The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?
C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.
As the U.S. decides who will be president for the next four years a review of procurement spending indicates that the Trump Administration has shown little difference in appropriations versus previous administrations, despite claims to have radically increased spending.
The upshot is that the last four years saw about $2.9 in spending appropriated in inflation-adjusted dollars, which was larger than Barak Obama’s second term, but less than the Obama Administration’s first term.
President Trump’s campaign speech claims of spending during his term relative to previous terms are incorrect. President Trump claimed this year that military spending in the 90s “used to be ‘million.’ And then, about 10 years ago, you started hearing ‘billion.’ And now you’re starting to hear ‘trillion,’ right?” Of course, U.S. defense spending hit the billions in the late 1940s, and recent spending has been on pace with spending from the decade previous.
The Trump Administration has done little to change the often-criticized Pentagon trend of investing more money in fewer pieces of equipment, such as fighter jets that cost a quarter billion dollars each when fully kitted out. The navy is running fewer ships that each cost more. Previous administrations did no better in reversing this trend, of course.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden stated multiple times that he has no plans to reduce military spending, but indicated a desire to refocus military budgets and planning on “near-peer” powers Russia and China, while attempting to recover some of the goodwill of allies tested by the Trump Administration’s active skepticism in cooperation with allies, especially the NATO alliance.
Latest updates[?]: The US Air Force has decided to buy two to three A-29 and AT-6 light attack aircraft. The final request for proposal was published on October 24. The A-29 will be deployed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, by Air Force Special Operations Command to develop an instructor pilot program for the Combat Aviation Advisory mission. The contract award is expected to be end of the year. The AT-6 will be going to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks by Air Combat Command. The propeller-driven planes will be part of the Light Air Support program of the Air Force, which seeks a light counter-insurgency, ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft. The Air Force and US Navy have flown both planes since 2017 to assess their capabilities.
The USA needs a plane that can provide effective precision close air support and JTAC training, and costs about $1,000 per flight hour to operate – instead of the $15,000+ they’re paying now to use advanced jet fighters at 10% of their capabilities. Countries on the front lines of the war’s battles needed a plane that small or new air forces can field within a reasonable time, and use effectively. If these 2 needs are filled by the same aircraft, everything becomes easier for US allies and commanders. One would think that this would have been obvious around October 2001, but it took until 2008 for this understanding to even gain momentum within the Pentagon. A series of intra-service, political, and legal fights have ensured that these capabilities won’t arrive before 2015 at the earliest, and won’t arrive for the USAF at all.
The USA has now issued 2 contracts related to this need. The first was killed by a lawsuit that the USAF didn’t think they could defend successfully. Since February 2013 they have a contract that they hope will stick. The 3 big questions are simple. Will the past be prologue for the new award? Will there be an Afghan government to begin taking delivery of their 20 planes much beyond 2014? And will another allied government soon need to use this umbrella contract for its own war?
The path toward a hypersonic space plane has been a slow one, filled with twists and turns one would expect given the technological leap involved. Speeds of Mach 8+ place tremendous heat and resistance stresses on a craft. Building a vehicle that is both light enough to achieve the speeds desired at reasonable cost, and robust enough to survive those speeds, is no easy task.
Despite the considerable engineering challenges ahead, the potential of a truly hypersonic aircraft for reconnaissance, global strike/ transport, and low-cost access to near-space and space is a compelling goal on both engineering and military grounds. The question, as always, will be balancing the need for funding to prove out new designs and concepts, with risk management that ensures limited exposure if it becomes clear that the challenge is still too great. In October 2008, the US Congress decided that FALCON/Blackswift had reached those limits. That decision led to the program’s cancellation, though some activities will continue.
The Pentagon’s Defense Business Bureau, an advisory group designed to give private sector expertise to senior leaders, announced its global analysis of DoD practices found potential savings of about $25 billion per year, to be squeezed mostly out of logistics, procurement, property management, HR, and healthcare, in that order.
