Wargame Ship Size. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday this week said naval wargames analysis is pushing the service to have fewer large surface combatants like destroyers  and more smaller vessels like the upcoming Constellation

-class guided-missile frigate. “So the trends that we’re seeing as we take a look at distributed maritime operations, and we take a look at a number of force structure assessments, this is going back to 2016. The trends that we’re seeing are more submarines, definitely more supply ships. In terms of the surface force, we’re seeing a rebalancing. And so the demand as we wargamed, as we exercise, as we do more analysis is the trend for surface ships is less larger surface combatants and more smaller surface combatants,” Gilday said during a virtual Defense One event on Sept. 14.

Aussie MQ-4C. Northrop Grumman unveiled the first Australian MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft during a ceremony at the company’ production site in Palmdale, Calif., on Sept. 14. “Today marks a significant milestone for Australia and the MQ-4C Triton program. As we get ready for final system integration and flight test, we are one step closer to delivering this extraordinary maritime awareness capability to Australia,” said Tom Jones, corporate vice president and president of Northrop Grumman Aeronautics Systems. Australia is a cooperative program partner on the Triton and will share data collected by its Triton with the U.S. aircraft. The MQ-4C is due to work with Australia’s P-8A Poseidon aircraft to help the Royal Australian Air Force cover large areas at longer ranges. The company started building the first Australian Triton in October 2020. It is scheduled for production completion in 2023 and delivery in 2024.

Sixth Fleet. Vice Adm. Thomas Ishee succeeded Vice Adm. Gene Black III as commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet and Naval Striking and Support Forces NATO during a change of command ceremony at U.S. Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy on Sept. 15. Adm. Stuart Munsch, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (NAVEUR-NAVAF) and commander, Allied Joint Forces Command (JFC) Naples, presided over the ceremony. Ishee most recently served as Director of Global Operations for U.S. Strategic Command. He previously commanded the USS Key West (SSN-722) and Submarine Squadron 11; served as Director of Operations, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa; was Deputy Commander of U.S. Sixth Fleet; and  Commander of Submarine Group 8. Some of his service ashore included as senior adviser to the Secretary of Defense for U.S. Pacific Command Plans; executive assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations; deputy commander, Joint Functional Component Command-Global Strike, U.S. Strategic Command; and Director, Undersea Warfare Division, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (N97). Black was selected for reappointment to the grade of vice admiral and is being assigned as deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy, N3/N5.

FMD Center. Fairbanks Morse Defense (FMD) established a Technology Center of Excellence, aiming to consolidate the company’s technology resources in a single platform to maximize capabilities, the company said on Sept. 15. “Most of the companies acquired by FMD in recent years have technology development in their roadmap, but they’re spread out among the individual businesses. By consolidating these initiatives within a specific center of excellence, we can fully leverage our wealth of expertise to benefit our customers in a way that will improve reliability, enhance performance and reduce their lifecycle costs,” FMD CEO George Whittier said in a statement. The company said its short-term focus is with technology supporting autonomy, electrification and augmented reality, but it plans to “round out” its technology portfolio to add Artificial Intelligence and Uncrewed Systems Solutions via both future acquisitions and organic growth.

Symbolic Significance. The Air & Space Forces Association’s annual air, space, and cyber conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Maryland has symbolic significance this year, as the U.S. Air Force celebrates its 75th anniversary on Sept. 18. On that date in 1947, then U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson administered the oath of office to W. Stuart Symington as the first secretary of the Air Force, and the activities of the U.S. Army Air Forces transferred to the new Department of the Air Force. An Army veteran, Symington had served under Pres. Harry Truman as the assistant secretary of war from 1946-1947. Symington served as Air Force secretary from 1947-1950 and then as a U.S. senator from Missouri from 1953 to 1976.

Strategic Tanker Assessment. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) says that he has spoken with members of the Arizona Air National Guard’s 161st Air Refueling Wing in Phoenix who have voiced concerns that, unlike the new Boeing KC-46 tanker, the KC-135s—a small number of which stand on 24/7 strategic deterrence alert—are not hardened against electromagnetic pulse (EMP). “Would you agree that KC-135 squadrons that are participating in the deterrence mission should be given a priority to be replaced with the KC-46?” Kelly asked Air Force Gen. Anthony Cotton at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Cotton’s nomination to become the next head of U.S. Strategic Command. Cotton replied that what he “would like to do is make an assessment to kind of figure out what are the pros and cons of what those mission sets are doing using a legacy system, as opposed to using the new modernized system.”

