5 Things To Start Your Week: March 5, 2018

Artist’s rendering of the Navy's HELIOS shipboard laser weapon. (Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)
Artist’s rendering of the Navy's HELIOS shipboard laser weapon. (Image courtesy of Lockheed Martin)

1. Navy Buys Ship Lasers to 'Dazzle' Drones

From Richard Sisk at Military.com:

"The Navy has awarded an initial $150 million contract to Lockheed Martin to develop shipboard lasers that can "dazzle" enemy drone swarms and take out small boats.

It's a 'watershed moment' in the Navy's decades-long effort to develop laser weapons for surface ships, Ian McKennie, Lockheed's business development leader for laser systems, said [March 2] of the $150 million contract that could go to $942.8 million with options.

Lockheed plans to deliver two of the systems to the Navy in fiscal 2020. One would go on board an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer for testing and the second would be used for land testing at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico."


2. Only Half of F-35s Are Flying

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter fleet is growing by the year, but availability rates for the defense department's brand-new 5th-generation fighter are surprisingly low. The director of the F-35 Joint Program Office, Vice Adm. Mat Winter, told reporters March 1 that 51 percent of all 280 operational F-35s are available for flight, and the availability rate drops to between 40 and 50 percent for aircraft in the earliest production lots.

The good news, Winter said, is that later production lots of the aircraft have much higher availability rates, thanks to hardware and software improvements. The F-35 program is now overseeing the creation of government maintenance depots, increasing production of spares, and pushing forward with an upgrade to the aircraft's autonomous logistics information system [ALIS] to increase efficiencies and bring up availability rates.

These steps are crucial. If maintenance costs continue at their current rate as the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy continue to accept more aircraft, the program will be "unaffordable," Winter said, even as the purchase cost of the F-35 continues to come down.


3. Reserve Rescue Unit Needs New Aircraft

From Military.com reporter Oriana Pawlyk's recent reporting trip to Patrick Air Force Base, Florida:

"The 920th [Rescue Wing] overall is responsible for 18 percent of all Air Force rescue missions, and officials here expect that percentage to rise in years to come.

'The Air Force needs to field out' the new helicopters, 'and we're towards the end of that fielding,' said Col. Kurt Matthews, commander of the 920th Rescue Wing. The commander also said the HC-130J Combat King II model -- intended to replace HC-130P/Ns across the fleet -- is long overdue.

'My concern is, we're already flying an aircraft that's beyond its normal lifespan, and for helicopters it's a lot different than fixed-wing,' Matthews said in a follow-up interview."

In addition to new HC-130J aircraft, the wing is waiting on new HH-60W "Whiskey" combat rescue helicopters to replace its aging HH-60G Pave Hawks. But despite operational wear and tear and an increasing tempo for the wing, the new helicopters could take up to a decade to arrive.


4. Hearings on the Hill

It's the busiest week of the year so far for the military on Capitol Hill, where leaders from every service are set to testify on a wide range of issues.

On Tuesday, panels of the House Armed Services Committee will hear from Marine Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, head of U.S. Africa Command on the state of military activities on the continent, and recent testimony from Navy and Marine Corps leadership in two separate hearings covering budget and readiness issues.

At the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, members will hear from Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and Defense Intelligence Agency Director Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley on worldwide threats and from the heads of Navy and Marine Corps aviation on budget issues.

HASC will tackle military service acquisition reform, the F-35 program and U.S. strategic forces posture and budget issues in separate hearings on Wednesday.

On Thursday, HASC will hear from leaders of the Maritime Administration and U.S. Transportation Command, then from administrators at Arlington National Cemetery. SASC will complete the week with a hearing featuring Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, Commander of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe.


5. Navy Vets With Mental Illnesses Sue Over Discharges

From the Associated Press:

"Navy and Marine Corps veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan with mental health problems were unfairly given less-than-honorable discharges by the Navy, preventing them from getting Veterans Affairs benefits and other support, according to a lawsuit filed [March 2].

... The veterans say they were less-than-honorably discharged for minor infractions related to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other mental problems they developed during their service.

They also say the Naval Discharge Review Board, which handles applications from former sailors and Marines, unlawfully denied their requests to change their discharge characterization. The board granted 16 percent of discharge upgrade applications involving PTSD last year, compared with 51 percent approval of such applications by Army and Air Force boards, the veterans say."

-- Oriana Pawlyk and Richard Sisk contributed to this report.


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