Battle lines are being drawn in the iron triangle as Pentagon proposes fleet cuts in lockstep with modernization
The Obama administration's fiscal 2015 base budget request of just over half a trillion dollars includes the gutting of major U.S. Air Force and Army aviation fleets, delays to Navy aircraft efforts and slips for satellites, but it also attempts to preserve funding for future technology. The total request is for $495.6 billion in the “base” budget with another $26 billion as a “wish list” tied to a larger government tax and revenue package. The former relies heavily on approval from lawmakers to conduct a new round of base closures and reforms to military pay and health care—all likely hitting a divided Capitol Hill with an uninspiring thud. The Pentagon plan to retire A-10 and OH-58D aircraft, many of which are operated by Guard and Reserve forces that have significant influence with lawmakers bent on protecting jobs and facilities in their districts, was also met with a groan. The $26 billion Opportunity, Growth and Security (OGS) fund money funding to backfill depleted readiness accounts—such as those for squadrons required to stand down flying hours in fiscal 2013 owing to the haphazard implementation of sequestration cuts—as well as some procurement items. Among them are: $1.1 billion for eight Navy ; $600 million for 26 Army Boeing AH-64E Apache helicopters; $500 million for 28 Army Black Hawks; $100 million for two Army Chinooks; $1.1 billion for 10 Air Force transports; $300 million for two Air Force Lockheed ; and $200 million for 12 Air Force . These are all clear enticements to industry and its powerful lobbying arms. But the success of the OGS fund relies on the willingness of Congress, including tax-shy House Republicans, to approve it as part of a larger, $58 billion government-wide fund that will draw from new revenues. The OGS fund is a precursor to $115 billion more the Pentagon seeks over sequestration levels in fiscal 2016-19. Some or all likely will be appropriated in the non-capped Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) budget. Congress has proven its willingness to both provide minor sequestration relief and move more base spending into OCO, including equipment upgrades and replacements. But OCO ostensibly is a war-fighting fund, and its political future is uncertain as Afghan operations end. If sequestration is not lifted in 2016 and beyond, the Pentagon will ax a $1 billion program to develop an adaptive-cycle engine, delay satellite procurement further than already planned, and terminate the Block 40 ground-surveillance aircraft, among other initiatives. Aviation Week's editors have outlined the particulars of five key aerospace debates to follow as Congress addresses the budget request in the coming months.
One of the most controversial decisions in the Pentagon's 2015 budget request is its move to ignore the U.S. Air Force's advice to keep the U-2 spy plane flying. The Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) proposes mothballing U-2s starting in fiscal 2016, though Air Force fleet retirement plans “are not complete,” saysspokesman Ed Gulick. At issue is how much it will cost and how long it will take for the RQ-4B Global Hawk to reach so-called U-2 parity, a benchmark Pentagon officials have been not publicly defined for the unmanned aircraft's performance.
Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, military deputy for the Air Force acquisition chief, says the Pentagon faced a difficult choice between two “$3.5 billion fleets,” referencing the nearly equal cost of operating both through 2019. USAF officials say U-2 divestiture will save the service $2.2 billion through fiscal 2019.
Even Global Hawk advocates acknowledge that operational deficiencies must be addressed if it is to unseat the U-2. Among other things, it needs anti-icing equipment that will allow it to operate more reliability through bad weather, especially in the Pacific, where 55% of Global Hawk missions were canceled in fiscal 2013, largely due to weather. U-2s completed 96% of their missions there (AW&ST Jan. 20, p. 24).
Likewise, Air Force testers cite shortcomings with the Global Hawk's electro-optical/infrared camera—'s Enhanced Integrated Sensor Suite—and its Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload. A solution to the sensor issue is to transition the Global Hawk to employ U-2 sensors, all of which have been upgraded in the past decade, except for the black-and-white camera used for treaty monitoring. Davis acknowledges this shift will not come without challenges, as the Global Hawk's design is less modular.
“The U-2 sensors are very good, and they're very new,” says one senior defense official speaking of the decision on background. “Eventually, we're going to have to get rid of the U-2. Wouldn't it be nice if the Global Hawk could be the replacement?”
The Global Hawk's cost per flying hour came down in fiscal 2013 to $25,000 from $33,000 (roughly equal to the U-2's), ultimately tipping the decision in the unmanned aircraft's favor. An industry source suggests, however, that the comparisons are not equal because Global Hawk upgrades are funded through separate accounts while the U-2's are sourced through operations and maintenance accounts.
The cost of parity still looms. Air Force officials say $1.9 billion is needed for viability, reliability, compliance and sensor improvements for the Global Hawk in 10 years to more closely mirror U-2 operations.
