Hicks on Inflation. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks told the Defense Writers Group on April 12 the department has not seen a significant number of industry partners seeking “equitable adjustments” to contract pricing due to inflation impacts. “We’re always having conversations around equitable adjustments. We have not seen a huge influx of those,” Hicks told reporters. “Inflation will affect different contracts in different ways and inflation fluctuates.”

C-UAS Program of Record.

BlueHalo last week said its Titan counter-unmanned aerial system (C-UAS) has been selected by the Defense Department as a program of record for an undisclosed government customer. The company says the DoD customer selected Titan as the preferred radio frequency sensor for stand alone and integrated layered defense solutions and will be used in pre-deployment training, on-the-move security, and fixed-site force protection. U.S. Customs and Border Protection currently operates Titan for various missions, including border security. Titan uses autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning to force Group 1 and 2 drones to land safely without disrupting nearby communications or electronics.

FAA Drone Grants. The Federal Aviation Administration last Friday said it has awarded $4.4 million in grants to seven universities for drone research in the areas of electromagnetic compatibility, detect and avoid classifications, and cybersecurity oversight. The research will further enable the integration of drones into the national airspace. The Univ. of North Dakota, Univ. of Kansas and Drexel will examine risks, identify drone design vulnerabilities, and propose guidance for safer electromagnetic compatibility with emitted static fields. Ohio State, Embry-Riddle, Mississippi State and North Dakota will work on drone detect and avoid track classification and filtering, and work on cybersecurity oversight and risk management related to the national airspace system and other FAA systems will be done by Kansas, Oregon State and Drexel. The awards are the second round of the Alliance for System Safety of UAS Through Research Excellence.

New Rocket Complex. Rocket Lab USA last week broke ground in Wallops Island, Va., on a new 250,000 square-foot production contract to support construction of its Neutron medium-lift, reusable launch vehicle designed to meet customers in civil, commercial and national security space markets. The new facility will be adjacent to NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport. Construction will also begin on the island on a launch pad for Neutron near the company’s existing launch pad for its Electron rocket. Rocket Lab says that as part of Virginia’s support for the Neutron program, $30 million has been set aside for improvements to the spaceport and $15 million in site improvements and building construction in support of the program. Rocket Lab says the new complex will “bring up to 250 highly-skilled jobs to the region.”

Ex-DHS Employees. Two former Department of Homeland Security employees were called out by the Justice Department last week for their actions. In the worst case, Murali Venkata, a former acting branch chief of the information technology division, was convicted by a jury on various charges stemming from the theft of proprietary software and databases from the government. Venkata’s co-conspirators, former acting DHS Inspector general (IG) Charles Edwards and Sonal Patel, who also worked for the IG, previously pleaded guilty in January 2022 and April 2019 respectively. Separately, Kenneth Buck, a former executive director of the Office of Management Integration at DHS, settled conflict of interest and False Claims Act allegations against him. Buck agreed to pay $10,000 over allegations he violated the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, which requires in part that certain federal officials not communicate directly with their former agency on behalf of another party with intent to influence agency action.

Navy Under Secretary. Erik Raven was sworn in as Under Secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon on April 13 after he was confirmed by the Senate on April 7. Raven previously served as the majority clerk of the Senate Defense Appropriations subcommittee. Earlier, he served for years on the committee and before that was national security adviser and legislative director to former Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), fellow to former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and in several positions for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Raven is the first permanent nominee for the second highest civilian position in the Navy. He succeeds Meredith Berger, who has been performing the duties of the position temporarily. Berger was confirmed as Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Energy, Installations & Environment.

DDG-121. The future USS Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121) Flight IIA Arleigh Burke-class destroyer left HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., on April 8, the company said on April 13. DDG-121 is headed to Charleston, S.C., for its commissioning before sailing to its homeport at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii. DDG-121 is the 33rd destroyer built by Ingalls, with five more still under construction including the future USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123), and then the Flight III destroyers Jack H. Lucas (DDG 125), Ted Stevens (DDG 128), Jeremiah Denton (DDG 129) and George M. Neal (DDG 131).

Austal Steel. Austal USA opened the company’s steel facility in Mobile, Ala., on April 12, adding to its current aluminum shipbuilding line. Financing for the new steel production line was partially provided via a $50 million Defense Production Act (DPA) Title III agreement between the Defense Department and Austal USA. The DPA investment was first announced in June 2020 as part of the response to COVID-19 efforts to maintain domestic shipbuilding capability. Austal matched these federal funds, marking the total investment at $100 million. The new facility is a 117,000 square foot manufacturing addition that the company expects will house state-of-the-art computerized and robotic steel processing equipment to meet Navy and Coast Guard demands. Also a 60,000 square foot stock yard will be used for handling raw steel and a 19,500 square foot paint facility will have the opportunity to paint and blast simultaneously in two cells or combine to paint super-modules. The first steel ships to be built in the facility are two Navajo-class towing, salvage and rescue ships under contract with Austal USA.

