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Industry News

Supporting the Warfighter: Adapting to the Changing Paradigm of the Defense Market

January 1, 2010
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It is a whole new world out there for defense companies. Department of Defense (DoD) budgets are under greater scrutiny, and pressure is mounting to reduce spending and change the way the US military does business. Yet new requirements and increasing demands are placed on the military every day, and the Global War on Terrorism continues into its eighth year. As a result, there is just not enough funding or resources to do everything that is being asked of our military. As the DoD formulates its plans to address these challenges, our business environment is becoming fundamentally different and increasingly complex.


I submit that these fundamental changes require each company to assess how we will adapt to meet rapidly evolving customer needs. It is a risky business situation, but some real trends are emerging to help us understand how to change the way we operate. We must make some “course heading” vector corrections in order to provide the most-affordable, best-technology and value-added solutions to meet DoD requirements.

This article explores these issues and their implications for defense programs, procurement policies and the way we suppliers must move forward. It sets the stage by looking at key economic issues framing the debate. It discusses changing priorities in defense spending and procurement and explores the paradigm shifts in modern warfare that drives DoD thinking about fighting in new environments. It looks at the emergence of the complex Battlefield of the Future, which is all about the networked warfighter. It also outlines the need for advanced sensors, net-centric operations, tactical communications and electronic warfare, which give the warfighter the 360° Mission Perspective necessary to meet the challenges of the modern and future battlefield. It evaluates issues central to the warfighter’s needs, discusses implications for RF and microwave technology and our industry, and suggests how we must adapt to satisfy customer needs. It also shares some of our own Cobham Defense Systems insights and plans for growth and success by providing best-value solutions to assist the warfighter.

Framing the Economic Debate

We clearly are living in challenging economic times. Access to credit markets is tight, institutional and private investors are wary of financial markets, and most economic projections are stagnant at best. Corporate leaders are asking themselves two questions: “How can we grow market share, provide opportunities for valued employees, and satisfy customers with reliable products and services?” and “How can we do more with less?”

The defense market faces similar economic issues. The DoD’s budget will not be increasing in the out years, and it likely will decline for years to come. Supplemental Budget Requests—previously used to fund contingency operations in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom—will become part of the annual DoD appropriations process. In the past, supplementals sometimes funded programs not directly related to the fight on the ground, such as congressional “plus ups,” specific earmarks for directed spending, additional quantity buys of certain weapon systems, and monies for “Not Funded Service Priority Items” for the three military services. For good or bad, those supplementals are now history.

A New Era in Defense Priorities

A change in thinking is moving across the DoD and all the services. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is leading the charge for reform. His “revolutionary and evolutionary” approach embodies strengthening such management concepts as accountability, performance to task and individual contractor responsibility. Gates is supported in these efforts by Deputy Secretary of Defense Bill Lynn and Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, Ashton Carter. All share a common mindset for driving change. Congress has stepped up to the plate with the passing of a new public law last May giving Pentagon leadership the right language and legal authority to move forward with real and meaningful reforms in the way the DoD does business, directs its acquisition process and manages its weapons programs.

Figure 1 Future Combat Systems was envisioned to be a System of Systems solution set.

Certain programs are being canceled and contractors are being held more accountable for meeting requirements. As an example, the Army’s massive Future Combat System (FCS) will likely be replaced with smaller modernization efforts because of escalating program costs, lack of a performance-based contract and, in large part, because the manned combat vehicle portion failed to reflect anti-insurgency lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan (see Figure 1). On the acquisition side, new DoD procurement guidelines and acquisition reforms reflect changing priorities in which urgency is a factor in determining risk (i.e., going with an existing solution available to save lives today versus waiting for the promise of something better much later).

Can We Afford the Defense We Need?

