Air Force Crash Probes. Air Force investigators have concluded that two mid-air collisions involving two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and two F-16C Fighting Falcons were both due to pilot error, according to Air Combat Command. The A-10 crash, which occurred during a training exercise over the Nevada Test and Training Range in September 2017, was due to “the unintentional failure to adhere to established altitude deconfliction procedures,” the command says. During the F-16C accident, which took place during a training exercise near Louisville, Ga., in June 2016, one of the pilots “failed to ensure flight path deconfliction and separation of aircraft.” All four planes were destroyed, result in total loss of about $91 million. All four pilots ejected and sustained minor injuries.

F-35 Lessons. The Marine Corps’ F-35Bs are deployed and flying overseas and by any measure the service is leading the pack gathering information on how the jet is performing. But, the Government Accountability Office finds the F-35 Joint Program Office has no mechanism to share that data with the Navy and Air Force. The “program does not currently disseminate or make available lessons learned across all services, although program officials agreed that doing so would be beneficial,” GAO finds in a recent report. Air Force and Navy officials tell GAO that they document lessons learned from F-35 deployments in the form of after action reports or observational briefings. The Marine Corps records F-35 aircraft operational lessons learned on its own service-specific website, but the Department of Defense does not formally share these lessons across the military services.

An F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 touches down on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1), marking the first time the aircraft has deployed aboard a U.S. Navy ship and with a Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Indo-Pacific.  VFMFA-121, assigned under the Okinawa-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, will remain embarked aboard Wasp for a regional patrol meant to strengthen regional alliances, provide rapid-response capability, and advance the Up-Gunned ESG concept. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released)
An F-35B Lightning II with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 121 about to touch down on the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released)

…Sharing by Personal Means. According to GAO, the Marine Corps officials stated that they currently rely on personal relationships to share lessons learned with other services, through methods such as phone calls to colleagues in the Air Force or the Navy. DoD has emphasized the need for the services to collect and share lessons learned not only at a service-specific level, but across all services, and it established the Joint Lessons Learned Program in 2000 to enhance joint capabilities through knowledge management in peacetime and wartime. “The F-35 Program Executive Officer should formally share or make available, through a new or existing communications mechanism, F-35 operational lessons learned across the services. DOD concurred with this recommendation,” GAO says.

NORTHCOM, PACOM Heads. The Senate confirmed by voice vote April 26 President Donald Trump’s nominees to lead U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) and U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). The approvals came two days after the Senate Armed Services Committee endorsed Navy Adm. Philip Davidson to be PACOM’s commander and Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy to be commander of NORTHCOM and the North American Aerospace Defense Command. 

Hill Break. After three busy weeks, the House and Senate will not be in session the week of April 30 to May 4.

Cyber Security Rankings (Unofficial). Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) at the close of a Senate Homeland Security Hearing on April 24 on cyber security asked witnesses how far the government and private sector have come in the last seven year in terms of cyber security and cyber defense on a scale of zero to 10. Jeanette Manfra, who is in charge of cyber security operations at the Department of Homeland Security, scores both sectors in the five to six range, saying “we’ve come a really, really long way.” Manfra has been working cyber security issues with DHS for nearly 11 years. Eric Rosenbach, co-director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard, gives the government a five and industry a 7.5, saying that while capabilities across the private sector vary, overall the cyber security and technology industries are “moving very quickly.” Gregory Wilshusen, director of Information Security Issues at the Government Accountability Office, puts government ahead with a four versus a three for the private sector. He says the government is “more monolithic” in terms of a framework and standards, noting that GAO does examine security controls at some companies, finding “as many, if not worse” issues than at agencies.

…Perspective. Manfra says “defense wins championships” and that she talks “a lot about getting the advantage back to the defenders. She describes the “asymmetric” advantage that favors the U.S., which is a “strong industry” overall. “We have a powerful industry, a powerful government. What remains is putting it all together, and I think this is DHS’s thing to own.” Of course, she says, “We don’t own it completely. We have a lot of other partners in this.”

DHS Cyber Strategy Update. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen tells a House panel that her department’s long awaited cyber security strategy should be out within the next two weeks. Nielsen attended the annual RSA Conference on cyber security earlier this month in San Francisco, and she tells the House Homeland Security Committee the event was used to discuss the forthcoming strategy with stakeholders “as a last very important effort to make sure that we had stakeholders involved.” The strategy is built on four pillars, she says, which are to identify the risks, reduce threats, reduce vulnerabilities, and mitigate consequences.

