Harris Corporation has recently endured a difficult period in the stock market. Despite a strong outlook for the tactical radio market, and a competitive international position vis-a-vis key rivals like General Dynamics C4 and Thales Group, there were persistent rumors that the firm was up for sale. EADS openly said that its recent PlantCML acquisition required its full attention, but General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman were also mentioned frequently. In the end, there was no acquisition and the firm’s stock price dropped swiftly to pre-rumor levels. Bloomberg | Forbes | Reuters.
Falcon II Multiband
This leaves the firm back on familiar ground: execution in the international tactical radio market. Harris was recently awarded $118 million in delivery orders to supply the U.S. Marine Corps with Falcon II AN/PRC-117F multiband manpack radios, as part of a new $350 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract that will almost double the number used by the USMC. As part of the contract, Harris will also provide 3 dedicated technical service personnel who will be embedded with Marine maintenance companies. Harris release.
The Marine Corps’ situation is similar to many other global militaries, as their Strategic Radio Plan works to move their troops from existing single-band radios to multiband, multimission software-defined radios with longer range, less weight, long-term upgradeability, and better interoperability. As one Marine explained, re: the PRC-117s deployed in Kuwait and Iraq, their uses included:
“…monitoring our IntraSquad Radios (ISR) using the CTCSS bands… SINCGARs to communicate in vehicle convoys, HAVEQUICK to talk to aircraft, single channel LOS VHF/UHF frequencies to talk to aircraft and ground stations, as well as both DAMA and Dedicated SATCOM.”
For years, Special Operations forces were the unloved stepchildren of the American military community, owned but not understood very well, or given priority. After the failed Desert One raid to free American hostages in Iran, however, the need to do better became apparent. Eventually real changes were made, and US Special Operations Command (US SOCOM) stood up as its own independent command with contributions from the Army (“Green Berets”, 75th Ranger Regiment, civil affairs & psyops, helicopters), Navy (SEALs), and Air Force (Pararescue, specialty aircraft). As the events of September 11, 2001 made the nature of the current global war clear, SOCOM stepped into a leading role – first in Afghanistan, then in the war as a whole. Current plans call for a 33% increase in American special forces numbers by 2013. This will be a challenge given the limited pool of applicants who can make the grade, and the continued lure of higher-paying private sector jobs as security contractors.
Who was missing from this picture? The Marines. Why? Because to the Marines, every Marine is special. After all, what higher honor could there possibly be than to say you were a US Marine? None. Which is why the USMC had Force Recon personnel, and whole Marine Expeditionary Unit – Special Operations Capable formations. They had no special forces. Until November 2005, when the US Marines agreed to stand up MARSOC with 2,500 Marine special forces – even as they managed to remain true to their credo. MARSOC was formally established on February 24/06.
Of course, a service that has never had any special forces doesn’t really have any facilities for them. Then again, separate facilities pose a problem. To square this circle, the Marines are building the new facilities at Camp LeJeune and now at Camp Pendleton, right alongside their fellow Marines…
“On average, existing CH-53E aircraft are more than 15 years old, have over 3,000 flight hours under tough conditions, and are becoming more and more of a maintenance challenge with a 44:1 maintenance man-hours:flight hours ratio. Not to mention the resulting $20,000 per flight-hour cost ratio. According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, a 1999 analysis showed that the existing fleet has a service life of 6,120 flight hours, based on fatigue at the point where the tail folds. Currently, the USMC expects the existing fleet will start to reach this point in 2011, at a rate of 15 aircraft per year.”
