Canada Opts-Out of Buying the F-35, Upgrades to F/A-18s For Now…

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Picture Credit: An F/A-18F Super Hornet deployed as part of Operation Inherent Resolve taxis across the flight deck the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

Following up on a pledge during his election campaign, Prime Minister Trudeau is now confirming steps by Canada to undertake a major shift in defense policy with the election in October of a new Liberal Party government.

DefenseOne reports that “after an initial buy of F/A-18s, Justin Trudeau’s government will hold a competition to replace the rest of its CF-18 Hornets,” such that, after involvement in the $1.3 Trillion Joint Strike Fighter program since 2002, Canada is opting for a continuity-oriented “defensive” option rather than the F-35. Canada intends to begin replacing its aging CF-18 Hornet fighter jets with a batch of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets — while Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, once slated to replace the entire CF-18 fleet, will have to win a new competition to get any contracts at all.

Air Force Magazine elaborated, citing Canada’s overdue upgrade of its fighter fleet due to mission requirements. The ministry will “immediately explore” buying the Super Hornets while simultaneously launching a competition for a fleetwide replacement for its CF-18s, which have been service-extended already and are more than a decade past their planned retirement. The competition could take five years to conclude. Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan said Canada will remain part of the JSF program as a partner, but won’t necessarily buy the jets. He also said it would be “imprudent” to delay action in starting to replace Canada’s CF-18s any longer, because of Canada’s NATO and NORAD responsibilities.

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Picture Credit: JSF.mil schematic of the Boeing X-32B

But, one asks, will Boeing revive the X-32 Program as a competitor again to the Lockheed-Martin X-35 Program? Studies supporting JAST/JSF started in 1993 and led to STOVL submissions to the DOD by McDonnell Douglas, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Wikipedia recalls the history here: Boeing decided against thrust augmentation. They proposed an aircraft powered by a reheated turbofan that could be reconfigured (in the STOVL mode) into a direct lift engine with a pair of thrust-vectoring nozzles located near the aircraft centre-of-gravity. This led to the F119-PW-614S which powered the X-32B JSF demonstrator. Two contracts to develop prototypes were awarded on November 16, 1996, one each to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. Each firm would produce two aircraft to demonstrate conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL), carrier takeoff and landing (CV version), and short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL).

Boeing’s strategy for a competitive advantage was to offer substantially lower manufacturing and life-cycle costs by minimizing variations between the different JSF versions. The X-32 therefore was designed around a large one piece carbon fiber composite delta wing. The wing had a span of 9.15 meters, with a 55-degree leading edge sweep and could hold up to 20,000 pounds of fuel. The purpose of the high sweep angle was to allow for a thick wing section to be used while still providing limited transonic aerodynamic drag, and to provide a good angle for wing-installed conformal antenna equipment. The compete-on-cost strategy also led Boeing to pick a direct-lift thrust vectoring system. Michael Porter’s advocacy of cost leadership (see Slideshare overview here) is vindicated once again !

Based on Canada’s 2.1% share of the JSF Program, its cost of withdrawal will amount to $300M, according to industry sources. In earlier Capital Hill hearings, JSF’s Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, JPO chief, said the remaining international partners would face an increased cost per plane but this was before the recent GAO report suggesting that the development program will not conclude in 2017 (see IAI’s 18 November post here) and an earlier post about “Old Platforms” as ‘technology in use’ (see IAIA’s 2 November post here). Remember, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to disband the F-35 JPO this past June as its size was “disturbing”- now what? And, clearly, Turkey’s future in the JSF Program is at risk and, more broadly, its future as part of NATO is in question (as Newsbud flagged in August here, with links) also now as Turkey’s NATO staff has been targeted by the Erdogan purge.

