Tag Archives: Procurement

US Defence Aerospace Companies Now Federal Government Lobbying Outfits

Funny how the biggies will almost all have their HQs in the D.C. area–at Aviation Week and Space Technology:

First Take, June 13, 2022

Graham Warwick June 10, 2022

VIEW FROM THE BELTWAY

Virginia Snags Another Aerospace Giant

Raytheon Technologies will move its global headquarters from suburban Boston to Arlington, Virginia, this summer, making it the last of the Big Five U.S. defense contractors to base its operations in the Washington region. The move into an existing Raytheon office tower near the Potomac River “increases agility in supporting U.S. government and commercial aerospace customers,” the aerospace giant says. But it is not expected to result in a large number of job shifts. Boeing announced last month that it is moving its home base from Chicago to Northern Virginia, following Northrop Grumman (2011) and General Dynamics (1991). Lockheed Martin is headquartered in nearby Bethesda, Maryland.

Capitalism at its finest hard at work. eh?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

The incredible Shrinking US Air Force, or, Waiting for NGAD

Further to this 2020 post,

US Air Force Trying to Shake, Rattle…(and note NORAD)

the USAF is in a touchy position, forced to make retirements from an increasingly aging fleet while awaiting in particular the new sixth-generation super-fighter (with its accompanying drones) and the new B-21 stealth bomber (which should be in service much sooner). All while facing seemingly ever-growing and more capable PRC forces. The frankness and depth of public discussion about US defence matters can only make a poor Canadian green (with spring!) envy.

1) First from an article at The Drive’s “War Zone”:

The Air Force Has Abandoned Its 386 Squadron Goal

The Air Force Secretary has poured cold water on the previous goal of a 386 squadron USAF and wants a posture based on the Chinese threat.

by Thomas Newdick, Tyler Rogoway May 4

The U.S. Air Force’s long-standing aspiration to increase the number of its squadrons to 386 by 2030 appears to have been dropped. The goal of an enlarged force, which was announced as long ago as 2018, is now deemed less important than fielding more capable platforms, with a particular eye on potential future conflicts with an increasingly advanced Chinese military. That, at least, is the view of the Air Force Secretary, the senior leader overseeing the Department of the Air Force, comprised of the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force.

The development was announced by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, speaking on a Brookings Institution webcast, under the title The future of American air power, on May 2nd, 2022. Among the highlights of a wide-ranging discussion were Kendall’s comments on Air Force size and structure and how these should be balanced, in the future, against capability levels which, in turn, will need to be optimized to meet the potential threat from the Chinese military.

“I’m not focused on counting end-strength or squadrons or airplanes,” Kendall said, but rather “I’m focused on the capability to carry out the operations we might have to support [toward] … defeating aggression. If you can’t deter or defeat the initial act of aggression, then you’re in a situation like we’re seeing in Ukraine: a protracted conflict.”

…the kind of Air Force structure that Kendall is proposing would be tailored very much for the kind of threat posed by China, not Russia [emphasis added], and which would involve fighting “several thousand miles away” from many established bases against an opponent that combines high-end weapons with innovative ways of employing them [see post on “Distributed Operations” noted at bottom of this one]

To…dissuade — and potentially defeat — a fast-expanding and increasingly sophisticated Chinese military, the U.S. Air Force needs to focus less on its size and more on fielding more capable and modern assets.

“An awful lot of equipment that we have is old,” Kendall said, pointing out that the average age of one of the service’s aircraft is 30 years, and that this number is growing every year.

Playing a fundamental part in modernizing the Air Force will be the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, or NGAD, one of Kendall’s key priorities, or operational imperatives. He described NGAD as a family of systems [emphasis added] that will include not just a new manned platform, but also uncrewed combat aircraft, new weapons, connectivity architecture, and relationships to outside support.

…With NGAD, as well as the B-21 Raider stealth bomber and nuclear modernization efforts all ongoing, there are some seriously expensive programs that all require funds. Development of the B-21 alone accounts for $381 million in the latest Air Force budget request, plus another $1.7 billion to actually begin purchasing the aircraft…

The idea of rapidly fielding a new platform and then working to improve it incrementally once it enters the inventory is espoused by Kendall and it’s one that we’ve heard before. Broadly, it parallels the so-called ‘Digital Century Series’ approach that was the brainchild of Will Roper, the former Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics…

The biggest concern that is likely to come from Kendall’s emerging strategy is near-term risk, by retiring far more operational aircraft than the already ‘too small for demand’ Air Force is buying, and especially the idea long-term that quality will far supersede quantity in the aerial battlefield of the future [emphasis added]. No matter how capable a fighter or bomber may be, it can only be in one place at one time, and that is usually on the ground, with a substantial part of that time being torn apart for maintenance. In an expeditionary fight, where the U.S. is fighting thousands of miles from home, or even from secured airfields, quantity becomes a real issue in order to sustain the fight over the long haul. China will be fighting on its own turf without these strangling issues and its force is growing in both quantity and quality…

2) And from Aviation Week and Space Technology on the fighter force:

New Leadership Reimagines U.S. Air Force Fighter Fleet Structure

Steve Trimble Brian Everstine April 29, 2022

A new, long-term vision for the U.S. Air Force fighter fleet has gradually come into focus, and, if Congress approves, the changes for the tactical aviation portfolio could be stark.

A sixth-generation fighter to be acquired in the next decade by the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program will cost in the “hundreds of millions” each and enter service in the 2030s alongside a phalanx of uncrewed Collaborative Combat Aircraft with autonomous control systems, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall told a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) panel on April 26.

Until then, the Air Force plans to nearly halve a Trump administration plan to buy at least 144 Boeing F-15EX fighters as a short-term replacement for more than 200 F-15C/Ds, cutting the procurement program off after ordering only 80 of the Eagle II fighters in fiscal 2024.

Although the Lockheed Martin F-35A is the only feasible alternative as an F-15C/D replacement in the near term, the Air Force instead aims to slash planned orders for the stealthy, single-engine fighter over the next two years by as many as 34 jets, then ramp up orders after F-15EX procurement is completed in fiscal 2024. The 33-year-old F-15E fleet, meanwhile, emerges from the fighter reshuffling unscathed.

Finally, the Air Force wants to offset cuts to other fighter fleets with major upgrades to the remaining aircraft.

Controversially, the Air Force plans to retire all Fairchild Republic A-10s over the next five years, along with the 33 Lockheed F-22s that are not equipped to fight in combat.

In exchange, the Air Force would like to invest money in major upgrades. More than 600 Lockheed F-16s would be upgraded to the Block 70/72 standard, including Northrop Grumman APG-83 active, electronically scanned array radars and the Northrop Grumman Next-Generation Electronic Warfare suite.

Meanwhile, the surviving fleet of nearly 150 F-22s also is in line for new equipment. Gen. Mark Kelly, the head of Air Combat Command, may have previewed some of the options in an April 27 tweet that celebrated the anniversary of the first F-22 public demonstration routine in 2007.

