Transitioning Skyborg and Golden Horde. The U.S. Air Force plans to end its Skyborg and Golden Horde Vanguard programs over the next year and move the developed technology into other programs, including the Collaborative Combat Aircraft, one to five of which are to be employed by the Next Generation Air Dominance manned aircraft. The two other Air Force Vanguard programs are Rocket Cargo to demonstrate rapid space to Earth cargo transportation and the Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3). The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) had planned to launch the 1,100-pound NTS-3 next March to demonstrate advanced protection technologies for GPS and other positioning, navigation and timing systems, but the date has slipped until late next year. AFRL’s annual WARTECH summit, which began in 2020, has been considering four programs as new Air Force Vanguards: “Fight Tonight” for theater-level, multi-domain planning against high tech adversaries; “Resolute Sentry” for real-time multi-domain awareness in highly contested environments; Multi-Mission Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance and Strike to use hypersonic system effects over large areas; and Autonomy Demonstrations and Orbital eXperiments (ADOX) for a series of satellite demonstrations to enable satellite inspection, XGEO (beyond geosynchronous orbit, or cislunar) space domain awareness and logistics in GEO including advanced propulsion and refueling.

SkyGuardian Demo.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and Hughes Network Systems demonstrated multi-orbit satellite communications (SATCOM) using a General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian drone on Oct. 20 at General Atomics’ Desert Horizon plant in El Mirage, Calif., the company said on Nov. 10. “The higher data rate SATCOM transmission featured SES’ multi-orbit satellite communications service leveraging high throughput, low latency Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and Geostationary (GEO) fleet and was powered by a Hughes [HM400] software defined modem and Hughes Resource Management System,” per General Atomics. The MQ-9B’s military specification HM400 modem allowed the MEO and GEO SATCOM “with Low-Probability of Intercept/Low Probability of Detection (LPI/LPD) modes for the resiliency necessary in congested and contested environments,” General Atomics said. “Together with the Hughes Resource Management System, the HM400 automatically optimized and switched satellite signals smoothly and within seconds, demonstrating a near real-time capability that enhances the military’s Primary Alternative Contingency Emergency (PACE) planning.” Rick Lober, vice president and general manager of Hughes Defense, said in the General Atomics’ statement that the commercially-based HM400 is “the standard for real-time communications for beyond line of sight mission opportunities.”

F-15EX Acoustic Testing. The Air Force conducted in-depth digital acoustic sound testing on an F-15EX fighter at Eglin AFB, Fla., in the last several weeks. “This was the first such testing on the F-15 since the aircraft’s initial roll out in the early 1970s and the first ever on its GE-129 engines,” Air Force Materiel Command said. “The Department of Defense-initiated test was done exclusively on the F-15EX as it will be the new model in Air Force inventory.” The Air Force may use data from such testing to ameliorate noise around bases that will host the F-15EX. “Blue Ridge Research and Consulting, the contractor capturing the sound data, used more than 100 microphones strategically placed around the aircraft for the ground testing,” AFMC said. “Around 35 microphones were spread 4,000 feet laterally and 1,000 feet horizontally to capture the sounds of the more than 70 Eagle II flyovers.”

Ready to Launch. Rocket maker Rocket Lab says it is ready for the first launch of its Electron rocket from the new launchpad at Wallops Island, Va., with the 13-day flight window opening on Dec. 7. So far, Rocket Lab has completed 31 Electron launches from its Launch Complex 1 in New Zealand. The opening of Launch Complex 2 in the U.S. will mean California-based Rocket Lab can support more than 130 launch opportunities annually.

…On Board. The Electron rocket will carry HawkEye 360’s sixth cluster of radio frequency satellites into mid-latitude low-Earth orbit, and once commissioned the company will be able to collect RF data as often as every hour anywhere in the world. The three satellites in the cluster will bring to 15 the number of spacecraft HawkEye 360 is operating. The upcoming mission is the first of three Electron launches for HawkEye 360 that extend into 2024. “Rocket Lab provides a basis for expanding our orbits while driving down our revisit rates throughout the globe,” says Rob Rainhart, HawkEye 360 chief operating officer. In Feb. 2023, HawkEye 360 expects three more clusters of its satellites to be launched, beginning in February.

CEO Transition. Systems Planning and Analysis says its CEO, William Vantine, will retire on Nov. 21 and be succeeded by Rich Sawchak, who is a member of the company’s board and most recently served as chief financial officer of Hypori, Inc. and before that held the same position at Novetta for nine years prior to the company being acquired by Accenture Federal Services. Vantine has led SPA since 2016. Vantine will remain on the board of SPA, which provides a range of analytics, data and program management and support services to Defense Department and other federal customers.

Navy Spies Sentenced. On Nov. 9 naval nuclear engineer Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Dianna Toebbe were sentenced to over 19 years and 21 years in prison, respectively, for conspiracy to communicate Restricted Data related to the design of nuclear-powered U.S. Navy warships. They both pleaded guilty to conspiracy in August 2022. Jonathan Toebbe  was formerly an employee of the Department of Navy as a nuclear engineer assigned to the nuclear propulsion program, Naval Reactors. According to the court documents, Toebbe thought he was selling Restricted Data to a foreign government, but actually was communicating with an undercover FBI agent. According to prosecutors, the Toebbes attempted to sell details about the design elements and performance characteristics of Virginia-class submarines. Several media outlets have reported the Toebbes originally approached Brazil about the information, which in turn informed the U.S. government. 