Budget pressures, deficits, public bailouts of financial institutions and increased oversight of defense spending, along with heated debate over healthcare reform costs, have the “pot of public opinion” on financial restraint bubbling over. At the same time, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, potential for added resources and troop deployments, global terrorist threats, high-seas pirates and some bad state actors have all combined to create a “perfect storm complex threat environment.” As a result, the burning questions facing our industry include:

  • How can we get the DoD funding necessary to answer these threats given the economic climate?
  • What will it take to equip, train and protect our warfighters with the advanced sensors, weapons and communications tools they need to successfully execute their missions?
  • How do we ensure the safe return of all our brave men and women who go into harm’s way in support of our national interests?
  • How can the DoD and the defense industry, specifically those of us in the microwave technology community, come together to support the warfighter’s technology and program needs?
  • How can we address the political problems associated with affordability and cost growth reported on programs like F-22 Raptor, F-35 JSF and the Littoral Combat Ship?

The Need to Address What is Urgent

Generational Defense programs are going away. Life cycles will be much shorter as the Services speed the way things are procured. Therefore, the defense industry must become more commercially oriented in bringing products to market quickly, and bringing technology development spirals into products faster.

General Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the US Army, is highly critical of the “out of date ways” the Army buys weapons and equipment and believes soldiers are being shortchanged. “We have to find better ways to keep up with technology. It doesn’t do us any good to have a procurement cycle that takes 10 to 15 years,” he said recently in Washington at the October AUSA meetings.

Consider the evolution of the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) program for the US Army. Initial radios took a very long time to design, configure and test. The development faced huge technological and manufacturing challenges. These radios are technologically complex and state-of-the-art and were very costly. As production approaches and trades are being made on how to use and deploy these radios, unit recurring costs are increasing even more. Some of these “follow on models” are becoming far more expensive than anticipated. There is no way every soldier will get a JTRS radio due to the cost. In addition, their ultimate deployment will not be as widespread as originally anticipated (see Figure 2).

Figure 2 The Joint Tactical Radio System enables state-of-the-art radio connectivity.

The DoD Chief Technologist, Zachary Lemnios, recently conducted a study on bringing technology from the lab to the battlefield quickly. The purpose of the study was to identify lessons learned as well as effective tools and catalog best practices used by innovative defense firms. The study group was briefed on specific examples of how industry players rose to the challenge to meet urgent warfighter needs, such as Cobham Defense’s efforts to deliver nearly 10,000 jamming devices to theater in less than 60 days to aid in the fight against insurgent Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 IED defeat activity is critical to today's threats.

Changes in Modern Warfare

The nature of the threat has fundamentally changed. Instead of international disputes that gradually escalate into major hostilities between nations, today’s wars are often regional conflicts that may erupt with little warning. Rather than facing only conventional military forces, warfighters must be informed and highly mobile to engage and defeat elusive bands of guerrillas, insurgents or terrorists anywhere around the globe. Military operations often are smaller in scale, becoming opportunistic missions waged by special operational forces against a shadowy enemy, as opposed to organized battles that match traditional forces against one another in a conventional cold war scenario.

In addition to the new rules of engagement, there are new military requirements. Victory has a less-concrete definition that depends more on efficient, real-time surveillance, quicker analysis of intelligence and swifter deployment of assets to engage and defeat the enemy. It is all about highly mobile forces, enhanced sensors and information networks, and greater precision and accuracy of deployed weapons. All information is required in all phases of the engagement. Communications and data flow in the battle is essential for all concepts of operation. Battle damage assessment has become critical to knowing the accuracy of weapons, the extent of damage, and any corresponding collateral effects. Contentious international issues arise when enemy propaganda accuses the US of “reckless deployment” of lethal force on unintended civilian areas. We have to get it right every time and be ready to show and prove the truth about how we engaged the enemy.

Battlefield of the Future

The concept of warfighting is evolving from conventional conflicts with organized armies to irregular warfare with groups of insurgents, terrorists and non-state actors. It will be waged in multiple domains—land, sea, air, space and cyberspace. It will be directed against enemies both seen and unseen with bullets, electrons, software, computers, network-centric information activities, advanced wireless technologies, unmanned vehicles, lethal force and real-time intelligence.

