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  • New head of Strategic Capabilities Office wants to focus on AI

    24 septembre 2018 | International, C4ISR

    New head of Strategic Capabilities Office wants to focus on AI

    By: Aaron Mehta WASHINGTON — The Strategic Capabilities Office is under new management, and its new director intends to doubledown on the agency's emphasis on artificial intelligence. In his first interview since taking over the office, Chris Shank, the new SCO director, made it clear he sees artificial intelligence as a sweet spot for his office. Roughly one third of SCO projects deal with autonomous systems, machine learning or AI in some way, Shank said, including long-range fires programs, cyber programs and some assorted with special forces. Shank is the the group's second leader, following Will Roper, the office's founder who is now the Air Force's top civilian acquisitions official. But don't expect major changes in how the office works. “My job is to keep momentum going,” Shank explained. “It's a very high ops tempo group that [Roper was] able to recruit and attract into the office, in terms of working synergistic teams around that. What I am trying to do is take it from a startup organization to a long-term sustainable one.” Although they share some DNA, the SCO's mission is different from that of the Pentagon's technology office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Where the latter is focused on finding and prototyping the game-changing technologies for future battles, the SCO is trying to understand existing needs and address them in new ways. Getting those projects from tests to prototype to a tool used by the services remains a central challenge, Shank acknowledged, but he said that is one of the office's core function. “Where SCO lives is the valley of death,” Shank said, referencing a term for when technologies infamously tend to fail. The SCO had been reporting directly to the Secretary of Defense, but under the Pentagon's recent reorganization, it now reports to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. Shank acknowledged the importance of coordination within that office, particularly with AI, which now has a number of different centers of gravity within the Pentagon – a $2 billion push by DARPA, an AI center under Chief Technical Officer Dana Deasy, a directorate under the R&E enterprise, as well as various service-level initiatives. The R&E enterprise has weekly meetings to deconflict investments in AI, Shank said, emphasizing the different business models and goals between the groups. Shank described two programs — each named after pieces of the Iron Man movie mythos — as examples of how SCO can use AI to assist the services in the near-term. Paladium is a broader Navy logistics effort, which involves “smart sustainment” in support of fourth-generation fighter aircraft. A sub project for that is JARVIS, which involves putting a robotics suite out into the field with maintainers that can scan existing parts and quickly re-manufacture them. Shank said the office identified two parts that would require around 2,000 man hours to build out; JARVIS should be able to quickly recreate those, saving both time and the potential errors that come from human-machined pieces. Perhaps those projects aren't as shiny as some of SCO's other programs, such as the Perdix drone-swam, but finding areas where AI can be injected onto existing system and where “the human brain doesn't have to work” as hard will have benefits across the Pentagon, Shank said. The office is primarily focused on the Indo-PACOM and European Command theaters, Shank said. However, he expects to soon provide an update on the Sea Mob/Ghost Fleet initiative, which involves converting existing naval vessels into unmanned systems. He also indicated that there would be unmanned projects in air and land that are unveiled in 2019. One looming cloud for the office: an attempt earlier this year by members of the House Armed Services Committee to kill the SCO by 2020. However, when asked if he was concerned about that proposal, Shank flatly said “no.” He traveled to the Hill shortly after taking office to address that specific issue. In describing the conversation with lawmakers, Shank said, “'I know this wasn't your intent, but this impacted both morale and my ability to recruit talent into the organization,'” he said, “and they [said] ‘that wasn't our intent.'” The SCO is working on a report for Congress on the future of the organization.