The savings presume a capacity for the military to create ongoing and cumulative productivity increases – as does the private sector, generally. While the rather top-down analysis is likely to seem far fetched to military professionals, it does starkly compare behaviors in the private sector that differ, and that have resulted in vast, cumulative efficiencies.
When it comes to specifics, speaks generally about four areas of recommendations: renegotiating contracts; cutting the workforce; IT modernization and the catch-all business process re-engineering.
DoD contractors will be interested to see the nature of the target painted on their piece of budget pie. The DDB hopes to realize $9 to $18 billion in savings per year by saving 10-25 percent of contract spending. How they hope to do that? “More rigorous” negotiations; contract aggregation for economies of scale; a push for greater productivity in labor contracts; and the elimination of gold plating requirements.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work charged the DDB with producing the report back in October in an effort to gauge the scope of changes that would help modernize the whole of the defense enterprise.
The report doesn’t break too much ground in terms of tactics recommended, as previous reports have largely enumerated the various savings the DDB hopes the military will recognize.
Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and ongoing mobilization near Ukraine’s borders, left Ukraine in a difficult position. The new government was still trying to come together after the sudden popular overthrow of its predecessor, and faced an array of serious problems, but national defense remains top of the list. One of their early steps has been to appoint a new head of state firm Ukroboronprom, which runs the military-industrial complex. The task before temporary Acting Director Yuriy Tereshenko is huge, as he tries to reform an inefficient industry with quality and corruption problems. As one of his first acts, he’s offering 100 wheeled APCs to the new Ukrainian National Guard, mostly BTR-4 models.
Where do they come from? Well, that’s the bad news…
The U.S. Marine Corps sees the 120mm Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) mortar as the 3rd leg of its expeditionary fire support triad. EFSS will be the short-range but easily transportable counterpart to the reduced-weight M777 155mm towed howitzer, and the truck-mounted M142 HIMARS rocket system.
Accompanying Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) in expeditionary operations, EFSS will be the heliborne Ship-To-Objective Maneuver (STOM) force’s primary fire support, before the larger and longer range systems can move into position. As such, the EFSS launcher, its Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV) carrier, a portion of the basic load of ammunition, and a portion of its crew, must all be transportable by a single CH-53E Super Stallion or future CH-53K heavy lift helicopter, and/or a single MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The program’s path has not been smooth, and its vehicle choice in particular has come in for criticism, as it heads toward full-rate production.
In August 2009, Polish Land Forces Commander Lt. Gen Waldemar Skrzypczak dropped a different kind of bomb by resigning, after accusing defense bureaucrats in Warsaw of “serious incompetence” that was partly responsible for the deaths of Polish soldiers. As one might predict, those comments touched off promises of major equipment purchases, along with a political firestorm.
The end of a senior officer’s career is no small sacrifice. If done voluntarily, it must be done with and for honor. Ideally, it should also end up spurring necessary changes. So, what has happened since?
Given the high number of Chinese military aircraft that have not been produced several years after first exhibiting models, Richard Fisher, Jr. from the International Assessment and Strategy Center thinks [PDF] the vaporware label is often – though not always – justified.
China’s naval modernization [updated CRS report, PDF] seems to be more substantial and sustained.
Then there’s the discrepancy between how you model the threat, and what the threat actually is. Bill Sweetman at AviationWeek as a good post about the colorful experience of USAF pilots who flew Russian fighters in the 80s:
The US Navy said it would start releasing emergency funds today to start compensating the households whose property was destroyed in an F/A-18 crash on Friday in Virginia Beach. Thankfully no one was seriously hurt: “about as close as you can get to a miracle.” Video at the bottom of this entry.
A RAF Chinook had to make an emergency landing in Arizona on Saturday but nobody was injured either.
The San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a glowing profile of Susie Alderson, an engineer now at the US Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) who promoted the production of MRAPs to protect troops from roadside IEDs.