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27 May 21. Austin, Milley: President’s FY22 Budget Request Sufficient for Defense Mission. The president’s budget request for fiscal year 2022 is expected to contain $715bn in funding for the Defense Department. DOD leaders have said they believe this is ample to accomplish things the department wants to do in the coming year.
While the full presidential budget request has not yet been made public — that should come on Friday — Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III and lawmakers were aware of the total dollar amount for the Defense Department.
“This budget provides us the ability to create the right mix of capabilities to defend this nation and to deter any aggressors,” Austin said during testimony today before the House Appropriations Committee, subcommittee on defense. “It adequately allows us to begin to prepare for the next fight … it in fact does provide us the ability to go after the capabilities that we need.”
Within the FY22 budget, Austin said that the department has prioritized several capabilities to ensure future readiness and modernization of the force.
According to Austin, the budget invests in, among other things, hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, micro-electronics, 5G technology, cyber capabilities, shipbuilding and nuclear modernization.
“The budget also invests in efforts to counter the damaging effects of climate change and to be prepared for potential future challenges like another pandemic,” Austin said.
Also in the budget, he said, is funding to help the department resist Russian cyberattacks, counter the threats from the ballistic-missile capabilities of countries like North Korea and Iran, and maintain troop presence and counter-terrorism capacity in both the Middle East and South Asia to counter threats from Iran, and terrorist groups like ISIS, Al Qaeda and al Shabaab.
The FY22 budget request, said Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley, is appropriate to meet the Defense Department’s needs.
“It strikes an appropriate balance between preserving present readiness and future modernization,” Milley said. “It is biased towards [the] future operating environment and the readiness it’s going to take in the future for this fundamental change in the character of war that we are currently undergoing.”
Milley told lawmakers it’s imperative that the level of funding for modernization for advanced technologies such as hypersonics, precision munitions, robotics and artificial intelligence, continues to be funded as it has been in the FY22 budget for the long-term.
“If we do not put a lot of money towards those [advanced technologies] and develop them to a level of capability to deploy in our joint force, then we will be at a significant disadvantage to those countries that do develop them,” he said. “China is investing heavily in all of those capabilities. We need to definitely do that, [and] this budget does a lot of that. It will have to be a sustained level of effort over many years. But it’s critical to the defense of the United States that we invest in advanced technologies. (Source: US DoD)
27 May 21. Here’s What to Look For in Biden’s First Pentagon Budget Request. DOD likely to face fight from Congress on plans to divest older weapons. On Friday, 129 days after moving into the White House, President Joe Biden is expected to send a $6trn fiscal 2022 spending plan to Congress.
By the calendar, it will be the latest annual spending request submitted by a presidential administration in at least 100 years.
While many of the details of the plan remain under wraps, at least for now, several major shifts have already leaked, and top Pentagon officials have been talking up major themes since early April, when the White House announced the Pentagon share of the budget totals $715bn.
“I believe our budget request will help us match our resources to strategy, strategy to policy, and policy to the will of the American people,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the House Appropriations Defense subcommittee Thursday. “Informed by the President’s interim national security guidance and my own message to the force, it finds the right mix of capabilities that we need most to defend this nation now and in the future.”
An administration’s first budget proposal typically does not include major spending shifts; the plan sent to Congress was assembled largely by the prior administration. The Biden administration’s next budget request for fiscal 2023 is expected to be influenced by the Pentagon’s ongoing Global Posture Review. But the Trump administration in December released budget planning documents that laid out a plan to increase the size of the Navy while making significant cuts to the Army and Air Force, in an effort to counter China’s military growth. While Biden’s plan is expected to have some differences, countering China is expected to remain a top priority, along with an increased investment in game-changing technology.
“It invests in hypersonic weapons, artificial intelligence, micro electronics, 5G technology, cyber capabilities, shipbuilding, climate change resilience, and nuclear modern modernization to name a few,” Austin said.
Austin also singled out investments in cybersecurity to counter Russia, as well as missile defense funding to counter North Korea and Iran.
Biden’s Pentagon budget request totals $715bn, which is $7bn less than the $722bn the Trump administration had been eying for its fiscal 2022 submissions. This year’s Pentagon budget is $704bn, making Biden’s request a 1.4 percent increase, without accounting for inclinations.
Republicans already believe the topline is too low and want 3 to 5 percent annual increases above inflation, an bump championed by Trump administration officials even though their budget planning documents only showed a 2.6 percent increase before inflation.
