Defense Industrialist

Like Lockheed’s past efforts, SAIC’s foray into ground vehicles may herald wider competition for defense contracts. 

Having just finished a 300-page dissertation on the MRAP program, I have had some time (years, really) to think about the armored vehicle industry across the world. Back in November, BAE Systems and SAIC were selected by the US Marine Corps to build prototypes of its hoped-for Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) version 1.1. The second of those companies might be considered a surprising choice. I am now thinking that the implications for competition, in not just armored vehicles, but many other sectors of the defense business, are pretty serious.

Read More

Military modularity done right is too valuable to forgo.

Last week was Nordic Week in Washington DC, with a combined state visit by leaders from Finland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, and Denmark. This week was Sea-Air-Space, the annual confabulation of the Navy League at National Harbor, Maryland. So there’s no better time to discuss the Royal Danish Navy—or better yet, to criticize a criticism about the US Navy, taken too far. On Defense One this week, longtime think-tanker Lawrence Korb wrote about the “The Lessons of the Littoral Combat Ship” (LCS). The lessons are legion, no doubt, but it’s important not to learn the wrong lessons, drawing a general rule about modularity from the mismanagement of a specific program.

Read More

Decisions about competition for the LRV and UH-1N show why McCain’s initiative against USD AT&L really matters.

Senator John McCain of Arizona, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wants to blow up the Pentagon’s Under Secretariat for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics (USD AT&L). More specifically, his committee’s writing of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017 would cleave that office into two new under secretariats, for research and engineering (USD R&E), and management and support (USD M&S). Over the weekend, Aaron Mehta and Joe Gould of Defense News reported that the bill is probably intended to let the military departments handle “basic acquisition programs” while the defense department concentrates on bringing forth big technological innovations. A short thought experiment about two recent acquisition decisions may indicate what profound changes to materiel this change in organizational structure could bring forth.

Read More

The plan to backfill the fighter jet shortfall may remake the Corps.

Without rehashing the many-years delay in the Joint Strike Fighter project, we can at least acknowledge that the schedule has led to a force structure problem for the USAF. The RCAF may have a similar problem after 2025, as a succession of governments, both Tory and Liberal, have been repeatedly punting the ball on replacing Canada’s F-18As. But the story for the USMC is more dire yet. Even after choosing to retire its Harriers five years earlier (by 2025) than previously planned, the Corps has been struggling to keep its Hornets flying. As reported earlier this month, the Marines are actually running out of fighter jets. At this point, only about 87 of its 276 F-18A/B/Cs are serviceable at any time. For any flying arm, 31 percent availability is really bad; even the Luftwaffe may be managing better these days. But Marines are eventually resourceful, and their plans to backfill their fighter jet shortfall are bringing forth a really revolutionary capability, with some potential to remake the Corps.

Read More

What might the RAN know that other navies don’t?

The Australian submarine deal is old news at this point. As announced last week, DCNS of France will work with ASC (originally Australian Submarine Corporation) over the next three years to design a new class of submarines to replace the existing six Collins-class boats, built by ASC between 1990 and 2003. The basis of the design will be the nuclear-powered Barracuda-class submarine of the French Marine Nationale. The Australian boats will be diesel-electric, but at 4,000 tons each, they will have enough fuel for an operating range of 12,000 nautical miles—even longer than that of the rather large Collinses. The whole project is expected to consume about A$50 billion in life-cycle costs, and the first boat won’t be ready until 2030, so the program constitutes a serious, long-range commitment. Indeed, in relative terms, it’s such a huge commitment that it makes one wonder what Australians know that the rest of us might not.

Read More

Using the LPTA criterion for the ENCORE III award is very bad idea.

Last Friday, the Professional Services Council (PSC) and the IT Alliance for the Public Sector (ITAPS) sent a letter to Defense Under Secretary Frank Kendall about a seemingly innocuous contracting matter. The two trade associations criticized the decision back in March by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) to award its ENCORE III contract on a Lowest-Price, Technically Acceptable (LPTA) basis. Indeed, the PSC and the ITAPS have been complaining about this since the draft request for proposals was released almost a year ago. Former president of the PSC Stan Soloway even wrote an article in Government Executive last October assailing the choice. Their standing outrage is understandable. Taking lowest-price bids for complex, long-term contracts is not exactly the school solution in procurement.

Read More

Buying new F-22s would be a very bad idea indeed.

Almost every defense-industrial publication this month has covered the language in the House version of the 2017 National Defense Authorization bill which directs the Pentagon “to conduct a comprehensive assessment and study of the costs associated with resuming production of F-22 aircraft.” We could take out pick of stories from Defense News, Aviation Week, Inside Defense, or Politico Pro. The actual issue perhaps should not have been so newsworthy. In a note to investors this week, Byron Callan of Capital Alpha called the restart idea “a fantasy.” On the numbers, I’ll call it just a very questionable idea.

Read More

Culture still trumps law in the quest for military innovation.

On Tuesday evening, as part of the Council’s Captains of Industry series, our Lund Fellow Steve Grundman hosted a panel discussion amongst the CEOs of three Californian startup firms. Mylea Charvat's Savonix is building a “mobile, clinically valid, reliable, neuro-cognitive assessment and brain health platform.” John De Santis’s Hytrust is writing and deploying software that automatically monitors and secures computing infrastructure for “continuous compliance.” Gary Gysin's Liquid Robotics is “instrumenting the ocean” with its fleet of Wave Gliders, solar- and wave-powered robots that track everything from whales to submarines. All three want to help, but have had their frustrations with the government. And all three agreed that the government has a ways to go in convincing the startup community that it’s serious.

Read More

DARPA’s new robotic frigate might seriously change naval warfare.

The prototype boat in DARPA's ASW Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) program, the Sea Hunter, is beginning sea trials. Sailing last week from Portland to San Diego, she’ll undergo two years of testing to determine whether an unmanned ship under “sparse human control” can trail Iranian, Russian, or Chinese diesel submarines exiting port. If she works, she’ll relieve the Navy’s very capable-but-expensive destroyers of that duty. She may also seriously change the way war at sea would be fought.

Read More

Why Defense Bulls May Be Disappointed

Signs of spring abound. The forsythia is in bloom. The crack of opening day resounds. And the DoD Comptroller’s “Green Book” issues forth. The National Defense Budget Estimates for FY 2017, or Green Book, so-called by its seasonally-toned cover, is a 300-page volume of dense tables expressing to the nearest millionth dollar every obligation, authority, and outlay associated with the defense program each Administration submits to Congress in February. And yet, I confess to welcoming the tome’s publication no less than the morning skylark’s April twitter. Ah, spring!

Read More