Australia/Black Hawks. Australia on Jan. 18 officially announced it will buy 40 UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters, with the deal estimated around $2 billion. Deliveries for the Sikorsky-built helicopters to the Australian Army are expected to begin this year. “The Black Hawk capability will be a crucial element for us to protect Australia’s sovereignty, and deliver foreign policy objectives, including providing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” Maj. Gen. Jeremy King, head of land capability for Australia’s Department of Defense, said in a statement. The helicopters will be procured via the U.S. Foreign Military Sales process, with the State Department having previously approved the deal in late August 2022. “The multi-mission UH-60M Black Hawk provides the Australian Army with critical capabilities that will strengthen Australia’s readiness, interoperability and security for decades to come. We continue to invest in Black Hawk modernization to provide operators with the competitive edge they require to counter and deter threats today and in future Joint All-Domain Operations,” Sikorsky President Paul Lemmo said in a statement.

Autonomy Directive.

The Pentagon has updated its directive on “Autonomy in Weapon Systems,” which it says aims to “minimize the probability and consequences of failures in autonomous and semi-autonomous weapon systems that could lead to unintended engagements.” Requirements in the updated directive, detailed on Jan. 25, include designing autonomous weapon systems “to exercise appropriate levels of human judgment over the use of force,” directing human operator to use such systems in accordance with “law of war, applicable treaties, weapon system safety rules, and applicable rules of engagement” and designing and deploying autonomous capabilities in alignment with the department’s AI ethical principles. “DoD is committed to developing and employing all weapon systems, including those with autonomous features and functions, in a responsible and lawful manner,” Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said in a statement. “Given the dramatic advances in technology happening all around us, the update to our ‘Autonomy in Weapon Systems’ directive will help ensure we remain the global leader of not only developing and deploying new systems, but also safety.”

AMPV. A full rate production decision for the Army’s Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) program is expected “soon,” the service’s top acquisition official said on Jan. 25. The BAE Systems-built AMPV is the Army’s replacement for its legacy M113 armored personnel carriers. “The exact date hasn’t been nailed down yet. But it’s coming soon. Tied into that, of course, are the contract negotiations, which are a major part of that decision,” Doug Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, told reporters. The AMPV program is currently in low-rate production, and the Army has said it has an overall acquisition objective for 2,897 vehicles.

M1A2 Abrams. The U.S. will look to procure the M1A2 variant of Abrams for the tanks it plans to provide for Ukraine, a Pentagon spokesperson said on Jan. 25. The update arrives a day after the Biden administration detailed a new $400 million security aid package for Ukraine that included plans to provide 31 General Dynamics Land Systems-built Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The tanks will be procured with Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) funds, rather than being drawn from existing inventories. “We’re using the USAI because, that’s exactly it, we just don’t have these tanks available in excess in our U.S. stocks. Which is why it is going to take months to transfer these M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine,” Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh told reporters.

Block 70/72 Backlog. On Jan. 24, two Lockheed Martin test pilots flew the first Block 70 version of the F-16 fighter at Lockheed Martin’s Greenville, S.C., site, the company said. Bahrain, one of six countries to pick the F-16 Block 70/72, is receiving 16 of the planes, including the one that flew on Jan. 24. “In addition to the current official backlog of 128 jets to-date to be built in Greenville, Jordan last year signed a Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LoA) for eight jets and last week signed an additional LoA for four more jets,” the company said. “Lockheed Martin has received a contract to begin Jordan’s long-lead activities. Bulgaria has also signed an LoA for an additional eight jets for its fleet. Once these are finalized, the backlog will increase to 148.”

50 to 90 Percent Overclassified. Given the press spotlight on classified documents found in spaces belonging to former President Trump, former Vice President Pence, and President Biden, “some might conclude that the procedures in place for handling classified information are too lax,” according to a Jan. 25 article in The Nation by Elizabeth Goitein, the senior director of liberty and national security at the Brennan Center for Justice. “But that’s not the case. The protections for classified information are rigorous and extensive. The culprit lies elsewhere, in the original sin that underlies almost all the dysfunctions of the classification system: overclassification…Insiders have estimated that anywhere between 50 and 90 percent of classified documents could safely be made public. With 50 million classification decisions made each year, that’s a jaw-dropping volume of unnecessary secrets.” Biden may issue an executive order to revise classification rules, and, if he does so, he would join every president except Trump who has issued such an order on the subject since the advent of the modern classification system, Goitein wrote. “Moving forward, the government should invest in developing machine-learning systems (algorithms that can recognize patterns of words or phrases) to help identify and mark classified information,” she wrote.

