Warning

 

Close

Confirm Action

Are you sure you wish to do this?

Confirm Cancel
Member Login
Posted: 3/28/2006 7:10:54 PM EDT
April 03, 2006

Holding up both ends
Fleet transformation, aircraft bill yield delicate balance for Navy aviation, air programs leader says

By Christopher P. Cavas
Special to the Times

Fleet transformation, aircraft bill yield delicate balance for Navy aviation, air programs leader says

The Navy’s aviation community is in flux. More than a dozen types of aircraft are in various stages of development, and several new airframes are rapidly replacing older ones. New unmanned aerial vehicles are scheduled to begin operating with the fleet, and the 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review directed the Navy to accelerate development of a long-range, carrier-based UAV for strike warfare.

Managing the transition is a delicate balance between developing new technologies, introducing new aircraft and paying for them, said William Balderson, deputy assistant secretary, air programs. Balderson and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, recently began meeting to assess the health of the Navy’s aviation procurement programs.

Q. Adm. Mullen recently said that having taken a hard look at shipbuilding, he now wants to focus on aviation. What are the Navy’s chief aviation issues now?

A. The one overarching word is affordability. There are 13 development programs that represent the Navy’s aviation recapitalization portfolio. The challenge is that, over the last 10 to 15 years, we started some of this development later than we should have. We kicked some of these development starts down the road for good, legitimate affordability reasons.

The result is we’ve now bumped the end of service life for a large proportion of our legacy fleet. So what you see here is a portfolio where we’re pretty much recapitalizing all of naval aviation at once, rather than smoothing out reinvestment, recapitalization and procurement.

That’s putting two stresses on the system. First, it’s stressing the development accounts and the budget, and obviously it stresses our people and our industry. So one of my primary focuses is execution of these programs — making sure they execute smoothly, on schedule, on budget.

The other affordability piece is a huge aircraft procurement bill. There’s a large number of aircraft we’ve already started buying and we’ll buy over a number of years.

What we have today is a program of record based on force structure analysis, which is not likely to be affordable. The expectation is that we will not have enough money to afford that portfolio. So the challenge is to look at some of the force structure assumptions that have been made. We will begin to relook at force structure, lock in some force structure decisions, and then look at things we can do from the acquisition side to make that affordable.

Q. So you are looking at reducing force structure?

A. There are two ways you can go. If you have a force structure requirement and a program of record that’s not affordable, you either have to look at reducing that requirement or you have to look at adding money to the budget. We’ll be looking at it from both ends. My guess is, we’ll probably end up doing a little of both.

Q. After much debate, the QDR and 2007 budget made few changes to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Did foreign participation affect those decisions?

A. I don’t think JSF was unique in being looked at. But when you’re the biggest program in the Defense Department, that provides the greatest opportunity.

I think there are a lot of elements as to the reason the program survived. This is more than a joint capability; it’s an international capability with our coalition partners. We view the U.K.’s needs, the Italians’ needs, our other international partners’ needs as being just as important as the Navy and Air Force and Marine Corps needs. So we looked at the international requirement. We also looked at the Marine Corps, the Air Force and the Navy need.

On final analysis: It’s a capability we needed, and we have trimmed the Navy and Marine Corps requirement down to 680 aircraft. The international part is a piece of it, but I don’t think that was any more important than the fact that we need the capability.

Q. What risks come with the decision to buy JSF engines only from Pratt & Whitney, and not from Rolls Royce?

A. There was clearly an affordability element to that decision, and in a more perfect world, with more money available, that’s a trade that maybe we wouldn’t have made. We’re trading capability based on affordability considerations in many different areas.

We’ve always viewed the value of [the engine] competition in two or three ways. Certainly from a business standpoint, to have Rolls Royce and General Electric and Pratt & Whitney pushing each other, certainly there are cost and technology advantages. On the other hand, being a single-engine aircraft, there’s always a consideration that if you have a problem where you have to ground the fleet, having an alternative engine would provide some advantage.

