Marines Buy 2 XQ-58A Valkyrie Drones for ‘Collaborative Killer’ Concept Testing

The Marine Corps used a new Pentagon program designed to quickly prototype systems for conflict in the Pacific to buy two unmanned aerial vehicles last month for $15.5 million, a service official told USNI News on Tuesday. The contract to Kratos for the pair of XQ-58A Valkyrie “loyal wingman” drones was bought through the Naval Air […]

The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle designed and built by Kratos. US Air Force Photo

The Marine Corps used a new Pentagon program designed to quickly prototype systems for conflict in the Pacific to buy two unmanned aerial vehicles last month for $15.5 million, a service official told USNI News on Tuesday.

The contract to Kratos for the pair of XQ-58A Valkyrie “loyal wingman” drones was bought through the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division under the Department of Defense Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve (RDER) and wasn’t part of the Navy’s ongoing Next Generation Air Dominance program, Marine Maj. Jay Hernandez told USNI News.

“This purchase is part of ongoing USMC efforts to look at future autonomous collaborative platforms and is not tied to the Next Generation Air Dominance Program, or any other Air Force or Navy programs. The base contract was awarded primarily for the baseline aircraft—a decision for future modifications and operations has not been made as these aircraft are for experimental use,” he said.
“This project officially started with the award of the base contract and will develop into experimentation in [Fiscal Year] 24.”

The Pentagon awarded the contract on Dec. 30, and the initial announcement did not say the purchase was for the Marine RDER effort. Naval Air Systems Command did not respond to a request for comment when asked by USNI News in December. Breaking Defense first reported the contract’s connection to the Marines on Monday.

The UASs should have “sensor and weapon system payloads to accomplish the penetrating affordable autonomous collaborative killer” mission, according to the DoD announcement.

The two drones are part of the RDER experimentation program that allows services to military items to quickly test concepts with systems already in use in other arenas with an emphasis on the needs of commands in the Indo-Pacific.

2018 Kratos data sheet on the XQ-58 UAVs

“RDER is really a whole of [Defense Department] effort that’s focused on the exploitation of advanced technologies in order to provide capabilities that address some of our most pressing or difficult military challenges,” Air Force Col. Corey Beaverson said at the National Defense Industrial Association’s Future Force 2022 conference in September, reported National Defense Magazine.
“The focus is going to be on long-range kill chains, long-range fires, command and control capabilities: how do we operate in a contested logistics environment? How do we defend forward fixed bases?”

The Valkyries were developed by the Air Force Research Laboratory to be a high-speed, low-cost aircraft developed for the AFRL’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) project.

“The LCAAT portfolio was established to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft and provide an unmanned escort or wingman aircraft alongside a crewed fighter aircraft in combat,” according to Kratos.

The XQ-58As can operate without a runway and carry a variety of payloads from weapons to communication relays at a range of about 3,000 nautical miles with a cruising speed of about 550 miles per hour, according to a 2018 datasheet from Kratos. In addition to launching from land, Kratos developed a version of the UAV that can be moved in a standard shipping container.

Both the Air Force and Marines are developing expeditionary aviation concepts for their respective services. The Air Force is refining its Agile Combat Employment – a concept that disperses combat air power across several expeditionary bases. The Marines have also experimented with the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) that will be key to how it says it will fight in the island campaigns in modern conflict. The Marines have tested assembling remote airfields to support F-35s in austere locations.

The Marines are also experimenting with other unmanned vehicles like the MQ-9 Reaper UAV, unmanned ground vehicles and is developing its own large, unmanned surface vessel program.

Navy Buys 2 ‘Loyal Wingman’ XQ-58A Valkyrie Drones for $15.5M

The Navy is buying two stealth unmanned aerial systems – originally developed for the Air Force – that could operate with a manned fighter, as the service pursues the manned-unmanned teaming concept officials say is central to the future of naval aviation. The service issued a $15.5 million contract to Kratos for the XQ-58A Valkyrie […]

An XQ-58A Valkyrie low-cost unmanned aerial vehicle launches at the U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground, Ariz., Dec. 9, 2020. US Air Force Photo

The Navy is buying two stealth unmanned aerial systems – originally developed for the Air Force – that could operate with a manned fighter, as the service pursues the manned-unmanned teaming concept officials say is central to the future of naval aviation.