AFMC Strategic Plan. This month, the Air Force Materiel Command (AFMC) at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio released its 2023 strategic plan to help the Department of the Air Force meet seven operational imperatives established by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall: defining a resilient and effective space order of battle and space defensive/offensive architectures; achieving an operationally optimized Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS)/Department of the Air Force Joint All-Domain Command & Control (JADC2) construct for future conflicts against technologically advanced adversaries;  achieving ground and air moving target engagement at scale against such adversaries; defining the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) family of systems; defining optimized resilient forward basing, sustainment, and communications in a contested environment; defining the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider long range strike family of open architecture systems; and resistance of the mobilization and supply chains to cyber and non-cyber threats to advance the readiness of the Department of the Air Force to move to a wartime footing against technologically advanced adversaries.

Levin Delivers. The Navy accepted delivery of the future Arleigh Burke-class Flight IIA guided missile destroyer USS Carl. M. Levin from shipbuilder General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) on Jan. 26. Delivery occurred after the ship completed a set of at-sea and pier-side trials demonstrating its operational and materiel readiness. The ship is named after former Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who served in the Senate for 36 years and chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee from 2001 to 2003 and 2007 to 2015. BIW is also building the future destroyers John Basilone (DDG-122), Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG-124), Patrick Gallagher (DDG-127), Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG-126), William Charette (DDG-130), and Quentin Walsh (DDG-132).

Joint Staff To Fleets. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced Biden nominated Rear Adm. Frederick Kacher to be vice admiral and commander of 7th Fleet. Kacher currently serves as vice director for Operations, J-3, Joint Staff. He will succeed Vice Adm. Karl Thomas, who has served in the role since July 2021. The administration also nominated Rear Adm. George Wikoff to be appointed vice admiral and commander of Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet. Wikoff currently serves as vice director of the Joint Staff. He is set to succeed Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who has served in the role since May 2021.

HII CIO. HII said Chris Soong was promoted to executive vice president and chief information officer (CIO). Soong previously served as CIO at HII’s Mission Technologies division. He is replacing Bharat Amin who is retiring at the end of March. In his new position, Soong will be responsible for establishing the company’s information technology and digital strategic direction with a focus on cyber security capabilities. He assumes the role on April 1 and will report to HII president Chris Kastner. Soong first joined HII when the company acquired Alion Science and Technology, where he was CIOP and senior vice president.

Triton Ice. The MQ-4C Triton unmanned aircraft test team conducted the first flight assessing its ability to fly with wing ice accumulation on January 25 at Patuxent River, Md. This was the first of 15 flights planned through spring 2023 to clear the Triton to fly in icing conditions. “Triton’s ability to fly in icing conditions is a top priority for the fleet. The greater ability we have to fly in harsh weather conditions, the more capability we can provide to the fleet, Capt. Josh Guerre, MQ-4C Triton Program Manager, said in a statement. The Navy noted late last year the Integrated Test Team installed 3D-printed nylon ice shape blocks that are designed to simulate moderate icing accumulation on the wings and tail. If the Triton is verified to have enough stability to remove flight restrictions in icing conditions, that could “significantly increase the fleet’s sortie rate,” MQ-4C Triton lead test engineer Amanda Marge, added.

King Stallion Lifts JSF. A CH-53K King Stallion heavy lift helicopter completed an external load certification lift on an inoperable F-35 Joint Strike Fighter airframe at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., in December, the Navy said Jan. 24. This lift sought to evaluate the load and use the data to inform the flight envelope for future lift events. The CH-53K aims to replace the CH-53E Super Stallion for Marine Corps logistics and assault support. This was a developmental test carrier variant of the F-35C that, with rigging, weighed 22,000 pounds after removing its mission, propulsion systems, outer wings and other equipment. The CH-53K is cleared for a 27,000-pound external lift and projected to proceed through 36,000-pound external lift, three times more than the older CH-53E. CH-53K entered full rate production and deployment in December and is set to declare Full Operational Capability in FY 2029.

USV Test. Ships and boats from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia sailed in Persian Gulf waters with a U.S. 5th Fleet Task Force 59 MARTAC T-38 Devil Ray unmanned surface vessel (USV), the Navy said on Jan. 26. During the exercise, led by Combined Task Force (CTF) 152, maritime units rehearsed vessel boarding and search procedures to enhance interoperability and collaboration. CTF 152 is one of four task forces under the Combined Maritime Forces naval partnerships with 38 member states operating inside the Persian Gulf.