“While it is a modest increase from the enacted FY21 budget, it is a significant commitment of treasure that the people of the United States have entrusted to us and we will work diligently to ensure it is spent prudently in the best interest of the nation,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, Joint Chiefs chairman, said at the same hearing. “This FY 2022 [budget] is the result of hard choices in a year in which the nation has suffered economic hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Some of Biden’s political appointees have previously backed the 3 to 5 percent annual increase. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Mike McCord, whom the Senate is expected to confirm as the Pentagon comptroller, were both part of a bipartisan group that in 2018 endorsed an annual 3-to-5-percent increase to the Pentagon’s budget above inflation.
But a lot has happened since that commission was formed, including the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to trillions of dollars spent to prop up the U.S. economy.
The Navy is expected to request funding for eight new warships, four fewer than Trump’s Pentagon eyed in fiscal 2022. Among the cuts, an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. With the focus on applying pressure on China, there will be a significant focus on ship numbers announced in Friday’s budget proposal. Recall the Trump administration wanted more than 400 crewed warships and more than 100 uncrewed ones.
Meanwhile, debate is expected over Pentagon proposals to retire older weapons to free up money for new ones.
The budget request “gives us the flexibility to divest ourselves of systems and platforms that do not adequately meet our needs, [including] older ships and aircraft and ISR platforms that demand more maintenance and upkeep and risk than we can afford,” Austin said.
Expect pushback in Congress.
“I have serious concerns regarding the DOD’s plans to divest or decommission platforms that are in high demand or have much service life left in them,” Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Calif., the ranking member of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee said at Thursday’s hearing.
In the fiscal 2022 budget request, the Air Force is expected to propose cutting 428 old fighter jets, while asking to buy 304 new ones over a five-year period beginning in 2022, according to Air Force Magazine. The Air Force wants to cut planned F-35 stealth fighter buys by 10 percent over the next five years, the publication reports.
Calvert singled out planned cuts to the MQ-9 Reaper drones and the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship.
“Congress has made our position clear that we do not accept hope as a viable replacement,” he said. (Source: Defense One)
26 May 21. Get ready for another fight over the future of the MQ-9 Reaper. A battle is brewing over the fate of the MQ-9 Reaper, with a letter from the U.S. Air Force’s top civilian signaling that the service will again seek to curtail procurement of the General Atomics-made drone in the upcoming fiscal 2022 budget.
“Our current MQ-9 fleet is sufficient to support current and future operational and training requirements,” acting Air Force Secretary John Roth wrote in a letter to Sen. Jacky Rosen dated April 1, which was recently viewed by Defense News. “There is no need to buy more aircraft.”
Rosen — a Democrat whose home state of Nevada is home to Creech Air Force Base, where multiple active, reserve and Air National Guard squadrons fly MQ-9s — had written to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in March looking for assurances that the Air Force will continue to buy new Reaper drones.
Roth, writing in Austin’s stead, offered no such promises. Instead, he doubled down on the Air Force’s plan to stop MQ-9 procurement and added that the service intends to outline its plan to replace the MQ-9 — a requirement set by the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill.
“Looking to the future force, the service does not intend to rely on exquisite, single platform, high-cost systems to replace the MQ-9. Instead, we will use a family of interconnected multi-role systems, engineered to reduce cost and increase interoperability,” Roth said.
A spokesperson for Rosen did not respond to repeated requests for comment. The Air Force also declined to comment.
The Defense Department is set to release its FY22 budget on May 28. If the Air Force presses forward with a second attempt to shut down the MQ-9 line, it could spark a fight between those who believe the Reaper is unfit for a near-peer fight — a group comprising the top Air Force brass and the service’s future planning organizations — and the large group of MQ-9 stakeholders and constituencies.
The latter group includes the combatant commanders who rely on the Reaper for surveillance, Air National Guard squadrons that operate the drone and can independently advocate for their own interests, MQ-9 manufacturer General Atomics, and lawmakers with MQ-9 units in their districts.
In its FY21 budget request, the Air Force eliminated all funding to buy MQ-9 Reaper aircraft that year and in the future, effectively canceling plans to purchase 31 Reapers from FY21 through FY24. Instead, service officials asked for about $172m to begin shutting down General Atomics’ production line in Poway, California.
Congress rejected the Air Force’s plan, setting aside $286m in the budget to buy 16 more MQ-9 drones.
The MQ-9 is one of the most prolific Air Force aircraft, currently operating out of 20 bases located in 17 states, according to the service’s biennial acquisition report.
