Spotlight on…The Aerospace & Defence Sector
Jay Ballard, President, Fox-3 Strategic Advisors, Inc.
The Aerospace & Defence industry is approaching an inflection point regarding platform development/affordability as well as a shift away from traditional customers. Some of the issues involved in these shifts include: technology advancement that outpaces platform development; a fiscally constrained environment in most Western countries; and the ongoing geopolitical power shifts that are driving significant changes in strategy and acquisition.
Warp Speed Technology
The doubling in computing capacity every 18 months (known as Moore’s Law) is causing one of the biggest impacts to the A&D sector. This makes it possible to develop weapons and sensors that have twice the processing power of the previous generation roughly every two years. Compare that to the current, average time to develop a new U.S. aircraft or ship, which takes longer than 15 years. The modern practice of distributed manufacturing drives the requirement to “lock down” the engineering specifications early on in the development process – usually years before the first aircraft is made. This results in the conundrum of how do you develop a “state of the art” aircraft with a 15-year development window, while computing capacity has doubled eight times over that same period? Lockheed-Martin, the builder of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, has attempted to avoid the technology obsolescence trap by concurrently producing new jets based on the locked in design specifications, while still continuing developmental work and testing. The danger with that approach is that early adopters of the F-35 will face the possibility of having to purchase expensive retrofits to correct discrepancies that are identified in continuing flight or durability testing. The concurrent developmental process is suffering significant delays for a variety of reasons (expanded testing requirements, helmet integration, software development and sensor fusion to name a few) and has proven to be messy and unreliable.
Payload-Centric Instead of Platform-Centric
Some opportunities to leverage the speed of technology growth in the A&D sector are in the payload and weapon development segments. In a 2012 article for Proceedings magazine the U.S. Chief of Naval Operations outlined the goal of moving his service away from multi-mission, fully integrated (and expensive) platform development to one more like a customizable “bomb truck.” Historically, when most countries develop a new ship or aircraft, there is a desire to incorporate leading edge technology, such as stealth or advanced sensors, and integrate all of those systems into a highly complex, multi-mission war fighting platform. This results in a platform capable of performing almost all of the potential missions envisioned for that aircraft or ship for the entire life of that platform. This is fine if the new platform will continuously use all of those capabilities while operating, but is a waste if it is carrying unused technology. For instance, counter-piracy operations in the Horn-of-Africa use multi-mission capable combatant ships (anti-air, anti-surface & subsurface, strike, mine sweeping, etc.), but only a small fraction of the available technology is used to fight pirates. A platform that facilitates varying payloads depending on the mission – payloads that could be developed sometimes in a matter of months – would, in fact, be state of the art. This payload-centric concept provides the benefit of a much faster design timeline for the “truck”, and a cheaper technology refresh as the payloads, weapons and sensors increase in capability. Expect this segment of the A&D sector to experience rapid growth in the next decade.
With the ability to automatically process vast amounts of networked data some defence contractors can offer cost effective and integrated solutions to complex challenges. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has unveiled their new Total Solutions offering to provide integrated air dominance (persistent intelligence, surveillance and response) over a very large area in a country. Most integrated air defence systems fielded by nations today are a mix of different early warning, target detection, tracking and kill systems (usually produced by more than one supplier). Once purchased, these systems have to be tied together to provide a common operating picture so they can be employed properly. This integration is expensive and complex as opposed to IAI’s Total Solutions system, which is designed to be a turnkey solution…(Read the full article in the August 2013 issue of FM)
Jay Ballard is a 28-year veteran of the Aerospace & Defence sector and the lead consultant and owner of Fox-3 Strategic Advisors Inc. Fox-3 is a small military and corporate leadership consultancy based in Queensville, Ontario. Fox-3’s core competencies are Strategic and Operational Planning, Joint Military Training (focused on the aerospace and maritime components), Leadership Development and Operational Risk Management.