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Introduction

BACKGROUND

For many years the aerospace infrastructure has been supporting the development and production of aerospace products critical to our national security and economy. U.S. industry has dominated aviation and aerospace for most of its history. Commercial aerospace exports, which are dependent in large measure on the technology base that is in turn supported by the Air Force, are traditionally by far the largest positive contributor to the U.S. balance of trade (Figure 1–1).

Cutting-edge aerospace products will continue to be essential to U.S. dominance of the twenty-first century battlespace. In response to many stimuli—the end of the Cold War, reduced military budgets, increased commercial competition, and a shrinking market—the aerospace industrial base has undergone extensive consolidation. The ramifications of this consolidation for the military include uncertainty about maintaining sources of supply and sustaining a base of world-class engineers to design and produce future military systems. Although the U.S. market share of weapons exports has increased recently, there is no guarantee that this trend will continue. In fact, the overall positive aerospace trade balance has fallen by about 35 percent since 1998 (Douglass, 2000b).

The Air Force has also expressed concerns about whether the Air Force and the aerospace industry can continue to attract and retain the numbers of highly skilled technical people they believe meeting their future needs demands, both in government and in commercial industry. These concerns are based on several factors:

  • Military budgets are down substantially, resulting in fewer new programs and less resources to invest in science and technology (S&T).

  • A large number of experienced technical people in both government and industry are close to retirement age and must be replaced. Because of downsizing, relatively few new people have been hired in recent years, raising concerns about the depth of experience in middle management and the availability of replacement senior managers.

  • The strength of other industrial sectors, especially the emergence of the fast-growing information industry, has greatly increased the demand for technical people, especially software engineers.

The Air Force and the other services are assessing the changes in the defense aerospace infrastructure and the effects on development and support of future military systems. The Air Force is looking for ways to interact with and provide incentives to industry to ensure that national needs will be met well into the twenty-first century.

STATEMENT OF TASK

In discussions with the Air Force, the National Research Council (NRC) was asked to provide a report that addresses the effects of U.S. defense industrial base shrinkage and the aerospace industry’s ability to continue to attract and maintain requisite aerospace engineering talent to be able to produce cutting-edge military products to support the Defense Department’s (DoD’s) needs. The report would make recommendations to DoD, and in particular the Air Force, on ways to keep the defense industry, and its aerospace engineers, on the forefront of technology and to maintain its capacity to innovate through enhanced practices, policies, and procedures.

The NRC was asked by the Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition to assist in the assessment of the defense aerospace infrastructure and identify future trends. In response, the NRC formed the committee on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense, under the auspices of the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences. The NRC was requested to:



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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense 1 Introduction BACKGROUND For many years the aerospace infrastructure has been supporting the development and production of aerospace products critical to our national security and economy. U.S. industry has dominated aviation and aerospace for most of its history. Commercial aerospace exports, which are dependent in large measure on the technology base that is in turn supported by the Air Force, are traditionally by far the largest positive contributor to the U.S. balance of trade (Figure 1–1). Cutting-edge aerospace products will continue to be essential to U.S. dominance of the twenty-first century battlespace. In response to many stimuli—the end of the Cold War, reduced military budgets, increased commercial competition, and a shrinking market—the aerospace industrial base has undergone extensive consolidation. The ramifications of this consolidation for the military include uncertainty about maintaining sources of supply and sustaining a base of world-class engineers to design and produce future military systems. Although the U.S. market share of weapons exports has increased recently, there is no guarantee that this trend will continue. In fact, the overall positive aerospace trade balance has fallen by about 35 percent since 1998 (Douglass, 2000b). The Air Force has also expressed concerns about whether the Air Force and the aerospace industry can continue to attract and retain the numbers of highly skilled technical people they believe meeting their future needs demands, both in government and in commercial industry. These concerns are based on several factors: Military budgets are down substantially, resulting in fewer new programs and less resources to invest in science and technology (S&T). A large number of experienced technical people in both government and industry are close to retirement age and must be replaced. Because of downsizing, relatively few new people have been hired in recent years, raising concerns about the depth of experience in middle management and the availability of replacement senior managers. The strength of other industrial sectors, especially the emergence of the fast-growing information industry, has greatly increased the demand for technical people, especially software engineers. The Air Force and the other services are assessing the changes in the defense aerospace infrastructure and the effects on development and support of future military systems. The Air Force is looking for ways to interact with and provide incentives to industry to ensure that national needs will be met well into the twenty-first century. STATEMENT OF TASK In discussions with the Air Force, the National Research Council (NRC) was asked to provide a report that addresses the effects of U.S. defense industrial base shrinkage and the aerospace industry’s ability to continue to attract and maintain requisite aerospace engineering talent to be able to produce cutting-edge military products to support the Defense Department’s (DoD’s) needs. The report would make recommendations to DoD, and in particular the Air Force, on ways to keep the defense industry, and its aerospace engineers, on the forefront of technology and to maintain its capacity to innovate through enhanced practices, policies, and procedures. The NRC was asked by the Principal Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition to assist in the assessment of the defense aerospace infrastructure and identify future trends. In response, the NRC formed the committee on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense, under the auspices of the Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences. The NRC was requested to:

