FUTURE COMBAT AIRCRAFT – MORE DESIGN, LESS PERFECTION
How can we create new fighters – manned or unmanned? Can they be made more affordable? And what fundamental changes can we make to the design and production process? Do we use our traditional industrial method or change to deliver long term combat capability in an affordable manner?
These were questions raised by Dr Michael Pryce MRAeS, senior air systems analyst and owner of Future Projects Research. He posed these questions during a Royal Aeronautical Society webinar on Wednesday 29 August.
Pryce is currently contracted to the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) on a number of projects. Until 2019 he was a lecturer in defence acquisition at Cranfield University, UK, where he ran the Low Cost by Design research network and acted as an Independent Scientific & Technical Advisor to the UK Ministry of Defence.
The challenge to make affordable aircraft for the future can be set against the backdrop of two major projects now running in Europe to design and build the next generation new combat aircraft: the BAE Systems Tempest and the Airbus/Dassault Aviation New Generation Fighter (NGF).
Pryce asked: “What are the perennial issues we face in combat aircraft design; can we learned the lessons from the past; and indeed learn from the lessons we misapplied in the past this time around?”
“Currently, no-one can design a combat aircraft that meets all of their needs,” he suggested. “We can produce a sophisticated system, but can we produce it in the numbers required and in ways that allow us to update it over time and to adapt it to certain circumstances.”
Spending significant sums to develop something that will only serve for a short period of time is not acceptable. “We have arrived at a time of analytic design. We spend a lot of time doing studies – in the UK we have spent 33 years looking at what will come after Typhoon – that’s a third of a century of studies,” he emphasised.
He added that even “modern designs still have elements dating from the 1980s – even the F-35 has some of the fundamental concepts drawn from the 80s.” Much of this was due to a resource constrained environment, he noted. “We need people who can synthesise designs quickly and form a logic about the design which is not necessarily supported by data.”
“People do not want to go ahead with a programme until they feel it can work, largely because it is so expensive…But it is that inability to move that is the fundamental problem that we face. What we have lost is the ability to create things that will probably work,” he said. “So how can we develop quickly, rather than wait to be convinced that we know for certain that it will work.”
Designs may fail – but lessons will arise
One of the problems, said Pryce, is that industry has got smaller over time, programmes have got longer, and people who have experienced new programmes have got fewer. But just recruiting new people is meaningless unless they have something to work on.
“So we need to have things that can be allowed to fail, but which we learn from. Previously competition provided that, such as the Century Series which was originally intended to help designers to master the critical emerging technologies of its time.
The Century Series name originated from the fighter (F-) designation number which became popular with a range of designs to come out of the 1950s and 60s: the North American F-100 Super Sabre; the McDonnell F-101 Voodoo; Convair F-102 Delta Dagger; Lockheed F-104 Starfighter; Republic F-105 Thunderchief; and Convair F-106 Delta Dart. However, there were also other aircraft designs that did not go past the prototype stage. And the major success of this series was the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom which was originally named the F-110 Spectre.
Pryce continued: “That ability to build and test globally is something that has been lost since the 1980s. There is now an emphasise to do it right first time,” he continued. “We are caught in a loop trying to achieve something that is unachievable in theoretical terms.”
In trying to identify how to finance this type of quick development and experimental prototyping, Pryce points to the fact that the majority of an aircraft’s costs are not in the design and development of it, but in its through life maintenance and upgrades – probably up to around 80 percent. “If you can reduce the maintainability and reliability you can release large amounts of money for development,” he reasoned. “There is scope to change how we do things and how we can release some money…let’s reduce the cost of ‘turning spanners’ and put it into creating capability. We need to have a better discussion in terms of how we can release money from support into design.”
Pryce is concerned about how current development is systems centric: “Out understanding of technology is systems based. Every time you hear people talk about systems you should probably double the cost, and if they talk about a system of systems you should probably square the cost.”
While the future is difficult and nearly impossible to predict, Pryce seemed to suggest that instead of seeking the ‘holy grail’ of developing near perfect platforms (which take decades under the current process – then cost a fortune in continuous upgrades), the speed of technological development would support a return to less complex aircraft, but which could be developed quicker and replaced more frequently.
US BUILDS IN POLAND WHILE DRAWING DOWN IN GERMANY
On Wednesday 29 July, US Secretary of Defense Dr. Mark T. Esper, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff announced a reduced footprint of US troops in Germany enacting a United States European Command plan that had been approved by President Trump.
“The EUCOM Plan will reposition 11,900 military personnel from Germany, from 36,000 down to 24,000 in a manner that will ‘strengthen’ NATO and enhance deterrence of Russia. Of those, 5,600 will be repositioned in Europe and 6,400 will return to the United States.” Those returning to the US will conduct rotations back to Europe as required.
There will be a consolidation of some US headquarters with other national headquarters outside Germany such as in Belgium and Italy. US Air Force refuelling and special operations elements due to move from the UK to Germany will not do so. A fighter squadron will move to Italy.
Poland has become the new favourite destination. The Army’s newly established V Corps headquarters will be based there. “There may be other opportunities to move additional forces into Poland and the Baltic,” said Esper. “Some moves will begin in weeks,” he continued.
Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten said that a ‘rebalance’ was essential, particularly as other nations had now joined NATO. He added that there was an unmistakable message to NATO’s competitors: “The Joint Force is committed to countering ‘malign’ activities and we will remain positioned to deter military aggression towards the US and our allies. While we hope Russian and China will engage in more cooperative behaviour in the future we are posturing our forces to deter aggression and counter their malign influence.
COVID PRECAUTIONS DURING TRI-NAVAL EXERCISES
When Australian, Japanese and the US Navies joined together during July to conduct trilateral passage exercises in the Philippine Sea, precautions were still taken to ensure the COVID-19 virus was not spread between the nations participating.
When two Australian Army Tiger armed reconnaissance helicopters landed onboard the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) crew remained onboard their aircraft, in line with Australian Government advice relating to COVID-19 restrictions,
HMA Ships Canberra, Hobart, Stuart, Arunta and Sirius joined the US carrier group’s guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Mustin in addition to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Akizuki-class destroyer JS Teruzuki.
Activities that were conducted by the overall group included replenishment at sea, aviation operations, maritime manoeuvres and communications drills.
US GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS
Highlighting a selection of $100 million+ government awarded contracts awarded between 27-31 July.
US AIR FORCE
ARES Security; AT&T; Centauri; Cogniac; NanoVMs; Pacific Defense; SRC; and Systematic have been awarded $950 million in IDIQ contracts to compete for future efforts associated with the maturation, demonstration and proliferation of capability across platforms and domains, leveraging open systems design, modern software and algorithm development in order to enable Joint All Domain Command and Control (JADC2). These contracts provide for the development and operation of systems as a unified force across all domains (air, land, sea, space, cyber and electromagnetic spectrum) in an open architecture family of systems that enables capabilities via multiple integrated platforms. Air Force Life Cycle Management is the contracting activity.
US TRANSPORTATION COMMAND
Crowley Government Services has been awarded a modification contract for around $328 million. This modification provides continued surface transportation coordination services for the movement of freight within the continental US (CONUS) and Canada under the Department of Defense Freight Transportation Services program to the Defense Logistics Agency and Defense Contract Management Agency. US Transportation Command is the contracting activity.
DEFENSE LOGISTICS AGENCY
Tesoro Refining and Marketing($474 million); BP North America Products (SPE602-20-D-0502, $382 million); Valero Marketing and Supply ($292 million); PAR Hawaii Refining ($202 million); Petro Star ($143 million); US Oil and Refining ($133 million); Phillips 66 ($103 million); Chevron USA ($62 million); Sinclair Oil doing business as Sinclair ($43 million); and Wyoming Refining ( $12 million), have each been awarded IDIQ contracts for various types of fuel. The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Energy.
US SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND
Boeing was awarded a $265 million contract modification for the procurement of nine MH-47G Chinook aircraft in support of US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM). USSOCOM is the contracting activity.
L3 Harris is awarded a $104 million contract to procure 35 full rate production Lot 17 Integrated Defensive Electronic Countermeasures (IDECM) AN/ALQ-214A(V)4 Onboard Jammer (OBJ) systems; 14 Weapons Replaceable Assemblies (WRA)1 A(V)4s; 13 WRA2 A(V)4s, and repair of test assets and field support for in service IDECM AN/ALQ-214A(V)4 OBJ systems. The Naval Air Systems Command is the contracting activity.
GlaxoSmithKline was awarded a $342 million contract to procure mass quantities of COVID-19 vaccines from multiple vendors to support military locations and personnel throughout the continental US and outside the continental US. US Army Contracting Command is the contracting activity.
Ultra Electronics is awarded a $145 million contract with options for the delivery of Amphibious Tactical Communications Systems (ATCS). ATCS is a system that leverages the Ultra Orion X500 radio to provide line-of-sight shipboard systems in support of amphibious command, control, communications, computers and intelligence requirements. ATCS supports reliable, high-capacity terrestrial, ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore voice, data and video communications. The Naval Information Warfare Systems Command is the contracting activity.
(Largest contract award of the day). Advanced Technology Systems; Forward Slope; ITC Defense; Solute; and Veterans First Initiative are awarded a $75 million IDIQ contract (MAC) for command, control, communications, computers and intelligence integrated international support services in support of US security assistance and security cooperation programs. The Naval Information Warfare Systems Command is the contracting activity.
US TRANSPORTATION COMMAND
James J. Flanagan Shipping has been awarded a $144 million contract to provide stevedoring and related terminal services at ports in Beaumont, Corpus Christi, and Port Arthur, Texas. US Transportation Command is the contracting activity.
Vectrus Systems was awarded a $529 million modification contract for Kuwait base operations and security support services. US Army Contracting Command is the contracting activity.
US MAJOR ARMS SALES
30 July – Philippines
The State Department approved a possible Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to the Government of the Philippines of Scout, Assault, and Light Support Boats with armaments and related equipment for an estimated cost of $126 million.
28 July – Kuwait
The State Department approved a possible FMS to the Government of Kuwait of various M1A2K training ammunition and related equipment for an estimated cost of $59.6 million.
27 July – the Netherlands
The State Department approved a possible FMS to the Government of the Netherlands of sixteen (16) AIM-120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) and related equipment for an estimated cost of $39 million..
NEW EVENT CANCELLATIONS
No new event cancellations or rescheduling this week.
Keep safe and healthy everyone.
Armada International / Asian Military Review