Continuing Resolution. U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall has advocated focusing modernization funds on programs that can field systems quickly to help counter China, but he said he’s concerned by the negative impacts of a possible year-long Continuing Resolution (CR), which remains a possibility, if lawmakers cannot agree to move annual spending bills forward. “It’s pretty well known that I’m obsessed with China and our modernization programs relative to China, and I’m on a quest to field meaningful operational capability as quickly as possible in a number of areas, but the thing that I’m very concerned about right now is the prospect of a year-long CR,” Kendall said. “I can’t emphasize enough how devastating it would be, and it would really compound our immediate problems in [FY] ’22, but it also makes [FY] ’23 problematic…You’d be in a really long period, well over a year.”

…Country First.

One motivation of congressional Republicans may be to limit domestic spending, while boosting their own election chances this November, Kendall suggested. “I think at the end of the day, it depends on whether people want to put the country first or their political party,” he said. “I think we’re quite prepared to do a deal. I’m concerned, the administration is–and I know that they’re talking, which I’m encouraged to hear–there’s a school of thought apparently that I have heard that the year-long CR keeps defense at a not unreasonable level, while constraining domestic spending. And, if your goal is to constrain domestic spending, that it’s a mechanism by which you can do that. I do think that it’s very much not in the interest of national security, certainly not in the interest of the country, to take that approach. Then there’s the question of politics in an election year is often who gets blamed. Well, the party in power right now tends to be the one that gets blamed when something bad happens. That can be part of the calculation too. That’s why I’m concerned.”

…B-21 and GBSD. One plus for the Air Force of Congress getting back to regular order would be lawmakers’ ability to consider service proposals to begin production of the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider stealth bomber and an acceleration of the company’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the slated replacement for the Boeing Minuteman III ICBMs. Kendall said that, as a former consultant to Northrop Grumman, he is prohibited from making decisions on both the B-21 and GBSD, however.

Board Machinations. Following the U.S. government’s Jan. 25 decision to seek to block Lockheed Martin’s acquisition of rocket and propulsion manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne, holding company Steel Partners, which has four of Aerojet’s eight board seats, nominated a slate of seven for the board. In a Jan. 28 letter to Aerojet, Steel Partners said it supports the merger. “However, in light of the recent uncertainty surrounding the prospects of the Lockheed transaction obtaining the requisite government approvals, Steel Holdings believes the Issuer (Aerojet) needs to focus on ensuring that it is optimally positioned to continue the business as a standalone entity in the event the transaction is not consummated,” Steel Partners said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The proposed nominees, which include four current board members previously nominated by Steel Partners, would add Aimee Nelson, Joanne Maguire and Heidi Wood.

…The Reply. Aerojet Rocketdyne in a Feb. 1 news release confirmed receipt of the Jan. 28 letter and also said there is an internal investigation of Warren Lichtenstein–executive chairman of both Aerojet and Steel Partners–underway by one of the board’s committees. Aerojet said it “believes” that Lichtenstein may have launched the proxy fight because of “his personal concerns and desire to secure his board position and gain leverage in the context of the Company’s internal investigation.” Aerojet said the investigation has nothing to do with its operations or financial reporting. Steel Partners owns about 5 percent of Aerojet’s stock.

Regular Board News. Huntington Ingalls Industries has elected Frank Jimenez to its board of directors, effective Jan. 27. Jimenez most recently was the top lawyer at Raytheon Technologies and at one time was the Navy’s general counsel. “Frank brings significant experience in private industry and public service, including in defense industry regulation, governance, anti-corruption, and international trade compliance,” said Kirk Donald, HII’s chairman.

Hypersonics Meeting. During a virtual roundtable meeting with senior Pentagon leaders in February, industry executives working on hypersonics told the officials there is a need to expand access to modeling capabilities and testing facilities “in order to adopt a ‘test often, fail fast, and learn’ approach which will accelerate the fielding of hypersonic and counter-hypersonic systems,” the department wrote in an announcement detailing the session. “Executives from more than a dozen companies of varying scale attended the roundtable and discussed supply chain and production capacity constraints across markets; the challenges posed by continuing resolutions; access to test facilities; workforce needs; and government acquisition barriers,” the Pentagon wrote. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin joined the meeting briefly, according to the Pentagon, and cited a “need for persistent dialogue in order to meet the department’s current and future capabilities requirements for defensive and offensive capabilities.”