Success on the new battlefield requires what we at Cobham Defense Systems call 360º Mission Perspective—the ability to gather, manage and secure information from every angle in order to provide the warfighter with secure situational awareness and ultimate mission success. For example, we must deliver networked communications at the soldier level along with real-time imagery to identify enemy forces and coordinate operations. Our warfighters must be able to clearly understand their battle space and mission objectives, and how to achieve those objectives with the limited resources at hand. Battlefield information must be collected, analyzed and updated in real time to track an enemy that is highly mobile and hiding from view.

The warfighter also needs greater agility and mobility, and must be able to deploy the right assets to the right place at the right time. This means having the best weapons, communications and sensors available to detect, target and engage the enemy. In addition, because new threats also represent greater risks to both armed forces and civilians, our forces need advanced electronic sensors that can be used reliably as decision aides for accurate weapons engagement that minimizes any non-combatant casualties.

Sensor Requirements for Finding Combatants

The warfighter will face shadow enemies who seek to inflict the most harm whenever and wherever they can, in the shortest time possible and without regard to collateral damage, and then vanish as quickly as they appeared. These combatants want to move freely and operate with impunity. So how do we find them, track their movements, and anticipate their next moves and counter planned activities? What types of electronic sensors and systems will it take to ensure victory against these new and emerging threats?

For real-time intelligence, precise location information and accurate targeting data, warfighters need advanced radar and imagery sensor information. The tools must include the best radar sensors, radios and RF-directed weapons possible, enabled by RF, microwave and millimeter-wave technologies. Advanced sensors will help our forces target the “bad guys” and avoid the unintended consequences of injuring non-combatants. Today’s solution providers must get the “electronic smarts” into battlefield weapons, communications gear and EW/radar sensors, quickly and affordably (see Figure 4).

Figure 4 Sensors like the US Army's EQ-36 will track back to launch enemy rockets, shells and grenades for counter fire.

Focus on the Warfighter

Everything today must be warfighter focused. Whether it is on the ground or in a helicopter, if it helps warfighters accomplish their missions, it is very relevant. As a nation, we must ask whether we are spending on things that do not assist the warfighter. As Secretary Gates has said, the DoD must buy the hardware to fight the wars we are fighting now; the futuristic stuff does not help today’s soldier.

Our spending priorities must change to reflect the new paradigm. It is no longer just about tanks, bullets, guns, ships and fighters. Rather, it is about fighting with intelligence and focused lethality. It is about situational awareness, whether around a tank, a ship, a plane, or even a single soldier. Reform and political resolve are needed around defense appropriations so the military can focus on the mission and survivability of the warfighter.

Implications for the RF/MW Industry

How can we fight the battle in the physical domain as well as the electronic domain via satellites, sensors and imagery? Today, drones can be flown from bases in Nevada to the battlefields in Afghanistan, Iraq and anywhere else. The complexity of enabling specialized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) like the Global Hawk or Predator to be flown, controlled, engaged with the enemy and firing ordnance is very impressive (see Figure 5).

Figure 5 UAVs for combat air support missions total on average 37 simultaneous flights at any one time.

Using more UAVs requires a new class of sensors, communication links and EW. Systems will require smaller, more agile platforms including microwave sensors. More and better sensors also are needed on the battlefield, along with a greater ability to use computer networks. Game changers will include specialized EW to protect the warfighter from IEDs.

It is getting to the point where the age of cyber warfare is upon us. When you consider the recent Israeli strike on the Syrian Nuclear Reactor in which all electronic systems went down (as reported by Time magazine and other media)—all military and computer networks, radar and surface-to-air missile sites, all communication and information operations—you realize that we are now going to battle with networks and “electrons.”

Figure 6 The future of Navy Littoral Warfare — fighting the enemy close to the shore on land — will be defined by the LCS program.

