Michael H. Heinz
Vice President and General Manager Unmanned Systems
Boeing Integrated Defense Systems
"The Perfect Spiral: Procurement Targeted for Today's War Fighter"
Royal Lancaster Hotel London
July 19, 2002
"Putting the War Fighter First - Spiral Development / Incremental Acquisition of UAVs"
That is the title for this talk found in the program. It is an accurate, if awkward, description. For those of you who follow American-style football, a catchier title might be, "Striving for the Perfect Spiral: Procurement Targeted for Today's War Fighter."
Let's begin with some clarifying questions.
First, what do we mean by spiral development? Second, what does spiral development have to do with putting the war fighter first? And last, where and how do Unmanned Aerial Vehicles fit into the picture?
To answer those questions, I believe, it is necessary to consider a twofold transformation: a transformation in nature of the battlefield and, closely related to that, a transformation in how we go about defining and developing new weapon systems, including unmanned systems.
Some people disparage the notion of "spiral development." They say it is nothing more than the latest buzzword in the jargon-laden world of defense acquisition. One skeptic has even likened spiral development to the carnivorous plant in "Little Shop of Horrors," with the appetite . . . and the booming voice . . . that grow with every feeding. You know, the voice that says: Feed Me! . . . Feed Me!! . . . Feed Me!!!
Without calling for my next meal, I beg to differ. Spiral development, I believe, marks a genuine and radical departure from procurement practices established in the Cold War era. It is all about putting the actual needs of the war fighter first -- ahead of any preconceived notion at the start of a 15-to-20 year procurement cycle of what those needs ought to be or have to be. It's about treating present and future generations of war fighters not as passive bystanders in a prolonged procurement, but as active partners in getting what they need to master the battlefield.
To explain, I'd like to quote a few lines from the American poet A. R. Ammons, who died last year after a long and brilliant career. Ammons was a true war fighter / poet, having begun his poetic career while serving on a U.S. destroyer in the Pacific during World War II. He wrote, and I quote:
I look for the way
things will turn
out spiralling from a center
things will take to come forth in.
In more prosaic terms, we have to anticipate the future, as best we can . . . looking five, ten, or twenty years ahead . . . without casting everything into concrete from the very start. While allowing plenty of room for surprise, we must search, as Ammons said, for the way things will turn . . . out spiralling from a center. There are three centers, I believe, that merit special attention: the geopolitical world, and how it is changing; technology, and how it is changing; and the military, and how it is changing its own shape as a result of extraordinary changes in the nature of the threat.
I take the trend toward closer cooperation among open societies and free nations as a given. It will gather force as a direct result of the challenge posed by rogue nations and terrorist groups. As my old boss, Jerry Daniels, likes to say, "We will never fight alone again." We will fight in alliances or partnerships with other nations -- and that is right in line with the theme of this conference. At the same time, we can expect rapid advances in computing power and information technology to continue. They will drive change in many other kinds of technology, and will help shape the way we wage battle.
What then, can we say about the "out spiraling" shape of things to come in the third of the three centers -- the military arena?
Another stanza from the same poem -- called "Poetics," in case anyone is interested -- speaks evocatively to that question. Again, I quote --
I look for the forms
want to come as
From what black wells of possibility
How a thing will
We all know the form that terrorists want to take. They want to come at us in small numbers, unseen and unexpected. They want to attack civilian targets, even more than military targets, because this is where they can inflict the most damage at the least cost to the larger terrorist group or organization. Therein lie many "black wells of possibility."
Given that we will never fight against this enemy army to army, navy to navy, or fighter squadron to fighter squadron, the question then becomes: What form do our war fighters want to come as -- to optimize their ability to deal with a wide assortment of asymmetrical threats? How do our present day war fighters most want to transform themselves?
As we have seen in several recent conflicts, the best examples of contemporary war fighting, against un-massed and highly elusive enemies, involve extraordinary teamwork, creativity, speed and improvisation, aided by many kinds of high tech systems. To cite one example, in one of the key battles in Afghanistan -- the assault on Mazar-i-Sharif -- allied air forces unloosed a devastating hailstorm of precision-guided bombs against Taliban and al Qaeda positions. Then, literally, out of the smoke, with pinpoint timing, hundreds of horsemen -- Afghans and American special forces -- emerged, riding down the fleeing enemy through clouds of dust and flying shrapnel. It was, as Donald Rumsfeld said, the first successful cavalry charge of the twenty-first century!
To quote the U.S. Secretary of Defense one more time, Rumsfeld drew a telling analogy on the subject of transforming the battlefield: "Imagine for a moment that you could go back in time and give a knight in King Arthur's court an M-16. If he takes that weapon, gets back on his horse, and uses the stock to knock in his opponent's head, that is not transformation. Transformation occurs when he gets behind a tree and starts shooting. All the high-tech weapons in the world won't transform our armed forces unless we also transform the way we think, train, exercise, and fight."
As the example of Mazar-i-Sharif suggests, we can already tell a great deal about the direction and shape of change on the battlefield. Yes, there is a transformation that is going on there, and its principle elements include rapid movement and surprise, air- and information-superiority, or even dominance, the ability to adapt to all kinds of different conditions and circumstances, and highly skilled and motivated war fighters who have been empowered to act swiftly and creatively in bringing force to bear from multiple points.
