Defense Industrialist

Some thoughts at the 2015 EASO seminar in Brunei.

I’m in Brunei today for the 7th annual East Asia Security Outlook (EASO) seminar, held for the Ministry of Defense by the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Defense and Security Studies. To close the day, I was asked to deliver a talk applying our work at the Atlantic Council to the context—what do disruptive military technologies mean for small states? Or specifically, for a sultanate of half a million people on the edge of the South China Sea? How does a small state manage the threat of new technologies when they’re a threat, assimilate their potential when they might contribute to its security, and develop new ones when that’s right for the strategic situation?

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Sharply different histories of two armaments industries have led to a confluence of political and commercial opportunity.

 

No doubt, as Derek Chollet wrote Tuesday on Defense One, "Ukraine’s Military Needs More Than Just Arms”. Training and organizational reform will be essential for recovering its fighting efficiency. But as we should remind Washington and Paris and Berlin, to fight Kiev does need arms. Perhaps, as the interview in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal with Saab’s Håkan Buskhe put it, Kiev is one of those new “Cost-Conscious Weapons Buyers”. Even if Washington did start selling, American arms might not be the affordable choice, and the route to delivery might not be speedy. So when Washington isn't selling (just like Paris and Berlin), it’s all the easier for Kiev to look to a new source of supply. Hence it’s no surprise that Kiev was shopping at IDEX, and on second look, it’s no surprise that Abu Dhabi increasingly has arms to sell.

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The Pentagon is seeking a way through its “very challenging fiscal environment”

Last week, the attention of the defense sector turned to San Diego for AFCEA WEST. Co-hosted by the US Naval Institute and the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA), the conference convened leaders across the armed services and private industry to address the salient theme of “lower budgets and higher demands.” The three-day event featured expert panels and keynote addresses with remarks from many central figures in this conversation, such as Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work, Former PACOM Commander Admiral Tim Keating, and Ellen Lord, the president and CEO of Textron Systems. Over the course of the conference, dialogue ranged through the Navy’s outlook on the Asia-Pacific “rebalance,” the campaign against ISIL, the military’s participation in humanitarian assistanc and disaster relief, and spotlights on big-ticket defense systems, such as directed energy weapons and unmanned systems.

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Every morning’s news from Ukraine reminds us of the continued relevance of heavy armor on modern battlefields. Russian T-72s aren’t the most modern tanks, but they’re effective enough against an underprepared enemy. What’s more alarming is what’s under development to the east—Uralvagonzavod’s T-14 Armata project. In response, Poland’s Ministry of Defense is aiming to replace its own T-72s and derivatives with a new, domestically developed tank as well. Yesterday, I was in Warsaw to discuss that project at a seminar hosted for the Polish MoD by the British and Swedish Embassies. What follows is the substance of my remarks.

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The UAE’s demand for rescue V-22s is a marketing triumph that recalls a procurement failure.

 

The United Arab Emirates were in, bombing northern Iraq and western Syria with their widely praised Air Force, and allowing Major Mariam al Mansouri to strike a small blow for Arab women’s rights along the way. But then the Emirates were out, after the savages known as ISIS captured, and later murdered, a downed Jordanian pilot. What happened next is remarkable. The Emirati government demanded that American V-22 tilt-rotors be moved closer to the battlefields to stand by for rescue missions. That demand is now being answered: V-22s are going to Kurdistan, and UAEAF F-16s are in Jordan to join Operation Moaz the Martyr. But the V-22 is not the US Air Force’s primary rescue aircraft, and that stark difference says a lot about the power of a basic marketing message in armaments sales, and the ongoing failure of the Pentagon’s approach to procurement.

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The gradual decline of stealth may call for a high-low mix in airpower strategy.

 

In the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2016 budget request, the Long-Range Strike Bomber is a big deal. At $1.2 billion, LRS-B development would account just under 7 percent of next year's unclassified R&D spending. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a similarly big deal, ramping up orders from 38 to 57 (44 of which are F-35As for the USAF). Major General Garrett Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, explained the USAF’s commitment to an Air Force Association breakfast meeting last month. The service, he said, will always want an airplane that can "go anywhere in the world, anytime, and to get through enemy defenses and be able to provide a lot of ordnance on a consistent basis.” And that’s a great idea, unless it’s not possible, for what is not possible is not needed.

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The bureaucratic and technological challenges in speeding up weapons development 

 

Pentagon procurement czar Frank Kendall told the House Armed Services Committee yesterday that his department, as the headline went, "Needs to Get Faster at Developing Revolutionary Weapon Systems”. He also noted that the Air Force, in conjunction with DARPA and the Navy, would soon begin serious work on a “sixth-generation” fighter (marketing-speak for the next new thing). As Defense News reported yesterday, "Air Force officials have said they expect to begin flying the next-generation jets by as early as the 2030s.” That is to say, if they start now, they may take as little as fifteen years, or about as long as they have with the Joint Strike Fighter. With those kinds of contradictory statements, it’s worth asking—has the Defense Department given up before starting? Has all this recent talk about faster innovation been just that, because no one wants to admit to some inexorable barrier standing in the way? Administrative problems are frequently discussed, but fundamental technological challenges may prove more ominous.

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Smaller satellites in bigger constellations could accelerate the restructuring of both the space industry and international security relationships.

 

Amy Butler of Aviation Week reports today that the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency is crafting a strategy to leverage what Director Robert Cardillo calls a pending “explosion” of commercially-available imagery. As Patrick Tucker writes this morning on Defense One, a great deal of the NGA’s imagery already comes from commercial sources, and why not? We all know what can be accomplished today with just Google Maps. But following a petition from DigitalGlobe last year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is about to relax restrictions on what resolution is publicly releasable. That in turn will release pent-up demand for “military-grade satellite images,” altering not just the structure of industry, but the dynamics of bureaucratic power in international security.

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Middle Eastern armed forces need practical kit and service from Middle Eastern industry.

 

As Congressman Mack Thornberry pointed out with a letter in the Washington Post earlier this month, hashtags and placards don’t kill terrorists. People with guns and aircraft do. But what kind of guns and aircraft are best for fighting them is another matter—and who delivers them can matter as well.

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The US Navy deserves credit for taking a risk in procurement.

 

Secretary Ray Mabus has now all but confirmed that the US Navy will buy 12 HV-22 Ospreys from 2018 through 2020 to replace some of its aging C-2 Greyhound shore-to-ship cargo and passenger aircraft. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute promptly called the decision "a breakthrough” for Bell and Boeing. That’s true, but not everyone is happy. Tyler Rogoway of Foxtrot Alpha called the HV-22 decision a “stupid move.” A naval aviator friend of mine described it as “a case study in what is wrong with our military acquisition process.” Defense Industry Daily was “aghast,” but nonetheless summarized the case quite neatly:

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