SDA Classified Study. The Space Development Agency (SDA) has awarded L3Harris’ Salt Lake City location nearly $2.6 million under SDA’s Systems, Technologies, and Emerging Capabilities (STEC) program for a classified study involving an Advanced Tactical Data Link Common Payload. STEC seeks “novel architecture concepts, systems, technologies, and capabilities that enable leap-ahead improvements for future tranches of the currently planned Proliferated Network capability layers, or, that enable new capability layers to address other emerging or evolving warfighter needs,” SDA said. The agency’s 100 planned Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Alpha satellites are to transmit beyond line-of-sight Link 16 data to military forces from space, while some Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Beta satellites and all Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Gamma satellites are to include an advanced tactical data link. The nearly $2.6 million award to L3Harris for the classified, STEC study “is not connected to the Tranche 2 Transport Layer-Alpha or Beta programs,” SDA said.

Red Hawk Testing.

APT-2, Boeing’s “first production representative” T-7A Red Hawk trainer for the U.S. Air Force, flew with a Boeing/Air Force crew from St. Louis, where Boeing builds the trainer, to Edwards AFB, Calif., on Nov. 8 to begin developmental flight testing. Along the way, APT-2, the first Red Hawk instrumented for flight testing, stopped at Vance AFB, Okla., Kirtland AFB, N.M., and Luke AFB, Ariz. to refuel, according to Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC). Developmental flight test is to evaluate the T-7A’s “flying qualities, structural loads, and flutter to determine if the aircraft complies with both contractual and military aircraft specifications,” AFLCMC said. Boeing said that “once Air Force test pilots are familiar with the aircraft, they will expand the flight envelope starting with flutter testing” and that “two other Red Hawks will follow to test various flight attributes and systems as part of a rigorous series of tests.” In 2018, Boeing received a $9.2 billion Air Force contract for 351 Red Hawks, 46 simulators and support. The T-7As are to replace the Air Force’s T-38Cs by Northrop Grumman.

Spock’s Christmas Eve. The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket is to have its first test launch on Dec. 24, ULA said. The Vulcan is to replace the Atlas V by ULA, a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA has been seeking test flight certification of its Centaur V upper stage for Vulcan by the end of this year. ULA said on Nov. 9 that “the first certification (Cert-1) Vulcan rocket is at the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Fla., and beginning steps towards the inaugural launch.” The first Vulcan mission is to be USSF-106 for the U.S. Space Force next summer. SpaceX and ULA are the two providers of the Department of the Air Force’s National Security Space Launch. Last month, Space Force’s Space Systems Command at Los Angeles AFB, Calif. said that it had assigned 11 launches to ULA and 10 to SpaceX for NSSL Phase 2—the fifth and final assignments for that phase.

Space Plane Domain. The U.S. Air Force said that the Boeing X-37B is to launch from Kennedy Space Center, Fla., on Dec. 7. “The X-37B Mission 7 will launch on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for the first time, designated USSF-52, with a wide range of test and experimentation objectives,” the Department of the Air Force said on Nov. 9. “These tests include operating the reusable spaceplane in new orbital regimes, experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, and investigating the radiation effects on materials provided by NASA.” The seventh mission “will expand the United States Space Force’s knowledge of the space environment by experimenting with future space domain awareness technologies, the department said. “These tests are integral in ensuring safe, stable, and secure operations in space for all users of the domain.” The first X-37B mission launched in April 2010. The specific X-37B experiments, which the Air Force has said are classified, are to demonstrate technologies for reliable, re-usable, unmanned space test platforms. Boeing has said that the X-37B was designed for missions of 270 days duration but has set endurance records during each of its flights.

HDR-H Dead. A notice posted to the Federal Register Nov. 8 said the Missile Defense Agency is terminating the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement for construction and operation of a Homeland Defense Radar-Hawaii (HDR-H). In 2019 DoD postponed the project and it has not appropriated any funds since fiscal year 2022 and is generally not moving forward with the project in any way. The notice sends the message that MDA is not preparing the EIS for construction of HDR-H and the project is conclusively dead for the foreseeable future as DoD focuses on other sensor options.

