Lt. Gen. Bill Phillips, US Army Ret., the vice president for Army programs at Boeing Defense, Space and Security, discusses the giant’s US Army programs, the services decision to cut funding to the Block II version of the venerable heavy-life CH-47 Chinook helicopter, working with the new Futures Command and his advice to program managers with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian. The interview was conducted at the Association of the United States Army’s recent Global Force Symposium and Exhibition in Huntsville, Ala., where our coverage was sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS.
Vago Muradian: Welcome to the Defense and Aerospace Report. I’m Vago Muradian here in Huntsville, Alabama at the very tail end of the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Global Force Symposium, the number one winter meeting of U.S. Army leaders from around the world to talk technology, budget, strategy and more with their industry counterparts, thought leaders, as well as media. Our coverage here is sponsored by L3 Technologies and Leonardo DRS, and we’re here on the Boeing stand because it wouldn’t be an AUSA if I wasn’t talking to Retired United States Army Lieutenant General Bill Phillips who was the senior-most uniformed acquisition officer in the United States Army once upon a time and now is the Vice President for Army and Special Operations Programs based here in sunny Huntsville.
Sir, it’s always a pleasure. I’m glad we had an opportunity to catch up.
Bill Phillips: Vago, it’s great to see you again, and thanks for coming and sharing your time with the Boeing Company.
Mr. Muradian: It’s always a pleasure.
First, I’ve got to congratulate you. I know this is not your basket, but to congratulate you on the successful National Missile Defense Test since Boeing’s the prime contractor on that.
But I want to shift a little bit more to the sort of services acquisition portfolio, and how you guys are working to position yourself in that. Obviously you’ve got National Missile Defense, you have Chinook, you have Apache, Little Bird, a whole bunch of programs across the board, Directed Energy as well. We heard from Jeff White, the Army’s Deputy Acquisition Secretary. Talk to us a little bit about how you guys are positioning yourselves, and what are the key priorities and the messages you were both delivering, but also hearing from the senior Army customer you were meeting with. Because pretty much we’re talking to you at the very end of this because your calendar was completely booked talking to your former counterpart.
Mr. Phillips: Vago, thank you for coming and sharing your time with us. We’re very excited about what the Army’s going to do. Boeing’s excited about bringing innovation for the Army. That’s what we’ve talked to many of our customers about since they’ve been here. But it’s not just the Army. Boeing is involved in everything from space, all the multi-domain operations. Space, cyber, air, land, sea, and we’re excited to support all of the services in various capacities.
Mr. Muradian: You also have undersea now also because Ocean Voyager is yours now as well. So from space to undersea.
What are some of the key messages? We’re at a time of transformation. The service is shifting from counterinsurgency, understanding how important it is to preserve those skills but also shifting to a great power mode. You see technological revolution happening as well. And now the Army itself is reorganizing itself with Futures Command and I want to ask you a little bit more about that in a bit.
But what were some of the key messages that you were picking up from the senior leadership that you’re going to take back into your organization and along with Leanne Caret, figure out how you guys are going to adjust your sails.
Mr. Phillips: Well Leanne is clearly focused on this as well, but what we are working on is, the Army’s message to us was clearly we have to be prepared to fight tonight. And as we prepare to fight tonight with our current systems that are out there, we can’t forget about what’s in the future. And through the Army Modernization Command and our discussions with General Murray and all of his team, the CFT’s, et cetera, we’re focused on bringing innovative ideas to the Army to be able to help them be successful in the various cross-functional teams that are working on strategies, programs, and so forth. Boeing is excited about what we can do to help the Army be successful.
Mr. Muradian: And where do you think you have sort of the deepest innovation magazine? What are the specific areas you’re going to work and engage with the Army to help solve some of their problems?
Mr. Phillips: A couple of those rise to the top right away. The first one would be the Chief of Staff’s number one priority, right? Long Range Precision Fires. And we think we have solutions that we might be able to bring to the table and help the Army be successful and really transform what artillery has done in the past and what it will do in the future.
The other one that rises to the top for us, gosh, we’ve been in the aviation business for over 100 years. We’re starting our second 100 years and we’re focused on Future Vertical Lift and everything that the Army is trying to do to bring the next generation of vertical lift aircraft to the table.
