WASHINGTON: In a telling sign of the uncertain economic and spending climate in the defense world – faced with sequestration and the possibility of a year-long Continuing Resolution — at least three defense conferences have been cancelled in the last two months and defense companies continue to pare their participation in even the biggest shows, the air show in Paris and Farnborough.

Cancelation of the Military Health System Conference, set for Feb. 11-14, was announced in a memo signed by Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, and the three service surgeon generals. In past years, the conference has attracted 3,000 attendees and exhibitors. Keep reading →

NATIONAL HARBOR: Last year’s Libya campaign revealed painful shortfalls in NATO, including intelligence sharing so molasses-slow that French pilots gave up on waiting for target data from US Predator drones. That’s something the allies are anxious to correct.

“In Libya we got away with it. We made do, we had work-arounds, [but] we were not fighting a sophisticated enemy,” Air Marshal Andy Pulford, the Royal Air Force’s deputy commander for capability, said at the (US) Air Force Association conference here. The next adversary might more effective than Muammar Qaddafi — not a very high bar. Especially, if that enemy is a single nation-state, “they will not have the baggage, the drag, of coalition and interoperability [concerns],” Pulford warned, “and they very quickly will overcome us if we are struggling to get information out.” Keep reading →

NATIONAL HARBOR: The most senior officer in the US military read poetry, sang (a little), and commented on issues from inside attacks in Afghanistan to leadership philosophy in remarks here today.

Gen. Martin Dempsey is a career Army man, but as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff he overseas all the services, and he made sure to laud his blue-suited brethren in his speech to the annual conference of the Air Force Association — and to sing a line from the Air Force Hymn. He even had muted praise for the Air Force-Navy doctrine of “AirSea Battle,” often seen as an anti-Army budget grab, but which Dempsey called a necessary component of “the larger issue, which is joint operational access.” Keep reading →

NATIONAL HARBOR: If Lockheed Martin harbored any hopes that the Pentagon might not be fully supportive of Maj. Gen. Christopher Bogdan’s critical comments about Lockheed Martin’s performance on the Joint Strike Fighter they were dashed this morning.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ash Carter referred to Bogdan as “Chris” and told the packed Air Force Association conference hall that: “I’m with him 100 percent.” Keep reading →

As China lurches from this summer’s naval standoff with the Philippines to the current war of words with Japan, the US is struggling to reassure its allies without provoking the Chinese.

While the administration’s strategic “pivot” or “rebalancing” to the Pacific is framed by some as Cold War II, top military leaders have made clear in recent statements just how eager they are to avoid a clash with China. Just look at the picture (above) of the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, said Pacific Air Forces commander Gen. Herbert “Hawk” Carlisle, speaking Tuesday at the Air Force Association‘s annual conference. Keep reading →

UPDATED: Boeing statement added
NATIONAL HARBOR: Boeing has been plowing through its KC-46 management reserve for much of the last six months, according to a senior Air Force official.

“The burn rate of their management reserve rate has gone up significantly over the last six months or so,” the official told reporters today. While this technically does not qualify as a cost overrun since this is a fixed price contract, it does raise questions about the program. The Air Force official was not willing to share either the percentage of the reserve nor the dollar amount.
“We have brought forward the allocation of management reserve largely to expedite risk mitigation opportunities in the program, including the system integration laboratories. However, the overall management reserve plan for the program remains unchanged,” Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling said in an email.
Breaking Defense readers will remember that Boeing had already wracked up roughly $300 million in what we would otherwise call a cost overrun by July last year. Most close observers of Boeing’s successful bid believe the company is more than willing to take a “loss” on the first phase of the deal and make it back once it moves beyond the development phase. Keep reading →

NATIONAL HARBOR: China‘s air force is laboring mightily to improve both its planes and its personnel — causing much American concern— but it has a long way yet to go.

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is becoming “much smaller but much more technologically sophisticated,” said Phillip Saunders, director of the Center for the Study of Chinese Military Affairs at National Defense University, in a talk Monday afternoon at the Air Force Association’s annual conference here. Keep reading →

NATIONAL HARBOR: As the US shifts its focus from low-tech Taliban “cavemen” to an aggressively modernizing China, the Air Force has launched an urgent effort to find near-term countermeasures against a foe that can jam sensors, hack networks, disrupt communications, and shut down GPS.

“Mostly we’re looking at the next three to five years,” said Randall Walden, the director of information dominance programs under the service’s assistant secretary for acquisition. On that schedule, he said, “you’re not talking about a brand new system. You’re not even talking about cutting a hole in a current plane [to modify it]. You’re talking about pods and concepts.” Keep reading →

UPDATED: Lockheed offers official reply to Gen. Bogdan. (8 a.m. Tuesday)

NATIONAL HARBOR: The likely new leader of the Joint Strike Fighter program opened what looks to be a new era — at least rhetorically — today offering large dollops of what he called “straight talk” about both Lockheed Martin’s performance and the government’s. Keep reading →

[UPDATED with Lt. Gen. James comment] WASHINGTON: Northrop Grumman is in talks with the the Air Force to keep the service’s 18 “Block 30” Global Hawks flying through at least September 2013, Breaking Defense has learned. That’s a win for Northrop and its backers in Congress over Air Force budgeteers who wanted to ground the long-range drones.

The service’s 2013 budget plan would have mothballed the Block 30 variant of the Global Hawk to save money, arguing that the venerable U-2 spyplane could better meet theater commanders’ needs for reconnaissance. (Other Global Hawk variants with different capabilities, Block 20 and Block 40, were never in question). That idea was resoundingly rejected by Congress — and quietly questioned by some in the military who appreciated the Block 30’s capabilities, including much longer flight times than any manned aircraft could endure. So, in his confirmation hearings, new Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told Senators that the drones would continue to operate. But Northrop Grumman’s existing contract to support Block 30 operations around the world was set to expire at the end of this month. Keep reading →

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