Budget Work. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the lower chamber will look to make progress on final fiscal year 2022 spending bills next week, as the current continuing resolution is set to expire on Feb. 18. In his floor schedule update, Hoyer said he hopes this includes furthering work on an omnibus appropriations bill but signaled it’s likely to take the form of at least another CR to ensure the government stays open. “Moreover, the House will act on FY2022 appropriations, hopefully on an omnibus bill, but we will not allow the government to shut down,” Hoyer wrote.

Post-COVID Work. Currently, about 70 percent of L3Harris Technologies’ employees are full-time at job sites, versus 98 percent before the company was created in June 2019 through the merger of Harris Corp. and L3Technologies, Christopher Kubasik, the company’s president and CEO, said on last week’s fourth quarter earnings call. About 20 percent of the workforce is hybrid and 10 percent remote, he said, adding that this means savings on real estate “and such.” The merger of Harris and L3Technologies happened about eight months before COVID-19 began forcing changes to everyday life and Kubasik said, “if we return and do things the way we used to pre-COVID, we’ve missed an opportunity.”

60 Percent. U.S. mobilization for future conflicts will depend on members of the National Guard and Reserves, according to Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, the head of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM). “60 percent of our military capability for mobility lie in the Guard and Reserves,” she said. “Then I think about our commercial partners. The commercial networks are expansive. They’re around the globe, and it’s not simply a port or a ship. It’s about all of their threads—stevedores, and labor, and warehousing, and their subcontracts they have around the world. It’s a pretty extensive network that we work together to ensure we have the capacity we need.”

…Survivability and Force Maneuver. Future mobilizations will need secure communications, cyber, and space grids, she said. “Being able to apply our scarce mobility resources against the nation’s highest priority is a challenge, is a center of gravity for us, especially when it comes to cyber,” per Van Ovost. “Should we have to go from competition into conflict, what are we going to be moving and where? Capacity has to change. We need to be connected to the grid, the battlespace. We have to be able to see that battlespace to be survivable. What kinds of things do we need to do to that capacity to include training and exercises with the joint forces and with our allies and partners and, frankly, how do we better meld into the maneuver force? TRANSCOM has been the force that deploys the force, sustains the force, and re-deploys the force. What I’m seeing in the new Joint Warfighting Concept, the way the services are going to fight in the future, is now we’re going to be deploying the force, maneuvering the force, sustaining the force, and re-deploying the force. What does that maneuver piece mean? What are we going to have to do?”

ICE Nominee Advances. Ed Gonzalez, President Biden’s nominee to be director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was approved last week by a 7 to 4 Democrat-led party-line vote by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee for consideration by the Senate. Gonzalez, who is sheriff of Harris County, Texas, opposed ICE’s efforts under former President Trump to indiscriminately deport illegal aliens, saying the agency should focus on arresting those who pose threats to public safety. The committee confirmed him for the ICE job last August but the Senate failed to act before the end of 2021, necessitating a new vote on the nomination.

LCS-28. The USS Savannah (LCS-28) is set to be commissioned on Feb. 5 in Brunswick, Ga. The ship is next set to sail to its homeport at Naval Station San Diego. The ship was originally launched in September 2020 and delivered to the Navy in June 2021.

LPD-30. The keel for the future USS Harrisburg (LPD-30), the first Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship, was laid and authenticated on Jan. 28 at shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss. The keel laying is recognized as the official start of ship construction, joining together of a ship’s modular components and the authentication or etching of an honoree’s initials into a ceremonial keel plate. “LPD-30 marks the beginning of the LPD Flight II builds and the continuation of the superb capability that the San Antonio-class platform has brought to the Navy-Marine Corps team,” Cedric McNeal, program manager for Amphibious Warfare Program Office at Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships, said in a statement. The LPD Flight II ships will replace the legacy Whidbey Island-class (LSD 41/49) ships. HII is also in production on the future USS Richard S. McCool (LPD-29) and the future USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD-28). LPD-28 and 29 will serve as transition ships to LPD-30.

