Starlink Competitors? Next Friday, Oct. 6, is the planned launch date for Amazon’s two Project Kuiper Protoflight satellites aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Station, Fla. Amazon’s Project Kuiper hopes to put 3,236 satellites into low Earth orbit over the next decade to provide global broadband access. Last year, Amazon announced $10 billion in launch contracts with ULA, Blue Origin, and ArianeGroup. Notably absent from the Project Kuiper launch provider list was SpaceX, which builds the Starlink LEO communications system and the Falcon 9 rocket heavily used by U.S. Space Force. In January, the Space Force’s Space Development Agency (SDA) renamed its planned proliferated LEO constellation as the Proliferated Warfighter Space Architecture, which will include satellites for rapid sensor-to-shooter communications in the Transport Layer and hypersonic/ballistic missile targeting in the Tracking Layer. SDA is to begin fielding the Tranche 1 satellites—the first for military operations—late next year. Tranche 1 is to include about 150 Transport Layer and Tracking Layer satellites. Thus far, Lockheed Martin and York Space Systems have received contracts for the Tracking Layer.

…Starshield Contract.

Space Force has awarded SpaceX a $70 million contract for the company’s planned Starshield LEO satellite communications. The Department of the Air Force said that the contract includes “end-to-end service, user terminals, ancillary equipment, network management, and other related services.” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk is distancing Starlink from military use—his vacillation on continued employment by the Ukrainian military to repel Russian forces being one example. DoD said on June 1 that it had reached an agreement to continue funding Starlink service for the Ukrainian military, but it declined for “operational security” to release the terms or the amount of that agreement/contract—one which may be open-ended with no funding cap. Where Musk intends for Starlink to be focused on commercial/civilian use, the Starshield variant is to be for military use. In addition to Space Force launch and Starshield contracts, SpaceX has also received SDA Tracking Layer contracts. In addition, SDA has awarded SpaceX a contract “to perform studies for tying commercial backhaul communications networks, such as Starlink, to the SDA Transport Layer,” SDA Director Derek Tournear wrote on Sept. 28 on LinkedIn.

AUSA Update. The Association of the United States Army (AUSA) in a new statement has affirmed it will hold its annual conference scheduled for Oct. 9-11 in Washington, D.C., “even if there is a government shutdown.” “We believe AUSA’s core mission of supporting America’s Army is too important to risk,” retired Gen. Bob Brown, AUSA’s president and CEO, said in a statement. “This is critical for Army transformation. We cannot lose momentum.” The event, which gathers thousands for Army updates and industry exhibits, may coincide with a shutdown with Congress having yet to pass final appropriations bills or a continuing resolution stopgap funding measure with the end of the fiscal year just days away. Brown, in his statement, noted more than 22,000 people have registered for the upcoming AUSA conference.

Demonstration and Shakedown. On Sept. 27, DoD said that an unarmed Trident II D5 Life Extension (D5LE) missile by Lockheed Martin launched off the coast of San Diego from the U.S. Navy’s Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Louisiana (SSBN-743) by General Dynamics’ Electric Boat. The primary objective of the Demonstration and Shakedown Operation-32 (DASO-32), as other DASOs, was “to evaluate and demonstrate the readiness of the SSBN’s Strategic Weapon System and crew before operational deployment following the submarine’s engineered refueling overhaul,” DoD said. “DASO-32 is the last DASO conducted by an Ohio-class SSBN coming out of engineering refueling overhaul (ERO), marking the completion of all post-ERO DASOs for the Ohio-class SSBNs.” Lockheed Martin said that it is modernizing the D5s for the future Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. “DASO-32 increased the Trident II D5 record to 191 successful test launches since design completion in 1989 – the most reliable test record for a large ballistic missile,” the company said.

‘New Maritime Statecraft.’ Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro called for a “new maritime statecraft” in a speech at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government on Sept. 26. He said this covers not just naval diplomacy but a whole-of-government effort to “build comprehensive U.S. and allied maritime power, both commercial and naval.” Del Toro said the Biden Administration is committed to pragmatic diplomacy, improving U.S. shipbuilding, working with allies and partners to help them stand up to coercive actions by China in the South China Sea, and building new maritime coalition via unmanned technologies, 

More MCM USV. The Navy awarded Bollinger Shipyards another $12.5 million firm-fixed-price modification for production of Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Surface Vehicles (MCM USV). The work will largely be split between Lockport, La. (37 percent); Portsmouth, Va. (34 percent); Dallas, Texas (14 percent); and Slidell, La. (10 percent) and is expected to be finished by September 2024. In April 2022 Bollinger won an initial $14 million contract to produce the MCM USV over Textron Systems, which previously worked with the Navy for years in earlier MCM USV experimentation. The initial contract covers production and services for the first three MCM USVs with options of up to six more in the base year and up to another 24. If all options of the original contract are exercised, the total value will be about $123 million.

