The fiscal year (FY) 2018 compromise defense authorization bill would authorize the Secretary of Defense to establish a prize competition to help find the causes of and solutions to physiological episodes (PEs) in various military aircraft.
The Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force have experienced numerous PEs over the past year in F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets as well as EA-18 Growlers, and T-45C Goshawks.
Last week, Navy and Marine Corps officials said they expect trainer pilot production with the T-45s to go back to full capacity by the end of the month as the services made several changes to the air system they thought were potential causal factors (Defense Daily, Nov. 9).
This conference-approved FY 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) acceded to a Senate NDAA draft provision allowing for the competition, which can reach up to $10 million.
The bill states that the secretary is to consult the Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Air Force, Commandant of the Marine Corps, heads of appropriate federal agencies experienced in prize competitions and, when appropriate, to coordinate with private organizations for the competition.
However, the bill notes any funds made available for this purpose go beyond funding to research and identify root causes or causes of physiological episodes.
The NDAA separately requires the Secretary of the Navy to provide quarterly updates on the progress of the Physiological Episode Team (PET) and how it is trying to solve the issue. That provision also originated in the Senate’s NDAA bill (Defense Daily, Nov. 8).
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower, asked Navy Secretary Richard Spencer about the competition idea at his July confirmation hearing.
He noted the bill does not force the Defense Department to conduct a competition.
“All we’re doing is saying after the best minds that we have in the federal government have tried and so far haven’t found the exact diagnosis of what the problem is that causes this histotoxic hypoxia, we could offer a prize to anyone in the country, anyone on the face of the globe for that matter. And you don’t pay the money unless you get a solution,” Wicker said.
Spencer positively responded that it was “chapter one of thinking outside the box, that’s fantastic to hear and it excites me that those tools and authority would be available to us.”