“We have a fleet of over 300 MQ-9s right now, and if you look at the life cycle of the MQ-9, we’ve got 15-plus years left on them, and that’s a good place to be,” Lt. Gen. David Nahom, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, said during the McAleese & Associates conference this month.
If the Air Force is successful in ending MQ-9 production, it is unclear what the industrial impact would be. General Atomics currently has a backlog of MQ-9 variants that will sustain the production line through at least 2026, said C. Mark Brinkley, the director of strategic communications and marketing at General Atomics Aeronautical Systems.
“There will be both short-term and long-term effects if the Air Force decides to stop buying MQ-9s in FY22, but I can’t predict with any certainty what those will be. It’s a true ‘what if?’ scenario at this point,” he said.
The company’s biggest concern is that if the Air Force stops MQ-9 procurement rather than more gradually slowing down production, the service may find itself in a position in the late 2020s where it needs to buy more Reapers and cannot, Brinkley said.
“You can’t just jump back in later because you got it wrong and suddenly turn on the tap again. That’s not how production works,” he said. “You lose a lot of the economies and value that you built over time once you come to a stop. The nation has made a great investment in the MQ-9, and if we throw that away, it’s just gone.”
But the Air Force argues it will be unable to develop the advanced unmanned capabilities it needs to contend with Chinese and Russian threats unless it pulls funding from legacy drones like the MQ-9, which defense officials say could not survive a conflict with a near-peer competitor.
“We are trying to divest ourselves of the ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] that is not particularly useful against a Russia or a China or even [the] dense air defense systems of an Iran or a North Korea, and invest in those ISR systems that do have penetration capability,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers in a March 2020 hearing. “It makes no sense to me to continue to buy stuff that isn’t in alignment with the [National Defense Strategy].”
Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, who oversees U.S. operations in the Middle East as head of U.S. Central Command, told lawmakers in April that the MQ-9 “is not viable” in a high-end fight, including against some of the threats that could be posed by adversaries operating in CENTCOM’s area of responsibility in the near future.
However, he added, the platform would remain “vital” to CENTCOM, particularly as the U.S. military pulls ground forces from Afghanistan.
“Our ability to maintain persistent overhead coverage will possibly require additional MQ-9s because of the range from the base to the place where we will actually be looking,” he said. “We may even need more of them in Central Command dedicated to that particular task.”
A future for the MQ-9?
In the run up to the FY22 budget release, a number of lawmakers have questioned defense officials about the capability of the MQ-9 and the overall need for more ISR platforms, including: Rosen; Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; and Rep. Kenneth Calvert, R-Calif.
Other lawmakers, like Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota, have taken a more direct approach. A member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee, he spoke directly with Roth to advocate for MQ-9 procurement in the FY22 budget, his office stated in a May 24 news release.
Frank Kendall, the Biden administration’s nominee for Air Force secretary, told lawmakers during his May 25 confirmation hearing that he’d be open to funding additional upgrades for the MQ-9 that would make it more survivable in a non-permissive environment.
“I know that some things have been talked about, including adding more countermeasures to the aircraft and providing some standoff capability. And I think those are well worth looking at,” he said. “We’ve made a big investment in that platform, and it would be a shame to not be able to utilize it against more significant sophisticated threats.”
Some of those upgrades could look similar to the “Ghost Reaper” configuration the service tested as part of this month’s Northern Edge exercise held in Alaska. Over a period of several weeks at Eielson Air Force Base, the service assessed the performance of several new pods for the MQ-9, including:
* A hardened targeting pod.
* Northrop Grumman’s Freedom Pod, which allows the Reaper to pass data between fourth- and fifth-generation fighters.
* The REAP pod, which connects to ground systems.
* The Reaper Defense Electronic Support System, which is a new pod that identifies and locates electronic signals from threatening systems at standoff distances.
While many of those capabilities are not yet built into the program of record, the Air Force is funding a new “Multi-Domain Operation” configuration upgrade for 71 MQ-9s, which would add internal power modification, an anti-jam antenna system, Link 16 data link, additional weapon capacity, open-architecture design and improved mission resiliency.
The service has begun retrofitting some of its MQ-9 fleet with these systems and is currently negotiating a contract with General Atomics to cut the capabilities into the drone’s production line so that new ones are manufactured with the upgrades already built in.
“With these smart investments the Air Force projects that MQ-9 will remain operationally viable through the end of the platform’s projected service life of 2035,” a spokesman for the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center said in response to questions from Defense News.
Don’t fear the Reaper replacement
The Air Force hasn’t sought a successor for the MQ-9 Reaper since the MQ-X program was canceled in 2012. But over the past year, the service has begun exploring how it will eventually replace the Reaper in the 2030s.