To be truly empowered, the war fighter should not have to wait to get the latest and best that technology has to offer. Moreover, like the knight in Rumsfeld's analogy, the war fighter should experiment with the latest equipment. And he should be able to provide his own insights on how to upgrade and improve new weapons.
Those are several of the cardinal tenets of spiral development, which is aimed at getting systems to the user sooner, and with the flexibility to adapt to lessons learned by the warfighter. Weapons and systems managed via spiral development are not allowed to languish in a fifteen-to-twenty year pipeline, or until every bell and whistle is perfected . . . and then frozen in place, for another five or ten years, when the first block upgrade comes along. Whole new systems can be fielded in four or five years -- rather than 15 or 20. Further, to encourage feedback from the war fighter and -- let me emphasize the and -- a genuine response to his ideas and concerns, spiral development puts the first articles in the field before the development process has been closed.
UAVs represent an entire class of weapon systems ideally suited to spiral development. This reflects DoD's recognition of UAVs as one of the real game-changers in the whole transformation in military affairs.
Though unmanned vehicles are certainly not new, UAVs that can conduct complex missions autonomously, that can sense and dynamically react to their environment and that can coordinate among themselves in multi-ship missions are very, very new. They herald a whole new era of unmanned flight. You can compare the state of the art today in unmanned vehicles to the early days of manned aviation. There were scores of airplane companies -- all trying to invent a market where none had existed before.
For all the excitement they created, the Wright Brothers and other pioneers had no idea of the power that they were unleashing . . . or how one development would quickly build upon another. Take the ability to fire a machine gun effectively through the whirling blades of a propeller. That was an incredible technological breakthrough -- and a major advance in military aviation -- even though it merits no more than a footnote in most histories. That is so because there were a bunch of other innovations of equal importance that all happened at about the same time.
We can expect the same kind of extraordinarily rapid progress as more powerful and capable UAVs come through the spiral development process. There will be many quote "incremental" unquote improvements -- comparable to the synchronization of the machine gun and the propeller. We will, for instance, see aerial refueling of UAVs equipped for long-distance bombing missions. UAVs won't eliminate the need for operators, but they will take on more and more missions that the Office of the Secretary of Defense describes as dull, dirty or dangerous.
That is dull, as in time-consuming and mostly uneventful . . .doing reconnaissance and surveillance work. The first UAVs have already shown that they are superbly equipped to do this kind of work. While loitering above an active battlefield, they can also be the eyes and ears that penetrate the fog of battle and direct our firepower.
That is dirty, as in flying into a contaminated area, after a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack.
And that is dangerous, as in direct combat in the face of highly lethal threats such as knocking out an enemy's air defenses in the early stages of an attack.
In performing such assignments, UAVs now under development -- at Boeing and other companies -- will do things that manned aircraft do, and in some cases more, and do so at less cost. They will allow our men and women in uniform to move up the value chain and -- in the case of dirty and dangerous missions -- out of harm's way.
As the leader of Boeing Unmanned Systems -- established last November -- I am lucky enough to head an organization that acts like a small, entrepreneurial, start-up business, yet is backed by the world's largest aerospace company. Boeing's activities in unmanned systems had been scattered across all divisions of the company. In the last nine months, while integrating and focusing our efforts, we have achieved a series of milestones. That includes:
- The first flight tests of the X-45A. This is a true combat system. It is the first true unmanned combat aerial vehicle. And it has performed beautifully in flight test.
- Award of a Phase 2A contract for the DARPA/US Navy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle project.
- Award of a Phase 1 DARPA/U.S. Army Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft contract.
- The first autonomous flight of the ScanEagle. ScanEagle is an example of a system initially developed for commercial applications that's being adapted for military use. It combines very long endurance with low cost.
In this fast-emerging market that is so rich in possibilities, our goal, quite simply, is to do so well that when people think of unmanned systems, they think of Boeing. Boeing brings many assets to the table in this arena. In addition to being the largest airplane and aircraft maker in the world, we possess the complex systems integration capabilities that are critical to tying together all kinds of different systems -- including unmanned systems -- and making them work as a seamless whole.
But we also recognize that there is great technology outside Boeing as well as inside. That is why Boeing Unmanned Systems is looking to form partnerships with many other companies around the globe, including non-aerospace companies. To cite an example, ScanEagle has emerged from a partnership with a tiny company called The Insitu Group, which consists of about a dozen engineers with some extraordinary credentials.
That is the exciting world that is unfolding before us -- and none too soon.
In football, the perfect spiral is a dart-like pass. With spiral development, we aim to get the ball to the war fighter as fast as we can . . . and right at the numbers.
Spiral development will include UAVs in many shapes and sizes -- everything from the micro UAV that will protect and serve the individual soldier -- looking around corners or over the crest of hills -- to the much larger and more sophisticated X-45 type vehicle that will attack and disable the air defenses of a large and powerful adversary.
Without a doubt, UAVs will help to transform the battlefield. And yes, they will put the war fighter first. They will further the safety and security of our fighting men and women while allowing them to improvise and do all the extraordinary things that they must do in order to counteract a great multiplicity of threats.