The service issued a $15.5 million contract to Kratos for the XQ-58A Valkyrie unmanned aerial system, according to a Dec. 30 Defense Department contract announcement.

The UASs should have “sensor and weapon system payloads to accomplish the penetrating affordable autonomous collaborative killer” mission, according to the DoD announcement.

The Navy is currently developing its sixth-generation Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, which officials have said will be a family of manned and unmanned systems, with a manned fighter currently known as F/A-XX operating as the centerpiece. The Navy plans to employ the systems in what it calls a manned-unmanned teaming concept.

Naval Air Systems Command did not immediately respond to USNI News when asked for more information about the XQ-58A contract and how it fits in with NGAD development.

Navy officials have provided few details about NGAD’s development and have kept the research and development costs classified for the last three budget cycles.

“The NGAD [family of systems] will replace the F/A-18E/F Block II aircraft as they begin to reach end of service life in the 2030s and leverage Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) in order to provide increased lethality and survivability,” according to joint testimony that Department of Navy acquisition officials gave to Congress earlier this year. “F/A-XX is the strike fighter component of the NGAD FoS that will be the ‘Quarterback’ of the MUM-T concept, directing multiple tactical platforms at the leading edge of the battlespace.”

A U.S. Air Force test squadron already has XQ-58A aircraft to experiment with and the service could pursue a program that would employ UASs with manned fighters, Breaking Defense reported in November. The “loyal wingman” is key to the development of the Air Force’s next-generation fighter. The idea is that the UAS would act as an adjunct payload capability to the manned fighters.

“The Kratos XQ-58 Valkyrie is an experimental stealthy unmanned combat aerial vehicle designed and built by Kratos for the United States Air Force Low-Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator program, under the USAF Research Laboratory’s Low-Cost Attritable Aircraft Technology (LCAAT) project portfolio,” according to the KRATOS website.
“The LCAAT portfolio was established to break the escalating cost trajectory of tactically relevant aircraft and provide an unmanned escort or wingman aircraft alongside a crewed fighter aircraft in combat.”

In addition to operating from land, Kratos has developed a version of the drone that can be transported in a standard shipping container.

GAO Report on U.S. Tactical Military Aircraft

The following is the Government Accountability Office report, Tactical Aircraft Investments: DoD Needs Additional Portfolio Analysis to Inform Future Budget Decisions.  From the report What GAO Found Tactical aircraft—fixed-wing fighter and attack planes—provide air-to-air, air-to-ground, and electronic warfare capabilities that are vital to combat operations and homeland defense. Recent studies conducted by the Department of […]

The following is the Government Accountability Office report, Tactical Aircraft Investments: DoD Needs Additional Portfolio Analysis to Inform Future Budget Decisions. 

From the report

What GAO Found

Tactical aircraft—fixed-wing fighter and attack planes—provide air-to-air, air-to-ground, and electronic warfare capabilities that are vital to combat operations and homeland defense. Recent studies conducted by the Department of Defense’s (DOD) Joint Staff and the military services have found that DOD needs to modernize its tactical aircraft fleet. Seven of eight studies found that existing aircraft did not have the capabilities needed to compete in future combat scenarios and some noted the need to invest in advanced technologies to address future needs. Three of the studies, which the Navy prepared, identified shortfalls in the Navy’s capacity, or inventory of tactical aircraft.
Over the next 5 years, the military services are proposing to acquire new aircraft while modernizing existing ones. Overall, the Air Force and Navy expect to spend roughly $20 billion annually across the tactical aircraft portfolio through 2027 to develop and produce new aircraft (see figure). At the same time, the services are proposing to retire a significant number of aircraft, reducing overall tactical aircraft capacity.

DOD is making significant development and procurement investments but has not yet conducted integrated acquisition portfolio-level analyses of its tactical aircraft platforms. GAO has long reported on needed improvements to DOD’s portfolio management practices such as collectively analyzing program interdependencies and risks. Portfolio management best practices state that comprehensive portfolio analyses should include potential tradeoffs and risks, among other things. While DOD has taken steps to improve portfolio management practices and conducted some integrated portfolio analyses, it has not yet conducted such an analysis of its fixed-wing tactical aircraft platform portfolio. Further, DOD guidance does not require that information underlying these analyses be reported to Congress. Without an analysis of the tactical aircraft platform portfolio and a requirement to report underlying information externally, DOD and Congress will continue to have limited information when making major investment decisions.

