WASHINGTON — Two months into his new job because the Air Drive’s acquisition chief, Andrew Hunter has no scarcity of challenges on his plate.
The COVID-19 pandemic and battle in Ukraine have stretched very important provide chains to their breaking level. The Air Drive is arguing with a key contractor over a program that continues to be delayed. And the service is dealing with tight timelines as it really works to develop and area new capabilities in time for a possible main battle.
In a roundtable with reporters on the Pentagon June 24, Hunter mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic and the battle in Ukraine have introduced renewed consideration to the significance of holding provide chains flowing, notably these involving chips, processors and the essential energetic supplies wanted for missiles and munitions such because the Javelin.
However one downside, Hunter mentioned, is typically the protection business can’t get the monetary backing it must ramp up manufacturing of these vital parts or supplies till the Pentagon fingers out contracts. By that time, he mentioned, “you’re at all times just a little bit behind the facility curve.”
Hunter mentioned the Pentagon is attempting to determine the way it can higher give business a extra dependable “forecast” of what supplies it would want sooner or later, to allow them to line up the required funding upfront from Wall Avenue.
And the protection industrial base wants to draw new and modern corporations that will not be conventional suppliers for the navy, Hunter mentioned.
One of many Air Drive’s extra bold current applications has been to develop a sequence of autonomous drones that would function wingmen for manned fighters or different plane flying in fight. Hunter mentioned the service is now attempting to concentrate on shifting past demonstrations and really fielding one thing that would serve on this position, which the service is now referring to as collaborative fight plane.
There’ll nonetheless be a necessity for demonstrations in areas the place the know-how wants additional refining, corresponding to in swarming drones, Hunter mentioned, and work on smaller drones that may very well be comparatively expendable will proceed. However for essentially the most half, the service goes to pay attention its efforts towards delivering one thing that may very well be operationally deployed in time to combat the subsequent potential battle.
The timeline and acquisition technique for fielding this program continues to be being labored out, Hunter mentioned. However the Air Drive would most likely contain a number of contractors as an alternative of a single prime, and reap the benefits of the expansion in competitors offering autonomy core methods in business.
Hunter mentioned the Air Drive needs to have a drone wingman prepared to make use of with the Subsequent Era Air Dominance program by the point it reaches preliminary working functionality, which it hopes to have reached by the top of this decade.
Hunter expressed confidence in Northrop Grumman’s B-21, which he mentioned is on observe to be unveiled to the general public across the finish of this 12 months, with a subsequent first flight coming in 2023. Whereas there have been initially hopes the brand new stealth bomber’s first flight may come this 12 months, he mentioned the federal government anticipated the method to finish up taking longer.
Testing will inevitably uncover points with the airplane that must be fastened, he mentioned, however these are regular elements of the method.
“I’m at all times mystified after we do a check and we discover one thing, individuals say, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s horrible!’” Hunter mentioned. “No, that’s why we do exams. We anticipate finding issues.”
Hunter mentioned the Pentagon has not but set a revised schedule for Boeing to ship its delayed substitute Air Drive Ones, however he nonetheless expects it to be about two or three years late, as he informed lawmakers final month.
It’s in Boeing’s curiosity to complete the VC-25B job as quick as potential, Hunter mentioned, as a result of it’s underneath a fixed-price contract.
“Each extra day they don’t ship the airplane, it prices them extra, they usually’re dropping cash,” Hunter mentioned.
However in what Hunter referred to as a “problematic incentive,” Boeing has additionally challenged a few of the Air Drive’s necessities for the planes by saying they’re not explicitly spelled out within the contract. At that time, he mentioned, Boeing tries to get the Air Drive to pay further for these necessities.
“If the Air Drive comes and says, ‘What we actually want the airplane to do is that this,’ Boeing says, ‘Nicely, you realize, our written contract doesn’t use these precise phrases.’ So that you get this dynamic the place they turn into very centered on, we have to end. … Something that seems to us to be in any method, form or type, not 100% required explicitly within the contract is an additional invoice.”
However he acknowledged Boeing and the Air Drive have had some issue with this system, notably in getting the data wanted to finalize the contracts.
“We are able to at all times haggle over worth, however we shouldn’t be at a loss as a result of we simply can’t get the fitting information,” together with price information, Hunter mentioned.
The Air Drive is seeing some enchancment from Boeing lately, Hunter mentioned, and he’s “moderately assured” they’ll be capable of work by these issues.
And the Air Drive is watching the company unrest at Aerojet Rocketdyne following its failed acquisition by Lockheed Martin and open battle between the corporate’s government chairman and chief government. Aerojet final month reprimanded its chairman, Warren Lichtenstein, over his makes an attempt to oust CEO Eileen Drake and feedback he made in regards to the now-scuttled merger.
Aerojet is a key provider of strong rocket motors utilized by the Air Drive.
“The federal government continues to be sort of ready to see what’s their plan, corporately?” Hunter mentioned. “After which we’ll have a chance to evaluate and say, is that actually going to fulfill our wants?”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter at Protection Information. He beforehand reported for Navy.com, masking the Pentagon, particular operations and air warfare. Earlier than that, he coated U.S. Air Drive management, personnel and operations for Air Drive Instances.