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New tech is built for the evolving nature of combat: Weapons and Warfare

May 30

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This episode of Weapons and Warfare is taking a look at new tech in the battle space. One company is working to make sure deployed troops have the computing power they need to operate in remote and austere environments as the nature of combat continues to evolve. Host Ryan Robertson provides an up-close look at how the company is looking to equip warfighters with the ability to best make use of all the information available to them.

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Also featured in this episode:

  • A new report from the Government Accountability Office paints a pricey picture for the future of the F-35.
  • U.S. troops work to overcome issues delivering aid to those in Gaza after the recently opened pier collapsed.
  • President Joe Biden has nominated Lt. Gen. Tony D. Bauernfeind to become superintendent at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
  • This episode’s weapon of the week shows how one defense contractor is able to meet the military’s needs for new tech on short notice.

You can subscribe to the Weapons & Warfare podcast on the platform of your choosing here.

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[RYAN ROBERTSON]

HELLO AND WELCOME TO WEAPONS AND WARFARE. FOR STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS I’M RYAN ROBERTSON. JUST AHEAD ON THIS WEEK’S EPISODE, AS MILITARY LEADERSHIP CONTINUES TO RESHAPE AND REIMAGINE HOW AMERICA WILL FIGHT IN FUTURE CONFLICTS, SO ARE THE TOOLS THEY’LL TAKE WITH THEM.

THIS WEEK WE LOOK AT WHAT COULD BE THE NEXT EVOLUTION IN COMPUTING POWER IN THE BATTLESPACE. SEE WHY THIS LITTLE BOX PACKS A POWERFUL PUNCH. PLUS, SEE HOW ONE COMPANY IS ABLE RAPIDLY TO RESPOND TO THE MILITARY’S NEED FOR NEED HARDWARE. AND IN OUR COMMS CHECK AND UPDATE TO SOME BIG PLANS FOR THE AIR FORCE’S FUTURE.

BUT FIRST, SOME HEADLINES YOU MAY HAVE MISSED.

A PILOT IS RECOVERING FOLLOWING THE CRASH OF AN F-35 LIGHTNING ON TAKEOFF AT ALBEQURQUE’S INTERNATIONAL SUNPORT. 

ACCORDING TO A SPOKESPERSON FOR THE CITY’S FIRE DEPARTMENT, THE PILOT, WHO  WAS TAKEN TO A HOSPITAL WITH SERIOUS INJURIES, WAS ABLE TO ESCAPE AFTER CRASHING ON A HILLSIDE SOUTH OF THE CITY’S AIRPORT.

LOCKHEED MARTIN IDENTIFIED THE PLANE AS AN F-35 THAT LEFT THEIR FORT WORTH, TEXAS, FACILITY EARLIER THAT DAY AND WAS HEADED TO EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE IN CALIFORNIA.

A SPOKESPERSON FOR LOCKHEED SAID IN AN EMAIL TO THE ASSOCIATED PRESS THAT THE FIGHTER JET CRASHED AFTER THE PILOT STOPPED TO REFUEL AT THE ADJACENT KIRTLAND AIR FORCE BASE IN NEW MEXICO.

THAT ACCIDENT COMES ON THE HEELS OF A NEW REPORT FROM THE GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE SHOWING THE F-35 PROGRAM CONTINUES TO BE HAMPERED BY VARIOUS DELAYS AND RISING COSTS. 

AMONG THEIR MAIN FINDINGS THE EXPECTED COST FOR THE AIR FORCE, NAVY AND MARINE CORPS TO MAINTAIN THE PROGRAM OVER THE NEXT SIX DECADES IS NOW EXPECTED TO EXCEED TWO TRILLION DOLLARS OVER THE LIFETIME OF THE FLEET.  

THE GAO ALSO FOUND F-35s ALREADY IN SERVICE ARE NOT MEETING MOST PERFORMANCE GOALS, INCLUDING THOSE FOR AVAILABILITY FOR RELIABILITY AND MAINTAINABILITY. THAT’S ACCORDING TO DOD AND CONTRACTOR DATA.

AMONG SIX KEY CHALLENGES FOR THE PROGRAM ARE A HEAVY RELIANCE ON CONTRACTORS, A LACK OF SPARE PARTS, AND INADEQUATE TRAINING RELATED TO MAINTENANCE. 

THE DOD CURRENTLY HAS ABOUT 630 F-35S, WITH PLANS TO BUY ABOUT 1,800 MORE, AND INTENDS TO USE THEM THROUGH 2088.

FOR A FULL LOOK AT THE REPORT YOU CAN FIND A LINK IN THE DESCRIPTION OF THIS EPISODE.

PENTAGON OFFICIALS TELLING REPORTERS THE U.S.-BUILT TEMPORARY PIER TAKING HUMANITARIAN AID TO STARVING PALESTINIANS WILL BE REMOVED FROM THE COAST OF GAZA TO BE REPAIRED AFTER GETTING DAMAGED IN ROUGH SEAS.

