Kyl Leaving Senate in 2019. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) will leave the Senate at the end of 2018, according to a Dec. 12 letter to Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. Kyl, who was nominated to the state’s junior Senator seat following the August death of Sen. John McCain, never intended to fill in for the remainder of the term. “I have concluded that it would be best if I resign so that your new appointee can begin the new term with all other senators in January 2019 and can serve a full two (potentially four) years,” he said in the letter. Kyl previously served alongside McCain in the upper chamber from 1995 to 2013. Ducey has not yet selected a second senator. Current Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) won Republican Sen. Jeff Flake’s seat in the 2018 midterm elections, beating out Air Force veteran and combat pilot Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.).

Hypersonics. The Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for research and engineering Mike Griffin thinks a viable hypersonic defensive capability is coming in “years – not months but not decades,” he told reporters Thursday. “I think we’ll have a workable defensive capability by the middle of the decade.”

Inhofe Pleads Ignorance on Raytheon Stock. SASC Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is denying he was aware of recent stock transactions made in his name that included over $50,000 in Raytheon. The Daily Beast first reported Wednesday that Inhofe bought the shares while negotiating a higher defense budget topline with the White House, then promptly dumped the stock when reporters called for comment. Inhofe told reporters Thursday that he uses a third-party financial adviser to manage his stocks in a fully discretionary account, the same as “900 other households.” He has directed his adviser not to trade on defense or aerospace stock going forward.

US Space Command. The Pentagon is expecting to have more details on standing up a new unified combatant command for space – dubbed U.S. Space Command – before the end of the year, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told reporters Thursday. He added that details involving the Space Development Agency may take longer to unfold. “What we want to avoid is a discussion next year that is philosophical,” he said. “So we want to say that we chose this development approach because it yields these quantifiable outputs and deliverables. … Given our bias towards being analytical and quantitative, that’s the basis on which we’ll also justify the Space Development Agency.”

New Finance Chief. Bruce Tanner, Lockheed Martin’s long-time chief financial officer, is retiring in mid-2019 and will be succeeded by Kenneth Possenriede, who is currently vice president of Finance and Program Management at the Aeronautics segment. Possenriede’s appointment is effective Feb. 11, 2019. He has been with the company for more than 30 years and before his position at Aeronautics, Possenriede was vice president and treasurer for the corporation from 2011 until 2016. Tanner spent 12 years as the company’s CFO and “led us through many important new business wins, significant acquisitions and divestitures, including the acquisition of Sikorsky and divestiture of our former Information Systems & Global Solutions business, and ensured we continued to increase our shareholder value,” said Marillyn Hewson, Lockheed Martin chairman, president and CEO.

Maritime GPS Study. The Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency is expanding an ongoing cost-benefit analysis of the cost of a GPS disruption to the economy to include the maritime sector. DHS is funding RTI International for the congressionally mandated study. RTI is analyzing the cost of a 30-day outage of GPS to nine sectors, including maritime.

Polar Sat Update. The Coast Guard has made contact with its two polar cubesats that were launched on Dec. 3 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 64 small spacecraft. The service said bus and payload initialization are still taking place and characterization and demonstration of the two satellites will begin in 2019. The Polar Scout Project, which was funded by the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology branch, will allow the government  to understand how satellites can help solve communication and maritime domain awareness issues, particularly in the Artic.

Virginia Subs. The Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat (GD-EB) a $346.5 million modification for FY 2019 lead yard support and development studies and design efforts for the Virginia-class submarines. This support will maintain, update, and support the Virginia-class design and related drawings and data for each vessel, including technology insertion, throughout construction and post-shakedown availability. GD-EB will also conduct development studies, submarine class design improvement work, and research and development to evaluate new technologies that will be inserted in newer Virginia-class submarines. The company noted the R&D work covers the Virginia Payload Module. The contract was originally awarded in 2016 and with this modification may potentially reach $1.3 billion total through Sept. 2019.

Navy Spending. Last week Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer said the service is spending around 15 percent of its budget on research and development, a level that fits a corporate model. He noted at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event “not that that is the perfect model” but the Navy is in many ways at industrial capacity for investment. The spending is also limited by restrictions on needing to use $400 million for every public dry dock to get into modern industrial flow models. Overall, the Navy spends about 70 percent of its budget on infrastructure, Spencer said.

…Readiness. When Spencer joined the administration, naval aviation readiness was at 41 percent, a level so low that it would have caused his firing in the private sector, he said. The service improved that number, in part by cutting inefficiencies. Spencer cited an example of hiring a former Southwest Airline maintenance official to turn around the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet lines. “In 10 and a half weeks, he’s increased throughput by 40 percent and he’s just started.” He said despite inefficiencies, “we have an amazing workforce and you just have to provide them guidance, you have to provide them the long-term goal that they’re going to reach.” He said top officials tell the personnel to reach 341 operational F-18s by October 2019 and “that goal will change to 410 on the next day.”

