MQ-25 & T-X. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer on Friday said after a recent trip to Boeing’s facility working on the new Air Force T-X trainer, he thinks the MQ-25 unmanned carrier tanker will get some benefits from the Air Force development. “Hipping off of a trip that I know I took and I think Heather [Wilson, Secretary of the Air Force] just took to look at the trainer and how they’re manufacturing out there, I think we’re going to get some benefits on the MQ-25 on materiel design and manufacture,” Spencer said at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event with all three service secretaries. Boeing won separate 2018 competitions to build the T-X and MQ-25.

A Boeing-Saab T-X trainer. The aircraft will replace the Air Force’s aging T-38 trainer fleet. (Photo: Boeing)

Amphibious Connectors.  The head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command said on Thursday that not only does the amphibious force need to be built faster, bit it needs new connectors and to be prepared to counter mines. “If you’re going to move a distributed force in the littorals, you’re moving back and forth between land-to-land, land-to-ship, ship-to-land. And they need to be different sizes, different capabilities,” Lt. Gen. David Berger said at the amphibious warship congressional forum. He noted expeditionary warfare office is working on a family of connectors “and we’re going to need that.

…And Mine Countermeasures. Berger also noted another major threat to the Marine Corps operating in littoral waters are mines. “I wouldn’t say we fell asleep from that, but we haven’t been challenged at that for awhile. We are assuming we will be. So we have to have a counter-mine capability” that is fully pressurized or resourced.

…LHA-9 Faster. Berger agreed in general with a recommendation from Brian Schires, vice president of business development for Rolls-Royce, that the America-class amphibious assault ship LHA-9 should be pushed up from 2024 to 2021. Schires argued reducing the time gap between the future USS Bougainville (LHA-8) and LHA-9 will help keep costs down for the industrial base and quality up. “We need the LHA-9 moved forward not backward,” Berger said.

The First Cut. Eastern Shipbuilding, the prime contractor for the Coast Guard’s Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutters, last month cut steel for the first ship, the Argus, marking the start of production for the ship. The 360-foot medium-endurance class Argus is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The Coast Guard plans to buy 25 OPCs.

Final RFP. The Transportation Security Administration on Feb. 5 released its final Request for Proposals for vendors bidding on the agency’s program to introduce computed tomography (CT)-bases scanning systems to screen carry-on bags at airport checkpoints in the U.S. The agency plans to buy up to 300 of the CT systems from one or more competitors initially and eventually around 2,400. Bids are due on Feb. 11 and awards could come in March. Analogic, Integrated Defense & Security Solutions, L3 Technologies and Smiths Detection are in the hunt for the award.

Budget Predictions. The Washington, D.C.-based Heritage Foundation on Thursday released its recommendations for the FY ’20 defense budget request, advocating for a $742 billion topline, or a 3.6 percent increase over 2019. In particular, the foundation supported the creation of an independent Space Force and for the Navy to acquire 11 new ships within the next fiscal year. It also recommended that the U.S. military should grow by 17,000 active members. “This will be the most important NDAA of Pres. Trump’s term,” the foundation said in a press release. “It will determine if the administration can continue rebuilding the military and start implementing the National Defense Strategy.” The budget request is currently estimated to be released in mid-March.

SO/LIC Air. The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict (SO/LIC) confirmed his office is disappointed the Air Force decided to delay procuring an off-the-shelf light attack aircraft indefinitely. “In terms of acquisition, yes we do rely on the services for many more things than the platforms…were we disappointed that the Air Force cut the debate on the light attack aircraft, the answer is yes,” Owen West said at an NDIA conference on Tuesday. West noted it’s amazing “in 2020 a propeller airplane could be effectively employed on the modern battlefield in the hyper connected age. But it’s really cheap, and in some areas it is highly effective. And most importantly our local partners can maintain these aircraft.”

NGA. Vice Adm. Robert Sharp assumed command as the seventh director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency during a Feb. 7 ceremony. Sharp is succeeding Robert Cardillo, who is retiring after four years as director. Cardillo became the director in 2014. Sharp previously commanded the Joint Intelligence Center at U.S. Central Command from 2010-2012 and in April 2016 assumed command of the Office of Naval Intelligence and became director of National Maritime Intelligence-Integration Office.