Kelly’s tweet included a concept image of an F-22 equipped with pods mounted on outboard wing pylons carrying apparent infrared search-and-track sensors, low-radar-cross-section fuel tanks and a next–generation air-to-air missile. The F-22 supposedly receives the first operational Lockheed AIM-260 Joint Advanced Tactical Missile this year, but Air Force officials said during the April 27 hearing that the long-range weapon remained in development.

All of this fleet reshuffling would result in a 16% reduction in fighter fleet capacity through fiscal 2027, cutting a 2,138-strong fleet now down to 1,792 jets over the next five years [emphasis added].

Air Force officials are seeking to finance new fighter capabilities such as NGAD and F-35 Block 4 by retiring aircraft in the short term. The strategy has usually been met with resistance by Congress…

Kendall has proposed reengining the F-35. The Pratt & Whitney F135 is meeting specifications, but Block 4 electronic upgrades risk overwhelming the power and thermal management system. Pratt designed the 43,000-lb.-thrust engine to provide bleed air from the compressor to cool the onboard electronics [see this story at Breaking Defense: “How to save $40B on the F-35 Program: Cost, risk, and alliances are key considerations for F-35 propulsion modernization”].

…In written testimony submitted to the HASC, a joint statement from Kendall and current Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr., is explicit: “This [NGAD] family of systems will include a sixth-generation crewed platform as well as uncrewed combat aircraft and a cost-effective mix of sensors, weapons and communications systems.”

Kendall said he expects to be fielding the NGAD in the 2030s, but two lawmakers, Reps. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.) and Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.), said they understood the program is delayed [emphasis added]

The sixth-generation fighter at the heart of the NGAD program is already expected to become the most expensive tactical aircraft ever developed. The price of “hundreds of millions” each cited by Kendall aligns with a 2018 projection by the Congressional Budget Office, which estimated a unit cost of about $300 million each for a future penetrating counter-air platform.

With such a high price per copy, the Air Force is trying to shift to a different approach for its fighter fleet.

…Air Force planners are internally debating how future fighter squadrons will be composed with crewed and uncrewed elements [emphasis added]. The newly branded Collaborative Combat Aircraft—formerly described as “Loyal Wingman”—builds on autonomous technology developed as part of programs such as Skyborg and Boeing’s MQ-28 Ghost Bat platform in Australia. It is “quite a few ways out,” Brown says.

Kendall has said he expects these aircraft to cost about half the price of the crewed platform, or potentially $150 million or more. In the short term, that is why the service is focusing on its four-aircraft mix of F-15s, F-16s, F-35s and the NGAD.

Challenges, challenges, challenges. But the RCAF can only wonder at how seriously the American administration and Congress take them. But they are a great power and we most certainly are not. Whether Canada even remains a middle power is open to real question.

And, boy!, does the US have vibrant, intelligent and well-informed defence media. A Canadian sighs.

Related posts;

US Air Force Planning for “Distributed Operations” in Pacific

US Air Force Planning vs PLA in Indo-Pacific

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

Indian Defence Budget: How much will “Make in India” Reduce Efficiency of Procurement?

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “A man cleans an Akash system, a medium-range mobile surface-to-air missile defense platform developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation of India. The Army plans to use incoming funds to pay for the weapon. (Manjunath Kiran/AFP via Getty Images)”.)

Not that procurement is in good shape now–and just for a breath of Canadian content, from Defense Industry Daily in 2024: “Canada’s defense procurement system rivals India’s for inefficiency”. Note also planned greater private sector involvement in defence R&D.

From Defense News:

India unveils new defense budget aimed at promoting a self-reliant industry

By Vivek Raghuvanshi

India announced its new defense budget Tuesday [Feb. 1] that will see $13.84 billion go toward promoting self-reliance among local businesses and reducing the country’s import dependency under its $22.26 billion fund for acquisitions of new weapons and military platforms.

India’s total defense budget for the financial year 2022-2023 is $54.2 billion, which includes $20.26 billion to cover pay and allowances for the more than 1.5 billion military personnel. This does not include the defense pensions of retired personnel.

This year, capital outlay meant for new weapons purchases for the Indian Air Force has been reserved for $7.43 billion; the Navy has been given $6.36 billion; and the Army has been allocated $4.28 billion [emphasis added].

The Indian Air Force will spend most of the money to cover existing commitments for French Rafale fighters, Russian S-400 air defense systems, Apache and Chinook helicopters, and Israeli medium-range surface-to-air missile systems.

The Navy will use its funds to pay for one aircraft carrier, destroyers, stealth frigates and multirole helicopters, which were previously contracted.

[The money is for the navy’s second carrier and first indigenous one (IAC-I); INS Vikrant is currently undergoing sea trials and is scheduled to be commissioned in August 2022–the navy would very much like a second indigenous carrier. And note: “The Navy is preparing to roll out a Rs 43,000-crore project to build six conventional submarines in India].

The Army will use its funds to pay for T-90 and Arjun MK1A battle tanks, BMP-2/2K infantry combat vehicles, Dhanush artillery guns, Akash air defense missiles, Konkurs-M and Milan-2T anti-tank guided missiles, and multiple types of ammunition.

But Amit Cowshish, a former MoD financial adviser for acquisitions, said it is unlikely the latest budget will fully meet requirements projected by the armed services.

The increase in the overall budget reflects the government’s resolve toward creating a self-sustainable industry with modern infrastructure — part of what’s known locally as Aatmanirbhar Bharat, or Self-Reliant India [emphasis added]— the Ministry of Defence said…

Some defense analysts and military officials…welcomed the news, but noted the budget’s amount won’t be able cover modernization shortfalls.

Senior military officials also warned business will continue as usual because nearly 70% of funds for arms procurement will go toward previous commitments with both domestic and foreign companies as well as via government-to-government deals. One Army official, who spoke to Defense News on the condition of anonymity, said indigenous procurement is a good notion but materiel produced by local companies still contain a significant amount of foreign-made technologies.

Last year, the government allocated about $11.77 billion from the total $18.4 billion procurement budget for domestic companies to manufacture weapons and platforms locally. However, military officials who spoke to Defense News on condition of anonymity, as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said almost 85% of the contracts were awarded to state-run companies, leaving private firms struggling to secure meaningful defense orders [emphasis added].

Cowshish noted that reserving a portion of government funds for domestic purchases is a good sign for local industry, but that unless the overall budget is substantially increased, the present situation will endure.

One MoD official said state-run companies were awarded defense contracts for LCA MK1 fighters, Arjun MK1A battle tanks, tactical software-defined radios, low-level transportable radars, Lynx U2 fire control systems, kurs-M and Milan-2T anti-tank guided missiles, AK-203 assault rifles, and advanced light helicopters, among other materiel.

