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October 1, 2023 | International, Aerospace

F-35 program finishes years-late tests needed for full production

The complex simulations at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland were meant to test how well the F-35 would perform in real-world combat scenarios.

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  • Leonardo flies new Falco Xplorer drone

    January 22, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    Leonardo flies new Falco Xplorer drone

    By: Tom Kington ROME — A new 24-hour-endurance drone built by Italy's Leonardo has made its maiden flight in trials run in cooperation with the Italian Air Force, the firm said. The Falco Xplorer, an evolution of earlier Falco models, flew for 60 minutes from Trapani Air Base in Sicily on Jan. 15 in a dedicated flying area before landing safely, Leonardo reported. First launched last year at the Paris Air Show, the Xplorer offers a maximum payload of 350kg, a maximum takeoff weight of 1.3 tons, and it can operate above 24,000 feet. The Italian firm is offering the drone with its Gabbiano T-80 radar, SAGE electronic-intelligence system, an electro-optical turret and a hyperspectral sensor for monitoring pollution and agriculture. Aimed at both civilian and military customers, the Xplorer will feature satellite navigation, while pending flight tests will aim to certify the aircraft to NATO'S STANAG 4671 standard. In its statement, Leonardo said the Xplorer was not subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) restrictions, making it widely available for export around the world. The drone is the third evolution in the Falco family, which includes the Falco and the larger Falco EVO, which offers 15 hours endurance. Before its launch last year, Leonardo CEO Alessandro Profumo said the Xplorer will “overlap with the Predator A - it would be a new product for Predator A customers.” The UN and the European Union's frontier protection agency Frontex are among existing customers of the Falco, while national customers are thought to be Jordan, Saudia Arabia, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.