  • UK takes steps forward in major land system competitions, but budget uncertainty looms

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Terrestre

    UK takes steps forward in major land system competitions, but budget uncertainty looms

    By: Andrew Chuter MILLBROOK, England — Major procurement programs were top of the mind at the Defence Vehicle Dynamics show, with the UK Ministry of Defence and industry pointing to notable progress for two of the largest system buys on the horizon. And yet, budget uncertainty looms, leaving market executives to question how the British military will fund programs long term. Boxer buy Recently appointed Defence Procurement Minister Stuart Andrew announced that the Ministry of Defence last week issued a request for quotations with the intention of purchasing an initial batch of 500 Boxer mechanized infantry vehicles for the British Army. The Artec's Boxer was nominated in March as the preferred choice for the requirement after the MoD controversially opted to select the vehicle without a competition. The MoD previously said it would purchase 500 vehicles over a five-year period, with the first Boxers delivered in 2023. Cost is put at £4.4 billion (U.S. $5.8 billion), although that includes the first 10 years of support. The British intend to use the Boxers alongside General Dynamics' new Ajax family of tracked vehicles and other platforms, meant for two strike brigades currently being created by the British Army. Boxer is a German-Dutch program managed through OCCAR. The move announced by Andrew gives the green light for Artec — a joint venture between Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann — to begin signing up British supply chain companies ahead of a final go-ahead decision by the MoD in late 2019. Artec has signed a memorandum of understanding with a number of companies in the U.K., including Pearson Engineering, Thales and Raytheon as it tries to meet its commitment to perform 60 percent of the manufacturing in the U.K. Challenger 2 update Rheinmetall's program targets in the U.K. are not limited to Boxer. The company is embroiled in a second possible land procurement effort in the U.K. — the update of the British Army's Challenger 2 main battle tank in a life-extension program. Rheinmetall and BAE Systems, which built the Challenger 2, have conducted competitive assessment phase contracts for the MoD ahead of selection of a winning contractor, who would lead the program starting sometime next year. The assessment phase officially concludes at the end of this year, but both sides have delivered their proposals to the MoD ahead of the Army' preliminary design review next month. The life-extension program began as a means of combating the obsolescence of several Challenger systems rather than a capability upgrade. But the emergence of the new Russian T-14 tank and the perceived threat by Moscow and other potentially hostile states has driven a more ambitious approach to improve Britain's tank capability. And industry has responded with options to boost the platform's capability. Rheinmetall has offered to swap the Challenger's 120mm rifled gun for a smoothbore weapon, while the BAE-led partnership Team Challenger 2 offered to fit an active protection system. The Army would probably like both, but given the dire state of the defense budget, affording even one of those options is problematic. “At the moment, the assessment phase excludes the gun and an active protection system. However, Team Challenger 2 [members] have planned in an APS from the start, and it is designed for, but not necessarily with, a system,” said Simon Jackson, the head of land vehicle upgrades at BAE. The Team Challenger 2 partnership also includes General Dynamics, Leonardo, Qinetiq, Safran and Moog. “The gun is outside the requirement, but if MoD decide they want a smoothbore, we have already done the work fitting a new gun to Challenger 2 in 2006. It's not difficult. You need to change turret stowage for the new ammunition and make fire control modifications. It's not difficult, but it takes time,” Jackson added. “Today, the rifled gun with the Charm 3 ammunition meets the need, but it depends to an extent on how long the Army want to keep Challenger 2 in service as to whether they want a smoothbore or not. It's also got to be an affordability question. “It's not a disadvantage for us; we have fitted a smoothbore on Challenger before. We clearly know all about the interfaces with the turret, which our rivals do not." However, Rheinmetall is among the world leaders in 120mm smoothbore weapons. Peter Hardisty, the managing director at Rheinmetall Defence UK, said despite “some challenges, they are completely manageable.” “We have informed the MoD we have a cutting-edge smoothbore weapon available on the Leopard 2 tank if required,” Hardisty said at the DVD event. Some analysts wonder if the expected release of an invitation to tender for the program could be delayed so the Army can consider its options for a gun and active protection system. Some executives Defense News spoke to said they expected the invitation imminently, but Hardisty said he doesn't expect the invitation to tender until "the first or second quarter of next year.” Team Challenger 2 made a surprise announcement ahead of the show that it was bringing to DVD a demonstrator vehicle known as Black Night, equipped with a suite of new sighting systems, fire control systems, a laser warning capability and other upgrades meant to keep the aging tank viable through to its current 2035 out-of-service date. The main item of interest on Black Night was the provision of an Iron Fist active protection system supplied by Israel's IMI Systems. BAE and General Dynamics each have experience installing the Iron Fist, but Jackson said any active protection system could be fitted. The MoD is sticking to its request for a makeover for 227 Challengers 2 tanks for now ; but like most other defense equipment programs, it's hostage to possible change caused by budget shortfalls. The MoD's defense modernization program review may have to balance a significant mismatch between available funds and commitments. Hardisty believes the Challenger 2 update isn't especially vulnerable to the review, but added that the review will likely impact a host of vehicle programs required by the Army. “There is always uncertainty, it's the nature of the sector. We feel comfortable about Boxer and the mechanized vehicle requirement, and reasonably comfortable about Challenger 2,” he said. Budget uncertainty However, many executives here acknowledge that Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has probably lost his fight for a substantial spending boost. And as Britain's impending departure from the European Union could damage the economy, the British defense sector is bracing for even tougher times ahead. An MoD spokesman at the DVD event said the ministry intends to publish the outcome of the defense modernization program review by late autumn. Some industry executives, however, think it's more likely the review will be released piecemeal over time to reduce the impact of program and capability cuts. Britain has been in an almost perpetual defense review for the last four years. U.K. defense commentator Howard Wheeldon offered the view last week that a further defense review delaying spending decision is possible next year — a sentiment shared by a number of senior executives at DVD.