The government has also allocated $1.6 billion in the latest budget for defense research and development programs, which have been solely controlled by 50 laboratories of the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation. Those programs will now be opened to industry and academia, with 25% of the defense R&D budget earmarked for this change [emphasis added], the MoD said, adding that private companies are encouraged to participate in the design and development of military platforms and equipment in collaboration with DRDO.

This is meant to give the private sector more exposure to defense R&D efforts. The Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers, which lobbies on behalf of industry, said the move is a much-needed reform that will encourage innovation and investment…

The new budget allocates $466.66 million for the state-run Border Roads Organisation for bolstering road-related infrastructure along India’s border, especially that shared with China. This is a 40% increase from last year’s allocation of $333.33 million [emphasis added, that PLA menace].

Similarly, $566.13 million will go to the Indian Coast Guard to buy new ships and aircraft as well as to establish coastal security networks and other much-needed coastal security infrastructure. This amount is about 60% more than the previous year’s allocation of $353.33 million.

A recent post about a very important part of DRDO’s work:

Indian Nuke Ballistic Missiles–Canisterization and MIRVing: First Strike Implications vs Pakistan

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

PM Trudeau’s Government Planning Social Media Propaganda Campaign to Support ever more Costly and Delayed Shipbuilding Program

From a story at the Ottawa Citizen–keep in mind that the author does like to stir things up:

Government quietly seeks influencers to push out good news about troubled shipbuilding program

Author of the article: David Pugliese

As the country’s shipbuilding strategy continues to pile up billions of dollars in extra costs to taxpayers, Public Services and Procurement Canada is quietly seeking what it calls influencers to push out social media messages that the program is a success.

The federal government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy, which will see the construction of new vessels for the Canadian navy and coast guard [a completely civilian service with no defence or law enforcement functions of its own], has skyrocketed in cost and various projects are facing delays expected to further drive up the price tag [see this recent story: “Military shipbuilding faces fresh delays as a result of COVID-19: procurement chief”].

“We are asking for your help in promoting the values, benefits and impacts of the Strategy by amplifying our campaign messages on your social media channels and throughout your networks,” the Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) recruitment document for social media influencers noted.

It is being sent out to various companies and defence analysts and academics who are deemed supportive of the shipbuilding program. They are to be provided with positive messages and data by PSPC about federal shipbuilding with an emphasis on jobs being created. But in their roles as “key crew influencers” those pushing out the positive messages wouldn’t reveal the government was behind the propaganda campaign, warned sources who leaked details about the new program to this newspaper.

PSPC told the prospective influencers several government promotional campaigns on the National Shipbuilding Strategy or NSS are being launched in the coming months.“The NSS has resulted in many social and economic benefits, from creating and sustaining more than 16,000 jobs annually to showcasing the innovations applied to shipbuilding, and we know we have content that would be of interest to your followers and networks,” the potential influencers were told.

PSPC declined to say how many such recruiting requests for influencers have been or will be sent out. “We asked if they would be interested in sharing our content, which is clearly identified as originating from the Government, with their networks,” the PSPC stated in its response to this newspaper. “The Government of Canada regularly communicates information about its programs and services to Canadians,” it added.

There is growing concern among some in the federal government and military that the NSS is becoming increasingly unaffordable.

The Canadian Surface Combatant project to build 15 warships to replace the navy’s frigates started out with a budget of $26 billion. Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux noted the estimated price tag is now around $77 billion. The Department of National Defence says the budget is around $56 billion to $60 billion but some defence officials now privately acknowledge the cost is expected to go higher. Delays, inflation and pandemic-related construction issues have dogged the project being handled by Lockheed Martin and Irving Shipbuilding.

Last year, this newspaper reported the offshore science vessel to be built under NSS had jumped in price from $108 million to almost $1 billion [see tweet 2) below]. South Africa is constructing a similar oceanographic vessel with an ice-strengthened hull in a project with a budget of around $170 million.

In December, the Parliamentary Budget Officer released a report showing the estimated cost of building two polar icebreakers is now $7.25 billion. The federal government had originally estimated one such ship would cost $1.3 billion {see tweet 3) below].

The construction of two supply ships for the navy has increased from $2.3 billion to $3.4 billion [more like $4 billion, see tweet 1) below]. The Arctic and Offshore patrol ship program has run into delays and increased costs.

Critics point out the Liberal government has done little to control the growing costs.

A push by PSPC to emphasize the jobs linked to the multi-billion dollar programs might shore up public support for the NSS, defence industry officials noted [emphasis added]


Who cares if billions of increasingly scarce defence dollars–and one assumes CoastGuard ones–are essentially flushed away as long as those politically valuable “Jobs! Jobs! Jobs” are there? And all parties support the insanely costly principle of making government vessels only in Canadian shipyards.

But given the constantly rising costs, and the slow pace of actual construction (by yards that have had effectively to be rebuilt over quite a few previous years), one does wonder how many of the planned ships will ever be built. Especially the desperately expensive and very war-like Canadian Surface Combatant frigates.

And there are many new vessels–well over twenty–that PM Trudeau promised for the Canadian Coast Guard in 2019. These, along with six smaller icebreakers for the CCG, are needed as the Coast Guard’s whole fleet of largish vessels is ancient and in need of complete replacement. But no timeline or detailed costings for all these new vessels has been given; heaven knows when they may eventually be built. Mainly in the 2030s it looks like (and after?) given how occupied Seaspan Vancouver–promised most of the work–will be with other programs this decade.

Meanwhile the current fleet requires constant refurbishing to keep it afloat and functioning. See this story: “Canadian Coast Guard announces over $28 million in vessel maintenance contracts to shipyards across Canada”.

1)

2)

3)

Sigh. So much for core functions of the Canadian federal government.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Nuclear Reactor Design and Manufacture: Another Canadian High-Tech Industrial Dream Dying?

(Caption for image at top of the post: “Artist’s rendering of a BWRX-300 plant. (Photo: GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy)”, from this Dec. 3 story at Nuclear Newswire:”GE Hitachi SMR chosen for Darlington project“.]

It certainly doesn’t look good for what remains of a once-proud industry with great expectations of sales abroad. First a 2014 piece:

CANDU: A Canadian Success Story

Canada’s unique nuclear reactor technology

Now at the Globe and Mail:

Canada’s first new nuclear reactor in decades is an American design. Will it prompt a rethink of government support?

Ontario Power Generation [owned by the province] chose GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to build a light water reactor at its existing Darlington nuclear power plant, a decision that could shape Canada’s nuclear industry for decades to come

Matthew McClearn

Ontario Power Generation’s selection of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to help build a small modular reactor (SMR) at its Darlington station in Clarington, Ont., set in motion events that could shape Canada’s nuclear industry for decades to come.

OPG’s choice, announced in December, is the BWRX-300. It’s a light water reactor, the variety most popular in developed countries, and quite unlike Canada’s existing fleet of CANDUheavy water reactors. Though not exactly small – the BWRX’s 300-megawatt nameplate capacity is roughly equivalent to a large wind farm – it would produce only one-third as much electricity as traditional reactors. It would use different fuel, produce different wastes and possibly have different safety implications.