It released a request for information to industry in June 2020 for market research on existing technology and conceptual designs.
Then in March 2021, the service published a second RFI for a “Next-Generation Multi-Role Unmanned Aerial System Family of Systems,” further widening the scope of what it could seek out to replace the MQ-9.
The Air Force envisions its MQ-9 replacement as a series of drones that would run the gamut in terms of cost and capability, from expendable systems to highly survivable ones.
“Future Next-Gen Multi-Role UAS FoS technologies must hold a different role than they do today and address capabilities beyond traditional UAS mission sets, such as air-to-air, base defense, electronic warfare, moving target indicator (air and ground) capabilities, and be designed for native integration into [the Joint All-Domain Command and Control concept],” the service said in its solicitation.
General Atomics responded to the solicitation, Brinkley said, and the company agrees that the Air Force needs a family of unmanned aircraft to contend with future threats. But, he added, the MQ-9 should continue to be a part of that enterprise.
“We have an amazing airframe already. And we have lots of people developing new tech that works great on the MQ-9,” Brinkley said. “Whether it’s hardware or software, the MQ-9 can incorporate all of these new advancements. It’s the perfect platform to experiment on.”
For its part, the Air Force is in no rush to fund a program of record for the MQ-9 replacement; it’s in a “comfortable spot” where the service has time to evaluate its options, Nahom said.
“We can sit back and actually analyze: What does a replacement need to look like, and what does the war fighter need?” Nahom added.
Other parts of the Air Force are not so lucky, he noted.
“You look at a fleet like the E-3 AWACS, and that’s a fleet right now where you don’t necessarily have the time right now, and it’s probably a much bigger concern.” (Source: Defense News)
25 May 21. Buy Big F-35 Fleet To Lower Program Costs: SecAF Nominee Kendall.
“I know there’s an issue with the total number that’s been on the table for some years,” Frank Kendall said. “What we should really be working on most is getting the cost down and keeping the procurement at a rate that makes sense.”
The likely Secretary of the Air Force today suggested that continuing to buy more F-35s is the best way to keep overall program costs down.
“The key to keeping the cost down in an air fleet is getting the numbers up,” Frank Kendall told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “There’s a very strong correlation between the size of the fleet and the cost to sustain that fleet. So, if there were one thing that I think will drive costs down overall, it’s continue to buy.”
Kendall’s comments come as the Pentagon and Air Force are studying how many F-35s to buy, as the Biden administration tries to modernize across the services in the face of rapid Chinese military modernization, and flat defense budgets at home.
There have been rumblings for some time that the department might lower the total F-35 requirement below current plans for 2,443 aircraft across the Air Force, Navy and Marines Air Force as costs to build and sustain the fleet are already straining budgets.
“I know there’s an issue with the total number that’s been on the table for some years, what the requirement is,” Kendall acknowledged. “What we should really be working on most is getting the cost down and keeping the procurement at a rate that makes sense.”
While the Pentagon may be reconsidering the size of the F-35 fleet, it’s not at all clear if Congress would support fewer planes.
SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jim Inhofe said during the hearing that the year 2025 is “when our combatant commanders tell us the Chinese will have more fifth-generation stealth fighters on the frontline than we do. Our days of airpower dominance are long gone. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
While he wouldn’t acknowledge what the procurement rate might be, Acting Pentagon acquisition chief Stacy Cummings told senators last month that the Pentagon is looking at “modernizing” the F-35s it already has, as opposed to ramping up its scheduled buys of new planes.
“The department currently prioritizes modernization over accelerating production and delivering an aircraft that maintains dominance across its service life has always been the focus of the program,” Cummings said.
The huge cost of sustaining the fleet has been weighing heavily on military leaders.
“I see cost as the program’s greatest enemy,” Lt. Gen. Eric Fick, F-35 program manager, at the McAleese and Associates annual conference earlier this month. “I see high costs as an existential threat to the F-35 as an enterprise.” To be clear, he was not talking about the so-called fly-away cost, the cost per aircraft. He was talking about the overall costs of the program.
Some of those costs are associated with the problematic Technology Refresh 3, which is holding up the move to Block 4 capabilities like software upgrades. “Now we have a cost overrun and we’ve got some schedule slips on TR3,” Fick said. “As a result of the cost overrun driven by TR3, we’ve had to slow development and, in some cases, stopped development on some of those Block 4 capabilities.”
