Defense Industrialist

A conversation with John Bryant of Oshkosh Defense 

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to sit down with John Bryant, a senior vice president at Oshkosh Defense, to talk about his company’s big win this week. Before retiring from the Marines, the colonel was an acquisition program manager; afterwards, he taught program management at the Defense Acquisition University. So I took serious interest when he seemed at least as interested in extolling the program as his truck. Indeed, Bryant thought that the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle would eventually prove a teaching case at DAU, and not in a Joint Strike Fighter Way way. We could think about aspects of a program according to Dan Ward’s celebrated FIRE construct: if the whole thing is fast, inexpensive, restrained, and elegant, you’ll have a greater chance of success. I’ll rate JLTV well on three of those attributes. Fast this program hasn’t been, and that’s just fine. Because sometimes, as Daniel Kahneman might say, one needs to go slowly to go quickly.

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If it can hold on, Oshkosh’s win may restructure the military truck industry.

The US Army and the US Marine Corps have chosen their supplier for Joint Light Tactical Vehicles (JLTVs), their replacement for Humvees, and supplement to MRAP All Terrain Vehicles (M-ATVs). For now, and presumably the next decade, that supplier is Wisconsin’s Oshkosh Truck. The stakes were high, as the JLTV contract may be the last large military truck contract in North American for at least a decade. But if Oshkosh can keep its pencils sharp—and that’s a meaningful if—it may hold that franchise for a few decades after that.

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NATO needs more tiny technologies for hybrid warfare.

Our experience with counterinsurgency is not done, David Petraeus once said, because insurgents are not done. Some of those recently have been state-sponsored and Russian-speaking, but those highly empowered and malevolent insurgents have been wreaking havoc around the world with the tools of "Democratized Destruction”. Two can play that game, but in reverse. After all, those Little Green Men are using tactics that NATO’s troops spent some recent years learning to counter. Several countries around the alliance have great advantages in personal and networked information technology—think first of Estonia—and can leverage those to make "every citizen a sensor”.

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A fleet of fifteen Fords is infeasible, but smaller ships could be added fast.

On Saturday, Newport News Shipbuilding will hold a keel-laying ceremony for USS John F. Kennedy, the second of the Gerald Ford-class carriers. Ohio Governor John Kasich is running for president, and he wants yet more aircraft carriers. About five more super-carriers, though over time, as he was careful to stress at a Republican Party forum in South Carolina on Monday. Left unclear in his remarks was just how much time he meant. Cutting the carrier fleet has occupied most of that sort of discussion recently, but let’s also consider how feasible expanding it might be. Building a bunch more Fords would take decades, but the Navy could get some smaller ships much more quickly.

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With a few more F-22s, the USAF might have aimed earlier for a bomber.

The idea hasn’t gotten beyond the Duffel Blog and this column, but what if the USAF had long ago dropped the F-35A? As I noted last month, had the Pentagon foregone developing a wholly new fighter jet, the $100 billion it has spent to date on the F-35 project would have bought about 740 Eurofighter Typhoons. Euro-anything, of course, is hardly the USAF’s style, and the War Department hasn’t bought a French fighter since 1918. Doing so today is about as likely as Rob Farley getting a “Friend of the Air Force” award from General Welsh. So what else might the USAF have done? As a first-order vignette in this alternative history, let’s assume that former Defense Secretary Robert Gates wouldn’t have ended the F-22 program in 2009 at 187 aircraft. That said, the answer was never just a lot more F-22s.

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Lowest price is no way to buy IT, Silicon Valley or not.

Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work and Under Secretary Frank Kendall have dispatched their team to liaise with the worthies of Silicon Valley. Secretary Carter is soon expected there on a goodwill visit as well, and the Pentagon leadership seems serious. As Defense One reported, the new office at Moffett Field will be headed by George Duchak, an engineer from DARPA and the Air Force Research Laboratory, and Brian Hendrikson, a SEAL admiral out of the Naval Academy and Harvard Business School. Those are impressive credentials, and I wish them well, but I am expecting little.

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Financial and sustainment problems are taking the Kremlin’s military modernization drive towards drone warfare.

The Russian military has been in full gear for the last several months, trying to prove to NATO and the world that Russia is a great power with a modern, professional military. While the Ukrainians, Poles, Balts, and Nords have taken this threat as almost existential, several military mishaps have made some in the West question Russia’s resolve and ability. The unveiling and stalling of the Armata during Victory Day rehearsals showed the current strain on the Russian military industrial complex. The grounding of the entire nuclear bomber fleet after an engine fire in a Tupolev-95 last month has shown weakness in the Russian Air Force. The midflight explosion of a missile during a Navy Day performance also proved quite embarrassing for President Putin. This week’s helicopter crash in Ryazan which killed one pilot just caps off the recent story of problematic Russian military technology. 

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For all but Raytheon, a whole new realm of conflict seems disinteresting to industry.

Going on eight years now, Raytheon has been mounting a strategic campaign in cyber security. This past April, the company spent $1.7 billion on Austin-based Websense, the 13th cyber business it has purchased since October 2007 (Defense Mergers & Acquisitions Daily, 20 April 2015). In Forbes, defense industry booster Loren Thompson called the transaction “bold”—the value roughly matched that of the 12 preceding deals. That pattern suggests that Raytheon has been learning along the way how to build a successful business. More recent evidence was Raytheon’s selection this month as a finalist in DARPA’s Cyber Grand Challenge, in which some of the top teams in the US have been working to create self-healing code. As Byron Callan of Capital Alpha Partners wrote, that alone “suggests it's doing something right,” whatever misgivings investors and their analysts may have had about Raytheon's long-running strategy.

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The USMC has always had a backup plan. It’s called 'Super Hornet'.

The US Marine Corps is definitely putting a brave, can-do face on its first unit—Squadron 121—of Joint Strike Fighters (JSFs), aiming shortly for a formal declaration of “initial operating capability.” But Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, recently penned a dimmer account for procurement chief Frank Kendall. In recent tests on the helicopter carrier Wasp, he wrote, "aircraft reliability was poor enough that it was difficult for the Marines to keep more than two or three of the six embarked jets in a flyable status on any given day.” The Marines have spent billions on the F-35B and the F-35C. Had they not, they might have spent many fewer on the F-18F, and so far, without a noticeable difference.

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The US Navy could have spent mad money on drones.

This month, the US Marine Corps declared that its first squadron of F-35Bs had reached “initial operating capability”. That’s 21 years after the program first began as the Joint Advanced Strike Technology (JAST) program, 18 years after the first Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) design contracts were awarded, and yet 13 years after Lockheed Martin won the development contract for the F-35 Lightning II, way back in October 2001. It’s notable that a war started the month prior to that award. Perhaps it’s intriguing to ask what might have happened if that contract had never been signed—if, perhaps, the Pentagon had gone all-in supporting the fighting in Afghanistan (and later Iraq), and found some other solution for backfilling its aging fighter fleets.

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