Why GAO Did This Study

Most of DOD’s existing tactical aircraft first entered service in the 1970s and 1980s and have exceeded their original service lives. As DOD seeks to modernize its tactical aircraft fleet, it must balance sustaining older aircraft currently in operation with developing and procuring more advanced capabilities to support the future force. This is a public version of a sensitive report issued in November 2022. Aircraft divestment details were deemed sensitive and have been omitted from this report.

A House report included a provision for GAO to review DOD’s tactical aircraft capability gaps and capacity shortfalls, among other things. GAO’s review (1) describes DOD tactical aircraft studies regarding projected gaps and shortfalls and (2) assesses DOD portfolio-level analyses informing tactical aircraft investments.

GAO reviewed eight military service and DOD studies completed between January 2020 and January 2022; analyzed budget documentation and related investment analyses for selected piloted aircraft in the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps tactical aircraft fleets; examined DOD portfolio management guidance and decision-making processes; discussed them with relevant officials; and compared those processes to portfolio management best practices.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is recommending that DOD (1) conduct integrated acquisition portfolio-level analysis of all fixed-wing tactical aircraft platforms and (2) require the information underpinning that analysis be provided to Congress. DOD generally concurred with GAO’s recommendations.

Download the document here.

GAO Report on Gaps in U.S. Military Aircraft Readiness

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Weapon System Sustainment Aircraft Mission Capable Goals Were Generally Not Met and Sustainment Costs Varied by Aircraft. From the report GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years […]

The following is the Nov. 10, 2022, Government Accountability Office report, Weapon System Sustainment Aircraft Mission Capable Goals Were Generally Not Met and Sustainment Costs Varied by Aircraft.

From the report

GAO examined 49 aircraft and found that only four met their annual mission capable goal in a majority of the years from fiscal years 2011 through 2021. As shown below, 26 aircraft did not meet their annual mission capable goal in any fiscal year. The mission capable rate—the percentage of total time when the aircraft can fly and perform at least one mission—is used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet.

Comparing fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2021, the average mission capable rate for the selected aircraft has fallen for the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps, to varying degrees. The average mission capable rate for the selected Army aircraft has risen.

For fiscal year 2021, GAO found that only two of the 49 aircraft examined met the service-established mission capable goal. More specifically, for fiscal year 2021, 30 aircraft were more than 10 percentage points below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021; and 17 aircraft were 10 percentage points or less below the mission capable goal in fiscal year 2021.

Many of the selected aircraft are facing one or more sustainment challenges, as shown below. According to program officials, these challenges have an effect on mission capable rates.

Operating and support (O&S) costs totaled about $54 billion in fiscal year 2020 for the reviewed aircraft—a decrease of about $2.9 billion since fiscal year 2011 after factoring in inflation using constant fiscal year 2020 dollars. Maintenance costs became a larger portion of O&S costs—increasing by $1.2 billion since fiscal year 2011. Air Force and Army O&S costs have decreased, while Navy and Marine Corps O&S costs have increased. Based on our analysis and information provided by the program offices, these trends have largely been driven by changes in the size of aircraft inventory and reduced flying hours. Additionally, O&S costs have varied widely across aircraft fleets. For example, the total fiscal year 2020 O&S costs for the systems we reviewed ranged from about $97 million for the KC-130T fleet (Navy and Marine Corps) to a high of about $4.3 billion for the F-16 fleet (Air Force). Based on our analysis and information provided by the system program offices, cost variances were based on aircraft type and factors such as age of the fleet, the number of aircraft included in the inventory, and the number of flying hours flown by a fleet.

The Department of Defense (DOD) spends tens of billions of dollars annually to sustain its weapon systems in an effort to ensure that these systems are available to simultaneously support today’s military operations and maintain the capability to meet future defense requirements. This report provides observations on mission capable rates and costs to operate and sustain 49 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

Download the document here.