A recent Government Accountability Office report found that estimated sustainment cost estimates have remained above an estimated $1.1 trillion over the plane’s estimated 66-year lifecycle. “The services,” the GAO said, “will collectively be confronted with tens of billions of dollars in sustainment costs that they project as unaffordable during the program.”
Kendall supported the program overall, saying “the F-35 is the best tactical aircraft of its type in the world and will be so for quite some time. It’s a complex, expensive weapon, unfortunately, but it is a dominant weapon when it goes up against earlier-generation aircraft.”
That support was tempered somewhat by his call for an “affordable mix” of 4th and 5th generation aircraft going into the future “that meets our needs as driven by the National Defense Strategy — that’s what should guide those investments.” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
24 May 21. USAF Could Ditch Oldest F-35 Jets as Part of Fighter Downsizing, General Says. The U.S. Air Force could retire some of its older-model F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, which are used for training, over the next decade in favor of acquiring the most advanced variants of the jet, according to a top general. Older versions of the premier stealth jet may be retired instead of receiving expensive upgrades to keep them viable for a future conflict, said Lt. Gen. S. Clinton Hinote, the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements.
“It’s not in our plans right now, but that would be something that we would have to take into consideration,” he said in an interview Tuesday. “Because the big question is, ‘Are we going to go back and retrofit [them]?’
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“Retrofit cost is a key consideration for, ‘Do we want to take training jets that are older [software] blocks and upgrade them to new blocks?'” Hinote said. “Are we maybe overinvested in training tails? There are some indications that maybe we are.”
Hinote was referring to the ratio of training jets to combat-coded jets — those ready for a wartime mission at any given time — across the service’s seven fighter fleets as it prepares for a near-peer conflict. The Air Force counts the A-10 Thunderbolt II close-air support aircraft as part of its fighter fleet, along with the F-35, F-22 Raptor, F-15C/D Eagle, F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, and the new F-15EX Eagle II.
For example, one-third of the fifth-generation F-22 fighter fleet is not combat-coded, with most of those jets reserved for training pilots.
“It’s true with a lot of our aircraft that we have some they’re dedicated solely to training,” Hinote said. “We’re questioning, in a new era [of great power competition], where training is going to look different. Perhaps we have overinvested in training aircraft, and the ratio of training to fighter aircraft could be improved on the fighter side, i.e. more tails available for combat.”
Although the F-35 is one of the Pentagon’s newest aircraft, some of the oldest Lightning II fighters in the fleet are used for training purposes. They are part of manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s earliest low-rate initial production batches.
As the service considers what kind of fighter mix it wants, it must decide whether it can afford the luxury of having aircraft designated only for training. Several of its fleets, including the F-35 and F-22, include training aircraft that are older and not configured for combat, Hinote explained.
Upgrading them would be expensive and, in some cases, impossible.
In a time of limited resources, the Air Force is reconsidering keeping dedicated trainer aircraft and investigating how much training it can move to high-quality simulations.
“We’ve been experimenting with pilot training at all levels, and what we are learning has the potential to shift our whole approach,” Hinote said. “There may be some that are not upgradeable to the full combat capability and, if that is true, that probably means we need to think about [whether] they are worth flying.”
The Raptor vs. NGAD
The Air Force must make key decisions about which aircraft, and how many, it wants to sustain longer term, Hinote said.
During a panel last week, Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown explained his plan to reduce the service’s fighter fleets from seven to four.
Brown calls the initiative “four plus one.” The “four” are the F-35; F-16; the F-15EX, which entered the service’s inventory last month; and the Next Generation Air Dominance, or NGAD, program, which defies the traditional categorization of a single platform, featuring a network potentially including an advanced fighter aircraft alongside sensors, weapons or drones. The venerable A-10 remains as the “plus one.”
Noticeably absent from his list were the F-22 and F-15E.
Over the next five years, the service will establish whether fledgling airframes like the F-15EX can fill the roles of its legacy fighters.
Service leaders have hinted that, while the fourth-generation F-15EX is meant to replace the legacy F-15C/D models, it also could succeed the E Strike Eagle model in the future, given its weapons load. Hinote said the legacy Strike Eagle could stick around longer if the fleet receives needed upgrades; if the upgrades are not cost effective for the service, the EX will take its place.
Hinote said the service will still ask Congress to fund crucial upgrades to the F-22 fleet as part of its fiscal 2022 budget request, including modifications to the fighter’s sensor suite capabilities.
But the F-22 “has some limitations to it that you just can’t modernize your way out of,” he added.
