The Air Force has received heat recently from Elon Musk’s SpaceX, which filed a lawsuit alleging it “wrongly awarded” billions to a few of its competitors, going so far as to write that “by any reasonable measure, SpaceX earned a place in the LSA portfolio.”
Forget for a minute that the Air Force has been more than fair with Musk’s start-up, providing it with a $130 million award just last summer. And forget that in the most recent offering that SpaceX is protesting, the military imposed strict criteria that ultimately resulted in a diverse array of firms, old and new, receiving awards. To understand the baselessness of Musk’s allegations, just follow the news that broke in sync with the release of his lawsuit.
According to a bombshell announcement made by the Department of Justice on May 22—the same day the U.S. Court of Federal Claims publicly released SpaceX’s lawsuit—federal investigators have charged a SpaceX quality assurance engineer with falsifying at least 38 inspection reports for the company’s rockets. These SpaceX rocket parts, which did not pass proper QA inspections, were nevertheless used in seven NASA missions and two Air Force missions. At least 76 uninspected parts slipped through SpaceX’s quality assurance procedures. Needless to say, that’s more than enough to raise some eyebrows.
SpaceX, to their credit, swiftly cut ties with the accused individual, as well as the company for which he worked. They also pointed out that all the missions affected by the falsified inspection reports were successful. However, this isn’t the first time the specter of inadequate quality assurance has haunted SpaceX.
In 2015, after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket cost the government $110 million by exploding just minutes after takeoff, SpaceX essentially washed its hands of the incident, stating that an outside supplier’s faulty steel strut was to blame. While that may have seemed like reasonable justification at the time, three years later, a NASA report detailed that SpaceX’s implementation of that part “was done without adequate screening or testing,” “without regard to the manufacturer’s recommendations for a 4:1 factor of safety,” and “without proper modeling or adequate load testing of the part under predicted flight conditions.” Those lapses of quality assurance are all on SpaceX, and they are certainly much bigger than one faulty steel strut.
Additionally, Musk also had to contend with the fallout from a 2017 Inspector General report, which found that SpaceX “did not perform adequate quality assurance management.” In total, the auditors uncovered 33 major quality violations, as well as 43 minor infractions.
At a May 8 meeting of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee, a NASA official revealed that things have not improved with time. Recently, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon was deemed to have an unsatisfactory parachute system after the capsule sustained significant damage while impacting the ground. The Crew Dragon shuttle itself also suffered a major malfunction during testing, resulting in the entire capsule erupting into flames. Given the shuttle’s ultimate goal of transporting astronauts to and from Earth, the Crew Dragon’s ineffective parachutes represent legitimate stumbling blocks for both SpaceX and NASA.
It would appear that the Crew Dragon explosion was jarring enough to catch the attention of the United States military, potentially placingSpaceX’s partnership as an aerospace contractor for the U.S. government in jeopardy. That may explain, at least in part, why SpaceX has been such a vocal opponent of moving forward with the government’s Launch Service Agreement—the program Elon is currently suing the Air Force over.
In all likelihood, SpaceX recognizes the importance of the LSA but wants to stall the program to give itself a fighting chance to secure a contract. After all, Musk stated previously that his company “missed the mark” when crafting a proposal. Musk’s delay tactics, though, aren’t serving him well. His strategy to postpone the LSA is only generating increased scrutiny toward SpaceX.
Likewise, Musk’s lawsuit against the Air Force is creating the perception that SpaceX understands national security better than the U.S. military. And with SpaceX’s ongoing, public, and embarrassing QA crisis, SpaceX is not in a position to be dictating terms. Musk would be wise to recognize that the Air Force does indeed know best, and that his public crusade against them isn’t doing his company any favors.
By George Landrith • RealClear Defense
It is time to upgrade our military’s heavy-lift helicopter capabilities. The current workhorse, the CH-47 Chinook, has served our country since 1962. Despite its age, the Chinook is still the most capable heavy lift helicopter on the planet — flying at almost 200 miles per hour which is roughly the speed that the Army wants its next-generation Scout aircraft to fly. Our allies use the Chinook as well — precisely because of its utility and capability.
Over the years, the Chinook has been upgraded and new technology built in. As a result, our allies use the Chinook because it is a highly capable platform, and it is the world class heavy lift helicopter. However, the military’s needs have grown, and additional capabilities are needed. The question is how to most effectively and efficiently meet those needs.
