Pentagon reveals dates for F-35 initial operational capability

The US Air Force plans to declare initial operational capability (IOC) for its fleet of Lockheed Martin F-35As in 2016, according to a new report issued by the Department of Defense on 31 May.

In its report to Congress, the Pentagon states that if its current plan holds firm, IOC for the largest Joint Strike Fighter customer could be achieved between August and December that year.

The USAF‘s criteria for IOC consists of being able to stand up the first operational F-35A squadron equipped with 12 to 24 aircraft and with enough trained personnel “to conduct basic close air support, interdiction, and limited suppression and destruction of enemy air defence operations in a contested environment”.

However, the 2016 deadline does indicate a departure from the service’s earlier insistence that it would require the fighter to have the full capabilities of its final Block 3F configuration to declare IOC.

That software block is expected to be complete in the latter half of 2017, according to the Pentagon’s most recent indication.

Instead the air force is likely to declare IOC with either the earlier Block 2B software load or with Block 3i, which is the same configuration rehosted on newer avionics hardware.

Although the USAF says the earlier software configurations will “provide sufficient initial combat capability”, it will still require the “enhanced lethality and survivability inherent in Blocks 3F and beyond” at a later date.

The US Marine Corps, meanwhile, is sticking to its plan for IOC with the Block 2B configuration between July and December 2015.

USMC will declare IOC when the first squadron of between 10 and 16 aircraft is trained and ready to conduct a broad spectrum of mission types.

The USMC also requires the jet’s Autonomic Logistic Information System V2 software to declare IOC. As with the USAF, the Marines require Block 3F for their future needs, the report says.

The US Navy, however, is holding firm on requiring the full Block 3F configuration for its F-35C IOC date, which it anticipates in late 2018 or early 2019. The USN says it must have the Block 3F configuration to deal with threats in the post-2018 environment.

USN F-35C IOC is expected to be declared when the first operational squadron of 10 aircraft is manned, trained, and equipped to conduct its assigned missions.


Despite Hackers, DOD Retains Faith In Weapon Systems

By on Monday, June 3rd, 2013


WASHINGTON — The United States military has “complete faith that our systems are secure and reliable,” a Pentagon spokesman said here today.

The military is always concerned about cybersecurity and the chances of losing information to other nations, Army Col. Steve Warren said, but the department has invested a lot of money, time and expertise in combating this threat.

In a meeting with reporters, Warren discussed alleged hacking that targeted U.S. military weapons systems, but he did not address what programs — if any — were exposed to cyber intrusions. “But we have absolute confidence in our systems,” he added. “Suggestions that any of these intrusions have led to an erosion of our capabilities is incorrect.”

Further, the spokesman said, there is no fear in the department that intrusions like this are eroding the U.S. military lead over other nations. “Suggestions that our technological edge has eroded are incorrect,” he said.

Warren said the department has a program that companies can join to help deter and mitigate these attacks. The Defense Industrial Base Enhanced Cybersecurity Information-sharing Program helps companies and the Pentagon defend American secrets, said Air Force Lt. Col. Damien Pickart, a DOD spokesman specializing in cyber issues. The program has yielded successes in information sharing and in network defense, he said.

“Any company in the defense industrial base can sign a classified framework agreement and voluntarily join this sharing program,” Pickart said. “If the company experiences an intrusion or a cyberattack on their systems, they can voluntarily bring that to our attention.”

The company shares the signature of the intrusion and details associated with the attack. “We do our forensic analysis of that through the Defense Cybercrime Center,” Pickart said. “Once we looked at what that is, we are able to develop measures that we can then share back to all the companies, and that can help mitigate against future attacks or intrusions from whoever was launching them.”

The program started with DOD as a pilot program a few years ago. Today, 85 companies — about half of the defense industrial base — participate in the program. The department and the companies share both classified and unclassified information.

The Homeland Security Department has a similar program that took the lessons learned from the DOD effort and applied it throughout industry, Pickart said.

F-35A operating costs to exceed F-16, official says

Operating costs for the conventional take-off and landing version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are expected to be roughly 10% greater than those of the Lockheed F-16.

