Greg has kicked off with some of the things that we're doing from a logistics standpoint. And I think as you recognize at this point, historically logistics was about spares and repairs; that's what you kind of thought about, how do you keep things running.
But really, in today's environment, it's so important to talk about sustainment and modernization, and the things that we're doing with sustainment and modernization. So that includes the introduction of next-generation capabilities into existing weapon systems. So recognize, in this world that we're in of few “new starts”—and what I mean by that is, few new weapon systems that are being produced today, in production, or being designed—the importance of upgrades and enhancements becomes more and more relevant as you look at those platforms that are out there and the period of time that they're going to remain being fielded. So you look at Chinook helicopters, for instance, and when they were first introduced, and how long they're going to be in the field, for instance.
And so, those upgrades and enhancements are looking for very mature technology that's out there today that can be adapted. It needs to tout rapid implementation; so, how quickly can these kinds of things get into the field. Lower amounts of non-recurring engineering; in an environment where the budget is tight, the amount of dollars that you put in on the front end is very important. And then, of course, we need to concentrate on the reliability of the systems. Those systems need to be effective, reliable and highly available platform-to-platform, when you put them out there.
The other part of upgrading an existing weapon system isn't just about the electronics. And so, we, at Northrop Grumman, have been concentrating on the engineering side of things, the test side of things, on the design and the installation of those upgrades. That has become exceptionally important. So you're going to hear me talk today about things called Group A and A-kits. I don't know if you're familiar with that, but we're going to go into that in a little bit of detail.
Group A and A-kits are essentially the things that you do on a weapon system to install the electronics. So it can be the bracketry, the cabling, the cooling, the piping, whatever has to take place inside an airplane or a helicopter, for instance.
And what we have found out, that it can be darn near as expensive to do that kind of engineering and do the installation of a new capability on a helicopter or a fixed wing airplane as the actual new capability is. And so, when we look at upgrades and enhancements, it's those things that we need to pay attention to make sure that it's affordable, not only from buying the electronics, but actually being able to put it on the airplane.
And what we found out is, if that A-kit or Group A change is very expensive, it could actually preclude the change in that weapon system to continue to make it relevant into the future. So the design of the upgrade, that new capability, how it gets integrated into the platform is just as important as the capability itself.
And so, it does require a very large degree of innovation and design integration, installation. These are really key to an affordable modernization.
So one of the areas I want to talk about today is that we have seen, over the last several years, that there hasn't been a tremendous amount of investment by the Department of Defense, or indeed globally in the area of electronic warfare. And so, with not having that kind of investment from the various governments and industry over a period of time, you have to start to question the relevance and the survivability of those platforms that we have out there.
And at the same time, as we've all recognized now, the threat that's out there continues to evolve very quickly, and the threat evolves relatively inexpensively as compared to the protection on the airplanes. And so, when I talk about this lack of investment over a period of time, I'm talking about the United States and I'm talking about our allies. We have a heck of a lot of catching up to do.
So think about it. Take note of the theaters of operation that we are now in. When you think of the things that are going on in the Ukraine, think of Syria, the fact that we're near Iraq, the discussion around North Korea. These are all theaters of operation where electronic warfare becomes, really, very important to us.
And like I said, this is an area of concentration for Northrop Grumman. And I think that our customers are starting to see the benefit of how we're doing this; how we're doing upgrades and how we're concentrating on keeping the cost of actually implementing this in the airframes as inexpensive as possibly.
So I'm going to go through two specific examples today to give you some idea of what I'm talking about. And the first is a system called the APR-39D(V)2. And this is a piece of aircraft survivability equipment. It's a radar warning receiver. And the APR-39 is a piece of ASE (Aircraft Survivability Equipment) gear that's been on helicopters and airplanes for years. And it's on darn-near every helicopter in Army and Air Force and Marine Corps inventory, for instance.
The fact of the matter is, a few years ago, we recognized, as an industry and a customer base, that that radar warning receiver really needed to be upgraded. It needed to have an enhancement attached to it. And what we did is we looked at the capabilities that we had within the organization to create a new digital radar warning receiver that could be backfit into that same real estate—I talk about real estate all the time on platforms—into that same real estate on a helicopter or an airplane.
And essentially, I'm going to be very repetitive in what I talk about here, when I talk about modernization through logistics and sustainment.
So the first thing is we talk about maturity, and the capability of this system because we're drawing upon an electronic warfare system suite and family of capability that's very mature. And so, it gets repurposed and repackaged for a certain application here; in this instance, for the helicopter market, for the Navy, the Marine Corps and the Army.
The second thing is speed to deployment. So, the fact that we've not been upgrading these airplanes for a long period of time means that the threat has evolved and we're not up to that level yet. So speed of deployment is very important.
And so, when you deal with the evolving threats, we have to make sure that we can get these capabilities on the airplanes as quickly as possible to increase the survivability of those platforms. Very important in an evolving environment.
Affordability. Once again, we've talked about affordability. When you're dealing with a mature system, it does keep-down the initial cost of nonrecurring engineering. And as you know, that's very, very important to both the U.S. government and our allies, alike.
And when we do things like this—modernization through logistics and sustainment—we're generally talking about innovation more than invention. It's kind of interesting, two words both start with the letter “I,” but in this environment, they are tremendously different. When you are inventing something, generally it takes a long period of time and a lot of money. When you are being innovative with product and capability that you already have, you're taking that capability and elevating it to the specific purpose and mission of the platform that you're looking at.
So essentially, that's what we've done here with the APR-39. And then, talking about affordability, remember I talked about that A-kit and Group A? So when you deal with helicopters, you're talking about an A-kit—how do I put something on the helicopter? And you say to yourself, “Well, how could that be expensive?”
