The past several years have seen more than a few conflicts between the Department of Defense (DoD) and defense companies. Defense news seems to be dominated by reports about cost overruns and performance problems on weapons programs, the alleged excessive reliance by Pentagon offices on contractor support, organizational conflicts of interest issues and mishandled contract awards. It can be difficult to remember that the majority of defense companies are doing good work often under extremely harsh conditions. Firms such as KBR, Maersk Line Limited, APL, DRS and ManTech, to name just a few, have been providing high quality logistics support to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan for years. Others such as ATK, General Dynamics, Force Protection and Textron produce critically needed ammunition, ground vehicles and aerial platforms needed by our warfighters.
So, it is important to applaud those cases when DoD and industry do work together successfully. One such example is the newly minted research and development agreement between the Pentagon and a consortium of defense companies to work on future vertical lift technologies. This agreement reflects not simply DoD’s recognition of the importance of helicopters across the spectrum of conflict, but also the more important point that the U.S. defense industry’s stock of readily accessible vertical lift technologies has pretty much been exhausted.
The agreement does not specify what new technologies will be pursued. Ideas will be developed collaboratively between the members of the consortium and senior military officers. Open dialogue between industry which knows the art of the possible and the military which defines requirements for future vertical lift platforms is an important way to ensure that future procurement programs avoid the kind of cost and performance problems that have plagued some programs in the past. The consortium approach allows available R&D dollars to be used more effectively and industry to disseminate and exploit more rapidly the results of collaborative efforts.
There has been speculation that one area the consortium could tackle is Joint Heavy Lift (JHL). The Navy and Marine Corps will have to replace their current heavy lift helicopter, the CH-53E Super Stallion, within the next decade. Heavy vertical lift has been increasingly important as the military finds itself operating in places with limited ground transportation infrastructure, few airfields and difficult terrain. The technologies to support a JHL program could include quad rotor lift systems, sort of a V-22 Osprey on steroids.
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