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January 7, 2022 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR

Opinion: Why We Are Betting On 2022

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  • Spirit AeroSystems bringing back some furloughed workers

    April 20, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    Spirit AeroSystems bringing back some furloughed workers

    WICHITA, Kan. — A major aircraft parts supplier in Kansas is expected to bring about 2,100 furloughed workers back to work next week as Boeing prepares to resume production of its commercial airplanes. Spirit AeroSystems also is planning resume work for more than 1,700 other workers in Wichita over the next three weeks, The Wichita Eagle reported. “As our customer, Boeing, begins to resume production, Spirit AeroSystems will work with our employees, customers and suppliers to begin a phased-in return to work for some furloughed employees," Spirit spokeswoman Keturah Austin said. She added that “this will be a slow process as we work to continue to support our customer’s operations in a manner that is safe for all involved.” Boeing said Thursday it will restart production of its commercial airplanes next week in the Seattle area, putting about 27,000 people back to work at its facilities in the Seattle area after operations were suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Boeing employees for the 737, 747, 767 and 777 airplanes will return as early as Monday with most returning to work by Tuesday, Boeing is Spirit AeroSystem's biggest customer, and the impact has rippled to its suppliers. About 2,100 workers, hourly and salaried, are scheduled to return to various production lines at the Spirit plant in Wichita on Monday, according to a union officials and numbers obtained by the newspaper. They’ll be joined by another 200 workers on April 27; an additional 1,100 on April 29; and nearly 400 on May 4. Cornell Beard, president of Machinists District Lodge 70, said the returning union workers are still a fraction of the plant’s full workforce, “but anything’s better than nothing.” The coronavirus has exacerbated Boeing’s crisis surrounding the 737 Max, which remains grounded after two deadly crashes. Boeing said Thursday its 737 program “”will resume working toward restarting production"" of the 737 MAX. Spirit produces about 70 percent of the 737 Max, including the fuselage. Contracts with Boeing for the Max represents more than half of Spirit’s annual income. Future callbacks at Spirit will be largely dependent on Boeing’s performance in getting the 737 Max back in the air, Beard said. “If another mistake is found, or another defect, or if we just encounter another problem, those projections will change again (and) we’re going to be right back in this pickle,” Beard said.

