New KC-46 Deficiency Revealed as Contract Is Signed for 15 More Tankers

New KC-46 Deficiency Revealed as Contract Is Signed for 15 More Tankers

The Air Force awarded Boeing a $2.2 billion contract for 15 KC-46 tankers, the ninth lot of the aerial refuelers, just days after the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center acknowledged a previously undisclosed deficiency with the aircraft.

The latest purchase order is roughly the same as the Lot 8 order from Aug. 31, 2022. The number of aircraft is the same, but the cost slightly increased. Work on the 15 jet aircraft is expected to be completed in 2026.

The KC-46 Pegasus has suffered a stream of deficiencies since its introduction, including ongoing issues with its over-stiff boom and the remote vision system for boom operators. But the latest deficiency has nothing to do with aerial refueling; instead, the ding is for insufficient documentation for loading cargo on the jets. 

The Defense Department’s Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, disclosed the latest problem in its annual report, which noted that the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center had determined that several “individual cargo-related deficiencies merited generation of a Category I emergency deficiency report against overall KC-46A cargo operations capability.”

An Air Force Life Cycle Management Center spokesperson, responding to questions from Air & Space Forces Magazine, acknowledged the deficiency, but said it had been downgraded to a Category II deficiency in November 2022. The command did not indicate if that was based on progress toward its resolution or simply a judgment call.

The problems are related to five issues: 

  • Complex, unorganized cargo loading guidance
  • Non-standard cargo limitations, causing aircrew confusion and requirement of onboard cargo inspections
  • Restrictions regarding the cargo barrier net can prohibit loading sufficient, or any, cargo if the forward-most cargo does not meet requirements
  • Problems with the Automated Performance Tool software used to calculate aircraft weight and balance can increase loadmaster workload and require complex manual calculations, introducing potential human error
  • Aerial port operational restrictions caused by inadequate technical guidance increase workload for loading personnel and loading times, driving KC-46A incompatibilities within the Defense Transportation System

The Air Force defines Category I deficiencies as those which prevent “the accomplishment of an essential capability or critically restricts [operational safety, suitability, and effectiveness],” with no known workaround. By contrast, a Category II deficiency is one “which adversely affects an essential capability or negatively impacts operational safety, suitability, or effectiveness,” but can be overcome by “significant compensation or acceptable workaround.”

According to Air Force policy, a program manager can downgrade a submitted deficiency report provided there is agreement with the test director of the operational test agency, in this case AFOTEC. Asked if AFLCMC followed this procedure and coordinated with AFOTEC, neither agency responded.

The AFLCMC spokesman did say that “the estimated completion date for the solutions to close the DR is [the third quarter of fiscal year 2023],” putting it between April and June. No further details were offered. Boeing also did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Air Force has officially recorded nine Category I deficiencies with the KC-46, most of which officially remain open. Boeing executives told reporters in December that some of those open deficiencies are formalities at this stage, the result of infrequent meetings of the KC-46 deficiency board. 

The issues that led to this latest deficiency report are unrelated to the cargo lock problem that barred the KC-46 from carrying cargo or passengers for three months in 2019. That problem, which was solved and closed out in December 2019, required changes to the cargo pallet locks, which until then, had sometimes come unlocked in flight.  

Boeing and the Air Force have touted the KC-46’s cargo capabilities in comparison to the legacy KC-135 tanker; they have said the aircraft can carry up to 18 pallets, 114 passengers in contingency situations, or more than 50 patients for an aeromedical evacuation. 

The most prominent Category I deficiencies, however, remain months, if not years, away from being resolved, most prominently the troubled Remote Vision System, an array of cameras and screens the boom operator uses to connect and refuel other aircraft. The current setup can result in “whiteouts” or “blackouts” for the boom operator in certain lighting conditions, heightening the risk of the boom accidentally scraping a receiver aircraft. That is particularly troublesome for aircraft with stealth coatings like the F-35 fighter or B-2 bomber. 

Another key deficiency that remains unresolved is a “stiff” boom—some receiver aircraft, particularly the A-10, cannot maintain the thrust against the boom necessary to keep it engaged. As a result, the KC-46 is still not cleared to refuel A-10s. 

The rest of the Category I deficiencies are classified as “product quality,” and primarily related to cracks or leaks. Boeing is working on the issues.

Boeing has delivered more than 60 KC-46s to date, with a planned buy of 179 over the life of the program. The Air Force has also considered increasing that number rather than acquiring a so-called KC-Y in the future.

Gebara Tapped for Promotion; as 3-Star, Will Lead Nuclear Deterrence

Gebara Tapped for Promotion; as 3-Star, Will Lead Nuclear Deterrence

The head of the Air Force’s bomber fleet has been tapped for a promotion to join the Air Staff and lead the service’s strategic deterrence efforts, the Pentagon announced Jan. 27. 

