Defense Watch

Many Markups. Three of the four congressional defense panels plan to mark up their respective annual defense bills during the last week in June. The House Appropriations Committee’s defense subcommittee is scheduled to meet behind closed doors late June 26 to consider the fiscal year 2018 defense appropriations bill. On the same day, the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) will begin a series of subcommittee markups, mostly in closed session, on the FY 2018 defense authorization bill. The SASC intends to finish the full committee markup June 29. And on June 28, the full House Armed Services Committee will consider its FY 2018 defense authorization bill in open session.

Reusable Rockets. The recent success by Blue Origin and SpaceX in reusing booster rockets has caught the attention of the House Armed Services Committee’s strategic forces subcommittee. The panel June 22 approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill that would direct the Pentagon to evaluate “the risks, benefits, costs and potential cost-savings” of using such launch vehicles, and report its findings to Congress by March 1, 2018. “Reusability offers the potential to enable the Department of Defense to further lower the price of national security space launch,” says the amendment, offered by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.).United States Capitol

B-21 Praise. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) says the Air Force B-21 stealth bomber program is “bucking” the trend of major Defense Department acquisition programs that suffer lengthy schedule delays and large cost overruns. In a Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing last week for Patrick Shanahan, a former Boeing executive who has been nominated to be deputy defense secretary, Rounds says “I’ve been impressed with the progress and the speed of the current B-21 program. I understand a large part of the program’s efficiency is that it is not in the normal defense acquisitions pipeline.” He adds that “They’ve done some things in the B-21 that have kept them on time and on target and I’ve been very pleased with the progress we’ve seen but it’s an innovative approach which is a little bit different for the Department of Defense.” Shanahan says he doesn’t have any background on the program in response to a query by Rounds whether B-21 best practices could be applied to other acquisition programs. Northrop Grumman is developing the B-21.

…War Strategy Wanted. SASC Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) tells Shanahan that he wants the Trump administration shortly to present a strategy that guides its ongoing military commits, specifically mentioning Syria and Afghanistan. McCain says Congress isn’t going to “rubber stamp” the administration’s singular initiatives without an overarching strategy. “We’re not going to. We’re not going to,” he says. “The president has two choices,” McCain says. “Either give us a strategy or we will put in a strategy that we develop into the defense authorization bill.” The SASC subcommittees will markup their respective portions of the defense bill this week.

Compass Call Concerns. The House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and projection forces subcommittee plans to include language in the fiscal year 2018 defense authorization bill that would prevent the Air Force from awarding a contract to replace the EC-130H Compass Call electronic-attack aircraft until the Pentagon’s acquisition chief has signed off. Committee aides told reporters June 20 that they are concerned that the Air Force keeps changing its acquisition strategy. The Air Force initially said it would award a contract to a lead systems integrator. “Then it became just systems integrator, whatever that means,” an aide said. “We’re just confused by that.”

Hypoxia Concerns. A recent rash of incidents in which military pilots have experienced oxygen deprivation-like symptoms has created a “high sense of urgency” among lawmakers to find the cause and fix the problem, according to Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “If it were a question of putting more money into something, we’d do it,” Thornberry told reporters June 22. “It needs to be fixed. It is disturbing.”

Yuma F-35B Grounding. The Marine Corps’ June 22 decision to temporarily suspend F-35B flights at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona was prompted by “maintenance codes not being reflected properly” in the fighter jet’s Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS), which recently received a software update, according to Maj. Kurt Shahl, a Marine spokesman. "In basic terms, maintenance Marines input information into a database that tracks when certain maintenance actions are to be completed via specific codes," Stahl explains. "After this particular software update, the data did not appear in the system properly." The Defense Department’s F-35 joint program office and F-35 prime contractor Lockheed Martin “have dispatched system engineers to help resolve these issues associated with the ALIS software update," Stahl adds. "“There is nothing wrong with the performance or safety of the aircraft itself, but it is imperative that we ensure the ground-based ALIS system is working properly before flight operations continue.” 

CVN-79 Half Finished. Huntington Ingalls Industries announced the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79) Gerald R.Ford-class aircraft carrier is 50 percent structurally complete after adding the lower stern. This grows the ship’s length by about 70 feet. This piece was lifted into place at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding division. The ship is being built using modular construction like the earlier Ford. “We are halfway through lifting the units onto the ship, and many of the units are larger and nearly all are more complete than the CVN 78 lifts were. This is one of many lessons learned from the construction of the lead ship that are helping to reduce construction costs and improve efficiencies on Kennedy,” says Mike Shawcross, Newport News vice president for CVN-79 and CVN-80 construction.

