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26 Feb 21. Biden team considering a halt to ‘offensive’ arms sales for Saudis. President Joe Biden’s administration is considering the cancellation of arms deals with Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns while limiting future military sales to “defensive” weapons, as it reassesses it relationship with the kingdom.
Four sources familiar with the administration’s thinking said that after pausing half a billion dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia out of concern over casualties in Yemen earlier this year, officials are assessing the equipment and training included in recent sales to determine what can be considered defensive. Those deals would be allowed.
A State Department spokesperson said, “Our focus is on ending the conflict in Yemen even as we ensure Saudi Arabia has everything it needs to defend its territory and its people,” adding Biden has pledged to end U.S. military support for the military campaign against the Houthis.
The Biden administration is recalibrating its relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country with which it has severe human rights concerns but which is also one of Washington’s closest U.S. allies in countering the threat posed by Iran.
“They’re trying to figure out where do you draw the lines between offensive weapons and defensive stuff,” said one congressional aide familiar with the issue, describing the process. The Biden administration is expected as soon as Friday to release a sensitive U.S. intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote for The Washington Post.
The report finds that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de factor ruler, approved the killing,
U.S. officials said.
Sales of products deemed defensive – like Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile defense systems made by Lockheed Martin or Patriot missile defense systems made by Lockheed and Raytheon – would still be allowed under such the new policy. But it would end big-ticket deals — for products such as precision-guided munitions (PGM) and small-diameter bombs — like those brokered under former President Donald Trump in the face of strong objections from members of Congress. After he lost the Nov. 3 presidential election, Trump’s State Department kept approving weapons sales that could be considered offensive.
It cleared the sale of Boeing Co GBU-39 small diameter bombs worth some $290m to Saudi Arabia. The Trump administration also gave its blessing to the sale to Riyadh of 7500 Raytheon PGMs for nearly $480m.
The weapons review also affects $23bn of deals with the United Arab Emirates, another country that has been an important U.S. partner.
On Jan. 20, the day that Trump left office and Biden became president, the UAE signed agreements with the outgoing administration to buy up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other defense equipment in a deal worth $23bn.
That sale, which the Trump administration justified as allowing the UAE to deter Iranian “threats,” is also among those being reviewed by the Biden administration.
Congress had voted to block the UAE deal out of concern that it was being rushed through without sufficient assurances that the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not override his veto.
U.S. lawmakers said they would be more comfortable with limits on offensive weapons, with many vehemently opposed to the continued massive sales of munitions that they said have contributed to the humanitarian disaster in Yemen.
“We should continue to sell military equipment to our partners in the Gulf, but we should make sure that these really are truly defensive arms,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations this week.
Murphy, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Middle East subcommittee, said sales of items like armed Reaper drones to the UAE could fuel a regional arms race.
While Trump saw weapons sales as a way to create American jobs, Biden appears to revert to a stance that weighs human rights abuses more seriously than under the Trump presidency, a defense industry executive said.
26 Feb 21. Reports of F-35’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Countering claims that the US Air Force could buy a clean-sheet design fighter to replace the F-16 means the F-35 project has failed; US Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr on Thursday said the F-35 was the ‘cornerstone’ of the US tactical air capability.
During a press briefing last week, US Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown, Jr compared the F-35 to a Ferrari, saying he wanted to ‘moderate’ how the aircraft was being used. The USAF has the ambition to order a total of 1,763 F-35As; the model was originally seen as a replacement for the F-16.
Brown said: “You don’t drive your Ferrari to work every day, you only drive it on Sundays. This is our ‘high end’ [fighter], we want to make sure we don’t use it all for the low-end fight.”
Brown’s comments about a new F-16 replacement and the recent acquisition of the F-15EX have been seen by many as a signal that the F-35 project has failed, however, it can also be seen as an acknowledgement that the Lockheed Martin stealth jet is not a magic bullet that will solve all of the USAF’s problems.
Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) research fellow and editor of RUSI Defence Systems Justin Bronk told Air Force Technology that Brown’s desire to explore options for a ‘fifth-generation minus’ clean-sheet design to replace the F-16 was a recognition that the F-35 is not an affordable replacement for the entire US Air Force fleet due to its operating costs.
Bronk added that in the regard the programme ‘has failed’ but added: “However, the aircraft itself is performing extremely well in exercises and frontline deployments – far outstripping any other existing option, and acquisition costs are stable at around $80m per aircraft – lower than many ‘4.5-generation’ rivals.”
During a Thursday media roundtable, Brown refuted claims the F-35 was a ‘failure’, saying the fighter was the ‘cornerstone of our [US Air Force’s] TacAir [tactical air] capability’.
Brown went on to say: “The F-35 is the cornerstone of what we’re pursuing. Now we’re going to have the F-35, we’re getting it out, and we’re going to have it for the future. The reason I’m looking at this fighter study is to have a better understanding of not only the F-35s we’re going to get but the other aspects of what complements the F-35. And looking 10 to 15 years out, because I want to be able to understand as I start trying to make decisions is what do we want to look like as an air force 15 years from now, with the F-35 as the cornerstone of our capability.”
When asked if the ongoing TacAir study would make a recommendation on the number of F-35s the US should look to acquire as its final fleet, Brown said: “What I want to do is do the study, and right now the number is the number that we’ve already laid out [1,763 F-35As]. And we’ll look at the study and what I’ve asked the team to do is give me provide me with options on how to take a look at this because I want to make sure we have the right capability.
“And that includes continuing to buy the 1,763 like we’ve already outlined, but we also have to take a look at it to make sure it has the capability we need with block four but also is affordable. I know we’re working with Lockheed Martin and others to ensure we do that because there are some cost pressures as well. But the intent is to continue on the number that we’ve laid out. And in using that study to help inform how we best get there.”
Answering a question on the future of the F-35 fleet from Air Force Technology during a Wednesday press briefing, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Darlene Costello said: “There’s ongoing analysis, of course, always. And so those numbers, our programme of record is 1,763 at this point, and every year, the department at writ large looks at what is the right force. You’ve heard the chief reference ongoing analysis.”
Bronk added that if the F-16 replacement does go ahead, the F-35A would still nonetheless form the ‘backbone’ of the US Air Force’s tactical fighter jet capability when it comes to high-end operations in contested areas in the coming decades. However, he added this would likely see the eventual fleet size shrink from the proposed 1,763 to one of between 600 and 1,000 jets.
Even this figure, Bronk added, was “still a huge programme of record” that would easily generate sustained investment from the US in capability growth throughout the rest of the aircraft’s service life for both the US and allied users of the aircraft.