The Darlington SMR would be the first BWRX-300 ever constructed. By moving first, OPG hopes Ontario will become embedded in a global supply chain for these reactors…

It does seem to confirm the end of Canada’s tradition of homegrown reactors [emphasis added]. The BWRX-300 would be Canada’s first new reactor since Darlington Unit 4 in Ontario, completed in 1993. According to Mycle Schneider Consulting, the average age of the country’s 19 operational reactors is 38 years. Attempts to update the CANDU design proved largely fruitless; OPG and Bruce Power opted to refurbish reactors at Darlington and Bruce stations to operate another few decades, while sizing up SMRs as a possible next act [emphasis added]

The partnership with OPG represents a major coup for GE Hitachi, a U.S.-Japanese alliance that set up its SMR subsidiary in Canada less than a year ago. There are at least 50 SMR designs worldwide, but most exist only on paper; vendors compete vigorously to sell to experienced nuclear operators such as OPG because they represent an opportunity to build a bona fide reactor that might entice other clients. For the same reason, OPG’s decision is a blow to the losing candidates, Oakville, Ont.-based Terrestrial Energy Inc. and X-energy, an American vendor.

…OPG’s selection of an American SMR has drawn some sharp criticism. Some observers assumed Terrestrial enjoyed a home turf advantage, particularly in light of the federal government’s decision to invest $20-million toward its Integral Molten Salt Reactor (IMSR). The Society of Professional Engineers and Associates, a union representing engineers and others working on CANDU reactors, complained that “priority should have been given to Canadian design.”

“It is a slap in the face for Terrestrial,” said M.V. Ramana, professor at the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues. “It is not a good sign for Canada’s nuclear industry.”

Prof. Ramana added that OPG’s decision may prompt a rethinking of government support to SMR developers [emphasis added–in Canada? heaven forfend!]. In addition to Terrestrial’s funding, Moltex Energy received $50.5-million from the federal Strategic Innovation Fund and the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to advance the Stable Salt Reactor-Wasteburner it is working on in New Brunswick [note this May 2021 story: “Scientists raise proliferation concerns over nuclear plans in New Brunswick”]. ARC Clean Energy received $20-million from New Brunswick’s government toward its ARC-100 reactor.

“If these companies are not able to persuade OPG, then maybe we should stop funding them,” he said…

All this assumes OPG’s reactor gets built [emphasis added]. To begin with, the BWRX-300 actually isn’t licensed to be built anywhere. GE Hitachi is participating in the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission’s Vendor Design Review, through which it receives early feedback from the regulator on its reactor. Completing that process would confirm the CNSC didn’t find any features that would be offside from Canadian requirements.

After that, GE Hitachi would need a constructionlicence. Like other SMR vendors, GE Hitachi pitches its SMR as including “passive” safety features, meaning during an accident the plant would have sufficient water and electricity to operate without intervention for days, even weeks. A safer reactor might also be a cheaper reactor: For instance, the SMR might require less containment than traditional designs, and thus less concrete. GE Hitachi says the BWRX-300 occupies less than 10 per centof its predecessor’s volume. But the CNSC would first have to agree the reactor has really earned lower safeguards…

Pity we can’t even go further with green, zero-emission, Canadian nuclear power plants. But this country shows an almost inexhaustible inability to continue competing in the high-tech industrial big leagues. Something in our DNA one must suppose.

UPDATE: This one-time world-beating Canadian high-tech innovation finally goes dark:

Classic BlackBerry phones will stop working Jan. 4

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Theme song:

Bombardier and the Military “Special Mission” Bizjets Business

(Caption for photo at top of the post: “The interior of Raytheon’s future Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) special mission aircraft, being developed using a Bombardier Global business jet, shows onboard workstations used to help military operators rapidly process multiple types of intelligence in an undated still image from video. Raytheon Intelligence & Space/Handout via REUTERS.”)

Further to this 2016 post,

Boeing, SAAB Promoting Military Versions of Bombardier Bizjets

here’s an update on the current business at Reuters, note that “niche”:

Luxury jet makers battle over lucrative spy plane niche

Last month, a ghostly grey business jet took off from central Sweden and headed across the Baltic on a routine spying mission.

The converted Gulfstream, caught on a tracking website, was flown by the Swedish Air Force and patrolled an area thick with Russian radar signals off the militarised coast of Kaliningrad.

Apart from a couple of unobtrusive bulges underneath, Sweden’s two Gulfstream-based S102B Korpen spy planes look like any other sleek corporate jet.

But inside, the Swedish jets and a growing fleet of newer corporate aircraft contain the eyes and ears of a relentless intelligence war.

From the South China Sea to the Middle East and the Baltic, governments are eyeing “special mission” business jets capable of looking or listening at potentially lower running costs than converted passenger or military planes [emphasis added].

It’s the latest chapter for a discreet market worth an estimated $3 billion to a handful of corporate jet specialists and the Israeli, European and U.S. arms firms that supply advanced intelligence systems.

The rising demand for small jets with systems once reserved for bigger planes has energised a market led by General Dynamics (GD.N) subsidiary Gulfstream, with Canada’s Bombardier (BBDb.TO) and France’s Dassault Aviation (AVMD.PA) snapping at its heels [emphasis added].

“A key area for growth is in signals and electronic intelligence,” said defence analyst Francis Tusa.

“This is increasingly viable on smaller aircraft because of improvements in electronics and their reduction in size. It’s all about processing power and the size of electronics.”

‘NUMEROUS OPPORTUNITIES’

The trend accelerated last month when Sweden’s Saab (SAABb.ST) paired its new-generation GlobalEye early warning system, carried on Bombardier Global business jets, with Gripen warplanes in its bid for a crucial Finnish fighter contest [emphasis added, see: “Saab includes 64 Gripens and GlobalEye pair in best and final offer for Finnish HX contest”].

[GlobalEye uses the Bombardier Global 6000 airframe:]

GlobalEye AEW&C aircraft

Missions vary widely from intelligence planes that passively scoop up radar and listen to communications to the most advanced early warning aircraft that actively scan or watch for threats…

All eyes are now on South Korea, which may search for new early warning planes later this year to augment its Peace Eye fleet based on Boeing 737s, analysts and industry sources said.

It is already looking for target-tracking or “listening” jets, prompting U.S. defence giant Raytheon (RTX.N) to propose putting consoles and artificial intelligence on Bombardiers…

Heavily exposed to fluctuating demand for civil business jets after quitting the rest of the aerospace industry, Bombardier says it is now dedicating more resources to military missions [emphasis added].

“We’ve been approached (with) numerous opportunities … I would say in the last couple of months,” Chief Executive Eric Martell said in response to a Reuters query.

