors, meant to boost cash flow to large and small defense companies during the coronavirus crisis.

In May, Democratic lawmakers questioned Pentagon leaders about why they had spent just 23 percent of the $10.5bn the department received under the CARES Act. The Pentagon responded with its spending plan for the aid, which allocated $688m to aid suppliers of aircraft engine parts, shipbuilding, electronics and space launch.

Last week, key progressives, Reps. Marc Pocan and Barbara Lee, demanded an investigation and public hearings into that use of economic stimulus funding for defense contractors, calling it a “Pentagon misuse of COVID funds.” The Pentagon has refuted that characterization. (Source: Defense News)

25 Sep 20. Value of Foreign Military Sales Exceeds Profits. The National Defense Strategy is predicated on three pillars of equal importance to the long-term geostrategic success of the United States.

The second, “Strengthen Alliances and Attract New Partners,” contains multiple imperatives, but one of the most important is the provision of advanced U.S. military equipment and services in the form of foreign military sales (FMS) and direct commercial sales (DCS). We need to build on the momentum of the Conventional Arms Transfer initiative to keep America as the global supplier of choice.

These sales have several reinforcing benefits to U.S. national security to include: creating built-in interoperability with friends, allies and partners; cost-effectively maintaining and expanding regional influence; lowering unit costs to the U.S. military; keeping operational critical production lines and the cleared, skilled workforce key to maintaining surge capacity in case of national emergency; and increasing revenues for the defense industrial base to be invested in the capabilities that will keep the U.S. warfighter advantaged across the spectrum of conflict.

As the strategy notes, the United States does not fight alone. It operates by with, and through the friends, partners and allies it has cultivated throughout history. Operating in coalition, the nation has developed unmatched capabilities and operational dominance. Those capabilities did not emerge by accident; an effective fighting force is not the result of a pick-up game.

Effectiveness during conflict results from superior equipment coupled with effective training from the individual service member to large force formations. When friends, allies and partners operate the same equipment with the same tactics, training and procedures, disparate allied or coalition forces can effectively integrate their operations, amplifying impact through interoperability across all echelons and tasks from maintenance and logistics to battlespace coordination.

Even when the U.S. military is not present, providing capabilities through FMS and DCS regionally extends the stabilizing influence of the United States. Developing allies’ capabilities builds a regional bulwark for the rules-based international order the United States and its friends built after World War II. Those capabilities, along with an expectation of U.S. support, serve as a powerful deterrent to regional actors who seek to disrupt the status quo.

Additionally, sales to partners and allies come with important constraints on how they can use, transfer, or support that equipment. America would exercise little ability or influence to impose moderating policies in current Middle East conflicts without those nations’ desire for superior U.S. equipment. And, in the ultimate example of how foreign sales can influence the buyer, the Iranian Shah’s preference for U.S. equipment, and the subsequent cut-off of all support to that equipment post-revolution, left the current Iranian regime militarily handicapped for over 30 years.

Besides geopolitical advantages, we reap significant economic benefits from overseas sales. With the refocus on great power competition brought on by the 2018 National Defense Strategy, there has been growing concern about the defense industrial base’s ability to surge production during a national emergency. The experience of the COVID-19 crisis only amplified those concerns.

Just as importantly, these production lines keep the highly skilled, specialized and cleared workforce working on advanced weapons systems, building the needed skills to field even more advanced systems. Without overseas orders, America would face significant atrophy in its most important asset, its talent. Should the nation find itself in a national emergency, open production lines could mean the difference.

Also, for every plane, armored vehicle, Aegis cruiser, radio, or radar sold to a friend, ally or partner, defense contractors realize economies-of-scale that ultimately lower the per-unit cost to the U.S. taxpayer, incrementally making its forces not just more effect but more affordable over time.

Finally, according to Lt. Gen. Charles Hooper, former director of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the United States recorded arms sales of $55.4bn in fiscal 2019.

Those sales convert to revenues across the breadth and depth of the defense industrial base to reinvest into efforts including advanced manufacturing equipment, workforce training, and the research and development necessary to iterate and innovate at a pace to extend technological leads over competitors.

