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Fixing US Defense Procurement: A Texas Independent Helicopter Example

Austin Bay on

America's defense industrial base just received a bad report card -- and given recent U.S. defense industry foul-ups, several failing grades are well deserved.

The Ronald Reagan Institute, a think tank and foundation, issues a yearly report card evaluating what it calls the National Security Innovation Base (NSIB).

Innovation means both creative problem-solving and the mechanical engineering and manufacturing expertise that turn creative ideas into physical war-fighting systems, like ships, planes, sensors, weapons, ammo -- the metal or composite material or plastic objects with which American soldiers win wars.

The innovation base also includes the industrial base real-world manufacturing facilities and workforces that make the weapons.

Sample Reagan grades: The U.S. got a "D" grade for defense innovation and modernization. Major industry talent base also got a D -- industry "continues to face a graying talent pool" and younger workers lacking skills.

Private sector innovation, however, earned a "B." Thank goodness there's a lot of creative thinking going on. Creativity, however, is often hard to perceive, especially by politicians and generals beholden to politicians. But soldiers love creativity when a new device makes a difference on a battlefield.

 

Understand the Reagan Institute rates programs it knows about -- mostly those run by big defense firms (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, etc.) -- and the big, troubled contracts, like the flop of the Army's light attack helicopter program, which was killed Feb. 8.

I'm referring to the Army's Future Attack and Reconnaissance Aircraft program (FARA). Armed light scout helicopters find targets and protect the flanks of ground forces.

The Army wanted to replace the Bell OH-58 Kiowa, a scout helicopter that was retired nearly 10 years ago. The Pentagon spent at least $2 billion on the scrapped program. Major manufacturers Bell and Sikorsky developed scout prototypes, but critics argued they were too expensive to build and maintain.

After cancelling the FARA program, the Army officials issued a statement arguing the Ukraine war indicates drones can substitute for light attack helicopters. However, everyone knows drones have severe limitations -- they are vulnerable to anti-drone weapons and jammers. Drones can handle reconnaissance but carry small weapons loads, and microwave weapons scramble their guidance systems. A manned helicopter can carry multiple weapons and rapidly respond to changing battlefield conditions.

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