Connecting Aerospace Interests

Northwest Aerospace & Defense Symposium provides thought leadership for local companies looking for new opportunities

Gerlter and Luddy smallThree Washington D.C. analysts told approximately 125 northwest aerospace and defense professionals that global military threats have led to a $619 billion National Defense Budget proposal that provides numerous opportunities for nimble supply chain manufacturers willing and able to innovate.  

Military Analyst J.J. Gertler, along with John Luddy, Vice President of National Security Policy for Aerospace Industries Association and Dr. Rebecca Grant, an expert on the Long Range Strike Bomber program spoke at the Northwest Aerospace & Defense Symposium at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on May 18-19.  The two-day symposium, hosted by Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance and Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition, featured 27 expert speakers including analyst, defense and military leaders, congressmen and leaders from Boeing and other supply chain companies to  address a wide range of issues including defense budgets, federal policy, the Long Range Strike Bomber program, UAVs, satellites, and counterfeit parts.  

Luddy kicked off the event by telling attendees that there are numerous opportunities for defense and aerospace companies thanks to global threats from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and ISIS.  He said that these threats, combined with Department of Defense priorities and emphasis on innovation including deep-learning systems designed to provide early warning of events, human-machine collaboration designed to facilitate decision making and semi-autonomous electronic warfare are creating opportunities across the manufacturing spectrum.

 “John Luddy provided a clear and concise summary of what is taking place in Washington D.C. to facilitate innovation in the aerospace and defense industries,” said Bob Uptagrafft, Executive Director of PNAA.  “It is important for supply chain partners to hear first-hand how global events, policy decisions and budgets in the other Washington can provide the perfect storm to boost business and bottom lines here at home. The opportunities are real and companies that can quickly respond to DoD needs will benefit,” Uptagrafft said. 

Luddy indicated that the DoD was forward thinking about innovation partnerships and was moving toward open architecture systems to manage costs, and to allow new technologies to be developed and implemented to extend the life of programs.  

Dr. Rebecca Grant, a noted expert on the Long Range Strike Bomber, said that the open architecture systems would ensure competition through a program’s life cycle. In addition, she presented information on the bomber’s likely capabilities and design to allow conference attendees to anticipate needs for the program in order to support prime contractors with parts and materials in future.

In October 2015, the Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to develop and produce the new generation of planes that will be capable of penetrating deep into enemy territory.  Dr. Grant said that Northrop-Grumman will build roughly 20 bombers – although the original award was for 100 planes.  

Little information has been released about the bomber program.  Dr. Grant, president of IRIS Independent Research, a public policy research organization that provides studies for the Air Force, speculated on the likely design of the Air Force’s secret plane.  Based on new threats around the globe and an analysis of military engagement data over the past 20 years, she said the bomber design would include stealth technology, and nuclear capabilities.   

She also said the plane would be open architecture to control costs, and to allow new capabilities and technologies to be added over time.  She noted that the Air Force was releasing information about the bomber very slowly, but was confident the design would be a manned aircraft optimized for high altitude and hypersonic flight.  She said it would include nuclear capabilities, be capable of automated refueling and would be teamed with manned and unmanned systems.  

Grant, who has testified before Congress and wrote The Need for a New Stealth Bomber indicated that the first bomber would be ready between 2024 and 2027.

 “Dr. Grant’s presentation was extremely comprehensive and provided valuable insight for companies that are interested in supplying parts and components to organizations that protect our national security with innovative technologies.  It is this kind of thought leadership that inspires the innovators of tomorrow,” said Melanie Jordan, PNAA’s Chief Operating Officer.

Military aviation analyst J.J. Gertler of Congressional Research Services indicated that over $3 billion was projected to go toward the Long Range Strike Bomber program in 2017.  In fact, Gertler projects that up to $18 billon will be added to the defense budget for acquisitions of new aircraft.

“It’s an exciting and intense time in our nation’s capital,” he said.  “This year’s budget is good news with the possibility of 30-40 percent advance in aircraft platforms.”

Gertler indicated that the Air Force’s F-35 program, B-21 (LRSB) and KC-46 programs were the biggest benefactors of the budget boost while the Army and Navy would see fewer helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles than projected last year. 

Ron Stearns, a recognized expert in unmanned systems and analyst with the California-based Velocity Group, agreed that global unrest has increased defense budgets opportunities at home and abroad.  In fact, he said with the inclusion of zero-hour rotary-wing programs and target drones there will be 3,037 DoD aircraft deliveries from 2015-2021.  He said, rotary-wing aircraft are the major acquisition driver, owed in large part to operations tempo and airlift demand in United States Central Command.

Stearns also noted that Commercial UAVs exemptions are soaring.  In 2014, the FAA began accepting petitions for commercial UAV exemptions.  By September 2014 six exemptions had been granted. In May 2016 over 5,100 exemptions had been approved. 

Stearns believes the American commercial UAV market will emerge in the 2020-2021 timeframe, when greatly increased airspace access is possible. 

The Northwest Aerospace and Defense Symposium is an event hosted by Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance, Pacific Northwest Defense Coalition and the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International.  The two-day event convenes the region’s top aerospace and defense professionals to hear the latest developments in Department of Defense budget and policy, military defense and aerospace program updates.  It also covers supply chain opportunities, innovation and risks.  

Approximately 125 registrants attended the 2016 event at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

About PNAA:

Since 2001, Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance has been promoting the growth and success of the region's aerospace industry with dynamic events designed to inspire aerospace leaders, connect aerospace interests and educate policy makers. Today, with members throughout the northwest and around the globe, PNAA is dedicated to delivering the latest market intelligence to ensure the region's competitive edge.  PNAA’s unwavering commitment to sharing bold ideas, innovative technologies and leading edge processes has strengthened the industry and earned respect from the White House to the factory floor.  Its members represent every segment of the aerospace industry and are responsible for designing, manufacturing and supplying parts and services that launch rockets, fly planes, and even land on Mars!


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Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance is a non-profit organization that promotes the growth and global competitiveness of the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Cluster. Please consider donating to our scholarship fund.