The Joint Light Tactical Vehicle - Photo Courtesy of the Army Times
Debt Crisis? Bah! The US Army has announced that it’s getting close to holding a full and open competition for its next generation Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV). This ground pounding bad boy has brought out almost all of the stars in the prime contracting galaxy, including Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, AM General and General Dynamics; not to mention a huge network of subcontractors.
That the JLTV is nearly ready for prime time is not a huge surprise. There has been plenty of coverage of the development phase here and elsewhere. What is somewhat surprising is the timing of the announcement, what with all of the shenanigans taking place in that big white building clearly visible across the Potomac from the Pentagon. If the Army gets its way, the JLTV, along with the Humvee Recap and the upcoming Ground Combat Vehicle program, it would be making a huge investment in the ground vehicle inventory. We’ll just have to see what happens on Capitol Hill.
For a more in-depth analysis, check out Philip Ewing’s article on DoD Buzz.
Sometime in early August, Uncle Sam’s checking account is going to get pretty messy if Congress and the President can’t arrive at some sort of meaningful solution. Is this a stupid, manufactured disaster? Probably so. Will that change the facts on the ground if the government is in default? Not at all.
In the middle of the noise surrounding debt payments and social security checks, there’s been very little noise about that other category of government payees: the government contractors. If the US government has to start prioritizing who gets paid first, you may not be too high on their list. Granted, no one at DoD or Treasury can even begin to predict the downrange impacts of default, but it’s pretty obvious that payments would almost immediately be affected.
Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail, but I would keep my eye on this one. It could get ugly in a hurry.
Atlantis Thundered off the Launchpad on Her Final Voyage
Today was a big day in the history of manned spaceflight in the US. The last flight of the space shuttle Atlantis marks the end of one of the most iconic (and expensive) programs the country has ever undertaken. Whether the shuttle program was worth it will be debated by historians for a long time to come. There is, however, no question about the inspirational power of that beautiful spaceship and its influence on a generation of dreamers around the world. There’s no way I would be sitting in this chair if it weren’t for my first space shuttle poster in 1980. The big question now is: what’s next?
Sure, there are some programs in the offing. Constellation and Orion are still in development, but NASA’s funding is sure to take a hit along with the rest of government. SpaceX is also cranking out more sophisticated versions of its Falcon launch vehicles under the NASA COTS contract, and their Dragon capsule is set to be tested later this year. Still, it’s conceivable that Americans won’t reach orbit on a homemade platform until well into the middle of the decade. In the mean time, Russia will be carrying the freight. What a country!
Congrats to the NASA team at KSC and Johnson, and to the hundreds of contractors who made it possible to fly such a magnificent system. Now lets look to our Congress to ensure that America continues to play a leadership role in manned spaceflight. To give up that mantle puts us permanently out of the inspiration and innovation business, and that’s not good for anyone.
US Air Force MQ-9 "Reaper" (Photo Courtesy of USAF)
If imitation is the highest form of flattery, then the US defense industry should be awfully proud of itself. Just look around the world at all of the new unmanned systems in development. In today’s Washington Post, there’s a great piece on the global proliferation of unmanned drones, and the implications for both the US military and industry. My favorite quote was this little nugget:
“The United States doesn’t export many attack drones, so we’re taking advantage of that hole in the market,” said Zhang Qiaoliang, a representative of the Chengdu Aircraft Design and Research Institute, which manufactures many of the most advanced military aircraft for the People’s Liberation Army. “The main reason is the amazing demand in the market for drones after 9/11.”
This quote captures the horrible crunch that our industry and government partners face as a result of strict US export rules. On one hand, we don’t want our best technologies falling into the hands of the bad guys. On the other hand, we’re giving Mr. Zhang (quoted above) a pretty strong market incentive to copy our technologies at a lower cost and beat us over the head in global markets. That stings.
Doom and gloom aside, I think this analysis, while excellent, misses an important point. China, India, Russia and Israel can have all the drones they want, and probably will. What they don’t have is almost as important as what they do have: Global Positioning Systems, highly encrypted SATCOM, and other high dollar systems that make the US drones a more integrated component of our arsenal. I’m not losing any sleep just yet, but this is a trend to keep your eye on.
Read the whole Washington Post article here.
Robert Gates is Stepping Down as Secretary of Defense
After 30 years of public service under eight presidents of both parties, Robert Gates is stepping down as the 22nd Secretary of Defense. His 4 1/2 year tenure as SecDef under presidents Bush and Obama was arguably one of the most difficult and eventful terms ever served. Leon Panetta, his relief, is another longtime Washington hand, but he has some pretty big shoes to fill. Gates’ skill on Capitol Hill and inside the byzantine Pentagon bureaucracy will be hard to match.
