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House Begins Markup of 2014 Budget with Add of Submarine

The House and Senate are in the process of considering the President’s 2014 budget request. As often different committees will review it and make changes sometimes based on their own priorities which means adding things or removing items from the original request. The budget has to go through two committees in each the House and Senate. Then it is voted on and a Conference Committee held. This means that often the final budget is not necessarily similar to what was submitted in February.

Not only do different companies lobby Congress for inclusion of their products and projects but sometimes the Services will indirectly. There exist lists of “unfunded priorities” and needs that Congress may address even though they are not part of the budget request.

The House Armed Services Committee as part of its review has reportedly increased the Navy’s buy of U.S.S. Virginia class attack submarines by 1 more then requested. The Navy had originally planned to buy two a year but in order to meet budget cut goals and reduce spending only 1 was asked for in 2014. The HASC has bumped that back up to 2.

Congress also wants the Navy to consider signing a multi-year contract for 10 submarines. Multi-year contracts are normally for five years and done for systems, especially aircraft, in steady state production. This allows efficiencies and better pricing due to stable quantities and funding. Virginia submarines are currently built by two companies – Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) in Virgina and General Dynamics (GD) Electric Boat in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

One of the problems that the Pentagon will face as it tries to cut money required to meet budget goals is that Congress is loathe to reduce programs. There are 435 House members and 100 Senators who see defense spending as a way to bring money and jobs into their districts. The idea of keeping one more submarine in the current budget will do so. It will also require the Navy to cut less money or take it from other budget priorities.

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Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) Facing Uncertain Future

The C-27J Spartan is a twin engined light transport aircraft purchased for the U.S. Air Force from a team made up of L-3 Communications (LLL) and Alenia North America, part of the Italian defence and industrial group Finmeccanica. The C-27 is not only used by the U.S. but other countries across the world.

The C-27 was the result of a program originally called the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) which was conceived by the Army as part of their plans caused by the decision to cancel the RH-66 Comanche helicopter in 2004. The Comanche was going to be a new attack and reconnaissance helicopter utilizing many new technologies to maximize its stealth and performance. In development for almost twenty years it finally had begun serious testing when it was cancelled. The money freed up was used to by systems like the UH-60M, the AH-64D Block III, CH-47F and UH-72A helicopters.

The Army suffered from a lack of internal heavy lift for intra-theater missions unlike the Marine Corps who possessed their own C-130 transports. The JCA was meant to add this capability and relieve the pressure on the rotary wing fleet primarily being used to carry cargo in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fixed wing assets would be more efficient and economical.

In 2007 the Army and Air Force selected the C-27 from L-3 and Alenia over bids by Raytheon (RTN), who had teamed with EADS North America, offering a Spanish made C-295 and Lockheed Martin (LMT) who proposed a C-130 version. An initial contract worth about $2 billion for 78 aircraft was awarded to the winners.

The JCA was made a joint program and it was originally planned to issue it to Army and Air Force National Guard units to operate. In 2010 the Obama administration decided to transfer the program wholly to the Air Force to manage and operate. The number of aircraft was potentially reduced and only the Air Force Guard would receive it.

The first unit stood up in 2011 in Ohio where four aircraft will be based at Mansfield. In 2013 the Connecticut and the North Dakota Guard are supposed to received the aircraft.

There are now concerns that the C-27 program may be on the chopping block due to budgetary pressures. The Connecticut unit may be the first to feel this pain although the 2012 budget as submitted does contain the funding for the aircraft it may not make it into the final budget.

The C-27 is not a priority for the Air Force and new equipment for the Guard also sometimes takes hits. If the Air Force leadership is forced to sacrifice some of their funding it may be the C-27 is what is given up. It is also a small program and is primarily oriented towards non-combat missions at this time further making it easier to give up.

As the budget goes through these machinations over the next few years other programs similar to the C-27 may be on the chopping block. That does not mean they will be eliminated but they could see cuts, delays and changes to their size, missions and deployment plans. These programs will have to rely on the Congressmen and Senators who represent the states where they are made or based to protect them through trading of priorities and support.

The size of the cuts the Defense Department must make dictate that whole programs whether in development of production will have to be cut. The C-27 might just be one of them.

Photo from Blyzz’s Flickr photostream.

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Good and Bad News for Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII)

An F-35B Lightning II makes the first vertical landing on a flight deck at sea aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1).