In response to the same question, the US Air Force’s top uniformed acquisition officer Lieutenant General Duke Richardson said: “When Chief Brown was talking about that he was talking about the age of the fighter fleet and he was talking about the average age being 29 years of age. And so, he talked about it from that context; one of his priorities is actually digital acquisition.
“We’ve got a Chief here that’s fully embracing this, the things that Miss Costello and I are talking about today. And so, he’s got that in his mind, he’s seeing it applied to things like NGAD [Next Generation Air Dominance], to GBSD [Ground Based Strategic Deterrent], to T-7 to some other things. I mentioned some of the weapons programmes that were starting. He’s thinking about, is there a way to refresh my fighter fleet quicker. The other part that he mentioned is this idea of the tac air study.”
The US currently has two ongoing tactical air studies, one of which is being conducted by the USAF and the other through the Joint Staff, assessing what in Richardson’s words “that ultimate fighter fleet would look like.”
Richardson added: “I think chief Brown is very interested in making sure that he has the right tool for the right job, he would not want to apply one tool to every job, especially if it’s an expensive tool.
“We are so early in that process in terms of what those results will come out to be, or what sort of future programme they might even end up in. I wouldn’t be able to go any further than that, certainly until that study completes out, and I think we’re a couple of years out from that.”
Bronk added that the “analysis of General Brown’s alternative approach” would likely run into challenges due to the challenges of trying to create a “clean sheet relatively low-observable multirole fighter with open software architecture” for less than $80m – the current unit cost of an F-35A.
Bronk added: “ It would also require Congress to authorise another clean-sheet fighter programme alongside the US Air Force’s ongoing efforts to replace its KC-10 tankers with the troubled KC-46, replace the B-2 and B-1 bombers with the new B-21, supplement the F-22 fleet with the new NGAD, introduce highly-automated UAVs [uncrewed aerial vehicles] to supplement fighters in combat via the Skyborg programme, and replace the F-15C/D air superiority fleet with new F-15EXs.”
Development of the US Air Force’s next-generation air dominance or NGAD has also been seen by some as a threat to the F-35 or a tacit acknowledgement that the fighter does deliver what the air force wanted, however, Brown said the service did not plan to divert funding from the F-35 programme to pay for the future fighter.
Commenting on NGAD and F-35, Brown said: “As far as NGAD versus F-35. We’re not going to take money from F-35 to do NGAD. We’re going to look at some of the other parts of the fighter force to take a look at NGAD, to help fund NGAD. It’s [we] want to keep the F-35 on track, but also look at NGAD.”
NGAD made a stunning entrance to the public spotlight last summer when the USAF’s former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper announced the service had already built and flown a full-scale prototype of the aircraft.
Brown added: “Part of this is you look at some of the older platforms we have, and this is why I wanted to kind of do this study so I can see… as we bring in NGAD, and we start bringing down some of the older aircraft; one, to help get our average age down, but two, to make sure we don’t have a big gap in capability as we go forward as well.
“When I think about that capability, I’m also thinking about the threat that we see today but the threat we’re projecting for the future. I want to have an understanding, which is why the study to me is important so we don’t just build something without thinking about the threat but also thinking about the complete fighter force. Not just the F-35 or NGAD.” (Source: airforce-technology.com)
25 Feb 21. F-35 In Crosshairs As Joint Staff Assess TacAir Buys For Biden Budget. At the moment, there are no plans to reduce the Air Force’s plans to buy 1,763 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, says acting Air Force acquisition head Darlene Costello. But…
The Air Force, Navy and Marines tactical aircraft fleets are all being reconsidered as part of a Joint Staff review of fighter needs for 2023 and beyond, Air Force officials tell Breaking D — raising fundamental questions about the Pentagon’s purchases of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The Air Force’s own fighter mix study will feed into that joint effort, the officials said.
UPDATE BEGINS. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown confirmed this afternoon that the service is working closely with the Joint Staff to study long-term fighter needs. “I think it’s good that we’re working together looking at this,” he told reporter, and that the review includes “not just, you know, the Air Force fighter capabilities” but those of the other services as well. UPDATE ENDS.
In turn, the Joint Staff review will inform the Biden administration’s 2022 budget calculus, led by the director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE), outside experts say. The peril for the F-35 is clear as it is identified as one of the critical questions laid out in an internal DoD memo penned by Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks obtained by Breaking D.
“The Biden administrations wants its revised 2022 budget ready for Congress in April. What this means is that they will have to lean on the Joint Staff and defense bureaucracy to do the analysis because few real appointees are in place,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute.
“For the first time in decades (since the F-35 began, really) tough decisions loom,” respected aerospace analyst Richard Aboulafia of the Teal Group explained in an email.
The Joint Staff didn’t provide responses to questions.
Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson, military deputy to acting Air Force acquisition head Darlene Costello, revealed the Joint Staff effort yesterday during a press conference on the margins of the Air Force Association’s (virtual) winter meeting. He said it is “so early in that process” that it’s impossible to know “what sort of future program” will result — noting that the service itself is looking all the way out to 2040 in assessing its needs.
Brown said last week the Air Force review would include a “clean sheet” assessment of a new F-16 follow-on, that he characterized as a “four-and-a-half-gen or fifth-gen-minus” aircraft. Brown noted that a revamped mix of high-, medium- and low-end fighters could help take the pressure off the service to over-deploy the F-35, in part to help defray its huge operations and maintenance costs. For years, TacAir experts have touted the value of mass — having large numbers of fighters — for the simple reason that it takes a long time to build new aircraft and some planes will be shot down by other aircraft or missiles or be fried electronically.
“Chief Brown is very interested in making sure that he has the right tool for the right job. He would not want to apply one tool to every job, especially if it’s an expensive tool,” Richardson said.
That current cost per flying hour of F-35 operations is a whopping $36,000, Ken Merchant, Lockheed Martin’s head of F-35 sustainment told reporters on Tuesday. Lockheed Martin officials stress, however, that those costs will drop to below $25,000 by 2025 to meet the Air Force’s goal — though that sum is in 2012 dollars.
In his final press conference last month, former Air Force acquisition czar Will Roper told reporters he could see the sixth-generation fighter jet emerging from the service’s Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program replacing the F-35 — precisely because the Joint Strike Fighter’s exorbitant life-cycle cost means that the Air Force cannot afford to buy as many aircraft as it needs to fight and win a war today, much less tomorrow.
“Certainly, we’re in the in the conversation for the HACM as that gets developed,” Global Strike Command head Gen. Timothy Ray said.