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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense FIGURE 1–1 Balance of trade by industry, 1998. SOURCE: Douglass, 2000a. Gather information from key sources on the status of, and issues surrounding, the current aerospace infrastructure. This would include information gathering from government and national private sector stakeholders such as NASA, DARPA, FAA, warfighters, academia, senior industry executives, and military acquisition personnel. Examine component sources such as the aircraft engine industry that have been successful despite low and intermittent production rates to determine if lessons learned have wider applicability. Assess whether planned acquisition programs, considering their requisite S&T investment, will provide sufficient opportunities for innovation and to maintain a critical mass of activities to sustain a highly talented engineering talent base. Use planned aircraft and space vehicle development programs, major technology development and weapon system modification programs, and NASA programs as potential information sources. Consider international aerospace market sales prospects, as appropriate. Identify issues relative to the maintenance of an adequately educated, trained, and innovative force of engineering and science professionals to support the national aerospace infrastructure and on how the aerospace industry can maintain its world leadership in technology development, innovation, and product quality. STUDY APPROACH The committee collected information from a multitude of sources to identify issues and assess the status of the aerospace infrastructure. The committee examined the financial health of the industry across its full spectrum from research and development (R&D) through production and operations and maintenance (O&M); S&T talent base; key facilities and support capabilities; associated policies, regulations, and procedures; and management of the relevant government organizations and representative segments of industry and academia. The committee focused on those issues with the greatest effect on the defense aerospace sector of the aerospace infrastructure, which includes government laboratories and facilities, industry, and academia. Committee members included experts and industry leaders with substantial experience in research and technology development programs and the production of aerospace systems, including academic R&D; industry management and manufacturing; aerospace, systems, and general engineering; avionics design and engineering; computer science; military procurement and contracting; control systems; information systems; and military operations, capability needs, and plans.