That kind of maintenance time can create a downward spiral as work backlogs delay maintenance, which increases the number of off-duty helicopters, which forces the Navy to run existing helicopters harder, which means they need maintenance more quickly. Airframe fatigue issues will be tricky and unpredictable, as experience with the USAF’s F-15 fleet demonstrates. On the maintenance front, however, Defense News reports that the US Navy is undertaking a $150 million engine upgrade involving titanium nitride-coated blades on helicopter engine compressors. TiN is already used on USMC CH-46 Sea Knights and British Lynx helicopters, among others, to help cope with the sandblasting these components receive in desert operations. The goal is to improve the “time on wing” from 350 hours to 1,100 hours, and time between full overhauls from 2,400 to 3,200 hours, resulting in an estimated savings of $22 million per year. They’re already part way there. About half of the fleet’s 3-engine CH-53Es Super Stallion mainstays, older twin-engine CH-53Ds, and MH-53E Sea Dragon minehunters have been upgraded, and “average time on wing” has risen to about 665 hours. See the full Gannett Navy Times report.
Every once in a while, a defense-related controversy becomes large enough to hit mainstream news outlets. Making the cover of TIME Magazine is often a good sign for world leaders, but it’s almost always a very bad sign for military programs. Especially a program that is just making its combat debut. TIME’s Oct 8/07 cover story “V-22 Osprey: A Flying Shame” pulls few punches:
“The saga of the V-22 – the battles over its future on Capitol Hill, a performance record that is spotty at best, a long, determined quest by the Marines to get what they wanted – demonstrates how Washington works (or, rather, doesn’t). It exposes the compromises that are made when narrow interests collide with common sense. It is a tale that shows how the system fails at its most significant task, by placing in jeopardy those we count on to protect us. For even at a stratospheric price, the V-22 is going into combat shorthanded. As a result of decisions the Marine Corps made over the past decade, the aircraft lacks a heavy-duty, forward-mounted machine gun to lay down suppressing fire against forces that will surely try to shoot it down. And if the plane’s two engines are disabled by enemy fire or mechanical trouble while it’s hovering, the V-22 lacks a helicopter’s ability to coast roughly to the ground – something that often saved lives in Vietnam. In 2002 the Marines abandoned the requirement that the planes be capable of autorotating (as the maneuver is called), with unpowered but spinning helicopter blades slowly letting the aircraft land safely. That decision, a top Pentagon aviation consultant wrote in a confidential 2003 report obtained by TIME, is “unconscionable” for a wartime aircraft. “When everything goes wrong, as it often does in a combat environment,” he said, “autorotation is all a helicopter pilot has to save his and his passengers’ lives.”
Recent developments are about to address one of these concerns, but TIME has hardly been the Osprey’s only critic, or the most thorough. That distinction probably belongs to a report published by the left-wing Center for Defense Information, which makes a number of very specific allegations re: the V-22’s technical and testing failings:
Good car owners take their vehicle in for maintenance after a certain number of months, or a certain number of miles, whichever comes first. Depending on the vehicle’s age and mileage, the dealer’s mechanic will have a list of standard systems to check and/or replace. It’s the same for the military, with the added pressure that vehicle breakdowns in a combat zone are not acceptable. So the inspections and rebuilds take place regularly, and it’s considered better to replace a working part with a new one than risk problems later. Unless, of course, land vehicles included the same sort of proactive diagnostics (“prognostics”) that are making their way into aircraft and helicopters. Maintenance could then take place only when necessary, keeping a higher percentage of vehicles in service, saving some money, and creating faster turnaround time for real problems.
That’s the aim of the US Marine Corps’ Embedded Platform Logistics System…
FN Manufacturing Inc. in Columbia, SC received a $7.7 million firm-fixed price contract for 17,433 M249 Short Barrels. Work will be performed in Columbia, SC, and is expected to be complete by Oct 31/08. There was one bid solicited on Sept 24/03, and 1 bid was received. The U.S. Army TACOM LCMC, Rock Island, IL isued the contract (DAAE20-03-C-0100).
