Advantage China. A Navy official on May 11 told a House panel part of the reason China’s military shipbuilding capability is so much larger, when it comes to pure numbers, is due to its dominance in commercial shipbuilding. “It is important to understand a major difference between Chinese and U.S. shipbuilding industrial bases, the difference being that China benefits from a massive commercial shipbuilding workload. It leverages the associated workforce, infrastructure and supply chain in the construction of its naval vessels,” Rear Adm. Thomas Anderson, Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Ships, said during a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability subcommittee on national security, the border and foreign affairs. He noted a 2022 study reported China accounts for 47 percent of global commercial vessel shipbuilding volume, which “provides them a massive advantage when it comes to shipbuilding capacity.” After China the next top commercial shipbuilders are South Korea and Japan at 25 and 16 percent. 

…And U.S. Government Alone.

In contrast, the U.S. has less than one percent of commercial shipbuilding. “This means that unlike countries which heavily leverage commercial investments, the U.S. government largely goes it alone, bearing all the costs of the ships and the associated infrastructure,” Anderson added. He said the seven tier one shipyards in the U.S. have no commercial shipbuilding work, relying on government contracts alone.

Closer Relationship. U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall says that he is encouraging service acquisition chief Andrew Hunter and Frank Calvelli, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for space acquisition and integration, to interact more with industry and bring company officials in early to solve technical problems. “We used to have a much more open relationship, a closer relationship, with industry during the Cold War,” Kendall says. “Many times in my earlier career, if we had an operational problem, a technical problem, we needed people to address, we would pull together a team from government and industry and put them in a room and let them work on the problem for a while. It’s almost impossible to do that now because of all the rules in place about conflict of interest and so on. I’m all for solid ethics, but I’m not for getting in the way of making progress, and, in some cases, I think we’ve gone too far in that regard.” As the Air Force was devising and analyzing its 7 current operational imperatives, the Air Force solicited ideas from industry, Kendall says.

VTOL Kit for Puma. AeroVironment last week introduced a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) kit for its Puma 3 AE small fixed-wing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance unmanned aircraft system, which up to now has been launched by hand, bungee, rail or vehicle, and recovered by a deep-stall landing. AeroVironment said the optional VTOL kit expands the operational capabilities of the platform by eliminating the need for large open spaces for launch and recovery. The kit can be added or removed in a “couple of minutes” in the field. The company said the kit can be retrofitted on Puma 2 AE models.

EMS-1 Named. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced  the lead ship of the new Expeditionary Medical Ship (EMS(X)) class will be named USNS Bethesda (EMS-1), after National Naval Medical Center Bethesda. EMS(X) will now be called the Bethesda-class EMS. These ships are a variant of the Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ships, meant to provide additional medical capability below the level of the two large hospital ships. Like the EPFs, the EMS will include a shallow draft allowing interface with austere ports, a flight deck to accommodate helicopters, a full range of medical capabilities with three operating rooms, a medical laboratory, radiological capability, blood bank, primary care, rapid stabilization and combat search and rescue with recovery at sea. The Navy said the primary mission of the EMS is as a “high-speed forward deployed medical ship is to provide rapid responsive sea-based and near-shore hospital level critical care, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, non-combatant evacuation operations and special operations.” The ship will be able to travel at up to 30 knots and a range of 5,500 nautical miles.

DDG-123. The Navy is set to commission the latest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123), during a ceremony on May 13 in Key West, Fla. The ship is named after the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps, first woman recipient of the Navy Cross, and one of the “Sacred Twenty,” the first 20 women who entered Navy service in 1908. This is the second ship named after Higbee. DDG-123 is the 72nd total Arleigh Burke-class destroyer while 17 others are under contract. This is also the final Flight IIA destroyer before the Navy transitions to Flight III destroyers.  

DDG-1000 Modernization. HII won a $37 million undefinitized order on May 5 to procure dry docking long lead time material for the Zumwalt-class destroyers USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) “build yard modernization period.” In the next few years, HII is expected to upgrade the three Zumwalt-class destroyers by replacing their unused 155mm Advanced Gun Systems with four large vertical launch tubes to field up to 12 Conventional Prompt Strike hypersonic missiles each. The Navy plans to have DDG-1000 ready for testing in this configuration by 2025. This order’s work is expected to be finished by January 2024. This was awarded as a sole source award in accordance with federal acquisition regulations. 

