Capitol Hill Week Ahead. The House and Senate are both out of session this upcoming week. To recap where each stands on the defense budget, the House Armed Services Committee early on April 28 voted to move the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act forward, after a marathon markup session beginning Wednesday. When lawmakers return on May 9, SASC will start its own markup process, with subcommittee markups on Monday and Tuesday and the full committee mark starting Wednesday and possibly extending into Friday. Unlike the House, SASC closes most of its markups, with only the emerging threats and capabilities, readiness and personnel markups open.

SpaceX Mars. Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) plans to send the Red variant of its Dragon space capsule to Mars as soon as 2018, the company says on Twitter. A spokesman says the missions will launch on Falcon Heavy rockets and will help demonstrate the technologies needed to land large payloads propulsively on Mars. Red Dragon missions, the spokesman adds, will also help inform the overall Mars colonization architecture that the company will reveal later this year. Dragon-to-Mars will be a SpaceX mission, though NASA will offer some technical support, such as the use of the Deep Space Network for communications, the spokesman says.

RDT&E Rideshare. The Air Force isn’t planning on pursuing options for commercial rideshare of research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) payloads in fiscal year 2017 due to budget limitations, service spokeswoman Capt. Annmarie Annicelli says in an email. The Air Force, she says, is exploring commercial rideshare as a potential avenue for deploying small RDT&E payloads, just not in the upcoming fiscal year. Commercial rideshare refers to government payloads being launched as a secondary payload a by a commercial launch service provider.

Edwards Loses. House Space, Science and Technology (SST) space subcommittee Ranking Member Donna Edwards (D-Md.) is not returning to her seat next congressional session. Edwards lost her Maryland Senate Democratic primary campaign on April 26 to Rep. Chris VanHollen 53.3-38.9 pct. Edwards spokeswoman Yasmine Evans says Edwards gave up her House seat to run for Senate. NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is located in Edwards’ district in Prince George’s County, Md.

KC-46. Boeing’s second 767-2C in the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker program achieved its first flight on April 25, according to a company statement. This first flight marks the entrance of the fourth and final test flight article into the program. The 767-2C is a KC-46 without the aerial refueling system installed. This particular 767-2C, known as EMD-3, will be used to conduct environmental control system testing, including hot day/cold day testing and smoke penetration testing. There are four total test aircraft for the program: two 767-2Cs and two KC-46 tankers. Boeing on April 27 said it took another after-tax charge, this one $156 million, on the KC-46 program to resolve issues uncovered during testing.

New MDA CEO. The MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) board of directors picked Howard Lance as president and CEO, effective May 16. The board also expects to appoint Lance to the board of directors once he joins the company. Lance succeeds Daniel Friedmann, who served as CEO since 1995. Friedmann continues to serve as a member of the board of directors. MDA says Lance’s appointment is part of the company’s broader strategy to position itself for a broader range of U.S. government and commercial contracts. MDA is based in Canada.

Construction Begins on DDG-121. Huntington Ingalls Industries is starting to build the future USS Frank E. Petersen (DDG-151) at its Pascagoula, Miss.-shipyard. At this point, 100 tons of steel have been cut for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, officially starting the fabrication process. “With this milestone, Ingalls is now in various stages of production on five Arleigh Burke-class destroyers,” says Capt. Mark Vandroff, DDG-51 class program manager. “DDG 121 will greatly benefit from the serial production of those earlier ships and, once delivered, will be the 70th destroyer of its class to join the U.S. Fleet.”  DDG-121 will be built in the Flight IIA configuration and outfitted with the Aegis Baseline 9 combat system with integrated air and missile defense capability, Naval Sea Systems Command says. It is the third of five destroyers awarded to the company in a June 2013, HII says in a news release.