Lockheed Investment. Machina Labs last week said it has received an investment from Lockheed Martin’s ventures arm that brings total fundraising to $21.8 million, which will allow the California-based startup to expand its research and development into additional manufacturing processes and metallurgical offerings. Machina Labs leverages artificial intelligence and robotics to develop software-defined factories of the future, allowing customers to manufacture different products with modular manufacturing solutions just by changing the software. “With Lockheed Martin’s investment, we can accelerate development of our sheet metal roboforming to better serve the need of the defense sector and give the United States a competitive advantage in speed of development for national security and defense products,” says Edward Mehr, Machina Labs’ CEO.

Cyber Play. The private equity firm AE Industrial Partners last week said it has acquired a significant stake in REDLattice Inc., creating a new platform investment in the area of cyber technology. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. REDLattice, which is based in Northern Virginia, does work in vulnerability research, reverse engineering, cyber tool development, and proprietary tools for cyber operations. Baird served as financial adviser to REDLattice on the deal and AEI was advised by Ernst & Young.

First Cyber Agenda. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Joint Cyber Defense Collaborative (JCDC) last week announced its planning agenda for 2023, a first for the public-private entity, and plans to focus on three areas of joint cyber defense, including systemic risk, collective cyber response, and high-risk communities. Within systemic risk, the JCDC will address four areas: open-source software; remote monitoring and management vendors, managed service providers, and managed security service providers; the energy sector; and the water sector. “This agenda is the first of its kind—a forward-looking effort that will bring together government and the private sector to develop and execute cyber defense plans that achieve specific risk reduction goals and enable more focused collaboration,” Eric Goldstein, executive assistant director for cybersecurity at CISA, wrote in a Jan. 26 post on the agency’s blog.

Columbia Sub. The first Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, the future USS District of Columbia (SSBN-826), is about 30 percent completed and “we are ahead of the contract schedule,” General Dynamics (GD) Chairman and CEO Phebe Novakovic said during a Jan. 25 earnings call.  GD Electric Boat held a keel laying ceremony, marking the ceremonial start of construction, for SSBN-826 last June. At the time the company said it was over 20 percent complete. If finished on time, the submarine is set to enter into service by 2027. The Navy originally planned for SSBN-826 to be finished within 84 months after construction start, but the service and GD are trying to get it done within 78 months to add margin, but officials have said that margin has worn down to only one to two months. The Navy previously received authority from Congress to have GD complete seven percent of the vessel before formal construction started.

X-32A Drone? The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio on Jan. 27 seemed to suggest a comeback of sorts for the Boeing X-32A, the company’s conventional takeoff and landing entrant in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) competition–a demonstrator that the Air Force transferred to the museum in 2005 after Lockheed Martin’s X-35 won the JSF contract in 2001. The museum says that the X-32A is “not on public display.” On Jan. 27, the museum tweeted a video of the X-32A and this tantalizing phrase about the X-32A: “full drone flight soon.” The F-35 Joint Program Office said on Jan. 27 that it did not know of an upcoming X-32A drone flight, and Air Force Materiel Command said it was also unaware. The museum had not responded to emails asking about a possible X-32A drone flight and possible association with any Air Force program or programs by press time on Jan. 27.

New Border Security Chair. House Republicans last Friday unveiled their subcommittee rosters for the Homeland Security Committee, with the Border Security and Enforcement panel to be chaired by Rep. Clay Higgins (La.), a strident critic of the Biden administration’s border security efforts. The other Republicans picked for the subcommittee include Morgan Luttrell (Texas), who will be the vice chair, Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Michael Guest (Miss.). Tony Gonzales (Texas), and Josh Brecheen (Okla.). Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), earlier this month was named as chair of the full committee. Under Democrats, who have yet to release their roster for the committee, the subcommittee was titled Border Security, Facilitation, & Operations.

…And for TSA and Maritime. The Transportation and Maritime Subcommittee will be chaired by Carlos Gimenez (Fla.) and Nick LaLota (N.Y.) will be the vice chair. Rep. Higgins will also be on the panel as will Laurel Lee (Fla.). Gimenez was the ranking member of the subcommittee when Democrats were in charge and counter-drone security at airports was one issue that he wanted to examine more thoroughly. The Transportation Security Administration is testing counter-drone technologies at Miami International Airport.

KC-46A Lot 9. The U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a nearly $2.3 billion contract on Jan. 27 for 15 production Lot 9 KC-46A tankers. The Air Force said that Lot 9 work in Seattle is expected to finish by August 31, 2026. Boeing said it has delivered 68 tankers to the Air Force out of 128 on contract and that it has 138 on contract globally–the 10 others with Japan and Israel. The Air Force may lay out a path for its future tanker force in the upcoming fiscal 2024 budget request.