If confirmed by the Senate, Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Gebara will pin on a third star and serve as deputy chief of staff of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration. He will succeed Lt. Gen. James C. Dawkins Jr. 

Gebara currently serves as the head of the 8th Air Force and commander of the Joint-Global Strike Operations Center at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. 

The 8th Air Force oversees the Air Force’s bomber and airborne nuclear command and control fleets, including the B-1, B-2, B-52, and E-4 aircraft.  

The deputy chief of strategic deterrence and nuclear integration oversees the Air Force’s nuclear deterrence efforts, including its ICBM forces. 

Before he took command of the 8th Air Force, Gebara commanded at the squadron and wing level and held positions in U.S. Central Command, U.S. Strategic Command, Headquarters Air Force, and the National Security Council. Prior to his move to the 8th Air Force in August 2021, he was director of strategic plans, programs, and requirements for Air Force Global Strike Command. 

A command pilot with more than 3,800 flight hours, Gebara flew the B-2, B-52, and A-10. Unusually, he is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and has served in four campaigns: operations Iraqi Freedom I, Allied Force, Joint Guard, and Enduring Freedom. 

Once confirmed, Gebara will take over the Air Force’s nuclear enterprise in the midst of a massive modernization drive:

  • The B-21 stealth bomber will soon make its first flight  
  • The LGM-35 Sentinel ICBM, formerly called the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, is scheduled for its first missile test this year 
  • The Long-Range Stand Off weapon, a new nuclear missile, is in development 
  • New nuclear command, control, and communications systems are coming
  • The MH-139 helicopter, used for transport and convoy of security forces around missile fields, is nearing a production decision.  

Accompanying those modernization programs have been scores of construction and infrastructure projects—and in a recent Mitchell Institute webinar, Dawkins said those projects are his most pressing concern. 

“Believe it or not, what I worry about most, more than anything right now—more than technology—is concrete and rebar, reinforcement steel that goes in the concrete to build the 650 construction projects that we have, not just in the missile fields but across the nuclear enterprise,” Dawkins said. “It has to be built in the next 12 years in 13 states.” 

Pentagon Distances Itself from Minihan Memo Suggesting Possible War with China in 2025

Pentagon Distances Itself from Minihan Memo Suggesting Possible War with China in 2025

Comments by Air Force Gen. Mike Minihan, the head of Air Mobility Command, about a potential war with China in the next few years have generated international headlines and led the Department of Defense to formally distance itself from the remarks. 

Minihan, who is known for his energetic, passionate style, prepared a memo saying that Airmen under his command at AMC should prepare to be at war with China within two years. 

“I hope I am wrong. My gut tells me we will fight in 2025.” Minihan wrote in the memo, which circulated on social media and was confirmed as authentic by Air & Space Forces Magazine.

“Xi secured his third term and set his war council in October 2022,” Minihan wrote. “Taiwan’s presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a reason. United States’ presidential elections are in 2024 and will offer Xi a distracted America. Xi’s team, reason, and opportunity are all aligned for 2025.” 

The memo was dated Feb. 1 and intended for Minihan’s subordinates at AMC, but it attracted worldwide attention when it made the rounds on social media Jan. 27.

The Department of Defense has sought to make it clear that it does not agree with Minihan’s assessment. 

“These comments are not representative of the department’s view on China,” a defense official said in comments emailed to Air & Space Forces Magazine on Jan. 28. 

A statement from Pentagon press secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder reiterated the department’s formal policy on China.

“The National Defense Strategy makes clear that China is the pacing challenge for the Department of Defense and our focus remains on working alongside allies and partners to preserve a peaceful, free and open Indo-Pacific,” Ryder said.

The public disclosure of Minihan’s comments came just before Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin left for South Korea and the Philippines on Jan. 29, as the U.S. tries to warm its relations with nations in the Pacific in a bid to counter Chinese influence. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit China in early February in an effort to dampen growing tensions and maintain top-level communications with Beijing. 

Department of Defense officials often walk a fine line when commenting on the threat posed by China, calling the country America’s ”pacing challenge” that requires the military to reorient itself toward the Pacific, while frequently saying they do not anticipate imminent conflict. 

“We believe that [the Chinese] endeavor to establish a new normal, but whether or not that means that an invasion is imminent, I seriously doubt that,” Austin said Jan. 11. 

But Minihan’s memo, which was intended to encourage his subordinates to be prepared for a potential contingency, was written in his usual colorful style, ordering Airmen with weapons qualification to brush up on their marksmanship sometime in February and “fire a clip into a 7-meter target with the full understanding that unrepentant lethality matters most.”

“Aim for the head,” Minihan added. 

Minihan also made it clear he expects Airmen to follow through on his directions.

“You need to know I alone own the pen on these orders,” Minihan wrote in the memo. “My expectations are high, and these orders are not up for negotiation. Follow them.” 