Third Nuke Shipyard? During the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium Program Executive Officer for Strategic Submarines Rear Adm, Scott Pappano floated the idea that Austal USA could potentially become a third nuclear submarine shipbuilder. He said as a ship maintainer and shipbuilder he wants more docks and shipyards, but the hard part is how the Navy can do that given it requires “significant investment” for a useful capability within a decade. Rather than start a new shipyard, he said “the real question is, where do I have shipbuilding capability that I can augment capacity and go after that.” Pappano said the Navy is looking at different options, including Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., since it is a medium shipbuilder that is winding down its Littoral Combat Ship work. He noted Austal has already received outsourced work to build and outfit Virginia-class submarine modules and will also work on Columbia-class modules. He said perhaps Austal could potentially become a third nuclear shipyard. “Well maybe, let’s look at it, let’s go talk about it. I’m doing submarine work there, I’m on the coast, I got workforce, ok, lets continue to go look at that.” Currently, General Dynamics Electric Boat and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding split the submarine construction work.

…As AUKUS Example. Pappano continued that converting a shipbuilder like Austal to being a full third nuclear submarine shipbuilder could help develop a model to have Australia create a submarine maintenance system as part of the early stages of AUKUS. “If I have to stand up an [Submarine Rotational Force – West (SRF-West)] and go do nuclear work out there for nuclear submarines – what better way to do that than to go hey let’s stand up the United States with a company here, go prove out the model of how we’re going to do it. And then maybe we could take the model of doing nuclear work at Austal,” take lessons learned and develop SRF-West if it can be done quickly enough. The US. and U.K. intend to maintain a rotational force of up to one U.K. attack submarine and up to four U.S. attack submarines at the Australian military base HMAS Stirling, called SRF-West, as soon as 2027 as part of AUKUS. This intends to help Australia build operational capabilities and skills to ultimately build and maintain its own nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Saildrone Classification. Saildrone announced on Nov. 7 it received the first ever classification for an autonomous, uncrewed surface vehicle (USV) from the American bureau of Shipping (ABS) for its Saildrone Voyager mid-class USV. The company said this classification is “major milestone” that will allow the Voyager USV to operate in ports and waters of countries that require vessels to be classified by organizations like the ABS. The Voyager is the company’s 10-meter long USV meant to be used for near-shore bathymetry and maritime security. “Saildrone has spent three years maturing the Voyager design to be the industry leader in capability, reliability, and safety in the uncrewed vehicle sector. This classification from the American Bureau of Shipping defines the new gold standard for uncrewed systems and underscores the maturity of our technology,” Richard Jenkins, CEO and founder of Saildrone said in a statement.

Hypersonic Mission. The Defense Innovation Unit has signed a launch services agreement with Rocket Lab USA for the launch and deployment of a scramjet-powered hypersonic vehicle that can fly non-ballistic flight patterns at speeds up to Mach 7, which is 5,320 miles per hour. The suborbital launch of the DART AE vehicle, supplied by Australia’s Hypersonix, is for a Hypersonic Accelerator Suborbital Test Electron (HASTE) mission from Rocket Lab’s Launch Complex 2 in Virginia as early as the first quarter of 2025. Rocket Lab previously launched a HASTE mission in June for Leidos under the MACH-TB program and will fly four more missions for the company in 2024 and 2025. The HASTE suborbital launch vehicle is based on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.

DeSantis/Fleet Size. Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said, if elected, he plans to set the Navy on a path to grow to a fleet of 600 ships over the next 20 years. During the third GOP debate on Nov. 8, DeSantis was asked his thoughts on the Navy’s fleet of 291 ships and his shipbuilding priorities. DeSantis, a Navy veteran, said he would prioritize growing the fleet to best compete with China, adding he would aim to have 355 ships by the end of his first term and 385 ships by the end of his second term. “We have to have the ability to back up a strategy of denial of [Chinese] President Xi’s ambitions. And if China’s able to be the world’s leading superpower that will affect you and your family in ways that are going to be very bad,” DeSantis said. “I think the future of freedom is going to be determined in the Indo-Pacific.” China currently has the largest Navy in the world with over 370 vessels, according to the Pentagon’s latest “China Military Power” report.