The M249 Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW, aka. “Minimi”) is a 5.56mm gas-operated, air-cooled, belt or magazine-fed light machine gun used in US Army and Marine Corps squads as a higher volume of fire complement to the M-16 rifle or M4 carbine. It weighs 16.41 pounds and can fire 100 rounds per minute in sustained fire, or 200 rounds at its practical rapid rate. Note that this contrasts with maximum theoretical “cyclic rate” of 650-850 rounds/ minute continuous fire, which is far less accurate and requires barrel replacement once per minute due to heating issues. While most SAW variants will accept M-16 or M4 magazines, the Army Field Manual instructs soldiers to “Use the 20- or 30-round magazine for emergency use only when linked ammunition is not available.” A 200 round drum or less-noisy 100 round soft pouch is frequently used instead, and the weapon is belt-fed [good YouTube video shows loading]. A more compact variant known as the Mk46 is used by Special Forces, and by the US Navy.
The M249 has many positive characteristics, but has been the subject of some complaints from the field…
Flowforming is an advanced cold forming process, used to manufacture dimensionally precise, seamless metal components in rounded shapes. The technology offers a number of advantages, including very high precision, the ability to use very thin walls or even variable thickness walls, refined grain structure and uniformly oriented texture that helps create higher yield and tensile strengths, and working with pre-hardened metals in ways that eliminate further grinding, machining, et. al. See flowforming animations.
On the materials side, Inconel 718 is a precipitation hardenable nickel-based steel alloy designed to display exceptionally high yield, tensile and creep-rupture properties at temperatures up to 1300Â°F. This alloy also has excellent weldability.
If you’re building mortar tubes that have to be light enough to carry, while containing and channeling the controlled explosions that send mortar bombs on their way, the attributes of flowforming and Inconel 718 make them an attractive combination. The US Marines certainly think so…
EG&G Technical Services, Inc. in Dumfries, VA received a $9.9 million task order under previously awarded contract (M67854-02-A-9011) for professional technical support to the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicle Joint Program Office. The contractor shall provide expert support directly to the MRAP Joint Program Manager and Deputy PMs; Assistant PMs for all MRAP vehicle variants and the following functional managers: Integration and Government Furnished Equipment, Spiral Development, International Programs, acquisition, contracts, production, quality, logistics, engineering, test & evaluation and safety. This effort builds upon existing contract support that will remain in place. Work will be performed in Stafford, VA and is expected to be complete in November 2008. The Marine Corps System Command in Quantico, VA issued the contract.
As of Dec 17/07, the US DoD has announced that 1,300 MRAPs were in theater, with another 180 are en route by sea aboard the RO/RO(Roll-On, Roll-Off) USNS Pililaau and another 15 MRAPs are in the air headed to Iraq. While the success of the revolt against al-Qaeda in Anbar province has led to a (not yet granted) request by the US Marines to reduce their order from 3,700 to 2,300, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell has told reporters that the Army’s request may actually increase, as commanders in Afghanistan are expressing an interest in getting more MRAPs than originally planned.
“The SAR was submitted to report schedules slips of approximately two years since the December 2006 SAR. In February 2007, the program experienced a critical Nunn-McCurdy unit cost breach due primarily to system reliability challenges and a quantity reduction. The department certified a revised program to Congress in June 2007. Program costs increased $4,069.4 million (+34.2 percent) from $11,902.7 million to $15,972.1 million.”
To be sure, the new $3.5 million South Korean XK-21 amphibious IFV hasn’t had these problems; but then, the specifications they were handed were more restrained in key areas like water speed (about 5 kph) and aiming to cross rivers rather than swim in medium ocean sea states. DID went and talked to the EFV Program Office to get some explanations for this latest SAR, and also of the EFV’s overall cost growth history. We also wanted a per-vehicle cost for the EFV, because we’d seen numbers ranging for $16 million to $27 million. What follows is their explanation. DID has removed nothing, but we have spliced together both the original response and their further clarification in order to create a single explanation…
In the second quarter of 2008, the US Marine Corps is expected to issue an RFP to begin replacing its aging LAV amphibious wheeled armored personnel carriers. When they do, they will be hearing from a somewhat unusual competitor…