The US Navy is taking on the affordability question as it views and develops next-generation phased-array technology for its new fleet of warships (see Figure 6). This includes radar, communications, EW, and other RF and microwave-related functions. It is proceeding under a Modular Open Systems Architecture (MOSA) approach in a program called Integrated Topside (InTOP) that is funded out of ONR, and supported by NRL, NAVSEA and others in the Navy. The idea is that these complex sensor systems can have well-defined interfaces between the various aspects of the system—antennas, T/R modules, beamforming networks, digital and advanced signal processors. Is it possible on a warship for these elements to function in a “plug and play” environment, similar to a desktop PC? If such a system architecture can be realized, it can be procured and maintained by the Navy in a far more cost-effective way than a single OEM that just has a systems specification for shipboard electronic systems. Today, the cost of electronics on a ship approximately equals the cost of the ship itself. This InTOP combat electronics program is geared to address that affordability problem.

Adapting to Change

Change never comes easy. The new defense marketplace requires all stakeholder organizations and their employees to rethink how they conduct their DoD business and operate to support the warfighter. Our customers cannot afford to keep developing new systems. The view forward is agility and affordability via sharing, reuse and modification. We must challenge conventional technology, wisdom and approaches to achieve true affordability of next-generation solutions.

All of us can benefit from this new approach, and we all have a stake in its success; whether it is military planners defining requirements more realistically (i.e., an 80 percent solution that is effective), DoD procurement leadership demanding strict cost realism in estimates and bids (i.e., expenditure planning that minimizes cost growth), or holding government and industry program managers more accountable for schedule and cost performance (i.e., terminating troubled and non-performing programs).

Successful solution providers will be those that can meet customer needs in a more efficient and nimble way. Everyone must work together in the best interest of the nation. By becoming facilitators of the process, we will find ways to compete and win in the new environment. Instead of being gatekeepers longing for the old ways and hoping to outlast the people with new ideas, we must adapt. Change is already in the building.

How Cobham is Innovating to Assist the Customer

Cobham Defense Systems has many sophisticated customers who take on difficult technology and system challenges to improve military capabilities. To support these efforts, we have established a world-class technology and innovation business area that challenges traditional technology and manufacturing approaches. What is most unique about this area is its up-front focus on the process of innovation to achieve true affordability of next-generation sensor solutions.

Our engineers and scientists are tasked with challenging conventional wisdom and traditional thinking on hardware approaches. Their job is to define a workable solution that is more cost-effective and affordable than a traditional approach. This requires having a thorough knowledge of advanced microwave and millimeter-wave technology, advanced semiconductors and system engineering, and knowing how these issues affect system performance.

The new world of defense demands greater affordability, higher reliability and lower maintenance costs. It also opens the door for innovative companies with a common interest to team up on new opportunities. The best way defense OEMs and their partners can achieve the affordability and performance goals is to share their combined expertise in an integrated product team environment that can deliver full systems, individual components, and fully integrated subsystems, on time and on cost.

Next Steps for Our Industry

While it will be a difficult financial and management challenge to succeed in the new defense environment, we all have a stake in the outcome. Solution providers, military users and the DoD must collaborate to address requirements to sustain and support our warfighters and ensure our national defense interests.

We can help our customers get the warfighter a step ahead by improving combat efficiency and survivability, providing faster and more agile defense systems development, and delivering the technology, hardware, communications and information networks that are critical to victory on new and emerging battlefields.

We must be prepared for the engagements that are entered into today and tomorrow, not those of yesterday. We also must keep a laser-like focus on affordability and cost reduction and strive to implement extensive design reuse. Most importantly, we must employ a spirit of constant innovation for problem solving.

All of us at Cobham Defense Systems welcome the challenge of this dynamic defense marketplace. We commit to working with all stakeholders to provide the effective and affordable technology solutions and the 360º Mission Perspective our warfighters need to succeed.

Jeremy Wensinger has served as President of Cobham Defense Systems since September 2008. Cobham Defense Systems is a division of Cobham Plc, which has been a valued technology partner and solutions provider to the aerospace and defense industries for 75 years. With more than 125,000 systems fielded with 18 allied armies around the world, Cobham Defense Systems is the world’s ubiquitous supplier of advanced mission subsystems that move information between sensors and decision makers, delivering 360° Mission Perspective.

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