  • France wants to buy Airbus tankers sooner

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Aérospatial

    France wants to buy Airbus tankers sooner

    By: Pierre Tran PARIS — France renewed a pledge to speed up by two years delivery of 12 Airbus A330 multirole transport tanker jets for the French Air Force by 2023. “At the ministerial investment committee, the Direction Générale de l'Armement received the mission to accelerate the delivery of the A330 MRTT Phénix,” the armed forces ministry said in a Sept. 20 statement. A 12-strong fleet of the A330 MRTT by 2023 brings forward delivery of the air tankers by two years, the ministry said. A further three units will be ordered to bring the total fleet to 15 in the following years, the ministry added. No dates were given for a contract for the A330 MRTT or the value of the planned order. No date was set for a further batch of three more units. That boost for inflight refuelling was among the equipment modernization measures included in the 2019-2025 military budget law, formally signed by French president Emmanuel Macron just before an official garden party on July 13. The French Air Force has long lobbied for renewing the aerial capability, as the present aging tanker fleet is a key element in the airborne nuclear deterrent. French air operations in allied operations in the sub-Saharan Sahel region and the Middle East rely heavily on U.S. air tankers. The A330 MRTT will replace a mixed fleet of C-135FR and KC-135R tankers — some of which are close to 60 years old — and A310 and A340 strategic troop and transport aircraft. The A330 MRTT is a military conversion of the Airbus A330 airliner.

