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Use Allied Investments To Help Rebuild US Military

Posted by Robbin Laird on

Australian A330 MRTT tanker

The shift from slo mo — counterinsurgency operations — to high intensity combat is a major challenge for the US military and its allies. It is a culture shift, a procurement shift and an investment shift. But mobilization is even more important than modernization.

To get ready for this shift, our weapons inventory needs to become more robust. In visiting US bases, a common theme we hear is the challenge of basic inventory shortfalls.

The Trump Administration came to power promising to correct much of this. But there simply is not enough time and money to do readiness and training plus ups, mobilization and rapid modernization.

As a businessman, Donald Trump might take a look at how the Pentagon actually functions as an effective business in equipping the force. Having highlighted the question of allied spending, he might be pleased to learn of significant allied investments in new combat systems which his own forces can use, saving American taxpayers money and enhancing our military effectiveness at the same time.

One way to augment US forces would be to do something which might seem to be at odds with the Make America Great notion. As one of my Danish friends put it well: “I have no problem with the idea of making America great again. For me, the question is how?”

One way would be to leverage existing allied capabilities which, if adopted by the US forces, would save money but, even more importantly, would ramp up the operational capability of the US forces and their ability to work with allies in the shortest time possible. It would also allow the US to target investments where possible in break through programs which allies are NOT investing in.

It is time to take a global view as the coming of the F-35 and the P-8 have made it very clear that global technology is a key element for shaping 21st century high-intensity combat forces, even if some of their leaders seem to be at odds.

Australian P-8

There are many examples of such low-hanging fruit. The old bromide that this would cost US jobs is simply not true. Foreign producers — just like their American colleagues — build weapons in the country where they export and do not export the end product.

Some examples? First, there is question of rapidly inserting unmanned assets. While the US Navy researchers how to provide for new capabilities, allies are already deploying a key underwater unmanned asset to work the demining issue.

Advanced Acoustic Concepts, a DRS/Thales joint venture based in the United States, has devised SAMDIS –– Synthetic Aperture and Mine Detection Imagery Sonar –– a system with multiple capabilities that can be rapidly deployed to provide the underwater “big picture.” SAMDIS has been in production for four years and is in operational service with several allied nations.

The SAMDIS solution is already in use by several allies and, as Norman Polmar and I recently noted, Britain and France employ SADMIS in their joint mine countermeasures program. The system is software upgradable, which means that experience with the now deployed and operational systems can easily provide data for software upgrades of contemporary as well as future versions.

The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) or other naval or commercial ships could carry it.

Second is the question of getting on with regard to the weapons revolution. Rebuilding the stockpile of current weapons is a key priority. While doing so, allied weapons could be adopted as the “new investments” to the inventory while the DoD sorts through how to get on with longer range weapons and higher speed weapons to enhance high intensity capabilities of the US and allied forces.

One example is the Joint Strike Missile, designed for attack on surface ships flying off of an F-35. It will be used initially by the Norwegians (who developed it) and the Japanese and Australians. As it already will be launched on an F-35A, the US can simply by it as part of the inventory upgrade effort.

Another example is provided MBDA’s Meteor missile for air-to-air or Spear 3 for ground attack. They’ll be used by other countries on the F-35 and could be included as well in any inventory build up.

The coming of the F-35 provides a significant opportunity to leverage the investment efforts of core allies, as is happening in the UK with fifth generation weapons such as Meteor and SPEAR 3.

For the US, this path opens up a number of options. One example is the potential interoperability of UK and US Marine Corps F-35Bs afloat where jets could fly from each other’s decks with whichever weapons are to hand. It could go a step further and open up a scenario where the US considers adopting these new weapons onto US F-35s, which share integrative commonality with allied F-35s.

The United States could leverage allied investments in the weaponization of the global F-35 in a significant way, but tht can’t happen if it follows a protectionist policy or continues to pursue the legacy of the Obama Administration’s legacy to often have competition for competitions sake rather than simply moving ahead with the off the shelf solution.

A third example is provided by the Wedgetail, which the Aussies have made a key combat asset within the high-end force and are looking to invest in its further development. Leveraging multiple years of development and combat operations to get on with the post-AWACs world makes more sense than simply continuing the slow roll of upgrading AWACs.

For example, the Aussie Wedgetail recently came to Red Flag 2017-1 and has provided advanced C2 and support to the fifth generation air combat force. F-35s, F-22s and advanced legacy aircraft like Typhoons were supported throughout by the most advanced air battle management system operating today.

It is being operated by the RAAF and not the US Air Force; and the RAF is also considering buying it. Instead of slow-rolling an upgrade of AWACS, it is time to leap ahead and move beyond the 360-degree radar dome technology and embrace a very different concept of air battle management, one good for and one easily integrated into the distributed operations of the future.

A fourth example, which would clearly roil the protectionists who care more about protectionism than the capability of the US military, would be to get on with the KC-10 replacement and buy the A330 MRTT airborne tanker. Not only does the US Air Force have NO operational new tankers, but the allies have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Air Force made the right initial decision picking this aircraft over Boeing’s KC-46 offering.

Our allies are operating multiple A330 MRTTs so commonality has already been established and significant investments by allies in a needed US capability already in place.

For example, the Aussies are about to add an operational autonomous boom to their KC-30As. According to the RAAF Commander in charge of lift and tanking: “If it can anticipate and react to movements of the receiver aircraft faster than the boom operator can, then you end up with faster contacts. You also potentially end up with more consistent contacts when the turbulence level increases, in cloud or when night falls.”

The Aussies are moving onto Tanker 2.0 while the US Air Force is still waiting for Tanker 1.0. This makes no sense.

Recently, the UK’s Defense Minister made the argument for the US opening the aperture with regard to non-US systems. I would argue that it is not simply a question of trade policy. It is about getting serious about rapidly equipping a US combat force which needs to prepare for the certainty of high-intensity combat.

What do you think?