2020 Watch.  Democrats running for president in 2020 had a one-for-one swap this week, as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) announced July 8 he would drop out of the race after announcing his candidacy in April. That same day, billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer announced his candidacy for the Democratic primaries, promising to invest $100 million into his race.

F-35 PEO Change of Command.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Eric Fick assumed leadership of the F-35 Joint Program Office July 11, taking over command from former F-35 PEO Vice Adm. Mat Winter. Fick previously served as deputy PEO for the JPO.

Ethics Amendments. Four amendments that sought to bring ethics reforms to the Pentagon were not offered a vote to become part of the FY ’20 NDAA after the House Rules Committee sifted through over 600 proposed amendments June 8. The proposed amendments would have increased transparency for the department’s “revolving door” database, require DoD, State and Treasury senior officials to seek permission before working for foreign governments and political parties; require contractors to certify ethics compliance of former DoD senior officials and flag officers; and increase disclosure for defense contractors about contacts between employees who are former senior DoD officials and the Pentagon. The government watchdog Project On Government Oversight (POGO) said in a Tuesday statement: “The American people strongly support tougher ethics laws, and they have a right to know when foreign governments and Pentagon contractors are unduly influencing decisions at the Pentagon.”

Missile Defense. HASC member Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) said June 12 he is encouraged by progress being made on developing new integrated air and missile defense systems, but pushed for more interoperability to be “effective against regional Chinese or Russian threats.” He advocated for additional Lockheed Martin-made Aegis Combat System and Aegis Ashore systems, THAAD platforms and Raytheon-built Patriot batteries to “thicken existing defense capabilities” at a breakfast event on Capitol Hill. “In the long term, we must make our ground-based midcourse defense system more capable by investing in improved multiple-object kill vehicle systems that would prove our ability to engage more complex ballistic missile threats,” he added.

Space-Based Sensor Layer. Brooks also gave full-throated support for a new space-based sensor layer to help defend against maneuverable hypersonic glide vehicles, which has been advocated by the Pentagon’s Undersecretary for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. He noted that a decision must still be made as to whether the nascent Space Development Agency would take full control of such a development program, or if the Missile Defense Agency would maintain possession, and that that decision will likely be established during the FY ’20 NDAA process. “No matter what the eventual architecture of our hypersonic defense system looks like, a first step is to strengthen our ability to detect hypersonic weapon threats as soon as they are launched and track them continuously as they maneuver,” he said.

CNO-China. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson held a scheduled periodic video teleconference with his counterpart with the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), Vice Adm. Shen Jinlong, on July 9. In their fourth video conference they discussed the importance of maintaining a routing dialogue focused on reducing strategic, operational, and tactical risk between the navies. The goal is to minimize the possibility of misunderstanding or miscalculation, the Navy said. Richardson previously met withy Shen two times in person, most recently during a visit to China earlier this year.

Naval Forces Japan. U.S. Naval Forces and Navy Region Japan held a change of command ceremony on July 10 as Rear Adm. Brian Fort succeeded Rear Adm. Gregory Fenton as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Japan (CNFJ) and commander of Navy Region Command (CNRJ). Fenton is retiring after a 33-year career in the Navy. Fort previously served as commander Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. His new responsibility will entail providing shore readiness to the fleet and supporting the U.S. forward presence in Japan while pursuing bilateral defense cooperation with Japan.

GD Subs. Naval Sea Systems Command awarded General Dynamics’ Electric Boat (GDEB) a $174 million contract for engineering, technical, design agent and planning yard support for operational strategic and attack submarines. The support includes providing for drawings and technical data, design change documentation, logistics technical data, configuration management, hull, mechanical and electrical engineering, submarine safety design review, propulsion and non-propulsion plant electrical system engineering, submarine technical trade support; research development test and evaluation (Navy) program support, and various other kinds of support. Most of the work will occur in GDEB’s facility at Groton, Conn., and is expected to be finished by September 2023. The contract includes options that, if exercised, would raise the total value of the contract to $1.04 billion with the same completion date. This contract was not competitively procured.

Saab Ammo Deal. Saab announced July 10 it has signed a new framework with the Army, Marine Corps and Special Forces for each customer to place orders for ammo up to $445 million over the next five years. The new deal covers Saab’s AT4 disposable weapon system and ammo for the Carl-Gustaf recoilless rifle. An initial $83 million order was placed in the second quarter of FY ’19, according to Saab. “This framework agreement further strengthens our relationship with the U.S. Armed Forces, who have been users of our ground combat systems for decades. We see these continued investments as a clear proof that the customer values the flexibility and effectiveness of our systems,” Görgen Johansson, head of Saab’s Dynamics business area, said in a statement. 

