Pentagon tweaks the 15-ton Massive Ordnance Penetrator amid Iran talks
If diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program fail, the country’s underground nuclear facilities could expect a surprise package delivery from Uncle Sam and his stealthy B-2 bomber.
Last year, while the White House was negotiating a settlement to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the U.S. military was upgrading a terrifying weapon that could smash Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s thinly-veiled nuclear weapons program, albeit at great risk of sparking a shooting war.
We’re talking about the 15-ton Massive Ordnance Penetrator, the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb, which Boeing and the Pentagon have tailored for punching deep into the ground to destroy buried targets including nuclear, chemical or biological weapons facilities.
Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Larry Spencer is calling on the scientific community to deliver the type of technological surprise seen during the First Gulf War in Iraq, when smart bombs and stealthy aircraft dominated the skies and changed the nature of warfare.
“When the Air Force went into Desert Storm people said: ‘Where did that stuff come from?'” Spencer said at an Air Force Scientific Advisory Board meeting Jan. 27. “We were putting smart munitions into somebody’s bedroom window. Most were awed by how good we were.”
As budgets tighten and the Air Force downsizes to 49 fighter squadrons, the general said the scientific community needs to help the service come up with game-changing technologies that will “leapfrog” America’s adversaries in a way not seen since Operation Desert Storm.
“The transition from gravity bombs to smart munitions was huge,” he said. “What’s next? I am literally begging for you to help us with that. We need to play chess while others are playing checkers.”
The Air Force plans to deploy four Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to Japan this monsoon season in the second deployment of its kind.
The movement comes as the Global Hawk program office in Ohio prepares to install a weather radar capability on the high-altitude spy fleet that would reduce the need for forward deployments.
A Jan. 22 request for proposals posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website calls for contractors to support the six-month mission to Misawa Air Base. The deployment runs from May 15 through to Oct. 15.
The service intends to deploy four Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawks — two Block 30s and two Block 40s — according to the RFP.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the cost to maintain and upgrade the nation’s nuclear enterprise is $348 billion through 2024 as the Pentagon and Energy Department pursue new programs to recapitalize the strategic submarine, intercontinental ballistic missile and bomber forces.
The budget office’s latest estimate, down $7 billion over last year’s prediction due to program adjustments, comes as the Air Force searches for money to fund key bomber, ICBM and cruise missile projects and the Navy continues the Ohio-class submarine replacement program. The report was released Jan. 22.
The CBO estimates the Defense Department’s nuclear triad will cost $227 billion to sustain and modernize through 2024, $6 billion more than previous estimates due to a new Minuteman III replacement effort. The Energy Department, responsible for the nuclear warheads, intends to spend $121 billion on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years, a $13 billion decrease.
The annual report is required by Congress and comes as the Obama administration prepares to submit its fiscal year 2016 budget request Feb. 2. The budget is expected to contain additional spending on the strategic nuclear force.
As the Air Force and Navy invest more in high-end combat training systems, Rockwell Collins is snapping up small research grants and conducting proof-of-concept demonstrations that would overcome some of the technical and security challenges associated with blended live, virtual and constructive training.
This week the company published the results of the study it commissioned that estimated the Pentagon could save more than $1.7 billion in training costs over five years by offsetting flying hour decreases with more blended training.
The Air Force announced this week that it will replace Air Force One with a new Boeing airliner, the commercial 747-8, almost guaranteeing the company will receive sole-source contracts worth billions of dollars for the development and production phases of the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program.
According to a Jan. 28 service announcement and an accompanying acquisition notice, there will be no formal competition for either the aircraft production or missionization components of the program.
The decision concludes a multiyear, market-research phase that considered the Boeing aircraft and Airbus Group’s A380, manufactured in France.
Airbus had provided the Air Force with information about the European alternative, although there was almost no chance of the president being carried in an aircraft not built in America. The Boeing 747-8 is manufactured in Washington state and first flew in 2011. The aircraft is sold internationally as a wide-bodied airliner.