Jetmakers do not disclose data for sales of special-mission aircraft. The market is estimated by U.S. research firm JETNET to be about 5% of annual large-cabin business jet deliveries [emphasis added].

According to JETNET, Gulfstream is the leader in business jet deliveries to government customers, competing with rivals such as Bombardier and Dassault, which recently clinched orders for seven Falcon 2000 Albatros planes for the French Navy [for maritime surveillance].

LUXURY TO SPYCRAFT

But Gulfstream is ending production this year of its popular G550 corporate jet, which was recently delivered to Israel as a surveillance aircraft, creating a potential opening for rivals.

For Bombardier and (Dassault’s) Falcon, much depends on what Gulfstream does to position a new model to take the place of the G550 as the dominant special-mission business jet [emphasis added],” Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia said.

“If they don’t have a replacement that’s as suitable and popular … then Bombardier and Falcon gain.”

Bombardier’s range of “special mission” bizjets are given at this company webpage. And the post below gives the much bigger picture for what’s left of Bombardier. The special mission niche is nice but no answer to the company’s long-term viability:

Can Incredibly Shrinking Bombardier Make it as Stand-Alone Bizjet Maker?

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Canada’s Perfect (Politically) Defence Procurement System

(Caption for image at the top of the post: “An artist’s rendering of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, Lockheed Martin’s proposed design [it is the one selected] for Canada’s $60 billion fleet of new warships. Photo by Lockheed Martin Canada”.)

Matt Gurney (tweets here) lays bare at the National Post the brutal truth behind all the FUBARs–the start and finish of a piece that deals mainly with the forever acquisition of new Canadian Surface Combatant (CSC) frigates for the Royal Canadian Navy. The project was officially approved in 2012 (in 2010 it had been announced that 15 ships would be procured for $26.2 billion); the first ship will probably be delivered sometime in the latter half of this decade:

Matt Gurney: Supporting local industry shouldn’t be the first consideration in military procurement

Rather than worrying about where things are built, a better question is: will Canadian soldiers be properly equipped? That’s all that matters

It is almost a truism in Canadian public policy: We are terrible at military procurement.

You hear that often. I’ve said it often. But it really isn’t true. We only think we’re terrible at military procurement because we are confused about what we’re trying to do. Our military procurements are not about actually procuring equipment for the military. They’re about creating jobs and catapulting huge sums of money into key ridings across the country.

Once you shift your perspective and look at it that way, you realize very quickly that our military procurement system is amazing. It bats a thousand. The problem isn’t with the system. We’ve just labelled it badly. If it were called the Domestic Defence Industry Subsidy Program instead of our military procurement system, we’d all be hailing it as a shining example of a Canadian public policy triumph.

This is terrible. It has cost us the lives of our soldiers, and probably will again. But it’s undeniable. Canadian politicians, Liberals and Conservatives alike, have long had the luxury of seeing defence as a cash pool, not a solemn obligation. And they sure have enjoyed that pleasure.

…Treating military procurement as just another federal jobs-creation program is engrained in our national thinking. It would have been good if COVID had knocked a bit of sense into us and forced us to, at long last, grow up a bit. But no dice. Oh well. Maybe next time.

For more on the CSC program see here, here, and here (last link is politically-attuned “defence” journalism aimed at stirring things up).

The start of a very relevant post from 2016; plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose:

SNAFU, or, Canadian Defence Procurement

The start and end of a book review by Matthew Fisher, a rare Canadian journalist who is actually interested in matters military and has a real understanding of them [2020 UPDATE: Mr Fisher now writes for Global News and tweets here]–and note the deleterious role of our media generally:

New book pleads for fix to Canada’s dysfunctional military procurement system

The new book Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada [see here] is a ‘cri de coeur’ for political leaders to forge a bipartisan approach when deciding what to buy for the Canadian Armed Forces.

The author, Kim Nossal, is not delusional. The Queen’s University professor [more here] recognizes that for this to happen ‘involves a considerable leap of faith.’..”

NO KIDDING. It’s an excellent book with several case studies.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @Mark3ds

US Air Force Trying to Shake, Rattle…(and note NORAD)

…and roll those aviation pots and pans, what with near (how long just near?) peers, A2/AD barriers, prolonged procurements etc. and with AI, machine learning, advanced manufacturing/digital engineering etc. top of mind. Further to this post,

Can’t See a Congress with a Chamber Controlled by Republicans Agreeing to “nationalize warfighting capabilities and the defense industrial base” of US Air Force

here’s a selection of recent pieces on the USAF’s rapidly moving efforts to reshape and revolutionize itself in a various fields to cope with emerging threats and, er, challenges. Whether or not these efforts will succeed, both within the passageways of bureaucracy (military and civil) and of Congress, is another matter. And note the matter of “mass” at the end of the post:

1) The U.S. Air Force’s New Mission: Accelerate Change or Lose?

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. is a wrecker and a builder. The new U.S. Air Force chief of staff wants to uproot post-Cold War attitudes toward air warfare—attitudes premised on everlasting U.S. air supremacy—and implant a mindset premised on competitive entrepreneurship. Can he succeed?

2) The Air and Space Forces Want to Break the Mold. Here’s How They’re Starting.

The Department of the Air Force’s top officers are beginning to lay the groundwork for changes to how they manage and provide air and space forces to commanders around the world.

In his first month as Air Force Chief of Staff, Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. has warned that the service needs to overhaul its inventory and quicken the pace of warfare, or risk falling behind other global powers.

To get after that goal, the service’s operations policy team is thinking of new ways to bring in, train, and employ Airmen for global operations, Brown said. Their findings may affect the fiscal 2022 budget request, which is due early next year, and could soon shape deployments overseas…

Proponents say combining pieces of the Air Force make Airmen consider how various fields connect and how they could affect or bolster each other in combat. Brown has foreshadowed hard decisions ahead to cut certain aircraft and other parts of the force. He wants to focus on what’s most valuable for fights against digitally savvy, advanced militaries like Russia and China, like smarter sustainment, technology-driven training, and evolutions in unmanned aircraft, artificial intelligence, and networking…

3) AI To Fly In Dogfight Tests By 2024: SecDef

After an AI beat humans 5-0 in AlphaDogfight simulations this summer, [secdef] Mark Esper announced, a future version will be installed in actual airplanes for “a real-world competition.” But military AI will adhere to strict ethical limits, he said.

4) Could the F-15EX Transform the U.S. Defense Industry?

…interesting…is the idea that the F-15EX may offer a pathway into the Digital Century Series (DCS). To review, the Century Series concept (associated most notably with Air Force chief of acquisition Wil Roper) involves designing and building an evolutionary set of airframes in small batches with open-source architecture. Roper has embraced the “Century Series” metaphor…

In the DCS concept, digital engineering technologies would allow the separation of production and design, while the use of 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies would remedy some of the problems associated with the multiplication of spares and maintenance procedures. More importantly, the system would enable to continuous integration of new technologies into new airframes, as opposed to the much slower process necessitated by the precise requirements of stealth airframes. Thus, the “Digital Century Series” represents an entirely new way of thinking about aircraft acquisition, and indeed could lead to a substantial restructuring of the US aerospace industry…

5) New Air Combat Commander Kelly Wants AI ASAP

“We absorb more data that we can process, that’s just a non-negotiable fact,” says Gen. Mark Kelly.