Lightning Carrier. The Navy and Marine Corps fully demonstrated the “lightning carrier” concept from March 30 to April 8 when operating 20 F-35B Lightning II aircraft from the America-class amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA-7), the services said April 11. The demonstration included 16 jets from Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, and four from Marine Operational Test and Evaluation Squadron 1. The Marine Corps said they all operated “at a high tempo.” The service said this demonstration proved an LHA can provide combatant commanders with more options, similar to an earlier concept that used amphibious assault ships to demonstrate the “Harrier carrier” concept with AV-8B Harriers. For now, the Navy and Marine Corps said the team continues to refine tactics, techniques and procedures to support integrated naval operations. The concept is not set to change the standard make-up of an Amphibious Ready Group or Marine Expeditionary Unit, but provide more options for fleet commanders.

NGJ-MB. U.S. and Australian fleet aviation maintainers in recent months worked together for the first time training with the Raytheon Technologies AN/ALQ-249 Next-Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB) pods set to be used on EA-18G Growler aircraft. This was a six-week training event in February and March during a logistics demonstration at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. Five U.S. Navy sailors and two Royal Australian Air Force airmen participated in the event. During the demonstration, the participants performed critical maintenance tasks on the pods, removing and reinstalling 60 components. The maintainers also verified step-by-step procedures from technical manuals and provided feedback to the government product support team. The NGJ-MB is set to replace the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System currently used by Growlers via external jamming pods with increased power and jamming capability as well as longer ranges.

BAE’s Suppliers. BAE Systems held a virtual conference the week of April 4 with more than 400 of its suppliers to discuss the future of its combat vehicle manufacturing and innovation business opportunities. The company said the discussion was an opportunity to “discuss challenges and promote opportunities within the industry, with congressional representatives, and U.S. Army and Marine Corps customers.” “Bringing our best and brightest partners together for the unique opportunity to meet with our congressional stakeholders and customers is essential for a forward look at the next several years of combat vehicle manufacturing,” Andy Corea, vice president of BAE Systems’ combat mission systems business, said in a statement. BAE Systems noted its U.S. industrial base includes about 1,000 suppliers across 45 states.

Iron Beam Laser. Rafael said on April 14 it has completed a series of tests with the new Iron Beam laser interception system, successfully intercepting UAVs, mortars, rockets and anti-tank missiles. The demonstrations were conducted alongside the Israeli Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D) as part of the first phase of a multi-year program to develop a “high-power ground and aerial laser system equipped to deal with long-range, high-intensity threats,” according to Rafael. Iron Beam is intended to complement Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system. “Our cooperation with the DDR&D and the Ministry of Defense has led to this extraordinary development, constituting a significant milestone in the process to achieve operational capability. I am confident that this technological breakthrough will lead to future capabilities in directed energy, including the high-power laser system,” Yoav Har-Even, CEO of Rafael, said in a statement.

Justification and Approval. The U.S. Air Force may issue a Justification and Approval (J&A) to allow the award of a sole-source contract to Dulles, Va.-based Unison Software, Inc., for configuration management and data management for the Boeing Minuteman III (MMIII) ICBM fleet. Unison has been performing such software work for the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Hill AFB, Utah for the last 16 years and is “the only qualified source that has the requisite system expertise of executing required engineering services with the proprietary integrated data and configuration management (CM-DM) system being used by the MMIII CM office,” Air Force Materiel Command said. Last April, Unison acquired New Jersey-based Price Systems, LLC, a leading provider of advanced model-based cost engineering software for decision support.

 …Mission Integration Facility. The Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center at Hill is to finish construction of a Mission Integration Facility by July next year. The 160,000 square foot building is to open in July, 2024 and will house the systems directorate for the LGM-35A Sentinel, formerly the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, under development by Northrop Grumman. Air Force and contractor personnel will work at the location. Delivery to the Air Force of Sentinels, which are to replace the 400 Minuteman IIIs, is to start in 2029. Full operational capability is slated for 2036.

Aviation Bonus. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown says that the service’s fiscal 2022 aviation bonus (AvB) is “one element of ensuring we have the force to meet current and future mission requirements.” Air Force active duty aviators at the rank of lieutenant colonels and below are eligible to apply for AvB until Aug 31. Aviation personnel who may receive AvB include pilots of manned and unmanned aircraft, air battle managers, and combat system officers. The Air Force said that the bonus may range from $15,000 to $35,000 annually “with some categories eligible to receive $100,000 to $200,000 payable up front with the remaining balance of their contract paid annually, spread out evenly over the contract term.” Changes in the fiscal 2022 AvB include the eligibility of reconnaissance/surveillance/electronic warfare pilots—those with the “11R” specialty code. Lump sum payments are available for personnel who sign up for contracts lasting between five and 12 years.