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February 26, 2020 | International, Aerospace

Duckworth: Army's New Helicopters Should Not Be Designed for Anyone Else

By Matthew Cox

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida -- Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot, said recently that the Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force would have to wait their turn if they want their own version of the Army's futuristic helicopters being developed under the Future Vertical Lift (FVL) effort.

The Illinois Democrat and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee recently attended a high-profile flight demonstration of Sikorsky-Boeing's new SB-1 Defiant helicopter that was designed with the goal of replacing the UH-60 Black Hawk.

The Army awarded a team from Sikorsky, part of Lockheed Martin Corp., and Boeing Co. a 2014 contract to build Defiant as part of the Joint Multi Role Technology Demonstrator (JMRT-D) program.

A Textron Inc.-Bell team also received a contract under the effort and built the V-280 Valor, a tiltrotor-design helicopter that completed its first test flight in December 2017.

Both the Valor and the Defiant prototypes are promising designs, Army officials maintain, that are capable of flying at speeds of more than 200 knots and will result in a replacement for the venerable Black Hawk as the service's new Future Long Range Assault Aircraft (FLRAA).

Duckworth, a former Army National Guard officer who lost both legs after enemy forces shot down the Black Hawk she was flying over Iraq in 2004, said she intends to keep the FVL program from morphing into an unwieldy, joint effort. That's a pitfall that has thrust many joint-service programs into program delays and cost-overruns because of overly broad requirements.

"This is an Army aircraft; we need to keep an Army mission," Duckworth told reporters at the Feb. 20 flight demo. "If the other services want to fall in behind it and develop something afterward and tweak it for what they need, that is fine, but we cannot build a Frankenaircraft ... that's going to meet the Marines' needs and the Navy's need and the Air Force's needs.

"We need to not let the requirements start to meander and creep around because otherwise we will never get to where we need to and get these things fielded as quickly as possible," she added.

In the past, the Pentagon has often tried to develop multiple versions of a major combat system, such as the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which has been designed to satisfy the requirements of the Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force. The acquisition program for the advanced, stealth fighter began in the mid-1990s and still suffers from testing setbacks that have delayed a full-rate production decision.

That Army-Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, however, is considered a successful acquisition effort that began in 2006 after Humvees in Iraq could not withstand the destruction force of enemy homemade bombs attacks.

JLTV took almost a decade to become a reality but, in August 2015, Oshkosh Corp. was selected over Lockheed Martin Corp. and AM General LLC to build the vehicle for the Army and Marine Corps.

Meanwhile, for the second year in a row, the Army has reduced the number of JLTVs it will buy in fiscal 2021 to free up money to fund future modernization.

FVL is one of the Army's top modernization priorities under a new strategy the service launched in 2017, with the goal of replacing most of its major combat platforms beginning in 2028.

Leaders stood up Army Future Command, an organization designed to help the service's acquisition and requirements machines work more closely together in an effort to streamline what has traditionally been a slow-moving process to develop and field combat system.

So far, the strategy appears to be working, since the FLRAA and the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) efforts are ahead of schedule, Duckworth said.

Army officials are scheduled to down-select to two vendors to build final prototypes of the FARA next month. The service is also scheduled to begin a competitive demonstration and risk reduction phase for FLRAA, which is expected to last until 2022, the year the service plans to down-select to one vendor to build the Black Hawk replacement.

"This is rare for defense procurement to actually be ahead of timeline instead of pushing everything to the right," Duckworth said. "I am very pleased with how well the Army is handling this development."

The senator stressed, however, that she intends to continue strict oversight of the FVL to ensure it doesn't result in a waste of taxpayer dollars.

"We can't be spending upward of $60 million per airframe," Duckworth said. "If we do that, then we can't field the number of airframes that we need to be out there in the force."

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, who also attended the flight demo, stressed that the service's leadership is committed to making necessary cuts to outdated programs to free up money for FVL and other modernization efforts.

"We don't have a choice. We are running out of letters to upgrade the existing platforms -- they are 40-year-old systems; the technology will not endure," he said.