Late last year after Northrop Grumman (NOC) separated their ship building components from the main corporation. Rather then selling these to another defense contractor they decided to set up a new company with its own stock. This was Huntington Ingalls Shipyard(HII). HII owns yards in Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. It builds carriers, destroyers, and amphibious warships.

Northrop Grumman along with General Dynamics (GD) were the two major naval ship builders in the United States. They were concerned that the long term ship construction plans for the Navy were so limited in the future due to budgetary pressures and requirements that they decided it was better to get out of the business. The U.S. Navy currently really doesn’t have enough funds to build the number of ships in their plans. They also restructured their plans by limiting the new destroyer, DDG-1000, to only three and continuing production of the previous Arliegh Burke class.

HII has continued to received contracts from the Navy and deliver ships although it is planning a restructuring of its capabilities and workforce most importantly by closing their yard at Avondale, LA. In its last quarter the company reported a loss of $248 million but adjusting for a charge it actually had a profit of over $1 a share. This was better then analysts expectations and the stock went up quite a bit last week. The company increased its backlog and is predicting by 2013 that the financial should show much improvement as it works off contracts from the Northrop era.

At the same time though word came the Navy penalized the company several million dollars on a recent destroyer contract due to failures in its accounting and management system. The Department of Defense utilizes Earned Value Management System (EVMS) to help understand the cost and schedule of contracts. In this case the audit found deficiencies in 19 of 32 guidelines. The DoD qualifies company’s EVMS and if it fails then they can withhold funds or limit future contract awards until the system passes.

HII is in a situation where things like this are not helpful in the long run. It is not uncommon for EVMS to fail at times and the DoD and Lockheed Martin (LMT) had a long running argument over that company’s system a few years ago. Eventually they get resolved and work continues. It can just effect earnings and revenue in the short run.

The U.S. shipbuilding industry is in for a rough time in the next decade or so as the U.S. works out its budget issues. If the mandatory cuts do come into force there would be significant reduction in new ships which would affect GD and HII very negatively. While ships take several years to complete they need a steady stream of orders to maintain their entire workforce and to use them effectively. If there is a time when no new ship is on the horizon then there will be layoffs and contractions.

HII latest results were a positive but it may be hard in the future to continue to maintain the level of orders and revenue.

Photo from Official U.S. Navy Imagery’s Flickr photostream.

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Turkey Buys Sikorsky

Foreign countries wanting to acquire United States weapon systems or technology have different avenues available to them. They may do a strait Foreign Military Sales (FMS) case where they contract through the U.S. Department of Defense with suppliers to provide the same or similar equipment that the U.S. is buying. Another option is to directly contract with a company to get a unique piece of equipment that in some cases has never been used by the U.S. military. Turkey has chosen this route with the announcement that they will buy over one hundred S-70 Black Hawk aircraft from Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation (SAC). SAC is a subsidiary of United Technologies (UTX) and is based in Connecticut.

The S-70 is the commercial market version of the UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft which is the core medium lift system for the U.S. Army while also being used by the Navy, Air Force and other U.S. government agencies. The Black Hawk has also seen robust FMS sales across the globe including users like Australia, various Gulf States and most recently Sweden.

Turkey’s contract is initially valued at about $3.5 billion. Like many Turkish defense programs the aircraft will have substantial portions of it built in Turkey in this case by Tusas Aerospace Industries. This will allow rapid expansion of the contract if Turkey decides as well as an option for them to make the aircraft for foreign sales themselves. SAC will provide parts, assemblies and technical assistance to help the Turkish production and assembly facility.

The S-70 has seen some sales to other countries as well as U.S. agencies. The T-70 will be equipped with specific Turkish equipment and modifications most likely to include the radio suite, armament and other equipment. By doing it this way Turkey does not necessarily limit itself to equipment that has been used on the UH-60 and qualified by the American government. At the same time, though, they lose some of the efficiencies of the large U.S. production contract with SAC.

Italy’s Augusta Westland, part of Finnemechanica (FNC:MI) , was also bidding on this contract.

Photo form David Jackmason’s flickr photostream.