Mortars For Ukraine. Rheinmetall said on Nov. 8 it has received an order in the “lower-three-digit million-euro range” from the German government to supply Ukraine with around 100,000 rounds of 120mm mortar ammunition. The deal is part of a new $428.6 million military aid package Germany is providing to assist Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s ongoing invasion. “Thanks to its enhanced range, heightened precision and optimum combat effectiveness, Rheinmetall mortar ammunition can assure favorable outcomes even during operations in difficult terrain and urban environments,” Rheinmetall said in a statement. “The latest order from the German government underscores Rheinmetall’s role as a leading supplier of indirect fire technology.”

UAS Navy Demo. AeroVironment last week said its JUMP 20 vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system (UAS) recently demonstrated autonomous flight from take-off to landing aboard a Navy vessel sailing at over 20 knots. “JUMP 20’s ability to launch and land at speed, and without personnel intervention, enhances the ship’s operational effectiveness and enables operators to focus on important mission tasking,” Shane Hastings, vice president and product line general manager for Medium UAS at AeroVironment, said in a statement. The demonstration occurred during the Navy’s Hybrid Fleet Campaign Event in Key West, Fla. During the event, the JUMP 20 operated from the USNS Burlington expeditionary fast transport and provided intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting in support of U.S. 4th Fleet and Southern Command. The JUMP 20 has a 215-pound gross take-off weight that includes up to 30 pounds of payload. U.S. Special Operations Command uses the JUMP 20.

AUKUS Labor Help. HII, Babcock Australasia, and three Australian universities have formed the AUKUS Workforce Alliance (AWA) to help prepare a skilled talent base to support Australia’s needs for nuclear submarines under the first pillar of the tri-lateral alliance with the United Kingdom and the U.S. to help Australia acquire nuclear submarines and other technologies. The AWA partners said they would establish an internationally recognized platform for skill enhancement and leadership to support a sovereign, nuclear-powered submarine workforce in Australia, lead development and execution of critical upskilling programs that harness Australia’s industrial base and promote research and practical experience for the future workforce. HII and General Dynamics build the Virginia-class submarines that are part of AUKUS Pillar 1. Babcock will provide sustainment and support for Australia’s Virginia-class subs.

Air Force AI Award. Qylur last week said the Air Force’s AFWERX innovation arm has awarded the company $1.2 million to continue developing an artificial intelligence platform that manages networks of autonomous systems at scale and maintains the AI models of the systems. The Phase II small business innovation research award for the company’s Social Network of Intelligent Machines platform would help with collaborative autonomous systems such as unmanned aircraft and ground systems in contested environments.

DDG-134. General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works marked the start of fabrication of the future USS John E. Kilmer (DDG-134) Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer on Nov. 8. DDG-134 will be the 45th destroyer of its class built at the shipyard and fourth Flight III ship. The Flight III destroyers feature modifications to field the SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar.  

LCAC-108. The Navy accepted delivery of the Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) next-generation landing craft, Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) 108, from Textron Systems on Nov. 3. Acceptance followed the vessel successfully completing acceptance trials run by the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). INSURV tested LCAC-108’s readiness and capability to meet requirements. Textron is now in serial production on LCACs 109-120.

Navy CIO. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro announced on Nov. 3 that he selected Jane Rathbun to serve as the Department of the Navy’s Special Assistant for Information Management (SAIM) and Chief Information Officer (CIO). In this role, she will be the principal staff assistant to Del Toro on information technology, digital modernization, cybersecurity and data management. The Navy said she assumed responsibilities at CIO on Oct. 29. Rathburn previously served as the Acting DoN CIO since March 2023 and earlier was Deputy Secretary of the Navy for Information and Chief Technology Officer.