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Kendall: U.S. Needs to Get Faster at Developing Revolutionary Weapon Systems

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in 2012. Department of Defense Photo

Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall in 2012. Department of Defense Photo

The Pentagon’s top acquisition official told Congress the U.S. defense complex is good at incremental evolutions in technology but has slipped in bringing about revolutionary systems to the battlefield.

“What we’re good at is bringing on the next generation,” Frank Kendall, the Department of Defense under secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics (AT&L) told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

But the U.S. is not as good at seeing systems that can fundamentally change the way the nation fights, as stealth did in the 1970s and that possibly directed energy, electromagnetic railguns and unmanned underwater vehicles may today.

“Directed energy is one we have talked about forever,” but “we haven’t quite gotten where we want to be,” Kendall said.

“Where are the game-changers,” Air Force Lt. Gen. Mark Ramsay, director of force structure, resources and assessments of the Joint Staff asked, in sorting through the new programs. He said that intelligence is now the most important player in the requirements process, now intertwined with other components—such as the services and combatant commander—in fielding new systems from “I have a problem, to I have a solution.”

Kendall said that in the Pentagon’s budget to be unveiled next Monday there is an “aerospace innovation initiative,” led by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and involving the Air Force and Navy, to bring on the next generation air-dominance aircraft as quickly as possible.

Kendall said that the budget cuts in recent years—from $80 billion to $63 billion in this fiscal year—means that some necessary programs, such as electronic warfare were put on a back burner. “We neglected that area [next generation Navy jammer] for some time.”

Decisions such as that also have an impact on the workforce in the defense industrial base. “You get that expertise by working on programs” and when the programs are not there the workers leave. He also noted that that defense workforce is concentrated at the upper end—those nearing retirement—or new hires.

Kendall said, “Use or lose is a real problem” in the department’s spending in the last quarter of the fiscal year—particularly” in its operations and maintenance accounts and buying office. “Defense Department tends to be a culture of spending,” not in watching costs.

He added that in looking at the total costs of a weapon system, life cycle spending needs to be factored in. “We really have to go after that.”

That means looking at the costs in depots and industry maintenance facilities. When asked whether it would be possible to have one service depot compete for work from another service, he said, “I would like to have that flexibility,” adding, “I think it would helpful in driving costs down.”

Citing China’s development of a suite of capabilities to defeat the way the United States fights war—employing satellites, aircraft carriers and airfields, Kendall said, “that’s what changed,” particularly in using cruise and ballistic missiles to overwhelm those targets.

He added that Russia and Iran are working on similar capabilities.

  • J_kies

    Mr Kendall – Make haste slowly. Fix the expertise issues in the staff and stop looking for magical solutions like unicorns, elves, directed energy and rail guns. Ash Carter in his working days did some nice scaling analysis that leaves DE firmly in fantasy land. Rail guns sound cool but they have issues with ammunition, fire rates and barrel replacements that should leave them in 6.1 Research for maturation.

    Can we please work on multi-mission solutions and reduce the number of ‘stove-pipes’ in the department? Can we come up with re-use for the ~500Bn$ of OCO we burned in Iraq and A-Stan? Restore the S&T of the department and services to ‘own’ the understanding of the combat environments that they hope to prevail in? Restore and enhance the service laboratories to refocus on their core missions of scientific superiority.

    • James Bowen

      DE’s are not fantasy anymore. The Navy has deployed a prototype laser beam on a ship in the Persian Gulf.

      • J_kies

        And I have a laser pointer in my briefcase. Both have equivalent value in combat against serious threats like ASCMs. Tell Ash Carter that his physics scaling work in the 1980s for OSTP was wrong.

        • James Bowen

          The one they have deployed right now destroyed a small boat and a drone. That is promising for further development.

        • WasatchHaole

          Put a laser on a UAV and fly them in patrol and you probably have a good chance of knocking out ASCMs. Many things have changed in the laser world – such as being able to put an effective laser system on a UAV.
          Ironically, my son did a junior high science project on shining laser pointers at a camera. He had a lot of fun with it. But, seeing that a laser is now deployed, I doubt your laser pointer is as effective.