  • Three Generations Of Fighters Compete For Limited Resources

    December 10, 2020 | International, Aerospace

    Three Generations Of Fighters Compete For Limited Resources

    Steve Trimble December 10, 2020 Fateful decisions loom in the next 12 months for a global fighter market caught up in a pivotal debate over how much to invest in each of three generations of aircraft designs now in production or development. As next-generation fighters continue to take shape on industry drawing boards—and in one case, a secret flying demonstrator—a final decision in 2021 over whether to buy another batch of aircraft with a Cold War legacy or Lockheed Martin’s 20-year-old-design F-35A stealth fighter confronts Canada, Finland, Israel, Switzerland and, perhaps most surprisingly, the U.S. Internal U.S. Air Force fighter road map capped the F-35 at 1,050 Canada, Finland and Switzerland contract awards expected in 2021 With 13 purpose-built fighter types now in production globally for export customers (excluding about half as many modified training jets), military buyers are spoiled with competitive options and motivated sellers. But a series of contract awards planned for the next 12 months could induce a long-awaited reckoning, especially among production lines for fighters produced in Europe and the U.S. Multiple decisions in favor of so-called fifth-generation capabilities could nearly complete the F-35’s dominance over European and American fighter demand for the next decade. Alternatively, if the balance of new contracts falls to fourth-generation rivals, the F-35 is likely to continue to face intense competition from the same aircraft it was designed to replace. For now, pressure from F-35 competitors is surging, including from within the type’s biggest customer. The U.S. Air Force’s program of record for the F-35A stands at 1,763 total aircraft, a figure that has not budged in nearly two decades, despite changes to the assumptions that determined the original number. The pressure on the Air Force’s orderbook for F-35As has been building for at least six years. Speaking on condition of anonymity in November 2014, a senior Air Force official said the service internally was considering a purchase of 72 new Boeing F-15s, Lockheed Martin F-16s or even the Navy’s Boeing F/A-18E/Fs. Hindsight suggests the disclosure may have been intended as a negotiating ploy with Lockheed over F-35 prices, but the idea clearly never died. Indeed, the Air Force signed an order in July 2020 for the first eight of “at least” 144 Boeing F-15EXs, replacing an aging fleet of F-15C/Ds. By 2018, those F-15C/Ds already had outlived their original service-life estimates as victims of the Defense Department’s decision in 2010 to truncate production of the Lockheed F-22 after 185 deliveries. With only a longeron replacement necessary to maintain structural integrity, the Air Force still was planning to keep the F-15 C/D fleet in service for at least another decade until a next-generation fighter became available. But then the Air Force discovered another major structural flaw: The entire fleet required new wing skins to remain airworthy. Rather than invest in a major structural refit, the Air Force announced plans in 2019 to retire the fleet. But the manner of the F-15C/D replacement plan came as a shock. Breaking from a two-decade-old strategy to buy only stealthy fighters, the Air Force decided to bypass the F-35A and order F-15EXs instead. With cockpit, flight-control and wing upgrades mostly funded by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the Air Force developed a new, long-term role for a fourth-generation fighter. Such a role already had been envisioned behind closed doors by a new organization on the Air Staff. Created in January 2018 as an internal think tank, the Air Force Warfighting Integrating Capability (AFWIC) office had torn up the long-standing assumption that only stealthy fighters could perform a useful role. By the end of 2018, the AFWIC’s team of analysts had adopted a new fighter road map, according to a source. The road map envisioned a “great power” war. The principal role for each F-35A was to launch two stealthy cruise missiles—Lockheed AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM)—from just inside defended airspace. That “kick-down-the-door” pairing would be combined with mass launches of multiple JASSMs each from F-15Es and F-15EXs, the source said. Other missions—namely, defensive counter-air and homeland defense—could be performed by the F-35. But other aircraft such as F-15EXs and F-16s also could be used. Driven by this new appreciation for a portfolio of fighter capabilities, the AFWIC team also reconsidered how many of each type would be needed. No fighter program escaped scrutiny, including the long-standing Air Force commitment to acquire 1,763 F-35As. AFWIC’s fighter road map by the end of 2018 had capped F-35A deliveries at about 1,050 jets, the source said. Although that cap implies a 40% cut to the original plan for the F-35A, no change to the program of record was necessary, the source said. The Air Force has ordered 451 F-35As so far, according to the Aviation Week Network Military Fleet database. If new aircraft orders are maintained at a rate of 2-2.5 squadrons a year—48-60 jets—for the foreseeable future, the Air Force is at least 10 years away from hitting the 1,050 cap in AFWIC’s fighter road map. In the meantime, the Air Force faces other decisions about whether to invest in more fourth-generation fighters, F-35As or next-generation aircraft. The Air Force still operates 232 Block 25 and Block 30 F-16C/D jets, which were delivered in the mid-1980s, according to the Military Fleet database. Air Force officials have said they expect to make a fleet replacement