Will Turkey return to F-35?; DOD AI chief: send money; SecDef tours troubled carrier; and more…

Using artificial intelligence on the battlefield has drawn debate in recent years amid the Pentagon’s high-profile effort to train algorithms to pick out people, buildings, and vehicles, amid oceans of drone-gathered video.

On Tuesday, Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan gave an update on the Pentagon’s Joint Artificial Intelligence Center at The Atlantic Festival.

Money first: Shanahan said his JAIC (pronounced “jake”) will see its $89 million budget more than double, to about $200 million, when the next fiscal year begins on Oct. 1. Then, he said, “We will seek additional funding through the course of the next five-year budget cycle to begin to show how important it is to bring this across the entire Department of Defense.”

How much money is a little difficult to predict.

“This a little bit of a hard sell sometimes because artificial intelligence in a software-driven age, it’s hard for me to project out three years from now exactly what projects we’re going to be working on,” Shanahan said. “What I’d like to do is be held accountable after the fact for did you seek spend your money in the wisest way possible, did you show that you made the right investments and when you didn’t, did you fail early and stop a project and move on.”

Asked whether the Pentagon’s AI goals depend on big tech companies — like Google, who withdrew from Maven after thousands of its employees who objected to the work — Shanahan replied, “It would be extremely hard to do it without them.”

How Companies View AI’s Role in Defense. Booz Allen Hamilton CEO Horacio Rozanski believes AI will get better when it’s deployed onto the battlefield.

“There’s a lot of things that are happening now in the lab that are not going to get better until we field them,” Rozanski said on Tuesday. “Training an AI has to happen in the place where the AI is going to operate. A lab is not where the AI is ultimately going to operate, so it’s never going to learn, it’s never going to get trained to the right level until it gets put into an operational context.”

But there are key challenges in getting AI to the battlefield, Rozanski said. Among them, the infrastructure for analysts and communications, or lack thereof, on the battlefield. 

Tom Arseneault, BAE Systems president and COO, said modeling might be able to help in testing.

“Increasingly, the field is a relative thing,” Arseneault said. “As we get increasingly digital, we’re able to model the field in an environment where we can test a little bit more safely and a little less expensively. Systems will be formed out of digital models. We model the environment in which they operate and all of that can happen in a virtual world.”

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Pratt & Whitney Talks F-35 Logistics

Last week, we told you that F-35-maker Lockheed Martin is pitching the Pentagon a five-year maintenance deal to avoid negotiating yearly contracts — a move the company says would save billions of dollars. Pratt & Whitney, plane’s engine maker, sees a value in this type of arrangement, known as a performance-based logistics, or PBL, contract, because it allows the company to lock in long-term supplier deals.

“We think there’s incredible value in a PBL. We do agree that going to a longer PBL will allow us as a contractor to provide more value,” Matthew Bromberg, president of Pratt & Whitney’s Military Engines business, told a few reporters on the sidelines of the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference last week.

“A short PBL is like trying to manage a fleet with your hands tied behind your back,” he said. “You can’t order the parts, you can’t invest in the repairs, you can’t invest in the sustainment, the tooling, [and] the training.”

Bromberg said “a long-term sustainment contract — five year or 10 years — I think is the way to go.” A 10-year deal is “something that we floated,” but “we don’t have an offer out there.” That said, the company is “talking to the [F-35 joint program office] about it.”

The commercial sector typically signs seven to 10-year logistics contracts, he said.

Esper Visits Newport News Shipbuilding

There he toured the USS Gerald Ford, the Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, which has been riddled with issues involving its propulsion systems and weapons elevators. Huntington Ingalls Industries said: “Esper toured Ford to see the progress being made during the ship’s post-shakedown availability and to learn more about its weapons-handling innovations and increased warfighting capabilities.” Here’s a breakdown by Bloomberg about the problems with the ship.

Search-and-Rescue Helicopter Cleared for Production

U.S. Air Force combat search-and-rescue crews have been waiting a long time for new helicopters, but they moved a step closer this week. The Air Force cleared the helicopter for production, according to Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky, maker of the HH-60W. Four test helicopters are already flying (here are some pictures of them). Now all the helo needs is a name. Rescue Hawk, anyone?

Will Turkey Return to the F-35 Program?

Maybe, say reports about a briefing given by U.S. ambassador David Satterfield to Turkish officials. “Satterfield offered on Friday to sell Turkey a Patriot missile defense system and lower tariffs on steel and aluminum, Haberturk and NTV reported, without citing anyone,” Bloomberg reports. “Local media also reported that the U.S. may unveil a new economic package to boost bilateral trade to $100 billion from about $19 billion.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been involved with efforts to pull Ankara back into the F-35 fold, met with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan earlier in the week. “We’re trying to get them back in the F-35 program,” he said on Sunday.  

A meeting between Erdogan and President Trump to discuss the Patriot deal had been expected this week on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York — but while the two leaders attended a reception on Wednesday, it does not appear that meeting took place.

The Trump administration is considering sanctioning Turkey over its buying the S-400 air and missile interceptors from Russia. The U.S. kicked Turkey out of the F-35 program after Ankara began receiving the interceptors this summer. The ban prevents Turkey from buying the planes or making parts for them.

Foreign Military Sales

Announced this week: the State Department cleared a $400 million deal for eight Boeing-made AH-6i attack helicopters, along with Hellfire missiles and a bunch of other weapons for Thailand. State also approved an $86 million deal for Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures for Qatar for its two 747-8 “head-of-state aircraft” AKA, its version of Air Force One. 

ICYMI: Earlier this month State cleared these deals:

  • A $209 million bomb, missile and ammunition deal for Morocco’s F-16s.
  • A $776 million anti-tank missile deal for Morocco.
  • A $6.5 billion deal with Poland for 32 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

Making Moves

Tyler Evans has been named senior vice president of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Defense Business Unit. He was previously vice president of the company’s Rocket Shop Defense Advanced Programs unit.

General Dynamics appointed General Dynamics NASSCO president Kevin Graney as president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, effective Oct. 1. David Carver, NASSCO’s vice president and general manager of repair, will succeed Graney as president of General Dynamics NASSCO. Current Electric Boat president Jeffrey Geiger will retire on Sept. 30.

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