Will Roper is the head of Air Force acquisition, but he made his Pentagon bones as the first head of the Strategic Capabilities Office, a cell that looks to add “surprising new capabilities” to existing weapons.
The office has drawn praise for accomplishments like modifying the anti-aircraft, anti-missile SM-6 interceptor to sink ships. Its work on swarming drone technology landed Roper on “60 Minutes.”
So it was a bit of a surprise last week when the House Armed Services Committee emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee raised the prospect of shutting the office down.
Roper’s now the assistant Air Force secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, but he still works closely with his former office. At a Pentagon press briefing last week, he rattled off a handful of Air Force projects being worked in collaboration with the SCO.
“SCO was a great place to work and a very different place to work because we were not as much creating technologies, a rapid contracting or innovation as we were truly novel warfighting capabilities,” Roper said. “A lot of those are benefiting the Air Force right now. One of the pleasures I have is continuing to work with a great group of innovators there and I hope that I’m able to continue dong so in the future.”
Asked more directly what would happen if the office goes away, Roper said: “A lot of the things that we’re hoping to ingest into our programs and operationalize would not be here. Either programs would slip or we would have to restart the development on our own.”
You can bet the SCO’s advocates will hold up those comments as Congress determines its fate in coming months.
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Still No Deal For New Air Force One
But the Air Force did issue a proposals request to Boeing to keep the firm on contract while the deal is finalized. Reminder: the service has already purchased two 747-8 airlines from Boeing that were originally built, but not delivered, to a now-bankrupt Russian airline. Now they’re trying to come to an agreement on the details for converting the two planes into flying White Houses. (FYI: this is the Engineering Manufacturing and Development, or EMD, phase.) Boeing spokeswoman Kelly Kaplan, in a email: “Release of the RFP is another positive step as we progress with negotiations for the EMD contract and we remain committed to providing the President with a flying White House at outstanding value to taxpayers.” (Two weeks ago, I asked Boeing Defense CEO Leanne Caret about the AF1 negotiations. She replied, “I’m really pleased by the level of conversation that we have going on.”)
Some news about another Boeing plane: @mattcawby has a great Twitter account that posts tons pictures of planes coming and going from Boeing’s assembly plant in Everett, Washington, outside of Seattle. An April 27 picture of a new U.S. Air Force KC-46 taking off gives a glimpse of just how many of the new tankers are currently parked in Everett. Three planes with refueling booms and U.S. Air Force titling are seen parked directly behind the plane taking off. The Air Force is still awaiting its first plane, but the tanker completed FAA certification flight testing last week.
Five-Year Weapons Spending Projections
The Pentagon has updated its “Green Book,” a document that gives defense spending projections over the next five years. The 283-page document is great for historical references and getting an idea of long-term investment plans for stuff like overall procurement and research-and-development spending. So what does the latest book show us? Basically, spending levels for both procurement and R&D fall in fiscal 2020 — 8.5 percent and 2.7 percent respectively. Procurement grows slightly while R&D rains flat before falling. See the numbers for yourself:
Year: Procurement, RDT&E ($ in millions)
2019: $144.3, $92.4
2020: $132.1, $89.9
2021: $137.6, $90.7
2022: $141.5, $87.4
2023: $150.1, $85.6
Remember there’s the wild card of the Budget Control Act returning in fiscal 2021. But the numbers appear to validate what folks have been saying — that the steep budget increases in 2018 and 2019 are it. Flashback to Feb. 12, budget day. The headline on Caroline Houck and my assessment of the Trump administration’s budget plan: “Trump Proposes 10% Bump for the Pentagon — Then Four Flat Years.” The numbers don’t lie.
Two Interesting Reports
State of New Presidential Helicopter: The Marine Corps has been trying to replace its VH-3D Sea King helicopters — better known as “Marine One” when the president is on board — for well over a decade. The previous project went off the rails with all sorts of spending increases, that prompted then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to cancel the project. The Pentagon spent $3.7 billion and got nothing. Fast forward to today and here’s the Government Accountability Office’s latest assessment of the new VH-92 presidential helicopter project: “We found that the VH-92A helicopter program's development schedule is stable … The expected cost has decreased 2.6 percent since an initial 2014 estimate.” Now, GAO also said “development challenges may affect the program's ability to deliver fully capable aircraft on time,” but, as Meatloaf said: Two out of three ain’t bad … right?
New Govini Report: Go, Space Force! “Space is a relatively new domain for our armed services, and evolving national needs necessitate creating a new Space Force, separate from the Air Force,” retired Air Force Col. Terry Virts, a former astronaut and commander of the International Space Station, writes in the report. “Having spent nearly three decades as an Air Force Pilot, with 17 of those years in Air Force Space Command, I can say unequivocally that Air and Space are completely unrelated domains, in the same way that land is a separate domain from the sea.” For what it’s worth, President Trump again raised the possibility of creating a Space Force, when the West Point football team visited the White House this week.
Spotted at the WHCD
Saw a few folks that Global Business Brief readers are interested in at Saturday's White House Correspondents Dinner: Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was spotted at the CBS News/Atlantic Media (Defense One’s parent) dinner pre-party and new L3 Technologies CEO Chris Kubasik was spotted after the dinner at the Reuters post-party.
L3 Technologies appointed John Kim, a former equity research analyst at SAB Capital, vice president of investor relations. He reports to Heidi Wood, senior vice president of strategy and technology.