  • Six things on the Pentagon’s 2019 acquisition reform checklist

    December 31, 2018 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

    Six things on the Pentagon’s 2019 acquisition reform checklist

    By: Aaron Mehta WASHINGTON — Under the purview of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, reform has become a buzzword inside the Department of Defense, with every office trying to find ways to be more efficient, whether through cost savings or changes to bureaucracy. The department's Acquisition and Sustainment office, headed by Ellen Lord, manages billions of dollars in materiel; and by Lord's own belief, it is ripe for changes that could net the department big savings. On Dec. 17, Lord sat down with reporters and outlined a series of goals for 2019 that she hopes will help transform how the Pentagon buys equipment. Here, then, are six key items to watch for in the coming year. 1. Rework the department's key acquisition rules: The DoD Instruction 5000.02 is a key bedrock that forms the basis of how the defense acquisition system works, guiding acquisition professionals in their day-to-day program execution. And if Lord gets her way, she'll largely rip it up and start over. “In 2019, one of my key objectives is to rewrite 5000.02. We have, right now, this huge, complicated acquisition process that we encourage our acquisition professionals to tailor to their needs,” Lord said. “We are going to invert that approach and take a clean sheet of paper and write the absolute bare minimum to be compliant in 5000.02, and encourage program managers and contracting officers to add to that as they need for specific programs.” Lord envisions taking the massive, unwieldy 5000.02 guidance and getting it down to “a couple page outline of what you need to do,” with “simple” contract language and an easy-to-follow checklist “so that this isn't an onerous process.” “I'm encouraging what I call creative compliance. I want everyone to be compliant, but I want people to be very thoughtful and only use what they need,” she said. “This is literally starting with a clean sheet of paper, looking at the law and the intent, and working to vastly simplify this.” Andrew Hunter, a former Pentagon acquisition official now with the Center for International and Strategic Studies, notes that the instruction is supposed to be rewritten every five years to keep it fresh, and now is probably the right time to start looking into that. But, he added, “a lot of what she says she wants to do are things that sound very similar to my ear to what [Lord's predecessor] Frank Kendall was trying to do in the last rewrite. He tossed stuff out left and right, worked very hard to create the different models, put in extended discussions of different potential models of programs so that it would be obvious to people there's not one single way to do a program.” Hunter is cautious when it comes to a massive shift in the 5000.02 system. “If you literally tell the system, ‘All the rules are repealed, go do everything you want,' the reaction won't be a sudden flood of creativity that astounds you with the amazing talent at the department, even though there is a lot of talent there," he said. “What's more likely to happen is you have total paralysis because everyone is sitting around going: ‘Oh no, the rules are gone. How do we know what we can do? What do we do now?' But over time that might shake out.” If Congress needs to get involved, Lord said, she's prepared to go to Capitol Hill “because I know they are partnering with us and they want to make sure we do things in a simpler, most cost-effective manner.” 2. Intellectual property rules: A long-standing fight between the department and industry is over who should own the intellectual property used by the American military. Before fully taking on 5000.02, Lord hopes to write a departmentwide intellectual property policy. Lord pointed to the “very good job” done by the Army on creating an IP policy and said her goal is to build on that to create a standard across the DoD. “From an industry perspective, we are trying to be consistent across all the services and agencies, so that we don't have different requirements for similar needs,” Lord said. “So intellectual property is a good example. We'd like to have the same kind of contract language that can be tailored to individual needs, but basically have consistent language.” David Berteau, a former Pentagon official who is now the president and CEO of the Professional Services Council, noted it is hard to read the tea leaves for what Lord may be planning based on her public comments. But he pointed out the long-standing challenge for the Pentagon — that nearly 70 percent of all program costs are life-cycle sustainment and maintenance costs — as a sign that something needs to change so the department can avoid major issues in the future. Depending on how new rules are implemented, the use of IP might drive down costs — or, he warned, it might lead to companies unable to compete, forcing the Pentagon to pay more or be less prepared for challenges. Put plainly, Berteau said, “it's complicated.” He hopes Lord will begin interacting with industry on this issue in ways similar to the current “listening tour” on changes to progress payments. 3. Better software development: It's become almost cliché that the department needs to do better at developing software, but in this case it's a cliché that experts, including Lord, agree with. The Defense Innovation Board, a group of tech experts from outside the department, is working on a series of studies on software, including one focused on how to drive agile development techniques inside the building. Lord said to expect that report before the end of March, adding: “I think that will be important in terms of capturing a road map forward on how to do this correctly.” 4. Increase use of OTAs: In 2018, Lord's office released a handbook on when and how to use other transaction authorities — legal standards designed to speed acquisition that critics say are underutilized by the department. Lord called it “sort of a warmup” for creating more useful handbooks for the acquisition community, but said that the goal for 2019 is to get people to correctly employ OTAs. “Usually they should be used when you don't have a clear requirement. So, true prototyping when you don't know what you're going to get,” Lord said. “Prototyping early on, probably before you get to the middle-tier acquisition.” 5. Greater use of prototyping: Speaking of which, Lord said the department has about 10 projects underway for rapid prototyping at the mid-tier level, with the goal of growing to about 50 in the next year. The goal is to take the systems into the field, test them out and then grow the next iteration of the capability based on what is learned. “We're taking systems that are commercially available and perhaps need a little modification, or defense systems that need a modicum of modification to make them appropriate for the war fighter,” Lord said. “That's one of the authorities we are very appreciative for, and we will continue to refine the policy. I signed out very broad policy on that this year. We'll write the detailed policy coming up early next year.” 6. Making the Selected Acquisition Reports public again: Until recently, the department publicly released annual Selected Acquisition Reports for each of the major defense programs. Those reports can inform the public of where programs stand and the costs associated. However, under the Trump administration, those reports have been largely classified as “For Official Use Only,” or FOUO, a higher level of security. Critics, including incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., have argued there is no need for those once-public reports to be listed as FOUO. It appears Lord is working to open those back up. “We're going to try to minimize the FOUO on that,” Lord said in response to a question about it. “There are certain information [issues] that we have to protect, but [we] understand the need, the requirement, and I will put our guidance to make everything open to the public to the degree we can.”