Mr. Muradian: And we should also say that over the General’s shoulder is the aircraft that you once flew, the CH-47. You’re a very distinguished Army aviator, and accepted and test flew a lot of the airplanes that — You were going to work for Boeing, we were joking about this earlier. It was only a matter of time you were going to work for Boeing, whether retiring over there at Ridley Park or joining the company later.
Let me ask you about Chinook. The Army is looking at slowing down that program a bit. There were questions about Block 2 as well. Talk to us from a Boeing perspective, what this does. It’s a very robust, running assembly line. You guys want to keep it as robust and running as possible, obviously, to reduce cost, and obviously preserve that capability for the future because there is no Capability Set 4 in the new helicopter or vertical lift recapitalization arena. Full disclosure, Bell is one of our sponsors on that, because I know you mentioned that as well.
But talk to us a little bit about what this means potentially for Chinook, given that it is still a very, very popular airplane, but a very important airplane for the U.S. Army as well.
Mr. Phillips: Critically important. This aircraft will be around for 100 years. And it’s not my father’s or my grandfather’s Chinook, it is so much different today. It’s been rebuilt, modernized. It’s a modern platform with modern electronics and so forth in it. And the Block 2. How many programs give you this, Vago? Cost, schedule, performance is how the Army manages programs and they measure their success by that. This program is on cost, it’s ahead of schedule. We have built four EMD prototypes. The first one flew just a couple of days ago, and it’s at the performance level that the Army requires. So it’s meeting all the parameters that the Army desires. We are concerned about what the Army might do in terms of funding the Block 2 going forward.
Mr. Muradian: And for our audience, summarize the capability increase you have, because it is a tremendous airplane with a tremendous amount of lift, payload, range, and speed capability. Talk to us about what Block 2 brings to the table.
Mr. Phillips: I’ll give you one quick example for that. It gives you a lot of capacity lift. So look at it from this perspective. A JLTV that the Army’s buying, the Marine Corps is buying also. If you wanted to pick up a JLTV with a Block 1 aircraft you could pick it up from here in Huntsville at the Von Braun Center and maybe fly it to the next parking lot. That’s about what you could do with a JLTV. If you wanted to fly it to Nashville, you would need a Block 2, which gives you that about 4,000 pounds in terms of additional lift capacity that would be able to fly a JLTV. Think about that in the combat environment and what you could do on a peninsula, the Korean Peninsula or elsewhere, to be able to lift not only the JLTV but also the M777 and its crew and its ammunition. It would take several Block 1 aircraft to be able to lift what a Block 2 could do in terms of carrying it any given distance.
Mr. Muradian: How long is it going to be before you’re going to — obviously the budget proposal is just out, it’s going to be debated. What is the window where you’re going to need some commitments from the United States Army or the U.S. government before it starts to really impinge both the facility but also the Block 2 program?
Mr. Phillips: Well this year is critical too, to be able to get production dollars put into the budget going forward. But as we look in the out years, having dollars into procurement to actually transition from EMD into production will be critical for the Boeing Company. That production line is going to start to be reduced in terms of the number of aircraft coming off of it. We’ve almost met the complement of F models that are coming out of the production line. So now we’re relying upon Foreign Military Sales. And the truth be known, Vago, there’s just not enough FMS aircraft that are out there to be able to keep that production line viable at this point in time.
Mr. Muradian: Because no other customer in the world is going to acquire the aircraft in the volume, for example, that the United States Army is going to —
Mr. Phillips: By the way, the SOF community also will get their aircraft, and we are going to put those aircraft through the production line and give them to our Special Operations warriors.
Mr. Muradian: Three questions, because I know you’re going to have to go, and literally, they’re packing the joint up.
First, talk to us a little bit about your sense on how the Army accomplished the “Night Court” process. Certainly very innovative, to get the entire leadership focused on what do we really need, what do we not need? It did result in a lot of acquisition decisions at the end of the day given, even though the service has more money, it has more requirements than it has money. How did you feel that process went by as somebody who’s sat very often on the inside of that process trying to make some of these tough choices?
Mr. Phillips: First thing, Vago, I’m not a fan of the PPBES process, so I think what the Army has done is sort of just blown that up in many ways. They’ve reallocated the authority for managing the various pegs within the Army. So I applaud the Army for what they’ve gone through in terms of aligning the budget to meet the goals that the Secretary and the Chief had aligned for the Army. So Boeing is behind what they are doing. Each Vertical Lift, Long Range Precision Fires, those programs will certainly receive the level of funding necessary to go forward and to achieve the outcomes that the Army desires for them.
