Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Defence R&D

For those with an interest in the arcane business of commercialising defence-related Intellectual Property, I've posted a new paper on my Rumour Control web site on some useful models for technology commercialisation and new product innovation.

The paper is here: http://www.rumourcontrol.com.au/analysis/defenceranddindex.html

This data is all rather generic - it highlights the things successful projects and successful companies have in common, but not with specific reference to the defence industry; the next step is to try and re-fashion some of these models for the defence business environment and see if they hold true.

Watch this space.

JSF Update

I've added a new paper to my Rumour Control web site - this one is a brief and rather unstructured update on the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program and deals with some of the programatics of the project as well as the ongoing debate over what it will, or should, or might cost.

The paper is accessible here: http://www.rumourcontrol.com.au/analysis/JSF_September_2008.pdf

It also touches on what seems to me to be a growing problem: a misunderstanding of the design aims and technologies of the JSF and other aircraft and the resulting tendency on the part of some observers and commentators to use wrong or incorrectly calibrated benchmarks for assessing their capabilities.

There ought to be a Ph.D in this - but I haven't got time.

Monday, 29 September 2008

...So There!

The RAND Corporation, whose recent involvement in a Pentagon war game has been widely cited by critics of the Joint Strike Fighter program, has grown tired of being mis-represented (see "JSF in the news again", below).

Andrew Hoehn, Director of RAND Project Air Force, made the following statement on 27 September:

"Recently, articles have appeared in the Australian press with assertions regarding a war game in which analysts from the RAND Corporation were involved. Those reports are not accurate. RAND did not present any analysis at the war game relating to the performance of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, nor did the game attempt detailed adjudication of air-to-air combat. Neither the game nor the assessments by RAND in support of the game undertook any comparison of the fighting qualities of particular fighter aircraft."

So where did these incorrect reports come from? And why?

Mortimer - some of the implications of his Review

The Mortimer Review of Defence Procurement and Sustainment is a fascinating document. It makes a lot of sense, and there would be few who'd criticise defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon for implementing most of David Mortimer's recommendations.

Turning the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) into an Executive Agency would be an important step towards achieving the culture change that both its head, Dr Steve Gumley, and Australia's defence industry are keen to see. While this might make the DMO more distant from its principal customer, the Australian Defence Force (ADF), there's no evidence that the current relationship supports their mutual goal of delivering equipment and capability on time and to the required level of functionality.

However, while many will focus on Mortimer's analysis of the DMO, he also makes some very important comments about the Capability Development Group (CDG). This is responsible for identifying capability gaps and setting operational requirements for new equipment, but its people don’t understand the commercial and technical risks associated with military equipment acquisitions, Mortimer believes. “Defence has often pursued a unique Australian solution or modified an existing solution without appropriate understanding of the attendant risks to cost, schedule and delivery. It is important that this be avoided in the future,” he said.

Part of the problem, he believes, lies in the inexperience of ADF officers posted into the CDG. Not only do they lack project management skills, their postings last an average of only 18 months, despite the complexity of the projects they are working on and the lengthy deliberations and analysis required to develop them adequately.

Mortimer rightly points out that many defence procurement problems have their genesis at the Capability Development stage: "It is no exaggeration to say that the work of CDG is critical to the success or failure of the acquisition that follows." Defence acknowledged many of these issues when it implemented some of the recommendations of the 2003 Kinnaird Review, and both the DMO head, Dr Steve Gumley, and his counterpart at CDG, LTGEN David Hurley, emphasised how closely they were working together to improve Defence's capability development and acquisition processes.

But the CDG needs much more expertise in cost and schedule estimation and project management, believes Mortimer, as well as the project management skills necessary to deal with the inherent ambiguities at the early stages of major defence projects: “it is unrealistic to expect military personnel with limited training in project management to plan major acquisition projects,” he said flatly.

Defence has been a founder member of a new College of Complex Project Management, to which Dr Gumley attaches great importance. But the expression 'Complex Project Management' doesn't simply refer to the contractual and and engineering challenges of building and delivering a piece of defence equipment. It also embraces the uncertainties and ambiguities of the project's requirements definition stage: that's where the complexities lie. That is where the systems engineering approach must be applied by masters of complex project management - and that mastery must extend into the DMO also to ensure a continuum from conception to delivery, says Mortimer.

Mortimer recommends buying lots more defence equipment off the shelf; he argues a strong case, but as a separate post on this Blog points out, it is possible to reduce project cost and schedule risks while supporting an expanded role for Australia's defence industry: all it takes is the political will to make it happen, and a bit of enlightened self-interest by the ADF in supporting its domestic industry sustainment base.