Despite the stir his comments have made, Minihan is not the first four-star uniformed officer to warn that a military confrontation with China could occur in the near future. Adm. Michael M. Gilday, the Chief of Naval Operations, said in October the U.S. should prepare to fight in 2022 or 2023

“I can’t rule that out,” Gilday said. “I don’t mean at all to be alarmist by saying that, it’s just that we can’t wish that away.” 

In 2021, Adm. Phil Davidson, then-head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), predicted China might take military action against Taiwan by 2027—a timeline that has been dubbed “the Davidson window.” 

Minihan has top-level experience in the region. Before becoming the head of the Air Force’s transport and tanker arm, he served as the deputy INDOPACOM commander from 2019-2021. 

And since taking command of AMC, Minihan has continued to stress the importance of competition with China. In a roundtable with reporters during AFA’s Air, Space, & Cyber Conference in September, he said his experience in the Indo-Pacific was the main reason he was selected for the job, and in his colorful “Mobility Manifesto” keynote, he stated that Mobility Guardian 23, AMC’s “crown jewel” exercise, will focus on the Pacific.

AMC has also pushed the envelope with record-setting refueling endurance missions and limited aircrew operations.

Minihan’s memo makes it clear he wants to keep pushing, instructing all AMC commanders to “report all 2022 accomplishments preparing for the China fight and forecast major efforts in 2023” by the end of February. 

One particular line of effort he wants to pursue involves the KC-135 Stratotanker—the memo calls for KC-135 units to “coordinate to provide a conceptual means of air delivering 100 off-the-shelf size and type UAVs from a single aircraft” by March. It is unclear what the intended use of those drones would be. 

Hypersonic ARRW Missile Criticized for Lack of Test Plan

Hypersonic ARRW Missile Criticized for Lack of Test Plan

Racing to prototype and field an operational hypersonic missile, the Air Force skipped some typical testing steps—and now should go back and address them, the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation said in his annual report to Congress.

The Air Force’s AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) flew a successful full-up test in December. But DOT&E concluded in its report that ARRW is:

  • Flying operational tests without an approved test plan;
  • Potentially vulnerable to cyber disruption;
  • At risk of insufficient test range availability; and
  • Lacking in modeling and simulation capability to properly evaluate the weapon;
  • Behind in warhead testing.

“Despite being under DOT&E oversight for over four years, the AGM-183A Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) Program Office does not have a DOT&E-approved Integrated Master Test Plan nor has the Office submitted an Operational Demonstration Plan,” notes the report, signed by DOT&E chief Nickolas H. Guertin. The Air Force is developing an integrated master plan for test, he said, which DOT&E has to approve.

ARRW is a Section 804 Rapid Prototyping, Mid-Tier Acquisition program, which leverages “lessons learned from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Tactical Boost Glide vehicle program,” the DOT&E said. Launched on an accelerated schedule because China is ahead on hypersonic technology, the weapon is being developed by Lockheed Martin.

Little has been divulged about the effort. According to DOT&E, ARRW is a “conventional, air-launched, boost-glide, hypersonic weapon consisting of a solid rocket motor booster, a glider protective shroud, and a glider vehicle containing a kinetic-energy projectile warhead.”

Launched from B-52H aircraft, ARRW aims to provide standoff capability “to destroy fixed, high-value, time-sensitive, land-based targets in anti-access/area-denial environments,” DOT&E said. But ARRW “has not yet demonstrated the required warfighting capability,” the report continued, and while the weapon is designed to swiftly destroy targets in highly-defended areas, it has not undergone formal cyber testing, and the Air Force’s ability to simulate its performance is challenged by a lack of digital models.

To get the program back on track from its perspective, DOT&E offered three recommendations:

  • Deliver an adjudicated Integrated Master Test Plan and Operational Demonstration Plan for DOT&E approval;
  • Verify, validate, and accredit modeling and simulation tools to simulate and assess ARRW performance;
  • Assess ARRW’s survivability in a cyber-contested environment.

The 412-page DOT&E report, released this month, details the testing status of major systems under development by the military services.

The ARRW has completed three successful tests “demonstrating proper function of the solid rocket motor, shroud separation,” and glider separation.

The next phase of testing began in December, with the first “all-up” test, which was deemed a success. Three more rounds with live warheads will follow in 2023.  

All ARRW tests with all-up rounds “involve land impacts,” Guertin said. “The Air Force currently is producing a limited number of ARRWs, with four all-up rounds intended for test and evaluation. But DOT&E said that is not sufficient. The limited number of planned test assets and test targets will not allow an assessment of operational effectiveness, including lethality, suitability, and survivability, the report said.

The Air Force has said it will have leftover weapons that can be operationally employed once testing is complete. The last budget funded construction of 12 ARRWs, but the program also requires Lockheed to demonstrate an ability to rapidly produce more if required.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall expressed dissatisfaction with ARRW’s progress prior to the successful tests in late 2022. DOT&E noted “hardware and software problems have delayed planned ARRW operational demonstration flights … precluding an initial assessment of risks to demonstrating the ARRW’s intended operational effectiveness.”