DDG-125. The Navy’s first Flight III Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, the future USS Jack H. Lucas, sailed away from shipbuilder HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss., on Sept. 27. The ship is set to be commissioned during an Oct. 7 ceremony in Tampa before it sails to its homeport of San Diego. As the first Flight III ship, DDG-125 incorporates many design modifications to allow it to field the AN/SPY-6(v)1 Air and Missile Defense Radar and Aegis Baseline 10 combat system.

Milley Retires. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the 20th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stepped down from his role on Friday as he retired following more than 40 years of military service. “After a lifetime devoted to the common defense, you have more than earned some time for the pursuit of happiness. So at this bittersweet moment, let me simply say: thank you, General. Thank you for all that you have done, and for all that you have given. We wish you Godspeed in the chapters still to come,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during remarks at Milley’s relinquishment of command ceremony. Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown was sworn in Friday as the next Joint Chiefs chairman, after serving as Air Force chief of staff for the last several years.

Feinstein Passes. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the longest-serving female senator, passed away on Sept. 29 at the age of 90. Feinstein, who served three decades in the U.S. Senate, was a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its defense subcommittee. “It is a loss to her colleagues from California, who have served with her and know her as I do—as a tower of strength. To our colleagues on the floor who have worked with her on a laundry list of legislation that you will hear about, and that is way too long to list today. To her constituents, you need to know: we depended on her, just as you did. And she was here every day to fight for you—no matter what,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), chair of the Appropriations Committee, said during floor remarks.

Nigeria Helicopters. MD Helicopters said on Sept. 28 it has signed a contract with Nigeria to deliver 12 of its 530F Cayuse Warrior Plus Scout/Attack helicopters for the Nigerian Army. Delivery of the helicopters to Nigeria will begin in the fourth quarter of 2023, the company said. “MD Helicopters is grateful for the trust of the Nigerian government, and we’re excited to showcase this purpose built, best value solution to Nigeria and the world,” Brad Pedersen, president and CEO of MD Helicopters, said in a statement. The value of the deal was not disclosed.

CROWS Order. Norway’s Kongsberg has received a $94 million order from the U.S. Army to deliver 409 more Commonly Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS). The new order was placed under the latest five-year IDIQ contract the Army awarded Konsgberg in October 2022. “We are very pleased for the opportunity to deliver additional CROWS systems to the U.S. Army and with the confidence our customers place in our products and our organization,” Eirik Lie, president of Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace, said in a statement.

Indo-Pacific Help. The Biden administration is proposing to provide $11.4 million to the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) in support of a technology pilot. The IPMDA was launched in 2022 by the U.S., Australia, India, and Japan to help combat illicit activities in the Indo-Pacific region, including illegal fishing. A key focus of the initiative has been the use of commercial remote satellite sensing data. The new U.S. funding, called the IPMDA-Pacific pilot, followed a U.S.-Pacific Islands Forum Summit hosted by President Biden last week. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs is funding the initiative to work with regional institutions on information sharing and analysis, create in-country capacity for information collection, and strengthen legal assistance networks between regional organizations and domestic transnational crime units.

Leidos Security Detection News. The Transportation Security Administration last week awarded Leidos $48.5 million for medium-speed explosive detection systems (EDS), which the company provides for airports to automatically scan checked bags for explosives. The company also said it is working with Sofia Airport in Bulgaria to install three of its MV:3D high-speed EDS systems that meet European Union threat detection standards, and two transmission X-ray systems. The high-speed systems can each scan up to 1,800 bags per hour. Finally, Customs and Border Protection in September said it plans to award the company a contract to supply seven Mobile Passenger Vehicle Scanning Systems. The agency said that Leidos’ MXPL is the only mobile passenger vehicle X-ray scanning system that can be “operated remotely in difficult operating environments on an independent power source to quickly detect the illegal transit of contraband transported through people, cargo, containers, and in other conveyances entering through ports of entry.”

DoD Microelectronics Awards. The Defense Department last week made two awards totaling a combined $17.5 million to strengthen the U.S. industrial base for microelectronics. The awards, made through the DoD Office of Industrial Base Policy’s Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Prioritization, include $11.5 million to the U.S. Partnership for Assured Electronics for the Defense Business Accelerator (DBX) and the Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Market Catalyst. The DBX leverages private capital and the commercial market to speed emerging defense technologies into lasting businesses to strengthen the supply chain and the PCB project will create a plan for a new company that stimulates “demand for domestic production of ultra-high density interconnects for PCBs,” DoD said. It will be up to DoD whether to fund the new company. A separate $6 million award will be for development of a cloud-based platform to help program offices across the department manage parts throughout their life-cycle. The enterprise-management cloud project will be performed by JRC Integrated Systems, LLC, and Systems Innovation Engineering.

Drone Swarming Work. Darkhive Inc. says it has received four Air Force AFWERX small business contracts worth $5 million in total to develop low-cost, resilient drone swarming technologies. The company is developing small, autonomous drones for military and public safety applications.