Given the Chinook’s inherent strengths and capabilities, the wisest approach is to update and upgrade the Chinook so that it can increase payload, range, and other vital capabilities. With the right upgrades to the drivetrain, rotors, and other systems, this capable and proven aircraft will continue to be the world class heavy lift helicopter platform for decades to come. Following this approach means our heavy lift needs are amply met and at a much lower cost — which means we also have available resources for other crucial national security needs. That’s a win-win.
However, recently, Army Secretary Mark Esper made remarks that suggested he wasn’t interested in upgrades, but would instead start over from scratch. Sometimes starting over from scratch makes sense. But often it doesn’t. This is one of those times where starting from scratch will waste taxpayer dollars and leave our military in a lurch while a brand new helicopter is developed and produced at a much higher initial cost and increased sustainment costs.
If the Pentagon starts over from scratch, the new helicopter fleet will not be available to our warfighters for another 30 to 40 years or longer. In contrast, an updated and upgraded Chinook is already in the works and can be rolled out relatively rapidly and at a much lower cost. This approach would give our military the world-class heavy lift helicopter it needs going well into the future, and it would save money so that other critical military needs are not neglected.
The Chinook can carry dozens of fully equipped infantry or special operators. It can transport 10 tons of supplies and equipment. It can even carry the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (which replaces the older up-armored Humvee and provides a more capable and survivable vehicle) or a 155m howitzer in a sling below the aircraft. Cost effective upgrades and updates can increase payload, range, and other important capabilities. All of these upgrades can be done at a fraction of the cost of simply starting over.
Special operators who fly the most dangerous and demanding missions in the Army swear by the Chinook and trust their lives in it. Even Espers, while signaling he wants to move on, admits that the Chinook “is a very good aircraft” and that it should continue to be used by our special operations forces. He even admits that perhaps the future is simply “a version of the [Chinook]. I don’t know.” Clearly, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Chinook as a platform. It is battle tested and battle proven.
The wise choice would be to update and upgrade the Chinook — that would give our warfighters the capability they need and do so in the most efficient way possible. That means other mission-critical tools required by our warfighters can also be afforded.
The truth is that the Chinook can continue to serve American warfighters with the right updates and upgrades. And these updates are already in the works. It would be foolish to shut that down and waste money by starting over. This doesn’t require much imagination. With a new drivetrain, upgraded and redesigned rotors, and other new or upgraded systems, the lift capability, range and speed, can all be increased — even beyond its current world-class capability. This makes sense for the warfighter and the taxpayer. Esper would be wise to pursue the truth that even he admitted — our future heavy-lift helicopters “may be a version of [the Chinook.]”
In a world where the government needs to do more with less, upgrading the Chinook makes a lot of sense. This will give our warfighters the greater range, speed, and payload capacity that will be needed in the future. And while achieving all of these milestones, it will keep both production costs and sustainment costs lower. Ditching the Chinook and starting from scratch makes no sense at all — either for the warfighter or the taxpayer.
By Phil Kiver • Washington Times
As a former member of the military who served in multi-branch operations, I understand the need for diversity when equipping our service members. Our Air Force should not be one dimensional. The current fight over procurement of the Air Force fighter; the F-15X, is an easy decision, because having diversity in the air fleet provides flexibility that current conditions require. As I well understand, different missions require different strengths, capabilities and tools.
Some lawmakers are pushing the F-35 fighter jet over the F-15X because of the fear of budgetary constraints in the future. Defense News reported on February 27, 2019, “Lockheed Martin and U.S. Air Force officials may be downplaying the prospect of an upcoming budget battle surrounding the F-15X and the F-35 fighter jets, but F-35 supporters in Congress and around the Capital Beltway are mounting an offensive against Boeing’s new F-15 variant.”
The report indicates that “all signs point to the Air Force unveiling its plan to buy a new version of the F-15 in its fiscal 2020 budget proposal, tentatively scheduled for release in mid-March. Though numbers have fluctuated, a Feb. 19 report from Bloomberg says the service plans to purchase eight F-15X planes in FY20, with an expected total buy of about 80 jets.” Right now the plan is for the Air Force to purchase both the F-35 and the F-15X. The F-15X is an upgrade to existing F-15s in service.
