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USAF Acquisition Head Urges Radical Shift For Next-Gen Fighter Program

and I facepalm
A specific new U.S. Air Force fighter designed and equipped to defeat theorized threats in the decades beyond 2030 is the popular vision for the final product of the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. As presented by the aerospace industry’s concept artists, the so-called sixth-generation fighter for the U.S. Air Force is often shown as a step beyond the
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: a futuristic, tailless, super-dogfighter.

But that vision of NGAD may never come into existence.

A new concept for the project emerged from the Air Force’s top acquisition official at the Air Warfare Symposium on Feb. 28, and it calls for a radical break from conventional aircraft development programs.

Rather than spend the next decade developing a singular new air combat platform, the NGAD program may be shaped to establish a pipeline for acquiring, developing and fielding a host of new aircraft types, with a new design entering service perhaps as quickly as every two years. Instead of pinning all hopes on a single model, the alternative, if it works, would allow Air Force leaders to hedge against the risk of technology breakthroughs and to surprise enemies with unexpected new capabilities.

The new vision comes from a rare, extended monolog on the NGAD program’s future by Will Roper, an Oxford-trained string theory physicist who now is assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics.

Although Pentagon and Air Force planners have been thoroughly analyzing requirements for future air dominance technology since 2015, Roper says the NGAD program is not ready to move beyond the realm of internal studies and into the acquisition phase. Despite a two-year study by the Air Superiority 2030 Enterprise Capability Collaboration Team (ECCT), followed by an extended, two-year Analysis of Alternatives, Roper still is not satisfied that the Air Force has settled on the right strategy.

“I have a strong opinion that we need to not have it devolve into a traditional program,” Roper told reporters at the Air Force Association-sponsored symposium.

The acquisition process that Roper inherited starts with a highly detailed analysis of the operating environment, which, in the case of NGAD, is set to begin at least a decade into the future. The military’s operational planners then craft an intricate set of requirements for a future weapon system based on those analytical conclusions. But Roper calls that process “naive.”

“I think we have to accept that we cannot predict the 2030 threat,” he says. “That is the way the Cold War acquisition system works. It predicts the threat, then designs systems that beat them.”

The future presents too many variables to distill a set of coherent requirements from such uncertainty into a single aircraft design, he says. But the answer to that future problem, Roper believes, might be drawn from the Air Force’s past.

“Think back to the original Air Force, during the ‘century series’ of fighters,” Roper says. This reference to the string of second-generation, supersonic jet fighters introduced during the 1950s—the F-100, F-101, F-102, F-104 and F-105—recalls an age of continuous experimentation and innovation, albeit with a generation of combat aircraft boasting far less sophistication than, for example, a modern
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F-22 or
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. Despite those differences in complexity, Roper considers the famed century series as a model for the NGAD program to emulate.

“Can you imagine how disruptive it would be if we could create a new airplane or a new satellite every 3-4 years? Every two years?” Roper asks. “And you might do that not because you need it. It might be because you want to impose cost. You want to knock your opponent off their game plan.”

Cost imposition is a favorite topic for Roper, who came to the Air Force only a year ago. In the span of a decade, he has made the leap from academia to the highest ranks of the military bureaucracy. He started working directly with the military in 2010 as the acting chief architect for the Missile Defense Agency. Another trained physicist, then-Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, appointed Roper to become the first director of the Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO) in 2012, a post he held for five years.

“It was a big theme for me at SCO—cost imposition,” he says. “Show something to make your adversary think something different. Make them spend money. We used to have a 10-to-1 rubric. I’m going to spend $1 and force my opponent to spend $10. We need to start doing that in the Air Force. And next-generation air dominance may be just as much about imposing cost as it is about defeating [the enemy].”

The concept of breaking the military’s 20-year acquisition development cycle for advanced new weapons, such as fighter aircraft, is not necessarily original. But alternative approaches have a mixed record. The failure of the Army’s ambitiously sweeping Future Combat Systems program a decade ago serves as a frequently cited cautionary tale. The prospect of fielding a diverse and unpredictable fleet of combat aircraft also appears to present daunting logistical and sustainment challenges.

Roper acknowledges those concerns but also offers possible solutions.

The model for this potential vision of NGAD is not unlike the Missile Defense Agency’s highly integrated systems architecture, he says. As that agency’s acting chief architect for two years, Roper created a model he thinks is relevant to Air Force programs, such as NGAD and the Advanced Battle Management System. “That’s the inspiration. It worked,” Roper says.