The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board chair believes the group’s study tasks for fiscal year 2015 have the potential to transform the way the Air Force thinks about quantum systems and remotely piloted aircraft and inform future investment decisions in those fields.
Werner Dahm, the Air Force’s chief scientist from 2008-2010 and now the board’s chair, said quantum systems in particular is an area where the service would do more if it could identify the best place to start.
“That Air Force knows there’s all this stuff going on internationally but they don’t have the time to sort through this at the level the SAB is being asked to do,” Dahm told reporters Jan. 27 at the group’s winter conference. “This is one where we can potentially help paint a vision for what the Air Force ought to be doing and what it might be facing from potential adversaries 10, 20 or 30 years down the road.”
According to Dahm, quantum systems are more than just super-fast computers. The science points to fundamental shifts in communications, sensing, timing and inertial measurement technologies.
Raytheon’s third live-fire test of the Small Diameter Bomb II is scheduled for the week of Feb. 9 at the White Sands Missile Range, NM, after an earlier test failure slowed the developmental weapon system’s progress toward milestone C.
The company confirmed the follow-on test date in a Jan. 27 email to Inside the Air Force. SDB II has been in development since 2010 and has overshot the threshold date for moving past development to the production and deployment phase by one year due to earlier test failures that have since been resolved.
Despite missing the anticipated milestone C date, the Air Force program received a favorable assessment from the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, J. Michael Gilmore, stated in his 2014 assessment of DOD weapon systems.
“SDB II continues to progress through engineering and manufacturing development with an adequately resourced test program and no major programmatic testing problems outstanding,” according to the report, published Jan. 20. “The failures were thoroughly investigated and corrective actions implemented before proceeding with additional tests. All corrective actions have been successful to date in preventing repeats of the observed failure modes.”
The Air Force and Lockheed Martin are exploring options for integrating the extended-range JASSM cruise missile with the F-16 and F-15E fighter jets after the standoff weapon was declared combat-ready on the B-1B Lancer.
Jason Denney, Lockheed’s long-range strike systems program director, told Inside the Air Force in a Jan. 27 interview that the service has requested proposals for integrating the weapon onto those fighter jets as production of the improved Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) scales up.
Denney joined Lockheed 18 months ago after a career in the Air Force, where he worked on the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile and AIM-9 Sidewinder programs.
He said the JASSM-ER has two-and-a-half-times the range of the baseline variant, and will eventually be paired with the B-2 Spirit and B-52 Stratofortress. Those bombers are currently undergoing weapons bay upgrades.
According to Lockheed, 2014 was a milestone year for the JASSM-ER program. Plans for fiscal year 2015 include expanding production at the company’s manufacturing plant in Troy, Alabama; pursuing fighter jet integration efforts; and recruiting new foreign military sales customers.
The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center’s intercontinental ballistic missile office has received more manpower and funding to extend the life of the Minuteman III to 2030 and move forward with the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent program.
Col. Ryan Britton, director of the ICBM systems directorate, said in a Jan. 23 statement provided to Inside the Air Force that the program office is managing one current and two future major acquisition programs worth roughly $18 billion and 30 current and future smaller programs worth $4 billion collectively.
He confirmed the office is most of the way through standing up the Future ICBM Sustainment and Acquisition Construct (FISAC), which is new contracting arrangement designed to sustain the Minuteman III while preparing for the replacement missile delivered through the GBSD program.
“The ICBM systems directorate is positioned to continue sustainment of the current MM III through 2030 and is formulating strategy and resource requirements to eventually replace MM III with GBSD,” Britton said in the statement. “The directorate has received more dollars and additional manpower resources to sustain and manage these modernization activities.”
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter appears to be too stealthy for television after failing to be caught on camera during the NFL’s all-star football game last night.
The combat jet conducted a four-ship flyover, but footage of the first-ever F-35 football flyover was not captured by the broadcaster .