Roper would not be drawn on whether the Air Force was considering downsizing its planned F-35 fleet. “But what I can say is we’re not at the sustainment price point we need to be for a very large fleet. So, the next few years are critical for the F 35 program,” he told reporters.
The Air Force requested 48 aircraft in 2021, and is planning to ask for the same annual buy for the foreseeable future, according to a study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Richardson and Costello stressed that there are no plans to reduce the Air Force’s planned buy of F-35As.
“Our program of record is 1,763 at this point in time,” Costello said.
UPDATE BEGINS. Brown echoed those comments today, saying the program of record remains extant. “The F-35 is cornerstone to what we’re going to do for the future of the Air Force,” he stressed.
At the same time, he explained that the real importance of the 1,763 number is the capability that it represents — an approach he has also championed when considering the long-standing service goal of a total fleet strength of 386 squadrons. “What I’ve asked the team to do is provide me options on how to take a look at this, because I want to make sure we have the right capability,” he said.
Brown said one factor playing into the study is how much progress is made on concepts for teaming piloted fighter jets with drones. “What does a fighter squadron look like in the future? How many manned platforms and how many unmanned platforms might you have in it, that you might call a squadron? I don’t know that we have an answer for that right now, but I think this is an area that we’ve got to look at as part of this study.” UPDATE ENDS.
The Air Force is by far the biggest customer for the F-35, responsible for 70 percent of the total 2,443 aircraft in DoD plans. The Navy and the Marines, therefore, haven’t really been all that focused on the Joint Strike Fighter, analysts say.
Unlike for the Air Force, any move by the Navy to cut back on F-35 acquisition wouldn’t be such a hard problem to solve, Aboulafia said.
“For USN, it’s simple…decide whether to resume Super Hornet/Growler production, or proceed with a fleet re-build (Block III/SLEP) while keeping an eye on what the Air Force is doing, of course, just in the unlikely event that they can navalize something,” he said in an email today.
The Air Force, however, has a much bigger set of acquisition questions to address, above and beyond the F-35 itself.
“The Air Force is all over the place on its fighter plans,” one analyst said, with a nearly audible eye roll.
Aboulafia characterized the debate as:
- “Mature concepts versus breakthrough technologies (platform-centric versus loyal wingman, etc). This, of course, is driven by threat timing concerns.
- “Legacy technologies (F-15EX, F-16V, son-of-F-16) versus F-35, versus new technologies.
- “Traditional tactical air capabilities versus a range- and payload driven, larger design (NGAD as son-of-F-111). The appeal of the latter would be driven by Pacific threat concerns (particularly long-term ones) and Loyal Wingman deployment and basing options, and of course the survivability of enabler platforms, particularly tankers.”
As for NGAD, Costello and Richardson said yesterday that the service is pressing ahead with its plans, including the Digital Century Series approach of buying small numbers of incrementally upgraded aircraft. One of Roper’s last acts in office was to push through the acquisition strategy for NGAD, as well as overall guidance for how to implement the Digital Century Series concept across the service.
“We have not backed off that idea at all,” Richardson said. At the same time, he stressed, “It’s going to require courage on our part, as a nation. We’re gonna have to really commit to” to ensuring that a first-iteration product is actually followed by “another one right behind it.”
“If we’re not willing to have that courage, then we shouldn’t start,” he stressed.
Costello explained that the Air Force now is using the term ‘e-series’ to refer to the concept, which is predicated on the use of digital design and engineering tools (such as 3-D ‘digital twins’) to allow upgrades to be tested virtually before any metal is bent.
“NGAD is one of our e-series programs,” she said. “E-series is what we used to call the Digital Century Series — we think it’s a little more clear and therefore applicable to multiple platforms.” Indeed, she added, the concept could be applied to weapon systems and expensive space programs. (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
25 Feb 21. New report flags Chinese push to field support ships, planes for greater reach. The Chinese military’s buildup is increasingly focused on ferrying forces to faraway places, with new logistics capabilities coming online quickly, according to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
The assessment is included in the think tank’s Military Balance 2021 report, an annual compendium of defense goings-on around the world, released Feb. 25. The focus on China’s growing logistical capabilities in the air and at sea comes after experts have long chronicled Beijing’s efforts to field modernized weaponry aimed to turn the country into a superpower.
For example, “China’s fleet support ships now number 12, up from seven in 2015, while increased numbers of Y-20 heavy transports mean that the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] Air Force has effectively doubled its heavy air transport fleet in the last four years,” IISS researchers wrote in their report.
China maintains a military outpost in Djibouti that is seen by Western analysts as a key component of the country’s power-projection ambitions into the Indian Ocean.
Expanded support infrastructure on land, combined with the logistics tail needed to support big leaps, means more long-range Chinese deployments are in the offing, IISS researcher Nick Childs said during an online news conference Thursday.
The next significant step, he added, would be China’s ability to stage a carrier strike group deployment to the Indian Ocean.
“Beijing seems intent on achieving primacy in its littoral areas, and while China’s maritime paramilitary forces have taken the lead — and are using facilities on Chinese-occupied features in the Spratly Islands as forward-operating bases in the South China Sea — the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has maintained an ‘over-the-horizon’ presence,” the IISS report stated.
Meanwhile, China continued its upward defense spending trajectory in 2020, albeit at a somewhat slower pace: 5.2 percent last year, compared with 5.9 percent in 2019, according to the think tank. Still, Beijing’s nominal increase of $12bn in 2020 was more than the plus-ups in all other Asian countries combined (excluding Russia).
While Asia accounted for almost 18 percent of total global defense spending a decade ago, by 2020 this had risen to 25 percent, IISS figures showed.
Worldwide defense spending amounted to $1.83trn last year, an increase of 3.9 percent over 2019, reaching a new high point despite the coronavirus pandemic, according to IISS analysts.
European countries kept their military spending uptick going in 2020, adding 2 percent over the previous year. The biggest spenders on the continent were the U.K with $61.5bn, France with $55bn, Germany with $51.3bn and Italy with $29.3bn.
“If these spending plans continue on their current trajectory, in 2021 Europe could be the region with the fastest growth in global defense spending,” the IISS analysts wrote.
The strong national U.K. budget figures for last year were reinforced at an industry level on Feb. 25, when BAE Systems — Europe’s largest defense and security company — reported a solid performance for 2020 with order intake, revenues and profits all up on the previous year, despite the challenges of COVID-19.
But the trend is my no means assured, said Fenella McGerty, a senior fellow for defense economics at IISS. She said the full economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic has yet to materialize, as governments are still crafting their budgets for future years.