White Paper - the industry policy challenge

With public submissions to Australia's new Defence White Paper due to close on 1 October, I couldn't resist making one myself. There's a copy on my Rumour Control web site, if you're interested - www.rumourcontrol.com.au - click on 'Hot Topics'

My submission makes what to me is a fairly obvious point: a technology-dependent defence force requires a technology-savvy defence industry to support it. But if the Australian Department of Defence doesn't help create a more supportive environment for local manufacturers it risks losing the non-manufacturing skills base required to sustain the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

The Mortimer Review -
recommends that the ADF make more use of Military Of The Shelf (MOTS) equipment. The reasons for this are understandable and well argued. But I would argue also that if the Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) plans to spend $100 billion over the next decade on buying and sustaining equipment for the ADF, then as much of that money as possible should be spent in Australia.

This isn't to say we should try to make all of our own equipment, or that the Australian taxpayer should pay a premium to create and prop up low-value jobs in an uncompetitive defence industry: that way lies madness. But Australia can do more to help its defence manufacturing companies, especially its SMEs, win positions on merit in the global supply chains of the companies which supply the ADF. Defence and the DMO have recognised this and the Team Australia initiative has been fairly successful in programs such as the Joint Strike Fighter.

This is an implicit acknowledgement that the global defence market is not a level laying field: in fact it is deeply distorted and heavily manipulated and governments have an important role to play in ensuring that their defence companies enjoy a fair go. But first they need to acknowledge their self-interest in doing so, and then frame a policy that supports it.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Anzac battle group in Germany

On 17 September the Australian Department of Defence announced that 180 troops from 1st Bn Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR) had deployed to Germany to take part in a US-led exercise, Co-operative Spirit '08. The exercise is designed to promote and test interoperability between the four ABCA countries: Australasia (including New Zealand), Britain, Canada and America. 

The 1RAR contingent has combined with a rifle company from 2nd/1st Royal NZ Infantry Regiment to form the ANZAC Battle Group, operating alongside 1st Bn The Welsh Guards, US 5th B, 20th Infantry regiment and 3/2 Stryker Brigade Combat team, and 2nd Bn Royal Canadian Regiment in a scenario designed to reflect operating conditions in Afghanistan.

Two thoughts: does this mean the ADF is considering rotating regular line infantry regiments through Afghanistan in the future, instead of the heavily tasked Special Forces contingent that's been there for so long? If the Army can learn and successfully apply the lessons that are coming out of Afghanistan so that any line infantry deploying there are properly prepared, then that's good news. Line infantry (as opposed to the Commandos of 4RAR) and Cavalry personnel have been providing security for the Reconstruction Task Force in Oruzgan Province, and have done a great job, but it's very obvious the Special Forces task group has been the force tasked with taking the fight to the Taliban, and that must be frustrating for the non-Commando elements of the Royal Australian Regiment.

Secondly, is this the first time Australian infantry have been in Germany since the end of World War 1? 

US-Australia treaty 'deferred'

Defense News in Washington has just broken the story that the US-Australia Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty won't be ratified until some time in 2009 - possibly as much as two years after it was first signed in Sydney by President George W Bush and Prime Minister John W Howard.

If I understand the cause of the delay correctly, the US Senate Foreign relations Committee is worried that the treaty (and a similar one signed between the US and the UK) is in breach of the US State Department's International Trade in Arms Regulations (ITAR). The only way the treaty can be signed is if the ITARs are amended to accommodate it, and the State Department has been dragging the chain - as it seems always to do on this issue. 

The ITARs inhibit and constrain collaboration and cooperation between the US and its allies. They are actually rather insulting; while they are designed to protect US know-how the way they are applied seems calculated sometimes to create a commercial advantage for US companies. 

A case in point: recently an Australian company teamed with a US partner to bid for a VERY big US defence contract. The partners decided to offer a variant of a successful Australian product; they also decided to develop an enhanced variant of it. Because the prototype of this enhanced variant - designed, incidentally, by Australians in Australia - was built in the US, the IP in that prototype is now covered by ITAR. The Australian company can't sell a product it designed itself, can't even manufacture it in Australia, without getting ITAR clearance. The partners' joint bid failed to win the contract, but the prototype of the enhanced product is still covered by the ITARs.  Ridiculous!

Even US firms operating in Australia have problems. Under certain circumstances if an Australian engineer sends some information to his US parent company, the parent company cannot send it back to him without requesting an export licence to do so under the ITAR regime. 