          • Secundius

            @ WasatchHaole.

            At the present time the only system at might operate on a UCAS-47C Pegasus, would the USMC variant of the 10kW GBAD (Ground-Based Air Defense) system. 30kW system is prototype phase. And won’t be tested until sometime in 2016…

      • Secundius

        @ James Bowen.

        Taking out the engines on a Go-Fast or shooting down a Drone is one thing. Actually Killing someone with it is another thing…

        • James Bowen

          I’m not sure I follow you. What do you mean?

          FYI: A 30 kW laser delivers about as much energy in one second as a high-powered hunting rifle delivers in one round.

          • Secundius

            @ James Bowen.

            All the Test firing in the Persian Gulf, are “Test Firings”, No Enemy Boat were Sunk or Enemy Planes Shot-Down. All test were Staged. Until they actually Destroy Enemy Targets of Opportunity, it’s just a Stage Show. Send it closer to Iraq and give us actual “Gun Camera” footage of a Live Friendly-Against-Enemy Fire. Instead of a Live Dog-and Pony Show…

          • James Bowen

            That’s how all new weapons are tested. You are correct that the true test comes with combat. However, this system shows great promise. This system is 30 kW, which delivers as much energy in a second as one bullet from a hunting rifle does. That’s a good start, and they aim to have a 130 kW laser weapon operational within a few years.

          • Secundius

            @ James Bowen.

            Unless you use this LaWS Laser System in Actual Combat Conditions. All you really have is a Expensive Working Paperweight, relegate to the Junk Drawer…

          • James Bowen

            How do we know it won’t work in combat conditions?

          • Secundius

            @ James Bowen.

            I Don’t. What I’m saying is, “You don’t go Half-Way Around the World To Throw Rocks At Aluminium Can’s, While Supplying Your Own Aluminium Cans”…

          • Secundius

            @ James Bowen.

            Calling it Combat Conditions, because it’s Tested in a Hot Area like the Persian Gulf. And your performing the Tests on yourself. Doesn’t qualify as Combat Conditions…

          • James Bowen

            I never said it was in combat conditions. What I am saying is that it certainly, in terms of basic physics, has the ability to destroy or disable targets. We won’t know how it does in combat until it actually faces that test, but it is promising.

          • J_kies

            Worse than that – Since LaWS is not a program; no test discipline is applied either the acquisition side or from COMOPTEVFOR / DOTE. Its contractor marketing and you shouldn’t expect it to be honestly reported.

    • Michael Rich

      It’s arrogant people like you who hinder technological advancements. Directed Energy weapons have had serious advancements in the last decade, the one mounted on the USS Ponce is capable of taking out small drones and burning small attack craft. May not seem like much, but thats a big advancement from simple laser pointers. Rail Guns have also had massive advancements and are still being worked on, though they are not ready for combat quite yet.

      But sure, continue to stick in the past; fighting our enemies with last generation tech should go just well!

      • J_kies

        If observing physics limitations (e.g. radiative transfer and thermodynamics) and the actual T&E of laser beam directors such as the ABL and the Sealite Beam Director makes me an arrogant luddite then I accept that label with pride. Ash Carter did the formative scaling analysis of what power a laser would have to deliver to a target for military effect in the 1980s. The toy on the Ponce is 2 orders of magnitude too small and the operational range in ideal conditions is no better than a 20mm cannon. No aspect of that demo has ‘operational significance’ nor does it represent any ‘advancement’ over the 1990s.

        Lets compare – you act as the target for a 20mm cannon at 2km in fog and I will act as the target for the laser in the same conditions.
        Improving on proven weapons works; unsound concepts waste funding and damage our real capabilities.

        • Michael Rich

          So you are pretty much saying that spending money to advance a future capability is a waste? Okay man, just like investing in the airplane was also a waste.