LCS to Conduct Another Round of Missile Demos. The Navy is planning another series of demonstrations where a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will use the Naval Strike Missile developed by Kongsberg. This time the missile could be incorporated aboard the ship during a 16-month deployment, officials from Raytheon and Kongsberg tell Defense Daily. Raytheon and Kongsberg are partnering to offer the latter’s Naval Strike Missile for the LCS’s upcoming over the horizon missile competition. According to Gary Holst, Kongsberg’s director of business development for naval surface warfare, the Navy and the companies are still in the middle of discussions about a second round of demos. “I believe that we’re looking at test firing our installation late in the calendar year,” he says. The USS Freedom (LCS-1) built by Lockheed Martin has been identified as the potential testbed.

…More Missile Tests. The Navy in 2014 teamed up with the companies for a test of the Naval Strike Missile on the USS Coronado (LCS-4), an Independence variant hull built by Austal. Raytheon and Kongsberg haven’t yet done a formal engineering study to assess whether there would be any major differences between installing the missile on the two variants, but Holst says the missile could likely be installed in the same area. “I think the frigate is a different animal,” he says. “There’s more time to explore options [for that ship].”  

Satellite Process Insight. The Air Force on April 25 awarded Boeing a $16.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract for increased government insight of the company’s satellite manufacturing process, according to a DoD statement. The contract allows for an increased government role in assuring mission capability and asset longevity for Wideband Global Satcom (WGS) Block II follow-on satellites. Work is expected to complete by Feb. 28, 2018.

AFRICOM Head. Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser is tapped to head up U.S. Africa Command, a promotion that also comes with a fourth star if Congress approves. He will replace Gen. David Rodriguez as chief of U.S. forces on the African continent. Waldhauser currently serves as director of the J-7 within Joint Staff. Waldhauser served in Operation Desert Storm and led troops in combat during the early days of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan. “I am confident that Lt. Gen. Waldhauser will bring the same caliber of strong and steady leadership to AFRICOM that Gen. David Rodriguez has brought to the command for the past three years, and I hope Congress will act quickly on Lt. Gen. Waldhauser’s nomination,” Carter says.

New B-52. Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter E. Gersten, deputy commander for operations and intelligence, for the anti-Islamic State Operation Inherent Resolve, says the B-52 aircraft dropping bombs in Iraq and Syria are “not my father’s B-52.” Gersten’s could use the cliché literally – his father was an Air Force pilot flying the bombers nearly 50 years ago. “I’d like everyone in this forum to know that my father once flew B-52s in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” Gersten tells reporters during a press conference at the Pentagon. “I’d also like everyone to understand and to clean up any misperceptions about what the B-52 is capable of, that this is not my father’s B-52. It’s a highly upgraded B-52, extraordinary platform that strikes with the same accuracy and precision that every other coalition asset has struck in the recent past.”

… And Artillery. At least two high mobility artillery rocket systems (HIMARS) are en route to fire on Islamic State positions in support of U.S. allies in the region. One brigade-level system will be stationed in Turkey, Gersten says. That battery will be used in support of operations in Syria. The other will be stationed in Iraq to support government troops there. “I will tell you that is a recent development that we have been working on, and we are looking at how it’s going to be installed, and we’re working very closely with our strong partners in Turkey to find out exactly how it’s going to operate.” The Lockheed Martin M142 HIMARS is a light, multiple rocket launcher mounted on a medium tactical vehicle chassis. “I will tell you the HIMARS is a fantastic system and it will be able to range exactly where we need it to range. And that will work in combination with our air assets and they’ll work very closely to achieve their effects,” Gersten says.

HERCULES. BAE Systems brings home a $109.7 million contract to convert 36 M88A1 recovery vehicles to the M88A2 heavy equipment recovery combat utility lift evacuation systems (HERCULES) configuration.The conversions allow the M88A2s to recover the Army’s heaviest vehicles, including the M1 Abrams tank, all by themselves. “The HERCULES is an integral part of the Army’s Armored Brigade Combat Team and is essential to its recovery missions,” John Tile, director of recovery programs at BAE Systems, says in a prepared statement. “The ability to provide single-vehicle recovery for even the heaviest vehicles in today’s fleet increases troop safety and provides significant cost savings to the Army.”

