The United States military’s budget is in a word: massive. On March 28, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced that the $773 billion budget would reinforce the Pentagon’s commitment to the concept of integrated deterrence, allowing the U.S. to better sequence and conduct operations around the globe that are aligned to the nation’s priorities.
It would also modernize the Joint Force, with nearly $56.5 billion earmarked for air power platforms and systems; more than $40.8 billion for sea power to include nine more battle force ships, and nearly $12.6 billion to modernize Army and Marine Corps fighting vehicles.
That may sound like a lot of money, but the military’s big programs cost big dollars.
Each of the United States Navy’s Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carriers has a $13.3 billion price tag, while the United States Air Force has said it is likely to cost at least $203 billion to develop, purchase and then operate 100 B-21 Raider bomber aircraft over the next 30 years. That is in addition to the $1 trillion cost of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program.
More With Less?
While there is no denying that the Pentagon needs a fifth-generation aircraft such as the F-35, not to mention the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter that is currently in development, while carriers such as the Ford-class continue to serve as force projection throughout the world, a case is being made to use low-cost tech as well.
The war in Ukraine has served as a testing ground in how such low-cost weapons as the Switchblade loitering munitions drone can be quickly employed and remotely target an adversary’s tank without putting the operator in the direct line of sight. The lessons of the conflict haven’t been lost on U.S. Army Gen. Richard D. Clarke, who suggested that such easy to deploy drones could be game-changers in future conflicts.
“I never had to look up because the U.S. always maintained air superiority,” Gen. Clarke told attendees last month at the Aspen Security Forum in Aspen, CO. “We won’t always have that luxury.”
Clarke further added that low-cost quadcopters along with larger unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are already disrupting the status quo.
“When Russia is running out of them for Ukraine, and they’re going to Iran to buy more, [that] should cause us all a bit of concern because you see how valuable that they can be in the future fight,” he said – referring to reports that the Kremlin has sought to acquire low-cost Iranian-made drones to replenish supplies.
It won’t just be the actual military hardware that is evolving; it is also how that hardware is being produced. The defense industry around the world is embracing many new advances in computer-aided design (CAD), as well as 3D printing.
At last month’s Farnborough International Airshow 2022, which took place outside of London, BAE systems unveiled 3D-printed aircraft components. Already, the U.S. military has employed 3D printing to make components for the F-35 and even some naval vessels – but the aerospace company could take this even further with the UK-led Future Air Combat System (FACS), also known as Tempest.
“The application of Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (WAAM) techniques, also known as 3D printing, within the development of the Tempest demonstrator reveals an ambition on the part of Team Tempest to apply novel industrial techniques to enhance the efficiency and timeliness of the eventual production process for the sixth-generation fighter,” explained Harry Boneham, aerospace analyst at international analytics firm GlobalData, via an email to ClearanceJobs.
“The potential of WAAM has been enhanced significantly in recent years due to the addition of digitalized design techniques such as computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM),” added Boneham.
“Not only will WAAM techniques allow aircraft part producers flexibility when it comes to upgrades and redesigns, but it will slash lead times—reportedly from aroound two years, using current techniques, to around 100 days with 3D printing,” said Boneham. “Additionally, 3D-printed parts can, to a certain extent, be produced on demand—especially when compared to forged parts. This will greatly benefit producers, as they will no longer need to tie up large amounts of capital in large batch orders and hold deep parts inventories.”
The Pentagon has also announced that nearly 100 companies have been awarded contracts for the Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2) project. It shows how the Department of Defense (DoD) is now attempting to develop the commercial ecosystem necessary to build and maintain JADC2
“The complexity of the system, which is a DoD wide data management system, requires both physical and virtual infrastructure and will need a diverse number of companies and contracts to fulfill. The JADC2 is a program designed to give the U.S. a technological advantage over its adversaries and speed up both the collection and distribution of information,” said William Davies, associate analyst at GlobalData.
The Pentagon’s contracts will provide opportunities for companies in a variety of sectors, with the Air Force seeking to develop technology including AI, Cloud and 5G in order to link systems across domains with technology companies best suited for winning contracts.
“While the DoD is in charge of JADC2 program, the Army is contributing through Project Overmatch, the Navy through Project Convergence and the Air Force through the Advanced Battle Management System (AMBS),” said Davies. “Having all its armed forced interlinked like this would provide a significant data advantage over comparative forces. These is due to the fact that JADC2 is a true cross service effort which requires contributions and planning from each force.”
While the project is extremely complex, the DoD is issuing more contracts in order to facilitate its development and provide companies with the tools necessary to maintain and update the system once it’s running, explained Davies, adding, “The contracts included some indefinite delivery and multiple award contracts which will provide companies with ongoing work, and while work is scheduled to be completed by mid-2025 there will be contracts beyond this to maintain the system.”