In the example of missile defense, the system is composed of a sensor, an interceptor missile and a kill vehicle.

“All of them have to work together to kill the missile, [but] they’re all run by different programs,” Roper says. “So how do you buy a kill chain? Well, you start by working the radar. You tell them, work as hard as you can, do as good as you can. You tell the same to [those developing] the interceptor and the kill vehicle. But as they start working with industry, reality happens. Things are harder than you expect. And you are constantly trading the performance you are seeing with the mission[requirements]. And as someone does better than expected, you can let someone do worse than expected.”

The issue of sustainment costs for a diverse fleet of combat aircraft cannot be solved simply by imposing a new management system, but there are other options. Digital design tools may allow a diverse fleet of aircraft to share enough similarities that the sustainment cost is roughly comparable with that for a common fleet, he says. If that sounds like speculation, Roper concedes the point.

“I can’t prove to you that that’s true, but when we look at what digital engineering is doing for some of our programs, it might be true,” says Roper, without elaborating. “And because it might be true, we need to rethink our future not as a program, but as a pipeline of development with the ability to go into small production—or not.”

But it is also clear that this vision of NGAD is only one side of a raging debate within the Air Force. Using perhaps a rhetorical device to criticize the alternatives subtly, Roper names two alternate approaches, then offers a reason why each could be unsuccessful.

“Is the right way to go to make it a bunch of high-tech prototypes?” he asks. “So you push a lot of racehorses forward and hope one gets over the goal line, but you can’t afford to go into production on any of them. Or is it to take a bet on the best option? There’s only so much money in that program, so we cannot make it everything that we want.”

The F-35A achieved initial operational capability in 2016, 15 years after contract award. The Air Force now has less than 11 years to produce an NGAD capability against increasingly sophisticated threats. The urgency is real. In a 2017 essay published by the military affairs blog “War on the Rocks,” then-Brig. Gen. Alex Grynkewich, who had led the ECCT study on air superiority after 2030, described an environment in the relatively near future when the F-22 and F-35 would be unable to perform their roles inside defended airspace. Although a successor is needed, Roper insists on not rushing a decision.

“There are real choices to make about that program, and my comfort level will be based on how well the portfolio allows us to hedge for an uncertain future,” Roper said. “And hedging means not just defeating that uncertain future. It also means being able to impose cost and force others trying to shape the future, just like we are to force them to react to us.”
Jan 17, 2019
in the meantime
Facing a sealift capacity collapse, the Navy seeks strategy for new auxiliary ships
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TRANSCOM, MARAD Want to Speed Up Purchase of Used Ships for Reserve Fleet
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Faced with skyrocketing costs to repair the U.S.’s aging fleet of reserve merchant ships, the heads of the U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Transportation Command officials are pushing a program to buy more used vessels to
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“I want to accelerate the used [ship] buy… We’ve got to put some actual dollars to that,” Army Gen. Steve Lyons, the commander of Transportation Command, told the House Armed Services readiness and seapower and projection forces subcommittees on Thursday.

The average age of the ships in the Ready Reserve Fleet is 44 years old. Maritime officials have told Congress that the used ships the government would be buying would be at least 10 years younger than the ones they are replacing, MARAD administrator retired Rear Adm. Mark Buzby told the panel.

“There will be a knee in the curve where it no longer makes sense to spend more money trying to repair these older vessels,” Buzby said.
“These ships are not getting any younger, and they are getting more expensive [to maintain and repair].”

The Navy is conducting a business case analysis of how to modernize reserve fleet, Lyons said. The surface life extension program for the fleet is proving “three times more expensive” and “taking twice as long” as projected to bring the existing fleet up to Coast Guard certification standards.

“The steel is rotting,” Buzby said several times during the joint hearing of the House Armed Services Seapower and Readiness subcommittees Thursday.

As to whether the best move would be to build ships in American yards, Lyons said, “the sticking point is affordability” and speed of delivery. In answer to an earlier series of similar questions, he said, “it’s going to be very, very difficult for [the Navy] to have those [five authorized] new builds” added to its existing shipbuilding program.

“I give a lot of credit to the Navy for diving” into an analysis of which is the best way ahead — surface life extension, buying used or building, he added.

To make the point with the panels as to the state of the reserve fleet, each member was presented with a placemat with a description of the kinds of ships involved, their age and condition.

“Time is the enemy,” Rep. Joe Courtney, (D-Conn.) and chairman of the seapower panel, said in putting off decisions on what comes next and actually improves mobility.