According to the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO), Lt Gen Christopher Bogdan, who leads the tri-service effort, provided some preliminary numbers to the Dutch parliament comparing costs per flying hour between the two aircraft on 18 April.

“In his statement, Bogdan indicated that the cost per flying hour of an F-35A is estimated to be $24,000 per hour; roughly 10% higher than F-16 cost per flying hour,” the JPO says. “This data was derived in co-operation with the US Air Force and the Department of Defense Cost Assessment & Program Evaluation Office. Comparable baseline assumptions were used to evaluate relative operational costs between F-35 and legacy aircraft.”



 Lockheed Martin

The final cost figures are due to be released in the Pentagon’s 2012 selected acquisitions report for the F-35, which is set to be published during May.

Earlier this year, USAF chief of staff Gen Mark Welsh told reporters that the JPO was attempting to reconcile two different sets of cost estimates: one from the USAF and another from Lockheed. The cost numbers diverged because of differing underlying assumptions from which each side based its estimates.

Pentagon calls off new medal for drone, cyber warriors


Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday cancelled a new combat medal for US troops who launch drone strikes or cyber attacks after a torrent of criticism from veterans and lawmakers.

Hagel opted to scrap the new “Distinguished Warfare Medal” for a pin or device that could be added to existing medals to recognize service members operating unmanned aircraft or cyber weapons, Hagel said in a statement.

The now cancelled medal had provoked outrage among active duty and retired troops, who called it insulting due to its high ranking in the military’s hierarchy of traditional combat medals — above the prestigious Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart.

“When I came into office, concerns were raised to me about the Distinguished Warfare Medal’s order of precedence by veterans’ organizations, members of Congress, and other stakeholders whose views are valued by this department’s leadership,” Hagel said.

The medal was approved by Hagel’s predecessor, Leon Panetta, shortly before he left office, but immediately ignited criticism in and outside the military.

After taking over at the Pentagon in February, Hagel ordered a review by top military leaders led by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey.

The review “found that misconceptions regarding the precedence of the award were distracting from its original purpose,” according to Hagel’s statement.

The joint chiefs and civilian secretaries for each service recommended the creation of a device “that can be affixed to existing medals to recognize the extraordinary actions of this small number of men and women,” the statement said.

Hagel agreed with the recommendation and ordered that criteria for the award be presented to him within 90 days.

The American Legion, the country’s largest veterans service organization, welcomed the move, saying it kept the evolving roles of military combat in “proper perspective,” it said in a statement.

“Cyber and drone warfare have become part of the equation for 21st-century warfare, and those who fight such battles with distinction certainly deserve to be recognized.

“But The American Legion still believes there’s a fundamental difference between those who fight remotely, or via computer, and those fighting against an enemy who is trying to kill them,” said James Koutz, national commander of the American Legion.

Navy: Upgrades Required for Trident Launch System


Navy leaders said Wednesday the service must ensure the Pentagon remains committed to upgrades to the Trident missile launch system in line with the development of the replacement for the Ohio-class nuclear submarine fleet.

Rear Adm. Terry Benedict, director of the Navy’s Strategic Systems Programs, said it is necessary to revitalize and qualify the launch systems of the Trident II D-5, which is deployed aboard the U.S. Navy’s 14 Ohio-class ballistic missile subs and Britain’s four Vanguard-class submarines.

“The Trident is the most survivable leg of the Triad, and it also gives the U.S. a second-strike ability,” Benedict said at the annual Sea Air Space Exposition at National Harbor, Md.

The missile – currently the Trident II D-5 version – was developed and deployed jointly by both the U.S. and the United Kingdom since the 1990s. The missile has been going through life-extensions and the two countries plan to continue deploying them as they transition to the next-generation nuclear submarine.

While budget pressures mount with the sequestration cuts to defense funding, service leaders will be forced to balance modernization priorities. Benedict emphasized the importance of maintaining investment in updating the systems associated within the Nuclear triad.

