Fighter Fall. The U.S. Air Force’s fiscal 2024 budget request proposes the divestment of 131 fighter aircraft, including 42 A-10s, 57 F-15 C/Ds, and 32 Block 20 F-22 aircraft while the request proposes a buy of 48 Lockheed Martin F-35As and 24 Boeing F-15EXs. Service officials said that the future years defense plan includes a decrease of 425 Air Force fighters, as the service moves to the Next Generation Air Dominance manned fighter and the un-crewed Collaborative Combat Aircraft.

 …F135 MICAP.

Air Force acquisition chief Andrew Hunter and Lt. Gen. Richard Moore, the service’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, told the House Armed Services Committee’s air and land forces panel on March 29 that the Air Force is making progress in improving F-35A readiness through standing up depot capacity and that the service is “recovering from the F135 [engine] MICAP [mission capability] issue with today only five aircraft awaiting engines, power modules, or fan modules.” Raytheon Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney is the contractor for the F135 and the slated F135 Engine Core Upgrade. “The two largest sustainment cost drivers the Air Force controls are the number of aircraft possessed and programmed flying hours, and the major cost categories are parts, people, energy, and consumables,” Hunter and Moore told the subcommittee in prepared testimony. “The Air Force is continuing work with the F-35 Joint Program Office, Navy, and industry to identify and evaluate opportunities to increase depot repair capacity and further reduce the cost of materiel and manpower.”

…Service Responsibility. Hunter and Moore told the HASC air and land forces panel that the “F-35 program is additionally moving toward a supply chain, demand reduction Performance Based Logistics (PBL) contract at the end of 2023 to prioritize availability and affordability outcomes across the F-35 enterprise” and that, “in response to the FY22 NDAA Section 142, the Air Force is working with OSD, the Department of Navy, and the F-35 Joint Program Office (JPO) to assume greater management, planning and execution roles of the F-35 sustainment functions to further reduce sustainment costs.” Section 142 transfers sustainment from the JPO to the Navy and Air Force no later than Oct. 1, 2027.

Explosive Capacity. The Army has planned to award a contract in April for the operations of the Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, Tenn. BAE Systems holds the current contract under which the contractor has helped build RDX, HMX, and IMX explosives used in many DoD munitions. While the demands of supplying Ukraine and countering China have put the spotlight on munitions capacity recently, the issue is not new. In DoD’s fiscal 2018 industrial capabilities report, the Pentagon said that Holston “is the only domestic source for most DoD explosives, and it has insufficient capacity to meet DoD demand for a key DoD explosive.” The study said that “in early FY 2016, the demand for this explosive for bomb fills abruptly increased to levels not seen in decades and the facility did not have sufficient capacity to meet demand.” The demand increase came at a time of stepped up U.S. and allied strikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Army said that Holston produced between 8 million and nearly 12 million pounds of explosives annually between 2013 and 2020, except for a dip to 6.5 million pounds in 2014. RDX production in those years varied between about 4 million and more than 7 million pounds of RDX, while HMX was fairly steady between one and two million pounds annually. IMX production jumped from less than one million pounds in 2013 to more than two million pounds annually between 2015 and 2019. The nearly 12 million pounds total came in 2018 when Holston turned out more than 7 million pounds of RDX. DoD said in the 2018 report that a Holston capacity mitigation plan “is being implemented at a cost of $800 million and with an estimated completion date of 2025.” Defense Daily reached out to BAE Systems this week for comment on the Holston section of the 2018 report, including the identity of the “key explosive” and the implementation of that $800 million mitigation plan, but has not received a reply.

DDG(X) Test Award. The Navy awarded General Electric a $17 million commercial contract on March 30 for one LM2500+G4 gas turbine engine and auxiliary systems in support of the Navy DDG(X) land-based test site. The work will occur at the company’s Aerospace-Marine Cincinnati, Ohio facility and is expected to be completed by March 2025. The contract was not competitively procured in accordance with rules with only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements.

LCS-32. The Navy plans to commission the future USS Santa Barbara (LCS-32) on April 1 during a ceremony at Port Heuneme, Calif. LCS-32 is the 16th Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship and the third ship bearing the name of the California city. The principal speaker at the event will be Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet. The ship was built by Austal USA at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard. LCS-32 will be homeported at Naval Base San Diego.

EPF-14 Launched. Austal USA launched the newest U.S. Navy Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) vessel, USNS Cody (EPF-14) on March 20. As an EPF, the ship can transport up 600 tons of personnel and cargo up to 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots. The ships have a flight deck and can interface with roll-on/roll-off facilities to transport things like a fully combat-loaded Abrams Main Battle Tank. The launching process took two days, first with the ship moved from its construction Modular Manufacturing Facility to a docking barge, then sent to a floating dry dock, which is submerged into the water to launch the ship. EPFs are meant to operate for overseas contingency operations, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, special operations forces efforts, theater security cooperation activities and emerging joint sea-basing concepts.