Report to Congress on Turkey, U.S. Relations

The following is the Aug. 5, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief. From the report U.S. relations with Turkey take place within a complicated environment and with Turkey in economic distress. Existing U.S.-Turkey tensions that worsened after a failed 2016 coup in Turkey—including ongoing disagreements over Syrian Kurds and […]

The following is the Aug. 5, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Turkey: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief.

From the report

U.S. relations with Turkey take place within a complicated environment and with Turkey in economic distress. Existing U.S.-Turkey tensions that worsened after a failed 2016 coup in Turkey—including ongoing disagreements over Syrian Kurds and Turkey’s 2019 procurement of a Russian S-400 surface-to-air defense system—have raised questions about the future of bilateral relations. Nevertheless, U.S. and Turkish officials emphasize the importance of continued cooperation and Turkey’s membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The following are major factors in the U.S.-Turkey relationship.

Erdogan’s rule and Turkey’s economic challenges. Many observers voice worries about President Erdogan’s largely authoritarian rule. In late 2021, an ongoing currency crisis accelerated after he installed a central bank governor who lowered interest rates, generating major domestic concern about inflation (the official annual figure was nearly 80% in July 2022) and the country’s future financial stability. Presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 2023, and public opinion polls suggest that Erdogan may be vulnerable to defeat. Some observers debate whether (1) free and fair elections could take place, (2) opposition parties can attract support across ideological lines, and (3) Erdogan would cede power after an electoral loss.

Turkey’s strategic orientation. Traditionally, Turkey has relied closely on the United States and NATO for defense cooperation, European countries for trade and investment, and Russia and Iran for energy imports. Turkey’s ongoing economic struggles highlight the risks it faces if it jeopardizes these ties. A number of complicated situations in Turkey’s surrounding region affect its relationships with the United States and other key actors, as Turkey seeks a more independent foreign policy. These include Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Syria’s civil war (during which more than 3.6 million refugees have come to Turkey), and other challenges involving Greece, Cyprus, and Libya. Since 2021, Turkey has made some headway in easing tensions and boosting trade with Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

Russia’s war on Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened challenges Turkey faces in balancing relations with the two countries, with implications for U.S.-Turkey ties. Turkey has not joined sanctions against Russia, with which it has close trade and energy ties, likely because it hopes to minimize spillover effects to its national security and economy. The movement of some Russian assets and business operations to Turkey has caused some Western concern about possible Russian sanctions evasion. However, U.S. and Turkish interests in countering Russian revisionist aims may have converged, as Turkey has worked in parallel with other NATO countries in strengthening Ukraine’s defense capabilities. Turkey has sold several Turkish-origin Bayraktar TB2 drones to Ukraine as part of deepening bilateral defense cooperation, and the drones appear to have had some success against Russian military targets. These reported successes have bolstered the TB2’s already strong reputation from conflicts in Syria, Libya, and Nagorno-Karabakh, increasing the demand for Turkish defense exports, as well as opportunities for Turkey to build broader ties with a number of countries. Under Turkey’s authority to regulate access to the Black Sea under the 1936 Montreux Convention, it has generally barred Russian and Ukrainian warships from transiting the Bosphorus and Dardanelles Straits, drawing statements of support from U.S. officials. Turkey also has advised other countries’ naval vessels to avoid the Straits, leading some observers to raise questions about security and freedom of navigation for other Black Sea countries, and about NATO’s role in the region.

Swedish/Finnish NATO accession and Syria. In June 2022, Turkey reached agreement with Sweden and Finland to end Turkey’s delay of their formal NATO accession process. Sweden and Finland agreed to address Turkish objections to external support for individuals or groups that Turkey considers to be connected to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (Kurdish acronym PKK, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization), including a Syrian Kurdish group helping the anti-Islamic State coalition. However, President Erdogan has warned that Turkey’s final approval of Swedish and Finnish NATO membership could depend on whether the two countries extradite certain individuals to Turkey. Meanwhile, Turkey has publicly discussed a new military operation in Syria aimed at displacing PKK-linked Syrian Kurds from areas near its border, but U.S. and Russian concerns may affect whether and how such an operation occurs.

