Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent, speaks during the T-7A Red Hawk rollout ceremony April 28, 2022, at the Boeing facility in St. Louis, Mo.

Lt. Gen. Richard M. Clark, U.S. Air Force Academy superintendent, speaks during the T-7A Red Hawk rollout ceremony April 28, 2022, at the Boeing facility in St. Louis, Mo. U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Matthew B. Fredericks

Defense Business Brief: Digital-design disappointments; Debt-ceiling doubts; JADC2 agility; and more

Defense execs and Pentagon leaders love to talk about digital design and digital engineering in glowing terms, almost like a sort of silver bullet for great-power competition.

The hype has been so high that for a hot minute in 2020, the U.S. Air Force began prefixing a lowercase e to aircraft that were “designed, developed and manufactured on a digital foundation.” The poster child for this effort was Boeing’s T-7—ahem, eT-7—pilot-training jet.

In 2016, Boeing and its Swedish partner Saab achieved the remarkable feat of building and flying a prototype of the plane just a year after certifying the design. Four years later, the Air Force was still touting the plane as a harbinger of the future. But since then, the bloom has started to come off the digitally designed rose.

The T-7 is currently about 10 years behind schedule, thanks to problems with the jet’s escape system, according to the Government Accountability Office. And it’s not just the T-7; the military has struggled to field operational hypersonic weapons despite these newer, more powerful computerized design tools.

“Short version is yes, it was over-hyped,” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said of digital engineering on Monday at a Defense Writers Group breakfast in Washington.

There’s one thing digital engineering can’t replace, and that’s testing, Kendall said. 

“If you're doing a design, which is a small incremental improvement over the one you have, then you can have very high confidence in that design,” he said. “But when you're doing something that's going to be radically different than prior programs, you've got to get it into testing to validate your design efforts.”


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If you’re at the GEOINT Symposium in St. Louis this week, make sure to say hi to Defense One’s Lauren Williams. You can follow her coverage as well as videos from the show here.  

President Biden will meet Monday evening with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who has threatened to force the United States to default on its debts. “Central to the talks is setting a top-line spending level for the next year and deciding how long to lift the debt ceiling until having to raise it again,” the Wall Street Journal reports

As negotiations continue, a consensus is growing that defense spending will be among the cuts in any deal.

“We believe it is highly improbable that there will be a debt ceiling/budget deal enacted that preserves DoD discretionary spending at the Biden Administration’s FY24 request and plan or adds to it while making deep cuts to non-defense along the lines implied by the House ‘Limit, Save and Grow Act of 2023,’ Capital Alpha Partners’ Byron Callan wrote in a note to clients on Sunday evening. “Possibly, there is a deal that freezes discretionary spending for a couple of years but not at FY22 levels, and even FY23 levels may be a stretch.”

It’s not uncommon for Pentagon officials to express concern about Congress not passing a budget on time because it prevents them from launching new programs or making changes to existing ones.

“I am more worried [about] this [budget] cycle than I have been any prior one about gridlock in Congress,” Kendall, who was at the Pentagon during the sequestration years last decade, said on Monday. 

Bonus: Here’s the Congressional Budget Office’s assessment of the Biden administration’s fiscal 2024 budget request.

Raytheon’s RTX Ventures has invested in SpiderOak, “a leader in zero-trust cybersecurity and resiliency solutions for space systems.” “This investment will accelerate SpiderOak’s deployment of zero-trust, end-to-end data security solutions for commercial and government customers operating in space,” SpiderOak said in a statement.

Weekly Reading: MITRE has released a paper that looks at how agile systems engineering can augment or complement traditional systems engineering in the Pentagon’s Joint All Domain Command and Control efforts.

Making Moves

  • SOSi has named Preston Dunlap, the former chief technology officer and chief architect of the U.S. Air Force and Space Force, a strategic advisor.
  • AAR has named Tom Hoferer, a former GE Aerospace executive, vice president of repair and engineering services.