The US government owes it to its allies, and especially those who've gone out on a political limb over issues like Iraq, to sort this mess out. The US-Australia Defence Trade Cooperation Treaty won't fix all of the problems but it will put the bilateral relationship on a more mature footing. I just hope whoever's in the White House next year will get a grip on this issue and do something about it.

JSF in the news again

There was a brief flurry of JSF-related newspaper coverage in the Australian mainstream media a few days ago - I missed some of it as I was travelling, but the gist of it was that the RAND Corporation held some sort of computer-based exercise in Hawaii which put the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter up against members of the Su-27 family, and it got comprehensively whacked.

More recently, Jane's Defence Weekly ran an opinion piece by Pierre Sprey and Winslow Wheeler charging that the JSF is overweight and underpowered, isn't manoeuverable and lacks payload. Jane's published a response in the same edition by Lockheed Martin's JSF program chief Tom Burbage and General Chuck Davis, the Program Executive Officer for the JSF at the pentagon. 

The exchange was fairly heated and, to me, highlighted a couple of things: first of all, many critics of the JSF don't understand that it shouldn't be assessed the way you'd assess a legacy fighter: it is a very different type of aircraft designed in a different way, to be built in a different way and to fight in a different way. Secondly, the solution many of its critics put forward to the problems with the JSF amount to a combination of the F-22A Raptor - which is extremely expensive - and some sort of legacy aircraft: the F-15, F/A-18 Super Hornet, even (God help us!) the F-111.

The debate over the JSF and its value relative to the F-22A and some of the legacy jets mentioned above has been impassioned, to put it politely. As a specialist defence writer I've been fortunate enough to receive comprehensive unclassified briefings about the JSF itself and the wider program: manufacturing, industry participation and the autonomic logistics system.  

While it's possible to argue that the Australian government could have been more assertive in pursuing Australia's interests in this program, especially in terms of industry participation, the JSF program seems to this journalist to make sense. It actually answers many of the criticisms of fighter programs which have gone before. 

That said, I'm very aware there are huge areas of the program which are heavily classified. Analysts, reporters and commentators (such as myself) simply don't know how much they don't know about the capabilities of the aircraft and how it might be flown in combat.  I do know that if you try to compare only what's known about an aircraft such as the JSF or F-22A with what's widely known about aircraft such as the MiG-29 and Su-27/30/35 family, you're not really making a valid comparison. I don't pretend to know more than that.

It is not my job to mount a case defending the JSF. To do that (or to damn it) comprehensively I'd need access to classified platform, weapon and sensor performance and operational tactics which I know I'm simply not going to see. The only people who do see it are a small cadre of officials and planners in each of the participating nations. It is possible to infer something about the aircraft from their behaviour.

Their ongoing support for the aircraft, especially those whom I know to have been suspicious or downright dismissive until they received classified briefings on the project, suggests a high level of capability that doesn't derive solely from the weight/thrust/payload/range/wing loading of the aircraft. As for the cost of the JSF, thanks to the Royal Norwegian Air Force we're getting a decent handle on what the jet will actually cost to buy and operate through its service life: US$5.75 billion over about 25-30 years for 48 aircraft; that includes a US$2.27 billion through-life support package; not including the US$668.2 million initial support cost, that works out at US$58.7 million per aircraft.

That's a 2008 dollar price; by 2013 or 2014 when Norway starts taking delivery the figure will have climbed somewhat. But it sets an accurate benchmark against which to measure other contenders.

As for platform performance compared with recent legacy platforms such as the F-16 (and it must be remembered that Sprey and Wheeler were charter members of the so-called 'Light Fighter Mafia' which coalesced around the legendary John Boyd during the 1970s and resulted in the creation of the F-16), I'd offer the following thoughts. 

Years ago, a Rolls-Royce test pilot went to Edwards Air Force Base with a Harrier 'jump jet' to carry out some tests on the aircraft's Rolls-Royce Pegasus engine. As is customary, every test flight was accompanied by a chase aircraft - in this case an F-4 Phantom. The pilot reported gleefully that the supersonic Phantom had to use afterburner to keep up with the lighter, more nimble Harrier; it ran out of fuel fairly quickly. On subsequent flights the Phantom had to carry external fuel tanks - and couldn't keep up because of the extra drag.