To further realize the national security benefits of overseas sales, we must expand on the momentum built by this administration’s Conventional Arms Transfers initiative. A key part of that initiative is rationalizing non-program of record sales. Increasingly, countries want tailored capabilities and not the exact, off-the-shelf, U.S. version. Every step away from the program of record version involves multiple layers of further oversight, clearances and other impediments.

As the lead association working with the Defense Security Cooperation Agency on the effort, the National Defense Industrial Association put together a working group of industry experts to collaborate with government partners toward a system that can rapidly identify sponsoring offices within the military services, expedite clearances and lower the cost and time of transactions to maintain U.S. producers as go-to suppliers.

From World War II to the post-9/11 conflicts, sharing equipment provided competitive advantage to American and partner forces. The rise of peer competitors demand we build upon and strengthen foreign military sales and direct commercial sales, to ensure this important aspect of national security remains a decisive advantage. (Source: glstrade.com/National Defense)

25 Sep 20. USS Vinson Flies F-35s & Quietly Readies For New Refueling Drone. Headlines have celebrated the carrier’s new F-35s — but the Navy also added upgrades to the Vinson for the MQ-25 refueling drone, which could be a game-changer for future ops.

Earlier this month, the USS Carl Vinson broke new ground by becoming the first refitted aircraft carrier to fly F-35s as part of its normal flight operations. If current plans hold, it is likely to become the first to fly the Navy’s experimental refueling drone in a. few years as well.

The 36-year old Vinson just wrapped up a major refit to accommodate the specialized needs of the F-35, and is practicing launches and recoveries now off the California coast. While the F-35 work garnered most of the headlines, critical work was also performed to prepare the ship to operate the MQ-25 Stingray drone, a move that would add hundreds of miles of range to carrier air wings.

The ship will deploy with F-35s in 2021, marking the first deployment of F-35Cs. Marine F-35Bs have already deployed on amphibious ships USS Wasp, America, and Essex to the Middle East and Pacific over the past two years. But those vertical takeoff and landing aircraft have different requirement than the Navy’s more traditional launch and recovery aircraft, which are flying from the Vinson.

The Stingray would likely fit into these flight operations by acting as an extra sensing node in the sky, pushing data back and forth between crewed and autonomous surface vessels and giving the Navy and Marine Corps another intelligence gathering asset. As a tanker, it will also extend the range of the Navy’s carrier-based F/A-18 Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, and F-35 fighters by hundreds of miles.

Some of the work on the Vinson involved establishing an Unmanned Aviation Warfare Center on the ship, along with new network infrastructure and command and control equipment.

Most of the focus on the Navy’s unmanned efforts have focused on its planned fleet of small, medium, and large unmanned surface vessels. In July, the service awarded L3 Technologies Inc. a $34.9m contract for a prototype Medium Unmanned Surface Vessel as part of plans to build about 40 in coming years. Current plans call for the ships to have a displacement of roughly 500 tons. The medium ships are thought to skew more toward mission modules revolving around intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads and electronic warfare systems.

Earlier this month, the Navy awarded several shipbuilders contracts worth a cumulative $41m to develop requirements and early designs for a new class of Large Unmanned Surface Vessels. The ship is envisioned as a critical part of a radically modernized fleet that will rely heavily on unmanned ships to scout ahead of manned vessels, conduct electronic jamming and deception, launch long-range missiles at targets found by other forces, and keep Chinese and Russian ships and submarines away from American carrier strike groups.

The Stingray made its first two-hour flight in September 2019, controlled by Boeing pilots on the ground. It is slated to begin a new round of flight tests this fall.

An $805m contract awarded to Boeing in 2018 will cover design, development, fabrication, test and delivery of four Stingrays, leading up to what is expected to be a $13bn program for 69 operational aircraft and several testing assets.

A June Government Accountability Office report warned that if the work wasn’t performed on the Vinson and the next carrier USS George H.W. Bush, the Navy might have to extend the drone’s development testing by up to three years, but Navy officials confirmed Friday that the first of two upgrades were made to the Vinson, and the program remains on track.

The Stingray is scheduled to achieve initial operational capability by 2024, followed by the integration of the drones into the Navy’s air wings. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)

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