What’s next for the newly minted “Mister” Gates? Well, he’s been talking about that house here in the Northwest for a while now, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re bumping around the Kitsap Peninsula. You never know where he might pop up.
The Paris Air Show is now in full swing, and a number of our good friends in the blogosphere are featuring wall-to-wall coverage of all the news coming out of Le Bourget. Sadly, the PNDC budget doesn’t support such a fancy-pants excursion, so I’m relegated to reading about it like most of the rest of the world.
This interesting bit of news coming out of Paris caught my eye. While quite a bit of the news on this site refers to DoD issues, PNDC has a number of members (like Simplex Manufacturing and Columbia Helicopters) who are players in the airborne firefighting market. This relatively new plane from Russian aircraft manufacturer Beriev being shopped around Paris has been fighting fires in Europe, and is knocking on the door of the North American market. Looking at the huge fire currently burning in AZ, I think such a machine just might find a market.
Read the original story from msnbc.com here.
Army Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) Vehicles
If you want to know where the Pentagon is dropping taxpayer dollars in vast quantities, look for big rolling objects. That’s the word from an analysis by Michael Fabey in AvWeek’s Aerospace Daily and Defense Report. Here’s an excerpt:
While the Pentagon lists tracked combat vehicles, wheeled combat vehicles and trucks as individual line items within the top 10 of the Defense Department expense list for 2010, the three categories together tally up to about $12.8 billion, which would put them at the top of the list — the same spot their combined total occupied a year ago, according to an Aerospace DAILY analysis of data provided by the National Institute for Computer-Assisted Reporting.
Tracked combat, assault and tactical vehicles lead the ground expenses with about $5 billion in contracts and modifications, the analysis shows — good enough to place fourth in total individual-line Pentagon transactions.
Pending any decisions on force strength in Afghanistan, this looks to be an area where the Pentagon will be forced to spend dollars for quite a few years to come. Given the number of metals manufacturers in Portland and Seattle that supply the heavy vehicles market, it’s a fair bet that a chunk of the supply chain is located around these parts. Absent from the short list of big recipients is local favorite Daimler Trucks North America, which manufactures a number of large military trucks for Uncle Sam.
Kudos to Philip Ewing at DoD Buzz for catching the story. Read the full article here.
10 C-17s are heading to India
The budget situation in the United States looks pretty awful for the foreseeable future. Where the Department of Defense will land in the upcoming slew of red ink is still an open (and much debated) question, but nobody is placing bets on a boom in major defense programs any time soon.
That’s why the recent decision by the Indian government to order 10 C-17’s from Boeing is such a relief to companies up and down the West Coast and around the country. This win for Boeing guarantees that their Long Beach, CA based production line will be cranking out the Globemaster until 2014. The effects of this one order can be seen all over the Northwest, including companies like Portland based Precision Castparts Corp, who supplies parts for the cargo plane.
This new order from India highlights a trend of major exports of US defense products. W.J. Hennigan penned an excellent summary of the export market in today’s Los Angeles Times, and it’s definitely worth a read. While the future climate for the domestic US defense market could still best be described as lousy, every dark cloud has a silver lining. Perhaps the export market is just what the doctor ordered.
Update (6/17/11):As if on cue, Australia makes me look awfully smart.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: Enjoying his last few weeks on the job
Well, the outgoing SECDEF is not exactly going quietly into that good night. Robert Gates’ farewell tour has spanned the globe, and his opinions on a wide range of issues have kicked up dust at just about every stop. The latest? That grand ‘ol punching bag known as Europe, which leads to my favorite headline of the week: “Gates to NATO: You Guys Suck“.
From DoD Buzz:
Have you ever imagined quitting your job and telling your old cretin of a boss exactly what you think of him? Of course — it’s the American dream. And Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is living it right now, having gone to the doorstep of one of the world’s most ossified, stultifying bureaucracies — NATO — and delivered this message: Get your act together.
Click here to read Philip Ewing’s full article. It’s a great piece.
The Next Generation Insitu Product: Integrator
Wired.com’s Danger Room has a great piece on the future of the Unmanned Systems business. Needless to say, if you’re somebody in the supply chain already, this makes you look pretty smart:
But based on current tech trends (everything always gets more expensive), anticipated (that is to say, flat) budgets and projected threats (China and terrorists, as usual), the military believes it can make do for the next three decades with air fleets roughly the same size as today’s — with just one big exception. The robot air force will double in just the next nine years.
Not bad if you’re in the business. If you’re not, well, you might want to reconsider. Check out the full piece here.