COMDEF: After decades without a significant new rotocraft technology, the head of Pentagon buying says he’s going to try and fund a new initiative to move helicopters and their brethren like the V-22 ahead.
It won’t be easy. “Anything is going to be very hard to squeeze into the budget,” Kendall told reporters during a Q and A session here. The US has not had any “cutting edge design for some time,” he said after a morning speech at the ComDef international defense conference.
The Army spends the most money on helicopters and most of the Army’s spending goes to refit existing helicopters such as the Kiowa, the Chinook and the Apache. The service has bungled several next-generation helicopter programs, including the infamous Comanche. The Joint Multi-Role Rotorcraft is the only advanced rotocraft technology effort underway and it wouldn’t result in anything fielded until 2030.
Kendall might try to put money in DARPA’s budget for the effort, if his comments here were an indication. He mentioned the rotocraft effort after mentioning the DARPA effort to explore and identify the technologies for a sixth-generation tactical aircraft, the Air Dominance Initiative.
Kendall also said the F-35 will undergo another CAPE (Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation) review this fall and he poured a bit of cold water on the effort to reduce estimated maintenance and operations costs by the Joint Program Office running the world’s most expensive weapons system. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan recently issued a new estimate that is 22 percent lower than the previous $1.1 trillion estimate for the systems half-century of use.
“The problem with that number is there are so many assumptions you can make,” Kendall said. Of course, the exact same can be said about the CAPE estimate, as I’m sure Lockheed Martin, the Marines and others would be willing to remind Kendall.
One of the most alarming things Kendall said was about US technological dominance. He told the ComDef participants that he did an estimate the other day that the defense industry will shed “tens of thousands” of engineers over the next few years and he doesn’t think they will come back once they leave. All this comes as the U.S is increasingly challenged as a technologically superior power: “In fact, it is being challenged,” Kendall said. He didn’t mention any country in particular, but Air Force officials have recently taken to noting in public that China has been able to deploy two stealth aircraft in the last 18 months.