Home » Aviation » New Authorities Helping Navy Save Money on New Weapons; Sustainment Costs Still an Issue


New Authorities Helping Navy Save Money on New Weapons; Sustainment Costs Still an Issue

Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Alexandra Mimbela performs maintenance on an F/A-18F Super Hornet. US Navy Photo

ARLINGTON, Va. – The Navy is exploring how new acquisition authorities may help save money when buying weapons, but the service still needs to find ways to control long-term sustainment and modernization costs throughout the long lives of these systems, a panel said this week.

During a panel discussion at the Defense News conference Wednesday, a host of new purchasing powers authorized by Congress were touted as a vital component of the Navy’s work to keep costs in check without hampering the development of new technologies.

A mid-tier acquisition authority, the establishment of an Accelerated Acquisition Board and the embrace of rapid prototyping are examples of tools the Navy is using to either develop new equipment or field new equipment to the fleet faster, Allison Stiller, the deputy assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, said in the panel discussion.

“All of these activities are intended to increase our agility and improve affordability,” Stiller said.

Rapid acquisition is going to be the norm for the military, House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Rob Wittman, (R-Va.) said, noting it speeds up the process of fielding new equipment and ultimately should save money by providing combatant commands with equipment that better matches their requirements.

“You cannot have advanced systems that take 15 or 20 years that go from concept to design to bid to production, because our adversaries don’t do that,” Wittman said during the panel.
“Our adversaries are very skilled at looking at our technology, whether they steal it through industrial espionage or whether they find it in other ways and leapfrog.”

However, controlling the costs of purchasing new equipment is just part of the work to save money. Pentagon officials and the appropriators on Capitol Hill are also considering how to save money during the entire life-span of a defense program.

“We build big things. We build capital ships, submarines. Even our aircraft typically are around for at least 20 years,” Vice Adm. William Merz, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems (OPNAV N9), said during the panel.

As a result, Merz said, it is hard to make those ships, planes and weapons remain relevant over their whole lifetime unless the Navy specifically builds in the ability to easily modify them down the road.

“You’re going to see the flavor of, we’re going to build these ships and they’re going to be around for 40, 45 years with a very strong theme of adaptability and convertibility,” Merz said.

Even when ships or aircraft can be upgraded later in their life to keep up with evolving threats, the maintenance costs still dramatically increase after 15 to 20 years of service, Bryan Clark, a senior fellow at the Center of Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said during the panel. The Navy has to consider how to control those costs and have a strategy for when it’s time to replace older equipment.

“Sustainment, the cost of owning the Navy, has increased over the past several years and will continue to increase,” Clark said.

The F/A-18E/F Super Hornet program is an example of how costs can add up over time but also how the Navy and the defense industry teamed up to squeeze some more use out of the aircraft. The recently started Service Life Extension Program will add about 3,000 more flight hours to each Super Hornet. Boeing, the Super Hornet manufacturer, plans to work on between 40 and 50 life extensions per year during.

But even with a modernization program, Clark said the Navy also has to plan for the future.

“The F/A-18E/F Super Hornets we’ve been working to death over the last several years are finally going to have to start leaving the fleet,” he said. “What’s going to take the place of those aircraft in the air wing of the future?”

  • jetcal1

    Is she soaked in JP? I thought our W/C LPOs had gotten smarter today? (As an AD-2, she should know better as well.)

    • muzzleloader

      Ya have to admit that it makes for a nice wet t-shirt photo, lol

      • jetcal1

        No sir,
        You see I was a [email protected] LPO, as a 2nd Class she would have done EMI by delivering a training lecture on PPE and the JP-5 SDS.

        • Centaurus

          Too bad, I see Breast Cancer in 20 years….exposure to Hydrocarbons on breast tissue.

          • jetcal1

            Chronic liver damage, etc.