6) Air Force To Train ‘Lead Wings’ For Major Wars; First Test Next Month

Instead of sending individual squadrons to the Middle East, the newly created 15th Air Force wants to train entire wings together for rapid deployment against Russia, China and other “near peers.”

7) The US Air Force has built and flown a mysterious full-scale prototype of its future fighter jet

The development is certain to shock the defense community, which last saw the first flight of an experimental fighter during the battle for the Joint Strike Fighter contract 20 years ago. With the Air Force’s future fighter program still in its infancy, the rollout and successful first flight of a demonstrator was not expected for years.

“We’ve already built and flown a full-scale flight demonstrator in the real world, and we broke records in doing it,” Will Roper told Defense News in an exclusive interview ahead of the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference. “We are ready to go and build the next-generation aircraft in a way that has never happened before.”

Almost every detail about the aircraft itself will remain a mystery due to the classification of the Next Generation Air Dominance program, the Air Force’s effort for fielding a family of connected air warfare systems that could include fighters, drones and other networked platforms in space or the cyber realm…

8) Secret NGAD Fighter Flies, Sets Records, Raises Lot Of Questions

“All I can say is that the NGAD test flights have been amazing — records have been broken,” Will Roper says.

Air Force acquisition czar Will Roper revealed today that the service has built a full-scale prototype now in flight testing under the highly classified Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program —  raising myriad questions about future force structure and potential impacts on the five-year budget plan beginning in 2022…

UPPERDATE: See third comment, from an important article on USAF’s NGAD project at The Drive‘s “War Zone”.

Meanwhile on the NORAD front:

1) Beyond the North Warning System

Andrea Charron [tweets here]

Aug. 18 marked the 80th anniversary of the Canadian-U.S. Permanent Joint Board on Defense. This binational board of experts provides advice to the prime minister and president on how best to defend North America. The pressing topic today is North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) modernization and the renewal of its aged radar sensors in the Arctic.

The North Warning System, a series of unmanned, long- and short-range radars dotting the North American Arctic and Greenland in support of air defense and frontier control, is reaching its end of serviceable life. The American and Canadian defense industries are racing for a chance to provide both militaries with the latest technology to replace the old radars. But to what ends? More sensors are not the magic solution to “modernizing” NORAD. Sensors are but one very small part of a wider effort to reconsider what it means to defend North America — beyond technology and the North Warning System…

Washington and Ottawa are rethinking how to defend North America. Adversaries, especially Russia, have access to advanced technologies and capabilities and can strike from multiple directions. The United States and Canada need to focus on increasing “all-domain” awareness, improving command and control, and enhancing targeting capabilities for a new security environment and peer adversaries. Upgrading the North Warning System exclusively in a NORAD context is not sufficient. Canada and the United States need new sensors capable of dual-use data and information collection for military and civilian government agencies and allies in multiple domains including land, space, maritime, and subsurface zones, in addition to the aerospace domain. And these sensors — which will be subject to probing, denial of service, and cyber attacks — are but one layer in an ecosystem (beyond even system of systems) informed by a reconsideration of what it means to defend North America. Canada and the United States should embrace a posture that includes active and direct defenses (i.e., anticipating attacks by pooling and analyzing multiple sources of data from a variety of sources and systems at much longer ranges vs. responding to attacks via system-specific information) of North America. This will enable the simultaneous deterrence from attack and defense of North America rather than simply the latter.

The impetus for the creation of NORAD and for the North Warning System was the recognition that the Canadian and continental U.S. airspace were functionally indivisible. They still are, but so too are the other domains. NORAD, however, operates in the aerospace domain and only warns in the maritime domain. New systems need to provide information and data that can be analyzed through what the outgoing NORAD and U.S. Northern Command commander Gen. O’Shaugnessy called “predictive analysis.”

Governments and industry are focusing too narrowly on technology and a North Warning System 2.0 as the solution to modernize NORAD. What is more, the dependence on technical solutions from the defense industry to provide solutions may contribute to confining modernization efforts to the North Warning System only, at the expense of a more strategic overview of what it means to defend North America globally…

2) NORAD Modernization: Report One: Awareness & Sensors

NORAD’s defences are challenged by advanced new weapons like hypersonic glide vehicles.  These new weapons have proliferated across all military domains, designed to threaten North America and place its political autonomy and financial stability at risk. North American homeland defence needs to modernize to meet these new threats. A major component of this new thinking is the development of All Domain Awareness capabilities provided by a multi-layered sensor system (an ecosystem) that can detect, identify, and track these and other new threats at great distances and provide the right information to the right assets at the right time.

High financial costs and tight timelines are major obstacles to NORAD implementing an All Domain Awareness capability. These factors necessitate an approach to All Domain Awareness that emphasizes the technological readiness levels of industry. What ‘off the shelf’ technology is available that can be modified and brought to bear quickly?

Experts from across the defence industry elaborated on the design of the multi-layered sensor system that will enable a future All Domain Awareness capability. Sensors should be multi-mission, able to detect, identify, and track more than one threat from “birth to death”. These sensors should be modular, scalable, and software-defined with an open architecture for quick adaptability and upgradability. Throughout the discussions, the need to integrate these multi-layered sensors into a holistic system was emphasized. The goal is to create All Domain Awareness that seamlessly converges with renewed Command and Control (C2) and defeat capabilities to enable NORAD’s deter, detect, and defeat mission.

Many decisions have yet to be made that will drive the design of the multi-layered sensor system.  Where should these sensors be placed that provides the best coverage? Furthermore, the data this system provides will be valuable and could be partly shared with allies and industry. How can industry ensure the integrity of this data? Lastly, where and how does human decision-making come into a largely autonomous system…

3) Hardening the Shield: A Credible Deterrent & Capable Defense for North America

With innovations in long range missiles and foreign missile defense systems as well as a changing Arctic landscape, threats to U.S. national security are closer and less deterred than ever from attacking the U.S. Homeland. Without compromising fiscal resources set for alleviating the COVID-19 crisis [USAF Gen. (ret’d), O’Shaughnessy and [USAF Brig. Gen.] Fesler lay out where enemy forces, notably China and Russia, are targeting weaknesses in U.S. Homeland defense and how U.S. defense strategies and organizations can be adapted to match the muscle of its offensive force. Their recommendations include the use of existing technologies to elevate equipment, data collection from space systems, data analytics for decision making, augmented communication between certain defensive lines, and cross-cutting collaboration on shared challenges. Retiring from his post in August of 2020, O’Shaughnessy is the former Commander of the United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). O’Shaughnessy is joined by Peter Fesler, NORAD’s Deputy Director of Operations…

