Defense Industrialist

Focus on national productivity growth to reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio.

The U.S. presidential election just ended was driven by identity politics—affinity by race, class, gender, etc.— rather than ideological competition or policy differences. As a result, resolution of the political contest will not unto itself unlock the calcified debate over fiscal policy that has left the nation’s military posture in a state of unsettled suspense. Although President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to “repeal the defense sequester,” the torrent of identity politics on which he rides into office also will generate cross-currents affecting taxes and domestic spending priorities that are arguably more important to his constituency.

Read More

The US Navy has at least three options for fire support ashore, and should move out smartly with more than one.

As James Holmes of the Naval War College wrote on The National Interest last month, “the US Navy has an image problem.” Perhaps, as Steven Wills of Ohio University (a.k.a. Lazarus) argued in the comments, it’s merely that ships like the Zumwalt-class destroyers “are just popular bad news sources for defense journalists to sell magazines and get clicks for their web pages.” This week, however, the Navy produced its own clickbait, in announcing its intention to avoid buying cannon shells for its biggest cannons. This is more than an image problem; it’s a deadly serious problem that was eminently avoidable. Fortunately, there are at least three ways out of this mess now, and at least two should be pursued in parallel.

Read More

The future of surface warfare requires cooperation across borders.

Sea control in the 20th century revolved around fleets based on battleships, then aircraft carriers.  Lesser vessels like destroyers and frigates were for constabulary duty during peacetime, and during wartime, for assisting the main battle fleet in defeating opposing navies to restore control of seas. In an age when the aircraft carrier strike group is increasingly vulnerable to long-range barrages of conventional precision weapons, vessels like destroyers, augmented by large numbers of on-board unmanned platforms, may become the principal surface combatants, alongside submarines. Given ongoing technological changes, lighter-armed and -equipped frigates, which presently dominate most navies as constables, may not be survivable against non-state actors, let alone great powers.

Read More

Not every Third Offset choice will be this easy, but the Strategic Capabilities Office has found an excellent solution.

At the CSIS’s Third Offset Conference last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that Will Roper’s Strategic Capabilities Office has found a solution to the United States’ shortfall in coastal artillery. The simplicity is almost obvious: modify the Army’s existing Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) with a anti-ship seeker. This means, as Sydney Freedberg wrote for Breaking Defense, that “after at least two years of pressure from Congress and vague promises from Pentagon leaders, and for the first time since the Coast Artillery Corps was disbanded 66 years ago, the Army is officially back in the business of killing ships.” As I wrote two years ago on this issue, there were quite a few ways of reestablishing this capability, but Carter’s people might have found one of the best.

Read More

The Pentagon’s drive for innovation is up against adversaries' efforts to “occupy leading positions” themselves.

Back at the beginning of August, I wrote an essay about how soon was too soon with new weapons. Some historical perspective, I thought, should inform the aims of the Pentagon’s Third Offset strategy. And yet, to focus a moment on a more mundane technology, the US Army has needed a light tank for twenty years. Today, the threat of new Russian tanks in inaccessible corners of Europe strongly suggests an immediate need. The Army is once again seeking ideas from would-be suppliers, and may finally launch a program. But is the Army already too far behind the curve? So here’s another general question about the timing of military innovations in materiel: how late is too late? 

Read More

Some indications from history on how Philippine “separation” from the United States might affect military planning.

Back in March, as Military Times optimistically reported, the US military was planning to place “permanent logistics facilities” at five bases in the Philippines. In May, the Philippine presidential election put a quick end to that. Since then, new President Rodrigo Duterte's bluster on multiple matters has seemed to rival even the bombast coming from this year’s presidential election in the United States. His approval ratings are high, however, and even transcend demographic distinctions. So let’s consider the issue from a hard-nosed American perspective, drawing on some lessons of history. How did the nature of the Philippines affect American strategy prior to the Second World War, and how might a changing relationship with the Philippines affect materiel planning now?

Read More

Who wins and who loses when the Pentagon prohibits exclusive dealing?

On 11 October, the US Air Force received prospective contractors’ proposals its its Ground-Based Strategic Deterrence (GBSD) program, its effort to begin replacing its Boeing LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) by 2030. The USAF is sufficiently concerned about its choices for cost-effective replacement that the service’s request for proposals restricted its contractors from exclusive dealing. At least one of two subcontractors thus lost an opportunity for a one-time payout from a prime contractor, and it’s possible that both did. The idea is certainly at odds with the Total Package Procurement concept of the 1960s, and the equally unlamented Total System Program Responsibility concept of the 1990s. In contrast, using the government’s buying power in this way in the 2010s makes for quite a smart acquisition strategy.

Read More

For all its dependency on GPS, the Pentagon has been quietly ignoring the potential vulnerabilities of GPS—until just about now. 

Raytheon's new GPS Operational Control System (OCX) might just be the most troubled program the Pentagon is running. This June, OCX incurred a dreaded Nunn-McCurdy breach, when its projected costs were judged to have increased by 25 percent. The problems, as Dee Ann Divis explained for Inside GNSS, “included inadequate systems engineering at program inception, Block 0 software with high defect rates, and Block 1 designs requiring significant rework.” Multiple cybersecurity requirements caused multiple delays too. All the same, Under Secretary Frank Kendall has just certified the program as meriting completion—the only thing worse than having to spend that kind of money on GPS is not having GPS to spend it on. But just how the Pentagon slowly marched itself into this problem is worth some consideration.

Read More

Rapid capabilities offices, incremental investments, and a wave of public entrepreneurship may signal some needed cultural change.

Egypt is getting more MRAPs. As Defense Industry Daily reported Wednesday, the US Defense Department is sending a second batch of surplus armored vehicles—to match the 762 already sent—“to equip Egyptian soldiers tackling Islamist militants in the Sinai desert.” That’s an urgent shipment to meet an urgent problem, but similar needs haven’t always been met that way. Indeed, it’s notable that the announcement comes ten years to the month after the MRAP became a program of record for the Pentagon. That was at least a year—if not two—after it should have become one. Whatever the case with the Egyptian Army, one might say that the Pentagon’s track record here is not sterling. Several events over the past two months, however, have me hoping that stronger efforts to more rapidly remake the military are underway.

Read More

The timing of the USAF’s RFI for new helicopters begs questions about its requirements and its relationship with industry.

As Phillip Swarts reported for Air Force Times, on 9 September the US Air Force posted its request for information (RFI) for replacing several squadrons of UH-1N Hueys. As Jim McAleese related from the Air Force Association (AFA) meeting, on 20 September Darlene Costello, the USAF’s acting head of procurement, told the assembled that she expected the request for proposals (RFP) to be released in November. For a purchase as significant as a fleet of aircraft, two months is a remarkably short interlude between RFI and RFP. At Minot Air Force Base this week, Defense Secretary Carter told the missile wing that he was working to get them new security helicopters quickly. Frankly, as General Robin Rand of Global Strike Command told the AFA, the service would like get them built before it needs to start paying real money for B-21 bombers. All this strongly suggests that the Air Force has something very specific in mind. Whether that specific thing is the right idea, and whether it was conveyed at the right time to industry, are two further questions.

Read More