Army compares its planned helos to F-35; Cheaper missile-defense radars?; Mideast fighter deals, at least; and more…
The first time I heard a U.S. Army official liken his service’s proposed family of helicopters to the Joint Strike Fighter program, last year at an Army aviation conference, it seemed an odd comparison for anyone to make, at least willingly.
The F-35, of course, is better known as a cautionary tale about the perils of sweeping a wide range of requirements into a single acquisition effort. Even the program’s manager, Air Force Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, advised Pentagon leaders to think twice about programs that try to serve too many customers: “I’m not saying they’re bad. I’m not saying they’re good. I’m just saying they’re hard.”
But Army officials are still offering up the F-35 as a touchstone in their quest to build multiple variants of a single futuristic helicopter to replace the iconic Black Hawk, Apache, and Chinook rotorcraft. During last week’s panel discussion at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Army and industry executives used words like “commonality” and suggested that a single basic platform would help drive down operational and logistics costs.
In coming years, the Army’s Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator program will fund and evaluate two aircraft: the V-280 Valor tiltrotor made by Bell and the SB-1 Defiant compound helicopter built by a Sikorsky-Boeing team. Within a decade or so, the project will inform a follow-on effort called Future Vertical Lift, which aims to replace the service’s big three helicopters with a new family of helicopters. Sound familiar? But instead of the F-35’s three variants, FVL aims to produce five.
There has been all sorts of criticism of the project, including that it’s too ambitious and its timeline too slow. But luckily, there’s still some time for Army leaders to figure out the best way to move forward: the right mix of helicopters and how to avoid having a single supplier. We’ll be listening for some answers next week’s Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington.
Cheap Missile-Defense Radars
A small Danish firm of just 100 people says it has a cheaper way for the U.S. military to track enemy missiles.
The company, Weibel, has a 40-year track record in U.S. military space efforts, mostly building test-range radars to measure the precision and velocity of bullets and missiles at places like Maryland’s Aberdeen Proving Ground and New Mexico’s White Sands Missile Range. Its products also include radars on the Paladin and M777 howitzers, and even sensors that tracked Space Shuttle launches. But Weibel’s latest project just might be its most innovative — even disruptive — yet.
Last month, on the sidelines of the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Ala., Weibel president Peder Pedersen explained the technology behind the Gap Filling Tracking Radar.
“Our niche is that we do not have a full phased array, but we have a limited phased array where we can steer the beam a little, but then we move the radar on a mount,” Pedersen said. “We’re the only ones that move it on a mount. You either have a surveillance radar that [spins] around all the time or you have a fixed, phased array.”
Pedersen says Weibel’s small, pedestal-mounted radars are less expensive than electronic scanned array radars because they don’t have as many elements. Once given a cue — the location of a missile — Weibel executives say its radar can track the rocket and differentiate it from other objects in space.
“Our radar is a very cost-effective radar that can measure long range — over several thousand kilometers, which is needed for ballistic missile defense — but it can also measure extremely accurately,” Pedersen said. “The reason that it can measure accurate is we grew up on the test ranges where our radar is used to qualify weapon systems. That means we have started making the radars more accurate than the radars going to test. It’s born accurate, the technology.”
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency and Denmark are conducting a study to see if the technology to see if it is suitable for missile defense.
Because the radar can track multiple objects, it can determine if an interceptor successfully killed a missile. Weibel executives say their radar could do so-called kill assessments cheaper than the satellites the Pentagon is currently looking at to assess the success of missile intercepts.
“It’s a much cheaper way to get long-range, high accuracy and discrimination,” Pedersen said.
Weibel signed a teaming agreement with Lockheed Martin last year to help design, develop, test and verify the Danish firm’s radar.
Here is the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber, your weekly source for all things future-of-the-business-of-defense. Send your tips, comments, and random thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up on Twitter: @MarcusReports. You can check out the Global Business Brief archive here. And tell your friends to subscribe!
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Report: President Trump Would Be Good For Navy Shipbuilders
That appears the consensus of financial and other defense observers. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has called for 350 warships, about 40 more than in the Navy’s current plan, Mark Cacian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies writes. In a national security speech in Philadelphia, Trump mentioned missile defense destroyers, which as Capital Alpha Partners’ Byron Callan points out are built, two per year, by General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls. And then there’s the stuff that’s on those ships, like the new Raytheon AMDR radar and Standard Missiles.
The U.K. Is All About Innovation Too
Despite the Brexit fears that dominated the discussion for most of the summer, and this year’s Farnborough Air Show, the U.K. has announced a new £800 million innovation fund. The Defence Ministry is finalizing a £30 million deal for “a new laser demonstrator which could transform weapons technology of the future and the development of the U.K.’s first laser weapon.” Think of it as Britain's contribution to Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work’s Third Offset. Because that’s exactly what it is.
U.S. Approves Middle East Fighter Jet Deals
After years of waiting, if finally appears to be happening. The exact deals are still coming in, as the State Department has not formally announced it, but lawmakers and others are saying the approval has been granted. Here’s the breakdown: Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets for Kuwait, Boeing F-15 Strike Eagles for Qatar and Lockheed Martin F-16s for Bahrain. With the $38 billion Israel deal done, it was only a matter of time for these deals to get the OK. With production wrapping up of each of these planes, it’s surely welcome news for those firms.