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Dueling View on Defense Competition

Last week the former Reagan era U.S. Secretary of Defense John Lehman had an opinion piece in many newspapers across the country discussing the need for competition in large defense contracts. He specifically was writing in support of the dual engine track for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). This controversial program where a second source of engines for the advanced multi-role aircraft is being funded by Congress despite the objections of two Administrations, the Pentagon and the Air Force is being defended as risk reduction and as offering potential cost savings. This is how Lehman discusses it.

Certainly the idea is sound in that the second engine in development by General Electric (GE) and Rolls-Royce (RR:LSE) as an alternative to the main one being made by Pratt & Whitney, part of United Technologies (UTC), may end up costing less and be ready sooner but at a time when the program is struggling as well as the whole Federal budget it may be a luxury that the country cannot afford. Lehman cites previous examples of using alternate engines from when he was at the Defense Department that showed “benefits came swiftly and have endured. Reliability, performance and fuel economy improved steadily. Engine-caused accidents dropped. By the second year of full competition, the cost per engine had dropped 20 percent.” He points out that for the three major fighter programs of the Seventies and Eighties — the F-14, 15 and 16 — this approach was used successfully.

For both 2010 and 2011 the Obama defense budget request asked for no funding for the second engine. In the 2010 budget Congress found it by adding money and not taking it out of the core F-35 program. For 2011 the Senate has moved to try and not fund the program but the House markups so far continue it. If the final bills from each part of Congress contain differences it will have to be worked out in Conference. Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it contains the second engine but he did that last year and ended up accepting it. Obviously the Congressional delegations from the states where GE and Rolls-Royce are doing their work support it while the Connecticut delegation where P&W makes their engine have been trying to counter it.

In another view Congressman Tiahrt (R-KS) recently was interviewed about his efforts to promote the use of American contractors for programs. Tiahrt wants the Pentagon to maximize the use of American defense contractors even when it would have to lead to a sole source contract as there would only be one U.S. company able to do the work. The Pentagon does everything it can to avoid sole source contracts as that transfers most of the risk from the contractor to itself leaving little options of the program’s schedules and cost increases. Competition has long been one of the cornerstones of defense acquisition.

Tiahrt believes that the Defense Department must maximize the use of U.S. companies to provides jobs. At this time of current economic problems basically using the defense budget to provide “stimulus”. The problem this faces is that due to the decline of the U.S. industrial base in the Nineties there are often only one U.S. supplier for a product. Tiahrt uses the example of the buying of Russian Mil-17 helicopters for use in Afghanistan by the Afghan military rather then purchasing the UH-60 from Sikorsky, another part of United Technologies. The reasons given for the purchase are more driven by requirements and the needs of the Afghan environment and capability. This is a system they are familiar with, it is simple to maintain and matches well to the environment.

Tiahrt, a former Boeing (BA) employee, is also a big supporter of awarding the new KC-X aerial tanker to that company and preventing the European defense giant, EADS (EADS:P). He had criticized the previous award to Northrop Grumman (NOC) and EADS overturned on Boeing’s protest in 2008. Now that Boeing and EADS are in direct competition for the latest attempt to award this contract he has kept up the criticism.

The problem that the Pentagon faces is only Boeing and EADS have the capability to provide this aircraft. The last tanker that was purchased was the KC-10 in the Eighties made by McDonell Douglas, who are now part of Boeing. With those two companies merged there is no U.S. competitor for the KC-X. In the early part of this decade the U.S. Air Force did award Boeing a sole source lease for KC-767 tankers but this was overturned after Congress found collusion by Air Force and Boeing officials this decision launched the second contest won by Northrop and EADS in 2008.

Tiahrt is right in that the Defense Department should try to award to American companies but the number of those producing major systems has declined. The increase in spending since 9/11 has seen major market penetration by European companies mainly through acquisition of U.S. companies and the establishment of subsidiaries. This has been driven by the need for multiple sources for systems to help keep prices low.

Without a major investment in revitalizing the U.S. industrial base this will be the situation faced anytime a major contract comes up for award Congressman Tiahrt’s protests notwithstanding.

In order to meet Lehman’s desire for competition the U.S. has to allow foriegn bidders which is an unfortunate fact-of-life. Congress will need to face this unless they just want to give contracts to American companies which would counter their desire to do defense purchasing more efficiently and at less cost. The decline of the Nineties is the root cause of this situation and there is no easy short term answer.

KC-10 photo from Mr. T in DC’s flickr photostream.

