Defense Speak Interpreted: Defense on Legacy Weapons Systems

You may wonder why I chose “legacy” as the topic for my monthly column. It is because the simple term “legacy” has a somewhat different connotation for Defense, and legacy is certainly in the news due to current work on the FY 2022 Defense budget. In fact, legacy is at the core of a watershed controversy right now in Washington, D.C.  

As “Defense Speak Interpreted” readers have surmised, the weapons systems of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are under review, both with President Biden and with the Congress now in control by Democrats.

But “weapons systems of yesterday”? In the fast-paced consumer electronics world, “legacy” never comes up. Who takes their cellphone or laptop to a dealer just to keep it working? Sure, we upgrade software or maybe add on a new hardware feature. But, if our device breaks down, we just bite the bullet and buy a new one. I remember 15 years ago when my 10-year-old car lost the digital speedometer feature. “You need a new board” was the only choice I had—or risk a speeding ticket. The “new” board came in and was dropped into place. I asked to have the old board as I wanted to examine it for tin whiskers, a hot topic at the time. I was refused because my defective board was going back to be repaired to keep other “legacy” cars operating. The same is the ongoing situation for Defense.

So, how do we define “legacy”? Here is the definition from Merriam Webster:[1]

Noun definition 2: Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past. The legacy of the ancient philosophers: The war left a legacy of pain and suffering.

Adjective definition 2: Of, relating to, associated with, or carried over from an earlier time, technology, business, etc. With that as the general definition, here is the definition of a legacy system as its pertinence to defense:[2]

Organizations can have compelling reasons for keeping a legacy system, such as:

  • The system works satisfactorily, and the owner sees no reason to change it
  • The costs of redesigning or replacing the system are prohibitive because it is large, monolithic, and/or complex
  • Retraining on a new system would be costly in lost time and money, compared to the anticipated appreciable benefits of replacing it (which may be zero)
  • The system requires near-constant availability, so it cannot be taken out of service, and the cost of designing a new system with a similar availability level is high. Examples include air traffic control, energy distribution (power grids), nuclear power plants, military defense installations, and systems such as the TOPS database
  • The way that the system works is not well understood. Such a situation can occur when the designers of the system have left the organization, and the system has either not been fully documented or documentation has been lost.
  • The user expects that the system can easily be replaced when this becomes necessary
  • Newer systems perform undesirable (especially for individual or non-institutional users) secondary functions such as a) tracking and reporting of user activity and/or b) automatic updating that creates "back-door" security vulnerabilities and leaves end users dependent on the good faith and honesty of the vendor providing the updates. This problem is especially acute when these secondary functions of a newer system cannot be disabled

Much of the current debate concerning Defense budgets revolves around the semantics of the term “legacy.” It is hard to write into an appropriation bill just what is legacy and what to do about new systems. This is complicated by the valuable production/repair of legacy Defense systems in one congressional district when a replacement may be produced in a different district. No congressman wants to see loss of contracts with associated jobs and benefits in their district. In short, “How DoD defines ‘legacy systems’ will drive tens of billions of dollars of investment, sustainment activities, and force structure. Everyone criticizes legacy systems, and in an era of declining budgets and rising major power challengers, they are targets for cost-cutting efforts to fund modernization.” [3]

One example of a controversial legacy purchase was announced in 2020—the procurement of up to 78 new Boeing F-15EX fighter jets. The first F-15 was flown in 1972, some 49 years ago.[4]

Of course, this is not simply the 49-year-old version of the F-15, as these new ones have upgraded electronics, weapons, and jet engines. However, there comes a time when a decision has to be made about new weapons concepts. I touched on concepts in my January 2021 column, “Your Best Friend is a Skyborg?” That is, when does Defense emphasize no-pilot planes with enhanced artificial intelligence? I also addressed this in my May 2020 column, “What’s an RCV?” versus a crewed tank or personnel carrier.     

Of course, if you are going to have a rough and tumble Congressional game of “what does it cost to procure and maintain?” you need a referee. One such referee is the Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) office at Defense. CAPE describes itself as, “We are part think tank, part consulting firm, and part investigative agency.” To maintain independence the CAPE office reports directly to the Secretary of Defense. In this legacy fight game, the “instant replay booth” is Congress itself and it can overrule decisions made at the Secretary of Defense level. Remember to “follow the money,” since Congress holds the purse-strings.    

