SDA and the Space Force. While Congress has mandated that the Space Development Agency (SDA) be integrated into the U.S. Space Force by Oct. 1 next year, that may happen sooner. SDA Director Derek Tournear and Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall suggested that they are starting the transition early to minimize any possible disruptions involved with merging SDA with the Space Force. “The idea is to get a head start on this, and if there are gonna be any adjustments that need to be made as part of that where there might be some resistance within SDA, we can address that early and hopefully avoid that,” Kendall said. SDA’s current acquisition authority will likely fall under the to-be-named U.S. Space Force service acquisition executive, Kendall suggested. SDA is now a directorate of the office of the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering.

F-15QA. Boeing and the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) rolled out Qatar’s new F-15QA at Boeing’s St. Louis plant on Aug. 25. The first set of aircraft will go to Qatar later this year after pre-delivery pilot training. Boeing won a $6.2 billion contract for 36 F-15QAs for Qatar in December 2017. The F-15EX for the U.S. Air Force features advanced avionics that leverage cockpit investments by foreign F-15 customers—Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Singapore. Prat Kumar, Boeing’s vice president of the F-15 program, said that the Qatar F-15QA program “further enhanced next-generation technologies in the advanced F-15 such as the fly-by-wire flight controls, an all-glass digital cockpit and contemporary sensors, radar and electronic warfare capabilities.” Kumar said that the F-15QA “will enhance the superiority of the QEAF with more speed, range and payload than any fighter in the world.”

Satellite Production Boost. L3Harris Technologies is expanding its satellite production capacity in Florida to include unclassified satellites and to better meet customer’s needs for more rapid deliveries. The company said the boost in manufacturing will allow it to develop and test the Air Force’s experimental Navigation Technology Satellite-3, and enable it to develop and integrate three sizes of small-to-medium responsive satellites to meet urgent Defense Department needs. “Our customers face urgent threats that must be addressed in months rather than years,” said Ed Zoiss, president of L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems. “We prioritized facility investments to meet their accelerating timelines.” By the end of 2021, L3Harris will have the capacity to build six satellites per month.

Biometrics and IVAS. The Army’s program to quickly move an augmented reality headset for soldiers into production wants to integrate biometric capabilities, in particular face recognition, so that wearers of the high-tech goggles can quickly identify persons of interest just by walking through a crowd, an Army official said. The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, known as IVAS, would connect with a Samsung smart phone the solider is carrying that includes a biometric enabled watchlist to do the face matching checks on the phone “almost in real time,” Will Graves, chief engineer for Program Management DoD Biometric, said last week during AFCEA’s virtual Federal Identity Forum. “So, you could walk through and if somebody popped on the watchlist, it would show up on your goggles as probably a red box around that individual.” He said the program office is also working to add a geo-location feature to application so that the encounter could be seen by others on the network capture the person if necessary.

CVN 81 First Cut. Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding last week began construction on the future Gerald R. Ford-class Navy aircraft carrier Doris Miller (CVN-81) with the first cut of steel at the company’s Newport News Shipbuilding facility in Virginia. Newport News is also doing structural fabrication and ship work on the aircraft carrier, which HII says will be the second carrier built completely using digital drawings and procedures rather than paper work packages. The keel for the Doris Miller, the fourth carrier in the Ford-class, is scheduled to be laid in 2026 and the ship delivered in 2032.

RAMP-C to Intel. Semiconductor designer and manufacturer Intel said it has been selected by the Defense Department for the first phase of the RAMP-C program, which is aimed at creating domestic manufacturing capacity for commercial computer chips. Intel’s recently launched Intel Foundry Services will lead the effort. “The RAMP-C program will enable both commercial foundry customers and the Department of Defense to take advantage of Intel’s significant investments in leading-edge process technologies,” said Randhir Thakur, president of IFS. “Along with our customers and ecosystem partners, including IBM, Cadence, Synopsys and others, we will help bolster the domestic semiconductor supply chain and ensure the United States maintains leadership in both R&D and advanced manufacturing.”