For now, money spent on defense in Europe was largely already allocated to programs before the pandemic hit, McGerty said, and there appears to be a consensus by governments to avoid large-scale cuts, as in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.
“The pandemic will affect global defense spending, though it will likely take until 2022-2023 for the full financial effect of government responses to start translating into defense budget cuts,” said John Chapman, the think tank’s director general.
Added McGerty: “The drive towards austerity, to slash spending, cannot be ignored.” (Source: Defense News)
25 Feb 21. US military may sidestep big budget cuts backed by progressives. It’s unlikely Congress will make a sweeping, indiscriminate cut to the defense budget, despite economic pressure from the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman.
“We’re going to deal with a much tighter budget going forward, more flat I think than rising, but within that I think we have to make judicious calls about what is worthwhile,” Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., told reporters Wednesday. “As far as across-the-board cuts, I do think there are more policy pronouncements than there are good policy.”
Progressive lawmakers are expected to restart a push to slash the Pentagon budget’s top line, set at $741bn last year. But Reed would be a powerful opponent, likely alongside lead Republicans on the defense panels and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash.
The curtain is rising on a budget cycle with some fresh dynamics. Though fiscal 2022 will be the first ficsal year without Budget Control Act caps and with Democrats controlling the White House and Congress, their slim majorities in both chambers suggest an alliance of centrist Democrats and Republicans will shepherd defense spending and policy bills into law.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus, which tried last year for a 10 percent defense reduction targeting everything other than pay, wants to use the money to boost nondefense spending, a category that covers everything from health and education to foreign aid and housing.
“It is a top issue for the CPC,” the group’s chairwoman, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., recently told The Hill. “This is a really important moment for us to move forward on cutting out waste, fraud and abuse in the Pentagon.”
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a key player in last year’s effort, which Reed opposed, recently told Politico he will use his new gavel to take a “hard look at fraud” at the Pentagon.
“Spending $740bn a year on this one piece of the federal budget is unconscionable” in light of the economic damage wrought by the coronavirus, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said at SASC hearing earlier this month. “A budget is about priorities, and we continue to over invest in defense while under investing in public health and so much more that would keep us safe and that would save lives.”
On the other side of the Capitol, House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said he wants to see a defense increase of 3-5 percent annually, and vowed to fight against any broad cut.
Without a new strategy to support across-the-board defense, HASC Chairman Smith said he couldn’t support it. He told Defense News in October that he backs “a center-left, pragmatic approach” to securing a strong military, though he predicted a flat budget ― which is what President Joe Biden said he’s planning.
Within that top line, Reed ― a day after holding his first hearing as chairman on an emerging technologies panel ― expressed openness to the military finding savings and reprioritizing in favor of equipment, training and research. In that scenario, lawmakers’ parochial interests will have to take a back seat.
“There are legacy systems, which all the services [have] asked us to eliminate, and there’s certain reluctance because they’re stationed in our home states or they have an impact. So we’ve got to look, and if there’s a tighter budget, we have to look harder,” Reed said.
The acquisition program for the F-35 fighter jet, built by Lockheed Martin, will see scrutiny, but Reed demurred when asked if he’d oppose Congress’ practice of adding more F-35s to the budget amid testing delays. The Pentagon will tell Congress how many aircraft it needs, and Congress will hunt for efficiencies, he said.
“We need to look at the F-35 program, and it goes to engine reliability, it goes to the finishing [of] the combat testing and evaluation, which is long overdue,” Reed said. “I think those assessments will play into our decisions about the F-35 because we cannot just sit back and wait much longer for operational testing and full acceptance by the Air Force. We’re still — we’re very much concerned about sustainment cost, how can we restructure that.”
Pressure from some Democrats has been mounting against the Pentagon’s planned program to replace intercontinental ballistic missiles with the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, a program awarded to Northrop Grumman last year and expected to top $260bn over its life span. But Reed said lawmakers would seek savings within B-21 bomber and Columbia-class submarine programs, and he voiced support for the triad of nuclear capabilities.
“We have to modernize the triad and maintain the triad, in my view, for strategic reasons that have been successful for about 70 years,” Reed said, adding that he hopes the U.S. will engage Russia and China in arms control talks.
Republicans, led by Rogers and Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, SASC’s ranking member, urged Biden and other Democrats in an opinion piece Thursday not to pursue “unilateral disarmament” in the face of Russian and Chinese nuclear weapon development efforts.
“Don’t forget: back in 2011, it was President [Barack] Obama who began a multi-decade, just-in-time effort to update America’s nuclear forces and revitalize its weapons design and production facilities,” they wrote. “He clearly recognized that inaction would mean the loss of our nuclear deterrent and the acceptance of risks our country has not had to contemplate in more than seven decades.” (Source: Defense News)
24 Feb 21. With limited time, DoD to review five key investments for next budget. With limited bandwidth before the Biden administration’s first budget is due, Pentagon planners are diving deep into shaping five key modernization efforts. According to a memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks, first published by Politico, the Biden team “will focus on a very small number of issues with direct impact on FY 2022” in the few weeks it has to impact the next budget, which is expected to be released in early May.
The programs will be judged against three main criteria:
• If the investments deter aggression in the Pacific (likely by China).
• Whether there are options for accelerating the development of autonomous systems.
• What near-term options exist for getting rid of older systems.
The five areas under review are:
Shipbuilding additions laid out by the Trump administration’s fiscal 2022 plan. President Donald Trump was eying a major increase in shipbuilding, relying heavily on development of new autonomous ships. In her confirmation hearing, Hicks indicated an openness to that idea, but was skeptical about the work that went into developing the plan.
“There’s some really interesting operational themes that I’m attracted to: There’s a focus on increasing use of autonomy, there’s a focus on dispersal of forces and there’s a focus on growing the number of small surface combatants relative to today,” Hicks said. “But there are some things in that unclassified report, as I mentioned to you, that I saw as flags. There’s an indication that the information in there would require further analysis to validate the numbers.”
The nuclear enterprise, which received a major focus increase under the Trump administration and saw the creation of two low-yield nuclear warheads. While it is unlikely the Biden administration would remove the low-yield W76-2 from service (it was first deployed in late 2019), future warhead developments could be paused or curtailed. There is also a major fight brewing about the future of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, or GBSD, the replacement for the legacy Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile.
During their respective confirmation hearings, both Hicks and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin showed support for the nuclear triad and overall modernization of the nuclear arsenal, but they both stopped short of offering support for GBSD or other specific programs.