More Naval Targets. Naval Air Systems Command awarded Kratos Unmanned Aerial Systems Inc. an $11 million modification on March 30 to produce 15 additional full rate production Lot 4 BQM-177A surface launched aerial targets. The award also includes associated rocket-assisted takeoff attachment kits, associated technical and administrative data in support of research, development, test, and evaluation of in-development naval combat weapon systems, fleet gunnery and missile training exercises, and fleet air-to-air missile and surface-to-air missile training exercises for the Navy. The work is expected to be finished by May 2024.

Navy Decoms Patrol Craft. The Navy decommissioned the final two Cyclone-class patrol coastal ships stationed at Naval Support Activity Bahrain, the USS Monsoon (PC-4) and USS Chinook (PC-9), during a ceremony on March 28. The ships served for almost 30 years, with PC-4 commissioned in 1994 and recommissioned in 2008 after a four-year stint with the Coast Guard while PC-9 was commissioned in 1995. These are the last of a former group of 10 ships designed for operating in shallow waters that were once stationed in Bahrain. The U.S. Navy previously decommissioned and transferred five other patrol craft to the Bahrain Naval Force last year: the former USS Tempest (PC-2), Typhoon (PC-5), Squall (PC-7), Firebolt (PC-10) and Whirlwind (PC-11). The service also decommissioned and transferred former ships USS Hurricane (PC-3), Sirocco (PC-6) and Thunderbolt (PC-12) to the Egyptian Navy last week.

…Bound For Philippines. The Monsoon and Chinook are now set to be transferred to the Philippine Navy, with officials from that service attending the ceremony on March 28. “I’m proud of our crews for reaching this milestone and representing our nation and Navy with utmost pride and professionalism. I’m also proud that we are turning over great ships to our Philippine partners,” Capt. Anthony Webber, commander of Task Force 55, which oversees operations for U.S. 5th Fleet’s surface forces, said in a statement. Bahrain, Egypt and the Philippines are members of  the Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) multinational naval partnership that operates across the international waters in the Middle East to ensure safety in the shipping lanes.

Space Co Investment. The investment firm O’Shaughnessy Ventures says it has invested in Atomos Nuclear and Space Corporation, a six-year-old company developing orbital transfer vehicles (OTVs) that can maneuver satellites into orbit or into new orbits. The value of the investment wasn’t disclosed. Once launched, Atomos’ OTVs will operate from space by docking with client satellites in orbit. The company’s first mission launches in January 2024. At the end of 2022, Atomos had $393 million in signed letters of intent from space operators.

Flexible NII Capability. Customs and Border Protection is seeking industry input on the agency’s planned purchase of relocatable non-intrusive inspection (NII) systems that would be used for scanning passenger occupied vehicles. A key target of the relocatable NII systems is fentanyl being smuggled across the U.S. southern border at land ports of entry. A statement of work published by CBP on March 28 says some of the requirements of the scanners include relocating within 30 minutes, screening vehicles moving at a speed of three to six mph, and maintaining a throughput of at least 80 vehicles per hour with 100 as the objective. CBP is looking to acquire four of the systems, one of which would be deployed in Puerto Rico.

Remote ID Award. iProov has received a $749,000 contract from the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate to operationally test its Genuine Presence Assurance technology, which securely authenticates people online by assuring that the remote user is a real person as they authenticate his or her identity. The work is being done in partnership with Customs and Border Protection to strengthen the process international travelers use to enter the U.S. Under previous contracts with DHS S&T, iProov enhanced its biometric technology to integrate with a mobile capability that allows travelers to submit information to CBP to improve their processing at ports of entry. The Phase 5 award was made under the Silicon Valley Innovation Program.

MOSA CRADA. L3Harris has entered into a new Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Ground Vehicle Systems Center (GVSC) to support the service’s implementation of a modular open systems approach (MOSA) for ground combat vehicles, the company said on March 27. “As an industry collaborator, L3Harris will advise on an open-systems direction that will reduce risk, optimize architecture design, and demonstrate and validate the technical feasibility of mission systems to enable rapid upgrades of future technology,” the company wrote in a statement. 

C-UAS. BAE Systems’ Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) laser-guidance kits were recently used in a Joint Counter-Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO)-led demo to take out Class-2 drones, the company said on March 28. “A newly developed proximity fuze for the standard M151 warhead allows the [APKWS] laser-guidance kits to target Class 2 and Class 3 drones, which typically weigh less than 55 pounds,” the company wrote in a statement. “APKWS now enables rockets to engage and destroy drones at a fraction of the cost of existing C-UAS systems with unprecedented precision.” BAE Systems said the 70mm APKWS-guided rockets used during the JCO demonstration at Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona “demonstrated 100 percent effectiveness when fired against 25 to 50 pound drones traveling at more than 100 miles an hour.”

Bahrain FMS. The State Department on March 29 approved a potential $350 million foreign military sale with Bahrain for 24 refurbished AH-1W SuperCobra multi-role helicopters. The deal for the Bell-built AH-1Ws, designated as excess defense articles, would also include a refurbished full-motion Aircraft Procedures Trainer, missile launchers and spare aircraft engines. “The proposed sale will improve Bahrain’s capability to meet current and future threats by improving its ability to fulfill maritime patrol, close air support, and search and rescue missions,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency wrote in a statement.