Budget Day, that day of revelations when the sitting administration sends its federal spending proposal to Congress, is upon us again — albeit a month later than usual, thanks to a partial government shutdown.
We already know a bit about the 2020 defense request (certainly, more than when then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates made everyone involved in the budget process sign non-disclosure agreements). Among the knowns:
- The defense budget is expected to total about $750 billion.
- Almost one-quarter of that — about $174 billion — is expected to be in the Overseas Contingency Operations (née the “emergency supplemental”), a Trump administration effort to circumvent the $576 billion spending cap.
Here’s the program-specific stuff that’s leaked out:
- The Pentagon will request 78 F-35s, six fewer than planned (Bloomberg).
- The U.S. Air Force will request eight new F-15X fighters (Bloomberg).
- The Air Force light attack plane project is now on hold (Defense News).
- The Navy wants to delay buying two LPDs and cancel the midlife refueling of the USS Harry Truman, basically retiring the aircraft carrier two-decades early (Breaking Defense).
- There is a policy proposal to create the U.S. Space Force (within the Air Force), as a sixth branch of the military (Defense One).
- The Pentagon is expected to request $104 billion for research-and-development, $9 billion more than appropriated in fiscal 2019 (Bloomberg).
What else is expected? Last year, Pentagon officials touted how their fiscal 2019 budget would better prepare for the great-power competition with Russia and China described in the National Defense Strategy. Expect to see more fine-tuning this year, especially in research and development spending for projects like hypersonic missiles.
Navy and Air Force force structure: The chief of naval operations created waves when he said last month that its 355-ship goal would be reevaluated (how many manned ships? How many unmanned?). The reshaping of that goal will change how the Navy spends vast amounts of its money. Also, we might finally get more details about the Air Force’s goal to create 386 operational squadrons.
Space! In addition to Space Force, we’ll be watching for plus-ups for new satellite constellations and launch efforts.
What else: Pentagon officials have repeatedly said they will kill programs, but it’s rare that a well-established, in-production project gets the axe. Yes, the Air Force no longer plans to replace its E-8C JSTARS reconnaissance planes. What else? Also, will the Army speed up its future helicopter research project?
About that OCO request: As mentioned, the administration is expected to use the war budget to get around federal spending caps. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander, was asked by Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, about what this OCO plus-up means for a military commander. The general's response: “Primarily, those budgets that come in within the base budgets itself, laid out in a [future years defense plan], give me greater stability and knowledge of what’s coming in the future. Really, what we need is predictability. OCO tends to fluctuate each year. I personally underscore the greater predictability we have and stability in our budget as we look forward. Obviously, the more efficient we can be with our funding and the more sure that what we need in terms of force capability, readiness, etc, can be planned and we can deliver.”
Wild card: Look to see whether military construction accounts—the ones that are being raided to fund President Trump’s wall on the U.S.-Mexico border—are replenished.
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From Defense One
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The defense research agency also announced plans for an accelerator to help move new tech from idea to product.
I first laid eyes on an EA-6B Prowler at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, a dozen or so years ago. That Navy electronic attack plane, painted in desert camouflage, happened to be flown by Air Force crews in support of ground operations. The word at the time was that the Prowlers’ days were numbered by the incoming EA-18G Growler — and yet the last Prowler squadron will stand down only this Friday. “Marine Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 2 (VMAQ-2), Marine Aircraft Group 14, 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, is scheduled to hold its deactivation ceremony as the last remaining Marine EA-6B Prowler squadron on Friday. The squadron's deactivation marks the end of the Prowler's service in the Marine Corps,” according to a March 5 Marine Corps statement.
Yes, it’s been around for a while, but the F-35C, the Navy’s version of the Joint Strike Fighter has been cleared for combat. was declared last week. “In order to declare [initial operational capability], the first operational squadron must be properly manned, trained and equipped to conduct assigned missions in support of fleet operations,” the Navy said in a Feb. 28 statement. “This includes having 10 Block-3F F-35C aircraft, requisite spare parts, support equipment, tools, technical publications, training programs and a functional Autonomic Logistic Information System.”