decision for these so-called “pre-block” F-16s in 4-7 years. When the Air Force established the program of record for buying 1,763 F-35As, the plan assumed replacing all of those pre-block F-16s. As a replacement decision enters the Pentagon’s five-year budgeting horizon, however, Air Force officials have been more flexible. Last February, the head of Air Combat Command, who was then Gen. Mike Holmes, said low-cost, attritable aircraft would be considered for the pre-block F-16 replacement in the 2024-27 time frame. The fighter road map completed by AFWIC in 2018 considered the F-16 Block 70/72 and a potential fighter version of the Boeing T-7 as candidates for light-fighter sales to foreign militaries, the source said. “The trade space in the fighter road map is real, and the trade space is a combination of payload, range, speed and survivability,” the source said. “And I don’t need all of one thing. I need a portfolio of things.” Over the past decade, the same debate has raged within the air forces of other countries, particularly for those that cannot afford to operate more than one type of fighter. The F-35 has fared well in those decisions. Among countries that have been offered the F-35, only Germany has rejected the stealth-fighter option so far. That record will be put to the test next year against a backdrop of national economic pressures imposed by the costs of the COVID-19 pandemic. Switzerland, Finland and Canada are evaluating proposals. A year-long political crisis in Israel delayed plans to order either F-15EXs or more F-35As, or both. A resolution to the country’s presidential election was not reached until after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Israel, to consume the attention of decision-makers. In other countries with a fighter aircraft-design capability, the debate over spending on tactical aviation includes a third dimension. Following several years of study and analysis, the next generation of designs is beginning to assume a tangible form. This is especially true in the U.S. defense industry. In a startling, mid-September announcement, Will Roper—assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology and logistics—declared the service had developed, built and flown a flight demonstrator for the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. Roper’s announcement was light on details, including the time frame of the flight, details of the aircraft design and the status of the program now. But the concept of the need for an NGAD flight demonstrator was suggested in September 2019 by Gen. David Goldfein, who was then chief of staff of the Air Force. Several months before, the Air Force released a five-year budget plan that included a $6.6 billion funding cut for the NGAD program, a roughly 50% reduction compared to spending levels over the same period from only a year before. The spending cut made it unclear what had become of a notional concept popularized in 2015 and 2016 by U.S. defense contractors of a “sixth-generation fighter,” featuring a supersonic aircraft design lacking vertical tails and carrying advanced weapons such as an embedded high-energy laser for shooting down incoming missiles. Instead, the Air Force’s leaner spending plan for the NGAD in 2019 supported a different concept for a next-generation fighter. Rather than a standalone aircraft that could, much like the F-35 and F-22 design requirement, prosecute a mission by itself with a diverse array of sensors to detect and identify targets in the air or on the ground in any weather, along with all of the munitions necessary to destroy those targets, the Air Force increasingly has emphasized adopting a family of systems to “close the kill chain.” The sensing and munition capabilities would be distributed among multiple aircraft that often must collaborate to complete a mission. At the same time, the Air Force is investing in several new technologies related to air dominance. A Next-Generation Adaptive Propulsion program aims to deliver an advanced new turbofan engine in fiscal 2025, with GE Aviation and Pratt & Whitney developing rival designs. A new family of unmanned aircraft systems designed to augment or operate independently of crewed fighters is being developed under the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program. In his remarks in September 2019, Goldfein said the NGAD program now is focused on maturing five different technologies that the Air Force does not intend will come together on a single platform. A prototype aircraft, he said, was necessary to demonstrate those technologies in flight. In Europe, progress is being made toward a next-generation fighter. By August 2021, France, Germany and Spain expect to conclude Phase 1A of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) demonstrator program, with the goal of defining a wide range of technologies that will be carried into a flight demonstration scheduled to begin under Phase 1B at the end of 2026. A collaboration among the UK, Sweden and Italy under the Team Tempest consortium will enter 2021 with renewed support. A long-awaited defense review in London finally was published in November showing support for the Future Combat Air System Technology Initiative under a £1.5 billion ($2 billion) fund for military research over the next four years. Tens of billions more will be needed to complete development of the NGAD, FCAS and Tempest over the next two decades, even as Western governments continue to split modernization investments among three fourth-generation fighters—the Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter and Saab JAS 39E/F Gripen—and the F-35. Maintaining the right balance of spending in each category will consume the debate over fighter aircraft decisions on the horizon.