More recently, an RAF Jaguar pilot complained that he'd been ordered to carry drop tanks when ferrying his aircraft from Lossiemouth in the north of Scotland to Decimomanu in Sardinia (measure it on a map - it's a hell of distance!). Without drop tanks, in 'clean' configuration the Jaguar had just about enough fuel to fly the distance non-stop, though without a safety margin on arrival. With the extra drag created by external drop tanks, he barely had the endurance to reach the middle of France!

The point of these anecdotes is this: most combat aircraft today, except for the JSF and the F-22, carry their stores and additional fuel externally. It's unusual to see TV footage today of an F-16, F-15 or Hornet/Super Hornet that isn't carrying at least two external fuel tanks and half a dozen external weapons. The JSF carries all of its fuel internally - and carries more than the F-22, indeed more even than an F/A-18 with external tanks. The difference this makes is huge. To illustrate this, on a recent test flight, the F-35A took off for the first time with its maximum internal combat load of two 2,000lb JDAMs and two AMRAAMs. Naturally, these were carried internally; the chase aircraft was an F-16 carrying two external fuel tanks, but no other external stores. 

JSF test pilot Jon Beesley describes the sortie thus: 

QUOTE I had the opportunity yesterday to fly the F-35 for the first time with the INTERDICTION COMBAT load of  two GBU 31 (2,000lb JDAMs) and 2 AIM -120 missiles. In current fighters there is an expectation of performance degradation when carrying 5000lb of ordnance but the internal carriage made any degradation hard to discern.

The acceleration in MAX AB (afterburner) takeoff was very quick and interestingly there is an increase in the acceleration rate above 120 KCAS. The takeoff roll was very near to the 3500’ prediction. Once airborne I came out of AB relatively soon after lift off and continued to climb and accelerate in MIL power in a 10 deg to 15 deg climb attitude. There was plenty of performance. The climb out with full internal weapons carriage was particularly impressive to me. The climb rate seemed to be only slightly hindered by the stores carriage with climb angles near 15 deg in MIL power while in a 30 deg bank turn back over the field. Very pleasant to see clean fighter climb rates and angles while carrying a combat load. The chase aircraft still required brief inputs into AB to keep up with me. This is especially impressive because the 325 KCAS climb speed is well below the optimum climb speed profile for the aircraft.

We only did a brief handling qualities test point on this mission but the handling qualities with this combat loading were indistinguishable from the aircraft with no stores.
Landing occurred with 4500lb of fuel and was easily stopped inside of an 8000 ft. runway length with brake temperatures cool enough to taxi straight back to the hangar. END QUOTE

Do you see the point? An F-16 carrying only two external tanks and no external weapons had to use afterburner to keep up with a JSF which was using military power (ie no afterburner) while carrying a full war load of weapons internally. Think what that means for fuel consumption, for combat acceleration, for energy management in air combat manoeuvres, for sortie endurance and for range. 

The point I'm trying to make here is that it's a huge mistake to make comparisons on the basis of imperfect knowledge - and Sprey and Wheeler should know enough about fighter design and performance to appreciate the difference internal fuel and stores carriage can make.

I'm not saying I know better than these two gentlemen or anybody else engaged in the debate, but I try to listen critically to what I'm told, and base my conclusions on facts (as they're available to me) and rational analysis. 


Saturday, 6 September 2008

NCW - avoiding a capability gap

Anybody who has read Major General (Ret'd) Jim Molan's riveting account of his 12-month stint as Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations to General George Casey at the Multi-National Force - Iraq headquarters in Baghdad in 2004 and 2005 would be familiar with the force multiplying effect of UAVs.

The cancellation yesterday of Defence's contract with Boeing under JP129, and the current lack of an operational TUAV system within the ADF inventory, highlight a rather alarming capability gap. Notwithstanding the Army's successful use of Boeing/Insitu ScanEagle UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ADF's inventory is surprisingly low.

The ADF is acquiring precision-guided weapons, both line of sight (such as the JDAM, Javelin and Hellfire) and stand-off, such as the JASSM and JSOW. This is a welcome increase in its offensive capability, but the ADF currently lacks certain capabilities which may prevent it getting the best from these weapons under the sort of circumstances in which they're being used by the US and UK, for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The Laws of Armed Conflict (LOAC) require that force is used with precision, discrimination and humanity, and only where there is a clear military justification. Precision-guided weapons which can hit pinpoint targets very precisely and accurately are increasingly essential for compliance with the LOAC, especially in urban-based counter-insurgency operations where there is a high risk of casualties among civilians and non-combatants.

Precision guided weapons are also vital in conventional operations where battle lines are confused and there is a real risk of fratricide: the ability to take out the enemy in pin-point strikes at low or zero risk to friendly forces is critically important.