Navy Sets Dates for New Frigate
The Navy’s new frigate program, called FFG(X), released a much-anticipated draft request for proposals last Friday. A contract award is expected no earlier than fiscal 2020; the first ship will arrive six years after that. “Huntington Ingalls Industries, Austal USA, Lockheed Martin, Fincantieri Marine and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works were awarded $15 million each last year to refine their own frigate parent designs,” our friends at USNI News report.
Is Ukraine’s Defense Industry Corrupt?
One day after U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch called for an investigation into Ukraine’s state-run defense sector Ukroboronprom, President Petro Poroshenko has reportedly launched an audit. Here’s what Yovanovitch said during a March 5 speech: “The government of Ukraine should also immediately fund a complete audit of Ukroboronprom and declassify the State Defense Order to the maximum extent possible. This will promote transparency and fight corruption in the defense sector. Turning a blind eye to corruption in the defense sector is taking food, medical treatment, and weapons out of the hands of Ukraine’s brave soldiers. And the government should investigate and prosecute cases of corruption at Ukroboronprom and elsewhere.”
The 5G Wireless Debate is Heating Up
China has been racing to make workable 5G products for some time. (See: Why China’s Military Wants to Beat the US to a Next-Gen Cell Network, Defense One, Jan. 8, 2019.) Now U.S. policymakers are tuning in. On Feb. 26, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan released this statement: “Secure and resilient 5G telecommunications is vital to the security and prosperity of the United States, and DoD is working closely with our industrial and research partners to develop comprehensive and innovative solutions for both the Department and commercial industries. The United States and our allies and partners must demand nothing less than robust, trusted, and secure next-generation communications systems.”
5G (and Chinese-made telecom infrastructure) also came up at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing about Europe. “What we have to know is that we have a secure 5G capability,” Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command and NATO supreme allied commander. “That’s one of the reasons that when you now go to our allies, that we’ve said, they need to be very careful about Chinese investment in their telecommunications capabilities because we also want to know that we’re secure with our allies that we connect with. There may be an outcome where we can’t connect with out allies unless they change the composition of their systems. We’re trying to get ahead of that.”
5G was not a major issue even two years ago, Scaparrotti said. “Now it’s front and center and we’re beginning to have the right conversations as a security issue.”
Some more about 5G: We told you a few weeks ago how 5G was prompting electromagnetic spectrum concerns within the military. And this is all happening as President Trump’s re-election campaign is pushing government intervention in managing the new 5G network.
Saudi THAAD Deal
On Monday, the Pentagon awarded Lockheed Martin a $946 million deal on behalf of Saudi Arabia for the THAAD missile defense system. This is just one installment in what is expected to be a $15 billion deal. The contract announcement said costs will be reimbursed by the Saudis. “Under this undefinitized contract action, the contractor will provide Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) FMS KSA Phase I long lead items, obsolescence, tooling and test equipment, key personnel, line requalification activities, initial training development, System Integration Lab and testbeds, three-level maintenance concept, exportability, and early engineering development,” a Pentagon contract announcement said.
Renaming Rocket Launch
Goodbye, Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program; hello, National Security Space Launch program. The name change happened on March 1, per a provision in the fiscal 2019 NDAA. Why? Because the Pentagon does not just buy throw-away “expendable” launch vehicles anymore and SpaceX rockets are reusable after they land on Earth after launch.
Industry-Only Farnborough Air Show
The public-weekend flying demos at the end of the Farnborough Air Show are being canceled, more fallout from a deadly 2015 crash at an airshow in Shoreham. That’s not an end to the show’s aerial demonstrations, but it’s one more step back from the high-performance maneuvers that once characterized the odd-years event. So if it’s military jets you seek, it’s worth making the trek out to the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford the weekend before Farnborough.
Mark Your Calendar
The annual Jim McAleese/Credit Suisse Defense Programs Conference takes place next Wednesday, March 13, at the Sphinx Club in Washington. Speakers include Army Undersecretary Ryan McCarthy, Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, Gen. Robert Neller, Marine Corps commandant, acquisition chiefs from the Air Force and Navy, members of Congress, and other senior defense officials. Email Jim to register.
Sean Pybus, a retired Navy vice admiral, has joined Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, a firm that received a $375 million U.S. Special Operations Command training and exercise contract last year. Pybus was deputy commander of SOCOM until 2016.