One attempted launch failed because “a low voltage caused a built-in-test fault upon application of power, causing the weapon to prevent launch.” Software fixes were put in place by the Air Force, allowing success on subsequent tries.

“The program also completed the last of six warhead characterization arena tests in early FY22,” the DOT&E revealed.

Industry officials said the ARRW doesn’t rely simply on the kinetic force of striking a target with high velocity but uses a warhead.

“Lethality testing is ongoing, precluding an initial assessment of ARRW warhead performance,” Guertin said. “Given the limited number of planned test events, there is risk to demonstrating the ARRW lethal effects against the required tactical and strategic targets.”

Industry officials said the warheads to be employed by hypersonic weapons can be well protected from the extreme heat at the leading edge of the missile, and Lockheed is working on electronics that can function well at high temperatures. That in turn could allow lighter-weight structures in turn permitting larger warheads or longer range.

“The Air Force plans to use engagement-level and mission-level modeling and simulation to assess ARRW survivability against surface-to-air missile systems and anti-aircraft artillery batteries,” DOT&E said, but noted that those M&S tools are not yet mature. The survivability of ARRW has not been assessed, although it high speed is expected to confer a degree of survivability.  


The report said it’s not clear if a single ARRRW could get through early warning systems, surface-to-air missile systems, and anti-aircraft-artillery batteries. “The final survivability assessment should also estimate such probabilities in the presence of multiple threat systems connected by threat-representative integrated air-defense systems capable of detecting, tracking, and engaging multiple airborne targets, including hypersonic weapons like the ARRW,” DOT&E said.

Cyber threats could also pose a risk. “An assessment of ARRW’s survivability within a cyber-contested environment is not currently scheduled, but should be completed before [an] acquisition production decision,” Guertin said. “The Air Force plans to execute an operational demonstration to assess the operational capabilities and limitations of the system, yet DOT&E has yet to see a completed Operational Demonstration Plan.”

DOT&E also signaled concern about the lack of test ranges for ARRW and other hypersonic weapons. “The program flight test schedule could be delayed due to the limited number and availability of hypersonic flight corridors, target areas, and test support assets,” Guertin said. “The program will be competing for these limited resources with other hypersonic programs, including those being developed by the Navy, Army, and Missile Defense Agency.”

The Pentagon and the Air Force have both said they plan to invest in ways to make better use of limited range space, such as using Global Hawk aircraft for data collection and telemetry, and investing in more wind tunnels and ground test capabilities.

Report: Despite Losses in Ukraine, Russia Remains a Threat in the Arctic

Report: Despite Losses in Ukraine, Russia Remains a Threat in the Arctic

American and Western officials have grown increasingly concerned about Arctic security and Russia’s threat to the region, and even as the Russian military has been degraded by its losses in Ukraine, its Arctic forces remain strong, according to a new report from the Center for Strategic Studies (CSIS)

Russia has faced heavy attrition of its ground forces in Ukraine, forcing Moscow to order the conscription of hundreds of thousands of new soldiers, but “the toll from the Ukraine war is not necessarily reflected in the other service branches in the Russian Arctic,” according to the CSIS report. 

“The naval components of Russia’s Northern Fleet, particularly its strategic submarine fleet, continue to give Moscow a credible second-strike capability,” report authors Colin Wall and Njord Wegge write, referring to Russia’s ability to launch military attacks from the region. 

Russian strategic bombers have been able to operate over Russian airspace unfettered and attack Ukraine with standoff weapons. U.S. military officials have watched the situation with concern, including the commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) Air Force Gen. Glen D. VanHerck. 

“They can take off over Russian air bases today and launch their cruise missiles from over Russia and attack almost all of North America, including the United States of America,” VanHerck said in October. 

The U.S. relies on its deterrence capabilities including its nuclear arsenal to prevent attacks on the homeland. Experts have argued America needs a more comprehensive approach to combat missile attacks on the U.S. homeland. The U.S. Missile Defense Review, released in late October, acknowledged that America must better protect itself against various missile threats. 

The Biden administration’s Arctic strategy, which was also released in October, is clear that the region is growing in its strategic importance to U.S. security. 

“We will deter threats to the U.S. homeland and our allies by enhancing the capabilities required to defend our interests in the Arctic,” the Arctic strategy states

In response to Russia’s war in Ukraine, Sweden and Finland have applied to join NATO and would join Norway as countries in the alliance with a significant presence in the Arctic. But Russia also has major interests and a large footprint in the Arctic, which is home to rich natural resources and the Northern Sea Route shipping channel in Russia’s exclusive economic zone. 

“There’s no sign that Russia intends to slow down or stop these projects,” Wall said during a CSIS launch event for the report

The CSIS report offers recommendations for the Biden administration to help better protect the U.S. and its allies without further militarizing the Arctic. 

