Gen. Dave Goldfein has three questions when defense firms pitch him new weapons: Does it share? Does it connect? Does it learn?
The Air Force chief of staff added that last one rather recently. As he walked around the exhibits at the Air Force Association’s annual convention in September, Goldfein said, many of his conversations with industry began with executives saying: “Let me tell you how this connects. Let me tell you how this shares.”
Goldfein told me that prompted him to add the third question: Does it learn? Learning machines and artificial intelligence have been all the rage at the Pentagon these days and it’s garnered attention from tech titans from outside of defense circles. (Witness tech entrepreneur Mark Cuban’s tweet — “This is important” — about my May story about a Pentagon push to have machines, not humans, sift through hours of drone video.)
“Data is now the new oil,” Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force vice chief of staff told me this morning at the Defense One Summit. “You need to be able to understand the data.”
Last week, Wilson said he met with Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Alphabet (Google) and chairman of the Pentagon’s defense innovation board. Among the topics discussed: ways the Pentagon, industry, academia and national labs and federally funded research and development centers can better partner with each other the “get after this artificial intelligence.”
“This human-machine teaming, … that’s really going to be the future,” Wilson said.
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From Defense One
A Short-Staffed US Air Force Wants Robots to Do More Human Jobs // Marcus Weisgerber
The service’s top general says new systems, from bombs to buildings, must be able to think, share, and learn.
Saudi Arabia’s New Strongman Wants the Kingdom to Become a Middle East Arms Powerhouse // Patrick Tucker
The crown prince’s surprise arrests of rivals puts him in position to execute a sweeping diversification of the country’s economy.
Russia Says It Will Field a Robot Tank that Outperforms Humans // Patrick Tucker
A colonel who runs a research directorate says the Nehreta did well in recent exercises at proving grounds outside Moscow.
Missile Defense Spending About to Spike
Missile defense spending had been on a somewhat downward trend in recent years. Not the case anymore — and the wheels are turning quickly.
In response to North Korea’s nuclear program and abundance of missile tests, the Trump administration sent Congress an addendum to its 2018 budget proposal, asking for an additional $4 billion for missile defense projects.
Even though a ballistic missile defense review isn’t done yet, the Pentagon sent a budget document to Congress that expressed a desire to field 64 large ground-based interceptors. (Just this week, Boeing said it had placed a 40th interceptor in a silo at Fort Greely, Alaska, adding to the four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.) This week’s White House request asks for money to build a fourth missile field at Fort Greely, and start buying those 20 new missile interceptors.
What else is in the budget amendment: 50 THAAD interceptors and 16 SM-3 shipboard interceptors.
But that’s not all. The Missile Defense Agency let several big contracts in recent weeks. The first, on Oct. 27, sends $1.5 billion to Raytheon to operate and maintain the AN/TPY-2 and Sea-Based X Band missile defense radars for the next three years. The other on Nov. 1 was a $371 million deal for research-and-development work on those radars.
And Lockheed Martin recently received a Defense Department contract to build some prototypes that could become part of a new radar for Patriot missile interceptors. “The threat environment is certainly something that’s driving levels of urgency,” Mark Mekker, the company’s director of next-generation radar systems, said in an interview this week.
Oh, and there’s news on the international missile-defense front. Sweden appears poised to buy the Patriot missile defense system, according to a government announcement. The goal is to start getting the interceptors by 2020.
Lastly, talks are underway between Japan and the U.S. about a potential AEGIS Ashore missile defense site, Bloomberg reports. Earlier this year, the Japanese press reported that Tokyo was interested in the missile defense system, which is currently in Romania.
Something we’re keeping an eye on: Will the long-talked-about East Coast missile interceptor site get priority in the missile defense review?
Important missile defense reference documents:
- The Trump administration’s budget amendment
- Detailed Pentagon budget justification documents about the amendments
- Summary of the fiscal 2018 NDAA
Interesting Nuclear Weapons Contract
With all of the talk about buying new intercontinental ballistic missile, we often forget the existing Minuteman III missiles will still be around for another 15 or so years. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center awarded Lockheed a $386 million contract for “reentry system/reentry vehicles subsystem support.” While it doesn’t specify the platform, it’s likely for work on the Minuteman III ICBM, of which Lockheed makes the reentry vehicle.
F-35’s Next Customer: Germany?
The German Air Force could buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, according to “a senior German official” quoted by Janes. The officer reportedly said the stealth jet is the country’s “preferred choice” to replace aging Tornados.
The Cost of the Post-9/11 Wars
At the end of fiscal 2018, the U.S. will have spent more than $5.6 trillion on wars since 2001, according to a new report from Brown University’s Cost of War project. “This new report takes into account not only Department of Defense spending, but spending by the departments of state, veterans affairs and homeland security as well as the cost of interest paid to date on the money the U.S. has borrowed to pay for the wars,” a summary said. “These areas of spending are not included in the Pentagon accounting of war costs, the researchers say, so many of the wars’ budgetary burdens, from the cost of providing medical care and disability payments to veterans to the cost of missions related to preventing and responding to terrorist threats, go unacknowledged in Pentagon estimates.” We reported earlier this year that the average American taxpayer has paid nearly $7,500 for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Brown report says that number three times highers, or about $23,386.
Boeing Completes Aurora Acquisition
Well, that didn’t take long. Just one month after announcing it would buy drone tech firm Aurora Flight Sciences, Boeing said on Nov. 8 that it had completed the deal. “Aurora will operate under Boeing Engineering, Test & Technology as a subsidiary called Aurora Flight Sciences, A Boeing Company. It will retain an independent operating model while benefiting from Boeing’s resources and position as the leading provider of aerospace products and services.”
Gearing Up for Dubai Air Show
It’ll be interesting to see how the biennial air show plays out, considering the turmoil in the region. (Among other things: Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have cut relations with Qatar; The Saudi crown prince appears to be consolidating power. War rages on in Yemen. Etc.) The show is expected to draw 70,000 visitors and more than 1,100 exhibitors from 60 countries, according to Kallman Worldwide, a marketing group that supports U.S. firms. The largest international delegation, with more than 120 exhibitors, will come from the United States.