MENA Demand. Raytheon Chief Thomas Kennedy says the company’s customers in the Middle East and North Africa “are investing in high priority solutions to address an immediate and rapidly evolving threat environment,” despite volatility in the oil and gas markets. Earlier in April Kennedy visited Saudi Arabia to meet with the company’s customers and “received first-hand feedback about the successful performance of our products and how they are helping protect citizens and critical infrastructure every day,” he says. “I can tell you from these discussions that the interest level across the entire MENA region remains high for the types of advanced solutions we offer.”

Small Business Scorecards. The Small Business Administration (SBA) has released its annual government-wide scorecard grading small business contracting achievement for 24 federal departments and agencies, handing three A+ grades, 18 with “A” grades and three receiving a “B” for FY ’15. The Defense Department, with $212.5 billion in eligible dollars available for small business contracting, received its second straight “A,” the SBA says. The department awarded $52.4 billion in prime contract awards to small concerns, 24.6 percent of the potential award amount. The department’s goal was 21.6 percent.

…DHS Scores High. Like the DoD, the Department of Homeland Security also received an “A” for its small business contracting, doling out $4.7 billion prime contract awards to small companies. DHS had $13.9 billion in total eligible dollars for prime contracts in FY ’15 and small businesses won 34 percent of the work, topping the department’s goal by 2 percent. “I am pleased to announce for the seventh year in a row, the Department of Homeland Security has earned an “A” grade,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says of the SBA scoring. He says that in FY ’15, 9,500 small businesses held DHS contracts.

…“B” for NASA. The space agency tallied a “B” in its overall small business contracting achievements in FY ’15, up from a “C” the year before. NASA had $14.4 billion in eligible funds and small businesses won $2.5 billion in prime contracts, 17.3 percent of the total and beating its goal of 17 percent.

…Record WOSB Year. Women-Owned Small Businesses achieved a record year in FY ’15 federal contracting, meeting the 5 percent goal for the first time ever. In fact, these companies won nearly 5.1 percent or $17.8 billion of all federal small business eligible contracting dollars. For prime contracts, WOSBs won 4.4 percent of eligible DoD awards, 7.3 percent at DHS, and 3.4 percent at NASA.

Microsemi Deal to Close. Microsemi Corp. and Mercury Systems say that Mercury’s pending $300 million acquisition of Microsemi’s embedded security, RF and microwave, and custom microelectronics defense businesses is set to close on May 2. Mercury says the deal creates the industry’s largest commercial embedded secure processing company.

LPTA Opposition on ENCORE III. Two associations that represent federal contractors are opposing a Pentagon decision to use lowest price technically acceptable source selection criteria for the $17.5 billion ENCORE III multi-award contracting vehicle for information technology solutions. An April 22 letter from the IT Alliance for Public Sector and the Professional Services Council to Defense Department Acquisition Chief Frank Kendall says the choice to use LPTA for ENCORE III source selection “directly contradicts” a year-old memo by Kendall on the proper use of the criteria. Among other reasons for opposing the criteria, the groups say that ENCORE III requires more “technological complexity” than LPTA allows.

UCF Cyber Competition. The University of Central Florida won the 2016 National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition (NCCDC) for the third year in a row, beating nine other finalists. Held April 22-26 in San Antonio, the competition has 10 college and university teams compete in protecting a network against constant cyber attacks. The 2016 NCCDC included over 180 institutions participating in regional competitions leading up to the national finals. The NCCDC is modeled on real-world scenarios and is the first national cybersecurity competition designed to test how well college students operate and manage network infrastructure similar to those in the commercial sector. Raytheon was the title sponsor of the competition with several companies and government agencies as sponsors at lower levels.

MQ-8 Software Contract. The U.S. Navy awarded Raytheon a $21.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee cost-plus-incentive-fee contract to continue a software upgrade transition for the MQ-8 fire scout unmanned aircraft system (UAS) tactical control system 2016 Linux cyber baseline. Fiscal 2015 and 2016 Navy research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) funds of $8.8 million is obligated at award time, with $325,000 of it set to expire at the end of the fiscal year. The contract is not competitively procured, pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304(1). Work is to be performed in Dulles, Va., with an expected completion date by October 2018. The contracting activity is Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Md.