“There are indirect, light-touch ways to enhance Arctic security: effective imposition of the sanctions regime concerning dual-use computer chips seems to be one way to diminish the conventional Russian threat in the Arctic that does not involve deploying U.S. military assets or personnel to the region,” the report says. 

The U.S. has extensive export controls to prevent U.S. technology from fueling Russia’s military arsenal. However, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has examined Russian weapons used in Ukraine and found they make use of U.S. and Western technology and noted that Russia has a variety of ways to acquire such technology, such as front companies. 

“These are fielded on Arctic assets,” Wall said. 

Despite current U.S. sanctions, Russia’s previous technological development poses an issue, which VanHerck has often highlighted. 

While the CSIS experts cautioned against escalating tensions in the Arctic, they also acknowledged a need for NATO and the U.S. to bolster their presence in the region. The U.S. recently activated the 11th Airborne Division in Alaska and the Marines routinely conduct Arctic training. NORTHCOM also hosts a biennial defense exercise known as Arctic Edge, which includes the use of Air Force aircraft. 

“I think there is a need on the U.S. side to rebuild some of this institutional knowledge that you had during the Cold War that you are capable of actually deploying there,” Wagge said. 

Ukraine Wants F-16s. The U.S. and NATO Aren’t Budging

Ukraine Wants F-16s. The U.S. and NATO Aren’t Budging

Ukraine is stepping up its appeals for modern fighter jets now that the U.S and NATO allies have agreed to send main battle tanks to help counter Russia’s stepped up ground attacks, a Ukrainian official said. 

“Until today, the major focus in the discussions have been the tanks,” Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine’s defense minister Oleksii Reznikov told Air & Space Forces Magazine. “Now we’ll start talking about jets.” 

American-made F-16s top Ukraine’s wish list. Swedish-made Gripens, designed to operate from spartan airfields with a limited support crew, as well as other fourth-generation fighters also would be welcomed by Kyiv, but Sak said Ukraine’s hope is that Washington will eventually support the transfer of F-16s. 

“F-16[s] are best suited for our situations,” Sak said.  

Ukraine has repeatedly asked for Western jets since the start of the war. It has also sought longer-distance ATACMS surface-to-surface missiles. But the Biden administration so far has held the line at weapons with the reach to take the war beyond Ukraine’s borders, fearing such a move might be seen by the Russians as escalatory, leading to a direct clash between U.S. and Russian forces.  

Deputy Pentagon press secretary Sabrina Singh said in a Jan. 26 briefing that F-16s were “another challenging system that would require training,” noting that even if the aircraft were provided, it would take time for Ukraine’s pilots to become proficient enough for combat.  

The U.S. and its partners have gradually expanded the types of weapons systems provided to Ukraine, and some weapons that the West initially declined to provide have, ultimately, been offered, including the PATRIOT air defense system and M1 tanks. Ukrainian troops are training to operate PATRIOT at Fort Sill, Okla. The Netherlands and Germany have since also pledged to provide PATRIOT systems.  

Just a week after the Pentagon strongly argued the case against providing Abrams M1 tanks, President Biden decided to do so anyway after Germany declined to send or allow others to send German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine unless the U.S. offered its own M1s.   

It’s not yet clear where those tanks will come from. General Dynamics could produce new tanks or refurbish existing tanks from the U.S. inventory. Either way, it will take months if not a year before the M1s arrive, making them arrive too late for any sort of spring offensive. But the U.S. no longer seems concerned that the Abrams can’t be supported by Ukraine.   

“The Ukrainians have proven that they can learn complicated, complex, challenging systems,” Singh said. 


Plans to bolster Ukraine’s air forces are still unclear, but the issue is becoming a major concern. 

“Unless Ukraine acquires a replacement fighter force of Western origin in the coming months, it will lose the ability to defend its airspace and support its ground forces, and without control of their airspace they will lose,” said retired Lt. Gen. David A. Deptula, dean of AFA’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. “Some have raised the practical challenges of pilot training, supply, maintenance, etc. The Ukrainian Air Force can overcome these challenges.” 

Air power analysts have said providing Western aircraft and more advanced air-to-air missiles are essential to enabling Ukraine to defend its cities and infrastructure against punishing missile and Shahed drone attacks

“The Ukrainian Air Force fighter force needs modern Western fighters and missiles to sustainably counter the VKS,” the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) wrote in a November report, referring to the Russian Aerospace Forces. “Russian pilots have been cautious throughout the war, so even a small number of Western fighters could have a major deterrent effect.” 

Justin Bronk, a co-author of that report, said in an interview that the addition of Western fighters would provide Ukraine with a “much better ability” to defend against Russian air threats and cruise missile and drone attacks.  

Due to Russia’s air defenses, he said, providing the aircraft to Ukraine “would not be a decisive battlefield swing in terms of their ability to conduct air support.” 

