A rare press briefing from Jerry DeMuro — president and CEO of BAE Systems, Inc., the American arm of the British defense firm — provided a glimpse into his plans for growth, a few of the firm’s projects, and even some DoD acquisition-policy changes that might be in the works.
BAE’s Hyper Velocity Projectile effort seeks to take bullets built for an electromagnetic railgun — a weapon that uses magnetic forces to fire bullets faster and farther than gunpowder — and use them to extend the range of existing Navy guns and Army artillery.
One difference between this project and the military’s conventional development efforts is that it’s run by the Strategic Capabilities Office, a special Pentagon cell that seeks surprising new capabilities for existing weapons. Much of the office’s work is classified, but a few projects have been revealed, notably the modification of the Navy’s SM-6 anti-air missile to sink ships.
“They don’t operate within the administrative constraints,” DeMuro said of the SCO. “They’re touching all the milestones that you need to do for test and validation, but not the constraints of a full” major acquisition program.
Said Tom Arseneault, BAE’s chief operating officer: “It’s really about balancing risk and speed. They’re trying to come up with ways to take more risk and get them more speed.”
I asked DeMuro whether some of SCO’s processes might trickle down to regular acquisition projects.
“I think so,” he said, and he just might be in a position to know. DeMuro was part of a group of defense and aerospace executives who met last month with Defense Secretary James Mattis and the Pentagon’s acting acquisition leaders.
“The secretary’s language was very direct on what he’s trying to accomplish and I think is very much aligned with what we hear from the administration and the president himself about moving more quickly, eliminating needless regulations and streamlining the process in general,” DeMuro said.
The Pentagon and Congress have spent years looking for ways to shorten the time it takes to buy new weapons and equipment. There’s been the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, Better Buying Power (1.0, 2.0, and 3.0), and now, some new language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act. Now with a White House administration intent on removing bureaucratic regulations, defense acquisition could see more changes yet.
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Boeing Botched Air Force One Maintenance
Three Boeing mechanics used contaminated tools and parts on one of President Trump’s Air Force One jets, causing more than $4 million in damage to the plane’s oxygen system, according to an accident investigation report released this week.
If not detected, the mishap could have caused a fire on the iconic plane, the report said. The Air Force blamed Boeing for failing “to exercise adequate oversight over the timeliness and quality of maintenance being performed on the” aircraft. The report said the three mechanics “failed to absorb or retain oxygen system training.” It also said one of the mechanics “failed to observe explicit warnings concerning cleanliness while performing tasks on the [Air Force One’s] oxygen system.”
Ben Davis, a Boeing spokesman, would not say whether the three mechanics have been disciplined or fired, citing a policy not to comment on employee matters.
“We did complete some investigations alongside our Air Force partners,” Davis said. “Collectively, we did some corrective action reports so that we can ensure we have exemplary performance in the future.”
The incident happened in April 2016 when the plane was at a Boeing maintenance plant in San Antonio, Texas, undergoing scheduled overhaul work.
The aircraft — a modified Boeing 747-200 jet that the Air Force calls a VC-25A — has since been fixed and returned to the Air Force, where it is being prepared to fly the president. Citing “security concerns,” Davis would not say how long the plane was delayed for returning to service.
“There were some delays attributed to this mishap while we determined the extent of contamination, made necessary repairs, remediation, etc., but we completed those efforts concurrently with other maintenance activity,” he said.
The Air Force has two Air Force One aircraft. The service is planning to replace the current VC-25s with new 747-800 aircraft. Shortly before taking office, Trump called the cost of the new planes “out of control” even though work to modify those jets has not yet begun.
IoT Seen as Defense Cost-Cutter
Robotics, the Internet of Things, 3-D printing, and augmented reality are key areas of technology investment, according to more than 2,200 “business decision makers” polled in a new PwC survey on “their knowledge and use of digital and technology tools.” Some of the survey’s defense-related findings:
- U.S. defense firms are investing heavily in the Internet of Things in a bid to cut costs.
- Robots are seen as a way to innovate and increase profits over the next three years.
- Defense firms are investing in augmented reality for its “major implications for training, design and collaboration.”
- “Manufacturers are planning for how 3-D printing will fundamentally alter the factory floor as a replacement for or complement to traditional manufacturing tools.”
Military Intel Budget
The Pentagon this week said it upped its 2017 military intelligence budget spending request by $1.7 billion to $18.5 billion. The details of the request are classified, but each year the Pentagon releases the topline number when it sends its budget to Congress. Here’s a look at the Pentagon’s request and Congress’ appropriation for military intelligence programs over the past four fiscal years:
Year: request, appropriated
- 2013: $19.2 billion, $18.2 billion
- 2014: $14.6 billion, $17.4 billion
- 2015: $13.3 billion, $16.5 billion
- 2016: $17.9 billion, $17.7 billion
Hawaii Senator Wants a Pentagon Tech Hub
U.S. Special Operations Command has SOFWERX, a lab in Tampa where companies can collaborate and prototype near SOCOM’s headquarters. Then there is DIUx, the Pentagon’s teach outreach effort with offices in Silicon Valley, Boston, and Austin, Texas. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, believes the Pacific is a good location for another one of those tech outposts. “I hope you all will take a look at spreading the opportunity around, because there are small businesses all over the country who could provide the kind of innovation that you are seeking,” she told Gen. Tony Thomas, the SOCOM commander, during a May 4 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.