Bomber Numbers. In light of the nation’s focus on high-end threats and near-peer adversaries following release of the 2018 National Defense Strategy (NDS), the Air Force is taking a new look at its requirements, including the number of B-21 stealth bombers it will need, according to service officials. Will Roper, the Air Force’s head of acquisition and technology, told a House Armed Services panel on Feb. 26 that “we’re looking at everything.” He added that “Roles and missions when you’re fighting a peer are going to be different than when you’re fighting a non-peer or a low-end violent extremist, so I think the things before the NDS, all of them are on the table to be relooked at.” Lt. Gen. David Nahom, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for Plans and Programs, told the panel that current plan for 100 B-21s “was always a minimum.” The future bomber force will consist of B-52s and B-21s with the combined total more than 200 aircraft, he told the Projection Forces panel.

A Silver Lining.

China’s interference in Hong Kong of late has created a “window of opportunity” for the Defense Department to work with start-ups and other non-traditional defense contractors of the sort found in Silicon Valley that have used Chinese investments to develop and commercialize their technologies, according to Air Force Acquisition Chief Will Roper. “Startups and investors are starting to view taking Chinese money differently than they did in the past and now is the perfect time for the military to come in as an investment partner of choice because we’re not owning equity, right, and we’re a different market than the commercial one,” he told the House Armed Services Committee panel. “We can pay a higher price point and we don’t need things in the same quantity, so right now rather than a startup or a scale up thinking working with defense is hard and slow, I hope that they think in the future that’s the natural first step.”

…Going Big. Roper said the Air Force’s “pitch days” have been successful in getting startups on contract immediately, which has also had the effect of getting more venture capitalists (VC) to put money into these companies, in turn benefiting the Air Force. “That’s gone a long way to opening up the doors with private investors and venture capitalists who now view our quote, investment arm, the one that’s making early stage contracts with startups, viewing it as an early market delineator,” he said. “And so, we brought hundreds of millions into Air Force programs just from VCs saying, “Well that company’s on contract with the Air Force, they’ve got a chance of commercializing using the Air Force market, I probably need in. This is the year we’re going to try to go big and go at scale.”

Coast Guard USV Assessment. The Coast Guard has awarded two contracts to companies to evaluate small unmanned surface vehicles this summer over 30 days to improve maritime domain awareness in the Central Pacific Ocean. California-based Saildrone received $1.1 million from the Coast Guard Research and Development Center and Virginia-based Spatial Integrated Systems received a $660,000 award. The companies will provide their low-cost autonomous USVs on a contractor-owned and operated basis. The Coast Guard will gather data on range of detection, appropriate sensor packages, and communications flow between the vessels and command center to determine if small USVs can improve awareness in remote Pacific regions with an emphasis on detecting suspected illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activity to support enforcement actions. A final report on the evaluations is expected by spring 2021.

New Directors. Boeing has nominated Steve Mollenkopf, CEO of Qualcomm, and Akhil Johri, former chief financial officer of United Technologies, to be elected as directors of the company’s board. The aerospace giant said that independent directors Edward Liddy and Mike Zafirovski are retiring from the board. Boeing Chairman Larry Kellner said of the incoming directors that “They are proven leaders at complex, global enterprises and together will bring significant additional safety, engineering, software and financial experience to our board.” Lynn Dugle, the former chairman, president and CEO of Engility Holdings until its sale to Science Applications International Corp. in January 2019, has been appointed to the board of KBR. Dugle headed Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services segment before joining Engility. KBR Chairman Lester Lyles said Dugle’s experience in the aerospace and defense industry will help the company grow its Government Solutions business.

Light Attack. The Air Force on Wednesday awarded Sierra Nevada Corp. a $128.9 million contract for two A-29 Super Tucanos for light attack missions, and associated contractor support and sparing. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, Florida, and is expected to be completed by August 2024. The service is expected to also procure two AT-6 Wolverine turboprops from Textron Defense for light attack purposes.

G.O. Moves. The Air Force said Friday that Brig. Gen. David Harris has been selected to become the deputy director for the Air Force Warfighting Integration Capability (AFWIC) office at the Pentagon. Harris currently serves as the director of strategic plans, programs and requirements for AFSOC at Hurlbert Field, Florida.