-- Matthew Cox can be reached at

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  • Future Pakistan-Turkish defense cooperation likely to be incremental, for now

    September 20, 2018 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land

    Future Pakistan-Turkish defense cooperation likely to be incremental, for now

    By: Usman Ansari ISLAMABAD — Pakistan's ambassador to Turkey pledged this week to increase defense cooperation between the two countries to new levels, but after a string of recent deals, analysts believe further cooperation will be incremental. Speaking to Turkey's Daily Sabah, Muhammad Syrus Sajjad Qazi highlighted defense relations such as recent deals for platforms like the T-129 helicopter gunships and Milgem corvettes, which he said would further improve as the countries continue to explore new opportunities. The existing deals alone are likely to see substantial offsets and technological input for Pakistani industry, and build upon existing supply of defense technology critical for all three branches of Pakistan's military. Pakistan's defense industry generally lags behind other nations, and has struggled to offer much in return bar a deal for the PAC Super Mushak basic training aircraft, further highlighting the importance of the relationship between Ankara and Islamabad. Asked exactly how that relationship may further improve, Brian Cloughley, and author, analyst, and former Australian defense attaché to Islamabad, said there is room to do so. He highlighted training as one area of cooperation, thanks to tensions between Pakistan and the U.S., along with armored personnel carriers and future orders of helicopters. While Turkish AFV-related technology is already finding its way onto Pakistani APCs and tanks, Pakistan is exploring options to supplement or even replace its M113 type APCs, perhaps with an IFV design, with Turkey's Kaplan or Tulpar IFV programs potentially of interest. Turkey's T625 multirole transport helicopter may also be considered to replace Pakistan's range of legacy types. Both countries also have active fifth generation fighter development projects, but analysts believe this level of cooperation is presently a step too far. Justin Bronk, an analyst with the RUSI think tank, raises concerns given “the lack of any proven domestic capacity in both Pakistan and Turkey to produce a fifth-generation fighter, than with any issues around security or industrial interests.” “Neither country is in any position to develop such capabilities for the foreseeable future without massive external assistance and technology transfer,” he said That idea is echoed by author, analyst, and former air force pilot Kaiser Tufail, who nevertheless stresses their respective fifth generation programs “must continue for a long-term goal of manufacture”. Tufail believes both nations should co-operate on an interim type of jet, with some of the technical characteristics of a full fifth-generation fighter “rather than jumping straight to a full-capability fifth generation fighter.” Though new to aircraft manufacture, he believes Pakistan has gained a slight edge over its potential partner, having co-produced the JF-17, “essentially a Chinese design based on PAF's specifications”, though there is still “need for collaboration in design and production of any new fighter.” Turkey in comparison, though having license produced F-16s, lacks comparable modern fighter design experience. Their close relationship makes fighter co-production “logical” though, he said. Therefore, present co-operation “could well take the shape of a ‘Block-4' JF-17 developed by Turkey and Pakistan” to be “considered for joint design and co-production”, after which “a stealth fighter would then be a logical next step.”