THE PIER IS ONE OF THE FEW WAYS THAT FOOD, WATER AND OTHER SUPPLIES ARE GETTING TO PALESTINIANS WHO THE U.N. SAYS ARE ON THE BRINK OF FAMINE AMID THE NEARLY 8-MONTH-OLD WAR BETWEEN ISRAEL AND HAMAS.

[Sabrina Singh, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary]

The Trident Pier will be removed from its anchored position on the coast and towed back to Ashdod, where U.S. Central Command will conduct repairs. The rebuilding and repairing of the pier will take at least over a week and following completion will need to be re anchored to the coast of Gaza.

[RYAN ROBERTSON]
THE SETBACK IS THE LATEST FOR THE $320 MILLION PROJECT, WHICH BEGAN OPERATIONS IN MID-MAY. THE PIER SYSTEM IS ANCHORED INTO THE BEACH AND PROVIDED A LONG CAUSEWAY FOR TRUCKS TO DRIVE AID ONTO THE SHORE.

—————————————————————————

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

BUZZ WORDS. THE MILITARY, LIKE THE CORPORATE WORLD, HAS THEIR BUZZ WORDS. LISTEN TO LEADERSHIP TALK AND WORDS LIKE AUSTERE, INTEGRATION, AND BATTLESPACE, ROLL OFF THE TONGUE AS EASILY AS SYNERGY, BANDWIDTH, AND DISRUPTER. BUT WHAT ARE THEY REALLY TALKING ABOUT? 

IN ESSENCE, THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT THE WAY THEY SEE THE NATURE OF FUTURE CONFLICTS.

FOR EXAMPLE, IN DECEMBER WE REPORTED FOR STRAIGHT ARROW NEWS THE AIR FORCE IS REBUILDING AN AIRFIELD USED TO LAUNCH THE NUCLEAR ATTACKS ON JAPAN DURING WORLD WAR II, RECLAIMING TINIAN ISLAND’S NORTH FIELD FROM THE JUNGLE — JUST IN CASE IT’S NEEDED IN A CONFLICT WITH CHINA. 

SOME OF YOU MAY BE WONDERING WHERE TINIAN ISLAND IS, IT’S RIGHT HERE, A LITTLE PIECE OF LAND IN THE PHILIPINE SEA, A LITTLE LESS THAN 2,000 MILES FROM THE COAST OF CHINA. NEEDLESS TO SAY THERE’S NOT A LOT OF INFRASTRUCTURE THERE. IT IS, IN A WORD, AUSTERE. 

OPERATING IN THOSE KINDS OF CONDITIONS IS WHAT SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE, FRANK KENDALL TALKED ABOUT IN FEBRUARY AT THE AFA WARFARE SYMPOSIUM. 

[Frank Kendall, Secretary of the Air Force] 

“We need fully capable units with all the assets they need to fight China or possibly Russia on short or no notice. We need units fully ready to either deploy or conduct operations in place, also on short or no notice.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

WHETHER IT’S FLYING SORTIES, OR DEPLOYING RECONNAISSANCE TROOPS, OPERATORS IN THE FIELD, IN PLACES LIKE TINIAN ISLAND, WILL NEED TOOLS LIKE THE ONE INTRODUCED BY CUBIC DEFENSE AT SOF WEEK 2024. OFFICIALLY CALLED THE D-TECH FUSION EDGE HIGH-PERFORMANCE COMPUTE, OR E-H-P-C. THEY ALSO REFER TO IT AS “THE BOX’. 

[Lt. Gen. James Terry]

“So think back in my, my timeframe. You know, it took racks and racks took probably three or four trucks to do what hauling racks of servers around to do what this one box will do for the future warfighter books out there. It’s good kit, good kit.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

PEOPLE INVOLVED WITH THE PROJECT TELL US  “THE BOX” PROVIDES THE MUSCLE TO NOT ONLY RUN A REMOTE COMMAND AND CONTROL OPERATION BUT ALSO TAKE DATA PRODUCED BY WHATEVER TOOLS ARE IN USE, AND PUT THAT INFORMATION IN A FORMAT THAT ALLOWS THOSE ON THE GROUND TO MAKE INFORMED DECISIONS.

[Lt. Gen. James Terry]

“It’s about converging data transfer, translating that into intelligence, and then delivering that to a decision making in a timely manner. So they can make the right decisions. And that’s what this does.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

RETIRED LIEUTENT GENERAL JAMES TERRY IS THE VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AND STRATEGY FOR CUBIC DEFENSE. HE’S ALSO THE FORMER COMMANDER OF U.S. ARMY CENTRAL COMMAND. HE SAYS THIS HARDWARE IS BUILT FOR THE EVOLVING NATURE OF COMBAT.