Maybe the cameramen just forgot to look up when the F-35 buzzed University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, AZ, or maybe it was the aircraft’s stealthy characteristics that blended it with the desert sky.
Conspiracy theorists might say the aircraft’s flyover was too classified to air on television, or it’s electronic jamming systems were preventing a clear picture.
Either way, failed to deliver any Pro Bowl satisfaction to the aviation community.
It is difficult to say how the stadium audience reacted to the flyover. Some people did manage to capture the fleeting moment when the jets passed over the dome on their smartphones.
Before and after the game, the Air Force leadership took to twitter to generate some hype.
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James rolled out the #FlyFightWin hash tag to thanks the flight team.
“A job well done by all involved to make the first F-35 flyover at the #ProBowl happen!” she tweeted.
Chief of Staff Mark Welsh cranked up the patriotism, as he tends to do, writing: “The Sound of Freedom over AZ tonight!”
The flyover comes in the wake of an aircraft fire in June 2014 that grounded the fifth-generation fighter fleet and forced the Marine Corps to call off the F-35’s planned international debut at the Farnborough Airshow in London.
Since then, the Joint Strike Fighter program has resumed flights and made progress on several fronts as it moves toward combat-ready status.
But controversy still dogs the aircraft, principally because it cost too much and is years behind schedule (the original schedule, not the revised one from 2012).
The Pentagon plans to purchase 2,457 Joint Strike Fighters from Lockheed Martin at an estimated cost of $400 billion. Add the projected life cycle costs and you get the “trillion-dollar jet” tag line.
Those issues aside, the flyover must have been a proud moment for the airmen at Luke Air Force Base, AZ. The flight team from was introduced to the crowd and received a 2015 Pro Bowl commemorative patch.
I’m sure those airmen don’t mind that the milestone went largely unnoticed. The alternative is a mishap or no-show that would have set the front pages on fire. I would choose no attention over that attention any day. Well done Team Luke.
The Air Force intends to replace the Minuteman III with an almost entirely new intercontinental ballistic missile that utilizes the existing reentry vehicles capable of delivering single and multiple nuclear warheads, according to a Jan. 23 request for information.
The document states that the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), as the Minuteman replacement effort is known, will utilize existing, rejuvenated missile silos and launch-control facilities.
“The new weapon system will use the existing MK12A and MK21 reentry vehicles in the single- and multiple-RV configurations,” the document states. “The remainder of the missile stack will be replaced.
“The government is exploring options to renovate the launch control centers and launch facilities to like-new condition, undergo selective modernization and receive enhanced security features,” the notice continues.
The Air Force has been on a 25-year nuclear weapons “procurement holiday” and now all its bills are coming due at once, but those bills are affordable despite declining military budgets, according to a top service official.
The branch wants to replace just about every nuclear weapon in its inventory, from outdated bombers to the 45-year-old Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, and those programs are competing for funding at a time when resources are spread thin.
“It is unfortunate a lot of these bills are all coming due now,” Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, told a Jan. 20 Air Force Association forum in Washington. “It sucks to be us. We should have been taking care of this, we didn’t. That’s in the past. I’ve got to deal with today and the future.”
The Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation has once again urged the Air Force to complete follow-on testing of the Global Hawk Block 30 aircraft more than four years after initial operational testing found serious problems with the aircraft’s performance and its primary signals intelligence sensor.
The Northrop Grumman-built Global Hawk Block 30 program has been under a cloud since that initial testing in 2011, having been terminated in 2012 and then revived in 2014.
Despite the troubles, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore wants the program office to conduct a follow-on test of the Global Hawk’s signals intelligence mission to ensure corrections implemented since 2011 are meeting performance thresholds.
The head of the defense intelligence community this week praised the Air Force’s response to the overwhelming strain on the under-resourced Predator and Reaper enterprise, calling the branch’s recent pledge to boost manning levels and increase pay and incentives for pilots instead of cutting sortie rates “swift and decisive.”
