Unmanned Tankers? The Air Force is studying future refueling options that go beyond the fielding of the Boeing KC-46 as a replacement tanker for the KC-135s and KC-10s, and such options include possible unmanned aircraft systems for perilous, “last mile” tanking that would likely result in the loss of at least some unmanned tankers to enemy fighter aircraft, according to Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper. As the Air Force studies refueling options, Boeing and the Air Force are “making amazing progress” on resolving problems with the KC-46, including its Remote Vision System (RVS), he said. Air Mobility Commander Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost and Roper recently discussed the KC-46 and what lies ahead for refueling. “The KC-46 is going to take us all the way up to the doorstep of semi-autonomous and autonomous tanking, and the Air Force has committed to put in those autonomy algorithms because when you build a properly designed RVS, you’ve done everything needed to do autonomous tanking,” Roper said. “The only thing you’re missing are the algorithms to actually do it.”

…Bigger Fighters.

Future adversaries may try to disrupt the U.S. military’s logistics chain by attacking forward operating bases with cruise missiles or using fighters to shoot down U.S. refueling aircraft, Roper said. Other possible Air Force options in ensuring the service has the fuel required for the fight include stealthy tankers, larger fighter aircraft with greater fuel loads, and protection systems for the KC-46, including wing-mounted sensors and weapons. Currently, fighter combat air patrols (CAP) protect KC-135s and KC-10s.

Conflict of Interest? After reports last week that Immigration and Customs Enforcement awarded nearly $8 million in contracts to the consulting firm where Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf’s wife works, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote the agency to express “concerns about the possibility of inappropriate influence on ICE’s contracting decision.” Citing contract data from usaspending.gov, Thompson, in the Sept. 24 letter to Acting ICE Director Tony Pham, said two contracts were awarded non-competitively using simplified acquisition procedures for commercial items. The contracts to Berkeley Research Group were awarded after Wolf joined DHS in 2017. Thompson wants ICE to provide his committee with the complete contract files by Oct. 1. In a Senate hearing last week, Wolf said he didn’t know about the contracts until the media reports and that he is not involved in procurement decisions at DHS.

…No Help. On a separate matter, Thompson said his committee has been working on a new authorization bill for DHS but that the department hasn’t been any help. “There is text pending with the department for feedback but with no Secretary in place, there has been no progress,” he said in a statement. “Additionally, the Senate has not expressed interest in authorization. Every day, we see more evidence of how the department has been misused by the president to carry out his radical and cruel agenda. It needs to be reformed.” Thomson’s statement followed release by Committee Republicans earlier this month of their proposed reauthorization bill for DHS, the Keep America Secure Act. Republicans want the committee to mark up their bill.

Cyber Command. Vice Adm. Ross Myers relieved Vice Adm. Timothy White as commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/Navy Space/10th Fleet on Sept. 18 during a change of command ceremony at the U.S. Naval Academy. Succeeding the retiring White, Myers last served as deputy commander of U.S. Cyber Command. The event’s presiding officer and speaker was Army Gen. Paul Nakasone, commander of U.S. Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency. Myers previously served as director of plans and policy and then chief of staff at Cyber Command.

DDG-119. The Navy plans to commission the newest Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, the future USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119), on Sept. 26 in Port Canaveral, Fla. The commissioning is a private event with a limited audience due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. DDG-119 will be the 68th Arleigh Burke destroyer and the first to honor Black, the first Maser Chief Petty Officer of the Navy. The ship was built by Huntington Ingalls Industries at its facility in Pascagoula, Miss., and arrived at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., on Sept. 8.

Nominees and Appointments. President Trump last week nominated Allen Robert Souza to be inspector general of the intelligence community. Souza is currently the principal deputy senior director for Intelligence Programs at the White House National Security Council. Before joining the White House, Souza was the minority staff director and general counsel of the House Intelligence Committee and at one time was a lawyer for the National Security Agency. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, has appointed Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.) as chair of the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Innovation. Underwood replaces Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who has been appointed to the House Ways and Means Committee. Finally, Elbit Systems of America has hired Jeffery “Scott” Baum as vice president of Strategy and Growth. Baum most recently served as principal director of the Pentagon’s Office of Industrial Policy under the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment.

NatSec Officials Endorse Biden. Nearly 500 former national security officials have signed a letter endorsing former Vice President Joe Biden for president. Most notably, the list includes Ret. Air Force Gen. Paul Selva, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who served during the Trump administration. “The current president has demonstrated he is not equal to the enormous responsibilities of his office; he cannot rise to meet challenges large or small. Thanks to his disdainful attitude and his failures, our allies no longer trust or respect us, and our enemies no longer fear us,” the group wrote in its letter. The group includes a handful of former secretaries of the Army, Air Force and Navy. Its signees identify as Republicans, Democrats and Independents. “Joe Biden has the character, principles, wisdom, and leadership necessary to address a world on fire. That is why Joe Biden must be the next President of the United States; why we vigorously support his election; and why we urge our fellow citizens to do the same,” the group wrote.

Fuel Research. The Army has awarded the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign a four-year, $8 million research agreement to work on new technologies that could allow unmanned air and ground vehicles to run on any type of fuel. Researchers with the Army Research Laboratory expect the developments to increase unmanned vehicle performance and drone efficiencies. “The Army’s fleet of unmanned aircraft systems often experiences performance and reliability issues due to fuel property variations and their effects on the ignition,” Mike Kweon, program manager for the Army Research Lab’s Versatile Tactical Power and Propulsion Essential Research Program, said in a statement. University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign will include investigating the ignition chemistry of fuels using machine learning algorithms, developing materials for novel ignition assistant technologies and studying advanced propulsion technologies.

M249 SAW. The Army has awarded FN America a $78.7 million deal for deliveries of its M249 Squad Automatic Weapons. Work on the deal is expected to be completed by 2025. “We are honored to continue our dedication as a critical partner to the U.S. military and pleased to announce this latest Army contract award for the FN M249 SAW, a flagship design for FN, in service for more than 30 years. The proven design has served the U.S. military, reliably and without fail,” Mark Cherpes, CEO for FN America, said in a statement. The Army is currently looking for a replacement to the M249 with its Next-Generation Squad Weapon program. 

Navy SBID. Naval Sea Systems Command said on Sept. 24 that it plans to host the 2020 Small Business Industry Day (SBID) virtually Oct. 6-7 with the theme of “Small Business-Sustaining the Drive for Innovation.” The notice posted to beta.sam.gov explained the SBID “will provide a targeted forum for interested small businesses to hear from senior Navy leadership, Program Executive Offices (PEO’s) and Directorates about various NAVSEA programs, facilitating an enhanced understanding of NAVSEA’s programs and strategic direction and providing for prime and subcontracting opportunities for small businesses.” The notice divided small business areas into engineering services; research and development in physical, engineering, and life sciences; ship building and repair; boat building; search, detection, navigation, guidance, aeronautical, and nautical system and instrument manufacturing; and computer and peripheral equipment manufacturing.

F-35 Support. Naval Air Systems Command awarded Lockheed Martin a $245 million modification to definitize a previously awarded contract. This mod extends services and adds hours “in support of engineering, maintenance, logistics manpower and material support to continue to develop, sustain and produce software builds as well as carryout developmental flight tests for the Joint Strike Fighter aircraft” in support of Navy, Marne Corps, Air Force, and non-DoD participants, the announcement said. The mod also provides unique sea trials on aircraft carriers for non-DoD participants. Work will be split among Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (40 percent); Patuxent River, Md. (39 percent); and Fort Worth, Texas (21 percent) and is expected to be finished by March 2022.