Fireside Chats. U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Charles Q. Brown is to kick off the Air Force Association’s 2021 Virtual Aerospace Warfare Symposium (VAWS) next Wednesday in a fireside chat on the future of the service with Mackenzie Eaglen, a national security analyst at the American Enterprise Institute. Next week’s lineup is full, including discussions on the future of the nuclear triad with Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. John Hyten and Gen. Timothy Ray, the head of Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC); hypersonics weapons development with Air Force Maj Gen Andrew Gebara, AFGSC’s director of strategic plans, programs and requirements, and Brig Gen Heath Collins, the head of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s armament directorate; and emerging technology and the high-end fight with Air Force Lt Gen S. Clinton Hinote, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration, and requirements, and Lt. Gen. William Liquori, Jr., the U.S. Space Force’s deputy chief of space operations for strategy, plans, programs, requirements, and analysis. Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond is also to engage in a fireside chat with famed astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson, next Thursday morning.

Hypersonic Hercules. Boeing said that it is investing internal research and development (IRAD) dollars in a digital engineering effort to design new weapons pylons for the B-52 and B-1B bombers to carry hypersonic weapons and reduce the development and production timelines for such weapons. Boeing is using such IRAD to increase weapons carriage for the bombers through adaptable external weapons pylons and to design new command and control systems. “Expanding weapons capacity is a key focus for our customer,” said Daniel Ruder, Boeing’s manager for bomber strategic development and advanced programs. “A key attribute of the B-52 has been its ability to carry large payloads. We’ll be increasing those payload capacities even more. The B-52 large capacity pylon that we’re calling the Hercules will be capable of carrying 20,000 pounds on each wing and will be adaptable to carry not only the hypersonic weapons, but also increase carriage capacity for existing weapons.” If Hercules is realized, the B-52 could carry up to six 7,000 pound hypersonic Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapons (ARRW) by Lockheed Martin.

…External Revalidation. Ruder said that Boeing is revalidating the external weapons carriage capability for the B-1B bomber—originally designed to carry nuclear cruise missiles on the aircraft’s external pylons. “Boeing is developing what we’re calling the Load Adaptable Modular Pylon capable of carrying up to two 2,000 pound weapons and one 5,000 pound class weapon on each of the six aircraft hard points,” he said. “The LAMP pylon increases capacity and also provides that flexibility to accommodate both current and future weapons.”

Boeing Board Departures. Boeing last week said that two of its directors, Arthur Collins Jr. and Susan Schwab, will retire when their terms expire and will not stand for reelection at the company’s annual shareholder meeting on April 20. Collins has been on the board since 2007 and Schwab joined in 2010.

New SAIC Top Lobbyist. Science Applications International Corp. said that John Bonsell has rejoined the company as its new senior vice president of Government Affairs, supporting the company’s strategic objectives by engaging with federal executive branch officials, members of Congress and their staffs, and state and local officials. Most recently, Bonsell was majority staff director for the Senate Armed Services Committee and before that was a vice president within SAIC’s Government Affairs office from 2015 to 2018. SAIC CEO Nazzic Keene said of Bonsell that “He brings extensive industry knowledge and government experience as well as his in-depth working knowledge of the Department of Defense.” Bonsell succeeds Tom Eldridge, who will retire this spring after helping with the transition.

Hiring Spree. The Transportation Security Administration has begun recruiting efforts to hire 6,000 Transportation Security Officers by this summer to meet expected seasonal travel demand and an increase in travel as progress is made with COVID-19 vaccinations. The agency will conduct targeted recruitment and host virtual job fairs for potential employees seeking full-time and part-time work.

LHD-6. The Navy plans to begin dismantling the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in April according to a fleet-wide Navy message released Feb. 12. The message was released by Vice Adm. James Kilby, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities, N9. The Navy previously said it decided to scrap LHD-6 after a four-day long fire in July, concluding it would cost too much to fix it or convert it to another use compared to building other ships. According to the message, on April 15 LHD-6 is projected to be inactivated while decommissioning ceremonies are separate.

…Other Ships. The message also noted it plans to dismantle the Cyclone-class patrol coastal ships USS Zephyr (PC-8) and USS Shamal (PC-13) with projected inactive dates of March 2 and Feb. 25, respectively. The USS Tornado (PC-14) is set to be sold in a Foreign Military Sale. Relatedly, this week the Navy said the Shamal, Zephyr and Tornado were decommissioned in ceremonies on Feb. 16, 17, and 18, respectively. These patrol coastal ships were originally built with a 15-year design service life but they now average 26 years when adding incremental modernization and maintenance periods. “The decision to decommission these three ships stems from the fact that they have all exceeded their designed service life. Based on the rising cost of modernization efforts, the Navy will receive a better return by decommissioning and freeing up funds to invest in other platforms,” the Navy said in a statement. After the decommissions, there are 10 more patrol coastal ships in service, homeported in Manama, Bahrain.