One operational compromise will be altitude. Service officials say there is no money to improve Global Hawk's operating altitude, usually 55,000-60,000 ft. The U-2 typically flies higher than 70,000 ft., allowing for better sensor slant range. The U-2 also carries a defensive system capable of countering the new S-300 and S-400 air defenses, while Global Hawk lacks self protection.
These are likely to be the arguments raised in favor of the U-2 by, the aircraft's manufacturer. For the past decade, Lockheed has quietly worked on the U-2, and last month it held its first public briefing on the aircraft in years to promote its current capabilities. Northrop Grumman declined to comment on the arguments for and against the Global Hawk.
Combatant commanders overseeing forces in the Pacific, Europe and the Middle East are likely to echo these arguments if called to Congress to testify. All have reportedly backed the U-2 in classified memos. But Davis notes that their requirement should be platform-agnostic.
It is possible that the forthcoming debut of the RQ-180, a classified, high-flying, stealthy unmanned intelligence aircraft, is having an unseen influence on the debate if it is capable of penetrating hostile airspace for collection missions (AW&ST Dec. 9, 2013, p. 20). This could allow the service to eventually invest less than planned in the Global Hawk and simply use it to augment the stealthy RQ-180, which is being built by Northrop Grumman.
The U.S. Navy decision not to fund continued work for Boeing's/F Super Hornet and Growler production line is the strongest indication yet that the service will not eventually back away from buying the F-35C to fill the decks of its aircraft carriers.
Abandoning the F/A-18 line is a major shift toward the F-35C by the Navy, the last U.S. service to buy into the procurement of the single-engine, stealthy Lockheed Martin jet. But it has sliced its quantities by 33 to a total of 36 F-35s in fiscal 2015-19, with initial operational capability (IOC) still planned for fiscal 2019.
Theis requesting funding for 69 F-35Cs through 2019, maintaining its buy profile and an aggressive IOC goal of next summer.
“The Navy is a little different. . . . They can take a little more risk,” notes USAF Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, F-35 program executive officer. The Navy slid 33 of its F-35C purchases to beyond 2019 because it is still taking delivery of F/A-18s; 21 Growlers were in the fiscal 2014 budget.
The Air Force, the largest F-35 buyer, cut four aircraft from its fiscal 2015 buy profile, lowering it to 26, but the service has requested that two be restored through the OGS fund, a $26 billion wish list added to the 2015 request. The Air Force is also taking risk by cancelling plans to move forward with theCombat Avionics Programmed Extension Suite (Capes) project to upgrade its aircraft with an active, electronically scanned array radar.
The Navy's request for $679 million in Super Hornet-related modifications, includes the addition of an infrared search-and-track capability, but this is hardly a consolation for Boeing's hopes to maintain steady work for the St. Louis production line.
Boeing is imploring Congress to add funding for more of its aircraft. Without additional government money, Boeing will face a decision this year to cut its Super Hornet and Growler production rate by as much as half.
As the F-35 matures, however slowly, Boeing's chances to sell more Super Hornets internationally are dwindling; customers including Canada and Denmark are still weighing their options.
When Boeing opted to underwrite theproduction line, there were no viable alternatives for customers seeking near-term delivery of a strategic airlifter. Self-funding F/A-18 activities, however, poses more jeopardy, as there are viable options in the fighter market. But a congressional plus-up of Super Hornets is also a risk for the F-35, which would probably be cut commensurately.
With the F/A-18 on the brink, there is some consolation for Boeing in other major, new programs gearing up. The Air Force plans a downselect among options for its next-generation bomber and requests a steep jump in funding to $914 million in fiscal 2015 from $359 million in fiscal 2014. Boeing, teamed with Lockheed Martin, is competing with Northrop Grumman for the contract.
Though then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates put a $550 million-per-unit cost cap on the effort to buy 80-100 bombers, Lt. Gen. Charles Davis, Air Force military deputy for acquisition, describes this as more of a guideline for bounding the requirements appetite of the service.
The bomber program is moving forward, but the Air Force is continuing to defer real work on the T-38 replacement; a program is not set to kick off until fiscal 2017, although $503.2 million is outlined for the effort through fiscal 2019. Top Air Force officials are slated to hold a quarterly meeting soon to discuss requirements for the so-called T-X program with a goal of keeping “to the minimum requirements to do the mission upfront.” Any adjuncts, such as a variant for national air defenses, should come later, Davis says.
In many ways, the once-and-future U.S. Air Force Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) is emblematic of major weapon system sturm and drang and how business is done with the U.S. military. Ditched years ago after scandal and intense lobbying by opposing groups—including Air Force acquisition malpractice, Air Force-versus-Pentagon disagreements and strained relations with losing foreign bidders—a 112-rotorcraft effort has suddenly been slated for takeoff again.
