Budget Talks. SAC Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) said Thursday that negotiators from the White House, Senate and House are close to “sealing a deal” to avoid triggering automatic spending cuts in FY ’20. “We hear that tremendous progress has been made and they have agreed basically in principle,” he told reporters on Capitol Hill. However, he noted that while the negotiating team may appear “real close” to a deal, “you don’t know. Until the deal’s sealed, it’s not sealed,” he warned.

Mission Capable Rates.

Mark Esper’s responses to advance questions before his SASC confirmation hearing July 16 revealed that the F-35 fleet is not expected to make its 80 percent mission capable rate goal as set by former Defense Secretary Mattis. “Transparency (canopy) supply shortages continue to be the main obstacle to achieving this,” said Esper. “We are seeking additional sources to fix unserviceable canopies.” Mattis last November ordered the Air Force and Navy to get the mission capable rates for the F-35, F-22, F-16 and F/A-18 up to 80 percent within one year. Esper’s responses revealed the F-22 will also not likely achieve the goal this year, although rates are improving. The U.S. military’s fleets of F-16s and F/A-18 E/F and EA-18G aircraft are expected to make their goals by November.

KC-46. SASC Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) on Tuesday pressed SECDEF nominee Mark Esper to conduct a review of the delay of KC-46 aircraft deliveries and their second-order effects on the Air Force, after noting that her state’s Pease AFB has seen 121 tanker pilots sent away to continue flying while the new refuelers have been delayed from arriving at the Air National Guard base. “If confirmed, can you confirm to a review of KC-46 delays and the second order effects stemming from these delays?” she asked Esper. Esper committed to conducting such a review and to determine when those aircraft are now due to arrive at Pease, following several delays to the program.

Space Partnership. Made In Space awarded Northrop Grumman a subcontract to support NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) demonstration of a new autonomous robotic manufacturing and assembly platform, Archinaut, on a flight mission, the company said Wednesday. The Archinaut’s mission is to construct two 10-meter solar arrays on orbit that will power a small satellite, in the hopes of yielding nearly five times the power currently available to ESPA-class satellites. The contract award marks the second phase of the NASA-funded Archinaut technology development program, initially awarded in 2016.

JASSM Equipment. The Air Force on Wednesday awarded Lockheed Martin a $23.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification for providing a replacement Joint Air to Surface Standoff missile (JASSM) anti-jam GPS receiver with a new JASSM Anti-Jam GPS Receiver (JAGR) for obsolescence reasons. Work will be performed at Orlando, Florida, and is expected to be completed by March 31, 2023, according to the contract award.

Iran Boxer. The USS Boxer (LHD-4), an amphibious assault ship, on Thursday disabled or destroyed a fixed-wing Iranian Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) once it closed within 1,000 yards while in the Strait of Hormuz.  Military.com reported the Marine Corps Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) jammed the drone to take it out without physically intercepting it.

THAAD In The House. On July 15 President Trump viewed and sat inside a Lockheed Martin Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system during the 3rd Annual Made in America Product Showcase at the White House. A company spokesperson told Defense Daily this was an early production Missile Defense Agency asset that Lockheed Martin uses for testing and troubleshooting at its production facility in Camden, Ark. The company also has another early production launcher for development and software testing at the Lockheed Martin facility in Huntsville, Ala.

U.K. P-8A. The first of nine Boeing-built P-8A Poseidon bound for the U.K.’s Royal Air Force conducted its first flight in Renton, Wash., on July 12. During this inaugural flight, “key testing took place,” the company said. This aircraft is now moving to the P-8 Installation and Checkout facility in Tukwila, Wash., where mission systems are installed and additional testing occurs before final delivery expected later this year. Before final delivery, the P-8A will fly to Naval Air Station Jacksonville for additional training and preparation by U.K. personnel before flying to the U.K. The RAF are expected to take delivery of the first aircraft later this year and have it moved to the U.K. by early 2020.“The platform will enhance the U.K.’s maritime patrol capability with advanced, state-of-the-art technology,” Air Commodore Richard Barrow, the senior responsible owner for the UK’s P-8A program, said in a statement. The U.K. expects to use this P-8A fleet to support maritime surveillance, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, and add protection to nuclear forces and the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