The F-35 Panther? The F-35’s official name may be Lightning II, but the Air Force has taken to unofficially calling it the “Panther,” F-35 Vice President and General Manager Greg Ulmer told reporters at the AFA conference Thursday. The 500th F-35 is planned to be delivered in the “next month or so,” and it will have a tail flash featuring the cat, he noted.

HASC Member Retiring. Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.) said Tuesday that he is planning to retire from Congress in 2021. He will have served three terms on Capitol Hill. Abraham sits on the HASC seapower, emerging threats and capabilities and military personnel subcommittees, as well as the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology’s subcommittees on space, oversight and research and technology.

355-Ship Cost. Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Feb. 27, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly said reaching 355 ships within 10 years as the new integrated force structure assessment pushes for would cost $120 billion-$130 billion more total. That includes all lifecycle costs of the new ships within 10 years including procurement, manning, and equipping on top of current Navy baseline numbers. Modly said this big increase, which averages $12 billion-$13 billion per year, is part of why he issued the Stem-to-Stern review, which hopes to redirect $40 billion over FY 2022-2026, averaging $8 billion per year. “That’s the reason why I put this benchmark out for our teams to look at how do we get $8 billion out of the topline that we have right now, so at least we can start moving down that path.”

…Single Frigate. At the same hearing, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday also explained why the Navy is pulling back on its early frigate procurement timeline. Whereas in the FY 2020 budget request the service planned to buy one new FFG(X) frigate in FY 2020, then two per year from FY ’21-’25, now the Navy plans one in FY ’21, one in FY ’22, two in FY ’23 and FY ’24. And, then in FY ’25, Gilday said the Navy is committed to ultimately procuring 20 frigates and “I think that one frigate the first year is prudent. We need to get this right. There have been comments made about LCS and other programs so we’re focused on making sure that first ship puts us in a very good direction for the remainder of the class.”

AWE Milestone. The Navy said the USS Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN-78) long-delayed Advanced Weapons Elevators (AWEs) started combined testing of its first Lower Stage AWE on Feb. 24, marking a new milestone in the program. The service said shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News Shipbuilding (HII-NNS) engineers and Naval Surface Warfare Center Philadelphia Division (NSWCPD) assessors began phase two of testing Lower Stage Weapon Elevator (LSWE) #5 after finishing phase one actuator tester over the Feb. 22-23 weekend. This new NNS-NSWCPD testing team aims to reduce redundant inspections and improve times from testing to certification. The Navy said the vessel has conducted 7,000 cycles of the delivered four upper stage elevators with few minor issues. Now, LSWE #5 “will serve as a testing ground for the remaining seven elevators yet to be delivered as the lower stage elevators have significant design complexities from the upper stage elevators.”

GMLRS Deal. Lockheed Martin on Feb. 27 received a $1.1 billion deal from the Army for Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. The deal includes foreign military sales with Romania and South Korea. Work on the latest GMLRS deal is expected to be completed in September 2022, according to the Pentagon.

Army Engine Test. The Armysaid it has successfully completed fit testing its next-generation engine for AH-64 Apache Helicopters. The test, which took place at the end of January in Mesa, Arizona, consisted of installing a full-scale 3D printed model of General Electric’s T901 turboshaft engine into an Apache to ensure the new engine met form and fit requirement. GE was selected for the Army’s ITEP program to find a new helicopter engine last February, with the company’s design now headed toward critical design review in the third quarter of FY ‘20 following the successful fit test. The Army’s next step for ITEP is conducting a similar fit test with the Black Hawk.

Squad Common Optics. The Marine Corps has awarded a potential $64 million contract to Trijicon to produce Squad Common Optic Systems. The deal is expected to cover delivery of 19,000 common optic systems, with fielding to begin in FY ‘21 and conclude in FY ‘23. “The Squad Common Optic provides greater lethality compared to the existing system, the Rifle Combat Optic,” Lt. Col. Tim Hough, Marine Corps Systems Command’s program manager for infantry weapons, said in a statement. The Squad Common Optic System is a magnified day optic designed to improve target acquisition with infantry assault rifles.  The system includes a noncaliber-specific reticle, according to the Marine Corps, and can allow Marines to identify targets from farther distances than the legacy Rifle Combat Optic system.