This time it will be an Air Force-driven program sole-sourced to an industry team led by.'s (UTC) and backed by leading Pentagon contractor Lockheed Martin. Contract award should come before July.
The turnabout came quickly. Just two weeks ago, newly installed Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James and Bob Work, the next expected deputy defense secretary, said there was no money in the fiscal 2015-19 budget blueprint for CRH, due to the need to apply scarce defense dollars to higher Pentagon priorities. They did so even while acknowledging that the combat-search-and-rescue (CSAR) capability remains a “sacred mission” in the eyes of many who wear blue uniforms and current Sikorsky HH-60 Pave Hawks are aging.
“It's a question of: 'Can we afford it?' Can we afford it now versus later?' '[And] is it better to do upgrades or buy new?'” James said. “We have to rack and stack that priority with the others.”
Fast forward to March 4, when the 2015 budget request was announced, with USAF Maj. Gen. Jim Martin providing “breaking news” to Pentagon reporters. “I was informed of the decision before I walked in here,” he announced. “We have made a decision to fund the CRH.”
What happened? It may never be fully explained, but the combination of lamentations in the Air Force ranks and industry and congressional influence surely played a role. The Air Force says it will “realign” $430 million from other USAF priorities in its five-year blueprint, building off $334 million that New England-led lawmakers earmarked in final 2014 appropriations this year (AW&ST Dec. 23, 2013, p. 18).
After Martin spoke, James cited the “criticality of the mission” and argued that the decision “protects a good, competitive price and effectively uses” the earmark. Moreover, the CRH must complete a Milestone B low-rate production review, as well as Pentagon-led “independent” cost assessments. Sikorsky also must agree to extend its pricing through June, which is expected.
Above all, James warned, if Congress does not undo full sequestration-level spending caps set for fiscal 2016-19, “this program, along with many others, will need to be reevaluated.”
Still, industry is pleased for now, and lawmakers vow to defend their gain. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a vocal advocate for Connecticut-based Sikorsky, says, “I will continue to fight for the necessary funding and to work with the Air Force as it takes the steps needed to award the contract so that we can field these helicopters for our warfighters while supporting good jobs for the men and women in Connecticut building them.”
The addition of roughly $1 billion to fund a next-generation tactical engine program is both a nod to industry and a potentially conditional temptation to a Congress keen on keeping its powerful defense lobbyists happy.
The Air Force says it can only fund the program if the draconian sequestration cuts are not maintained in 2016 and beyond. That, of course, is up to Congress. It would be “game-changing for the Pentagon's capability to operate in anti-access/area-denied environments” due to its goal of improving range by 30%, Air Force officials say.
Ultimately, the Air Force is planning to bring adaptive-engine technologies from science and technology efforts into the mainstream of its programs—perhaps eventually replacing theon the 1,763 F-35s it plans to buy. Such work could also influence the Air Force's next-generation bomber design and work for new unmanned aircraft and the Navy's notional FA-XX program.
UTC's Pratt & Whitney andare likely to benefit directly, as the effort is designed to create a full demonstration and validation program in fiscal 2016. Both companies are influential, with geographically disbursed interests in droves of lawmakers' districts, and they are likely to lobby hard to keep the program.
Meanwhile, the Army is taking measures to preserve research funding for its Improved Turbine Engine Program, which also seeks operating efficiencies. The logic is similar: If the engine powers its main helicopter fleets—Apaches and Black Hawks—the fuel savings will allow for spending on other priority programs.
The so-called next-generation engine program for the Air Force would build on work from the Adaptive Versatile Engine Technology (Advent) and Adaptive Engine Technology Development Effort (AETD) programs, both intending to advance engine efficiency by at least 25%—perhaps as much as 40%—and improve thrust, according to Air Force officials.
Advent funding spanned fiscal 2007-13; AETD research and science and technology funding was slated to end in fiscal 2016. The Air Force is requesting a total of $198 million for AETD in the fiscal 2015 budget plan.
The next-gen effort would follow with two competitively awarded adaptive engine demonstration/validation contracts, both starting in fiscal 2016, Air Force officials say. A downselect to one winning contract would later kick off an engineering, manufacturing and development (EMD) program. It “will further mature adaptive-engine technologies through extensive ground testing to facilitate integration and flight testing,” Air Force officials say. “The emphasis is on proving advanced component and subsystem maturity prior to incorporation into major systems, thus reducing risk for future engine EMD programs.”
General Electric, which worked both the Advent and AETD programs and began testing the first adaptive three-stream technology demonstrator engine in November, says it has invested over $1 billion in adaptive cycle design.