U.S.-Turkey arms sales issues (including F-16s). Turkey’s S-400 acquisition from Russia has had significant repercussions for U.S.-Turkey relations, leading to Turkey’s removal from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and U.S. sanctions on Turkey’s defense procurement agency. The continuing U.S.-Turkey impasse over the S-400 or other issues could prevent or complicate major Western arms sales to Turkey. In April 2022, the Biden Administration reportedly notified Congress informally of its intent to upgrade Turkey’s aging F-16 fleet, and President Biden expressed support in June for the upgrades and new F-16 sales to Turkey, in the context of enhancing Turkey’s military capabilities as a NATO ally at a time of renewed tension with Russia. Some Members of Congress continue to express opposition to major arms sales to Turkey, with Turkey-Greece tensions as one factor informing the debate.

Download the document here.

GAO Report: Navy, Air Force Declining Aircraft Mission Capable Rates

The following is the June Government Accountability Office report, Air Force and Navy Aviation: Actions Needed to Address Persistent Sustainment Risks. From the report What GAO Found  Mission capable rates—a metric used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet—and other related maintenance metrics trends have worsened since fiscal year 2015 for eight […]

The following is the June Government Accountability Office report, Air Force and Navy Aviation: Actions Needed to Address Persistent Sustainment Risks.

From the report

What GAO Found 

Mission capable rates—a metric used to assess the health and readiness of an aircraft fleet—and other related maintenance metrics trends have worsened since fiscal year 2015 for eight selected aircraft.

While the Air Force and Navy have initiatives to address unit-level maintenance challenges, neither service has mitigated persistent fixed-wing aircraft sustainment risks. A statute enacted in 2016 requires the services to conduct sustainment reviews for major weapon systems to assess their product support strategy and performance, among other things. GAO found, however, that the Air Force and Navy have not completed these sustainment reviews for all aircraft (see figure). Both the Air Force and Navy have plans to complete the required sustainment reviews by the end of fiscal years 2025 and 2035, respectively.

Without the Air Force and Navy prioritizing the completion of required sustainment reviews and updating their schedules to complete the reviews in a timelier manner, the services are missing opportunities to identify maintenance and other risks to aircraft availability. Further, neither the Air Force nor the Navy have completed mitigation plans to remedy maintenance challenges, risks, or related impacts identified in any sustainment reviews. As a result, the Air Force and Navy cannot fully address unit-level aviation maintenance challenges affecting aircraft availability required for training and operations. If Congress required the Air Force and Navy to submit mitigation plans to Congress related to maintenance challenges and risks to aircraft availability found in sustainment reviews, it would enhance the services’ accountability for taking the necessary and appropriate actions to address persistent challenges to aircraft availability.

Download the document here.

Pentagon Acquisition Chief Nominee Argues Navy Needs Larger, More Survivable Fleet

The nominee for the Pentagon’s top acquisition post told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Navy needs a larger and more survivable fleet. “We need more numbers” when it comes to Navy fleet size and “we want survivable; we want strike” for the future,” William LaPlante, a former assistant secretary of the Air […]

USS Princeton (CG-59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Halsey (DDG-97) and USS John Paul Jones (DDG-53) steam in formation during a composite unit training exercise (COMPTUEX) on May 12, 2020. US Navy Photo

The nominee for the Pentagon’s top acquisition post told the Senate Armed Services Committee today that the Navy needs a larger and more survivable fleet.
“We need more numbers” when it comes to Navy fleet size and “we want survivable; we want strike” for the future,” William LaPlante, a former assistant secretary of the Air Force, said in his opening statement before the panel on Tuesday. If confirmed to the post, LaPlante said his focus “must be laser-like on [acquiring] speed and scale” through software.

Erik Raven, a long-time Senate Appropriations Committee staffer and the nominee to service as the Navy’s under secretary, said in opening remarks that modernization “means identifying the capabilities that are needed, setting a plan for acquiring them, and working with partners in industry to deliver them efficiently.”

He added later, “the 30-year shipbuilding plan is a signal to industry” of what to expect from the Navy in the way of contracts and mix of ships. But “the force structure assessment is another key element” in determining fleet size. He added the latest assessment is to be “completed in the near future.”

Current Navy fleet size requirement is set at 355 ships; there are 298 ships in the fleet now, according to the service.

The federal budget for Fiscal Year 2023 is slated for release on Monday.