80 Percent Capable. John Pendleton, director of defense capabilities and management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told a Senate hearing last week that while the Secretary of Defense made a goal to have 80 percent mission capability of several aircraft by next year, including the F-35, “this will be difficult to achieve, in my assessment.” Pendleton said the department should go cautiously as it moves in that direction. This requires consistent and clear definitions and efforts to define what the numerator and denominators are to get to 80 percent. He noted mission capable is a lower standard than fully mission capable, which includes ability to perform all high-end missions. Last year the F-35 had a rate of 15 percent fully mission capable, Pendleton said.

Two E-2Ds. The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) awarded Northrop Grumman a $50 million modification for long-lead parts and associated support for full-rate production of two Lot 7 E-2D advanced Hawkeye aircraft. The work is expected to be finished by December 2023. Most of the work will be conducted in Syracuse, N.Y.; El Segundo, Calif.; and Melbourne, Fla. The full award amount was obligated at award time and will not expire at the end of this fiscal year.

F-35C Squadron. The Navy’s first F-35C operational squadron, the “Argonauts” of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147, finished their carrier qualifications on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70), the last required component for the squadron to get its safe-for-flight operations certification (SFFOC). This certification will be the last step for VFA-147 to transition from F/A-18E Super Hornets to F-35C Lighting IIs. The Navy said this is a “major milestone” toward declaring Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in early 2019. The certification requires the squadron to be in custody of at least 30 percent of the aircraft, the operation of the Automatic Logistics Information System (ALIS), maintain robust maintenance programs, and finish various inspections.

First Lady. First Lady Melania Trump this week left the White House on a trip to military bases and the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). On Dec. 12, she met with service members at Joint Base Anacostia before becoming the first First Lady to fly in a V-22 to Hampton, Va., before proceeding to the Bush. Trump was spending time with the crew of the carrier and took a tour of the ship.

Modly To Norway. Under Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly spent three days in Norway during a European visit focused on strengthening cooperation and partnerships. While there, he met with the U.S. ambassador, State Secretary of Defence, Chief of the Royal Norwegian Navy, Commander of the Norwegian Defence Liaison Office, to discuss stability and security issues. Modly also met with members from the Royal Norwegian Air Force, Army and Navy, and U.S. Marines on rotation in Norway. He also toured a Royal Norwegian Navy Skjold-class Corvette, a Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate, and the facilities at the Marine Corps Pre-Positioning Program-Norway (MCPP-N).

LCS-19. The U.S. Navy plans to christen the latest Freedom-variant littoral combat ship, the future USS St. Louis (LCS-19), during a ceremony on Dec. 15 in Marinette, Wis. The Freedom-variant ships are built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin while Lockheed Martin serves as the prime contractor. LCS-15 finished acceptance trials earlier this week while LCS-17 is planned to have sea trails next year. The Navy took delivery of LCS-11 and LCS-13 in August.

Army IP Policy. Army Secretary Mark Esper has approved the service’s first intellectual property policy aimed at bolstering long-term sustainment of weapon systems. The new policy is intended to settle differences over data rights with industry, allowing Army officials to secure access to a capability’s technical data while providing companies more opportunities to negotiate IP rights. “More than ever before, the Army faces unprecedented challenges from emerging threats, proliferation of technology, and rapid innovation by our adversaries. We recognize that we cannot overcome these challenges with outdated weapons, equipment, and policies,” Esper said in a statement. Alexis Ross, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for strategy and acquisition reform, said the new policy allows the Army to ensure readiness of its largest weapon systems over capabilities’ entire lifespan. 

Aerojet/DARPA. Aerojet Rocketdyne has received a contract from DARPA, potentially worth up to $13.4 million, to develop propulsion concepts for a new ground-launched tactical weapon system. Under the program, knows as OpFires, DARPA is seeking to build a mobile missile system capable of delivering a range of tactical payloads to engage time-sensitive targets, according to officials. Aerojet Rocketdyne is tasked with designing an advanced solid rocket motor. Phase two of the program is focused on building booster test articles. Phase one of the program will last a year and is valued at $4.6 million. The option for phase two is valued at $8.8 million.

Bolton on AFRICOM. The Trump administration’s National Security Adviser John Bolton expressed support for a potential move of U.S. Africa Command headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany, to the African continent in a Thursday speech unveiling the administration’s official Africa strategy. “I think the Pentagon has been clear for some period of time after AFRICOM was created that it ought to be in the theater that it’s responsible for, … I think the Pentagon has been right on that,” he said, noting that the command was originally placed in Germany when Africa was considered part of U.S. European Command. AFRICOM was officially launched in 2007.