NSSL Engine Delay. While Blue Origin’s development of the BE-4 liquefied natural gas-fueled rocket engine for National Security Space Launch (NSSL) is lagging, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said that he is confident that the contractor can get back on track and help the U.S. end its past reliance on Russian RD-180 engines for access to space. The BE-4 is to power United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rockets for NSSL. ULA and SpaceX beat out Northrop Grumman and Blue Origin last year as the NSSL launch providers. “Blue Origin’s engine for ULA is late, and that’s causing some problems,” Kendall said. “But we have another option, and the way the contracts, I think, have been set up allows us to go to that option, if we have to.” Kendall said that he met with Blue Origin and ULA to check on the BE-4’s status. “My expectation, having looked at an awful lot of programs to develop new products, is that that they will probably get there, and they’re motivated to do that so we’ll see what happens,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll be all right, and they won’t have any additional schedule slips.”

 SPACECOM IOC. Army Gen. James Dickinson, the head of U.S. Space Command (SPACECOM), declared the nation’s 11th combatant command had achieved initial operational capability (IOC) on Aug. 24, nearly two years after SPACECOM’s re-establishment on Aug. 29, 2019. An earlier incarnation of the command lasted from 1985 until 2002. Dickinson said that SPACECOM is “prepared to address threats from competition to conflict in space, while also protecting and defending our interests in this vast and complex domain.” To achieve full operational capability requires the establishment of a permanent, fully-staffed headquarters and the approval of an operations plan and an updated campaign plan. SPACECOM is also looking to define criteria for the tenets of responsible behaviors in space as outlined by a recent memo from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

…Moving or Staying? It is yet uncertain whether SPACECOM will remain at Peterson AFB in Colorado Springs or move to Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. The Pentagon Inspector General is investigating whether the Air Force’s decision on Jan. 13 to move SPACECOM from Colorado to Alabama was influenced by former President Trump’s desire to curry favor with Alabama senators weighing in on his impeachment trial in the Senate.

DDG 121 Milestone. The Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer Frank E. Petersen Jr. (DDG-121) completed builder’s trials, setting the ship up for acceptance trials and final delivery, shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries said last Friday. The Petersen operated in the Gulf of Mexico for the trials, which included testing of the ship’s combat system and firing a missile. HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding division has already delivered 32 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to the Navy and, in addition to the Petersen, the company has four more under construction.

Legacy IT. The lead official for the Pentagon’s new data strategy said on Aug. 27 the department will have to take a hard look at legacy IT systems that do not comport with the move to open data standard architecture and potentially phase out some of those capabilities. “We still have to go back and clean up those vulnerable systems and eventually sunset some of those which will be a hard pill to swallow because we have invested so much into them,” David Spirk, DoD’s chief data officer, said during a Hudson Institute discussion. Spirk discussed the Pentagon’s move toward embracing open data standard architecture to align more succinctly with industry best practices and improve interoperability, with data as a central factor to taking advantage of new cloud computing and AI tools. “We’ve got to get the data right. Cloud [computing] helps us do that. And, eventually, we will bring artificial intelligence into the fold. But we’ve got to start with the very tactical solution that we’re trying to solve. When we do that, when we organize the data, then we can find the proficiency gained through the application of artificial intelligence,” Spirk said. 

LRSO Procurement. The House Armed Services Committee’s chairman’s mark includes a directive that would prohibit the Air Force from awarding the procurement contract for the Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) until a program update is provided to Congress. The report would require an updated cost estimate for LRSO procurement, a certification that future years spending plans will include that cost estimate and a copy of the justification and approval documentation allowing the Air Force to move ahead with a sole-source contract for the program. HASC is also seeking information on how the Air Force “will manage the cost of the program in the absence of competition.” In July, the Air Force awarded Raytheon Technologies a $2 billion cost plus contract with performance incentives for the engineering and manufacturing development phase of LRSO, the future nuclear-tipped air-launched cruise missile.