“We learned the lesson from Ford and thankfully we learned the lesson from F-35 … that you have to have mature technology” and realistic cost estimates in big-ticket platforms with hosts of new software, LaPlante said of the Ford-class aircraft carrier program and the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.

In written comments, LaPlante added, “my understanding is that there are clear sustainment challenges facing the F-35 program in terms of both readiness and affordability,” with the goal of reducing the high sustainability costs.

He said a good model going forward in these programs would be to look to the Air Force’s B-21 bomber. That program used “open systems that we can upgrade very fast.” The key idea is “we’ve got to these capabilities into those weapons systems” that are in place as quickly as possible for future use.

“We’ve known about modular systems for 20 years” that would allow constant upgrading; they should “always be part of the acquisition process,” LaPlante said.

He later said that ensuring cyber security measures are in place three to four levels down among subcontractors on big-ticket platforms like ships and aircraft is critically important for their survivability in combat.

“Don’t back cyber in,” he said.

Several times Raven was asked about the importance of shipyard infrastructure and its role in readiness. Pointing to the Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP), he said “this is [a] once in a century bill” that promotes operational and industry readiness.

In written remarks LaPlante said that ‘’understanding the constraints in the supply chain, workforce, capacity and capability of the nation’s ship repair infrastructure is critical to planning effective improvements.”

Both Raven and LaPlante told the committee that COVID-19 has had an impact on shipbuilding and repair schedules in the last two years.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) pressed Raven on expanding sealift capacity, noting the Chinese have 5,500 ships in its merchant fleet while the United States has 85. Sealift is “key to our warfighting capabilities.” Raven said he would examine adding more ships to American sealift by buying more commercial vessels.

In prepared answers, Raven noted his role in developing a pilot program in the Pacific for Navy work to be done in private yards, which will be expanded to the Atlantic this year. “This pilot program seeks to increase the transparency and flexibility of ship depot maintenance efforts.” Raven added later that one of his goals, if confirmed, “is to build key partnerships” in the joint force, on Capitol Hill, with industry and the communities supporting Navy and Marine Corps installations and activities.

“The need to modernize applies not only to major platforms and breakthrough technologies like hypersonic missiles and artificial intelligence. It also applies to the facilities and infrastructure,” Raven said in his opening remarks.

On those breakthrough technologies, like hypersonics, LaPlante said the Air Force made a mistake in backing away from glide vehicles after two failures more than a decade ago. Several senators noted the service should have continued testing, as the Russian and Chinese did following failures in their hypersonic glide vehicle program.

LaPlante added the Pentagon needed to work more closely with “emerging tech eco-systems” across the country, as those eco-systems have “strong ties to academia.”

In his prepared answers, Raven said, “I believe initiatives and networks such as these are critical in identifying new technologies to the warfighter.”

During the hearing, LaPlante added the Pentagon, however, must “show you there is hope” that the new technology can move from early phases of defense spending into full production.

CNP Nowell: Navy Short More Than 5,000 Sailors for At-Sea Billets

The Navy has 5,000 to 6,000 gaps for sailors at-sea billets, the service’s senior personnel officer told a House panel on Tuesday. The Navy currently has 145,000 billets at sea, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell said during a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel hearing. Following the fatal collisions of 2017, […]

Ensign Sofia Bliek, from Vernon, Conn., on Feb. 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy has 5,000 to 6,000 gaps for sailors at-sea billets, the service’s senior personnel officer told a House panel on Tuesday.

The Navy currently has 145,000 billets at sea, Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell said during a House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel hearing. Following the fatal collisions of 2017, the Navy added 23,800 sea billets in an effort to buttress manning on surface ships. The service is in the midst of assigning sailors to the emerging positions but is falling short by 5,000 to 6,000, he said.

While the Navy has put an emphasis on having ships fully crewed as part of the reform following the 2017 collisions, there are manning issues highlighted by the gaps at-sea, Nowell said. The Navy is attempting to address them, including with the introduction of a program to encourage sailors to stay at-sea. The program, introduced in December, offers fiscal and practical incentives for sailors who choose to extend their time at sea, USNI News previously reported.

The program will also eliminate the five-year at-sea maximum rule with the goal of addressing some of the gaps, USNI News reported.