Keeping MRAPs. The House Armed Services Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee committee, in its mark of the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act, notes the Army has an enduring requirement of 8,222 MRAP vehicles, and that demand for the behemoth trucks will increase. The committee notes with concern that the Army’s budget request contained no funding for MRAP vehicle modifications or improvements for the existing inventory of MRAP vehicles. The committee encourages the Army to take necessary steps to ensure the MRAP vehicle industrial base remains viable. The Army is to brief HASC by Dec. 14 on its long-term strategy for long-term sustainment, research and development, and procurement of MRAP vehicle platforms.

… Ground Robots. The same committee wants to see Army plans to speed development and fielding of the squad multipurpose equipment transport system. SMET is an unmanned ground vehicle that will transport equipment for specific missions, resupply, and extended operations, thereby reducing soldier load and increasing squad mobility. The committee supports the Army’s use of other transaction authority to achieve a rapid start to this effort, and encourages the Army to seek additional ways to expedite acquisition of this critical capability. By Nov. 30, the committee wants a report on options to accelerate the SMET acquisition strategy, courses of action to ensure the delivered system meets all key performance parameters, findings and analysis from the user evaluations conducted by two brigade combat teams and an assessment of each variant’s reliance on generators versus batteries, power generation capabilities, noise signatures, abilities to adapt to additional systems such as flail and mine rollers, dual stretchers, backhoe and loader kits.

… 3rd-Gen FLIR. Also in the subcommittee mark is a call to accelerate fielding of state-of-the art weapon sights and forward-looking infrared (FLIR) sensors on combat vehicles. “The committee is aware of a growing parity in U.S. Army sights and sensors against current and emerging threats, particularly when it comes to combat vehicle platforms,” its mark of the 2019 NDAA says. The committee is concerned that development of 3rd-generation FLIR systems is progressing too slowly to ensure it will enter production as an integrated system in the next Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle upgrades. By March 15, 2019 the committee wants to see plans to synchronize the 3rd-gen FLIR program with the M1A2 System Enhancement Package Version 4 Abrams Upgrade and M2A5 Bradley Fighting Vehicle upgrade.

Blast Protection. The Army Tank Automotive Research Engineering and Development Center’s Hull Frame Body Cab conducted a successful development test of new technologies that protect troops from underbody blasts. The successful demonstration at the Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland validates the work a team of Ground Vehicle Survivability and Protection engineers have been leading to develop a survivability system designed holistically to protect the occupant. The Army expects these new technologies being tested on the demonstrator, or Blast Buck, to lead to a reduction in casualties on both future and legacy platforms. The ultimate goal is an Army requirement for no occupant injuries. The demonstrator contains four new technologies: a lightweight hull with an underbody solution; an energy-absorbing floor; modular semi-active seats and an active blast mitigation system. Other improvements under investigation include non-traditional hull materials and the utilization of non-traditional welding methods.

Missile Warning. Under a recently-awarded $97.9 million Army contract, BAE Systems will develop a Quick Reaction Capability next-generation missile warning system for aircraft to protect pilots and crews from new and emerging threats. Under the Limited Interim Missile Warning System (LIMWS) program, the company’s 2-Color Advanced Warning System (2C-AWS) will provide the aircraft with missile warning and hostile fire protection to improve survivability and mission effectiveness in contested environments. BAE developed its 2C-AWS system with Leonardo DRS and proposed the solution in response to the Army’s June solicitation for LIMWS. Leonardo DRS will provide the 2-color infrared sensor as the eyes of the system. 2C-AWS provides a foundation for the Army’s future threat detection needs and is designed to be upgradeable to meet future customer needs. It will work with existing Army aircraft survivability equipment, including aircraft interfaces and countermeasure systems.

Gabbard On Readiness. During the House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower’s markeup of its part of the FY ’19 defense authorization act, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) expressed concern at a provision that requires the Navy Secretary to designate a single commander for tasking and deployment of all forces, which would change current law that keeps the Pacific Fleet’s tasking separate (Defense Daily, April 26). Gabbard withdrew an amendment that would address the language, but wants to work with the committee to find common ground before the May 9 full committee markup. She argues “the language offered in the readiness mark would essentially chip away at the existing force structure, resources, and authorities in the Pacific and would undo a command and control relationship in the Pacific that’s existed and worked for more than a decade. The current status preserves the ability of the commander of the Pacific Fleet to man, train, and equip PACOM-assigned naval forces including the maintenance, steaming days, and flying hours required to ensure operational availability.” She says no studies have been conducted to conclude a single command would help Navy readiness and the change “could lead to situations where the PACOM commander would have to ask for forces using the request for forces model, which could be slower, more cumbersome, and less agile than the current organization.”

A Step Forward for Schultz. The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee approved by voice vote last week the nomination of Vice Adm. Karl Schultz to Admiral and to be Commandant of the Coast Guard. Schultz is expected to be confirmed by the Senate. In another month, Schultz will succeed Adm. Paul Zukunft, who is retiring after his four-year term expires.