DARPA – Replacement Satellites on Demand, XS-1, Cybersecurity and EMP

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Picture Credit: DARPA (artist rendition)

DARPA is building “a completely new architecture for space.” In order to protect these vital military space systems, this research agency spawned by the launch of Sputnik in 1958 is now focused on developing a “whole portfolio” of capabilities. Before the release of British Interplanetary Society member and Futurist Arthur C. Clarke‘s seminal 1945 paper describing the launch of satellites, he first referenced geostationary satellites in his February 1945 letter to the editor of  Wireless World (page 58) titled Peacetime Uses for V2 for Ionosphere Research.

The U.S. Military must instead have been paying attention to D.A. Bell’s adjacent letter regarding ” FM Protection Against High Amplitude Interference Pulse” which was a precursor of signal disruption in FM broadcasting and now a core broadcasting consideration. (D)ARPA established the IPTO in 1962 with a mandate to build a survivable computer network to interconnect the DoD’s main computers at the Pentagon, Cheyenne Mountain, and SAC HQ. As described in the following pages, this initiative led to the development of the ARPANET seven years later, and then to the NSFNET and the Internet.

In 2010, Oak Ridge National Labs (FERC – META- R-320 here) warned of U.S. power grid vulnerability from the threat of “early-time (E1) high-altitude electromagnetic pulse (HEMP) produced by nuclear detonations above an altitude of ~30 km.” Not only are HEMP (EMP) and cybersecurity prominent national security risks today, but so is the militarization of space. Two authors writing in the SAIS Journal of International Affairs last winter claimed the need for electric grid modernization was prompted by the threat from “Mother Nature” (SAIS, Vol 35, No.1) – sorry, unlike Slate, neither Oak Ridge National Labs (see EIS report here) and DARPA (to name two experts among many) do not see climate change as the real risk to critical infrastructure.

The DOD reported this week that “national security critically depends on space, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA’s Project List is detailed here) is focused today on creating the capabilities needed to help make that environment a real-time operational domain, DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar said recently at the 2016 DefenseOne Summit as reported in Air Force Magazine:

Because there “is more and more a real possibility” of conflict in space, “there is nothing that we need either from an intelligence perspective or a military perspective that we can do effectively without space.”

DARPA Director Arati Prabhakar

 Its Airborne Launch Assist Space Access program (ALASA) plans to create a low cost alternative for small satellite launches and Space.com has the DARPA simulation here. They explain: “ALASA seeks to propel 100-pound satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO) within 24 hours of call-up, all for less than $1 million per launch.” The $10K/pound payload cost does not reflect total program cost but is a third of the current cost DARPA estimates but it is certainly not an all-in programmatic cost estimate. Right now, ramp times for unexpected launch operations number in the months.

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A critical  part of the portfolio will be DARPA reliance on its experimental spaceplane, XS-1 which entered phase 2 of its development this past spring. The Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) program  aims to help overcome cost, deployment and positioning challenges and create a “new paradigm” for more routine, responsive and affordable space operations. Jess Sponable, DARPA program manager. “We intend to leverage those advances along with our Phase 1 progress to break the cycle of escalating DoD space system launch costs, catalyze lower-cost satellite architectures, and prove that routine and responsive access to space can be achieved at costs an order of magnitude lower than with today’s systems.” DARPA has a history of being responsive to challenges:

DARPA’s ability to adapt rapidly to changing environments and to seek and embrace opportunities in both technology and in processes, while maintaining the historically proven principles of the Agency, makes DARPA the crown jewel in Defense R&D and a unique R&D organization in the world.

DARPA Over the Years, August 1997.

So, how does DARPA frame the goal of making space a real-time operating domain (RTOD)? DARPA’s OpenCatalog actually labels these mixed-criticality real-time threats. Their Iron Curtain Active Protection System has an amazing video here of how it operates. Partnering with non-profit strategic venture investor In-Q-Tel, DARPA is going to have to rely on trusted national partners and allies. IQT Labs are exploring new ideas, technology, and approaches in select sectors that are anticipated to significantly impact national security.  Under the Space 3.0 Program, a number of initiatives are underway.