[Lt. Gen. James Terry]

“This is going to be exactly what those warfighters are going to need out there at those levels. It’s exciting. Very exciting.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

FOR THE TECH MINDED, OR IF YOU WANT TO IMPRESS YOUR KIDS THAT USE GAMING PCs, THIS SINGLE CASE SOLUTION IS FITTED WITH A NVIDIA G-P-U PROCESSOR TO SUPPORT ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MACHINE LEARNING. IT ALSO HAS 512 GIGABYTES OF ULTRAFAST MEMORY AND 25 GIGABYTES OF NETWORKING. AND OH YEAH, IT HAS EIGHT SLOTS OF REMOVABLE HARD DRIVES, THAT OFFER UP TO A PETABYTE WORTH OF STORAGE.. IF YOU’RE TRYING TO DO THE MATH, THAT’S TEN THOUSAND TERABYTES.

EVEN WITH ALL OF THAT, TERRY SAYS WHAT THIS COMES DOWN TO IS PROPERLY EQUIPING THE PEOPLE MAKING IMPORTANT DECISIONS.

[Lt. Gen. James Terry]

“We haven’t taken humans out of the loop yet. And we were not quite autonomous machines. So as long as there’s a human in that loop, he’s going to have to make a decision that needs to be a quality decision, this box will crunch all that data, if you apply some AI to it, sort through it, parse it, and then deliver it directly to that commander.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

SO WHAT COMMANDER IS GOING TO GET THEIR HANDS ON THE E-H-P-C FIRST? THAT REMAINS TO BE SEEN. WHILE CUBIC DEFENSE CURRENTLY HAS SEVERAL GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS THERE’S NO OFFICIAL WORD A BUYER FOR THEIR NEWEST PIECE OF TECH. WHEN THAT HAPPENS, WE’LL LET YOU KNOW. 

————————————————————————

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

TIME NOW FOR OUR WEAPON OF THE WEEK, AND RATHER THAN TAKING A DEEP DIVE ON A SPECIFIC FIREARM OR THE LATEST INNOVATION IN DRONE TECHNOLOGY, WE’RE FOCUSING ON A LONGTIME DEFENSE CONTRACTOR.

SCIENCE APPLICATIONS INTERNATIONAL CORPORATION OR, AS THEY’RE MORE COMMONLY KNOWN, SAIC.

IN THE SIMPLEST TERMS, THEY’RE PROBLEM SOLVERS. 

FOR EXAMPLE, THE NAVY NEEDS SOMETHING TO HELP IT DEFEND THEIR SHIPS AGAINST HOUTHI DRONE ATTACKS IN THE RED SEA. OR THE ARMY NEEDS A VEHICLE THAT CAN HANDLE ROUGH  TERRAIN AS WELL AS BE A PLATFORM FOR A VARIETY TECHNOLOGY, BUT THEY NEED IT YESTERDAY. 

[Jeremy Davidson]

You don’t have time to wait on traditional, you know, defense acquisition, right? So you have to be able to move fast agilely and get something out quick, that’s proven tested, and can deliver results. And that’s what we represent.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

AT SEA, AIR, SPACE 2024 I HAD A CHANCE TO VISIT WITH JEREMY DAVIDSON, A  SYSTEMS ENGINEERING DIRECTOR AND HE WALKED ME THROUGH HOW SAIC IS ABLE TO MEET THE MILITARY’S IMMEDIATE NEEDS.. 

[Jeremy Davidson]

We’ve tried to keep an ecosystem, a collaborative ecosystem, both with partners on the business side, but also partners that represent edge systems like you see on this vehicle here. As of today, we’ve got about 30 partners that represent 40 to 45 different technologies.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

THE VEHICLE HE REFERENCED IS A POLARIS RAZOR, BUILT-OUT TO HELP GROUND TROOPS ELIMINATE DRONE THREATS.

[Jeremy Davidson]

What you’re seeing up top is, is an RF detector and an RF effector and jammer is supplied by our partner drone shield. They supply a lot of RF detection and RF affecter equipment, all their product line or is completely integrated. So they’re one of one of our ecosystem partners that we lean on a lot. As we continue around, you’re seeing a product from defend is called the enforce err, this is actually what they call a cyber takeover. So if I see drones that are operating, I know immediately if I can take it over, and I can actually take it over and control the drone myself. And that allows the user to choose what they do with it, they can either land it, bring it to them landed in a safe spot, send it back to where it came from. But at that point, it breaks all communication with the with the actual original hand controller, and it now owns it. ”

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

PART OF SAIC’s APPROACH IS LOOKING AT THE ENTIRE SCOPE OF A REQUEST AND ANTICIPATING HOW THE THREAT MIGHT EVOLVE. 