The F-35 program. The famously expensive program for the Defense Department provides the long-term fighter aviation backbone for the Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. The program is nearing the point where a series of upgrades are expected to receive funding, and the Air Force has openly talked over the last year about what new design might come next.
Long-range fires, which was seen as a priority for the Pacific theater under the Trump administration. Gen. John Hyten, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has laid out a vision for each service to have its own deep-strike capability.
The KC-46A tanker and MQ-9 Reaper drone. The two Air Force programs are also getting special attention. The KC-46 has been plagued by technical issues, but Air Force officials announced Feb. 24 that the service will use the aircraft in limited areas as a supplemental capability while those issues are sorted out. Meanwhile, the service had planned to stop buying the MQ-9, but Congress swooped in to save the program in December.
During her Feb. 8 confirmation hearing, Hicks told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee that she is concerned about the budget schedule, in large part because of what she described as political appointees from the Trump administration refusing to cooperate with the Biden transition team.
“I think the biggest challenge that I will face, if confirmed, because of this is around budget transparency,” she said then. “Typically that information is shared with the transition team because the administration will owe to Congress a president’s budget submission in the spring.
“So the inability to look at that information … I think it will cause some delay in the timeline by which we can give budget quality information back to Congress. So that would be the area [where] I would ask for a little relief or understanding.” (Source: Defense News)
25 Feb 21. US Air Force sticking to Roper’s vision. Despite former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper leaving the service in January, the US Air Force (USAF) does not plan to deviate from the path he started it on.
Despite former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper leaving the service in January, the US Air Force (USAF) does not plan to deviate from the path he started it on.
During a press briefing, Roper’s acting replacement Darlene Costello told reporters: “With Dr Roper’s moving on, there’s a lot of people who’ve asked me every day, what does that mean? Are we no longer going to proceed down the path that he had us going? And the answer to that simply is no.”
During his tenure, Roper pushed for a digital acquisition approach that would see aircraft designed and brought into service faster by employing more digital design methods.
Roper also made the case for a “Digital Century Series” – taking its name from the 1950s century series which saw the USAF purchase six full production fighters. The Digital Century Series would see the USAF develop and buy aircraft more frequently than under current acquisition programmes.
Costello added: “The initiatives that were started under him [Roper], and that we all believe in and our Secretary and our Chief believe in; we are going to be continuing. Now we’re in the implementing them and so there’s a few details we’ll work through. But we believe strongly in digital acquisition and how that will help us down the road.”
Last September, Roper highlighted the benefits of digital acquisition, telling the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference that the service had already built and flown a prototype next-generation fighter jet under the next generation air dominance programme.
At the time, Roper said: “NGAD has come so far, that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world and it’s broken a lot of records in the doing.”
Key to achieving this, he added, were digital processes that allowed for aircraft to be built as if they had already been built 100 times before.
Commenting on digital acquisition, Costello said: “The digital acquisition methodology is comprised of three parts, of course, the digital engineering, the agile software development, and the open architectures.
“They’re critical, and we believe important to emphasise for all of our new programmes, and any major mods and efforts going forward. Because that’s going to give us a chance to execute faster in our programmes, and that’s really important, we have to keep our programmes on track from a schedule and cost standpoint, and we think that’ll be a big area of help.” (Source: airforce-technology.com)
24 Feb 21. Hyten wants a greater ‘focus’ with cruise missile defense. The best way to defend the United States from a cruise missile attack may be to focus on where adversaries are keeping the ships and aircraft that could fire such a weapon and not take a broader approach to counter any possibility, the vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff said Feb. 23.
The U.S. has yet to reach a conclusion in the long-term debate on how to defend the U.S. homeland from cruise missiles, but Gen. John Hyten, the Pentagon’s no. 2 officer, said the focus needs to not be entirely on defeating cruise missiles in the terminal phase, which is the tail end of a missile’s trajectory to a target.
“If you look at the cruise missile problem from the terminal phase, that basically means you have to build giant point defense radars or some kind of aerial defense radar because even a Low-Earth Orbit satellite has a difficult time seeing most cruise missiles,” Hyten said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies event focused on missile defense. “You have the ability to see some and we should make sure we explore that and understand that piece, but to deal with the cruise missile threat, the first sensor, first critical sensor piece of the puzzle is the platform sensor because the cruise missile is launched from that platform.”
With the exception of a possible nuclear-powered cruise missile, the weapon has to be launched from a platform that needs to come relatively close to the target, Hyten explained. This could be a platform such as a submarine, ship or aircraft.
“The key piece of that is to have a clear understanding of where the platforms are that could threaten the United States with cruise missiles,” he said. “You understand where the platforms are, again, you effectively respond and effectively deter and message your adversary when you see a platform approach an area that is threatening the United States.”
This approach is commonly referred to as “left of launch,” meaning the focus is to take out a missile’s launcher before it has a chance to be shot rather than shooting the missile on its journey to a target.
The next step, Hyten said, would be to figure out how to defend critical infrastructure from such attacks. This means determining what critical elements need defending and then deciding on a point defense architecture “because you can’t put a point defense architecture around everything in the United States. It’s impossible.”
A Congressional Budget Office report released earlier this month, which looked at the threat of cruise missiles to the U.S. homeland and examined possible architectures for a nationwide defense, determined that the threat could be defeated using available technology, but it would be expensive if the strategy was to employ a wide-area defense.
CBO determined that buying systems that the military uses — a mix of airborne or space-based radars, surface-to-air missiles and fighter aircraft —would cost around $75bn to $180bn to purchase and operate over a 20-year period. The report noted that fielding “additional regional or local defenses to protect Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories would add to the cost.”
Additionally, the report noted it would be complicated to run defense systems in the homeland due to heavy civilian aircraft traffic as it would take longer to positively identify and engage threats.
The window to respond is already relatively limited due to the shorter range of cruise missiles when compared to ballistic missiles and there is an increased challenge to detect and identify, through a variety of clutter, stealthy cruise missiles, which are by nature more difficult for radar to spot.
The report also notes that while cruise missile capabilities exist, adversaries have many “attractive” alternatives to using them, such as less expensive or more damaging options. “Decision makers would need to consider whether the cost of a wide-area cruise missile defense was proportionate to the overall risk posed by [Land-Attack Cruise Missiles],” the report read.
CBO considered four primary architectures to defend the United States against cruise missiles including using radar on High-Altitude, Low-Endurance Unmanned Air Vehicles (HALE-UAVs), modified commercial aircraft and aerostats as well as spaced-based sensors.