  • Boeing’s new F-15X may replace an aging fleet of F-15C/D Eagles

    July 31, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Boeing’s new F-15X may replace an aging fleet of F-15C/D Eagles

    By: Kyle Rempfer The Air Force's fleet of F-15 C and D Eagle fighters are aging faster than F-35 joint strike fighters are being fielded, a gap in the transition that some think needs to be filled. And even when more F-35s have been fielded, F-15s could still fill a tactical role to help the Air Force carry out its mission. Boeing's new, single-seat F-15X design may be the Air Force's answer to that issue. Very little has been made known about the F-15X initiative, which was first reported by Defense One, and the Air Force's Pentagon officials could not provide comment on it, only telling Air Force Times that “there is no acquisition program” with respect to the new platform. But multiple media outlets still reported this week that the F-15X was being pitched to the Air Force by Boeing. Alternatively, some reports state that the Air Force first solicited Boeing for the new fighter. Regardless, the possibility of a new platform to replace aging the fourth-generation F-15 fighters could alleviate the strain put on F-22 Raptors and make up for the F-35s slow roll-out. Created during the Cold War, the more than 40-year-old F-15 has been the U.S. Air Force's primary air-to-air fighter jet for decades. The aircraft has been known for its range of operational roles, however, to include close-air support in the Global War on Terrorism. Dan Grazier, the Jack Shanahan Military Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight, writes extensively on military procurement, to include the F-35 acquisition. He said that while he can't comment on the specific designs of the F-15X, it is generally better to develop weapon systems from “an evolutionary approach.” “Whenever the military possesses a proven basic design like the F-15, the Pentagon should focus its efforts on maintaining and improving it until the state of technology changes to the point where the basic design is no longer viable,” Grazier told Air Force Times. “Until that happens, there is no reason to continually reinvent the wheel. If it is possible to incorporate improved technology into a design that has already been bought and paid for, then it only makes financial and common sense to do so.” “There will doubtless be arguments made that the unit flyaway costs of the F-15X and F-35 will be roughly comparable," he said. "When you factor in the development costs of both into the program unit average cost, I bet the F-15X will be much less expensive.” While the F-35 is a supposed to be a multi-role aircraft — capable of a stealth mode, as well as an air-to-ground combat mode once air dominance is achieved — it has been questioned whether the F-35 can outperform an F-15 in an air-to-air dogfight, or an A-10 Warthog in close-air support missions. As to what the F-15X includes that separates it from older F-15s, not too much is definitively known. Citing sources close to the initiative, The War Zone reported the most extensive breakdown so far. The F-15X reportedly came out of an Air Force inquiry to Boeing and Lockheed Martin about fielding an aircraft that could easily transition into the service's existing air combat infrastructure, specifically to help counter the Air Force's shrinking force. There were some caveats to the solicitation: it needs to be cost-effective, low-risk and not considered an alternative to the larger F-35 procurement program, The War Zone reported. It seems those requirements were met, based on the reported features. The F-15X armament would be designed for a mixed air-to-air and air-ground-role, including “eight air-to-air missiles and 28 Small Diameter Bombs (SDBs), or up to seven 2,000-pound bombs and eight air-to-air missiles," according to The War Zone. The F-15X would allegedly be very affordable, as well. The aircraft reportedly costs roughly $27,000 per hour to fly. Meanwhile, the F-35A costs more than $40,000 an hour to fly, according to The War Zone. Finally, The War Zone said the F-15X will have a 20,000-hour service life, meaning it could be flying for several more decades. Still, Boeing officials have not outright confirmed they were pitching the F-15X. “We see the marketplace expanding internationally and it's creating opportunities then to go back and talk to the U.S. Air Force about what might be future upgrades or even potentially future acquisitions of the F-15 aircraft,” Gene Cunningham, vice president of global sales of Defense, Space & Security, told DefenseOne. The Air Force has been considering retiring its F-15 Eagles for some time. In March 2016, service officials said they were considering a retirement for the more than 230 F-15 C and D fighters, and replacing them with F-16 Fighting Falcons. Speaking before the Senate Armed Services air land forces subcommittee in April, Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris, the Air Force's deputy chief of staff for strategic plans and requirements, said the service was still looking at options for the F-15 fleet. “There's nothing off the table,” Harris said. “We're looking at, as we bring F-35s in, can we grow our capacity rather than just replace one-for-one? If we can't do that, what's our least-capable asset to retire, based on the value that it would provide for us?”

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