But does Australia have the Intelligence-gathering, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Command and Control (C2) capabilities necessary to use these new weapons to their full potential?

'Time-sensitive targeting' is a bit of a buzz-phrase at present - it suggests the ability to react quickly when a fleeting target presents itself: a mobile missile launcher, or air defence radar, or terrorist chieftain. However when such fleeting targets appear (and especially in urban or settled areas with a civilian population) commanders cannot legally launch an immediate strike without doing enough first to satisfy themselves (and any subsequent inquiry) that they have done so in compliance with the LOAC.

This means having persistent ISR assets such as intelligence-gathering networks, surveillance UAVs and manned observation posts which can watch targets continuously for extended periods (possibly for days at a time), both to ensure the targets don't move and to ensure that civilians aren't in the vicinity already, or unexpectedly gather at the spot just as an attack is launched.

Aside from the Special Forces, for whom this type of operation is part of their strategic strike role, the ADF still lacks any organic ability to carry out this type of persistent ISR.
The ADF's current NCW Roadmap and DCP address this issue, but the new Defence White paper, and Defence's current financially constrained position, mean the next DCP could be very different from the last. This will tell us a great deal about Defence's priorities: the ISR capabilities required to help the ADF's new inventory of smart weapons deliver its full potential aren't that expensive; the White Paper and the new DCP will tell us how important the government thinks they are.

Where is JP129 going?

Defence has cancelled its contract with Boeing Australia under JP129 - Tactical UAV Capability. No word as yet on what will replace the Boeing/IAI MALAT I-View 250-based solution, but Defence sources are talking about getting an alternate solution, possibly a Military Off The Shelf (MOTS) purchase, up as quickly as possible.
A Rapid Acquisition (RA)? Possibly - but they could also go back to the unsuccessful bidders for JP129, BAE Systems/AAI and Thales/Elbit and ask them to refresh their bids. One industry source suggested that the ADF could have a TUAV system flying some time in the second half of 2009 if it pursues a genuine MOTS option, but it would need some help from a friendly government to achieve this.

Whatever acquisition strategy is selected, the operational requirement hasn't changed and the government's sense of urgency is driven by the fact Australian soldiers are currently operating in harm's way in Afghanistan and Iraq. And who knows what else might happen over the the next 12 months within our region or further afield?

Which makes it all the more astonishing and disappointing that we've come to the present situation. Does anybody remember when JP129 was originally part of Project Air 87? That was back in 1993, when I first started writing about it. That in turn was two years after the ADF and DSTO conducted its first (apparently inconclusive) trials of a UAV system - the IAI Scout, from memory - up in northern Australia, and some 11 years after the Israel Defence Force's mastery of UAV operations came to light following the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

The ADF is good at learning lessons from the operational experience of others; and everything we've seen or read over the past decade - DCPs, NCW Roadmaps, Hardened and Networked Armies - has emphasised the centrality of UAVs to the future of the ADF.

But what is the ADF's current inventory of UAVs? Apart from a few Tadiran Skylark handheld UAVs, it is zero. Even the ScanEagle UAVs supporting the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan are operated on a fee for service basis by Boeing. DSTO alone has a small fleet of UAVs which it uses for experimental purposes. This despite the 17 years that have passed since the first ADF trial in 1991, and the extensive use by many of Australia's coalition partners of UAVs in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Army's own exploitation of borrowed Aerosonde UAVs in the Solomon Islands two years ago.

When tenders closed for JP129 in 2006, Defence had a quality field of bidders, including two - BAE Systems Australia/AAI and Thales Australia/Elbit - offering systems which were either in service with one of our key allies in Afghanistan, or ordered by the other for use in Afghanistan and elsewhere. But despite its lack of experience of UAV operations, Defence chose a developmental solution. The Australian Army was to be launch customer for an all-new, developmental UAV model supported by a developmental ground control and exploitation environment.

How are the ADF's operational requirements so different from everybody else's that an off the shelf solution - better still, one that's already in service with or on order for one of our key allies - isn't good enough? What does the ADF know about UAV operations that qualifies it to pursue a developmental solution? When TUAVs are practically a commodity (certainly on the scale and at the tactical level we're talking about here) by what measure was the development risk justifiable? 

And how did the Kinnaird Process allow such a decision to leak through, with such embarrassing consequences for all concerned?

I've written often enough that the ADF has all the pretensions and processes of a super power, but lacks the substance to justify them. The example of JP129 would seem to illustrate my point perfectly.