The U.S. Navy plans to replace its 14 Ohio-class subs with a dozen new ballistic missile submarines. The Navy awarded General Dynamics’ Electric Boat Division a $1.85 billion contract for the development of the Ohio-Class Replacement Program.

The Ohio-class subs start hitting their end-of-life in 2027, and will be retired in the years following. The Navy anticipates its replacements to come on line by the mid-2020s.

Navy leaders have said they can accept the risk of two fewer nuclear capable submarines because of the speed and stealth capability the service expects to develop into the new Ohio-class. Those same leaders will also depend on improved accuracy of upgraded Tridents.

US deploys sea-based radar amid North Korea tensions

By on Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013


The United States has deployed a sophisticated radar off the coast of Japan capable of tracking North Korean missiles and has sent a second destroyer to the region, officials said Tuesday.

The Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX), which resembles an enormous balloon mounted on a large oil rig, is designed to track ballistic missiles and feed data to a separate command that can fire interceptors.

Pentagon spokesman George Little stressed the deployment of the SBX system had already been scheduled and was not related to the ongoing tensions surrounding North Korea.

“The SBX is undergoing scheduled sea trials. Decisions about further deployments have not been made at this point,” Little said.

“It’s incorrect to tie the SBX at this point to what’s happening on the Korean Peninsula right now.”

Earlier, US officials confirmed that the anti-missile destroyer USS John McCain has been deployed to the region. The Pentagon at first said that a similar type of destroyer, the USS Fitzgerald, had been deployed.

Later on Tuesday Little said the USS Decatur anti-missile destroyer had also been sent to the Pacific region.

“It’s arrived at a predetermined location in the Western Pacific to perform a missile defense mission,” he said, stressing that reports saying US ships would be based off the North Korean coast were “incorrect.”

“Those assets also help protect our own interests, our own troops in the region and other allies, to include Japan,” he said.

“Our response, and the mix of assets we have supplied to our responses, is prudent, logical and measured.”

“Let me be very clear that the United States’ position is that we want peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

In recent days the United States has sent its most sophisticated weapons to the region in a display of gunboat diplomacy.

The United States previously took the unusual step of announcing test bombing by nuclear-capable state-of-the-art B-2 bombers.

It has also deployed F-22 Raptor stealth fighters to South Korea as part of a US-South Korean military exercise — dubbed “Foal Eagle” — which is scheduled to last until April 30.

The Korean peninsula has been caught in a cycle of escalating tensions since the North’s February nuclear test, which followed a long-range rocket launch in December.

Subsequent UN sanctions and annual South Korea-US military exercises have been used by Pyongyang to justify a wave of increasingly dire threats against Seoul and Washington, including warnings of missile strikes and nuclear war.

F-35B completes first night short take-off and vertical landing

By:   Dave Majumdar Washington DC

A Lockheed Martin F-35B Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) completed its first night short take-off and vertical landing during a test sortie at NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, on 2 April.

According to Lockheed and the Pentagon’s F-35 joint programme office (JPO), US Marine Corps test pilot Maj CR Clift conducted the flight to gather data on the aircraft’s helmet and lighting conditions for night time operations. The F-35 JPO says that the flight was conducted using the aircraft’s original Vision Systems International helmet-mounted display equipped with the older Intevac ISIE-10 night vision camera rather than the updated ISIE-11 model.

“The completion of this test event demonstrates the F-35B is one step closer to delivering a critical capability to the US Marine Corps and F-35B partners in the United Kingdom and Italy,” says Lt Gen Chris Bogdan, the F-35 programme executive officer. “There is plenty of work to be done and progress to be made, but we’re on a solid path forward.”

The test was flown as part of ongoing efforts to prepare for the jet for the second of three scheduled sea-trials for the F-35. The first F-35 ship trials happened in October 2011, when two F-35Bs performed 72 vertical landings and take-offs aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp off the Virginia coast. The first two ship-borne test periods are for developmental testing while the third is for operational evaluations.

There is no definitive schedule yet for the second F-35B sea-trial onboard USS Wasp.