HALE-UAVs would likely cost $77 to $98bn over 20 years while space-based radar would cost roughly $106 to $179bn. On the increasingly expensive side, modified commercial aircraft would cost an estimated $187 to $246bn. Aerostats could potentially be the most expensive — and was something the U.S. Army pursued recently until the program was killed in 2017 — at $98 to $466bn.
The Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System — or JLENS for short — was canceled after one of the tethered aerostats escaped its mooring at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and lumbered through the skies across Maryland and Pennsylvania until settling down in a wooded glen where Pennsylvania state troopers were ordered to open fire on the system to get it to deflate.
The Army had procured just two systems from Raytheon before cutting the program short and ending one of the few cruise missile defense programs in the works.
The service has procured two Iron Dome systems from Israeli defense company Rafael that will be used as deployable cruise missile defense systems on an interim basis. It is also developing an enduring cruise missile defense capability for point defense as part of a larger program focused on defense against drones and rockets, artillery and mortars as well as cruise missiles. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
24 Feb 21. The USAF May Soon Be Shopping for a New Fighter Jet. The U.S. Air Force isn’t ruling out bringing a new fighter jet into its inventory as it looks to replace older, fourth-generation F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, according to the service’s top general.
As the service tries to determine the right mix of aircraft for its future inventory, it’s considering the idea of a new fighter that falls somewhere between fourth- and fifth-generation airframes — one that could easily be upgraded throughout its life, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown said last week.
“Let’s not just buy off the shelf; let’s actually take a look at something else out there that we can build,” Brown said during a Defense Writers Group virtual chat with reporters. He added that the service would want something that can be economically sustainable, produced quickly and has an open-architecture software system that can be rapidly modified to keep up with missions.
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His comments reiterated those of Dr. Will Roper, the former assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics, and Mike Holmes, a retired general and former head of Air Combat Command. In recent months, both have spoken of wanting to bring in a new jet with a “family of systems” that lets it connect easily to other aircraft and fight alongside them.
Roper told Aviation Week in January that the Air Force is weighing buying new F-16 fighters from Lockheed Martin as “a capacity solution” to increase its jet inventory. Lockheed moved its production line to its South Carolina plant in 2019 to centralize its manufacturing of F-16s, which have been updated since the last jet was delivered to the Air Force in 2005.
But Brown said the F-16 may not be the best option.
“I want to be able to build something new and different that’s not the F-16, that has some of those capabilities, but gets there faster and features a digital approach,” he said Feb. 17.
Since the inception of the Joint Strike Fighter program, the Air Force has maintained that older Falcons should be replaced by the fifth-gen F-35 Lightning II, also made by Lockheed. The Air Force is the largest customer for the aircraft, with hopes to procure 1,763 F-35 A-variants.
But in March 2020, Holmes hinted that there may be some wiggle room as the service assesses its inventory needs.
“When [F-16s] need to be replaced, what am I going to replace them with?” Holmes said during the annual McAleese Defense Programs Conference at the time.
The Air Force should also be thinking ahead, he said, citing the service’s fighter road map, which roughly outlines where its aircraft inventory and platforms should be by 2030 and beyond.
“What we’re trying to work through is to think about it as a capability road map to say, ‘What is going to do the mission we’ve been doing with fighters?’ [and] work [that idea] into the future,” he said. “The answer to, ‘Is it manned? Unmanned?’ [is] yes.”
So far, the service has not publicly moved away from the F-35 program. But according to Aviation Week, future budgets could limit its inventory. The magazine reported in December that the service might cap its total F-35 buy at 1,050 stealth fighters.
Just how the service’s fighter road map may develop is unknown. The Air Force is also considering how to work in the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which defies the traditional categorization of a single platform, featuring a network of advanced fighter aircraft, sensors and weapons in a growing and unpredictable threat environment.
The NGAD program could include fighters and autonomous drones fighting side-by-side. For example, the autonomous Skyborg — which aims to pair artificial intelligence with a human piloting a fighter jet — is intended for reusable unmanned aerial vehicles in a manned-unmanned teaming mission; the drones are considered “attritable,” or cheap enough that they can be destroyed without significant cost.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is already bringing in the Boeing-made F-15EX, the service’s first fourth-generation fighter program in more than 20 years.
In 2019, senior defense officials with the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation office said they arrived at the F-15EX decision because the aircraft would help keep a diverse and “robust industrial base” while providing “a higher-capacity” combination alongside the F-35.
The service awarded Boeing an estimated $1.2bn contract last summer to acquire eight multirole F-15EX fighters — considered “fourth-plus-generation” — and associated development, test and certification and support equipment.
Air Force officials have said the F-15EX’s most significant upgrade will be its open mission systems architecture, which is in line with Brown’s goals.
“I realize that folks have alluded that it will be a particular airplane,” Brown said of a future fighter. “But I’m open to looking at other platforms to see what that right force mix is.” (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Military.com)
25 Feb 21. President Biden Issues Executive Order on Securing America’s Supply Chains. President Joseph R. Biden has issued an executive order on securing America’s supply chains. The Executive Order launches a comprehensive review of U.S. supply chains and directs federal Departments and Agencies to identify ways to secure U.S. supply chains against a wide range of risks and vulnerabilities. Building resilient supply chains will protect the United States from facing shortages of critical products. It will also facilitate needed investments to maintain America’s competitive edge, and strengthen U.S. national security. First, the order directs an immediate 100-day review across federal agencies to address vulnerabilities in the supply chains of four key products.
1. APIs are the part of a pharmaceutical product that contains the active drug. In recent decades, more than 70 percent of API production facilitators supplying the U.S. have moved offshore. This work will complement the ongoing work to secure supply chains needed to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
2. Critical minerals are an essential part of defense, high-tech, and other products. From rare earths in our electric motors and generators to the carbon fiber used for airplanes—the United States needs to ensure we are not dependent upon foreign sources or single points of failure in times of national emergency.
• Semiconductors and Advanced Packaging. The United States is the birthplace of this technology, and has always been a leader in semiconductor development. However, over the years we have underinvested in production—hurting our innovative edge—while other countries have learned from our example and increased their investments in the industry.
• Large capacity batteries, such as those used in electric vehicles: As we take action to tackle the climate crisis, we know that will lead to large demand for new energy technologies like electric vehicle batteries. By identifying supply chain risks, we can meet the President’s commitment to accelerate U.S. leadership of clean energy technologies. For example, while the U.S. is a net exporter of electric vehicles, we are not a leader in the supply chain associated with electric battery production. The U.S. could better leverage our sizeable lithium reserves and manufacturing know-how to expand domestic battery production.