  • US Marine Corps kills amphibious assault vehicle upgrade program

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Naval, Terrestre

    US Marine Corps kills amphibious assault vehicle upgrade program

    By: Jen Judson WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps has killed its Amphibious Assault Vehicle survivability upgrade program as it turns focus to the future and aligns with the new National Defense Strategy. The service executed a stop work order Aug. 27 to SAIC, which was under contract to perform survivability upgrades to the 40-plus-year-old AAV fleet to include new tracks to enhance mobility as well as increased underbelly armor, blast-mitigating seats, a new engine and transmission along with an assortment of suspension upgrades. The order “allows [SAIC] to finish the four production control modules that they were building,” Marine Corps spokesman Manny Pacheco said in a statement sent to Defense News. “They have delivered three and we expect the fourth soon. “All other work will be terminated.” SAIC has already delivered 10 AAV Engineering and Manufacturing Development versions of the vehicle to the Marines. The Marine Corps has spent approximately $125 million to date on the AAV Survivability Upgrade, or SU, program and has now identified approximately $96 million in fiscal 2019 funding that the Defense Department and Congress will have to reprioritize, according to Pacheco. The idea was to keep the vehicles alive into 2035 as the Marine Corps begins to bring online its new Amphibious Combat Vehicle, or ACV, that would slowly replace the AAVs over time. But in an effort to “better align programs with the National Defense Strategy and congressional guidance to reduce investment in legacy programs and focus buying power on modernization, the Marine Corps made the decision to divest the AAV SU program,” Pacheco said. The AAV does not “meet the needs of modern Marine amphibious forcible entry operations,” he said. “Rather than continue to invest in that vehicle that, even in upgraded form, will not provide adequate maneuverability, survivability, or ship-to-shore performance, the Marine Corps believes these funds would be better used elsewhere to support modernization initiatives across the force.” The decision was also motivated by the expected mobility and survivability demonstrated by the ACV, along with planned lethality, “which will ensure that our Marines have the firepower and survivability to succeed in the future fight,” Pacheco added. “Reinvestment decisions will be made separately and focus on increasing lethality of the force,” Pacheco explained. “AAV SU divestiture assets may allow us to procure underfunded initiatives in the AAV modification line such as Tactical Communication Modernization and a Remote Weapons Station.” The stop work order serves as another blow to SAIC, which lost in June a head-to-head competition to build the Marines' new ACV. BAE Systems was selected to build 30 low-rate initial production vehicles expected to be delivered by the fall of 2019, valued at $198 million. The total value of the contract with all options exercised is expected to amount to about $1.2 billion. But the AAV isn't likely the only program on the chopping block. Defense leadership has been saying since last year that it can't continue to invest in older systems while also focusing on new programs; they have admitted there will come a time when those legacy systems will have to be scaled back to make way for more a modernized capability. The FY20 budget documents and five-year plans from each service have been submitted to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and it's likely more examples of efforts to reprioritize funds from old to new platforms will emerge. The Army has already terminated the Bradley A5 upgrade program in favor of the new Next-Generation Combat Vehicle. That upgrade would have included improvements like a third-generation FLIR, a cross-platform laser pointer, color day camera and an improved laser range finder. And in the FY19 spending bill conference report, the Bradley A4 program took a $160 million hit due to a “revised acquisition strategy.” While SAIC appears to have lost out both on the ACV program and now the AAV SU effort with the Marine Corps, the company is now setting its sights — building off its experience as an effective platform integrator — on the U.S. Army's Mobile Protected Firepower program. The company, partnered with ST Kinetics and CMI Defence, will integrate CMI's Cockerill 3105 turret onto an ST Kinetics next-generation armored fighting vehicle chassis as its offering in the Mobile Protected Firepower competition that kicked off with the release of a request for proposals in November 2017. And the company is working on some efforts related to the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle as well, SAIC's CEO, Tony Moraco, told Defense News in a recent interview.

  • Northrop Grumman wins modification on big electronic warfare contract

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Naval

    Northrop Grumman wins modification on big electronic warfare contract

    By: Mark Pomerleau The Navy awarded Northrop Grumman a cost-only modification valued at $9 million related to its work on a portion of the Navy's premier electronic warfare system. The award relates to Block 3 of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program, or SEWIP Block 3, provides ships a scalable electronic warfare enterprise suite with improved electronic attack capabilities. Last year, the Department of Defense's Inspector General's office found that the $5.7 billion SEWIP was experiencing significant cost overruns that could put the program behind schedule. Though much of the specific amounts were redacted, the report called the overruns “significant increases” over the budget for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of SEWIP Block 3. Naval Sea Systems Command on Feb. 12, 2015, awarded the SEWIP Block 3 design and development contract to Northrop Grumman with an option for the EMD phase originally valued at $91.7 million.