          • muzzleloader

            You guys are making the assumption that this is a common occurrence with this young woman, and her squadron.
            Hopefully the squadron maintenance officer and power plants chief have seen this photo with an accompanying attack of apoplexy, and taken corrective actions.

          • jetcal1

            I am making an assumption. And as soaked as she is, I really appreciate her dedication. But, she needed to shower and change immediately.

            But, like I said, I had zero tolerance when it came to chemical exposure and I was like that as a young PO as well.

          • Refguy

            No eye protection?!

          • jetcal1

            You caught my bias there! We never wore eye protection while doing any kind of R&R. It’s probably not a bad idea!

          • Centaurus

            If das Leader is not informed immediately, Twitter will flameout with the names !

        • GoNavy

          The picture was taken in 2014 while deployed in the Arabian Gulf. In all likelihood, she is probably soaked with sweat.

          U.S. Navy Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Alexandra Mimbela performs maintenance on an F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 213 aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) Aug. 21, 2014, in the Persian Gulf as the ship supports operations in Iraq. President Barack Obama authorized humanitarian aid deliveries to Iraq as well as targeted airstrikes to protect U.S. personnel from extremists known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. U.S. Central Command directed the operations. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Brian Stephens, U.S. Navy/Released)

          • jetcal1

            I considered that before posting. (Having “rolled a few” engines during the summer.) Everything appears consistent with fuel running down the arm. Please remember my post was framed as question.

      • Adrian Ah

        This photo was used a while back, and I asked about the wet clothes back then. Some knowledgeable dudes answered that apparantly it gets pretty hot, so soaking the clothes in water (note both tshirt ant pants are wet) is a way for crew to stay cool. I can imagine the engines could be quite toasty after use.

    • Centaurus

      If she were soaked in Tri Ethyl Borane, it would be a flambe’ T-shirt. TEB used to start JP-7 in SR-71.

      • jetcal1

        A one time mistake.

  • Curtis Conway

    “…it is hard to make those ships, planes and weapons remain relevant over their whole lifetime unless the Navy specifically builds in the ability to easily modify them down the road.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

    Building a 45+ lifespan hull, machinery & equipment (HM&E) platform with room for growth is an excellent idea. That HM&E must be upgradeable, efficient, redundant, and capable.

    The greatest lesson from the Hornet/Super Hornet programs over the last decade is ‘deferred maintenance’ risks crews, damages aircraft, and reduces readiness. Not fully manning, and supplying ship/shore AIMD and NARF activities is always a mistake.

    “What’s going to take the place of those aircraft in the air wing of the future?” What the Navy needs is another twin engine supersonic tactical aircraft.

    • Duane

      The answer is already given. The F-35C is replacing Hornets in the air wing, and eventually the F-35C and a follow on sixth gen CTOL will together replace the Super Hornets over the next two plus decades.

      And the F-35B and C are replacing both the Hornet and the Harrier for the Marines.

  • airider

    One word “standardization”.

    Hardware standardization and software standardization. Government needs to control the system architectures and standards used. Industry can create the products within those architectures and standards.

    Commercial sector does this all the time on the business side. Just look at the big vendors … they follow long term product support processes, with upgrades, for their products sold to businesses. It requires the businesses leveraging their products to buy into the support packages, but if they do, they will have the support.

    That said, very few businesses will have the same equipment around for 20-50 years, like the defense industry does. If regular contract re-compete is required for sustainment of the longer life products, then it would be more cost efficient to build the long term product support into the ISEA organizations that already exist, and this needs to be part of the programs acquisition strategy from the start.

    If you look at how commercial standards and technology evolve, they don’t happen overnight either. They take years. There is a continuous effort of collaboration between companies to define where the standards will go. The difference is they are looking 3-4 increments ahead of what is being fielded now, because they are researching and prototyping that far ahead to understand the technology risks to get there. They then decide on the standard once the risk is low enough, and then the companies individually and aggressively move forward to get their products to market, with updates to the standards as needed based on the hardware and software realities encountered.