        • Michael Rich

          So you are pretty much saying that spending money to advance a future capability is a waste? Okay man, just like investing in the airplane was also a waste.

          • J_kies

            Spending money to re-prove a failed path as failed is a waste. If you cannot learn from the 8 billions spent on historical DE programs that failed then that money was truly wasted.

            I build systems on working aircraft platforms; physics has harsh limits that sensible people learn and observe.

        • Secundius

          @ J_kies.

          It’s much easier to have the Target fly into to Bullets, that have the Bullet’s hit the Target. A lesson learned the hard way at the Battle of Midway and the Coral Sea in 1942…

  • AKO

    Deindustrialization led to rising costs for weapons development.

    • James Bowen

      Excellent point. I am amazed at how under-appreciated this is. If one picks up a book about the American Civil War or World War II, the big takeaway lesson is that the side with higher industrial output won. The fact that China now produces more that five times as much steel as we do, frankly, does not bode well for us should we find ourselves in a war with them in the Pacific.

      How can modern policymakers and strategists possibly be so disconnected from the lessons of history which are so readily available for review?

    • James Bowen

      Excellent point. I am amazed at how under-appreciated this is. If one picks up a book about the American Civil War or World War II, the big takeaway lesson is that the side with higher industrial output won. The fact that China now produces more that five times as much steel as we do, frankly, does not bode well for us should we find ourselves in a war with them in the Pacific.

      How can modern policymakers and strategists possibly be so disconnected from the lessons of history which are so readily available for review?

  • GetOffMyLawn

    If I hear “game changer” one more time…

  • James B.

    I think the problem of the military acquisitions is the amount of money we have wasted trying to operationalize immature technologies, or wring more performance out of designs than is really economical.

    The JSF, EFV, Zumwalt DDG, Seawolf SSN and LCS are all examples of designs trying to push the envelope in technology and performance, and doing that pushing with money. Unfortunately for the warfighter, all these designs were too expensive to build in number or too expensive to build at all. We would be better served by building life-size technology demonstrators to mature and test technology rather than hoping the fleet works out the bugs.

    Technological advance is very important, but fighting the war after next can be as bad as fighting the last war; we need to focus on fighting the wars of today.

    • Secundius

      @ Jame B.

      It is the Military that decide what money is allocated to what Project an/or Program, it’s Congress that does that. The military make recommendations to the Congress, and Congress follows up with or without the necessary appropriations of funds. It’s more Political ego and Politics, then actual military needs. If it were Military Needs, there wouldn’t be Military Personnel on Food Lines or VA. funding problems. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pushed for the LCS program, NOT the Navy…

      • James B.

        Congress appropriates the money, very true, but somebody in the military writes the requirements document. Congress may stick us with non-functional systems, but they aren’t going to design them for us.

        • Secundius

          @ James B.

          Look at a Congressional Appropriations Bill next time, see how many Admiral, General, Privates, and Seaman asked for those appropriations. It’s State “Pork Fat” for State Contracting Jobs for equipment that isn’t needed and gets sent to “Allies” that usually get it for FREE or sit’s out on a “Desert Boneyard” waiting to be recycled at US. Taxpayers Expense.

        • Secundius

          @ James B.

          Do you know what a Camel is sir. It’s a Kentucky Derby Racehorse designed by Congress…

          • old guy

            Good one. Remember the HUMMV was meant to be a replacement for the Jeep.

  • Secundius

    Redditing me again…

  • old guy

    NO. Only smarter.

  • Secundius

    I got an Idea, Now that were sending $1-Billion USD. in Weapons aid to the Ukraine. Let’s send the USS. Ponce there to, too conduct “Communications Experiment’s” with the LaWS. Park if of the Ukraine Coast of Naval Area of Interest. And do LIVE Testing in Actual Combat Conditions, instead of Staged Ones. And any Russian Aircraft to curious for the on good, Test the System. We can say later the Russian plane wondered to close to a Communications Test, and were sorry to cause any Unforeseen Inconvenience to their Russian Pilot’s and Plane’s…