  • 4 questions with analyst and retired Marine Lt. Col. Dakota Wood

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Naval

    4 questions with analyst and retired Marine Lt. Col. Dakota Wood

    By: David B. Larter WASHINGTON — The U.S. Marine Corps is facing the same issue as the rest of the armed forces: figuring out how to fight inside the envelope of Chinese long-range missiles in what is known as the anti-access, area denial environment of the South and East China seas. As the Navy and Marine Corps seek to protect sea lanes, allies and U.S. interests, their solution to their shared problem is to spread out, cause chaos and put strain on China's ability to target U.S. forces and sustain operations on multiple fronts. Defense News caught up with retired Marine Lt. Col. Dakota Wood, now an analyst with The Heritage Foundation, to see how the Corps is tackling the issue. As the Marines confront the challenge of fighting in the Pacific again, what are the top priorities for modernization? There are two parts to that. What are their priorities? Well the amphibious combat vehicle, unmanned capabilities overall and completing fielding of the F-35B. So that's the easy stuff: air, ground and unmanned. They are pursuing upgrades for infantrymen — rifles, optics and communications — but that is always ongoing. What I think is more interesting is how do those relate to the unfolding vision of what future Marine Corps should be. I don't think we've figured that out yet. Just as in World War II, the Navy and Marine Corps are uniquely set up for operations in the Pacific theater, but you have to get close to fight. What progress are the Marine Corps and Navy making in solving that problem? The chief of naval operations has specifically stated the dependency the Navy has on the Marine Corps to create those opportunities. The question is: How do you disrupt the enemy's posture, present multiple dilemmas to the enemy? A Marine landing force on an island or feature has to present a problem to the enemy that is credible — anti-ship cruise missiles, short-range air defense, a sensor node contributing to the air or surface picture. It has to be able to thin out the enemy's fire power, sensor grid and attention span to give the Navy the chance to get inside the envelope, close and have an impact. So how does the Marine Corps get there? It has huge implications for organizational design to get these smaller units where they need to be in a distributed environment. So it's about connectors and how do you resupply those forces. Unmanned systems? Are amphibious combat vehicles relevant in that environment? It has an impact on ships as well. So far, the Navy has been building big ships. And in this budget environment, will they be able to build enough to support that kind of operation? How do you distribute a force to pose a dilemma for your adversary? There is a gap between current modernization efforts and what needs to be there. What's the answer? To get where you need to be requires extensive experimentation and trying new things. That's the critical shortfall for the Navy and the Marine Corps.

  • Army makes strides toward network modernization with much anticipated radio award

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Terrestre, C4ISR

    Army makes strides toward network modernization with much anticipated radio award

    By: Mark Pomerleau The Army has awarded Harris Corp. and Thales Defense a much anticipated radio contract that leaders say is critical for mission command on contested battlefields in the future. The two-channel leader software-defined radio will allow commanders on the ground to switch frequencies if one is being jammed by adversaries. The Army said it plans to exercise a delivery order for 1,540 Leader Radio sets and 338 vehicular mounting kits. The value of the order was not immediately clear. “This is an important step in providing critical tactical communications capabilities that are interoperable and effective in a contested electronic warfare environment,” Col. Garth Winterle, project manager for tactical radios, said in a Sept. 21 Army release. Army leaders have described the radios as critical to the Army's overall network modernization strategy. The contract allows for annual orders and for the easy integration of new capabilities. “The award of the two-channel Leader radio contract is an important milestone in the modernization of the Army's tactical network and Harris is honored to be part of it,” Dana Mehnert, President, Harris Communication Systems, said. Maj. Gen. David Bassett, the program executive officer for Command, Control, Communications-Tactical, told reporters in March that these types of radios have shown themselves to be able to run a wide range of waveforms. This has proven to be a critical feature as the Army considers more advanced, harder-to-jam waveforms for the future. This could be especially important in electronic warfare as adversaries make strides in their jamming and sensing abilities within the electromagnetic spectrum. The two-channel Leader radio will also be a key component of what the Army is calling the integrated tactical network, which focuses on a simplified, independent, mobile network solution at the battalion level. That solution is intended to provide network availability down to the small unit dismounted leader for better mission command, situational awareness and air-to-ground integration.