U.S-Israel Digital Shield. U.S. 5th Fleet forces conducted a four-day unmanned naval exercise with Israel that ended on May 11 in the Gulf of Aqaba, Digital Shield. The event included members of the Task Force 59 unmanned and artificial intelligence unit, and a MANTAS Devil Ray T-38 unmanned surface vessel. U.S. forces trained alongside Israeli counterparts “during maritime awareness and vessel boarding drills,” the Navy said. This is the second Digital Shield exercise with Israeli forces in the past year and the previous one conducted last September.

DDG-123. The Navy plans to commission the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the future USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123), on May 13 during a ceremony at Key West, Fla. DDG-123 was built by HII at its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard, launched in January 2020 and delivered last November. After being commissioned, the destroyer will travel to its homeport of Naval Base San Diego. Construction of DDGs is split between HII and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

We Want Walden. Sen. Angus King (I/D-Me.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) last Thursday wrote to President Biden urging him to nominate Acting National Cyber Director (NCD) Kemba Walden to be considered by the Senate as the new NCD. Walden has been the acting NCD since Chris Inglis retired from the White House job in February. She had been Inglis’s deputy until then. “While we applaud the White House’s efforts under Director Inglis to stand up the office and his strong leadership in drafting the National Cybersecurity Strategy, we are extremely concerned that the three-month delay (and counting) in nominating a candidate to replace Chris will hinder the implementation of the strategy and lead to a lessening of the stature of the office,” wrote King and Gallagher, who co-chaired the Cyberspace Solarium Commission. “Acting NCD Walden is a proven, forward-thinking leader who can seamlessly step into the permanent position today.”

USCG Patterson Delivered. Bollinger Shipyards last Thursday delivered the 53rd fast response cutter (FRC) to the Coast Guard, the USCG John Patterson, which will be the fourth of six FRCs to be homeported in Boston. Bollinger is under contract for 65 of the 154-foot Sentinel-class vessels. The ships typically operate in the littorals for up to five days, performing multiple missions.

Calspan to TransDigm. TransDigm Group last week closed its acquisition of Calspan Corp., disclosing that it paid $725 million in cash for the deal. The acquisition gives TransDigm transonic wind tunnels and testing and technology services mainly for aerospace and defense customers. Calspan has about 625 employees and is expected to generate $200 million in sales this year.

Polar Communications. U.S. Space Force says that Northrop Grumman has delivered the control and planning segment (CAPS) for the Enhanced Polar System and future Enhanced Polar System-Recapitalization payloads. EPS-R is to improve military communications over the North Pole. The new CAPS ground segment provides the software baseline for EPS and EPS-R. SSC said that CAPS “is an innovative approach streamlining mission operations while reducing long-term costs of software and hardware sustainment for the ground segment” and that EPS-R “will extend the polar capability provided by EPS until the fielding of the next-generation Protected Tactical SATCOM (PTS) system expected to launch in the early 2030s.” The EPS-R payloads are to launch next year aboard a SpaceX rocket on Norway’s Arctic Satellite Broadband Mission.

Slovakia/JLTVs. The State Department on May 9 approved a potential $250 million foreign military sale with Slovakia for 192 Heavy Gun Carrier variant Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. Along with the Oshkosh Defense-built JLTVs, Slovakia would also receive M153 Common Remote Weapon Stations, M2 .50 caliber machine guns, MK19 40mm grenade launchers and M4A1 joint chemical agent detectors. “The proposed sale will improve Slovakia’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing the Slovak Land Forces with vehicles to support increased mobility and enhanced protection for ground units. The JLTV procurement would also enable divestiture of Russian-produced equipment, as JLTVs would replace Soviet-era personnel carriers. Procurement of the JLTV would represent a major milestone in Slovakia’s goal of developing a capable, twenty-first century military which can meet its national defense needs and effectively contribute to NATO operations,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement. 

Poland/Sniper ATPs. The State Department has also approved a potential $124.7 million deal with Poland for 34 Lockheed Martin-built AN/AAQ-33 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods (ATP). “The proposed sale will improve the tactical effectiveness of the FA-50 fighter aircraft that Poland is buying from the Republic of Korea by enhancing its abilities to identify targets, track, and engage from a standoff distance; it will also increase interoperability with U.S. and NATO forces,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a statement.