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Picture Credit: IQT Labs

Unlike Government exquisite systems (Space 1.0) or commercial exquisite systems (Space 2.0), Space 3.0 is being driven by venture-backed startups that are leveraging a variety of converging factors to produce a new wave of affordable products and services. From reliable space access to new analytics for remote sensory data, startups are disrupting current processes and establishing a new space ecosystem.

One particularly relevant IQT Labs effort is centered at CosmiQ Works which brings together the U.S. Intelligence Community, industry, and academia “to explore the art of the possible in the new space ecosystem.”

Inside the Next Startup Garage

Space is hard. Luckily, there are several converging advances that are helping startups launch, sometimes literally, entirely new product lines.

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Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) to be specific. New launch vehicles and rideshare options are increasing access and decreasing costs.

Cheap(er) Hardwaresatellite-blue

Adoption of commodity hardware coupled with the use of agile development methods.

Rapid Innovationcycle-blue

Lower costs and fast development allow startups to accept greater risks.

New Consumersastronaut-blue

Affordability and tailored services are opening the space market to new customers.

Investment in a Commercial Ecosysteminvestment-blue

Venture firms are investing in the new ecosystem ranging from launch systems to data analytics.

 

“Great Surge” Theory and Techno-Economic Paradigm Shifts (hint, we’re in one…)

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Picture Credit: Getty Images

Futurist Carlota Perez’s “Beyond the Technological Revolution” research offers wise guidance to policymakers as Wiki describes it as “a further development of Joseph Schumpeter‘s work on Kondratieff waves earning her the 2012 the Silver Kondratieff Medal by the International N. D. Kondratieff Foundation. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (1942), the “Prophet of Innovation” Professor Schumpeter characterized “industrial mutation” as a process that “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism. (p. 83)” MIT elaborates that over half of productivity gains come this way:

“The process of Schumpeterian creative destruction (restructuring) permeates major aspects of macroeconomic performance, not only long-run growth but also economic fluctuations, structural adjustment and the functioning of factor markets.”

Austrian School scion Schumpeter presciently warned that the collapse of capitalism would lead to global socialism as entrepreneurship is undermined and the ownership of the means of production becomes divorced from the producers themselves (essentially what we have now as Sutirtha Bagchi extracted in his Amazon review in 2008). Neo-Schumpeterian Carlota Perez who wrote Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital, was mentored by Christopher Freeman, and both elucidated the relationship between basic innovations, technical and institutional change, and economic development. Right to work states are defended by Mark Thornton, Senior Fellow at the Mises Institute, here in a recent preview of the Trump Administration’s economic policy outlook. What he prescribes is akin to the Hippocratic Oath, typically presented to physicians as “First, Do No Harm.” But Medicine.Net explains it is much deeper and more complex:

One of the oldest binding documents in history, the Oath written by Hippocrates is still held sacred by physicians: to treat the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, and to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation.

IAI believes that a successful long-term policy framework to promote economic growth should operate with some basic widely-agreed, fact-based principles. Neo-Schumpeterian political economists explain that policy needs to help entrepreneurs to success: fewer taxes, less regulation and minimal interference with the market’s price signaling mechanism. Perez laid out a history of five technological revolutions that follow a similar pattern of bang, bust and renewal. In The Other Canon Foundation, Perez and a dozen other economic historians celebrate “man the producer” (and not “man the consumer”) and highlight the critical  the link between innovation and financial dynamics. In short, they are champions of the Learning Economy and DRUID’s Bengt-Åke Lundvall and colleagues developed the idea of innovation as an interactive process and celebrated the concept of National System of Innovation. The key here is being shown in how the technology surge has been creating knowledge worker jobs.

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Picture Credit: CBRE Research

Just as in natural science, errors of commission or omission can be catastrophic, disastrous economic policy failures result when they:

  1. are made in secret;
  2. fail to account for industry operating conditions; and
  3. ignore history (the sine qua non)

Policymaking in Secret: The Council of Economic Advisors issued a report detailing the costs of withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) right before President Obama announced the withdrawal from the TPP ! One year earlier, President Obama had hailed the proposed TPP (which no one had read) as “the most progressive trade deal in history.”