The U.S. Air Force just changed the game when it comes to global air mobility by signing off on first delivery for Boeing’s KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tanker. The first KC-46 Pegasus Tankers will begin arriving at McConnell Air Force Base in Kansas in the coming weeks, where Airmen will begin training for their future mission.
The success and safety of our military forces responding to constantly evolving threats and crises around the world relies on our Air Force’s global reach, giving us the ability to hit targets and deliver troops and supplies anywhere in the world. Our global reach and that of our allies would not be possible without America’s superior air refueling capability — a capability that is limited and jeopardized by our current fleet of Eisenhower-era tankers.
The aerial refueling tankers our Air Force operates now are mostly KC-135s that date back a half-century. The fleet’s last real update was the KC-10 procurement over thirty years ago. These aircraft face serious limitations in responding to modern threats. Continue reading
By The Hill•
Virtually every argument against the Jones Act is falsely premised on the notion that it increases consumer prices and that it impeded emergency supplies from getting to Puerto Rico after last year’s hurricanes. Some have even argued that Puerto Rico’s decade long recession is the fault of the Jones Act — despite the fact that it was enacted almost 100 years ago. Simply stated, there is no factual evidence to support these claims.
The Jones Act, or more precisely, the “Merchant Marine Act of 1920,” simply requires goods shipped between two or more U.S. ports to be shipped on vessels that are American built, owned and crewed. But it does not prohibit foreign vessels from bringing goods to a U.S. port.
Because of the Jones Act, foreign flagged ships with unknown and unvetted foreign crews cannot deliver goods to New Orleans and then sail up the Mississippi River deep into the American heartland. Continue reading
by Brett Schaefer • The Daily Signal
National security adviser John Bolton didn’t mince words in a speech on Monday as he outlined U.S. policy toward the International Criminal Court.
In that speech, before the Federalist Society, Bolton said:
The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens, and those of our allies, from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.
We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us.
Bolton’s announcement pre-emptively confronted the prospect of an International Criminal Court investigation of U.S. military and government officials.
The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, announced on Nov. 3 that she had formally requested authorization from the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Afghanistan since May 2003. Continue reading
By Bill Gertz • Washington Free Beacon
Russia has deployed a suspicious satellite the United States says is part of Moscow’s plans to attack orbiting satellites in a future conflict, a State Department official revealed in Geneva on Tuesday.
Yleem Poblete, assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, made the accusation in a speech declaring Moscow is promoting a draft treaty aimed at banning arms in space while advancing an array of space weaponry.
Russia in October conducted tests of a “space apparatus inspector” that was detected by U.S. intelligence maneuvering and taking other unusual actions in space.
“Its behavior on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities,” Poblete stated during a session of the U.N. Conference on Disarmament.
“We are concerned with what appears to be very abnormal behavior by a declared ‘space apparatus inspector.'” She did not elaborate on the suspect activities.
By Conor Beck • Washington Free Beacon
Vice President Mike Pence spoke at the carry ceremony at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii Wednesday night to mark the arrival of what is expected to be the remains of 55 American service members who died during the Korean War.
“We are gathered here at this honorable ceremony to receive 55 flag-draped cases which we trust include the remains of American heroes who fell in the Korean War,” Pence said at the beginning of his remarks. “Some have called the Korean War the forgotten War, but today, we prove these heroes were never forgotten. Today our boys are coming home.”
The North Korean government claims the remains of 55 fallen service members were returned, but the U.S. will now begin the work of identifying the remains. The gesture comes after the historic summit in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. After the summit, Trump announced North Korea would return the remains of fallen U.S. soldiers from the Korean War back to the United States.
The U.S. Air Force is closing in on awarding a contract for its new two-seat jet trainer. The average age of the existing trainer fleet is more than 50 years old. So this upgrade is none too soon. The new trainer, dubbed the T-X, must meet a long list of requirements to help prepare American pilots for a wide variety of complex missions over the next 50 years — including preparing our pilots to fly cutting edge jet fighters like the F-18 Super Hornet, F-22 Raptor, and F-35 Lightning II.
Two of the three major competitors are foreign firms — from Italy and South Korea. They have partnered with two different American companies to bump up their ties to America.
The one American firm, Boeing, is America’s most well-known aerospace company, and has designed and built from the ground up a new jet to specifically meet all of the Air Force’s training requirements and insure that costs — especially operational costs over the life of the jet — are low. Continue reading
Americans understand the importance of arming our military with the best equipment and information. Whether it is a fighter jet, armored vehicle or an information platform, Americans want the brave men and women who defend our nation and our freedom to have every possible advantage in any conflict they may face.
