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DOD Officials Testify on Fixed-Wing Tactical, Training Aircraft Programs

July 15, 2021 | BY Terri Moon Cronk , DOD News

For the Defense Department to properly test the systems it intends to buy against expected threats, the DOD must invest now to create a robust test and evaluation infrastructure with live and synthetic environments that is equipped with cutting-edge tools and staffed by people with deep expertise, a DOD official said.

Raymond O'Toole Jr., acting director of operational test and evaluation, testified Tuesday before a House Armed Services Committee panel about the DOD's fiscal year 2022 budget request for fixed-wing tactical and training aircraft programs.

A pilot sits in the cockpit of a jet.
Flying Course
An Air Force F-35A pilot assigned to the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base in Utah prepares to participate in a flying course at Los Llanos Air Base in Spain, June 10, 2019. The program benefits the overall NATO alliance by providing an opportunity to work with other allied air forces in both the classroom and in European airspace.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Evan Parker
VIRIN: 190610-N-RU672-0008

"DOD's mission success and national security reflect the quality of the operational test and evaluation we perform," he said. "A large number of new and complex technologies are in the development and acquisition pipeline, and our adversaries continue to advance their capabilities."

The F-35 Lightning II's Block 4 program is now underway, O'Toole said. He also said the existing development process — known as continuous capability development and delivery — is supposed to deliver a new, tested and verified increment of software every six months. "However, each increment has been flawed, more flawed than expected," he said. "Further, software changes intended to add new capabilities or fix deficiencies have instead introduced stability problems that adversely affected certain existing F-35 functionality."

O'Toole told the panel he is "cautiously hopeful" that the program office's decision to move to a 12-month software cycle will mitigate some of those issues; however, there remains concern that the ability to conduct adequate testing and evaluation is now at a crossroads.

"Simply put, we cannot determine the system's combat credibility nor thoroughly prepare our warfighters if our test and training capabilities are not kept up to date," O'Toole said.

Joseph Nogueira, acting director of cost assessment and program evaluation, answered three questions from the panel on CAPE.

First, in support of the fiscal 2022 budget request, CAPE conducted several analytic efforts assessing the capability, capacity and readiness of the DOD's tactical aircraft, he said. "To support major defense acquisition program milestones, CAPE generated independent cost estimates for the F-15 Eagle['s] Passive Active-warning and Survivability System Program and the next generation jammer low- and mid-band programs.”

CAPE also oversaw the joint tactical air synthetic training, analysis of alternatives and the Air Force's and Navy's next-generation air dominance analysis of alternatives, he said. CAPE also conducted other internal analyses directed by DOD leadership to investigate tactical air survivability, lethality, overall affordability and novel concepts of operations to support combatant commander needs.

Two aircraft, one with a U.S. flag displayed in the cockpit, fly together.
Banking Aircraft
Two F-35 Lightning II aircraft bank after receiving fuel over the Midwest, Sept. 19, 2019.
Photo By: Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Mota
VIRIN: 190919-F-FV960-1002A

Second, as part of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, Congress tasked CAPE with completing analyses on the service acquisition strategies for sixth-generation aircraft and a non-advocate review of the Air Force's digital century series business case. Both studies are underway, and CAPE is engaged in detailed discussions with the program offices, contractors and other stakeholders to gain the necessary data and insight to inform the department's evolving acquisition, he noted. "The digital century series business case review should be completed in August, and I expect to send it to you shortly thereafter," he said.

Third, Nogueira said, there are a number of analytical efforts underway across the DOD to determine the appropriate balance of sixth-, fifth- and fourth-generation capabilities. The Joint Staff, in coordination with combatant commands, is leading the DOD's thinking on how tactical air should be employed in a future conflict.

Additionally, "the Air Force and Navy are conducting tactical air studies focused on assessing both near- and long-term requirements," he said. "The results of these efforts will inform the National Defense Strategy and decisions to be captured in the President's fiscal year 2023 budget submission and associated Future Years Defense Program," Nogueira said.