“How do we provide incentivization both monetary and nonmonetary to keep those sailors at-sea primarily and the journeyman level? We’ve really been leaning into this, and we have been helped by very good retention,” Nowell said.

One of the incentives for those positions, as well as retaining sailors in general, is the ability to stay in the same place for longer. The Marine Corps is instituting a similar program with the idea of changing jobs, not location, said Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, deputy commandant for the Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs during the hearing.

Keeping people in the same place is easier on their families, which can help keep service members in longer, both personnel chiefs said.

Having to move for a new duty is one of the reasons sailors consider leaving, according to Nowell’s written statement.

Overall, the service highlighted the geographic stability of sailors. Of the Navy’s 346,000 sailors, about 20 percent have been at the same duty station for three years, of those more than half of them have been in place for at least four years, according to Nowell’s written testimony.

Sailors assigned to Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS O’Kane (DDG-77) embrace their families after returning to their homeport at Naval Base San Diego on Feb. 6, 2022. US Navy Photo

“Feedback indicates that PCS moves and job changes continue to factor significantly in sailor and family retention decisions. From a 2018 Voice of the Sailor study report, 53 percent of sailors considered the impact of Navy moves on families as a reason to leave the Navy,” according to the statement. “Additionally, of the 38 percent of sailors with children, 65 percent considered the impact of PCS moves on their children as an influential reason to leave the Navy.”

Recruiting has been an issue for the forces, Nowell said, with agreement from the personnel chiefs of the other branches. Not only are the different services competing against each other, but the pool of applicants is also shrinking, he said.

In 2017, the Pentagon found that 70 percent of the country’s youth were ineligible for military service, USNI News previously reported.

“That’s probably one of my number one concerns,” Nowell said. “And then the other is that as we look at how we keep some of our communities that are always challenging, think cyber, think nuclear, think Naval Special Warfare or aviation, I think making sure that we have the flexibility and the agility, as Rep. [Mike] Gallagher (R-Wisc.) mentioned, with monetary and non-monetary incentives.”

Recruiting has also moved onto social media platforms, Ottignon said, adding that Marine Corps recruiters use gaming to connect with high school students. It would be helpful to be able to have more access to social media for recruiting, he said.

“I think what I would start by saying is that I agree that when we look to attract a young man or woman who looks to the Marine Corps for service, we’re looking for somebody who’s smart, tough, has a fighting spirit, courage, and it is challenging in some times in today’s environment with social media to reach out to those men and women,” Ottignon said.

Quartermaster 2nd Class, from Corpus Christi, Texas, shoots a sunline with a sextant to take a bearing from the bridge wing aboard the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG-105) while conducting routine underway operations on Jan. 30, 2022. US Navy Photo

The Navy stopped funding television ads in 2020, after determining that they were not reaching the target audience, USNI News previously reported. Instead, they opted to advertise online, with a little funding also going toward radio spots and billboards.

When it comes to recruiting for some positions, such as cyber, the Navy has tried to be creative, Nowell said. The Navy brought back the warrant officer one program for the first time since the Vietnam War. There is also more awareness that not everyone wants to be in a leadership position, he said.

There are people in the cryptologic fields who want to keep doing their tasks instead of moving into a role that requires more administrative work. So they are now allowing for that, which has been popular, Nowell said.

The Navy has also used lateral entry options to bring in 44 sailors for cryptologic warfare and information roles over the past two years, he said.

To keep sailors, the Navy will also use monetary and nonmonetary incentives, Nowell wrote in the statement for the subcommittee.

“Competition for talent remains high, with continued challenges in the high-demand and low-density communities of nuclear, information warfare, and special warfare,” according to this document. “We continue to use monetary and non-monetary incentives – bonuses, special duty assignment pays, and high-year tenure waivers – to keep talented individuals in the Navy.”

GAO Report on the Defense Department and Intellectual Property

The following is the November Government Accountability Office report, DOD Should Take Additional Actions to Improve How It Approaches Intellectual Property. From the report Why This Matters The Department of Defense (DOD) acquires and licenses intellectual property (IP)—such as computer software and technical data—for its cutting-edge weapon systems. Yet, DOD often does not acquire the […]

The following is the November Government Accountability Office report, DOD Should Take Additional Actions to Improve How It
Approaches Intellectual Property.