  • Army Wrestles With SIGINT vs. EW

    August 1, 2018 | International, Land, C4ISR

    Army Wrestles With SIGINT vs. EW

    This internal budget battle in the Army could cede the actual battlefield to high-powered Russian and Chinese jammers, electronic warfare advocates fear, with the same lethal consequences for US troops that Ukrainian forces have suffered since 2014. By SYDNEY J. FREEDBERG JR. CAPITOL HILL: Can the Army unite its rival tribes to retake the high-tech high groundof modern warfare, the electromagnetic spectrum? Those are the stakes in the service’s ongoing internal struggles over doctrine, organization, and an obscure but critical program known as TLIS, the Terrestrial Layer Intelligence System. Army leaders see TLIS as a powerful synergy between Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), which eavesdrops on and locates enemy transmissions, and Electronic Warfare (EW), which jams those same transmissions and can be used for cyber warfare. But TLIS, as the “intelligence” in its name implies, began as a pure SIGINT system, before it absorbed the former Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW) program, and there’s always the possible it might regress. At least some electronic warriors hear worrying rumors that the more powerful SIGINT branch wants to save money on TLIS by cutting back on its jamming capabilities, leaving it as a passive sensor rather than an active weapon. This internal budget battle in the Army could cede the actual battlefield to high-powered Russian and Chinese jammers, electronic warfare advocates fear, with the same lethal consequences for US troops that Ukrainian forces have suffered since 2014. “The intel people will finally be able to get rid of EW, again, by taking it over, again, and crushing it,” said Col. Jeffrey Church, who until his retirement last year was the most senior Electronic Warfare Officer (EWO) in the Army: There are no EW generals, in stark contrast to SIGINT and cyber. Church was also the last EWO to run the electronic warfare directorate on the Army’s Pentagon staff: His immediate successor was an engineer — an expert on bridges and minefields, not electrons. Both the staff directorate and the EWO specialty have since been folded into Army cyber. “Next,” Church predicted in a bitter post on LinkedIn, “they will cancel the intel portions of MFEW they insisted be written into the EW requirements (i.e. when MFEW was folded into TLIS) and thereby kill the MFEW program.” “I don’t think your article will affect anything for Army EW,” a weary Church told me. “The only thing that will is when a bunch of our soldiers get killed. Then the Army will act shocked by it and be compelled to bring EW into the force with real gear, real operators, real training and real EW leadership.” Synergy or Tension? From drones to foot troops, radio to radar, networks to GPS, everything in a 21st century military has to send and receive signals through the electromagnetic spectrum — which means everything can be detected, targeted, and disrupted. Russia and China have invested massively in electronic warfare since the end of the Cold War while the US disbanded most EW. Today, while the Navy and Air Forcehave high-cost jamming aircraft — the EA-18G Growler and EC-130H Compass Call respectively — they’re too rare, expensive, and over-powered to support small units on the ground. But the US Army’s own arsenal consists almost entirely of short-range jammers that fit in backpacks or on Humvees, most of them designed to disable radio detonators for roadside bombs. Meanwhile Russia and China have fleets of heavy trucks packed with high-power EW gear that can scramble US signals hundreds of miles away. The Army’s original solution to this problem was called Multi-Function Electronic Warfare (MFEW), a common family of sensors and jammers meant to go on trucks, drones and manned aircraft — eventually. But the service decided to fold MFEW into the land-based TLIS and an as-yet-unnamed airborne counterpart instead. “We are specifically looking at putting SIGINT, EW and cyber on the same platform, both on the ground and in the air,” Maj. Gen. Robert Walters told a July 18 forumorganized by the Association of Old Crows, an EW professional group. As commander of the Army’s intelligence center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., Walters is the Army’s lead “proponent” for TLIS requirements, with the cyber center at Fort Gordon, Ga. in a significant supporting role. There’s a natural synergy here, Walters said. SIGINT finds the enemy signals and analyzes them, then cyber and electronic warfare can target the weak links in the enemy network. While he didn’t say so out loud, that’s how it’s done by the current masters of the art, the Russians, whose SIGINT and EW officers often sit side by side in the same vehicle so they can quickly coordinate devastating electromagnetic maneuvers, as in Ukraine. But there’s also a tension between the two sides. Intelligence naturally wants to keep listening to the enemy signals to find out more, whereas cyber/EW warriors want to shut them down or use them to feed cyber weapons into. Now, you can try to shut down only the enemy’s most secure networks so they have to use the ones SIGINT can easily crack. That’s what the Russians did against the Ukrainians, forcing them off their military radios onto personal cellphones — but it’s not easy to pull off. Second, when EW turns on its jammers, their powerful signal doesn’t just disrupt enemy transmissions: It also provides a big target for enemy missiles and artillery radars to home in on. At best, that means the combined SIGINT/EW unit has to relocate frequently, disrupting listening operations. At worst, it means the combined unit blows up in one shot. (You can reduce the risk to your troops by putting the jammers on drones or ground robots operated from a distance by remote control, but that creates a new problem: The enemy can detect, decode and jam your communications with the robots). So how well will the Army balance these tensions? Right now, said one well-connected electronic warfare expert, the intelligence branch is in the driver’s seat, and “once again intel has defaulted back to SIGINT, which disappoints me…..It’s not looking too good.” This attitude may be overly pessimistic. But there’s little cause for optimism in Army’s unhappy history of internecine intramural rivalries and cancelled procurement programs. Is Big Six Missing One? The current Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, is trying to make a break with the service’s dysfunctional past. He has named six modernization priorities, each with its own Cross Functional