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Acquisition Reform

RIDLEY PARK, Pa. — Check out this panorama of Boeing’s newly renovated H-47F Chinook production line here in Ridley Park. The company brought DT up here today for a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Chinooks first flight and the official ribbon cutting of the $130 million facility.

Among the dignitaries on hand for the ceremony was Maj. Gen. Tim Crosby, the Army’s top aircraft buyer and according to him, the only army aviator still on active duty who has flown every model of the Chinook from the CH-47A to the brand new CH-47F.

While Crosby repeated the mantra that the Army is going to have to take “an appetite suppressor” when it comes to buying tricked out new weapons during a time of reduced spending, he also told reporters that Army aviation modernization efforts will likely do “pretty well” in the coming years’s budgets.

Aviation overall, knock on wood, has done fairly well. We’re gonna take our share of cuts just like everyone else, our country’s in trouble folks, we’ve all gotta tighten the belt but I will tell you overall, we’ve done pretty well. I haven’t seen the final numbers so I can’t tell you what that is but the bottom line is, our commitment to that modernization strategy is firm and I will tell you that the Army’s and the Defense Department’s is firm based on the amount of resources they’re leaving in my line.

Notably, the service will move forward with its plans to buy 155 more CH-47Fs under five year contract set to be awarded in January of 2013 and it will hustle to secure similar multiyear contracts for new Black Hawks and Apache choppers. The trick here will be ensuring that the multi-years garner enough savings so as to convince “budgeteers” that they warrant locking away billions of dollars for five year blocks when there will be other important programs in need of scant Pentagon dollars, said the general. Though he did admit that he may have to “accept what they tell me that the budget realities are.”

“We can’t have everything that we want and need…as we look to the future we’re going to have to pick those areas that we think are critical and focus on those,” said Crosby.

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This morning, Air Force Secretary Michael Donely listed off a number of mission areas and programs that he will try to protect from budget “reductions that would cause irreparable harm. The service’s effort to field a new trainer jet to replace the 50-year-old T-38 wasn’t one of them.

A little while later, Gen. Edward Rice, commander of Air Education and Training Command, told reporters that the service has finished its analysis of alternatives for the T-38 replacement program, known as T-X, but that we shouldn’t hold our breath for an RfP:

Until we get a little bit further down the road in the acquisition process I’m not in a position to say when we’ll be announcing an actual competition for the aircraft. In the big scheme of things it’s not going to be multiple, multiple years down the track but we’re not going to announce anything in the next couple of day either.

That’s partially because T-X is going to have to compete with the list of acquisition priorities the Secretary listed off this morning:

It’s not a matter of if, in my mind, it’s a matter of when with the other priorities that we have for acquisition that we heard the Secretary talk about some of those this morning with the KC-46, the next generation bomber, regenerating our satellites and JSF, obviously, it’s a matter of fit the next generation trainer into that lineup in a way that makes the most sense for the Air Force and we’re not ready to decide that today.

Rice went on to say with some investment he can keep his T-38s flying to their limits for the “foreseeable future”:

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Well, the Senate is looking to axe the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Army and Marine Corps effort to field a survivable yet maneuverable truck that bridges the gap between the relatively unwieldy MRAP and the thin-skinned yet versatile Humvee.

Sister site DoDBuzz reports that the Senate defense appropriations subcommittee cut the JLTV during its mark of the FY-12 defense appropriations bill,“citing shifting requirements and rising costs.”

Buzz points out that the Army and Marines already have numerous ground vehicle buys in the works such as the Army’s M-2 Bradley-like Ground Combat Vehicle, the Marines’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle and the Army’s Humvee recapitalization plan which may overlap with the JLTV’s requirements for a survivable yet maneuverable light truck (in fact, JLTV is already playing a role in this effort).

We’ll see what happens during tomorrow’s vote on the bill by the full Senate Appropriations Committee. Remember, Congress is looking to cut billions from defense coffers. A truck that seems like it shares characteristics with the Humvee recap program or the M-ATV (smaller, lighter version of an MRAP) may be seen as redundant and wasteful by lawmakers.

Here’s what subcommittee chair Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI) had to say about the cut:

“The bill terminates the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program due to excessive cost growth and constantly changing requirements.  The committee believes that alternatives exist today to meet the Army and Marine Corps’ requirements to recapitalize and competitively upgrade the Humvee fleet, and supports funding for those programs.

As Congress moves to flat-line F-35 Joint Strike Fighter purchases over the next two years, the Navy is buying more F/A-18E/F Super Hornets to offset any fighter gaps caused by the delay of the fifth-gen fighter, top DoD officials told lawmakers this month.

While this is something that been tacitly understood for a long time, this is the first I’ve heard the Pentagon’s very top officials come out and say it.

From Bloomberg:

“The department’s commitment to the F-35 is solid and we are committed to production rates that minimize cost,” the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition, Ashton Carter, wrote Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn on Sept. 1.

The Pentagon last year requested $1.9 billion for 22 additional non-stealthy F-18E/Fs and $2.6 billion more for 28 in fiscal 2012 from Chicago-based Boeing. Some of this money came from a pool of $12 billion in F-35 funds that the Pentagon last year cut or transferred, citing the need for additional testing of its top weapons program.

Buying additional F-18E/Fs “was an acknowledgment” that a delay in buying the Navy F-35 version “would slow down the rate at which” it would reach the fleet, Carter said.

The Navy estimates it will start in 2015 seeing a shortfall in the required number of fighters for its 11 aircraft carriers, Carter wrote.

Still, “the F-35 is a very high priority and the production rate will not be reduced solely to pay other bills in the budget,” Carter wrote.

The piece goes on to quote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta saying that the buys of “highly-capable” Super Hornets “will help mitigate that shortfall while we continue to ramp up F-35 procurement. The F-35 is intended to complement the F/A-18E/F, not replace it. The Navy needs the capabilities that both aircraft provide.”

He ominously went on to say that while “support for the F-35 is strong” the JSF and other fighters are “not exempt from an “exhaustive review” of roles and missions.

“We are committed to making responsible” F-35 investment decisions that reflect program status, force structure requirements and Department priorities,’’ he wrote.

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While the Navy is replacing its aging EA-6B Prowlers electronic warfare (EW) jets with brand new EA-18G Growlers the Marine Corps is hoping to outfit its F/A-18 Hornets and AV-8B Harriers with new electronic jammers.

The Intrepid Tiger II is the Corps’ homegrown jammer meant to disrupt IED radio detonators and intercept enemy communications. Best of all, it can be controlled by pilots or ground troops. Next month, the Marines will test out the system on a Harrier and hope to have it in Afghanistan by November, according to Marine Corps Times.

No, the Intrepid Tiget II probably won’t make Harriers and Hornets compete with Growlers and Prowlers in terms of high-end EW ability. However, the pod might be a great solution to a relatively low-end threat that’s constantly evolving. And who knows, it may spur further innovation that could be applied in high-end EW.

The Marines hope to someday put the jammer — which is about the size of an AGM-88 High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) — on UH-1 and AH-1 helos and are even testing a smaller version of the device on the RQ-7 Shadow UAV. Intrepid Tiger II is based on the Corps’ Intrepid Tiger I “communications pod” that was fielded around 2007 after less than a year of testing. (Note, that pod, officially called the AN⁄ALQ-228 (V) 1, might already give Harriers and Hornets some EW ability.)

The coolest thing about the Intrepid Tiger II is that it may represent a shift toward quickly developed technologies that can be easily upgraded and don’t require decades of development and billions of dollars to field.

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