 …Mission Capability. The mission capability rate for the KC-135 declined to 71 percent in fiscal 2021 from 75 percent in fiscal 2015, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report this summer. “KC-135 unit maintenance personnel we spoke with said they actively rotate parts among their aircraft in an effort to prevent any of them from being designated as a long-term grounded aircraft,” GAO said. “Unit officials from a KC-135 unit said that their inability to access proprietary data on some of their aircraft’s parts had led to a general decline in maintenance knowledge among the unit’s maintenance personnel. These unit officials said their maintainers have the knowledge to access and repair only about 60 percent of the components on their aircraft while contractors repair the remaining 40 percent. Without access to the proprietary data, unit officials said newer maintainers in particular are unable to gain a full understanding of how to maintain their aircraft and miss out on the associated hands-on learning experience.”

Technology Report Bill. Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced a bill on Sept. 14 that would direct the Secretary of Defense to commission a study of Pentagon acquisition and modernization efforts to ensure such programs are keeping pace with rapidly changing technologies. The American Defense Programs, Logistics, and Acquisitions for our Nation’s Security, or American Defense PLANS, Act directs the study is “led by independent organizations that are established leaders in national security and technology.” “By seeking out recommendations for modernizing our military, we work towards making sure our national defense is well-positioned for success in this rapidly-changing threat environment,” Cornyn said in a statement. 

Industry Groups’ Letter. The National Defense Industrial Association, Aerospace Industries Association and Professional Services Council sent a letter on Sept. 12 to the leaders of the Congressional Appropriations Committees urging expedited completion of fiscal year 2023 defense spending bills and for lawmakers to consider inflation impacts when finalizing a stopgap funding bill. “To protect readiness, maintain critical acquisition and RDT&E schedules, and avoid waste, we request that Congress consider inflation when setting the topline for a continuing resolution,” the defense industry groups wrote in their letter. Since CRs set spending levels at the previous year’s level, the letter notes that without factoring for inflation “the service budgets would be nine percent below the funding level required to maintain the buying power Congress intended in its 2022 enacted budget.” The House Appropriations Committee approved its FY ‘23 defense spending bill in June, while the Senate Appropriations Committee released its legislation in late July.

New CRADA. American Rheinmetall Vehicles announced on Sept. 14 it has signed a new a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Ground Vehicle Systems Center (DEVCOM GVSC) to collaborate on developing integrated combat vehicle suspension, track, and running gear technologies. The CRADA will also specifically explore integration of the Army’s Advanced Lightweight Track on platforms vying for the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) effort and other modernization programs, according to the company. “The CRADA is the start of a budding relationship to research, develop, and integrate the newest technologies into modern combat vehicles,” Mike Milner, American Rheinmetall Vehicles’ director for business development and strategy, said in a statement. “Specifically, efforts on integration of the Advanced Lightweight Track will provide ride quality improvements and room for growth without reductions in performance on tracked combat vehicles.” American Rheinmetall Vehicles is one of five firms competing for OMFV, which is currently in the concept refinement phase. The company is offering its Lynx Infantry Fighting Vehicle for the Bradley replacement program.

F-35 Maintainer Challenges. The Department of the Air Force says that while the performance of the Lockheed Martin F-35A “is unquestioned, the airman’s experience on the flight line has been challenging due to parts availability within the global spares pool and retrofitting older aircraft.” The service said that parts distribution depends on force activity designator codes. The five designators run from Designator I through Designator V with Designator I having the highest priority. The Air Force said that “generally” it “does not cannibalize parts to move from one base to another” but that “parts that are in a warehouse at one base can be shipped to other bases.” The service said that “these events are not tracked as a metric.” Older F-35s in training and testing squadrons appear to have a higher likelihood of not being mission capable (MC) than F-35s in operational squadrons. Yet, F-35 training squadrons do not necessarily have high cannibalization rates. For example, the Air Force said that in July the cannibalization rate for the 33rd Fighter Wing’s 49 F-35s at Eglin AFB was 1.7 per 100 sorties.