Failure to Make Any Policy: For example, product and liability insurance policy reforms are needed for Commercial Spaceports in new Trump administration as a recent GAO report pointed out and NASA somehow got stuck with a $5M bill for the 2014 Antares explosion which contractor insurance should cover, not taxpayers ! The GAO decried, ““FAA has not issued guidance to spaceport operators to clarify when it considers them third parties and when it considers them involved parties,” adding that agency officials told them that such guidance “has not been a high priority” for them.

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Picture credit: Choice.com.au

Ignoring History: Bertrand, Schoar and Thesmar (2004-7) drive home the point that problems in the banking sector can have grave consequences for the health of the restructuring process.  Economic historian Thornton at Mises Institute warned in 2005 (just after the FBI and Professor William Black!) that a housing bubble was building in 2005.  Deloitte has a great study here pointing out that Hong Kong benefits from a low tax structure, a “fair trade” approach distinct from mainland China, and a free movement of capital and skilled labor.  Maybe, before the policy gets codified, the tax holiday repatriation of (at least) $2.1 TRILLION should get favorable tax treatment if it is invested in productive capital and infrastructure rather than used for share buybacks which are just another distortion of equity markets and a signal that corporations have no higher return alternatives. Let’s advocate for an infrastructure stimulus from these repatriations NOW !

 

Old Aerospace Platforms, “Technology in Use” and Additive Manufacturing!

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Picture Credit: Kim Campbell, A-10 after a flight over Baghdad in 2003

“Uglier things have been spotted in the sky, but not by reliable witnesses.”

Update: $500M More for F-35 Program!  With a projected lifetime cost of $1.5 trillion, the F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in US history, and has been dubbed “the plane that ate the Pentagon.” Earlier this year, the Defense Department announced it would try to shave $4 billion off the program’s final price through a variety of cost-cutting measures. The F-35 program office made the request at a closed-door meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board, according to Bloomberg Technology. Development work on the jet has already eaten up 15 years and over $55 billion. Originally scheduled to end in 2012, the development phase was extended through 2016 and given another $476 million in funding during a 2010 reorganization. “We don’t plan on going back and asking for any more money or any more time to get this program done,” Air Force Lieutenant-General Christopher Bogdan, director of the F-35 program, said at a conference in 2014. Yet Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord said he “wasn’t totally shocked” by the funding request. “I was hopeful, maybe, that we wouldn’t have a problem like this,” he said in an interview, because the program “has been moving in a fairly decent direction.”

Case studies on product lifecycle management (PLM 101 is here on Prezi) should be written about the U.S. Air Force legacy platforms: the U-2 spyplane, the A-10 Warthog, the B-52 Stratofortress and the KC-135 Stratotanker as planes that will serve until 2040. This fall, the Atlantic bemoaned that,

“The Air Force’s reliance on old planes is an uncanny instance of a phenomenon British historian David Edgerton described in his 2007 book, The Shock of the Old. The book’s contrarian approach to the history of technology privileges “technology-in-use” over innovation, focusing as much on condoms, bicycles, and corrugated iron as it does on computers and nuclear power.”