  • Here’s how Air Mobility Command will improve aircraft survivability

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Aérospatial, C4ISR

    Here’s how Air Mobility Command will improve aircraft survivability

    By: Charlsy Panzino In a great power conflict, mobility aircraft will be essential to deliver fuel and supplies to the warfighters. But increasing concern over anti-access/area denial threats from potential foes, and the fact that big bodied mobility aircraft present inviting, in fact, critical targets has the attention and concern of Air Force leadership. The new head of Air Mobility Command is focusing on four key areas to improve the survivability of mobility aircraft and gain persistence over the battlefield. Gen. Maryanne Miller, who took the controls Sept. 7 when Gen. Carlton Everhart retired, told reporters at the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space and Cyber Conference that the Illinois-based command is looking at four categories of survivability improvements: Situational awareness of the battlefield New countermeasures to operate in a combat environment Self-defense systems Disciplined signature management “Looking at each one of these categories will help advance the survivability for our platforms in the threat environment,” Miller said Tuesday. Miller is carrying forward work that was done under her predecessor. Early this year, AMC completed an assessment about how to improve the survivability of aircraft in contested environments. The “High Value Airborne Asset” study recommended improvements to communications, situational awareness and self-protection systems. There are many different technologies to consider and develop for self-protection. including light armor, signature management tech and high-energy lasers. Former AMC commander Gen. Carlton Everhart often talked about his desire to put lasers on mobility aircraft, beginning with the KC-135, and the command has also been working to improve secure communications, notably on the C-17. The service needs integrated situational awareness capabilities that provide all aspects of pertinent battlefield information. New sensors will help the command better understand everything that's happening within the battlefield. As Air Mobility Command looks at how best to build that situational awareness, it could mean building sensors onto the aircraft or new air frames to meet those requirements. “Given the threat environment, it's probably a little bit of both,” Miller said. With signature management, or detection avoidance, Miller said AMC is looking at new air frames that will have common cockpits, advanced propulsion systems, payload, offload, range, speed and fuel efficiency. Miller said the command is figuring out if modifications can be made on current air frames or if new ones need to be built. “We're really trying to take advantage of signature management properties associated with each air frame itself,” she said. Meanwhile, U.S. Transportation Command and the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation organization within the Office of the Secretary of Defense have been assessing the number of tanker aircraft, airlift aircraft and sealift ships needed to meet future combatant commander requirements. The study, known as the Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study, is expected to be completed this fall. “America's air refueling fleet is the most stressed of our air mobility forces," Gen. Darren McDew, commander of USTRANSCOM, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year. “The combination of an aging fleet, increasing demand, and global tanker distribution puts a significant strain on this scarce national resource.” “Our ability to deploy decisive force is foundational to the National Defense Strategy. The size and lethality of the force is of little consequence if we can't get it where it needs to go when we want it there,” said McDew. The rate of change in technology requires quick innovation to overcome threats, Miller said. The force needs aircraft that are “able to survive, integrate and operate in DoD forces in current and future threat environments.” Miller said the key is understanding the threats of the future and modifying or building a plane that allows the Air Force to operate through that threat environment.

  • Sub builder Electric Boat injects millions into Groton expansion

    24 septembre 2018 | International, Naval

    Sub builder Electric Boat injects millions into Groton expansion

    By: The Associated Press GROTON, Conn. — Submarine builder Electric Boat has announced plans for an $850 million shipyard expansion in Connecticut. The Day reports the company released plans for expanding its Groton shipyard Thursday as it prepares to build a new class of ballistic missile submarines. Electric Boat says it plans to construct a new assembly facility and a floating dry dock. The environmental consulting company helping with the project says the facilities will allow Electric Boat to bring the submarine materials to the site by water and help reduce construction traffic. Some residents have opposed the project, arguing that it will impact their waterfront views and lower their property values. Electric Boat says it looked at alternative sites, but none of them worked. Construction on the buildings is expected to start in 2019.

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