The most significant threat to Ukrainian aircraft, according to RUSI, are Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile sites deployed in Russian-occupied Crimea and Belarus, which has forced Ukrainian pilots to fly low to avoid detection. This would likely still be the case even if Ukraine was provided with Western fourth-generation fighters. 

“I think it’s really crucial to understand the constraints that will be placed by dense and in some cases very long-range Russian ground-based threats,” Bronk said. “They would all have great difficulty operating above very low level within tens of kilometers from the frontline. So they would have to stay low. That would greatly constrain their weapons employment and their sensor picture options.”  

The U.S. has provided Ukraine’s Air Force with AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles that can be used against surface-to-air missile sites. Recently, the U.S. has added more strike capability by providing 4,000 Zuni rocket aircraft rockets, a legacy U.S. weapon that carries a small warhead as well as providing an unspecified number of JDAM precision-guided bombs. But defense officials have repeatedly said that providing aircraft is not a priority for the Biden administration. 

The U.S. and its allies decision to provide infantry fighting vehicles, armed personnel carriers, and main battle tanks is intended to help Ukraine make a push to regain more ground. The U.S. is also conducting combined arms training in Europe to help Ukraine employ those capabilities by training Ukraine troops in tactics used by Western militaries. 

But the U.S. does not fight a war without air power, and Ukraine has been pleading for Western jets for many months. 

To be most effective, Bronk said, Western aircraft should be paired with modern air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM. He cautioned, however, there are technology security concerns if missiles that miss their target fall into Russian hands. 

“There’s a big question mark on sensitivity about whether we would even be willing to provide those things,” he said. 

Northrop: B-21 to Enter Low-Rate Production in 2023, as Inflation Concerns Persist

Northrop: B-21 to Enter Low-Rate Production in 2023, as Inflation Concerns Persist

The B-21 program is on schedule and remains below government unit cost estimates, but inflation threatens its profitability for Northrop Grumman, company leaders said on their quarterly earnings call. The program is also set to enter low-rate initial production, a phase it will likely remain in for the rest of the decade, they said.

“We continue to perform well on the program and remain on track for first flight later this year,” Northrop president, chair, and chief executive officer Kathy Warden said on the Jan. 26 call. The first B-21 rolled out of Northrop’s Palmdale, Calif. plant in December 2022.

But “as the program transitions into low rate initial production [LRIP], we are working to address macroeconomic conditions, especially related to inflation and their impact on materiel suppliers and labor,” Warden said. The first LRIP contract should be awarded this year, she added.

Chief Financial Officer Dave Keffer added that the company expects the program to have 10-to-20 basis point (0.1-0.2 percent) impact in 2023, when the “first of five LRIP” contracts are expected. Those five contracts are “scheduled to run through approximately the end of the decade.”

More immediately, the program has felt the impact of inflation.

“Given that this contract was initially awarded in 2015, the recent and really unprecedented … impact of inflation, labor, [and] supply chain disruptions, have affected the cost estimate” at completion, Warden said.

The Air Force has not yet “exercised any of the LRIP options. So like we do on any priced options, we continue to look at what the future may hold and reflect that in our estimates at [completion], but those are indeed estimates of costs and future performance,” Warden said.

While Northrop doesn’t expect a loss on LRIP “to be probable, if it were ultimately to occur, it would spread over all five lots of the program and … that’s important related to any cashflow impact,” she said.

Although the program is concluding the engineering and manufacturing development phase, some EMD activities will continue for several years, Warden said. However, LRIP is under a fixed-price agreement, so inflation could adversely affect the program’s profitability.

“Importantly, I want to highlight that our B-21 unit cost projections remain below the government’s independent cost estimate,” she said. “The program has strong support from the U.S. Air Force, Congress, and our suppliers,” and the Air Force continues to say it expects to buy “at least 100” of the aircraft.  

The first LRIP contract will not be a “triggering event” for any programmatic adjustments, Keffer said, but it’s likely Northrop will adjust its forecasts at that point.

Keffer also indicated that Northrop got a $66 million performance incentive payment on the last part of the B-21’s EMD phase, and this is an indication of future performance and “future incentives in that phase.”

Warden and Keffer both said Northrop is “working with” the government on inflation adjustments for future work and to “enhance efficiencies” in the B-21 program. However, “we do not believe that a loss on the LRIP phase is probable and therefore no such loss is reflected in our … guidance,” Keffer said, although he later added a loss is “possible” if economic conditions worsen.

Warden said the prospects of a full-year continuing resolution or national default are also background threats to company profits, but she expects that recent plus-ups in the defense budget are likely to either stay in place or increase.

Warden said the enthusiasm for fixed-price contracts is waning fast both in industry and government, though.

The government is “engaging in conversations with industry, to understand ways to motivate our investment in future capability and capacity. That is what they really want,” she said. The government now understands that “shifting too much risk to industry doesn’t support that investment, nor does it deliver the capability they need in a timely fashion. So with that, I suspect we’re going to see less fixed-price development going forward.”