Team (CFT), led by a general who can pull in people from across the bureaucracy and put them in one room until they thrash out how to get things done. Those CTFs, in turn, will play a leading role in the new Army Futures Command being stood up in Austin. But electronic warfare has no clear home in this new structure. Of the six priorities — 1) long-range artillery, 2) armored vehicles, 3) aircraft, 4) networks, 5) air & missile defense, and 6) soldier equipment, in that order — the closest fit is with Priority No. 4, the network. That covers all the computerized communication and data systems the Army uses to transmit orders and intelligence: Lose all those and you’re back to carrier pigeons. So, understandably, the emphasis of the network Cross Functional Team is on defending the US network from jamming and hacking, not on attacking enemy networks with our own jammers and hackers. A spin-off CFT on Precision Navigation & Timing has a similar defensive focus: How can US forces keep track of where everything is and when it has to happen if the enemy disrupts GPS? For that matter, the entire cyber center at Fort Gordon, despite having responsibility for electronic warfare, evolved when the old Signal Corps school took on a growing role in not just setting up communications networks but defending them. It’s only recently taken on an offensive role, and primarily in cyberspace rather than electronic warfare. So all these leading Army organizations have the same focus on defense. Their job is to keep the network working under attack. But defense is not enough on its own. A tank doesn’t just need armor: It needs a gun. Maybe a network doesn’t just need cybersecurity and resilience against jamming: It needs to be able to attack the other side’s network. A rmy Secretary Mark Esper has made clear the Big Six priorities are unlikely to change, so don’t expect him to add electronic warfare as Big No. 7 any time soon. But there is still some wiggle room to spin off subsidiary priorities with their own Cross Functional Teams. In fact, from the beginning, there’ve been eight Cross Functional Teams, not six: The network priority is also supported by that Precision Navigation & Timing CFT, while the soldier equipment CFT spun off a training simulations CFT. Now, that eight-fold structure hasn’t changed since the initial announcement in 2016. But there’s no fundamental reason why the Army couldn’t add a ninth CFT for electronic warfare, supporting the network priority area alongside the PNT team. What this would take — besides a memo from Esper and Milley — would be a fundamental change in how the Army thinks about “the network,” as an offensive weapon instead of a mere technical function. his is a philosophical shift. There’s a longstanding tendency in Western militaries to focus on reducing what Clausewitz called the friction and fog of war, the innumerable minor mishaps, miscommunications, and misunderstandings that constantly impede military operations. The ambition to “lift the fog of war” reached its peak of hubris in the “transformation” movement before the invasion of Iraq, where the fog rolled in again unstoppably. Eastern tradition, by contrast, has long seen fog and friction as not only obstacles but weapons: You want to reduce them for your own side, of course, but also to increase them for the enemy. Hence Sun Tzu’s maxim that “all warfare is based on deception,” a concept the Russians have embraced with their doctrine of maskirovka and which seems well-suited to the information age. So, instead of treating the network simply as an electromagnetic means to reduce our fog and friction, why not extend the concept to include electromagnetic means to increase the enemy’s fog and friction? Instead of an asset to be defended, what if it’s a weapon to attack? s the Network a Weapon? There are signs the Army is starting to think this way. At the Capitol Hill forum, Lt. Gen. Stephen Fogarty — current head of Army Cyber Command and former chief of the Cyber Center at Fort Gordon — even talked about the network as a “weapon” and (intentionally or not) echoed Sun Tzu. “We’ve truly started to operationalize the Army networks,” Fogarty said. “That’s the foundational weapons platform for a modern military.” Without the network, he said, you can’t do persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); long-range precision fires (LRPF) with missiles and artillery; logistics; medical evacuation; or command and control (C2, what the Army now calls “mission command”). Now, Fogarty’s list is about how the network enables other parts of the Army, rather than the network taking the offensive itself. Still, calling the network a “weapons system” is a long way from the old-school Army view of it as a mere utility, a technical convenience the geeks set up in the back room so the real mencan go up front and fight. Why is the network so fundamental, in Fogarty’s view? Because, he said, “our ability to operate and defend that network is what gives our commanders the ability to do two things: to see the adversary and see ourselves.” Once again, Fogarty is not talking about using the network to attack, only to “operate and defend.” Nevertheless, he’s sounding an awful lot like Sun Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” Or as Fogarty put it, with less elegance but more specificity: “In the multi-domain battlespace, not of the future but of today, against peer and near-peer adversaries, whoever has the ability to sense, understand, decide, and act faster than their opponent (will) enjoy decisive advantage.” (He’s referring to an updated version of the classic OODA loop: Observe, Orient, Decide, & Act). That requires bringing formerly disparate specialties together in new ways, said Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the deputy chief of Army staff for intelligence (G-2). “Our primary challenge is one of integration,” he told the AOC forum. “Future forces must integrate SIGINT, electronic warfare, and cyber capabilities to provide situational awareness” — i.e. know yourself, know your enemy — “and enable commanders to deliver kinetic and non-kinetic fires” — i.e. both physical attacks, like missiles, bombs, and shells, and intangible ones, like hacking and jamming. This transition can be intellectually and culturally wrenching, Berrier admitted. “While the tribes have come together, there are still members of the tribes that are a little obstinate,” he said to laughter. For those who don’t see the inherent benefits, however, Berrier added, “another reason we’re doing it is that the Chief of Staff of the Army told us to do it.”

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