When the F-22 retires will be decided by how quickly NGAD can be fielded, Hinote said.
If the Air Force can secure enough funding for the NGAD in the fiscal 2022 and future budgets, and subsequently prove the technology prior to 2030, F-22s will start heading to the aircraft boneyard, he said.
“All those things are interrelated,” he explained.
The F-35 Is a ‘Special Case’
Air Force Magazine reported last week that the service is considering a 10% cut in F-35 buys as part of its Future Years Defense Plan, citing a growing need to transition to the most up-to-date jets as they become available.
CNN reported that some Air Force officials have expressed a desire to cap the total number of F-35s in inventory, reducing a projected procurement of 1,763 of the conventional takeoff and landing A-variant to 800 maximum to make room for NGAD.
But Hinote said no decisions have been made.
“The internal talk about the total buy is something we’ve got to do, but we have not made a decision on that because we don’t know all the variables yet,” Hinote said, calling the F-35 a “special case” in the jet inventory.
“If we can get to the full buy, that would be the future we’d prefer,” he said.
The Air Force now has more F-35s than F-15s and A-10s. At 283 jets, the F-35 fleet is second in size only to the Fighting Falcon; the Air Force has 934 F-16 C and D models.
But “the block that is coming off the line right now is not a block that I feel good about going up against China and Russia,” Hinote said, referring to the current Block 3F software and hardware configuration.
Upgrades to Block 4, the latest modernization update for the F-35’s avionics and weapons systems, began in 2018. It is meant to expand the type of weapons the aircraft can carry, including Raytheon’s Stormbreaker small-diameter bomb, which has the ability to attack moving targets in bad weather.
The Pentagon originally estimated Block 4 modernization could be incorporated by 2024, but the project timeline has been delayed until at least 2027, according to an assessment from the Government Availability Office.
Some F-35s already have elements of Block 4, such as the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System, which helps prevent aircraft from flying into the ground.
Unlocking the rest of Block 4’s upgrades will require what is known as “Technology Refresh 3,” or TR-3, which will provide the aircraft with prompt processing capability and increased memory, among other capabilities.
While much of TR-3 will be incorporated in the latest batch of aircraft in 2023, its development is still “tracking 7 months later than originally planned,” the GAO said.
Both updates will be critical in a conflict against China in the Pacific, Hinote said.
In 2019, the service flew only Block 4 F-35s in a war game because using Block 3F jets “wouldn’t be worth it” in a toe-to-toe scenario with China, he told Defense News.
There are other problems with the F-35, including a growing shortage of F135 engines, manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, a subsidiary of Raytheon Corp. There is also more work to be done to its comprehensive logistics system, which is used for support operations, mission planning, supply chain management, maintenance, and other processes.
As sustainment and upgrade costs continue to rise, Hinote said capability, availability and affordability all play into the F-35’s future with the service.
“We’re going to have to make that call one day … but we don’t have to make that decision in FY22 and, frankly, we don’t have to make it in FY23,” he said. “We are flying seven fighter fleets right now. No Air Force around the world can handle that much different demand on its logistics. We need to get down to a smaller number of fighter fleets, simply for the logistical concerns.” (Source: Military.com)
24 May 21. A warning to DoD: Russia advances quicker than expected on AI, battlefield tech. The Russian military is more technologically advanced than the U.S. realized and is quickly developing artificial intelligence capabilities to gain battlefield information advantage, an expansive new report commissioned by the Pentagon warned.
The federally funded Center for Naval Analyses examined the Kremlin’s whole-of-government approach for artificial intelligence development and found it is largely driven by the perceived threat from the United States, combined with lessons learned from its continuing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine about what the future battlefield will look like, the report released Monday said.
However, the Russian government faces limitations because its AI efforts are primarily government funded, and it lacks a strong defense industrial base, noted the report, written on behalf of the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. Still, analysts cautioned Pentagon leadership not to underestimate the Russia’s technological advances as the U.S. pivots its strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific. The Russian military has been undergoing modernization since 2009.
“This is a very different military, qualitatively especially, and they are trying to be flexible in ways that we don’t give them credit for,” said Sam Bendett, a co-author and research analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. “This is a different military than the ones that existed prior to 2009 and going forward it’s going to become more high tech [and] more integrated. It’s going to be more flexible. It’s going to use different approaches to try and gain that advantage.”
Focusing on information advantage
Russia is heavily focused on developing information management tools to provide soldiers with maximum access to relevant data in war and keep them safe, the report found after analyzing open-source Russian government statements, Russian officials’ writings and legal documents about artificial intelligence. According to that research, Russian military strategists have placed a premium on “information dominance on the battlefield” and view AI-enabled technologies as the key to achieving that goal.