With regard to inflation, “the industry broadly is pushing back on accepting long term fixed-price contracts right now. And they’re asking for ‘re-openers’ for inflation,” Warden said, meaning re-negotiation of terms.

“We expect that to continue and as our suppliers ask us for that, we of course, are passing that on to the government. And really, that’s just common sense. So I believe that will become the norm.”

Warden said Northrop is competing well for talent, buoyed by press coverage of its James Webb Space Telescope and the B-21, which have “heightened the interest” of qualified people to work for the company. However, labor shortages are a chronic problem for the industry, she said. Northrop’s ability to fill jobs has helped it win more contracts than it expected to, particularly in the area of space and space launch, Warden said.

The aeronautics sector other than B-21 declined slightly with the winding-down of the E-8 JSTARS and RQ-4 Global Hawk program, and the ”flatness” of the F-35 program, on which Northrop is a main subcontractor, Warden acknowledged.

Meet HASC’s New Members and Subcommittee Chairs

Meet HASC’s New Members and Subcommittee Chairs

House Republicans unveiled the new members for the House Armed Services Committee and the HASC’s new subcommittee chairpersons Jan. 25, elevating Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) to be the committee’s vice chairman behind chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and also naming Wittman to lead the Tactical Air and Land Forces subcommittee.

Wittman, whose district includes the Naval Surface Warfare Center and Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, previously was the ranking minority member on the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, where he was a vocal proponent of building up the Navy’s fleet. 

In his new role, Wittman will hold great sway over Air Force and Army acquisition programs. Past positions on airpower issues include support for competition for the Air Force’s KC-Y “bridge tanker” and concern about proposed cuts to the Air Force’s fighter fleet. 

Replacing Wittman atop the Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, which oversees some Air Force programs, will be Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.), whose district includes Columbus Air Force Base. Kelly is a major general and commander of the Mississippi Army National Guard.  

Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) will lead the Military Personnel subcommittee, which is responsible for quality-of-life and talent management issues. Banks is a critic of criticized the Air Force over so-called “wokeness” initiatives, which he has dismissed as “weakness.”  

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) will chair the subcommittee on Strategic Forces after previously serving as its ranking member in the last Congress. Lamborn’s district includes the Air Force Academy, as well as Schriever Space Force Base, Peterson Space Force Base, and Cheyenne Mountain Space Force Station. He has been an active proponent of keeping U.S. Space Command based in Colorado, opposing a planned move to Huntsville, Ala., and supports creating a Space National Guard. 

Other subcommittee chairs include:

  • Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) takes over as chair of the Readiness subcommittee, which oversees training, logistics, maintenance, military construction, installations, and family housing
  • Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) will chair the Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems subcommittee
  • Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) will chair the subcommittee on Intelligence and Special Operations 

House Democrats have not yet named the ranking members for the subcommittees or their full roster of HASC members. Both are expected to be announced this week. With the retirements of three former subcommittee chairs, House Democrats will have big shoes to fill. Rep. Jim Cooper, who chaired the Strategic Forces subcommittee; Rep. Jackie Speier, who chaired the Readiness subcommittee; and Rep. Jim Langevin, who led the Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems subcommittee have all departed the House.

One high-profile Republican who did not get a subcommittee chair was Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who had been among a small group of Republicans who opposed Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become Speaker of the House. According to media reports, Gaetz had sought a subcommittee gavel in exchange for supporting McCarthy. Gaetz remains on the committee, however, along with 18 other returning Republican committee members.

Now in the majority, Republicans are adding 11 new members to the HASC.

Among the 11 newcomers are: 

  • Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), whose district includes Joint Base Charleston which flies the C-17 
  • Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.), whose district includes Whiteman Air Force Base and its B-2 bombers 
  • Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.), whose district includes Homestead Air Reserve Base and the F-16s of the 482nd Fighter Wing
  • Rep. Dale Strong (R-Ala.), whose district includes Redstone Arsenal, the tentative future home of U.S. Space Command 
  • Del. James Moylan (R-Guam), whose district includes Andersen Air Force Base

As a delegate, rather than a member, Moylan cannot vote on the House floor but can vote in committee. His placement on the HASC restores a longstanding tradition of Guam delegates serving on the HASC. From 1985 to 2019, Dels. Madeleine Bordallo, Robert A. Underwood, and Vicente T. Blaz served on the committee consecutively. 

Del. Michael San Nicolas has been the only Guam delegate in the past three decades who did not serve on the committee.