Kamikaze Drones. The House Armed Services subcommittee on tactical air and land forces is recommending that lethal miniature aerial missile system (LMAMS) – currently used in Central Command – be distributed to combat units across the Army. LMAMS is a single man-portable/operable, lightweight, beyond-line-of-sight, precision-guided, loitering aerial missile system capable of locating and engaging obscured and/or fleeting enemy targets that otherwise cannot be engaged by typical direct fire weapon systems. The Army is requesting $63.5 million for 655 LMAMS as part of the fiscal year 2017 Overseas Contingency Operations request. The subcommittee supports the Army’s request from fiscal year 2017 and the budget request for fiscal year 2018, but wants additional details regarding the Army’s long-term acquisition strategy for LMAMS. In its mark of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the committee directs the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing to the House Committee on Armed Services by Nov. 1 on the Army’s long-term plan for LMAMS, to include operational performance to date, current fielding strategy and projected funding requests across the Future Years Defense Program.

… Machine Guns. The panel also is concerned over the state of the Army’s arsenal of M240B machine guns “due to the Army’s lack of detailed information regarding the condition of the weapons within that inventory,” it says in its NDAA mark. The Army has achieved its procurement objective for the M240 medium machine gun, but M240 acquisition and sustainment strategies rely on piecemeal replacement of individual parts instead of new production. The committee is concerned about the impact of this strategy on the industrial base, and the potential to eliminate a critical production line that would be difficult and costly to reestablish at a later date. The committee believes the Army needs to clearly demonstrate the operationally viability of its M240B inventory. In light of these concerns, the committee directs the Army secretary to conduct an assessment of the health and operational viability of the Army’s M240B inventory and provide a briefing on the findings of this assessment to both the House and Senate armed services committees by Next January.

… Small Arms Industry. The subcommittee also directs the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with senior military services acquisition executives, to provide a briefing on the state of the small arms production industrial base by Jan. 15. At a minimum, the briefing should identify critical small arms systems and items; describe the department’s strategy for preserving a stable SAPIB in the areas of development, production, maintenance, and competitive contracting; describe the results of increased use of small business set-asides, as well as organic depot activities on quality, delivery, competition, engineering, and research-and-development investments and capability.

… Ammo Industry. Despite a commitment by the Army to maintain steady-state funding of $250 million for ammunition industrial base upgrades, significant safety, environmental, and operational discrepancies exist among the Army ammunition plants (AAPs), in particular the four largest AAPs, the subcommittee says. “This could require investments exceeding what is currently in the Army’s long-term modernization plan for the ammunition industrial base,” its mark of the NDAA says. The committee remains concerned about this discrepancy between documented need and planned investment. The committee directs the Secretary of the Army to provide a briefing to HASC by Nov, 1 on the Army’s 2025 Ammunition Industrial Base strategic plan.

NATO Deployments. Over 1,000 soldiers from seven NATO nations participated in a ceremony at Camp Ādaži, Latvia, to mark the arrival of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroup in Latvia, which is led by Canadian troops. The battlegroup will operate in concert with the Latvian Land Forces Infantry Brigade. The eFP battlegroup is commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Wade Rutland and is comprised of soldiers from Albania, Canada, Italy, Poland, Slovenia and Spain. "Today’s ceremony marks the implementation of one of Canada's key NATO commitments,” says Harjit Sajjan, Canada's defence minister. “Leading NATO efforts to deter and defeat potential aggression is a core mission in Canada’s new Defence Policy: Strong, Secure, Engaged. As the leader of an enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup, Canada is committed to ensuring a peaceful and stable Europe. We stand united with our NATO Allies and the people of Latvia.” All NATO enhanced forward presence battlegroups – deployed to the alliance eastern frontier as a deterrent force to Russian aggression – are now in place.

Going Public. Vencore Holding Corp., the parent company of federal engineering and technology services provider Vencore, Inc., has filed a registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission for an initial public offering of its common stock. Vencore says in the filing the proceeds from the IPO will be used to repay debt and cover transaction cost for Veritas Capital, which owns 90 percent of the company. The IPO offering price and number of shares to be issued haven’t been determined. Vencore does most of its business in the national security space, including 61 percent with the intelligence community. It had $1.2 billion in sales last year and $1 million in net income, and ended 2016 with a backlog of $2.5 billion.