LCSs Named. Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer announced the names of two more Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships, the future USS Kingsville (LCS-36) and USS Pierre (LCS-38). LCS-36 will be named after the city of Kingsville, Texas and the first ship with that name. LCS-38 will be named after the capital city of South Dakota. Both ships will be built by Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. The Navy has accepted delivery of 17 LCSs while 35 total have been procured. Eleven ships are under construction (LCS-17 and 19-26) with another seven in pre-construction (LCS-29 – 32, 34, 36, and 38).

Israeli ASW USV. Israel performed a sea acceptance test converting a Helicopter Long-Range Active Sonar (HELRAS) dipping sonar to operate onboard the Elbit Systems Seagull Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV), the company said Feb. 7. Elbit said operating this sonar on a USV “significantly increases the operational working time” and enhances detection capabilities and effectiveness of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) platforms. The Seagull is an autonomous USV that has modular payload suites and can perform mine countermeasures (MCM), electronic warfare (EW), maritime security, hydrography, and ASW missions. All modules use the same mission control system, data links, and basic vessel.

France. The French Armed Forces are planning a 5 percent budget increase over the next year, in anticipation of committing 2 percent of its GDP to defense spending by 2025 in line with NATO goals, French Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Philippe Lavigne told reporters Thursday. In 2019, France intends to have 1.82 percent of its GDP committed to defense, up from 1.77 percent in 2018, he said. “We are pulling up, and we are rising up,” he said.

NRO. President Trump has nominated Christopher Scolese, director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, to be the next leader of the National Reconnaissance Office. He will be taking over for current NRO Director Betty Sapp, who has led the secretive organization since 2012. Scolese previously served as the associate administrator at NASA headquarters and as NASA’s chief engineer.

Air Force. An Air Force three-star is gaining responsibility of an additional area. Lt. Gen. VeraLinn Jamieson, deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, has been nominated for appointment as deputy chief of staff for ISR and cyber effects operations, the White House announced Friday. She is the service’s senior intelligence officer and answers to the Director of National Intelligence and the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence. She leads five directorates and supports a 30,000-person enterprise with a portfolio valued at $55 billion across the Air Force.

Saudi Arabia. A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced the Saudi Arabia Accountability and Yemen Act of 2019, which was originally introduced in 2018 to prohibit certain arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as in-flight refueling of Saudi coalition aircraft operating in Yemen. The sponsors include Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and fellow committee members Sens. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) also co-sponsored the bill, along with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who sits on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Refueling. The U.S. military expects Saudi Arabia to pay its $331 million bill for aerial refueling services in Yemen as early as March, USCENTCOM Commander Army Gen. Joseph Votel told SASC members Tuesday. The Atlantic revealed in December 2018 that the Pentagon has undercharged its Saudi partners for fuel, refueling services and flight hours and would seek reimbursement. Votel said the Gulf nation has “given every indication they intend to” honor the deal and repay the funds.

Hurd/Intel Modernization. Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) said Feb. 8 he will serve as the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence’s new Subcommittee on Intelligence Modernization and Readiness. Hurd previously chaired the House IT Subcommittee, and will now serve opposite Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) on the new panel. Hurd, a former CIA officer, has been an advocate in the House for cyber security and IT modernization reform, including leading oversight of the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act scorecard process. The new Intelligence Modernization and Readiness subcommittee will oversee the Intelligence Community’s progress on critical cyber security and technology management issues.

NATO Cyber Exercise. NATO’s cyber defense organization held its annual technical cyber exercise, Crossed Swords, last week where participants practiced offensive cyber capabilities and faced scenarios involving simultaneous kinetic and cyber attacks against industrial control systems and physical equipment. The exercise was held in Tallinn, Estonia and hosted by the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence, and included partner nations’ cyber commands, special forces operations and technical experts. Officials said the exercise was focused on advancing partner members skills in preventing, detecting and responding to full-scale operations. Scenarios included cyber attacks on control systems, security systems, unmanned aerial vehicles and maritime surveillance systems.

Counterterror Bill. A bill to strengthen counterterrorism coordination within the Department of Homeland Security has been reintroduced in the Senate by Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). The Counterterrorism Advisory Board (CTAB) Authorization Act of 2019 would codify the board for two more years. The CTAB bring together intelligence, operational and policy components of DHS to drive a coordinated response to counterterrorism efforts.