UPDATE: Andrea Charron responds to the Shield paper above, raising a number of concerns from a Canadian perspective–her conclusion:

Finally, there is much emphasis on the paper on receiving information “at the speed of relevancy” to make fast and better decisions. After all, seconds literally do count in some scenarios. On many occasions, however, disaster has been averted because a soldier or analyst doubted what a computer screen was telling him/her or questioned the data blinking on their screen. What if NORAD wanted to exploit or surveil or probe a target rather than defeat it? The AI assisted processes that girds SHIELD is needed but how it is configured, with what OODA loop parameters (i.e. observe–orient–decide–act), and filters will be crucial. It is important that NORAD and USNORTHCOM do not become linear in thinking or response options. Further, Canada will find it difficult to keep up the predictive analysis and joint all domain command and control plans being recommended not because the Canadian armed forces aren’t capable but because it can barely manage what is expected of it now–50% of CAF missions respond to domestic events such as floods and fire. Will the governments see financial sense in investing in computer assisted defence (notwithstanding concerns about them being hacked or compromised or rendered redundant) against great power competition, which so far has done more damage with a few bots on twitter, than on flood, fire and other support to overwhelmed national authorities?

Nineteen years to the day when the U.S. was attacked from within North America by suicide bombers, the response was very costly wars conducted “away” to deal with terrorism at its source as well as the impetus finally to pay for badly needed feeds of civilian air space information into the NORAD HQ. NORAD adapted, created Op NOBLE EAGLE [story from 2005 here, still going on], and focused attention within North America. Post 9/11, NORAD and USNORTHCOM focused almost exclusively on Sunni-based terrorism. It has not disappeared and the challenges of COVID mean that all forms of terrorism have the perfect grounds in which to thrive. Too close a focus on great power competition may leave North America vulnerable to other threats –especially non-state based actors and what is rapidly taxing governments around the world, including CJOC [Canadian Joint Operations Command] and USNORTHCOM, responding to the effects of climate change at home.

NORAD was and remains a bold idea. After WW II, it was the air forces that recognized the air space above North America as indivisible and requiring joint defence, and this recognition has been deeply embedded in the defence thinking of both countries at the political and military levels. I think we all agree that the need to modernize NORAD, and that the CANUS defence relationship for North America is vitally important. The authors provide a useful and insightful starting point from which to move forward with detailed discussions between Canada and the US, and the means to do so already exists –the PJBD [the binational Permanent Joint Board on Defence] and its Military Cooperation Committee are the obvious places to create the basis for moving forward, as it was in WWII and since.

Moreover, despite all the anticipated techno-wizardry now in the pipeline and yet to come, keep in mind that mass still matters–David Alman (tweets here) and Heather Venable (tweets here) make their case:

Bending the Principle of Mass: Why That Approach No Longer Works for Airpower

It is one of warfare’s oldest questions: What is mass, and what advantages accrue from sheer numbers? The concept has variously been defined as being about “the superiority of numbers,” or “concentrating the effects of combat power.”

While commanders often desire numerical superiority over their adversaries, they are not always able to achieve it. Instead, commanders use methods such as maneuver to achieve a local superiority in combat power. Maneuver is just one of many ways commanders attempt to artificially inflate the mass of their forces. Others include improving command and control, enhancing lethality, and seeking to possess better information than their opponents. All of these methods can allow assets to contribute relatively more to a fight, thereby potentially offsetting a requirement for mass. Over the past 50 years, the United States has progressively placed more emphasis on artificial mass — command and control, lethality, and superior information — as a substitute for actual mass.

A critical question, however, is what happens when an adversary combines these measures with actual mass? If both sides are lethal, networked, and effectively commanded, then what factors determine who has the advantage? As Lawrence Freedman argues, the “sensible application of superior resources tends to be successful.”

As a result, this question is becoming increasingly relevant for the Department of Defense as a whole. After decades of either a qualitative and/or quantitative advantage against likely opponents, it is now facing a massive buildup of increasingly modern Chinese forces. Just weeks ago, China announced that its fifth-generation fighter, the J-20 Mighty Dragon, would be entering mass production. How will the United States fare if faced with modernized mass?

The Department of Defense, and more specifically the U.S. Air Force, should evaluate its definition of mass in the context of future air warfare. While relying on numbers alone is too simplistic, Air Force leaders should recognize the importance of having sufficient numbers to fight, take losses, and continue to provide relevant capabilities to combatant commanders. The geography and threats in the Indo-Pacific necessitate hard thinking about requirements such as range, basing considerations, and survivability. Thus, for example, it is not enough to merely have numbers of short-range systems if the region demands longer range. Similarly, it is not enough to build attritable systems hoping the adversary will expend resources combating them. Adversaries will attempt to target all elements of American airpower. The Air Force should lead the Department of Defense in thinking through the implications of peer conflict — namely, that artificial advantages in mass may no longer be sufficient and that real numbers might be required to sustain a war effort within an anti-access/area denial bubble…

Let’s face it. The USAF, along with the US Navy and US Marines, are facing increasingly sticky wickets, especially in the Western Pacific. But they are giving furiously to think about their predicaments (see links at preceding sentence).

One wonders how much thinking the Canadian Armed Forces, notably the RCAF, are able to do, especially under the inevitable COVID-19 budget pressures coming. And under a government that seemingly has no serious interest in the substance of defence matters. See this post: “COVID-19 Facing the Canadian Government and Military with Major Decisions on Force Structures, Employment and Equipment–how Radical a Re-Shape?“.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Theme song:

Can’t See a Congress with a Chamber Controlled by Republicans Agreeing to “nationalize warfighting capabilities and the defense industrial base” of US Air Force

Further to the second part of this post,

And here’s how the USAF hopes to approach future air combat capabilities:

Air Force Creates New PEO for NGAD, Applying “Digital Century Series” Idea [PEO is program executive officer, the person in charge]

the USAF’s top acquisition official is thinking pretty darn radically for someone in a Republican (of sorts) administration–from Defense One by Marcus Weisberger (tweets here):

US May Need to Nationalize Military Aircraft Industry, USAF Says

That’s unless the Air Force can find a way to keep both competition and the few remaining U.S. plane-makers alive, the service’s acquisition chief said.

The United States might need to nationalize parts of the military aviation sector if the Pentagon does not come up with new ways to buy planes that stimulate more competition in private industry, a top Air Force official warned.

Will Roper, the head of Air Force acquisition, spoke Tuesday morning [July 14] as the service finalizes ambitious plans to buy a new series of combat fighter jets called the Digital Century Series.

“We have multiple vendors who can still build a high-end, tactical platform,” Roper told reporters. “I think it’s really important that we find a new model where there are no big winners and no big losers, but continual competition [emphasis added].”