But we would never have made this decision had we not been comfortable with the maturity of the Pratt & Whitney engine. We thought we had already gotten some of the capability and business advantages, and we frankly didn’t think the business case was there to continue the two engines.

Q. Are you concerned General Electric may stop building military jet engines?

A. That’s always a hard question, because I would never say I am not concerned about the industrial base, whether it be airframes or engines. But there are a number of programs, certainly in the rotary-craft area today, that GE provides the engines for. And there are future programs such as the Marine Corps Heavy Lift Replacement Helicopter program. That will be a robust engine competition for which, I suspect, GE will certainly participate. From a tactical air standpoint, there will be follow-ons to the F/A-18 Hornet and the JSF. Programs like [the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System] will need a robust engine capability. I think there’s certainly opportunity for GE to play in that.

I’m concerned across the board in making sure we keep a close eye on the industrial base and keep that robust. But if you look at GE’s portfolio today, in the tac air side and the helo side, I think there’s opportunity out there for them.

Q. Will you restructure the Joint Unmanned Combat Air System to handle the QDR’s directive?

A. What QDR did was take the J-UCAS, which was a $4 billion joint Air Force-Navy technology demonstration program, and split it into two pieces. It gave the Air Force money to work the classified piece, and it gave the Navy $1.8 billion to do a Navy UCAS focused on carrier suitability.

The Navy will make some modifications to the contracts we have with Boeing and Northrop Grumman, because for $1.8 billion, we can no longer afford to carry both of them through operational assessment. We will fashion a competition over the next several months, and somewhere toward the end of this year or the beginning of next year, we will compete between Northrop Grumman and Boeing for the technology demonstration operational assessment contract. In the 2011 time frame, the plan is to take those vehicles to the boat and do carrier operations, landings, takeoffs.

Q. As you expand the use of UAVs, will their abilities outstrip your command-and-control capabilities?

A. Let me talk about the two programs that we in the Navy are working. We’ve just talked about Navy UCAS. Let me look at the other piece of that, BAMS, or Broad Area Maritime Surveillance, which will pick up most of the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission that the current P-3 Orion has. We will be doing a full and open competition for BAMS in the next two or three years. And full and open means anybody will be able to compete. We expect a number of competitors. I suspect Predator and Global Hawk will be competitors for that mission.

As we develop BAMS, are there going to be command-and-control issues, interoperability issues? Absolutely. In fact, as we go through the Navy UCAS program, we have to achieve a technology maturity level in a number of different areas. The command-and-control piece is one of them.

Am I concerned that development will outstrip command and control? No, because those are things we’ll take on through technology maturation. That’s one reason Navy UCAS is a tech demo and operational assessment program and not a production program. That’s also one reason that we are spending seed money leading up to a BAMS competition.

Q. Now that your joint program to develop the Aerial Common Sensor signals-intelligence aircraft has been canceled, will you work up a new program with the Army or go your own way?

A. We’re back to where we were before we joined the Aerial Common Sensor program. The Army has a recapitalization requirement. The Air Force has a recapitalization requirement. And the Navy’s back to having a recapitalization requirement.

So what have we done? First of all, we’ve put more money into sustaining the EP-3 to keep going a little bit longer.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense has directed that the Army, Navy and Air Force get back together, spend six months doing an assessment and come back this summer with a recommendation on how the services are going to meet their needs. They’ve also specifically asked us to look at manned and unmanned possibilities. I don’t know what the answer will be. It could end up being three service-unique alternatives, two-service joint, three-service joint, manned or unmanned. There are all kinds of possibilities.

Christopher P. Cavas is a staff writer for Defense News.



Naval aviation procurement budget:

• 2006: $9.8 billion

• 2007 (requested): $10.9 billion

Aircraft under development: 13, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, EA-18G Growler, MH-60R and -S helicopter, MV-22 Osprey, MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle and P-8A Multi-mission Maritime aircraft.
Top Top