Michael Vickers, under secretary of defense for intelligence, said at a Jan. 21 Atlantic Council forum that remotely piloted aircraft have helped usher in a “golden age” for intelligence gathering, with their unequaled ability to perform day-long armed reconnaissance missions over an area of operation.
He acknowledged the strain on the force, detailed by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James during a State of the Air Force address at the Pentagon last week.
“I was very pleased by the swift and decisive actions the Air Force leadership has taken recently,” Vickers said. “That force has been instrumental in our successes in a number of counterterrorism campaigns.”
The Air Force’s assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence has expressed confidence in the B61-12 tail kit assembly being developed by Boeing, saying the program is “well run, well engineered, on time and on cost” and exemplifies the service’s ability to pursue an affordable nuclear modernization agenda.
The general’s comments come after a series of successful separation and captive-carry flight tests. The program is moving toward a critical design review and flight testing of the complete assembly later this year in preparation for a decision on whether to move to Phase II of development.
“I’m very excited about the B61-12 and its ability to prove what we said: that you can do a modernization, you can do a recapitalization, you can do a life extension program, and it can be on cost and on schedule, because that’s exactly what B61-12 is,” Maj. Gen. Garrett Harencak, assistant chief of staff for strategic deterrence and nuclear integration, told reporters after a Jan. 21 Air Force Association event in Washington. “The Air Force is specifically responsible for the tail kit. It’s on cost, it’s on schedule — but the entire B61 program is on cost and on schedule.”
The Air Force plans to missionize its long-endurance Orion aircraft after the unmanned aerial vehicle broke records by flying non-stop for more than three days, almost tripling the previous endurance standard set by Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk.
Built by Aurora Flight Sciences, Orion flew for 80 hours during a demonstration flight at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, CA, that ended Dec. 8. The successful flight test was confirmed this week by the Big Safari program office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
In a Jan. 21 interview, Aurora CEO John Langford told Inside the Air Force that Orion is capable of flying for 120 hours and had approximately 37 hours’ worth of unspent fuel remaining after the December flight.
The aircraft is currently a concept demonstrator and could have utility for the military as a persistent surveillance or communications relay platform.
Northrop’s RQ-4 Global Hawk is a workhorse of the Air Force’s surveillance fleet and can fly for more than 30 hours. Orion and Global Hawk use regular aviation fuel and are in a different class than the lighter and more fragile solar-powered UAVs that can stay airborne for weeks.
The Defense Department expects to block foreign involvement in the multibillion-dollar Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System recapitalization program due to “strict export control and national security considerations,” according to a Jan. 16 Federal Business Opportunities notice.
“The government does not contemplate any foreign involvement,” the notice states.
The Air Force is readying a live-fire test of a new, more capable version of its 30,000-pound Massive Ordnance Penetrator after a successful drop-test from a B-2 bomber in October, according to the Pentagon’s latest annual report on weapons testing. The weapon is designed to hit hard and deeply buried targets, such as those in Iran and North Korea.
The improved bunker-buster bomb, being developed as part of the classified MOP Enhanced Threat Response Phase 2 program, is the result of a second round of hardware and software upgrades to the Boeing-built munition.
Disclosure of the October test comes as rogue states such as Iran and North Korea seek to harden their nuclear weapons facilities against attacks by the West, one expert told Inside the Air Force.
Just months after placing an $85 million order with Raytheon for Griffin missiles, the Air Force intends to award the company another contract worth up to $450 million for 5,000 missiles plus associated equipment and support services.
According to a Jan. 8 presolicitation notice on the Federal Business Opportunities website, the service expects to issue the five-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract to Raytheon in May.
“The government anticipates procuring a total of 5000 missiles; however, this quantity is subject to change depending on the discount pricing negotiated for large quantity orders,” the notice states.
In November, Raytheon received a separate IDIQ contract from the Air Force for Griffin missiles and engineering services.