It’s a different approach than tactics of the past for Russia, which struggled to “see” the battlefield and rather relied on “brute force” with its arsenal of tanks and artillery, said Jeffrey Edmonds, a senior research scientist at CNA and report co-author. Among the 258-page report’s extensive findings, he warned that the Russian military’s desire to build AI and autonomy for information dominance, including for electronic warfare and space-based tools, should concern the Pentagon most.
For “the Pentagon’s plan on fighting with the Russians, that’s something to think about,” Edmonds said. It needs to “eschew the older mindset of the Russians just pounding you with artillery and tanks. They’re going to do that but in a much more efficient way that’s much more integrated.”
The Russian military has AI initiatives to improve command and control and decision-making; early warning and air defense; and training, logistics, maintenance and procurement — from the tactical level to the strategic planning level in Moscow.
The Russian government is using artificial intelligence to analyze changing geopolitical events using data from previous global armed conflicts, the report found. Operationally, its military is trying to link platforms across different military branches to share information in order to “to better coordinate forces and make faster decisions,” similar to the Pentagon’s new joint war-fighting concept known as Joint All-Domain Command and Control.
Russia perceives that the U.S. will sow domestic unrest in its country by trying “to undermine Russian authorities and create instability within Russia to foment political change, leading to a justification for U.S. military action,” the report read. That view of how the U.S. could attack is driving technology investment in many areas, including global event analysis.
An air assault from the United States is one of its biggest security fears for the Kremlin, hence its investments in AI technologies for early-warning systems and air defense. Its military strategists believe the processing power of AI will allow air defense systems to more quickly monitor, detect and respond to any aerial attack.
“Russia is trying to understand what the Americans are up to or what the NATO is up to,” Bendett said. “So NATO and the United States are very much in focus. And a lot of the Russian efforts in AI, military autonomy are actually geared towards how can they best counter the U.S. threat perception.”
Autonomous systems and future war
The story is similar for Russia’s perception of the future of autonomous weapons, another area where it’s investing. The CNA analysis found substantial debate over the ethics and future of autonomous weapons and having a human “in the loop” of the decision cycle. Russia’s military views completely autonomous weapons as an “inevitability” based on its perceptions of U.S. and China that the systems will become fully autonomous.
“This is part of the overall Russian security mindset about the United States … that where we have an advantage, we’re just going to keep pushing,” Edmonds said.
The Russian military is “heavily emphasizing” investments in autonomy for aerial, ground and maritime unmanned and robotic platforms. Bendett and Edmonds said that the Russian military views robots as a future replacement for soldiers and an important avenue to saving lives of its war-fighters in the future.
Russia’s conflicts in Syria and Ukraine have been a proving ground for its development of AI and autonomous weapons because the military has learned how to manage information better. By July 2018, the Russians flew 23,000 UAV missions with 140,000 flight hours, the report noted, used primarily for short- and mid-range ISR. Still, Russia lacks a “true combat UAV capable of striking targets.” In Ukraine, CNA found the Russian military used drones for reconnaissance and artillery spotting.
The Russian military is exploring the use of drones for several battlefield applications, including ones that can attack enemy ships or pass information to other platforms in the maritime domain. Its development of underwater unmanned systems that can attack U.S. ships or submarines is another area that Edmonds said the Pentagon should “keep a close eye on.”
The country’s forces also are considering drone swarming capabilities for land operations, particularly for urban warfare, in addition to drone swarms for aerial reconnaissance, electronic warfare and ground strikes for air warfare. Additionally, attacks by drone swarms on Russian bases in Syria led the Kremlin to invest in countermeasures. For example, its military used AI tools to study terrain around its bases to predict the most likely incoming drone route.
“The combination of the use of different types of uncrewed and unmanned systems, along with a countermeasures against those systems, is going to be where Russians will put a lot of their research, development, testing and evaluation emphasis going forward,” Bendett said.
There remains an ongoing debate in the Russian government over the role of humans in autonomous weapons. The Russian Ministry of Defense “appears” to be developing plans for AI-enabled robotic systems that can operate without human control, the report stated, while Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that AI-enhanced weapons will decide the future of war but will be controlled by humans and viewed as “faithful servants.”