[Jeremy Davidson]

So being able to pair sensors and sensor data, cameras, laser designators, and non-kinetics, as well as kinetics, small arms, rockets, anything like that, and to the same ecosystem into the same user experience with interoperability is super key, because you don’t know what kind of threat you’re gonna run into. So you need a solution for all threat types.”

—————————————————————————————-

[RYAN ROBERTSON] 

TIME NOW FOR OUR COMMS CHECK, AND THIS WEEK WE’RE FOLLOWING UP ON A STORY WE FIRST BROUGHT YOU BACK IN FEBRUARY. 

IT WAS AT THE AFA WARFARE SYMPOSIUM THAT THE AIR FORCE ANNOUNCED BIG PLANS FOR RE-OPTIMIZATION WITH AN EYE ON POTENTIAL CONFLICTS WITH CHINA AND RUSSIA. 

AMONG THE PLANS UNVEILED BY AIR FORCE CHIEF OF STAFF GENERAL DAVID ALLVIN WAS THE INTRODUCTION OF AIR TASK FORCES THAT WILL TEST NEW METHODS TO GENERATE MORE EFFICIENT, INTEGRATED AND DEPLOYABLE COMBAT WINGS. 

THE MAIN IDEA IS THAT WHEN A WING IS DEPLOYED TO A FORWARD OPERATING LOCATION, THEY ALREADY HAVE EVERYTHING THEY NEED TO OPERATE. NO MORE ADDING AIRMEN FROM DIFFERENT UNITS FROM ACROSS THE AIR FORCE.

[General David Allvin] “Right now, when you think of what the wings do, they deploy parts of the wing. And they execute the mission that they’re told, if we’re gonna talk about agile combat employment,

we need to have a wing that knows how to do that as a wing. And that is the difference between how we’ve been presenting combat power of presenting squadrons and then crowdsourcing the rest. We’re not training together. So that’s why this is important is because the manner in which we expect to employ them is going to be so much different from what we’re doing right now.”

[RYAN ROBERTSON] 

AND WE NOW KNOW WHAT BASES WILL BE PUTTING THESE NEW CONCEPTS INTO ACTION.  DAVIS-MONTHAN, SCOTT, JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO, DYESS, FAIRCHILD, AND SEYMOUR JOHNSON.

IN A RELEASE ANNOUNCING THE BASES GENERAL ALLVIN CALLED IT THE FIRST SIGNIFICANT CHANGE TO AIR FORCE DEPLOYMENTS IN MORE THAN TWO DECADES. 

———————————————————————————-

[RYAN ROBERTSON]

Alright folks, we are just about out of time for this episode of Weapons and Warfare. And for my wrap this week, I’m going to share a story from my personal life that sort of struck me as a good metaphor for some of the stuff happening in our world right now.

So I live in Iowa. And in front of my house, there is an old ash tree that is infested with a beetle called the emerald ash borer. EAB. Basically, they suck and they kill ash trees. Now the initial infestation happened before we moved into the house, so it’s too late for us to really fix the root cause. What we’re left with is a tree that’s half dead, will be fully dead at some point in the next couple of years, and is presenting a bunch of potential problems. Limbs could fall on someone walking by a strong enough gust of wind could send the tree or parts of it flying through my house or another in the neighborhood. I don’t know if you know this, but Iowa does get pretty windy.

All that to say, the tree is a problem. I know it’s a problem. And the longer I do nothing, the worse it’s going to get and the more dangerous it is not just for me, but really anyone close to it. In the story of this tree. I see similarities with situations taking place around the world. Obviously, there’s Ukraine. Russia started taking Ukrainian territory 10 years ago, we knew it was a problem. But the world’s didn’t really want to deal with it at the time, sort of like the previous owners of my house who could have treated the ash tree. But for whatever reason didn’t, the initial infestation was allowed to fester, and now entire Ukrainian cities are reduced to rubble.

In Israel, it was a known fact Hamas was preparing for some sort of major operation. But the threat was not taken seriously enough, and so never dealt with accordingly. Now Israel is finding out it’s much harder to root out the problem once its network is established.

My point is, eventually, someone has to deal with the problems. At some point, the adults in the room need to take some responsibility, make the difficult decision and deal with the problem head on, stop kicking it down the road for someone else to solve or worse yet, acting like it doesn’t even exist in the first place. I didn’t plant I did not plant that Ash tree and I was not the one to stand idly by at a time when I could have prevented the infestation. But it’s my responsibility now.

Whether it’s Russia invading Ukraine, or Hamas attacking Israel, or China threatening to take Taiwan, the series of events that led to those things all started generations ago. But now it’s time to deal with those problems before they cause any more unnecessary harm.

For Senior Producer Brett Baker, video editor Brian Spencer and graphics designer Dakota Piteo, I’m Ryan Robertson with Straight Arrow News, signing off