The Air Force has finally confirmed that the old Northrup Grumman Aerospace warthog, the A-10, has had its upgrade line reopened to service the current fleet of 283 aircraft (751 built over the live of the platform). The reliable, stubborn A-10’s revival suggests that the $382 BILLION to date JSF program (dating back to 1997!), the F-35 buy, is going to be reduced in favor of a slower replacement cycle for the F-16 and F-15. James Hasik of the Atlantic Council pointed out recently that the F-16 production lines are remaining open. Same for other services’ planes, reports Military.com. With mounting delays in getting these fighters to the fleet, the Navy is scrambling to revamp its aging Hornet strike aircraft, pushing them far beyond their anticipated service lives. To keep the Marines’ Harrier II ground-attack planes, the Corps bought scrapped British jets to cannibalize for parts. To be sure, Turkey’s invasion of Iraq after the Syrian offensive is going to delay their F-35A orders, no doubt. The Canadians are sticking with the A-10. The FY 2017 Defense budget estimates the F-35A cost at $115.9M a piece – good luck! So the F-16 and A-10 will remain active another quarter century due to JAS cost overruns and the F-35 has been plagued with delays, the Register (UK) reports, “its buggy software is behind time, the pilot’s helmet has been redesigned so as not to kill the wearer, and tail-winds can cause runway fires.” The Atlantic simply calls the F-35 a “boondoggle.”

Much of the defense media has acted like this is news but, in fact, the A-10 is a PLM poster boy. Credible defense sources have explained (over and over), “the F-35 tactical fighter can never perform the missions of the Warthog and match its historically undervalued close support capability. The A-10 will remain in service until the decision of A-X program, which as we know has three options: build a new Warthog, use existing assets to meet the missions CAS or extend the life of the A-10 until 2040/45.”  So, the latter course was selected as this (paywalled) report in Aviation Week confirmed. The Pentagon recently invested $ 1 billion to equip the a-10 with a new cockpit, fire control system and HMD (helmet-mounted displays) implemented with attack software. All wings of the A-10 were replaced following a $2B contract signed with Boeing in 2007. And, the solicitation for new parts tooling to keep the A-10 flying until 2040 was issued in 2011 as shown here: “The Government (will contract) for engineering services on behalf of the A-10 Systems Program Officer (SPO). The engineering design services contemplated new CAD/CAM rework (serviced out of Utah’s Hill AFB) include the following (hat tip to DefenseTech):

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Picture Credit: U.S. Air Force

1 – Develop plan to identify available A-10 Tooling that will be needed to support and sustain the A-10 Aircraft until 2040.
2 – Prioritize tooling based on need and critical nature of tool.
3 – Develop Teamcenter product structure and workflows to properly link and manage the engineering data, scanned data and physical tools with the Air Force Global Logistics Support Center and A-10 production facilities.
4 – Digitally scan the tools according to the priority list and validate prior to linking to engineering data in the A-10 Teamcenter Database.
5 – Develop CAD/CAM interface data by reverse engineering (scanned data) where needed

What is exciting here is that the Air Force is incorporating additive manufacturing to prototype “old platform” parts to move towards field-based system repair and replacement. To wit, “Siemens’ product lifecycle management (PLM) business announces a new comprehensive solution to unleash the full potential of the burgeoning additive manufacturing revolution. Rolling out in January, 2017, is comprised of integrated design, simulation, digital manufacturing, data and process management software.”

“Siemens PLM Software is pushing the additive manufacturing envelope by developing solutions to help create functionally optimized geometry that is inconceivable based on conventional design and manufacturing methods,” said Dr. Ken Versprille, Executive Consultant, CIMdata. “Previously unsolvable design and manufacturing challenges are now quite feasible with these new software and production technologies.”

These 3D printed produced parts can be engineered for better strength to weight ratios which suggest this platform will be even more durable. Additive manufacturing has the ability to transform PLM and systems engineering as conceived a half century ago as the Engineered Data System (EDS) employed by Rockwell International in ramping the B1-B long range bomber program.  Like the A-10’s upgrade of its electronics suite, the U-2 platform’s remotes sensing now benefits from enhanced “multispectral capabilities”: high altitude, high resolution photography; “look-through” clouds, ice and nature-obstacle sensing; and broader signals intelligence collection assets.

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Picture Credit: PersonalExcellence.com

In the Italian campaign during WWII, the Army’s 10th Mountain Division from Fort Drum in upstate NY employed nearly 15K horses and mules, and the great American tank general George S. Patton wished he’d had many more.