  • No AI For Nuclear Command & Control: JAIC’s Shanahan

    September 26, 2019 | International, C4ISR

    No AI For Nuclear Command & Control: JAIC’s Shanahan

    By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR. GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: “You will find no stronger proponent of integration of AI capabilities writ large into the Department of Defense,” Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan said here, “but there is one area where I pause, and it has to do with nuclear command and control.” In movies like WarGames and Terminator, nuclear launch controls are the first thing fictional generals hand over to AI. In real life, the director of the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center says, that's the last thing he would integrate AI with. The military is beginning a massive multi-billion dollar modernization of its aging system for Nuclear Command, Control, & Communications (NC3), much of which dates to the Cold War. But the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center is not involved with it. A recent article on the iconoclastic website War on the Rocks argued “America Needs A ‘Dead Hand',” a reference to the Soviet system designed to automatically order a nuclear launch if the human leadership was wiped out. “I read that,” Shanahan told the Kalaris Intelligence Conference here this afternoon. “My immediate answer is ‘No. We do not.'” Instead, the JAIC is very deliberately starting with relatively low-risk, non-lethal projects — predicting breakdowns in helicopter engines and mapping natural disasters — before moving on to combat-related functions such as intelligence analysis and targeting next year. On the Pentagon's timeline, AI will be coming to command posts before it is embedded in actual weapons, and even then the final decision to use lethal force will always remain in human hands. The standard term in the Pentagon now for human involvement with AI and weapons now is “human on the loop,” a shift from human IN the loop. That reflects greater stress on the advisory function of humans with AI and a recognition that domains like cyber require almost instantaneous responses that can't wait for a human. Hawkish skeptics say slowing down to ask human permission could cripple US robots against their less-restrained Russian or Chinese counterparts. Dovish skeptics say this kind of human control would be too easily bypassed. Shanahan does see a role for AI in applying lethal force once that human decision is made. “I'm not going to go straight to ‘lethal autonomous weapons systems,'” he said, “but I do want to say we will use artificial intelligence in our weapons systems... to give us a competitive advantage. It's to save lives and help deter war from happening in the first place.” The term “lethal autonomous weapons systems” was popularized by the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, which seeks a global ban on all AI weapons. Shanahan made clear his discomfort with formal arms control measures, as opposed to policies and international norms, which don't bind the US in the same way. “I'll be honest with you,” Shanahan said. “I don't like the term, and I do not use the term, ‘arms control' when it comes to AI. I think that's unhelpful when it comes to artificial intelligence: It's largely a commercial technology,” albeit with military applications. “I'm much more interested, at least as a starting point, in international rules and norms and behavior,” he continued. (Aside from the space is governed almost exclusively “It's extremely important to have those discussions.” “This is the ultimate human decision that needs to be made....nuclear command and control,” he said. “We have to be very careful. Knowing ...the immaturity of technology today, give us a lot of time to test and evaluate.” “Can we use artificial intelligence to make better decisions, to make more informed judgments about what might be happening, to reduce the potential for civilian casualties or collateral damage?” Shanahan said. “I'm an optimist. I believe you can. It will not eliminate it, never. It's war; bad things are going to happen.” While Shanahan has no illusions about AI enabling some kind of cleanly surgical future conflict, he doesn't expect a robo-dystopia, either. “The hype is a little dangerous, because it's uninformed most of the time, and sometimes it's a Hollywood-driven killer robots/Terminator/SkyNet worst case scenario,” he said. “I don't see that worst case scenario any time in my immediate future.” “I'm very comfortable saying our approach — even though it is emerging technology, even though it unfolds very quickly before our eyes — it will still be done in a deliberate and rigorous way so we know what we get when we field it,” Shanahan said. “As the JAIC director, I'm focused on really getting to the fielding,” he said, moving AI out of the lab into the real world — but one step at a time. “We're always going to start with limited narrow use cases. Say, can we take some AI capability and put it in a small quadcopter drone that will make it easier to clear out a cave, [and] really prove that it works before we ever get it to a [large] scale production.” “We will have a very clear understanding of what it can do and what it can't do,” he said. “That will be through experimentation, that will be through modeling and simulation, and that will be in wargames. We've done that with every piece of technology we've ever used, and I don't expect this to be any different.” The JAIC is even looking to hire an in-house ethicist of sorts, a position Shanahan has mentioned earlier but sought to clarify today. “It'll be someone who's a technical standards [expert] / ethicist,” he said. “As we develop the models and algorithms... they can look at that make sure the process is abiding by our rules of the road.” “I'm also interested in, down the road, getting some help from the outside on sort of those deeper philosophical questions,” he continued. “I don't focus on them day to day, because of my charter to field now, but it's clear we have to be careful about this.” “I do not see that same approach in Russia or China,” Shanahan said. “What sets us apart is... our focus on real rigor in test and evaluation, validation and verification, before we field capability that could have lives at stake.”

  • RCAF elects not to extend multi-engine utility flight contract - Skies Mag

    March 4, 2024 | International, Aerospace

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    In a cost-cutting measure, the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) has opted not to exercise contract options for the lease of two Air Tindi King Air BE350 aircraft.

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