Talisman Sabre ’19. Naval forces from the U.S., Australia, Canada, and Japan sailed together to mark the start of the annual Talisman Sabre exercise off the coast of northern Australia on July 10. This is normally a bilateral U.S.-Australian exercise that looks to integrate all warfare domains while enhancing U.S. and Australian interoperability during an amphibious operation field training exercise. This year, U.S. participants include the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), the Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS William P. Lawrence (DDG-110), and the Wasp Expeditionary Strike Group, made of Amphibious Squadron 11, with embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, the destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85), and Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752). Australian forces include two Canberra-class landing helicopter dock vessels, a Japanese amphibious transport dock ship and Hyga-class helicopter, and a Canadian Halifax-class frigate and auxiliary oiler replenishment vessel.

Staying Alive. The Department of Homeland Security has decided to keep its FirstSource contract vehicle, which it uses to procure information technology commodities, solutions and services from small businesses. DHS Chief Procurement Officer Soraya Correa in a July 15 letter to “industry partners” said that given the “great success” with FirstSource II, FirstSource III will be established with set-aside tracks for each of the five socio-economic categories. The letter, posted in the federal procurement opportunities website, said that DHS is still working out the scope of the new vehicle and timelines for release and will continue to engage with industry on it. Correa also said that her team is working with the White House Office of Management and Budge to ensure FirstSource III meets the agency’s guidance on category management.

BAE Personnel. BAE Systems, Inc., the U.S.-based subsidiary of Britain’s BAE Systems, has made three appointments to its senior leadership team including promoting Alice Eldridge to senior vice president and general counsel, and making her a member of its board. She succeeds Ian Graham, who left the company in May. Eldridge previously was chief counsel of BAE’s Platform and Services Sector. Travis Garriss has been appointed senior vice president and chief information officer, a new position responsible for the company’s investments in and maintenance of technology and cyber security requirements and governance. Garriss comes from Honeywell, where was CIO and vice president of User and Functional Enablement. Finally, Leslie Jelalian is in the restructured position of vice president of Strategy and Corporate Development, responsible for strategic growth in the U.S. and abroad, as well as helping with identifying potential acquisitions, divestitures and organic investments. Previously, she was vice president of Strategy and Planning for the Electronic Systems sector.

Cannito in Private Equity. Peter Cannito, the former CEO of high-technology security company Polaris Alpha until it was acquired by Parsons last year, has joined the private equity firm AE Industrial Partners as an operating partner. In addition, Cannito has been named to the board of AEI portfolio company Gryphon Technologies. “Peter’s experience leading high-growth companies, shepherding defense, technology, and government services companies through strategic transformations, acquisitions, and integrations, along with his expertise with high-tech, critical systems for companies in our core markets, will benefit AEI’s portfolio companies and our firm’s overall strategic direction,” said David Rowe, AEI’s managing partner. AEI invests in aerospace, defense, government services, power generation and specialty industrial markets.

Drug Detection Aircraft Bill. Several senators last week introduced a bill that would authorize funds for the Coast Guard to continue its assessment of land-based medium-range unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and for additional long-range maritime patrol aircraft for drug detection and interdiction operations. The Coast Guard Drug Detection and Interdiction Act authorizes $5 million in both fiscal years 2020 and 2021 for additional long-range aircraft and $2 million in both years for the service to continue the ongoing UAS assessment. A spokeswoman for the Coast Guard told Defense Daily the UAS assessment is undergoing prototype deployments that are scheduled to continue into 2020. The bill was introduced by Sens. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Todd Young (R-Ind.).