“What appears missing from the conversation is a way to balance the two views. It is not clear in Russian military thinking where human control would end and where independent AI-enabled action would begin,” the report stated. (Source: C4ISR & Networks)
24 May 21. Biden defense budget, coming Friday, is under pressure from both sides. Details of President Joe Biden’s first defense budget won’t be out until Friday, but lawmakers on the left and right have already drawn out their lines for the battle ahead.
For Hill progressives, the plan is a more strategic, surgical attack than in the past to rein in parts of what they view as an ever-expanding military slush fund.
For congressional Republicans, it’s a blunt force message that the defense budget is actually far too low to counter a growing Chinese military and other potential threats.
And starting next month, the fighting begins, with moderate Democratic leaders left to find a path to victory between the two.
Left-leaning Democrats have proposed broad defense cuts before, but House Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Mark Pocan, D-Wis., said he expects group members to try some new ideas once budget season kicks off.
Instead of indiscriminate across-the-board cuts that moderate Democrats have rejected before, the new strategy could mean looking at targeted trims instead. While Pocan didn’t get specific, progressives could weigh in on a brewing fight over how many big-ticket Lockheed-made F-35 fighters Congress will buy.
“Some of it could be a specific percent and a redirection of what defense dollars go towards,” Pocan told Defense News. “There are a lot of things that could happen, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is we want to have more accountability and a different approach to defense spending.”
Last week, Pocan led 19 other lawmakers in an 11th-hour call for Biden to shift what they saw as a post-Afghanistan war “peace dividend” from the defense budget toward domestic problems. They pegged the savings at $50 bn — in line with a separate letter from a coalition of 40 advocacy groups — and asked Biden for a full accounting.
Rather than have that money return to military equipment and training, the lawmakers suggested it be reallocated to, “end homelessness in the United States, provide increased health coverage to Americans in need, or contribute to the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the Senate’s lead progressive, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., has introduced a bipartisan bill that would, if passed, punish the Pentagon if it continues to fail financial audits. Starting in fiscal 2022, any Defense Department agency that fails to obtain a clean audit would have to return 1 percent of its budget to the Treasury.
“If we are serious about spending taxpayer dollars wisely and effectively, we have got to end the absurdity of the Pentagon being the only agency in the federal government that has not passed an independent audit,” said Sanders, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Mike Lee, and Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.
Biden’s budget outline — a $753bn national defense budget for fiscal 2022, including $715bn for the Pentagon — represents a slight increase from fiscal 2021 that just trails the rate of inflation. It’s far short of the 3 to 5 percent boost above inflation that Republican lawmakers are seeking.
Last week, the Senate rejected a measure that would have required parity between defense and non-defense spending increases by a 44-53 vote. Despite the failure, hawkish Republicans are vowing to keep push for a defense boost.
“China’s long-term military investments are paying dividends that should alarm us. But Democrats want to pump the brakes on our own?” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said ahead of the vote. “Fewer resources for our own men and women in uniform? Less defense innovation? What sense does that make?”
“We know the best signal we can send China is a strong military, but a strong military is not free,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s top Republican and a co-sponsor of the parity measure. “I’ll continue working with my colleagues to ensure we are giving our military the resources they need to deter Chinese military aggression and defend our country.”
Defending Biden’s defense budget plans falls to Capitol Hill’s two Democratic armed services committee chairman. Both Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., are seen as moderates, supportive of robust defense spending but mindful of their caucus’ concerns about the Pentagon largesse.
And while it is unclear whether Republicans will withhold all support for Democrat-led defense bills, Smith said he sees the path to final fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act going through Republicans.
“The bill never passes if it’s not bipartisan, we all understand our responsibility,” Smith told Defense News. “And that’s [Republicans’] incentive: we want to pass a bill. And there are thousands of things in that bill ? or hundreds ? that are important, on a whole series of policy levels, on a bipartisan basis.”
Smith said he was in negotiations with House leadership over the timing of his panel’s NDAA markup, but said it would likely be delayed until early September when Congress returns from a month-long summer recess. That leaves less time to pass a final product before the end of the calendar year.
“It’s a 4,000-page bill. We field somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 requests as to what should be put into the bill, as a starting point. We must go through all of those requests, determine their merit, determine how to handle them, and in many cases negotiate how to make alterations.” Smith said.
“That requires the entering of a staggering amount of policy data. That has to be done well. It can’t be done in a haphazard manner because it might become law. That takes more time than anyone who hasn’t ever done it before realizes.”
The defense authorization bill has passed out of Congress for 60 consecutive years, making it one of the few reliable legislative vehicles to survive annual skirmishes between Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill. This year’s campaign may prove one of the most difficult yet. (Source: Defense News)
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