DNDO Nominee. President Donald Trump plans to nominate James McDonnell to be the director of the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, which is responsible for developing and acquiring radiological and nuclear detection systems for the Department of Homeland Security. The White House statement announcing the nomination says McDonnell, a former technology company CEO and Navy officer, has during his career advised DHS on weapons of mass destruction issues, and large firms and government agencies on terrorism-related risk management, crisis management, emergency response, and infrastructure protection. McDonnel help found I’m Safe Apps, which develops software applications for personal and public safety uses.

U.S. Election Systems. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Dave Lapan tells Defense Daily that the department is not changing a decision by former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in January to designate U.S. election systems as critical infrastructure. DHS has maintained that the designation doesn’t impose requirements or regulations on the election systems, which are managed and operated by states and localities, but provides reachback and other resources to help them better secure their systems, mainly from cyber intrusions. Lapan, via an email response to questions, says “we look forward to continuing to work with the states on this issue, through their Homeland Security Advisors and Secretaries of State.” Many state elections officials are leery about the federal government getting mixed up with their elections systems.

…Targeted Systems. DHS officials tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that election systems in 21 states were “potentially targeted by Russian government cyber actors.” In a hearing last week to examine Russian interference in the U.S. elections last year, Jeanette Manfra, who is the acting deputy for the DHS Cyber Security Division, and Samuel Liles, the acting director of the cyber division within the Intelligence and Analysis office, say “a small number of networks were successfully compromised, there were a larger number of states where attempts to compromise networks were unsuccessful, and there were an even greater number of states where only preparatory activity like scanning was observed.”

Military Data Processing A Virginia Tech University engineering professor is designing a system, with support from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), to improve the data processing efficiency for military and commercial systems by translating multiple generic coding languages into a single coding language. Dr. Binoy Ravindran’s Popcorn Linux system would eliminate the need for extremely powerful processing tools used in complex military applications such as battlespace awareness and artificial intelligence by streamlining which specific pieces of programming code are needed to perform the appropriate functions for a particular task. “By applying Popcorn Linux to longtime, legacy Navy and Marine Corps computer systems, we can improve software without requiring thousands of man-hours to rewrite millions of lines of code,” Head of ONR’s C4ISR Department Dr. Wen Masters says.

AEGIS Support. The Missile Defense Agency awarded Lockheed Martin a $20 million modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option to provide support of advanced concept initiatives by the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (ABMD) program office to identify technology for introduction into present and future ABMD baselines and upgrades. The modification increases the total contract value to $2.567 billion. The modification work will be finished by Oct. 27, 2019.

Sonar Contract.  The U.S. Navy awarded Lockheed Martin a $131 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to procure Technical Insertion 18-20 Acoustic Rapid Commercial-Off-The-Shelf Insertion sonar technology engineering services. These engineering services provide engineering development to support modernization requirements of the program. If all options are exercised the contract could reach nearly $1.2 billion. It combines purchases for the Navy, Canada, Australia, England, and Japan. Work will be performed in Manassas, Va. and Clearwater, Fla. With an expected completion date of Aug. 2018. The contract was competitively procured through Federal Business Opportunities with one offer received. The Navy obligated about $3 million in fiscal 2016 and 2017 funds.

Columbia Design. Naval Sea Systems Command awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $203 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification to increase the design support requirements to a previously awarded contract for Columbia-class submarines. This is a joint Navy/United Kingdom Common Missile Compartment program. Work will be completed by Oct. 2017 and will mostly be performed in Groton, Conn. And Newport News, Va.

Fitz Investigator. The U.S. Navy named Rear Adm. (Lower half) Brian Fort as the lead on the USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) collision investigation pursuant to the Manual of the Judge Advocate General to gather evidence. Fort previously commanded the USS Gonzalez (DDG-66) and then Destroyer Squadron 26, serving as the Sea Combat Commander for the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group. Fort leads one of several investigations including ones by the U.S. and Japanese Coast Guards.

Korea-U.S. Leadership Program. Thirty six South Korean and U.S. senior enlisted leaders attended the Second Annual Republic of Korea (ROK) and U.S. Senior Enlisted Leadership Development program in Busan, South Korea. It is hosted by the Commander of U.S. Naval Forces Korea and the RoK fleet. It provides attendees with the opportunity to openly discuss and share leadership principles to enhance leadership practices between both forces. The leaders participate in team-building exercises and discuss topics that impact the combined force.

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