And, so, I'll give you a quick example. I brought a radar warning antenna with me. Pretty small piece of gear. There are four of these that would go around the helicopter, for instance. But think about it: every one that goes on the helicopter, you have to cut a hole and you have to get some kind of cable into it.
And so, what happens if the antenna you're going to use is a different size, shape, and has to go in a different location on an existing platform? You've got to seal that hole, or put in a new hole, or change the hole, or change the cabling that goes there. So essentially the reuse of the cabling, the bracketry, the location of an antenna is very important in this regard as well.
So for APR-39, it's not only about the electronics going on inside of the aircraft, it's about the antennas as well around the outside of the aircraft, and keeping that rework to a minimum for your customer and A-kit installation.
The other thing is you can't end there. We talk about how fast the environment is evolving. And therefore, when you put a new system on an airplane today, you've got to make sure that it's prepared to be used and upgraded well out into the future so that it doesn't have to be replaced in its entirety.
I talk about protecting our customers' investment. So in the case of the APR-39, that system will go on airplanes with an extra slot in the electronics. Then there's lot of things you can do with extra circuit card slots. For instance, we're trying to get more connectivity, digital connectivity into the battle space. This is an area where you could put a communication card into an existing system that's on an airplane, like an APR-39D(V)2, in lieu of adding an additional system.
And everyone knows the holy grail for helicopters: size, weight and power. So any time you can do more in the same space with the same amount of power, you have a tremendous advantage.
You can also take the APR-30 and take it to the next level in survivability and add an active RF jamming capability. So not only would you detect an RF (radio frequency) signal, a radar signal, but you would have the ability to jam that signal for the survivability of that platform.
So overall, the importance of the APR-39D(V)2 in terms of modernization really changes the survivability and the upgradeability on helicopter platforms. Size, weight and power: very important.
The second example I wanted to talk about is, I wanted to give an example of fixed wing. So fighter jet. Fast jet. F-15 capability. The F-15 is another system whose electronic warfare suite has not been updated in a very long period of time. And think about what we put inside fighter jets. So essentially you're thinking about a round fuselage and we're putting in square boxes. They just don't fit the way you'd like them to.
So think about swapping out an entire system. And, in this case, we're talking about the tactical electronic warfare system, or TEWS—that's in existing F-15s—and how intrusive that could be to an airplane if the LRUs (line-replaceable units) are completely different, have to go in different locations, need new cabling, have to figure out how to get cooled differently because these are all air-cooled—could be even liquid-cooled—inside a fighter. Very intrusive in terms of what would get done. And in this case, on a fighter jet, it's called Group A, as opposed to the A-kit that we talked about.
So the F-15's EW system has to be modernized to keep this system relevant in the wars that we are in today. So, essentially putting in fifth-generation EW capability into a fourth-generation fighter. And not only do we have to pay attention to the electronics, but we've got to pay attention to the Group A associated with this as well.
Okay, so another show-and-tell with us today. By the way, it's also dressed for Breast Cancer Awareness month.
So picture what we're looking at here. The outside here, the white portion of this, this is essentially a rack that lives inside an F-15. As a matter of fact, if you think of the airplane—you get to drive. So, Greg gets to drive. I am the second seat behind Greg. So, the airplane is in this fashion. The speed break for the airplane is over the top, right in back of the second seat. And so, this LRU, this line replaceable unit, is down under the air break. And essentially what happens, if you have to do logistics or changes to this, you have to lift up that speed break, tilt it, hyperextend it so you can get at this, and then be able to make changes. This is just from a maintenance standpoint.
Think of what happens when you have to change—this is one of nine line replaceable units in the electronic system—think of what happens when you have to change all of the cabling, all of the cooling in the airplane, how expensive and intrusive that would be. So what we've done is taken a next-generation, a fifth-generation EW system and made it essentially formfit into the existing amount of real estate for this particular bay in an F-15.
So where a new system may force you to do a complete recabling, we're able to drop this in the identical location without changing the cabling on the airplane. And we've taken it one step further. When you come up here, you'll see that it looks like there's two boxes inside of here. Essentially, with the modern capability of the technology, we were able to condense that EW system for this LRU into a single unit. The second unit essentially acts as the interface to the airplane so that we don't have to make any changes.
So it becomes a very, very cost-effective way to upgrade an F-15, versus changing locations, having to do more cabling, figuring out what the cooling requirements are going to be. So, a very economic way to go to a fifth-gen capability without being overly intrusive to the airplane.
I wanted to give one more quick example. You may have read recently that the U.S. Army has done a rather unique acquisition of upgrading the UH-60L Black Hawks. There's an L digitization program. And Northrop Grumman is very proud to have been selected to do that particular upgrade for the UH-60L. It's going to be designated as a UH-60V, Victor.
And essentially what the Army is doing is the same thing. They're upgrading through modernization. So they're going to take a legacy analog cockpit—think of this: old steam gauges and things that you see in the movies—and replace it with a modern, digital, integrated avionics glass cockpit. And so, the U.S. Army has recognized: “I can save a whole heck of a lot of money if I upgrade and modernize my existing platforms, versus going out and buying brand new helicopters.”
So you're going to see kind of the same discussion here. You're going to see that same prime set of examples—cost savings, speed to deployment, increased situational awareness and survivability, affordability, and use of modularity to be able to upgrade.
And so, we're going to go into this subject in a lot more detail in one of Northrop Grumman's C4ISR follow-on discussions later this month, October 28, here at the Press Club, as well.
So Greg and I were really happy to provide you with some insight today into what we're doing globally with logistics, sustainment and modernization. And you can tell from our examples that we're looking at ways to make our forces, our service people execute their missions and come home much more safely. And that's really mission number one for us.