MONS Correspondent Marty Kauchak files this end-of-the-day report from the Air Force Association-sponsored Air, Space and Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Maryland.
A confluence of events is creating pressures on the US defence budget. While the Trump administration’s budget for fiscal year 2018 has not been passed, it is clear there are simply not enough funds in the budget out years to pursue required modernisation and recapitalisation programmes across the services. At this week’s Air Force Association, service leaders spoke of the compelling needs to field the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, the T(X) and other weapons platforms, sooner rather than later – enough to keep budget analysts and those who control the Air Force purse strings, up at night. While not a panacea, some relief to hefty Pentagon bills lies within arms’ reach of leaders – making the decision to more fully embrace non-US weapons and other materiel, instead of “going it alone” to create jobs and meet other political imperatives with systems designed, built and maintained in the US.
The acquisition road to develop a missile and other weapon systems and platforms, remains resource intensive – at least a decade to fielding and often needing huge amounts of funding. This author’s latest epiphany on “buying US” occurred when walking down this conference’s exhibition hall aisles. Off-the-record discussions with industry suppliers again revealed a number of programmes labeled or viewed as “foreign” have potential for development for fielding on US platforms. While not an endorsement for the US F-35, the Kongberg-Raytheon Joint Strike Missile is on track for fielding on Norway’s F-35A fleet most likely in 2022-2023 during Block 4 build, and has an important attribute – internal loading to maintain the rigors of stealth.
Kongsberg, like other non-US companies, finds its way into the US market space by partnering with US entities, and enlisting suppliers from across the US – creating good quality jobs. It is fiscally prudent for Pentagon decision makers to hitch their wagons to non-US programmes, which meet US DoD requirements, when feasible. F-35 weapon selection and other requirements need not always travel down the long, expensive road of competition and down select. While not advocating dismantling or reducing the US defence industry by buying non-US materiel, pragmatism, rather than politics, is needed in healthier doses at the Pentagon in these resource constrained times.