Second, the order calls for a more in-depth one-year review of a broader set of U.S. supply chains. The one-year review will include:
• A focus on six key sectors: the defense industrial base; the public health and biological preparedness industrial base; the information and communications technology (ICT) industrial base; the energy sector industrial base; the transportation industrial base; and supply chains for agricultural commodities and food production.
• A set of risks for agencies to consider in their assessment of supply chain vulnerabilities: Agencies and Departments are directed to review a variety of risks to supply chains and industrial bases. For example, these reviews must identify critical goods and materials within supply chains, the manufacturing or other capabilities needed to produce those materials, as well as a variety of vulnerabilities created by the failure to develop domestic capabilities. Agencies and Departments are also directed to identify locations of key manufacturing and production assets, the availability of substitutes or alternative sources for critical goods, the state of workforce skills and identified gaps for all sectors, and the role of transportation systems in supporting supply chains and industrial bases.
• Recommendations on actions that should be taken to improve resiliency: Agencies are directed to make specific policy recommendations to address risks, as well as proposals for new research and development activities.
• Consultation with external stakeholders: The government cannot secure supply chains on its own. It requires partnership and consultation with the American people. The E.O. directs the Administration to consult widely with outside stakeholders, such as those in industry, academia, non-governmental organizations, communities, labor unions, and State, local, territorial, and Tribal governments. (Source: glstrade.com)
24 Feb 21. Joint Warfighting is the Future, SEAC Says. Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman Ramón “CZ” Colón-López said his leadership philosophy has remained largely unchanged from his time in the Air Force: “collaboration without encroachment.”
“I see myself as a sensor, a synchronizer and an integrator for the total force,” said Colón-López, during an online discussion today that was part of the Air Force Association’s 2021 Virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium. “A lot of that comes with understanding the issues that are exclusive to the services.”
The SEAC said he always works in partnership with senior enlisted advisors from the military services to solve problems in a joint way.
“The one thing that we’re in the habit of doing is always getting around a table to discuss the issues, find the connective tissue between those particular items and then come up with the best solutions,” he said.
For most of the last 20 years, the U.S. military has been fighting a counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist war, Colón-López said. That fight has been successful because it was a joint fight from the start.
“It has taken a joint effort, a multinational effort, to get after the mission at hand,” he said. “That is the model that we’re going to follow from now on. So the joint perspective is critical to the success of future missions.”
A new document, titled “Developing Enlisted Leaders for Tomorrow’s Wars,” is scheduled to be released by the Joint Staff this week, Colón-López said. That document will spell out expectations for enlisted leaders in the joint force.
“The intent and the purpose of this particular document is to provide you a foundation of expectations from every member fighting a joint war,” Colón-López said.
He said the professional military education vision document was written in collaboration with all the service senior enlisted advisors, the National Guard Bureau and the Coast Guard.
“The reason we did that is because the multiple approaches to leadership that we have, based on the different cultures of the services, is what matters the most for a joint warfighter,” he said. “Once we build the right airman, soldier, guardian, sailor, Marine and Coast Guardsmen, to be able to go ahead and fight in the joint arena, there are three things that we require, and that is character, competence and commitment. And from that, we start growing you into a more rounded entity to be able to go ahead and execute the mission, anytime, at any place.”
Solving Problems at the Lowest Level
Colón-López also said that the No. 1 solution to sexual assault, harassment, suicides and other issues in the services won’t come from the Pentagon, it’ll come from enlisted leaders.
“It’s no secret that we have been living in some pretty tough times here lately … we’re dealing with sexual assault, harassment, suicide, many other issues — diversity and inclusion — that are plaguing and eroding the cohesion of military services,” he said.
Fixing those problems must start at the lowest level — where those problems occur — not at the highest levels, where policy is made, Colón-López said.
“You deserve what you tolerate,” Colón-López said. “If you see a problem, don’t walk past it — take action. If you have a fix, voice it. And if you need to stand up for somebody, stand tall and make sure that your voice and your actions carry the mail to the people that need to correct that. This is all about personal involvement and accountability — and we can do that at the lowest levels. Do not wait for the institution to spoon feed you the solutions that are intrinsic to mission command.” (Source: US DoD)
24 Feb 21. New Hicks Memo Sets Acquisition, Force Posture 2022 Budget Priorities. DepSecDef Hicks writes that “due to the limited amount of time available before the Department must submit its FY 2022 President’s Budget request, the process to re-evaluate existing decisions will focus on a very small number of issues with direct impact on FY 2022 and of critical importance to the President and the Secretary.”
Pentagon will focus on shipbuilding, low-yield nuclear weapons, Central Command funding and force posture and building capacity in the Pacific as it rushes to write its 2022 budget, a memo obtained by Breaking Defense says.
The Feb. 17 memo by Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks underscores the urgency with which the department has to move not only on some major acquisition programs, but also efforts to rethink the US force posture in an era where defense budgets are expected to be flat at best.
In the memo, Hicks wrote that “due to the limited amount of time available before the Department must submit its FY 2022 President’s Budget request, the process to re-evaluate existing decisions will focus on a very small number of issues with direct impact on FY 2022 and of critical importance to the President and the Secretary.”
She directed the Office of the Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) to review a handful of critical acquisition efforts:
• — Shipbuilding: current FY 2022 shipbuilding additions
• — Nuclear Enterprise/Nuclear Command, Control, and Communications (NC3): lower-yield weapons and select NC3 topics
• — Long Range Fires: current FY 2022 long range fires additions
• — Aircraft: F-35, Air Force tanker aircraft, and MQ-9
• — Climate: initial options for investment and set ground work for additional investments during the FY 2023 to FY 2027 review cycle
• — Build Back Better: extant FY 2022 investments and FY 2023 opportunities
The inclusion of a renewed effort to plan for global warming is a new Biden addition, as the Trump administration regularly scrubbed any mention of climate change from government documents.
The priorities in Hicks’ memo reflect some of the major themes that she and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outlined during their confirmation hearings as they seek to continue the modernization of the department while shifting from ground wars in the Middle East to competition with powers like China and Russia.
Both Austin and Hicks have pledged to re-assess former Defense Secretary Mark Esper’s shipbuilding plans, released deep into the Trump administration’s lame duck period in December. Those plans called for a $27bn shipbuilding budget in 2022, a huge increase from the $19bn requested in 2021, and to build 82 new ships by 2026 — a significant increase from the Navy’s plan to build 44 new ships during that time.