F-35 photo from Rob Shenk’s flickr photostream.

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How Much Money Did Canceling the VH-71 Save?

Update — The Associated Press and other media corrected this report to say that it was an extension of a contract worth $8.4 million. The total contract value with the extension is over $8 billion. The point stands that there will be a cost associated with keeping the aging systems working while a new system is developed.

One of the programs that was ended as part of the Obama and Gate’s defense reforms was the new Presidential Transport helicopter. Lockheed Martin (LMT) and its Italian partner, Finmeccanica, had won the contract to build a new helicopter to ferry the President around replacing a fleet of venerable VH-3 and VH-60 aircraft made by Sikorsky (UTC). The program had faced cost and schedule issues due to massive requirements creep that caused the total cost to balloon. In 2009 the Navy pulled the plug on the program and started over.

Because a whole new program began it meant that the existing aircraft would need to extend their planned service lives. Some in Congress, especially Congressman Hinchey (D-NY), who represented the area where Lockheed Martin was doing the work on the program argued that this decision could end up being more expensive then continuing the existing program. Lockheed and Finmeccanica did offer a reduced cost program utilizing the aircraft already purchased that could meet some of the requirements but not all of them. One aspect that was raised that there would be a cost related to continuing the use of the older aircraft as they would need to be maintained and modified to stay in use.

Today the Defense Department announced that they were awarding Sikorsky a contract to carry out “VH-3D executive helicopter special progressive aircraft rework induction.” This means money to overhaul and update the current fleet of VH-3 aircraft. The estimated value of this contract is over $8 billion. This is money that is needed because the President’s aircraft must be maintained to the highest standard.

This does illustrate that in some ways Congressman Hinchey was right. The money saved by ending the VH-71 will now go to keeping the older aircraft flying and starting the new program. Eight billion dollars will buy you a great deal of helicopters and capability. Not neccessarily what you wanted in the VH-71 but certainly it would go a long way to meeting the needs of that program.

Penny wise and pound foolish as my Nana use to say.

Photo from sophiea’s flickr photostream.

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Sikorsky and Workers Avoid Strike

Sikorsky and its unionized workers were able to agree on a contract today avoiding another potentially costly strike. The Journal Inquirer reports that the Teamsters Union and Sikorsky agreed to a contract on Sunday. Three years ago a long strike severely impacted the ability of the company to build aircraft at the desired rate of production. Since then Sikorsky has signed a big UH-60 Black Hawk contract as well as begun the CH-53K program and hopes to possibly win the CSAR-X re-competition. With all the work underway the new contract is substantially better in terms of pay then the last one. The strike was about employee contributions to health insurance although the union ended up settling on the company’s proposal.

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VH-71 Suffers Cost Breach and Connecticut is Lobbying

The Connecticut Post reports that the VH-71 new Presidential helicopter program suffered a “Nunn-McCurdy” cost breach. There are two levels of this breach and the higher one, a 25% increase, requires the Secretary of Defense to certify the program is still required for the U.S. national defense. The fine Senators and Congressmen from Connecticut have pricked up their ears at this development and want to meet with DoD to discuss canceling the program and giving it to Sikorsky. The contract with Lockheed Martin has seen considerable cost growth due to requirements creep since the contract was awarded. This has required wholesale changes to the EH-101 platform selected. Hence the great increase in cost and schedule for the program. Of course the DoD will have to weigh the savings if another vendor proposes something cheaper with the time required to restart the program. With a new administration it is conceivable that the contract could be canceled and started over, like ARH, but it probably won’t happen.

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U.S Navy Buys Eight More Submarines

The U.S Navy awarded General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman a contract worth over $14 billion to buy 8 more Virginia class attack submarines. Bloomberg.com has the report. The Virginia class are the latest attack submarines in the U.S Navy fleet. This order will bring the total to 18 either already delivered or under construction. The companies will split the order and build them at their respective yards in Connecticut and Virginia.

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GE wins contract to provide engines for the KC-45

This article, is I hope, commentary and not a news story. Or perhaps it is one of those commentaries that masquerade as a news story. Yes, P&W lost the chance to build engines, but GE won. If Boeing had won the contract I doubt there would have been an article saying “GE loses contract.” As to how politicians could change this, that I still haven’t figured out, since the whole source selection process is supposed to be removed from such things.

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