Information technology is finally getting the attention it deserves. The Defense Department is working on an important effort to update and modernize its cloud information capabilities. The program, Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure, is designed, for example, to make sure that when our special forces raid a compound, they can receive and transmit updated information in real time. They could get almost immediate translations of documents that are found in the compound which could warn them of immediate dangers and save lives because of the speed with which they would receive vital information and analysis.
JEDI holds tremendous potential to give our war fighters real time access to not only data but high tech analytics. Just as we want our soldiers to have the best equipment, we also want them Continue reading
Boeing plans to begin delivering the new high-tech KC-46 Pegasus Tanker to the U.S. Air Force in the very near future.
There have been exhaustive tests, and the data from those tests has been turned over to the FAA and the Pentagon for final certification. Depending on how long it takes the government to review the data and provide the required certifications, the new tanker will be flying and refueling soon. This is great news because the planes that the new tanker will be replacing are on average 55 years old and many date back to the Eisenhower Administration.
It may surprise some to hear that the KC-46 Pegasus Tanker is a good news story on many different levels. Why a surprise? Because some treat every development challenge as a failure — even when those challenges are overcome and the final product is spectacular. Additionally, some contract bureaucrats inside the Pentagon Continue reading
By Bill Gertz • Washington Free Beacon
The Pentagon confirmed Thursday that Chinese nationals fired lasers near a military base in east Africa against U.S. military aircraft in the region, injuring several pilots.
Pentagon Press Secretary Dana White said the U.S. government made diplomatic protests to the Chinese government over several recent incidents of laser firings near China’s first overseas military base at Djibouti.
“These are very serious incidents. There have been two minor injuries. This activity poses a threat to our airmen,” White told reporters.
“We have formally demarched the Chinese government, and we’ve requested that the Chinese investigate these incidents,” she added.
The number of incidents is “more than Continue reading
By Natalie Johnson • Washington Free Beacon
The United States Air Force is accelerating investment in space as Chinese advancements threaten to penetrate American systems in the previously uncontested domain, top service officials said during a congressional hearing Tuesday.
Speaking before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Air Force secretary Heather Wilson and chief of staff General David Goldfein both identified China’s space innovation and “rapid growth” in military capabilities among their top concerns facing the service in the coming years.
“Some of the work they’re doing in space, it’s very aggressive,” Goldfein said. “We built our space architecture in an era when space was a rather benign domain, so … we’re very focused on taking some bold moves in this budget to increase our ability to defend what we have in space.”
By Natalie Johnson • Washington Free Beacon
The U.S. military has begun redirecting personnel and equipment from Iraq and Syria back to Afghanistan, where the Pentagon hopes to revamp its fight against the Taliban, the top commander of the American-led air campaign in the country said Wednesday.
Air Force Maj. Gen. James Hecker said the drawdown of major operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria has enabled U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, to again prioritize the 16-year war in Afghanistan. CENTCOM is the military command responsible for operations in the Middle East and parts of South Asia.
“Afghanistan has become CENTCOM’s main effort thanks to the recent successes in Iraq and Syria,” Hecker told Pentagon reporters from Kabul. “This has allowed CENTCOM to shift more assets our way, which will significantly improve our ability to assist the Afghans.”
The Pentagon’s refocus officially began on Feb. 1. Hecker said CENTCOM began deploying additional aircraft to the NATO-led Resolute Support coalition Continue reading
By Lucas Tomlinson and Jennifer Griffin • Fox News
The Pentagon plans to develop two “low-yield” nuclear warheads to be launched from ballistic-missile submarines and warships, to send a message to Moscow — which the Trump administration accuses of amassing a stockpile of tactical nuclear weapons.
The new plan is outlined in Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s Nuclear Posture Review, released Friday afternoon.
“Expanding U.S. tailored response options will raise the nuclear threshold and help ensure that potential adversaries perceive no possible advantage in limited nuclear escalation, making nuclear weapons employment less likely,” the new review said.
The Pentagon says Russia’s buildup of similar “low-yield” nukes is the reason it must match the threat.
“The United States would only consider the use of nuclear weapons in extreme circumstances,” said Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick M. Shanahan. “Extreme circumstances could include significant non-nuclear strategic attacks,” he added without offering specifics.