…LCS/LSD. The fleet message said the first two Littoral Combat Ships, ISS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Independence (LCS-2), will be placed in an “out of commission in reserve” (OCIR) status on Sept. 30 and July 31, respectively. First, the Whidbey Island-class dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43) will be placed in OCIR on April 16. OCIR ships remain in reserve to be reactivated if needed. Separately, the Powhatan-class ocean fleet tug USNS Sioux (T-ATF-171) will be inactivated on Sept. 30 before being made available for a Foreign Military Sale.

Fairbanks Morse. Fairbanks Morse announced of Feb. 16 it is opening its new 8,000 square foot Mayport Service Center in Jacksonville Beach, Fla. This facility will be staffed with “factor-certified, OEM technicians” to provide local engine, motor and controls maintenance and repair services to improve performance and reliability for nearby U.S. Navy and Coast Guard customers. The company noted this facility puts it closer to core customers including Mayport Naval Station, Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, and other U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard installations. Fairbanks Morse said a wide range of inventory will be available at the center to reduce the time for installation, repair and maintenance services and is part of an overall company emphasis on expediting aftermarket services.

Upgraded V-BAT Demo. Martin UAV is conducting demos of its newly upgraded V-BAT 128 drone for the Army. The V-BAT 128 showcase is part of the ongoing Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment at Fort Benning in Georgia to assess industry’s new technologies, with the Martin UAV to hold V-BAT 128 demos on Feb. 19, Feb. 23 and March 2, according to the company. Martin UAV noted the upgraded version of the V-BAT includes an enhanced engine with increased horsepower, 11 hours of endurance and improved ability for interchangeable payloads. “The improved version of the V-BAT maintains its current small [Vertical Take Off and Landing] footprint to launch, transport and operate,” the company wrote in a statement. 

Norway/CV90s. BAE Systems said on Feb. 18 the company has received a new contract from Norway worth more than $50 million to deliver 20 more CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicles. The latest deal will bring the Norwegian Army’s fleet of CV90s to 164 vehicles. “These additional vehicles will provide the Norwegian Army with the room for maneuver and combat power that the Army needs to be able to complete its missions using the most modern IFV vehicles in the world,” Brig. Gen. Øyvind Johan Kvalvik, the Norwegian Defence Materiel Agency´s Land Systems Division chief, said in a statement. The order covers 12 combat engineering and eight multi-carrier variants of the CV90. Deliveries are scheduled for 2023. 

MQ-25 Support. Boeing awarded Astronics Corporation contracts to supply aircraft power distribution units and custom-engineering exterior lighting for the MQ-25 Stingray carrier-based unmanned aerial tanker aircraft, currently in development. The Astronics power distribution technology will “support the success of the MQ-25 program by providing intelligent control and visibility of the on-board power systems,” company president and CEO Pete Gundermann said in a statement. The company said its system replaces pilot-operated thermal mechanical breaker systems with “intelligently controlled, solid-state switches” to provide reliable remote performance. The companies did not disclose the value of the contracts.

T-7 TACAIR? As the U.S. Air Force and the Pentagon’s Office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) run a tactical aircraft (TACAIR) study to inform future fighter needs, including a possible clean sheet design for an F-16 replacement, Boeing appears to believe that its T-7A Red Hawk trainer may be well suited for such a role. In addition, it appears that Boeing may have an interest in proposing the T-7 for U.S. Special Operations Command’s Armed Overwatch program. “We have been in discussions with the U.S. Air Force and some other U.S. agencies as well as a number of operators around the world about their variants of the T-7 and have spent a fair amount of time understanding their mission needs and rolling that into our equation with respect to development of the potential variants of the T-7,” said Chuck Dabundo, Boeing’s T-7 program manager. “Some of the different missions we’ve been talking about [are] adversary air, light fighter/light attack type missions, as well as variations of the Air Force’s training mission. We think we’re well positioned to leverage that open architecture/fly-by-wire flight control system and the extensive communications suite that’s on the aircraft to rapidly evolve the configuration to meet the needs of the U.S. Air Force and other, potential future customers.”

…Adding Hard Points. Dabundo said that to convert the T-7 to a low-end fighter would require adding hard points on the wing and potentially the center line to carry ordnance and other stores, expanding upon the aircraft’s communications system, and providing defensive aids and other electronic systems to give the Red Hawk a TACAIR capability. Dabundo suggested that digital engineering has paid off, as Boeing is at a “good point” with the cost and maintainability of the aircraft. “It flies like a fighter,” he said of the T-7. “It is a fighter.”