From the report

Why This Matters

The Department of Defense (DOD) acquires and licenses intellectual property (IP)—such as computer software and technical data—for its cutting-edge weapon systems. Yet, DOD often does not acquire the IP it needs to operate and maintain those systems, which can lead to surging costs later. In 2019, DOD assigned specific IP responsibilities to organizations within the department.

Key Takeaways

DOD organizations are working to meet their assigned IP responsibilities. However, DOD has not fully addressed how the IP Cadre—DOD’s new group of specialized experts—will fulfill all of its responsibilities. The IP Cadre faces uncertainty in these areas:

  • Funding and staffing: DOD currently plans to provide the Director of the IP Cadre and his team in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) with funding for five positions through fiscal year 2023. IP Cadre members told us the temporary positions were a disincentive during the hiring process and could present future staffing obstacles.
  • Program support: The members of the IP Cadre at OSD expect to tap into a larger pool of IP experts across DOD to support program offices by helping them develop IP strategies and negotiate with contractors, among other things. However, DOD has not yet detailed how the Director of the IP Cadre and the OSD team will work with these other experts.
  • Expertise: DOD officials said the department lacks sufficient expertise in two key areas—IP valuation (determining its worth) and financial analysis. DOD is currently conducting a pilot project to study valuation strategies. However, DOD officials said more work is needed to provide this expertise.

Determining the IP Cadre’s staffing and resource needs will help DOD better position the IP Cadre for success.
Department of Defense Intellectual Property Cadre

How GAO Did This Study

We reviewed guidance, reports, and documentation on IP issues; interviewed DOD personnel, military officials, and industry groups; and reviewed the existing regulatory and agency frameworks related to IP.

What GAO Recommends

We made four recommendations to DOD, including that DOD should determine the collaboration, staffing, and resources needed across DOD to execute its proposed approach for the IP Cadre. DOD concurred with all four recommendations.

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Report to Congress on Air Force Tanker Strategy

The following is the Nov. 5, 2021, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Air Force Tanker Strategy Change. From the report As discussed in the CRS report Air Force KC-46A Pegasus Tanker, the Air Force is in the process of replacing its fleet of 396 KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft, built in the 1950s and 60s, […]

The following is the Nov. 5, 2021, Congressional Research Service In Focus report, Air Force Tanker Strategy Change.

From the report

As discussed in the CRS report Air Force KC-46A Pegasus Tanker, the Air Force is in the process of replacing its fleet of 396 KC-135 Stratotanker refueling aircraft, built in the 1950s and 60s, and 59 KC-10 Extenders, which entered service in 1981. Recent announcements indicate that the planned replacement program is changing significantly from its original form, which Congress may consider in evaluating the FY2022 defense budget requests.

The Air Force originally envisaged replacing the current tanker fleet in three stages.

  • An initial acquisition of 179 new aircraft procured through the KC-X competition (won by the Boeing KC-46A) would replace roughly one-third of the KC-135 fleet.
  • A further 179 tankers were projected to be procured in a second solicitation called KC-Y; initially projected as a new competition based on what aircraft were available at the time, it was subsequently recast as a continuation of KC-46A procurement.
  • A third program, KC-Z, was to be a replacement for the KC-10 fleet, a larger tanker than the KC-46. Subsequently, the Air Force dropped plans for the KC-Z, envisioning it instead as a third tranche of KC-46s.

However, it now appears that tanker procurement plans have changed in at least two ways.

One is that the KC-Y program is now to be a full and open competition rather than a follow-on KC-46 contract. The Air Force released a “sources sought” notice on June 16, 2021, seeking a commercial derivative tanker aircraft. The requirement for commercial derivative, as opposed to new design, would seem to limit the field to the KC-46 and the Airbus A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport, a variant of which is being marketed in the U.S. by Lockheed Martin as the “LMXT.” An earlier version of the A330 tanker lost to Boeing after three rounds of a protracted and controversial KC-X competition.

The Air Force is referring to this prospective procurement as a “Bridge Tanker,” to fill in between the current KC-X and future KC-Z; it is not clear how or whether that nomenclature distinguishes the program from the already-scheduled KC-Y.

Download the document here.