Navy AI Competition. The Navy on July kicked off a competition to gather artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions that could be applied to solve cyber security challenges. NAVWAR is leading the  Artificial Intelligence Applications to Autonomous Cybersecurity Challenge (AI ATAC) and will award $100,000 to the first place winner and $50,000 to second place. AI ATAC will look to explore the possibility of employing endpoint security tools that utilize AI algorithms to detect and defeat advanced malware attacks. “We need to get after faster solutions from sectors of industry outside our traditional partners and we want to lower any barrier to entry. We believe by sponsoring AI ATAC we can quickly get new ideas about how we can incorporate AI and ML into our cybersecurity tool bag,” John T. Armantrout, a NAVWAR official, said in a statement.

Army Heavy Robot. The Army on July 11 said it is readying a production contract for its Common Robotic System – Heavy ground robot program. The deal is expected to be a five-year IDIQ contract. CRS-H is the Army’s effort to find a ground robot to assist Explosive Ordnance Disposal soldiers with detecting, accessing, exploiting and disposing IEDs, vehicle-borne IEDs and weapons of mass destruction. The robot is expected to be about 700 pounds.

AI Commission. The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence held its third plenary session on June 11 in Silicon Valley where members received classified briefings on counterintelligence threats. NSCAI also met to provide updates on recommendations the commission is set to provide Congress on advancing AI development. The commission also received updates from each of its working groups on progress to apply AI towards national security applications and discussed opportunities for the U.S. to maintain its competitive technological edge in the AI space. NSCAI has now received over 100 classified and unclassified briefings since it officially began in March.

WATCH: One Cool Drug Bust. The crew of Coast Guard National Security Cutter Munro last week offloaded more than 39,000 pounds of cocaine and 933 pounds of marijuana worth a combined $569 million through 14 separate vessel interdictions in the Eastern Pacific Ocean during operations that began in May. One of the highlights of the Munro’s success was the June 18 interdiction of a fast moving low-profile black craft, called a self-propelled, semi-submersible (SPPS), which was overtaken by two small boats launched from the Munro , a 26-foot Mark IV over-the-horizon and 35-foot Long Range Interceptor that simultaneously approached from the port and starboard sides. Members of a Coast Guard Tactical Law Enforcement team approaching the SPPS from its starboard side leapt aboard the fast-moving craft, with one TACLET member quickly stepping forward along the top of the vessel and banging on the hatch and forcing the surrender of the occupants. The SPPS was carrying more than 17,000-pounds of cocaine worth $232 million and five suspected smugglers. Watch awesome footage of the drug bust.

…Praise from Pence. Vice President Mike Pence was on hand for the July 11 offload following the two-year-old Munro’s first deployment to the drug transit zone. “Let me commend you especially for your new deployment to the Eastern Pacific corridor,” Pence said in remarks to the crew that were broadcast by the Coast Guard. “Even though this is a new area of deployment for this cutter, you’ve already proven yourselves more than up to the task,” he said, highlighting the dramatic interception of the SPPS. “The Coast Guard is seizing illegal drugs at a faster rate than ever before. And you all have been at the tip of the spear, making that happen.”

Potential Criminal Charges. A subcontractor to Customs and Border Protection could “potentially” face criminal charges for removing facial image data from its camera the agency was using in a biometric evaluation on the U.S. border with Mexico, a government official told Congress last week. The subcontractor hasn’t been identified by CBP, although it is reportedly Perceptics, whose camera systems and related technology are used to read license plates for border security applications. The company’s relationship with CBP has been “severed” and an ongoing investigation could result in either civil and or criminal charges, John Wagner, deputy assistant executive commissioner of CBP’s Office of Field Operations, told the House Homeland Security Committee during a July 10 hearing on face recognition programs. The data that Perceptics removed from the camera was later stolen after hackers broke into the company’s network. The camera was being used in a standalone configuration to evaluate whether photos taken of a person inside the vehicle could be matched. He said the data that was removed was isolated from other CBP biometric programs.

…Agency Concerns. In his written and oral statements for the committee, Wagner said that CBP is “very concerned” that the data breach “will undermine congressional and pubic confidence in CBP at a time in which we are pursuing transformative and innovative initiatives to enhance lawful trade and travel.” CBP is rolling out facial recognition technology to airports to biometrically identify travelers leaving the U.S. on outbound international flights. The agency is also deploying the technology to verify the identities of arriving international travelers at airports. The same technology is being deployed at seaports and is being evaluated at land ports of entry. “We are aggressively investigating the breach of the subcontractor’s systems and potential exposure of traveler and license plate images,” he said. The cyber hack as well as the unauthorized removal of the images are being investigated, he said.