In almost any conceivable theater of operations, situations arise where the presence of horse cavalry, in a ratio of a division to an army, will be of vital moment. . . . Had we possessed an American cavalry division with pack artillery in Tunisia and in Sicily, not a German would have escaped, because horse cavalry possesses the additional gear ratio which permits it to attain sufficient speed through mountainous country to get behind and hold the enemy until the more powerful infantry and tanks can come up and destroy him.

Next Generation Helicopters – The “X-Plane” Battle Heats Up

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Picture Credit: Breaking Defense and Karem Aircraft TR36XP

As the chairman of the Daniel Guggenheim School of Aeronautics at New York University, Alexander Klemin testified on April 26, 1938 at a Congressional committee hearing on “Development of the Autogiro and Rotary-Winged Aircraft,” that “[t]he conquest of the air in its broadest sense will only come when we can do in the air substantially everything that a bird can do in the air.”

This week, at the Association of Unmanned Vehicles Systems International (AUVSI) drone conference,  Marine Corps deputy commandant for aviation, Lt. Gen. Jon “Dog” Davis are pushing for a large sea-based, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL-X) under the MUX (Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aerial System Expeditionary) Program focused on unmanned aerial vehicles.  Davis expects to these VTOL  in use before the Army-led Future Vertical Lift program which Aviation Week describes as being accelerated, though with “placeholders.” AW reported, “the U.S. Army and Marine Corps will lead the introduction of next-generation rotorcraft under the multi-service Future Vertical Lift (FVL) procurement, seeking Sikorsky H-60 and Bell Helicopter H-1 replacements.” But there is a lot at stake as the various helicopter families are numerous in this $100B program due for delivery by 2030: “FVL is meant to develop replacements for the Army’s UH-60 Black Hawk, AH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinook, and OH-58 Kiowa helicopters. The precursor for FVL is the Joint Multi-Role (JMR) helicopter program, which will provide technology demonstrations planned for 2017

The VTOLs bidders under consideration saw Aurora Flight Sciences win Phase II in March 2016:

DARPA’s Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Experimental Plane (VTOL X-Plane) program has selected Aurora Flight Sciences for its $89.4 million Phase 2 contract. Aurora will now move to build a prototype of its unmanned, hybrid-propulsion “LightningStrike” aircraft. The aircraft beat competition from Boeing’s tilting ducted-fan Phantom Swift, Lockheed-Sikorsky’s proposed Rotor Blown Wing tailsitter and Karem Aircraft’s TR36XP “optimum speed tiltrotor”. The completion of the prototype is expected to be September 2018.

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VTOL-X is comparable to the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper which is also sea-launched and deployed worldwide. The Air Force fact sheet characterizes this clearly as the attack weapon it is:

“The MQ-9 Reaper is an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset.

Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons — it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets.”

 

The head of the DOD Strategic Capabilities Office (SCO), William Roper, explained that DOD is placing an emphasis on mobility devices. “The Army and the Marine Corps have a greater chance of benefiting from most of the commercial technology we see in development,” Roper said. Why? Because companies are constantly competing to come up with better and more powerful technology that an individual person can easily carry or wear, he said: “It’s ground forces that will have the greatest chance to leverage that.” SCO is focused on new contracting relationships in systems delivering  Autonomy, Command and Control, Cyber, Sensors, and Weapon Technologies. Similarly, the U.S. Army is planning equipping its divisions with soldier-borne sensors, leader-follower cargo-hauling technology and tiny, hand-held unmanned aircraft, according to Maj. Gen. Robert M. “Bo” Dyess, deputy director of the Army Capability Integration Center. The centerpiece of ACIC’s warfighting strategy is defined by Force 2025 and Beyond:

Force 2025 and Beyond is the Army’s strategy to ensure the future joint force can win in a complex world. The Army must meet the demands of the future strategic environment in alignment with its strategic vision and priorities. As such, the Army must make the BCT and enablers leaner while retaining capability, prevent overmatch through 2025, and set the conditions for fundamental change by 2030-40. Through fiscal years (FY) 2015 – 2017, the Army will develop and refine what the Army will become by 2025. To determine the optimal design for the Army of the future, the Force 2025 and Beyond effort consists of activities along three primary lines of effort: force employment; science and technology and human performance optimization; and force design.