The full list of Republicans who will serve on the committee is as follows (new members are denoted with an asterisk): 

  • Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-Fla.)* 
  • Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.)* 
  • Rep. Brad Finstad (R-Minn.)* 
  • Rep. Dale Strong (R-Ala.)* 
  • Rep. Morgan Luttrell (R-Texas)* 
  • Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.)* 
  • Rep. Nick LaLota (R-N.Y.)* 
  • Del. James Moylan (R-Guam)* 
  • Rep. Mark Alford (R-Mo.)* 
  • Rep. Cory Mills (R-Fla.)* 
  • Rep. Rich McCormick (R-Ga.)* 
  • Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) 
  • Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) 
  • Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) 
  • Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) 
  • Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) 
  • Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) 
  • Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) 
  • Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) 
  • Rep. Trent Kelly (R-Miss.) 
  • Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.) 
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) 
  • Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) 
  • Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) 
  • Rep. Jack Bergman (R-Mich.) 
  • Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) 
  • Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) 
  • Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Mich.) 
  • Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) 
  • Rep. Pat Fallon (R-Texas) 
US Arms Sales Shoot up Nearly 50 Percent in 2022, Driven in Part by Ukraine

US Arms Sales Shoot up Nearly 50 Percent in 2022, Driven in Part by Ukraine

Implemented government-to-government U.S. Foreign Military Sales (FMS) rose 49.1 percent in 2022, while authorized direct commercial arms (DCA) transfers rose 48.6 percent in the same period, the State Department announced Jan. 25—with the former being driven mainly by the billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine.

Those numbers very well may not cover the true size of the increase. Many cases are in the system—with letters of offer or agreement, for example—but not yet authorized or congressionally approved. The State Department does account for that fact by using a three-year rolling average in tracking changes to FMS and DCA.

“Given the multiyear implementation timeframes for many arms transfers and defense trade cases, the Department utilizes a three-year rolling average in reporting,” a press release stated. “Each proposed transfer is carefully assessed on a case-by-case basis, in accordance with the Arms Export Control Act and related policy and guidance. Major defense transfers and sales are also subject to Congressional notification.”

The overall FMS three-year rolling average actually declined 2.7 percent, from $47.08 billion to $45.8 billion, but “implemented” deals over the same period rose from $35.8 billion to $51.9 billion, making a 49.1 percent increase.

The three-year rolling average of FMS and DCS combined in fiscal 2022 was $153 billion, a 26.1 percent increase from the fiscal 2021 level of $121.4 billion.

Examples of FMS cases notified to Congress in fiscal 2022, which may not be implemented, include billions of dollars in air and air defense weapons, such as:

  • $13.9 billion for up to 36 F-15ID fighters to Indonesia
  • $3.05 billion for Patriot air defense missiles to Saudi Arabia
  • $3.0 billion in NASAMs air defense systems to Kuwait
  • $2.6 billion for 12 CH-47 Chinook helicopters to Egypt
  • $2.2 billion in 12 C-130J Super Hercules transports to Egypt
  • $2.2 billion in Theater High Altitude Air Defense Systems sales to the United Arab Emirates

The three-year rolling average of Direct Commercial Sales—in which the U.S. government plays less of a middleman role—amounted to $127.1 billion worth of authorizations in 2021, rising to $153.7 billion in 2022, including sales of hardware, services, technical data, “temporary imports,” re-exports, re-transfers and brokering, the State Department said.

The $153.7 billion marked a 49 percent increase from last year’s three-year rolling average of $103.4 billion.

“The increase in authorized value … was primarily due to the authorizations adjudicated in support of Ukraine’s efforts to defend itself from Russia’s unprovoked aggression,” the State Department said.

The U.S. has provided $27.5 billion in “defense assistance” to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, but a State Department official said that figure should not be construed as all military aid and should not be counted against the DCA figures.

Moreover, some of the DCA is “backfill” of partner or allied countries that want to replace materiel provided to Ukraine, and some of those cases are for greater amounts of equipment than was provided to Ukraine, “if they’ve decided they need more inventory for their own security,” the official said.   

Direct sales notified to Congress included more than $2.6 billion for aircraft and air defense systems, such as:

  • $850 million for support for the Dutch F-35 fleet
  • $790 million for Slam Eagle fighters for South Korea
  • $588 million for S70 helicopters for Japan
  • $432 million for enhanced Patriot missiles for Saudi Arabia

The State Department also noted a “slight increase” to 13,445 “entities registered with the Directorate of Defense Trade controls to conduct defense trade activities.”

The Department said arms transfers and defense trade “are important tools of U.S. foreign policy with long-term implications for regional and global security.” In adjudicating arms requests, the U.S. “follows a holistic approach, which weighs political, military, human rights, economic nonproliferation, technological security, and end-use factors to determine the appropriate provision of military equipment and the licensing of direct commercial sales of defense articles to U.S. allies and partners.”

The total number of licenses adjudicated by State in fiscal 2022 was 22,138, down 6.8 percent from the 23,757 in 2021.

The State Department said the three-year averages “are not predictive of future year sales,” which could rise or fall based on “fluctuating foreign defense budgets, regional security issues, and ongoing changes to defense trade licensing jurisdiction, resulting in changes in technology and export controls.”

Portions of the defense industry have been campaigning for a relaxation of export controls on technologies such as remotely-operated drones, for example, which can easily be obtained from adversary countries if the U.S. is unwilling to approve their export.