In his opening remarks, he said the Maritime Security Program also needs attention. It “is designed to ensure that the United States has the U.S.-flag commercial sealift capability and trained U.S. citizen merchant mariners available in times of war or national emergencies.” The program is part of a global network that includes terminals and logistics management that does not rely on foreign ships or facility owners and crews when needed.

Sixty vessels are covered in these agreements, a small fraction of merchant vessels operating now; overall, there are about 50,000 ships involved in global trade. There also are shortfalls in types of American ships that the military would require to respond to an emergency. For example, there are only six tankers available to haul petroleum; as a result, waivers have been granted for contracts with foreign owners to deliver fuel and, in some other cases, emergency aid as was the case with Puerto Rico following Hurricane Irma.

In addition to having a hull problem, the United States has a people problem when it comes to having properly trained and licensed mariners.

Bluntly stated, Lyons said, “I need the mariners first to get the gray hulls out.” Earlier studies said the United States is about 1,800 mariners
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In answer to a number of questions, Buzby said MARAD is “working at additional levels to get people into the merchant marine,” starting with community colleges, but “we’ve got to give them more places to work” and the opportunity advance in their careers. “Getting more ships under the U.S. flag is the key here,” particularly in ships engaged in ocean-going trade, he said. He endorsed continuing the Jones Act’s provisions on shipbuilding in American yard and crewed by licensed Americans, a position that panel members supported.

Several of the committee members said they have to spell out to colleagues the value of
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As to whether autonomous vessels would fill the gaps in hulls and crew, Buzby said that kind of big ship is decades away and major cybersecurity issues and point fixing would need to be addressed before they could be relied upon and make a difference in cargo shipping. But they “could be assisting our vessels in a contested environment” relatively quickly.

Both mentioned an executive order signed this month designed to ease a transition from active duty sailors or Coast Guardsmen and sea service veterans to joining the merchant marine. The secretaries of defense and homeland security are to lay out how these men and women can become credentialed in the merchant marine over the next year. The order also waives a certain number of fees involved in the process.
Jan 25, 2018
as I've said before, I generally don't post about stuff below 100m; this is going to be one of exceptions:
US Navy contracts Orbital for AARGM-ER missile design work
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now though it's above 100m (LOL)
Contracts for March 7, 2019
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"Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, Northridge, California, is awarded a $322,504,595 cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to provide for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) of the AGM-88G, Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile – Extended Range (AARGM-ER). The EMD effort includes the design, integration and test of a new solid rocket motor for the AARGM-ER for use on the F/A-18E/F, EA-18G and F-35A/C aircraft platforms. Work will be performed in Northridge, California (98 percent); and Ridgecrest, California (2 percent), and is expected to be completed in December 2023. Fiscal 2019 research, development, test and evaluation (Navy) funds in the amount of $55,087,929 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant Federal Acquisition Regulation 6.302-1. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity (N00019-19-C-0050)."
quote of the day comes from inside of
Surge Sealift Force in Need of Urgent Recapitalization, Officials Say
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“I am deeply concerned about our ability to muster an adequate number of mariners to operate the sealift fleet for surge and sustainment operations during a mobilization lasting about six months,” Buzby said.


Another important milestone for the adaptive fighter engine.

GE Aviation has completed the detailed design process of its XA100 engine under the U.S. Air Force's Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), the company announced Thursday.

The latest development means that GE can send engineering drawings out to its supply chain to get engine parts manufactured, according to David Tweedie, general manager for advanced combat engines at GE.

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quote of the day comes from
Keeping the F-35 Ahead of the Bad Guys
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The Air Force has until Sept. 30 to achieve the 80 percent mission capable rate, assuming the order stands under Acting Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan or his successor.
Feb 10, 2019
Thursday at 8:22 AMrelated:
The Air Force’s JSTARS alternative has a new architect. Wait, what’s an architect?
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it'll be interesting to watch how that Pentagon's "architect" manages that "system of systems", with JSTARS legacy fleet around etc.
ABMS Expected to Pick Up Speed With New Chief Architect in Place
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Preston Dunlap, an executive of national security analysis at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, started his new job as chief architect of its Advanced Battle Management System, which eventually will replace the legacy JSTARS aircraft, last week.

In his new role, Dunlap “will create and manage family of systems trade space, design margins, and define interfaces and standards to ensure interoperability across domains and permissive to highly contested environments,” a service spokeswoman said in a statement. “Leading the Advanced Battle Management System will be the Chief Architect’s first duty in support of the Multi-Domain Command and Control vision.”