To bring you up to date, we need look no further back than to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s March 4 “Message to the Force”[5] about innovation and modernization. He said:

“The Department will innovate at a speed and scale that matches a dynamic threat landscape. This will require advances in our joint warfighting concepts and a commitment to rapid experimentation and fielding of capabilities. Where necessary, we will divest of legacy systems and programs that no longer meet our security needs, while investing smartly for the future. In turn, we will improve the efficiency of the force and guarantee freedom of action in contested, complex operating environments.”

So, again, what is legacy? The Air Force may consider legacy replacement as newer manned planes for older manned planes. The Navy has not completely committed to “drone ships.” The Army is dabbling with “optionally manned” combat vehicles. Almost certainly, the 2022 Defense budget will be “flat” at about $715 billion. Will Congress dictate what is new and what is legacy, or will the flat budget force each service to define its own path to modernization?

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said the Pentagon would work with Congress to make "difficult decisions" to "phase out" legacy weapon systems unsuitable for competition with China, but she also committed to help developing technologies bridge "the valley of death." Hicks, who spoke during a virtual event with the National War College, reiterated a message Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has delivered publicly several times: China is the "pacing challenge" for the Pentagon. "We must invest ourselves not only financially, but culturally.[6]

A final hint on direction from the White House (dependent on Congressional funding, of course): “While the 2023 budget next year will be the first the Biden team will build on its own,” Hicks said the 2022 submission “will provide early insight into our strategic approach,” indicating that there will be some real movement on prioritizing the new administration’s vision.[7]   

References

  1. “Legacy,” Merriam Webster.
  2. Legacy system, Wikipedia.
  3. What’s In a Name? Billions In Cuts Depend on Defining ‘Legacy,’ March 10, 2021, breakingdefense.com.
  4. Boeing Lands F-15EX Mega Deal Worth Up to $23 Billion, July 13, 2020, National Defense Magazine.
  5. Message to the Force, March 4, 2021, Secretary of Defense memo.
  6. Hicks previews ‘difficult decisions’ on legacy systems, pledges to bridge ‘valley of death,’ May 11, 2021, Insidedefense.com.
  7. Software, Missiles, Testing At Top For Budget, Says DepSecDef Hicks, April 30, 2021, Breakingdefense.com.

Dennis Fritz was a 20-year direct employee of MacDermid Inc. and is retired after 12 years as a senior engineer at (SAIC) supporting the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. He was elected to the IPC Hall of Fame in 2012.

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2021

Defense Speak Interpreted: Defense on Legacy Weapons Systems

05-11-2021

As “Defense Speak Interpreted” readers have surmised, the weapons systems of yesterday, today, and tomorrow are under review, both with President Biden and with the Congress now in control by Democrats. But “weapons systems of yesterday”? In the fast-paced consumer electronics world, “legacy” never comes up.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Industrial Base Evaluation

04-06-2021

So, what is an “industrial base” to the Defense Department? And wouldn’t we expect a “battle plan” from Defense, not an “industrial strategy”? We want to review the Defense Industrial Strategy in the January, 2021 Report to Congress from the Acquisition and Sustainment section of the Department of Defense.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: So, What’s a JADC2?

02-09-2021

The term JADC2 was prevalent in the late 2020 debate about the National Defense Authorization Act. It is a new way defense is using electronics to shape battle strategy. JADC2 is Defense Speak for “Joint All Domain Command and Control.” Sounds impressive, doesn’t it, but what does that mean?

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Your Best Friend is a Skyborg?

01-15-2021

Suddenly the term “Skyborg” is popping up in Air Force publications, and if you are an Air Force pilot, your future best friend may be a Skyborg. To understand the concept behind the term Skyborg, we need a bit of weapons strategy for the Air Force.

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2020

Defense Speak Interpreted: What’s a VITA?

12-15-2020

Ever wonder how military electronics users could swap out circuit cards rapidly and keep their defense systems running? What about a “hot swap” of a circuit card that was questionable? How would defense depots keep enough unique circuit cards on hand to maintain the various systems in times of heavy use? The Department of Defense started to worry about those issues over 30 years ago and has helped private industry develop a highly sophisticated set of standards for circuit card input/output (I/O) to make quick change possible.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Intel Is Now Making a ‘SHIP’

11-10-2020

Perhaps you recently saw that Intel was awarded a contract for a SHIP by the U.S. Department of Defense. However, this one will not float on the water since SHIP stands for state-of-the-art heterogeneous integration prototype. Denny Fritz explains.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Rad-Hard Electronics