So I think the “Night Court” is a very good process that the Army’s gone through. What’s difficult sometimes to understand is why the Army made the decisions they do on certain programs where they either eliminate stock or realign them in some kind of way. And I think the Army, if they could get more information out to industry on why they made those decisions, that’s important. They’ve done some of that at AUSA, so I applaud the Army for that.
Mr. Muradian: But there are still some questions that folks are asking, although we are still pretty early in the process and I know that meetings are ongoing. It also explains the very, very intent meetings that were happening here over the course of the week in all the stands here.
Let me ask you about Futures Command. We’ve talked about this multiple times. We talked about it at AUSA year before last, then we talked in SOFIC and then we talked again in October. Tell us a little bit, and we’ve got more granularity. You had some questions across the process as somebody who’s doing it. How do you feel this is going now? Now that you are engaging with those folks on a much, much more regular basis.
Mr. Phillips: Vago, when you and I were at SOFIC last year, I think I said I was cautiously optimistic. I’m even more optimistic today. AFC has stood up, they’ve achieved IOC, they’re driving toward full operational capability. And I’m confident in what General Murray and the Army team is going to do in terms of modernization.
And for those programs that they own, and having the budget realigned to be able to execute those programs, now the challenge for those CFTs is to really look at the requirements, make sure they get the requirement as right as they can, and then once they lock them in, to be very disciplined in the way that they look at any changes to those requirements going forward.
If you look at the history of the Army and why so many programs may have been killed or stopped, it’s what I might describe as requirements creep going forward. Some of the impacts that — cost, schedule and performance. What are the impacts of those potential requirements changes to the cost of a program, the performance and time line where there’s an outcome that the Army expects, and the schedule associated with that?
So all those things I think have to be considered by the Army, and I’m confident in General Murray and his team that they’re going to work to get it right.
Another thing that’s important to understand, they don’t have all the programs. So general Murray, I believe, is managing a little over 30 programs or so through the various CFTs, so the rest of the programs are going to be managed by PEOs and PMs out in the Army, still executing what the Army wants. Driving to those outcomes.
Mr. Muradian: You are, last question. You still teach very, very regularly. You talk to Army PEOs and program managers who are coming in, drawing on your wealth of experience both as an operator but also as somebody who is in the test community, but then also in the acquisition community.
What are some of the key lessons that you try to impart on them when you talk to them on a regular basis? We were talking a little bit about MQ25 which was a big Boeing win in the Navy’s program. The Navy had two requirements — get it on and off the carrier, and carry gas, which was liberating. But what is some of the advice that you pass on when you talk to this new generation of Army acquisition professionals?
Mr. Phillips: One, they have to learn from our mistakes of the past and then not repeat those mistakes. That’s something that they must learn. And as we did some of the forensics on the MQ25, I had personal discussions with Hondo Geurts on how they did that. Then Admiral Richardson. His comments that were in the public release when they made that decision I think were telling in that they only had two KPPs. It must fly off the carrier and it must actually execute the refueling mission. Then there were other requirements in there, but they all fell below that.
The one thing that Admiral Richardson said that really resonated with me that I share with these young acquisition professionals. Don’t be afraid to talk to industry. Pull industry in. Do that early, up front. Make sure they have a chance to look at your requirements and then give you feedback on those requirements. Not in a normal industry day like we normally do where 20 companies will be out there and no one really says anything. Bring them in one on one. Have discussions with them. And they’ll give you the honest feedback on what right should look like and that will help you refine your requirements.
Mr. Muradian: And know when to say yes, but know when to say no.
Mr. Phillips: That’s exactly right. Cost, schedule, performance. Be prepared to say no if someone brings you something that doesn’t make sense or is going to impact your program, because the Army expects an outcome today. Right? And anything that impacts that outcome, be cautious.
Mr. Muradian: Don’t be a second late. Didn’t one senior officer tell you that?
Mr. Phillips: I won’t mention a name, but we had a senior officer in here, and his comments to us were, if someone brings me a change to my requirement that causes me to be a second late, I’m going to say no.
Mr. Muradian: Incredible.
Sir, always a pleasure. Lieutenant General Bill Phillips who is former Army. Senior-most uniformed acquisition executive, but now Vice President for Army and SOF Programs at Boeing. Sir, always an honor and pleasure talking to you. I look forward to connecting with you in D.C.
Mr. Phillips: It’s an honor to be here with you today. Thank you, Vago.