Trump/JEDI. President Trump said on July 18 he will consider looking into the Pentagon’s potential $10 billion JEDI cloud computing program. “Great companies are complaining about it,” Trump said, according to White House pool reports. “I will be asking them to look at it very closely to see what’s going on.” Trump added he is aware of specific complaints from companies such as Microsoft and Oracle. JEDI has faced pushback from both Congress and industry over its single-award contract structure and stringent requirements. There have been several pre-award protests and investigations over alleged conflicts of interests between Pentagon officials and Amazon Web Services, the likely frontrunner for the deal. Oracle recently lost a legal challenge to JEDI. DoD CIO Dana Deasy has said a contract is likely to be awarded in late August to either AWS or Microsoft. “We are aware of the remarks and have nothing to add at this time,” a DoD spokesperson told Defense Daily. 

Abrams Replacement. Brig. Gen. Ross Coffman, director of the Army’s Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross-Functional Team, said the service is conducting two studies to inform plans for replacing its Abrams tanks in the future.“The Abrams still has incredible capability, but we know that if we don’t start looking today for its replacement that, because it’s a multi-year process, we could be behind,” Coffman said. The Army Science Board is currently looking at the issue and Future Command’s CCDC Ground Vehicle Systems Center will take it on in 2020. “This may not be a tank. We need to determine what the enemy is, what we want to destroy that enemy with and how survivable the vehicle needs to be to accomplish that mission. And then we’ll design it around those rather than saying this exactly what it looks like, or that a tank is a tank. It may hover and shoot lasers, as long as it’s decisively lethal I don’t care,” Coffman said.

Army Network/Space. Maj. Gen. Pete Gallagher, director of the Army’s Network Cross-Functional Team, said this week he is interested in exploring commercial industry’s space-based network technologies for future capability drops as the Army looks to integrate new tools into its network architecture. “There are some things involving in space with some of the commercial industry that we want to be able to leverage. It’s a different way of how we could do network transport from today,” Gallagher said. The Network CFT is working under a new model to drop capabilities every two years starting in 2021, and Gallagher added space-based tools are likely to be included in the 2023 capability set. “Both for low-Earth orbit and mid-Earth orbit, and even geosynchronous orbit for high capacity transport, we’re looking at some options for how all these different capabilities will fit. When they’re ready, we’re going to choose some units and get some feedback, and then we’ll accelerate if it’s ready and we have the fiscal resources aligned with that,” Gallagher said.

Futures Command/Autonomy. Gen. Mike Murray, head of Futures Command, said the modernization-focused command is placing an emphasis on exploring autonomy tools across its six priorities. “We are, in many ways, dipping our toes into autonomy. Autonomy on the ground, especially cross-country, is going to be more difficult than driving down a highway or moving across an ocean or through the air,” Murray said this week. “But we’re beginning to dip our toes into experimentation, not only from a technology standpoint but as importantly the organizational structure and how that will fundamentally change how we fight in the future.” Murray said Futures Command’s Army Applications Lab, which looks to bring in start-ups and non-traditional partners, has a specific task right now to look at autonomous resupply for artillery. Futures Command is also focused on addressing the ethical and organizational considerations associated with an increased use of autonomy and AI capabilities, according to Murray. “There’s the debate we run into every once in awhile about artificial intelligence and the ethical application of artificial intelligence. I get this mental image that everytime I talk about this while I’m in uniform everyone starts thinking about The Terminator.”

Election Threats Chief. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats last Friday appointed Shelby Pierson to serve in the new position of Intelligence Community Election Threats Executive (ETE), a position that will be the primary adviser to the DNI on threats to elections and election security in general. The ETE will also coordinate election security activities and efforts across the intelligence community and “synchronize” related intelligence efforts across the U.S. government. Pierson has been Coats’ Crisis Manager for Election Security since during the 2018 midterm congressional elections and has worked in the intelligence community for more than 20 years. “Election security is an enduring challenge and a top priority for the IC,” Coats said in a statement. “In order to build on our successful approach to the 2018 elections, the IC must properly align its resources to bring the strongest level of support to this critical issue.”

…More Actions. Coats didn’t stop with the new ETE position. He also created an IC Election Executive and Leadership Board that Pierson will chair. The board is made up of senior-executive leads across the IC and relevant government organizations and will be the main “vehicle for IC-wide coordination and focus on election threats,” Coats’ office said. He also directed IC offices with a role in election security to identify their respective senior-executive leads to work with the ETE.