LPD-28. The future San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship USS Fort Lauderdale (LPD-28) finished acceptance trials on Jan. 31. These trials cover integrated testing to demonstrate the capability of the platform and its installed systems to meet its requirements and validate compliance with navy specifications and requirements. LPD-28 is now set to be delivered to the Navy within “a few weeks,” the Navy said in a statement. The ship was built by Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding Division in Pascagoula, Miss. The company is also building the future USS Richard S. McCool (LPD-29) and the future USS Harrisburg (LPD-30). Fabrication of LPD-31 is planned to start later this spring. LPD-28 and -29 are meant to serve as transition ships to LPD-30, the first LPD-17 Flight II ship.

Another Tech Bridge. Government officials launched the new Eastern North Carolina (ENC) Tech Bridge on Jan. 27. During the launch event, Fleet Readiness Center East (FRCE) Commanding Officer Col. Thomas Atkinson said the tech bridge has been in the works for about a year. The Eastern North Carolina Tech Bridge is set to focus on advanced manufacturing. maintenance, repair and overhaul technologies. “Additive manufacturing technology shortens overhaul cycles and provides engineering solutions for repairs not previously possible. Best commercial practices improve our processes and warfighter responsiveness; both reduce our cost. We at FRC East want more of that,” Atkinson said in a statement. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro spoke at the opening ceremony and noted its importance. “The work that you do here today and into the future as part of this Tech Bridge will contribute directly to our strategic operational and tactical objectives, and to the Navy being able to fulfill our mission.” The new ENC Tech Bridge marks 17 similar centers created with NavalX.

Noms Advance. The Senate on Feb. 2 confirmed Gabe Camarillo to be under secretary of the Army and Andrew Hunter to be assistant secretary of the Air Force. Both nominations were approved by voice vote. A day earlier, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted in favor of advancing three other senior Pentagon positions, to include Celeste Ann Wallander to be assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Melissa Dalton to be assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense and hemispheric affairs and John Plumb to be assistant secretary of defense for space policy. The nominations were immediately reported to the floor for full Senate consideration.

Spain/CH-47F. Boeing said on Feb. 2 it has delivered the first remanufactured CH-47F Chinook helicopter to Spain. The aircraft is the first of 17 that the Spanish Army will receive as it upgrades its heavy lift helicopter fleet from the CH-47D to the new CH-47F model of the aircraft. “We are pleased to celebrate this major milestone with the Spanish Army,” Heather McBryan, Boeing’s director of business development for cargo helicopters and Future Vertical Lift programs, said in a statement.  “The Chinook continues to exceed our customers’ expectations and the F-model will provide Spain with an advanced and reliable aircraft from delivery through sustainment.”

COMPETES Act Passes. The House on Feb. 4 voted 222 to 210 to pass its $350 billion COMPETES Act, aimed at funding efforts to bolster U.S. competitiveness with China. The bill includes $45 billion to strengthen supply chains and $52 billion from the CHIPS Act to improve domestic semiconductor manufacturing capacity. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) was the lone Republican to vote for the bill and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) was the sole Democrat to vote against the legislation. The House and Senate must now come together to conference a final bill focused on China competition, settling differences with the upper chamber’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA) passed last June. 

…Final Bill’s Defense Funds. Lawmakers will likely take aim at assessing the level of defense-related funding in the final version of the bill. While USICA included $17.5 billion to advance DARPA research and development programs at the Pentagon, the COMPETES Act has removed such funding. “I look forward to a bicameral conference process that builds on the broad bipartisan support of the Senate-passed U.S. Innovation and Competition Act to supercharge microchip manufacturing here in America, to fix broken and strained supply chains, and invest in the innovation needed to ensure the critical products of today and tomorrow are made in America. We have no time to waste,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.