SSN-800. HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding at Newport News, Va., is hosting a ceremonial keel authentication ceremony for the future USS Arkansas (SSN-800) Virginia-class attack submarine on Nov. 19. SSN-800 is set to be the 27th Virginia-class submarine. Earlier this year HII delivered the USS Montana (SSN-794), launched the future USS New Jersey (SSN-796) and achieved pressure hull complete status on the Massachusetts (SSN 798).

DDG-96. The Navy awarded General Dynamics’ NASSCO-Norfolk s $77 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) fiscal year 2023 dry-docking selected restricted availability. This award includes options that, if exercised, would raise the total value to $79.6 million. Work is expected to be finished by August 2023. This was a competitive acquisition with two offers received, but the Navy did not disclose the other competitor.

Portugal AIM. The Navy’s Air-to-Air Missiles Program Office (PMA-259) announced Portugal joined as the 29th Air Intercept Missile (AIM)-9X international partner on Nov. 9. This comes after Portugal signed and accepted the AIM-9X Block II missile Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) on Sept. 28. The LOA allows PMA-259 to procure 18 AIM-9X Block II missiles on behalf of the Portuguese Air Force to be used on its F-16 fighter jets. The Navy said this procurement will be part of the service’s Lot 23 production contract, with delivery planned for 2026.

Ford NATO. The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) joined six NATO allies for the Silent Wolverine exercise in the Eastern Atlantic Ocean on Nov. 8. The exercise aims to test the carrier’s capabilities in integrated high-end naval warfare scenarios  as well as its operational readiness and future ability to support combatant commander requirements. Other participants include Canada, Denmark, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Spain.

Bataan 3D. For the first time the Navy recently permanently installed a metal 3D printer aboard a Navy ship, the USS Bataan (LHD-5), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship. The installation occurred on Nov. 3 and is part of an effort to improve deployed ships’ self-sufficiency and reduce supply chain lead times via additive manufacturing. The specific equipment includes the Phillips Additive Hybrid system, which combines a Meltio3D laser metal wire deposition head on a Haas TM-1 computer numerical control mill. The Navy said that previously “the Haas TM-1 platform has been proven to operate reliably in an afloat environment aboard several aircraft carriers.” Adding the Meltio3D piece “provides both an additive and subtractive manufacturing capability within the same system, increasing efficiency and reducing waste when compared with typical machining,” the service added. The overall Phillips Additive Hybrid System can print 316L stainless steel, which is common on many Navy ship systems. Naval Sea Systems Command also installed a second 3D printer to produce polymer plastic components aboard LHD-5. 

Poland Abrams. The Army’s 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division on Oct. 26 and 27 hosted an Abrams Logistical Summit (ALS) to help Polish soldiers with sustainment and logistical support operations for their future tanks. The summit follows the Army’s award of a $1.15 billion deal to General Dynamics Land Systems in late July to provide 250 of the newest version of the Abrams tank to Poland, with deliveries expected to begin in January 2025. “The ALS is part two of the Abrams program we started back in early May 2022, which started as a program to show the capabilities and some of the limitations of the Abrams through a live fire exercise and combined arms breach,” Maj. Robert. Churchill, the operations officer assigned to 1st Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, said in a statement. “What we are doing here at the Abrams Logistics Summit is discussing how to sustain an Abrams formation, its capabilities, limitations and everything logistics.”

HIMARS for Lithuania. The State Department on Nov. 9 approved a potential $495 million deal with Lithuania for the sale of eight M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers. Along with the Lockheed Martin-built HIMARS, Lithuania would also receive 72 GMLRS rockets, 72 Extended Range GMLRS rockets, and 18 ATACMS missiles. “The proposed sale will contribute to Lithuania’s military goals of updating its capability while further enhancing interoperability with the United States and other allies. Lithuania intends to use these defense articles and services to modernize its armed forces and expand its capability to strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency wrote in a statement. 

JSOWs for Oman. The State Department has also approved a potential $385 million deal with Oman for 48 of Raytheon Missiles & Defense’s AGM-154C Joint Standoff Weapons. Under the deal, Oman would also receive dummy air training missiles, captive flight vehicles or captive air training missiles and integration support and testing services. “The proposed sale would increase the Royal Air Force of Oman’s ability to secure Oman’s borders, airspace, and territorial waters. This expanded capacity will be a force multiplier and help negate regional security threats. Recent attacks on ships in the Gulf of Oman have increased Oman’s need for weapons that enable it to defend its territorial waters and ensure freedom of navigation,” the Defense Security Cooperation Agency wrote in a statement.

Hicks’ Meeting. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and several other senior Pentagon officials held a classified meeting on Nov. 8 with top officials from eight of the largest defense contractors, where the department said the discussion focused on the new National Defense Strategy, the status of the defense industrial base, the supply chain and workforce concerns. Attendees at the meeting included executives from Boeing, L3Harris Technologies, Raytheon Technologies, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman. “Deputy Secretary Hicks underscored the deep and long-standing relationship between the Department of Defense and America’s defense industrial base. She reinforced the Department’s strategic competition priorities under the National Defense Strategy, which require sustained industry engagement and support to address critical needs in the near- mid- and long-term,” the Pentagon wrote in a readout of the meeting.