Defense Industrialist

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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Can the Air Force follow a naval lead in bending its cost curve?

 

Here at the Atlantic Council last night, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James delivered an address on how her department wants to “bend the cost curve” in armaments. To review the reference, the cost curve is the concept in  economics which relates unit cost to units produced. The problem, she said, was that the Air Force Department (and I say arguably the Navy Department too) have been spending “more and more to get less and less.” Bureaucratic sclerosis and risk-aversion aren't helping: the secretary was “horrified” to learn that her department takes an average of 17 months to award even a sole-source contract. So, while not quite fearing an end of history through Augustine’s Sixteenth Law, she announced three initiatives aimed at fixing the problem. She intends to enhance cooperation with industry, expand the number of competitors for the Air Force’s business, and improve the Air Force’s internal procurement processes. That’s all very logical, but we know so because announcements like this are not new.

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Customers’ problems should inform defense contractors’ strategies.

Last week, Paul McLeary of Defense News aired the views of some seasoned observers of our business regarding the future of strategy and structure. Our industry, as the title went, is "Running out of Time; Mergers Loom.” Many of the larger contractors have been focusing on cutting costs, as they had grown organizationally soft and operationally lazy under the largesse of the Bush Administration. So, they’re now using the liberated cash to buy back shares and pay dividends with abandon. After all, they lack clarity into the strategy of their biggest set of customers, the US Defense Department, so what else can they do? In another year or so, as the argument continues, the opportunities for further cost-cutting will have run their course, so options for restructuring will then need to be found outside the four walls. That next merger wave will then descend. It’s actually a familiar argument that widely attracts positive head-nods. But I have two problems with it.

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Is the USAF trying hard enough to find drone pilots?

 

The US Air Force is looking for a few good drone operators. The hours are long. The work environment is substantially contained within conex boxes rigged as command centers. The business can get grim, at least on the other end of that video feed. As the squadron commander says in that new movie with Ethan Hawke, “they don’t call it a Hellfire for nothing.” The film’s overwrought tagline isn’t helping—if you never face your enemy, how can you face yourself? (Groan.) But whatever the drama, in the numbers, the problem is showing—in fiscal 2013, the USAF recruited only 110 of the 179 new drone pilots it wanted.

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The US Navy may be putting its money into undersea automation.

 

The Chinese threat, Assistant Navy Secretary Sean Stackley told our audience at the Council yesterday, is “not countable”. Their land-based anti-ship missiles are legion, and they’re building submarines faster than he can buy his own Virginia-class boats, even at the congratulatory rate of two per year. The Navy would like to cope, but can only keep so many ships in the Western Pacific to backstop the Japanese and the South Koreans. Innovation is in vogue, but affordability is key. So what else is Stackley working on? Undersea robotics may be a big part of the answer.

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Eight Rules to Guide the Search for the Next Director of Net Assessment

 

Andy Marshall, the first, long-serving, and so-far-only director of the Office of Net Assessment (ONA), the Pentagon’s internal think tank, is retiring today. “The Future of Net Assessment,” Defense News has opined, is very important. The choice of Marshall’s successor—and even whether to maintain the office—now lies with Ashton Carter, the presumed incoming defense secretary. But should Carter and his team want more than just the advice offered to fourteen of his predecessors, he might consider the broader value of the Net Assessment to the defense enterprise. To guide his thinking, I offer eight rules that seem to have governed the workings of Marshall and his revolving team over the past forty years.

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Defense can apply a set of flexible parameters to keep the practice of innovation relevant and meaningful.

 

In just under 60 pages, the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review uses some form of the word innovation 33 times. That’s more than you’ll find the terms soldier, Air Force, coordination, direction, and policy—combined. Colleagues across defense agree that innovation is invaluable to security. However, many attempts to innovate still fall short. In order for innovative ventures to have the best chance at success, and for the notion of innovation to stay fresh, the Defense Department’s focus must turn to how and where innovation should occur.

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Comparative military organization shows how organizational culture and bureaucratic politics affect defense planning.

 

The host of essays in recent months speculating about a rebuilt Coastal Artillery for the US Army requires some followup. The argument for coastal defenses clearly has some merit. If it’s reasonable to field ground-based anti-aircraft batteries, while still relying substantially on manned fighters to fight enemy aircraft, it seems reasonable to field ground-based anti-ship batteries, while still relying substantially on the fleet to fight the enemy fleet. The question of cost figures heavily in making the case. But relatively unargued is the question of why the Army per se should field those missiles. That question in turn leads to a broader issue of how organizational culture and bureaucratic politics are under-appreciated as potentially positive forces in defense planning.
 

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