The Air Force eliminated funding for the E-8 Joint STARS recapitalization program in its fiscal 2019 budget, opting instead to build a robust, open architecture family of systems that will be better capable of operating in an anti-access, area-denial environment against a peer adversary.

Beyond that, defining the ABMS is not easy, but that’s kind of the point. The service knows it wants the future family of systems to include a space component, an air component, and a command and control component, but how those three components work together, or which element might be more dominant, has yet to be determined.

Service acquisition chief Will Roper has acknowledged the program has gotten off to a slow start, but he said he expects the pace to pick up now that Dunlap is on board.

The Advanced Battle Management System, or ABMS, could point the way toward a radically new acquisition model for the Air Force—but first the service needs to get a better handle on what it’s going to include.

Defining ABMS may not be easy, but that’s the point, Roper told Air Force Magazine in an interview. “The way our acquisition system works now, we presume we’re smart enough to know the right design before we bend metal. That’s crazy. There’s a huge trade space to explore,” he said.

Rather than creating one massive acquisition program, Roper envisions multiple contributing programs, such as ABMS space, ABMS air, and ABMS networking and communications—each with its own funding, its own program manager, and its own schedule. The program manager would be tasked with pushing the program as far as possible in a set period of time, say two or three years, after which Roper said the service will be able to “re-evaluate what the next segment of the race should be and how it should be run.”

While each of the program managers will be experts in their field, Dunlap will serve as the overarching “architect,” overseeing the big picture. He will report directly to Roper, who described the position as a system engineer or analyst who will spend a significant amount of time modeling and simulating how ABMS might work in the long run.

Roper said he expects Dunlap to have a small staff and leverage federally funded research and development centers or academic institutions, such as MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory or Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, for analytical expertise and support.

“We’re going to try to avoid making the major defense acquisition program mistake, and instead, create a new role that we currently don’t have in defense acquisition,” Roper said. He added, “An architect, at least in theory, will be defined by the ability to do technical trades that flow back into the programs.”

The first phase will focus on developing the technology, with multiple goal lines defined by the architect. The more progress each individual program manager makes in the allotted time, the more funding will be available for the next phase of development. This way, Roper said, “You’re incentivized to go big.”

Then, “at that chalk line in time, we’ll evaluate whether we have pushed the technology enough across those different domains to converge to an architecture that we call Advanced Battle Management System,” Roper said. “If you have, great. You integrate it, then go field it. If you haven’t, then you evaluate who did well and who didn’t, and if someone is further behind with an option to catch up, then you may terminate their tech push and shift it to someone else that still has the ability to go further. That’s where you could see the architecture shifting,” to a more space-centric or air-centric model, depending on where the most progress is seen.

The second increment likely will be distributed unevenly across the components, Roper said, because each component is bound to mature at different rates. As the architect, Roper said Dunlap will serve as the “honest broker,” helping to motivate program managers to smartly take on risk.

“It will be very much a tech-push program initially with rigid delivery times. If that technology does not make it, then it will have to go to the next variant. Keeping that constant delivery cadence to see if a design converges that can do the ground moving target indicator mission,” he said.

Roper is already looking at other places this process could be implemented. He’s spoken with combatant commanders and training leaders about how this approach could be used on training opportunities. Because the Air Force’s training needs are distributed across the country and utilize a variety of different trainers and simulators, each representing different missions and threat scenarios, an architect-type system could have merit there, he said.

Another possibility could be the next-generation air dominance system. Though he declined to provide much detail, saying he doesn’t want to “tell the world what we think the next generation of airpower will be,” he said a family of systems that allows for a diversified portfolio of options would make sense there, as well.

For now, though, ABMS is the focus.

“During the next phase of my tenure in acquisition, I think getting ABMS right is a critical thing,” Roper said. “It creates a new model in acquisition, where when we have to create an integrated system, or a family of systems, we don’t automatically default to a Future Combat System-type program.”

The Army’s ambitious Future Combat Systems program aimed to replace virtually its entire vehicle fleet. Once envisioned as a $25 billion program, it was cancelled in 2009, a massive flop.

“The program of programs has not worked very well in the past,” Roper said.
LOL now can't resist though to pick one item in the budget proposal; quote comes from inside of
The US Navy will hit a milestone ship count in 2020; pours money into sailors, subs and unmanned tech
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"The Navy asked for $1.3 billion for the first
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hull in 2020."