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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense Over the course of nine meetings (see Appendix A) and many fact-finding site visits, the committee gathered information from representatives of the Air Force, Navy, DARPA, NASA, FAA, and other government agencies. Briefings by representatives of industry, academia, and government research laboratories described existing programs and facilities, the present and planned work force, military needs, and plans. To learn more about issues related to physical test and development infrastructure, a fact-finding team visited the Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), where the team was given briefings about the work force, budget, policy, and facilities. The committee also obtained information from industry representatives on the work force, business opportunities and goals, facilities, and financial challenges. AEDC is a government-owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) facility; however, the committee did not pursue any “what-if” drills over the GOCO issue. THE DEFENSE AEROSPACE INFRASTRUCTURE AND NATIONAL SECURITY In the course of the study, the committee developed a framework for assessing the defense aerospace industrial base, especially the science and engineering work force. Vigorous technical progress in aerospace systems will be essential for implementing the national security strategy. The defense aerospace industrial base must be robust to produce the necessary technical progress. Even though the current technical capability of U.S. aerospace forces, demonstrated in Iraq and Kosovo, is very high, it will not remain so without continued investment in new technologies. A robust defense aerospace industrial base requires adequate funding for research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E); a full spectrum of activities, from S&T and R&D through production and O&M; a highly trained, highly motivated technical work force; and effective policies for allocating and administering funding. In the post-Cold War world, regional and ethnic rivalries and national and transnational terrorist and criminal organizations can present new, unexpected challenges to U.S. forces. The enemy in these situations may not be able to match U.S. military technology but will have two advantages. First, the enemy will have access to new commercial technologies with potential military applications, especially technologies in computers and communications, biotechnology, miniaturized electronics and surveillance equipment, and commercially available remote sensing. Casualties inflicted by this capability on U.S. forces can undermine public support far out of proportion to their military impact. Growing expectations that even relatively few casualties are unacceptable have created unique vulnerabilities and increased pressures on U.S. security policy. Second, an enemy can develop tactics specifically to counter U.S. advantages. These “asymmetric strategies” could include information net attacks, jamming and spoofing of the global positioning system (GPS), causing deliberate civilian damage to themselves to win international sympathy, and so on. The unpredictable identity of the enemy, the access to rapidly changing commercial and military technologies, and the continual development of new tactics have created a new national security imperative: the United States must continue to improve its own technical capabilities to ensure that it can deter, and if necessary prevail, regardless of who the enemy is and what technologies or tactics are used. The committee believes that to maintain the agility of U.S. defense capabilities, and to stay ahead in the tactic and countertactic evolution, the United States must innovate faster and more effectively than potential enemies. Current DoD plans should guarantee this, but in the opinion of the committee they do not. DoD must have a deliberate policy, with adequate resources, to support and sustain a world-class defense aerospace industrial base. Forces in competition with the United States, both friendly and unfriendly, will continue to invest in new technology. If we do not do the same, in time their weapons will be comparable, and then superior, to U.S. weapons. The United States would first lose its markets and then wars. DoD policy must be take into account the health of the industrial base that produces new technologies. At the current budget level of almost $300 billion (projected to remain about constant or possibly increase modestly in real dollars), technical progress will continue to be made, but not necessarily cutting-edge technical progress. To improve that probability, DoD must allocate and manage its finite resources more effectively. Inefficient management will mean less technical progress for the dollar. Equally important is the effect of inefficient management on the quality of the defense aerospace technical work force, in terms of both experience levels and the attractiveness of working in defense aerospace. During the Cold War, the main focus of DoD funding was on improving the performance of weapon systems. Today, affordability is just as important, for both existing and emerging systems. All weapons, including aircraft, wear out and must be replaced and upgraded as technology advances and opportunities to improve systems performance arise. Rising costs can be offset only partially by the increased use of commercial technology. Air Force programs, in particular, involve some of the most sophisticated new technologies. To get the most out of its defense dollars, the Air Force must ensure that scientists and engineers are highly skilled, well educated, highly motivated, and experienced.

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Review of the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Infrastructure and Aerospace Engineering Disciplines to Meet the Needs of the Air Force and the Department of Defense ORGANIZATION OF THIS REPORT Chapter 2 discusses the issue of the level of S&T and R&D devoted to advancing technology. Chapter 3 contains a discussion of the quality and motivation of the defense aerospace work force and an assessment of planned aerospace modification, development, and acquisition programs in terms of S&T investments and whether they will support an innovative work force. Chapter 4 addresses the financial health of the aerospace industry. Chapter 5 covers the effects of policies on the allocation and management of resources, DoD’s relationship with defense industries, the export of military items, and issues related to test facilities. Chapter 6 summarizes the committee’s conclusions and recommendations.