10-13-2020

Have you ever seen electronics described as “rad-hard,” or radiation-hardened, and wondered what that meant and how that was done? Did you like me just assume that “rad-hard” and “expensive” were synonymous? Did you think that this was a Defense Department term since they deal with nuclear weapons? Denny Fritz explores this and more.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: The Defense Innovation Unit

09-22-2020

Many of Denny Fritz's columns are about new defense technologies and innovations, but what about an organization with “innovation” in its name? Here, he describes the history and purpose of the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), as well as some of its programs.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Unpacking the NDAA

08-25-2020

What is this NDAA stuff you keep hearing on the national news all the time, and why is it important to PCBs? Denny Fritz explains what is going on with the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes programs and lays out the priorities and policies for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

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Defense Speak Interpreted: DMEA

07-14-2020

A June 17 article announced a supply chain award of $10.7 billion to eight defense companies for semiconductors. Dennis Fritz explains how the Defense Microelectronics Agency (DMEA) administers this contract and keeps the technology secure.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: C4ISR

06-16-2020

Only the U.S. Defense Department would lump together seven concepts—command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance—into a single acronym: C4ISR. Denny Fritz explains how C4ISR has been called the “nervous system” of the military.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: What’s an RCV, and What Do Electronics Have to Do With It?

05-12-2020

In "Defense Speak," RCV does not stand for ranked-choice voting, a remote control vehicle, a riot control vehicle, or a refuse collection vehicle, although the second one is close; it stands for a remote combat vehicle. Denny Fritz explores this concept and its defense applications.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Why Is Defense Hyper Over Hypersonics?

04-14-2020

Perhaps you have noticed that the term “hypersonics” is now a buzz phrase in a big part of the Department of Defense research effort. What does hypersonic mean, and why is so much work needed in this weapons field? Dennis Fritz explains.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Be Prepared for CMMC

03-24-2020

If you are a current or future Defense Department contractor or subcontractor, you need to be prepared for the next cybersecurity requirements coming online during 2020. This is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification, or CMMC, in Defense speak. Dennis Fritz explains how there will be five levels of cybersecurity requirements for various amounts of Controlled Unclassified Information (CUI) you handle, with increasing requirements from one (least) to five (most).

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2019

Defense Speak Interpreted: The Continuing Resolution

12-10-2019

The topic of the continuing resolution (CR) has been sneaking past other hot Washington topics, such as impeachment, candidate debates, and why the Redskins are so bad. Dennis Fritz provides an update concerning a CR and the 2020 fiscal year.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Executive Agent

11-12-2019

After reading my previous column, you may have realized that electronics packaging technology development came from the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, Indiana. One of its core responsibilities is the assignment of “executive agent” for PCBs and electronic interconnects. But what is this “executive agent” thing, frequently shortened to EA? Dennis Fritz explains.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: PCB-related OTAs from NAVSEA Crane

10-29-2019

In my previous column, I described how Other Transaction Authority (OTA) projects were speeding up the development of new technology for the Defense Department. Much of this improvement has to do with the speed of contracting and the less restrictive selection and payment process involved. Specifically, I would like to call out projects under the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL).

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Other Transaction Authority

09-19-2019

DIU grants contracts under a joint OTA and a parallel process called commercial solutions opening. Most of the five DIU focus areas depend on electronics: artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy, cyber, human systems, and space. At the end of 2018, DIU had funded 104 contracts with a total value of $354 million and brought in 87 non-traditional DoD vendors, including 43 contracting with DoD for the first time.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: DARPA ERI

01-29-2019

DARPA ERI stands for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Electronics Resurgence Initiative. This tongue-twisting acronym is the latest Department of Defense (DoD) effort to catch up and surpass world semiconductor technology for the secure IC chips needed by advanced defense electronics systems.

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2018

Defense Speak Interpreted: PERM—Pb-free Electronics Risk Management

12-18-2018

In this column, we explore PERM—the Pb-free Electronics Risk Management Consortium. No, the group members do not all have curly hair! The name was chosen around 2008 by a group of engineers from aerospace, defense, and harsh environment (ADHE) organizations.

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Defense Speak Interpreted: Defense Electronic Supply Chain Issues

10-18-2018

On October 5, 2018, the Department of Defense (DoD) highlighted issues with the release of the 146-page report “Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Industrial Base and Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States” from President Donald J. Trump

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