This week saw a few firsts: On Monday, a ground-based interceptor missile took out a mock ICBM in space. And on Wednesday, officials with the U.S. Missile Defense Agency talked about it.
Well, a little bit. When Vice Adm. James Syring was asked what kind of countermeasures were deployed by the faux ICBM, the MDA director replied, “I can't go into the specifics of that. I'm saying as much as I can to even say there were decoys in the test. But it's not the first time that we've tested with decoys.”
It reminded me of my December visit to a factory in Tucson, Arizona, where Raytheon makes the exoatmospheric kill vehicle, the part of the interceptor that slams into an incoming missile. Like many high-tech assembly lines, they don’t allow pictures. You can’t even go inside the clean-room facility without a special lab coat.
Clearly, the people working on the program, like many defense projects, take pride in what they’re doing. But they couldn’t say much about it to a reporter, since just about everything is classified.
“Once we start talking about capabilities and specifics, we start getting into classified areas very quickly,” Mitch Stevison, vice president of Raytheon’s Air and Missile Defense Systems, said after this week’s test.
The need to protect sensitive info from adversaries’ rocket scientists also makes it hard for the press to independently verify test results, and therefore for U.S. citizens to know and understand the state of their own security. Still, Pentagon officials and industry executives, it seemed, tried to provide as much information as possible. Sure, more details would have been nice, but there was, for the first time in my memory, a conscious effort to hold briefings and release imagery.
While this week’s intercept has been lauded by supporters as a major step forward for missile defense technology, it was at least, I hope, a step forward for talking about it.
The subject of missile defense has never been more relevant. North Korean test and development efforts are accelerating. Budget pressure is up, with plenty of military and non-military priorities competing for the billions of dollars that it costs to develop, test, and deploy interceptors and command-and-control systems. (FYI: Tuesday’s test cost $244 million to conduct.)
This Missile Defense Agency has slowly been opening up over the past year. Here’s hoping the conversation continues.
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From Defense One
Pentagon Wants to Get Started on New Air Force Two and Doomsday Planes // Marcus Weisgerber
The aging C-32 and E-4B may be replaced by similar aircraft, or at least with planes that share some gear.
Pentagon: Anti-Missile Weapons Can Keep US Safe Until 2020 // Marcus Weisgerber and Patrick Tucker
The three-star who ran the May 30 test says it proves that U.S. defenses are at least three years ahead of North Korea's ICBMs.
Tomorrow's Robots Will Train in Simulators, Just Like Today's Troops // Dave Gershgorn
Several firms are working on training environments like Star Trek's Holodeck, but for machines.
2018 Budget Winners and Losers
Winner: Last week, we explained that President Trump’s military buildup won’t kick into full gear until 2019 — a bit of a surprise, considering his promises to build a 355-ship Navy. But there are signs, Cowen analyst Roman Schweizer writes, that that fleet build-up is coming: “we see positive indications for near- and long-term growth in shipbuilding, particularly submarines. This should be positive for General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls and BWX Technologies. There should also be positive flow-through for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.”
Loser: Aircraft, according to Jim McAleese of McAleese and Associates, who spotted “stalled” purchases of the F-35C, the carrier version and fewer planned buys of AH-1Z attack helicopters and MQ-8 Fire Scout drones.
Winner: The service wants 16 General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers to be flown by contractors over global hot spots, plus 16 more for its own drone operators.
Loser: F-35A. The production ramp-up is stalled, McAleese notes.
Winner: The budget asks for $1.2 billion for armored vehicles, according to McAleese: 60 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, to be paid for in OCO, or war supplemental, funds; 107 AMPVs; 71 M109 Paladins; and 56 Abrams tanks.
Loser: Aviation. Noticing a trend here? The CH-47 Chinook and Gray Eagle drones are “bill payers,” McAleese said. But the Army did ask for more UH-72 Lakota helicopters.
Winner: Military construction. McAleese notes that it’s up $2.1 billion to $9.8 billion. Remember, the Pentagon deferred a lot of military construction in the recent budget-capped years.
So, where might Congress step in?
“There will be obvious 2018 Shipbuilding & Aircraft Congressional plus-ups, (funded through combination of excess [operations and maintenance], targeted 2017 Rescissions, fuel & foreign-currency-exchange economic adjustments, plus lowest-priority OCO accounts,” McAleese writes.
Keep a lookout: For the services’ 2018 unfunded priority lists. Got one? Send it our way!
It’s not often that you see top defense officials talk about commercial trade disputes. This week, Canada’s Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan blasted Boeing for petitioning the U.S. government to look into Canadian government subsidies allegedly received by Bombardier to build its new CSeries passenger plane. Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government said it would ditch its immediate plans to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, and buy an interim fleet of 18 Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets. Could the trade dispute affect the Boeing deal? “[O]ur government is disappointed in the action of one of our leading industry partners,” Sajjan said at a trade show in Ottawa this week.
But if Boeing and Bombardier oppose each other on this issue, they see eye-to-eye on another: they are both annoyed that U.S. Air Force won’t let them openly compete in the project to replace the Compass Call electronic attack plane.
Stinger Missile Can Now Shoot Down Small Drones
The U.S. Army and Raytheon have modified a Stinger shoulder-fired missile to shoot down small drones, the company announced this week. The weapon is typically aimed at larger aircraft or missiles. How’d they do it? By replacing the Stinger’s direct-impact warhead, which explodes when it collides with a target, with a proximity fuze that detonates near a small drone.
Upcoming Event with Boeing Defense CEO
As I mentioned last week, we’re launching a new event series, called the Global Business Briefing. I’ll sit down for one-on-one chats with industry leaders in front of a live audience. Join us the very first one on June 14, with Leanne Caret, president and CEO of Boeing Defense, Space & Security. It’s free, so sign up to attend here.
A Study The Defense Industry Will Hate
Remember how Lockheed Martin tried to save its F-22 with an ad campaign touting not stealth or supercruise, but American jobs? That pitch might not be any more effective the next time around. A new study from Brown University’s Costs of War project found domestic spending spurs more jobs than military spending. “[E]ach $1 million of spending on defense creates 5.8 jobs directly in defense industries and 1.1 jobs in the supply chain, for a total of 6.9 jobs per $1 million of federal defense spending. In comparison, spending that same amount in wind or Solar energy creates a total of 8.4 or 9.5 jobs, respectively,” the report states. Education-related jobs create about three times as many jobs as defense, the report says. Read more, here.
New F-35 Program Manager
Vice Adm. Mat Winter took the reins of the $400 billion program late last week from Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, who’s retiring after 34 years of Air Force service. A former A-6E Intruder bombardier/navigator, Winter has been the F-35 deputy program manager for the past six months; his job will be filled by Air Force Brig. Gen. Eric Fick.
Former Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James is joining Textron’s board on July 1. James stepped down as Air Force secretary on Jan. 20, but did some work throughout the transition.
Something We’re Watching
The Shangri-La Dialogue, the annual Asia defense summit in Singapore is this weekend. It’s usually chock-full of bilateral and trilateral meetings between U.S. defense officials and their Pacific counterparts. There’s always potential for arms sales discussions, particularly since the CEOs of major defense firms typically show up. We’ll keep an eye out and and an ear open.