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Likewise, both officials signaled support for nuclear modernization, but stopped short of pledging to uphold all aspects of the current nuclear modernization program. Hicks will likely run the process on most nuclear and missile defense programs, given that Austin has recused himself from taking part in any decisions involving Raytheon, a company whose board he served on.
This will give Hicks the responsibility of deciding on the replacement program for the aging stock of intercontinental ballistic missiles known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, and the Long Range Standoff Weapon, a nuclear cruise missile.
The priority given to long-range fires reflects growing concern over China’s long-range precision weapons programs, which give Beijing the ability to hold US and allied forces at bay in the Pacific. The Pentagon has worked for years on a number of longer-range weapons that can be launched from significant stand-off distances, work that the memo suggests could accelerate.
Early next month, the Army will host a live-fire experiment using artificial intelligence to share data between Marine F-35s, Air Force A-10s, HIMARS rocket launchers, and commercial satellites, an event that could factor into the Pentagon’s calculations.
These reviews won’t happen in their own silos, however. The memo advises all review teams to “focus attention on, and highlight key investments in, three key cross-cutting priorities which the Deputy’s Management Action Group (DMAG) will review at the end of the process.”
Those are the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, which will recommend “investments to deter aggression in the Pacific;” along with “acceleration options” for Autonomous and Remotely Crewed Systems; and looking at “near-term options for aircraft and ships” to divest of the make more room for new modernization efforts.
Separately, the DoD’s chief financial officer is also tasked with reviewing the department’s COVID-19 requirements and preparedness, along with the Central Command’s “budgeted force levels and funding impacts.”
The need to focus on key areas and prioritize certain modernization plans was underscored this morning by Sen. Jack Reed, the new chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Speaking with reporters virtually, Reed acknowledged that there will have to be tradeoffs in upcoming Pentagon budgets.
“The top line number might not be the best guide of how we’re getting value for money, and that’s what we’re gonna try to look for — what are the systems that provide real advantages going forward, and what programs and policies to make us stronger as a nation.” (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
22 Feb 21. Pentagon budget must prioritize Navy, Air Force and cyber, lawmakers say. The U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force and cyberwarfare must start taking a larger share of the defense budget if the U.S. is going to compete with China, two sea power advocates in Congress said last week.
Speaking at a recent Hudson Institute virtual event, House Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Chairman Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said the Pentagon is at an “inflection point” over whether the Navy, Air Force and cyber “are going to take a larger portion of the pie chart” when the fiscal 2022 budget is released this spring.
“That conversation has to happen,” he said.
The comments align with a growing consensus inside the Pentagon that to meet the challenge from China’s rapidly expanding blue water fleet, paired with investments in long-range anti-ship missiles and bombers, the Navy must grow substantially.
In the waning days of the Trump administration, the Pentagon floated the idea of a Navy in excess of 500 ships, which would include a heavy investment in submarines, smaller frigates, and a suite of unmanned surface, underwater and aerial vehicles. Today’s fleet stands just shy of 300 ships.
In December, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said he would advocate for “heavy investment” in sea-, air- and space-centric platforms, suggesting there will be “bloodletting” in other areas of the budget.
Courtney and the sea power subpanel’s ranking member, Rob Wittman, R-Va., pointed to China’s emerging plans to further militarize its Coast Guard and grow its aircraft carrier fleet as the two lawmakers outlined where they want to see increased investments.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a solid shift that is really overdue, but clearly that first budget [from President Joe Biden is where] we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure it’s in a good place for this Congress,” Courtney said.
Between the Obama administration’s goal of a 355-ship Navy and the 500-ship target, Wittman touted the idea of 405 manned ships by the end of the 30 years ― which also emerged in Trump’s final days in office ― as a more feasible path.
But that idea for 500-plus ships — which was a rhetorical 500-ship Navy that included unmanned vehicles that would not meet any reasonable definition of a battle force ship, but were intended as a means of framing the scale of the undertaking required — has not sat well with everyone in Congress.
“When you talk about now 500 ships, sometimes some members of Congress kind of get turned off by that,” Wittman said. “I think we need to be talking clearly about the plan, [which] will have 405 manned ships, and what does that do for us to counter the Chinese. The communication needs to be simple and straightforward.”
‘The only way you do that is with ships’
Growing the Navy will be a challenge, especially as some high-capacity Cold War-era ships begin to retire over the coming decade.
In January, Defense News reported that a wave of ship retirements built at the end of the Cold War means the Navy is facing a decline in both the number of ships and the number of vertical launching system missile tubes it can field by the early 2030s.
Between the Ticonderoga-class cruisers, the first-generation Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the Ohio-class guided-missile submarines and the Los Angeles-class submarines, the Navy stands to lose about 70 ships with nearly 5,500 vertical launching system cells. Today, based on the last official 30-year shipbuilding plan, it appears the Navy will replace those ships ― and their tubes ― with about 65 ships and submarines that have anywhere from 1,800 to more than 2,000 fewer VLS cells.
Both Courtney and Wittman have a significant stake in the Pentagon’s push to start building more Virginia-class submarines. The Navy has stretched the supplier base and labor force in the submarine-building industry just to reach two Virginia subs per year.
The Virginias, which are a joint undertaking between Connecticut’s General Dynamics Electric Boat and Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News shipyard in Virginia, are seen as core to maintaining the Navy’s presence inside areas such as the South China Sea, which is within reach of Chinese anti-ship missiles and bombers.
In October, then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the Virginia class must be the Navy’s top priority.
“If we do nothing else, the Navy must begin building three Virginia-class submarines a year as soon as possible,” he said during an event at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.
Both lawmakers plan to continue pushing for an increase in Virginia-class submarine production, and they support planning for the next-generation submarine.
“The question is what do we need and the next generation of submarine that has the right extension of capability that gives us that continued undersea strike advantage,” Wittman said. “But how do we do that at a at a price tag that allows us to build the number of platforms that we need.”
In an interview with Defense News in early February, Wittman said he was encouraged by the Biden administration’s continued focus on China, but added he will continue to push for a larger fleet. That conclusion, he said, should be obvious to anyone who looks closely at the strategic situation.
“I have been pleased so far in the preliminary conversations that I have had with the secretary of defense, [Lloyd Austin], with the deputy secretary of defense, [Kathleen Hicks], and others in the incoming administration about what their plans are,” Wittman said. “I think if you look at Gen. Milley’s comments, you see that if we’re going to be serious about countering the Chinese threat, it’s going to be in the Pacific. And the only way you do that is with ships, and the capability to create a risk for China through the payloads on those ships.
“So I think that [the Biden administration] will probably come to the same conclusions.” (Source: Defense News)
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