CVN-79. Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) turned over the first 2,700 compartments of the future USS John F. Kennedy (CVN-79), the second Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, to the ship’s crew, the company said Feb. 27. The company noted this milestone in construction will allow sailors to start training on the ship in these completed spaces while final outfitting and testing proceeds at the Newport News Shipbuilding shipyard. The company noted earlier in February sailors assigned to the pre-commissioning unit started boarding the ship and working in some compartments, like a training facility, offices, and habitability spaces. HII said turning over crew training areas earlier is a “key lessons learned” from building the first new carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78). “As a result, the Kennedy’s construction team was able to complete and turn over 63 compartments to the ship’s crew over four months earlier than on Ford,” HII said.

GE Korean Destroyer. GE’s Power Conversion business and Hanwha Aerospace signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that they will work together to offer electric propulsion solutions to the South Korean Navy for its new, six-ship KDDX destroyer program. In the MoU GE offers naval electric propulsion solutions like the Integrated Full Electric Propulsion (IFEP), Hybrid Electric Drive (HED), and other propulsion integration capabilities. The KDDX is proposed to be 6,000 to 8,000 tons, which would satisfy larger power demands on greater radars and weapons systems than current vessels. The MoU was signed at GE Power Conversion’s Rotating Machine Rugby (RMR) facility in the United Kingdom and marked the start of a four-day KDDX team meeting with Power Conversion, Hanwha and GE Aviation Marine.

CVN-73 RCOH. Huntington Ingalls Industries marked a milestone in the refueling and complex overhaul (RCOH) of the USS George Washington (CVN-73) Nimitz-class aircraft carrier on Feb. 28. The shipbuilder relighted the ship’s 244 hull lights during a brief ceremony on Feb. 26. This was the first time the light illuminated the hull numbers since RCOH began in 2017. The company also noted the overhaul is more than 70 percent complete and is currently undergoing final outfitting and testing.

ARRW Reaches CDR. The Air Force’s Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) hypersonic program completed its critical design review this week, the service’s acquisition chief Will Roper told reporters Friday at the AFA Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida. The service chose to cancel its other hypersonic glide vehicle program, the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon (HCSW), in the FY ’21 budget request in favor of ARRW. Roper said Friday that he hated having to downselect to ARRW earlier than expected and canceling the work on HCSW, but added that considering the Air Force’s many capability demands, “we had to make tough choices.” HCSW will complete work through CDR before being canceled, he noted. Lockheed Martin was the lead contractor for both programs.

Dividend Hike. L3Harris Technologies will increase its dividend 13 percent to 85 cents a share, payable March 27. The forthcoming shareholder boost comes on top of 10 percent hike to the company’s dividend announced last July. The new increase “reflects our confidence in strong free cash flow generation and a commitment to drive value for shareholders,” said William Brown, chairman and CEO of L3Harris.

Cheaper Unmanned? Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly on Feb. 28 said while the new integrated Force Structure Assessment is looking at investing heavily in unmanned vessels, he is not sure they will be significantly cheaper than manned ships. “I’m not entirely convinced that unmanned is going to be that much cheaper. We’re finding, for example, a lot of the unmanned platforms, aerial platforms, require a whole infrastructure behind the scenes to make that work. It’s unmanned, but not really. There are people involved,” he said while speaking at a Brookings Institution event.

…Carriers Threats. Modly also noted he is concerned more about the aircraft carriers’ fiscal and political vulnerability rather than physical vis-à-vis threats like Chinese missiles. “My personal opinion on this is I’m much less concerned about the survivability of the carrier from a warfighting perspective than I am about it from a fiscal perspective and from a political perspective, frankly. Because it’s really expensive and we can only afford so many of these.”

…But Breathing Room. However, Modly noted thanks to the two-carrier buy in the fiscal year 2020 budget appropriations, “It gives us some breathing room right now. We don’t have to make another decision on the next carrier for another six to seven years because of that decision last year.” The two-carrier buy seeks to save $4 billion by procuring both carriers at once, allowing for more efficient ordering of parts. “It gives us an opportunity to work with the shipbuilder, work with industry, work with our war college to think about how we answer that question. There will always be a role for a carrier in the Navy fleet. How it transforms, how it changes over time – those are the things we’re working out.”