Meanwhile, Pratt has proven a three-stream airflow architecture for its fan design, demonstrating the potential for improved airflow allocation and performance at extremes in the flight envelope, says Jimmy Kenyon, the company's general manager for next-gen fighter engines. Work in this area is highly competitive, not only to power the F-35 and a potential sixth-generation fighter, but also to support the work of the engine companies in producing more efficient technologies for the lucrative commercial aviation sector.
STOPS, STARTS IN SPACE
Shifts in military space are sure to get congressional attention, in part owing to what is likely to be an aggressive lobbying effort by Lockheed Martin to protect its satellite efforts.
The Air Force is relaxing on its “back-to-basics” approach for development of the next-generation GPS satellite, sliding activities for the Lockheed project to the right nearly two years. Another $2.1 billion is being cut from the Advanced Extremely High Frequency () program, also led by Lockheed, for Satellites 7-8 while the service looks at alternative, “disaggregated” architectures for hosting the protected strategic and tactical communications missions on separate satellites.
Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning says roughly $777 million and $205 million in the budget plan are sidelined for the strategic and tactical missions, respectively. The analysis is slated for completion in the summer, enabling the Air Force to forge a way forward in the fiscal 2016 budget going to Congress next year. AEHF satellites in orbit are lasting longer than expected, so a replenishment is not needed until 2027, Fanning says.
But, before a decision is made, the company is likely going to push lawmakers to preserve its AEHF team. Shifting to a disaggregated approach is a threat to major space primes, who have structured their design teams around large, multi-sensor satellite efforts for decades.
Unplanned satellite longevity is also allowing the service to slip the initial delivery of the first GPS III satellite to the right nearly two years, Fanning says. This will begin to erode the “back to basics” procurement practices—including consistent funding and predictable buys—applied to the GPS III program. Officials are not saying how much funding was pulled from the account through the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), but GPS III was already tightly managed due to late delivery of the payload by Exelis. Should Budget Control Act spending limits stay in place for fiscal 2016 and beyond, one of the satellites will slip later than 2019, says Maj. Gen. Robert McMurry, chief of the Air Force space procurement office.
The service is also exploring with the(NOAA) whether it is financially advantageous to mothball an already-built Lockheed Martin Defense Meteorological Satellite Program weather spacecraft if the penultimate launch (F19) is successful in April, Fanning says. Funding is in place to keep the final satellite, F20, ready for launch if needed in the event of a mishap with F19.
But McMurry says the Air Force has set aside $35 million to look at crafting a simple, small satellite to collect ocean-surface wind data among a few other military requirements, and it could cost less to simply leapfrog to this new system. A so-calledwould handle the Pentagon's mission leftover from the defunct National Polar Orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (Npoess) program, which was once shared with NOAA and . The Air Force is conducting an analysis of alternatives to examine options for the mission.
Fanning says the service will have to sideline the weather satellite follow-on program if spending limits are imposed for fiscal 2016 and beyond.
Tap the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST to see the Top 10 Major Defense Acquisition Programs compared to the total procurement and RDT&E requests, or go to AviationWeek.com/top10MDAPs
|Fiscal 2014Total||Fiscal 2015Base|
|F-35A (Air Force)||$3.98 billion||$4.62 billion|
|Net Current-Year Procurement1||19*||2.89 billion||26||3.55 billion|
|Advance Procurement||3.39 million||292 million|
|F-35 Modifications||128 million||188 million|
|F-35 R&D (EMD & SDD)||630 million||563 million|
|F-35 Squadrons R&D (OSD)||3 million||44 million|
|F-35 R&D (EMD & ACD&P)||0||5 million|
|Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System R&D (OSD)||0||0|
|F-35 B & C (Navy and Marine Corps)||$3.35 billion||$3.32 billion|
|Net Current-Year Procurement1||4||1.03 billion||2||611 million|
|Advance Procurement||79 million||29 million|
|F-35C Modifications||29 million||21 million|
|Net Current-Year Procurement||6||1.12 billion||6||1.02 billion|
|Advance Procurement||103 million||144 million|
|F-35 Stovl Modifications||111 million||286 million|
|R&D (EMD & SDD)||857 million||1.03 billion|
|F-35 Program Total||29||$7.37 billion||34||$7.96 billion|
|EMD = Engineering and Manufacturing DevelopmentSDD = System Development and DemonstrationOSD = Operational Systems DevelopmentACD&P = Advanced Component Development and Prototypes1 Net Current-Year Procurement = Procurement for currentyear new end items minus applicable advance procurement* Number of UnitsAll numbers represent Total Obligational Authority. Fiscal 2014 figures are enacted budgets; fiscal 2015 figures are from the presidential request. Program totals were calculated by Aviation Week. No inflation adjustments have been made. Sources: Office of the Secretary of Defense and Dan Katz/Aviation Week Intelligence Network|