    If you look at the Government, they have all the pieces to support this type of work, but they don’t have the continuous effort of collaboration between the services and our S&T and R&D centers. It’s one big free-for-all mostly driven by personalities. The operational community is complicit in this as well, with some of their pet projects. The other piece of this is that commercial standards don’t always transfer well to government needs, especially on the military side. The government has to acknowledge this and keep standards (e.g. MIL-STDs) current for the requirements and future needs. This will require the government standards groups, fed by the S&T and R&D communities, to be 3-4 increments ahead of what is being fielded now. They are not currently in this position, which is why we’re seeing greater adoption of commercial standards, even if the commercial standards aren’t the best fit for the mission or requirements.

    New purchasing authorities can help, but they’re just a small part of what needs to change for long term product support of capabilities that can be regularly modernized (within reasonable constraints).

    The reason our enemies can go “faster” in some areas is because they ride on the coattails of our commercial sectors, and government sectors when then can “steal” it. They let us do the hard work, then they only have to deal with the production part, which reduces time and cost on their side.

    That said, if they go in a direction that isn’t aligned with these sectors, they’ll run into the same challenges of standardization and modernization that anyone else would.

    The big question, at least for the Navy, is when are they going to align the leadership and organizations to support continuous standards collaboration. ONR, NRL, NSWCs, SSCs, FFRDCs, UARCs, etc have worked together “sometimes”, but never work together “all the time”. Some people may point at OPNAV for this, and their is some truth to this, but the biggest reason is that leadership lets politics play in the process. Too many outside influences driving things in all different directions.

    The way to address this is to create a leadership and organizational structure for continuous collaboration that forces the political side of things to respond to the collaboration process and not the other way around.

    The business world has examples of this as well. AMD pushed 64-bit computing forward by creating a processing architecture that was backward compatible with 32-bit computing. The rest of the industry liked this because they could move at their pace to support 64-bit. Intel was pushing it’s Itanium architecture which would have required everyone to recode to be able to leverage 64-bit. We all see what won out there. Itanium is dead. Same thing on Firewire and USB. Firewire was great but wasn’t backward compatible with anything. USB was and continues to be.

    Commercial collaboration on these standards are what won the day, not the technology itself, since in both cases the technology had a significant performance benefit, but industry decided, taking a long term view, that backward compatibility and long term product support were more important.

    • Duane

      Standardization of interfaces is a key. Then plug’n play modularization becomes practical. The computer industry figured that out decades ago, the software industry was slower to consolidate because they did not have a Big Blue to drive desktop systems as on the hardware side.

      Modular systems are absolutely the way to cut costs. But there has been a lot of resistance to overcome, because people tend to get stuck in 20th century thinking where every new ship design is a one off, with customized equipment that works only in that hull.

      The result is that people look at the cost to develop and deploy a modularized mission package, such as MCM or ASW, or SuW, as “that is an LCS cost”, and thus fail to comprehend that the mission packages are not now, and never have been, exclusively LCS costs.

      Thus the MCM package is already being adapted and integrated to many existing ship types including EPFs, ESBs, and even DDG51s. The ASW MP is the ASW system for FFGX, and a refinement will naturally be adapted to a future SSC. Likewise, most of the elements of the SuW MP are not only the basis of the FFGX SuW capability, but are also being integrated on amphibs and likely also on the large FSC.

      Each of these modular systems with standardized interfaces is now spreading throughout the entire fleet. And the LCS, the subject of ongoing bitter and unfathomable hatred, has been the developmental testbed for virtually all of it in the first decades of the 21st century modular surface Navy.

      • Hugh

        RAN Anzac Frigates were designed around modularisation, which was not a requirement and has not been used – conversely a big/expensive problem has been difficulty of access routes. Generally intellectual property needs to come with each Class so that in 30 years when some manufacturers have long gone, then the equipment can still be maintained.