Lockheed Martin and Boeing are the only U.S. companies that make tactical fighter jets. Boeing’s F-15 Eagle and F/A-18 Super Hornet are considered a generation behind Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II. Boeing and Sweden’s Saab are building the new T-7 pilot training jet.

Northrop Grumman is the only U.S. manufacturer of a heavy bomber. Boeing’s KC-46 is the only aerial tanker in serial production and Lockheed’s C-130 Super Hercules tactical transport is the only military cargo plane in production. There are no strategic, long-range military transports in production.

Roper hopes his Digital Century Series plan will attract a new generation of engineers to the defense sector and provide a model for buying different types of military aircraft.

Technical talent is at a premium,” he said. “If the design opportunities are so few and far between that joining a defense company means you may get to design one thing in your career … — and that’s if you’re lucky — that that talent will go elsewhere into commercial innovation where the opportunities are more plentiful. [emphasis added]

Roper’s project envisions developing and buying plans at a much quicker rate than traditional tactical fighters which often take a decade before they are produced in large quantities. By that time, technology is already dated and brand new planes must undergo costly and time consuming upgrade projects.

The Digital Century Series is a throwback to the U.S. military’s “Century Series” fighter jets built in the 1950s and 1960s. His hope is that new companies emerge and disrupt the sector, much like Elon Musk’s Tesla electric vehicles have disrupted the automobile industry.

If our industrial base collapses any more, we’ll have to nationalize advanced aviation and maybe other parts of the Air Force that currently are competitive,” Roper said. “But I also am holding out some hope that if we open up the door to do design frequently, and build things in smaller batches that are between X-planes and mass production, that we will eventually encourage an innovative company to cross over into defense, or companies to start up that just want to build really cool airplanes or satellites, because they don’t have to own the big production lines and tooling workforce, which is the only way to work with us today [emphasis added].”..

The defense industry has contracted in recent years following a series of high-profile mergers and acquisitions, the latest being the April mega-merger of United Technologies and Raytheon, which followed UTC’s acquisition of Rockwell Collins. L3 Technologies merged with Harris last year.

Roper said he has been surprised that other top defense officials seem unworried about the shrinking defense industrial base. “It’s not because the defense industrial base has gotten worse, it’s just programs are so few and far between that to be any long-term partner with us in defense tech, you’d have to have a pretty diversified portfolio [emphasis added],” he said.

Roper believes his Digital Century Series plan will lower the military’s long-term costs. Since becoming the Air Force’s top weapons buyer in early 2018, he has been looking for ways to lower the lifetime costs of owning planes. Roper compared buying weapons to getting a free or deeply discounted mobile phone from a wireless provider which then locks the customer into a long-term service contract. 

“I believe it’s going to be cheaper to procure airplanes this way than it will be with the major production line, not because the per unit price will be cheaper … but because the total price of ownership is lower, that we will get out the heavy modernization and sustainment costs that really start piling after Year 15 [emphasis added],” he said.

Roper has pushed for companies to build weapons with open technology, so the Air Force isn’t forced to repeatedly pay the company that made a specific weapon for upgrades over its lifetime.

“Everything has to change,” Roper said. “This 21st-century challenge we have simply flies in the face of Cold War acquisition. We’re going to have to use technology available to everyone. We’re not going to be able to own it and have it be exclusive for us. We’ve got to create a business model that … [the] defense industry to design systems that are open for technology, especially digital technology that again will be open to everyone [emphasis added].”..

A revolution in military aviation? One wonders if this truly revolutionary thinking can actually be implemented, especially as so many big, legacy, aluminum rice bowls could well be melted down.

See also this story at Defense News by Valerie Insinna (tweets here):

Congress has questions about the Air Force’s and Navy’s next-generation fighter programs

The Air Force envisions NGAD as a family of systems that could include aircraft, drones and other advanced technologies. But when it comes to developing new advanced aircraft, Roper wants to pursue a new strategy he calls the “Digital Century Series” that would have multiple companies continuously developing new jets and competing against each other for small-batch contracts…

The backstory:

HOW A DINNER LED TO A FEEDING FRENZY

The frenzy of defense industry mergers can be traced to 1993 [under Bill Clinton], when then-Deputy Defense Secretary William Perry invited executives to dinner. At an event now referred to as “the last supper,” Perry urged them to combine into a few, larger companies because Pentagon budget cuts would endanger at least half the combat jet firms, missile makers, satellite builders and other contractors represented at the dinner that night.

Perry’s warnings helped set off one of the fastest transformations of any modern U.S. industry, as about a dozen leading American military contractors folded into only four…

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon.

Mark Collins

Twitter: @mark3ds

Mark Collins – SNAFU, or, Canadian Defence Procurement

The start and end of a book review by Matthew Fisher, a rare Canadian journalist who is actually interested in matters military and has a real understanding of them–and note the deleterious role of our media generally:

New book pleads for fix to Canada’s dysfunctional military procurement system

The new book Charlie Foxtrot: Fixing Defence Procurement in Canada [see here] is a “cri de coeur” for political leaders to forge a bipartisan approach when deciding what to buy for the Canadian Armed Forces.

The author, Kim Nossal, is not delusional. The Queen’s University professor [more here] recognizes that for this to happen “involves a considerable leap of faith.” However, given how procurement blunders have “degraded the Canadian military,” he argues a better way must be found to replace them than the largely dysfunctional procurement system that exists at present.

Charlie Foxtrot — military shorthand for “clusterf—” — is particularly relevant today because the Liberal government is seemingly intent on equaling if not surpassing the their Conservative predecessors’ brutal mishandling of the multi-billion dollar programme to finally buy new fighter jets [see “What Stinking RCAF Fighter “Capability Gap” for NORAD and NATO?“]…

It has not only been the politicians who are to blame for Canada’s politicized procurement process. The media treat procurement as political theatre. There is little dispassionate analysis of the choices and the dilemmas involved in buying equipment that must last for decades in an environment where technological advances can render many acquisitions quickly obsolete [emphasis added, OH SO SADLY TRUE].

The government, for its part, has never hired enough procurement specialists, a problems that bogs down every purchasing process. Nossal argues that if Canada matched what its allies spend on a GNP basis, a lot of these problems would disappear. As it is, he writes, too many programs are always chasing too few dollars.

Nossal’s inevitable conclusion is that the “root cause” of Canada’s procurement failures has been an absence of political leadership. Governments have been able to get away with botching procurement for years because “the consequences of decisions made by one Parliament will not be felt until much later, usually well past the next general election.”

The only practical solution, Nossal says, is for Canada’s two leading political parties to create a bipartisan approach to defence procurement…There is zero chance that even an exceptionally brave Canadian politician would dare embrace such an obvious and honourable idea [OH SO SADLY TRUE]. Still, Charlie Foxtrot is worth reading to understand how much Canada would benefit if its leaders confounded voters and actually took the high road.

Lots more here on the constant Canadian procurement morass.

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds