Back to news

October 30, 2018 | International, Naval, C4ISR

UK MoD gets budget boost of more than $1B with three programs in mind


LONDON — Britain's Ministry of Defence has been given a £1 billion (U.S. $1.28 billion) spending boost in the Treasury budget announcement Oct. 29, with Chancellor Philip Hammond suggesting the money would be mainly spent on three strategic military programs.

Hammond said the additional money would be available in the coming months. Cyber, anti-submarine warfare and the Dreadnought nuclear submarine build program all got named as destinations for the extra cash.

“As a former defense secretary myself I understand the immediate pressure our armed forces are facing, so today I will provide £1 billion to cover the remainder of this year and next to boost our cyber, and anti-submarine warfare capacity and to maintain the pace of the Dreadnought program,” Hammond told Parliament.

The increase caught many by surprise. Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has been battling with Hammond for months for extra cash, but a massive funding commitment to the National Health Service made new funds toward security seem unlikely.

Jon Louth, the director for defence, industry and society at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London said the additional funding was good news, but fell well short of what is required.

“It's welcome, but comes nowhere near addressing the potential funding gap if you add up all the programs in the equipment plan. It does appear to be a significant increase in percentage terms, although the devil will be in the detail,” he said.

The RUSI analyst said the outcome was “better than we expected a few months ago. Politically people will be chalking that up as a win for Williamson in the context of the wider government budget. One billion pounds is a win,” he said.

Louth cautioned against getting too hung up on the chancellor's announcement about where the extra cash will be spent.

“I suspect when we come to see how the money is used next year it will potentially be a little different from the chancellor's headlines today,” he said.

Defense consultant Alex Ashbourne Walmsley of Ashbourne Strategic Consulting said the new money was a “sticking plaster, but it will buy the MoD a bit more time to work out how to do more with less.”

Earlier this year the MoD received a total of £800 million in funds to keep the program to build four Trident missile equipped Dreadnought nuclear submarines on track.

Some £600 million of that cash came from a £10 billion contingency fund set aside by the government for the Dreadnought program.

Ashbourne-Walmsley described the Dreadnought program as a “money pit.”

The MoD is trying to bridge a funding gap in its £179 billion 10-year equipment plan.

The black hole is put at anywhere between £4 billion and £20 billion by the National Audit Office, the government's financial watchdog. The final figure is dependent, in part, on how effective an ongoing efficiency drive is at the MoD.

The MoD budget for this year is £36.6 billion with 15.6 percent of that spent on equipment procurement and 18.7 percent on support.

The Conservative government is committed to increasing equipment spending in real terms by 0.5 percent a year until 2020.

A long running review, known as the Defence Modernisation Program, has been looking at how British armed forces can adapt and transform to meet the changing and growing military threat, while at the same time balancing the books — an effort that could require capability cuts in several areas.

Publication of that report has already been kicked down the road a couple of times. Although Williamson may announce something before the end of the year, analysts and industry executives expect little of substance ahead of a comprehensive spending review due to take place across all government departments next year.

Hammond appeared to say as much today when he told Parliamentarians the modernisation review will “form the basis for a comprehensive consideration of defense spending next year.”

“The Modernizing Defence Program is increasingly tied into the comprehensive spending review and the 10-year equipment plan in 2019. We might get a whitepaper in late winter or early spring to set up some of the themes but the details won't be out until beyond April,” said Louth.

Some industry executives though are starting to wonder if the modernization program could be published even by April. One executive who asked not to be named, said he wondered whether the comprehensive spending plan might be the trigger for a full blown strategic defense review, particularly if Brexit goes badly and the economy takes a big hit.

On the same subject

  • New Zealand is seeking industry info to build Antarctic patrol vessel

    May 14, 2021 | International, Naval

    New Zealand is seeking industry info to build Antarctic patrol vessel

    The government cautions that the ship will traverse “one of the roughest seas in the world,” where waves regularly exceed 33 feet and some are more than 66 feet high.

  • This is the city the Army has picked for its new Futures Command

    July 16, 2018 | International, Land

    This is the city the Army has picked for its new Futures Command

    By: Jen Judson and Leo Shane III WASHINGTON — The new Army Futures Command (AFC) will be in Austin, Texas, congressional sources, who are now being notified of the choice, have confirmed. The new four-star command was stood up in October at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual conference in Washington. The plan is to realign the Army's modernization priorities under a new organization that will implement cross-functional teams that correspond with the service's top six modernization efforts: Long-Range Precision Fires, Next-Generation Combat Vehicle, Future Vertical Lift, the network, air-and-missile defense and soldier lethality. The service plans to make an official announcement on the location of the command July 13 at the Pentagon. The Army has wanted the new command's headquarters in a city or urban hub close to industry and academia and not on a base or military installation. Earlier this year it shortlisted several major cities in the U.S. as possible locations and put each through a rigorous vetting process. Congressional leaders from the locales pressed hard for a chance to host the new command. The creation of the AFC has also meant taking some elements from some of the major commands and moving them over to the new organization, Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy told Defense News in an exclusive interview just ahead of the Association of the U.S. Army's Global Force Symposium in March. But he said many of those elements won't have to move to the command's new location. The AFC's first commander has been reported to be Lt. Gen. John Murray, the current Army G−8,but the Army has not officially confirmed that selection.

  • The US Air Force’s radical plan for a future fighter could field a jet in 5 years

    September 16, 2019 | International, Aerospace

    The US Air Force’s radical plan for a future fighter could field a jet in 5 years

    By: Valerie Insinna WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is preparing to radically alter the acquisition strategy for its next generation of fighter jets, with a new plan that could require industry to design, develop and produce a new fighter in five years or less. On Oct. 1, the service will officially reshape its next-generation fighter program, known as Next Generation Air Dominance, or NGAD, Will Roper, the Air Force's acquisition executive, said during an exclusive interview with Defense News. Under a new office headed by a yet-unnamed program manager, the NGAD program will adopt a rapid approach to developing small batches of fighters with multiple companies, much like the Century Series of aircraft built in the 1950s, Roper said. “Based on what industry thinks they can do and what my team will tell me, we will need to set a cadence of how fast we think we build a new airplane from scratch. Right now, my estimate is five years. I may be wrong,” he said. “I'm hoping we can get faster than that — I think that will be insufficient in the long term [to meet future threats] — but five years is so much better than where we are now with normal acquisition.” The Century Series approach would be a notable departure from the Air Force's former thinking on its future fighter. In its “Air Superiority 2030” study released in 2016, the Air Force described a long-range, stealthy sensor-shooter called “Penetrating Counter Air,” which would act as NGAD's central node networked with sensors, drones and other platforms. The Air Force would use prototyping to speed along key technologies in the hope of maturing them early enough for inclusion in advanced aircraft fielded in the early 2030s. But what Roper calls the “Digital Century Series” would flip that paradigm: Instead of maturing technologies over time to create an exquisite fighter, the Air Force's goal would be to quickly build the best fighter that industry can muster over a couple years, integrating whatever emerging technology exists. The service would downselect, put a small number of aircraft under contract and then restart another round of competition among fighter manufacturers, which would revise their fighter designs and explore newer leaps in technology. The result would be a networked family of fighters — some more interrelated than others — developed to meet specific requirements and including best-in-breed technologies aboard a single airframe. One jet might be optimized around a revolutionary capability, like an airborne laser. Another fighter might prioritize state-of-the-art sensors and include artificial intelligence. One might be an unmanned weapons truck. But the point, Roper said, is that instead of trying to hone requirements to meet an unknown threat 25 years into the future, the Air Force would rapidly churn out aircraft with new technologies — a tactic that could impose uncertainty on near-peer competitors like Russia and China and force them to deal with the U.S. military on its own terms. Imagine “every four or five years there was the F-200, F-201, F-202 and it was vague and mysterious [on what the planes] have, but it's clear it's a real program and there are real airplanes flying. Well now you have to figure out: What are we bringing to the fight? What improved? How certain are you that you've got the best airplane to win?” Roper wondered. “How do you deal with a threat if you don't know what the future technology is? Be the threat — always have a new airplane coming out.” How does the Air Force get there? Three industrial technologies enable a Century Series approach for NGAD and will set requirements for participants, Roper said. The first is agile software development — a practice where programmers quickly write, test and release code, soliciting feedback along the way from users. The second, open architecture, has long been a buzzword in the defense community, but Roper said industry often uses it to describe a system with plug-and-play hardware. NGAD, ideally, would be fully open, with interchangeable hardware and the ability for a third party to develop software for the system. The final technology, digital engineering, is the most nascent and possibly the most revolutionary, Roper said. While aerospace engineers have used computers for decades to aid in the creation of aircraft, only recently have defense companies developed 3D-modeling tools that can model an entire life cycle — design, production and sustainment — with a high level of accuracy and fidelity. The process would allow companies to not only map out an aircraft in extreme detail, but also model how a production line would work using different levels of manning or how maintainers would carry out repairs at a depot. “You could start learning so much before you ever bent the first piece of metal and turned the first wrench, so that when you did do it for the first time, you already have learned. You're already up to a level of proficiency that in the past you would have to be in the 100th aircraft to have,” he said. “And then if you kept going and you modeled the maintenance, then you could go after the part of the life cycle that constitutes the 70 percent of what we pay." Few defense programs have used digital engineering so far, Roper said. The Air Force is requiring Northrop Grumman and Boeing to use the technique to develop their respective versions of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent. Boeing has also demonstrated the technology with its clean-sheet T-X trainer, taking its design from concept to first flight in three years and beating out two competitors that offered modified versions of existing jets. During a May visit to Boeing's production facility, Paul Niewald, the company's chief engineer for the T-X program, described how the company crafted its digital T-X design with such precision that parts could be joined without shims — the material used to fill in gaps between the pieces of an aircraft — and only one master tool was needed during the plane's production. In total, Boeing was able to reduce by 80 percent the manual labor needed to manufacture and assemble the aircraft, Niewald said. But creating a simple training jet like the T-X is much different than manufacturing a penetrating fighter jet like the NGAD, and there is no proof that those new manufacturing techniques will work for a more advanced aircraft, argued Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with the Teal Group. Aboulafia suggested the Air Force might be “overreacting” to the struggles of the F-35, where a “one-size-fits-all” approach and a focus on software and sensors produced a very expensive aircraft that took almost two decades to develop. But a Century Series approach, he warned, could prioritize the development of new air vehicles at the expense of investments in new weapons, radars, sensors, communications gear or other enabling technology. “With the F-35, we had too much [emphasis on] systems and not enough [on the] air vehicle. Maybe this is going too far in the other direction,” he said. “Isn't the truth somewhere in between where you have two or three air vehicles but a greater resource allocation for systems? In other words, the truth isn't the F-35 and the truth isn't the Century Series. Can't we just think in terms of something in between, a sensible compromise?” Rebecca Grant, an aerospace analyst with IRIS Independent Research, expressed enthusiasm for a new fighter design effort, saying that engineers could push out options for a Century Series style effort “extremely quickly.” However, she added that the choice of engine, the integration of its communications suite, and the decision whether to make the platform manned or unmanned would be key variables influencing the design of the air vehicle. “[A Century Series approach] strikes me that it truly is traditional in a way because this is how it was done in the past. And I think that's what they're trying to get to. They want fresh designs. But the difficulty is always as you start to make the most important trade-offs and identify the most important criteria,” she said. “Those become pretty serious driving functions pretty quickly." A (potential) game plan The new NGAD program office will determine the final acquisition strategy for the Digital Century Series — including the length of the development cycle, procurement quantities and contracting mechanisms. However, Roper revealed to Defense News his thinking for how the program might work: Put at least two manufacturers on contract to design a fighter jet. These could include the existing companies capable of building combat aircraft — Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman — as well as new entrants that could bring a unique technology to the table. Have each company create a hyper-realistic “digital twin” of its fighter design using advanced 3D modeling. Use those models to run myriad simulations of how production and sustainment could occur, hypothetically optimizing both and reducing cost and labor hours. Award a contract to a single fighter manufacturer for an initial batch of aircraft. Roper said that industry could build about a squadron's worth of airplanes per year, or about 24 aircraft. Include options in the contract for additional batches of aircraft. Air Combat Command leadership has told Roper that 72 aircraft — about the number of aircraft in a typical Air Force wing — would be a viable amount for normal operations. While that vendor begins production, restart the competition, putting other companies on contract to begin designing the next aircraft. As it forms the NGAD acquisition strategy, the new program office will also explore how defense primes would be compensated for their work. Most current Air Force programs are awarded to the company that can provide the most capability at the lowest price, leading to a status quo where vendors underbid to secure a contract and reap profits only when platforms are mass-produced and sustained. But if a Digital Century Series construct is adopted, the Air Force may pay companies more money upfront during the design phase and require them to produce planes with a shorter design life; for instance, a jet with a lifespan of 6,000 flight hours instead of manufacturing aircraft designed to be kept in the skies for 20,000 hours, Roper said. "That opens up the opportunities to do things very differently, different structural designs, not doing full-scale fatigue testing and all of things we do on the geriatric Air Force to keep things flying,” he said. “Where is the sweet spot where we are keeping airplanes long enough to make a real difference but not so long that we're paying a premium to sustain them or not able to refresh them with better aircraft?” One obstacle to the Digital Century Series approach may be persuading Congress to approve the necessary funding. The House Armed Services Committee already recommended cutting funding for the NGAD program in the fiscal 2020 budget request, from $1 billion to $500 million — a sign that the committee may not be sold on the Air Force's path forward. Roper said the idea has generated a “good response” from the congressional defense committees but acknowledged that lawmakers have questions about the approach. He also noted there will need to be a means to pay the bills, particularly in the early stages of the development cycle when multiple companies are on contract to design aircraft. “I think the theory is sound, it's the funding required and how big of an industry base we can sustain,” he said. “I don't want to leave companies out, but I also don't want to go so big that we fail because of funding, not because of the soundness of the idea.”

All news