The Office of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (ATL) has a connection to the Defense Innovation Marketplace. The Defense Innovation Marketplace is the centralized source for Department of Defense (DoD) science and technology (S&T) planning, acquisition resources, funding and financial information. NOW, contrast just the business portion this site with IAI’s earlier profile of the complete innovation program at the Environmental Protection Agency…telling.

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Picture Credit: Boeing Phantom Swift X-Plane Concept (2013)

The Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine explains: “Dozens of designers have tried to combine the agility of a helicopter with the speed of an airplane by marrying one or more methods of propulsion—rotors, propellers, turbojets, or ducted fans—with one of four ways to convert a craft from vertical to horizontal flight: tilting the whole aircraft, tilting the thrust, deflecting the thrust downward for vertical flight and rearward for horizontal flight, or using two thrust mechanisms on the same vehicle (such as rotors for vertical flight and prop fans or jet exhaust for horizontal flight).”

A Bit More on the YB 49, the XB 70, and Groom Lake aka Area 51

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Picture credit: Northrop Grumman

So I promised to look deeper into post World War II programs, and thought I’d look at the initial aerospace innovations. Here were some standout vehicles:

  • The Northrop YB 49: This prototype jet-powered heavy bomber with a 10,000 mile range could reach 500 mph and first flew September 28th, 1947. The restored color video below shows what a beast this plane was with a 172′ wingspan (almost TWICE the width of the Boeing B17 Flying Fortress) that was the brainchild of Jack Northrop dating back to the early 1920s. When he was just 21, he was working long hours at Loughead Aviation building flying boats and experimenting with “all lift wings”, as he reportedly called them. He won a contract to build an experimental long range bomber under the Army Air Forces Project MX-140 (launched November 22, 1941) which spawned the XB-35 and then the YB-35.  An order for 13 XB 35s was issued November ’42. Eventually, the result was the B2-Spirit which had its inaugural flight on July 17th, 1989 after the Air Force initiated a “Stealth bomber program.”- Here’s that color retouched video of the YB 49: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Dfj3SeMI-s
  • The North American Aviation XB 70: The XB-70 Valkyrie is the prototype of the B-70 nuclear-armed, deep-penetration strategic bomber for the U.S. Air Force’s Strategic Air Command. In the late 1950s North American Aviation designed the Valkyrie bomber as a large, six-engined aircraft capable of reaching Mach 3+ while flying at 70,000 feet (21,000 m). The Flight Research Center (FRC-now the Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA.) had several SST studies underway during the early 1960s but many policy makers (including in the Kennedy Administration) called for unmanned Super Sonic Transports (SSTs). The problem for many was the SSTs “sonic boom” which made it an unpopular civilian aircraft but in 2016, NASA’s New Aviation Horizons initiative was launched to revive a low noise SST. NASA’s 10-year New Aviation Horizons initiative has the ambitious goals of reducing fuel use, emissions and noise through innovations in aircraft design that departs from the conventional tube-and-wing aircraft shape. This Low Boom Flight Demonstration Quiet Supersonic Transport (QueSST) X-plane design was awarded to Lockheed Martin for the FY17 budget. “Developing, building and flight testing a quiet supersonic X-plane is the next logical step in our path to enabling the industry’s decision to open supersonic travel for the flying public,” said Jaiwon Shin, associate administrator for NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission.

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Picture Credit: NASA and Lockheed Martin

NASA’s Aeronautics program has a significant historical flavor but there are multiple prototypes being developed and business is being sent to (you guessed it) Bezos’ Blue Origin and Musk’s Space X. See more here: http://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/index.html