Navy USV Evaluations. U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) this month began testing Saildrone’s Explorer unmanned surface vehicle (USV) in the Gulf of Aqaba during exercise Digital Horizon. The wind-propelled 23-foot-long, 16-foot-tall USV was launched from the Royal Jordanian naval base in Aqaba, Jordan, which is a new U.S.-Jordanian joint hub for Saildrone operations in the Red Sea. NAVCENT said the testing is “part of an initiative to integrate new unmanned systems and artificial intelligence into U.S. 5th Fleet operations.” The Explorer includes solar panels to power AI-enabled sensors to provide maritime domain awareness. In October, the task force evaluated MARTAC’s MANTAS T-12 USVs alongside crewed ships in the Arabian Gulf and in early December began operational tests of a MANTAS T-38 off the coast of Bahrain.

Still Pouring Over. The Department of Homeland Security has delayed for at least another month sending out down-select notices for Phase I of its potential $10 billion FirstSource III small business information technology sourcing contract vehicle. The evaluation progress is still ongoing and notices won’t be issued before January 2022, DHS said last week on the government’s procurement website, The down-selects had been scheduled for September and then October, but in November DHS said it had received 637 offers from 325 vendors, an unexpected deluge that led to the delays.

People News. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas last Monday swore in Chris Magnus as the new commissioner of Customs and Border Protection. BAE Systems, Inc., the U.S.-based business of Britain’s BAE Systems, has elected former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) as the new chair of its board of directors for a three-year term. She was appointed to the board in June 17. Ayotte succeeds Michael Chertoff, whose term as chair expires in December. The enterprise artificial intelligence software company C3 AI has appointed retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to its advisory board. McMaster, who served as former President Donald Trump’s national security adviser from 2017 to 2018, “will be critical to fulfilling our vision with his experience and leadership,” says Thomas Siebel, CEO of C3 AI. And BlueHalo has hired Vikram Manikonda as its chief technology officer effective Jan. 1, 2022. Manikonda, BlueHalo’s first CTO, will report to CEO Jonathan Moneymaker, lead cross-sector collaboration and the company’s internal research and development program. He joins BlueHalo from Intelligent Automation, Inc., where he was president and CEO.

Papal Protection. Israel-based D-Fend Solutions, a counter-drone technology company, last week said its flagship product, EnforceAir, was used in September to help protect Pope Francis, 90 bishops, 500 priests and a crowd of about 60,000 worshippers during Holy Mass in Slovakia. During the four-day event, D-Fend said its system detected a “previously unseen do-it-yourself drone” and sent it back to where it had taken off, away from the crowd. Several more drones were also detected and identified during the event but the local police, through EnforceAir, immediately identified them as friends and authorized, the company said.

Vice Chairman Confirmed. The Senate on Thursday confirmed Adm. Chris Grady to be the next vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by voice vote. Grady, who most recently served as head of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, will now take hold of the vice chairman role after it sat vacant for a month following the retirement of Air Force Gen. John Hyten. During his confirmation hearing, Grady said he plans to push new capability development “even faster” in his role leading the Joint Requirements Oversight Council and affirmed a commitment to continued nuclear modernization as a top priority.

CR Impact. Raj Iyer, the Army’s chief information officer, told Defense Daily this week he does not believe the current short-term continuing resolution will have an impact on kickstarting the service’s new digital transformation strategy but a longer-term CR “will impact the speed at which we can make progress on these efforts.” A second CR was recently signed to keep the government open through Feb. 18, while locking in spending at the previous year’s funding levels and hindering new programs from starting. Lawmakers have cited concerns that a full-year CR is possible if deals on full appropriations bills do not come together. Iyer told reporters this week that further experimentation with commercial computing infrastructure is a priority in 2022 for the new digital transformation strategy. 

Kongsberg/Estonia. Kongsberg said on Dec. 17 that Estonia is the latest country to operate its Protector Remote Weapon System, acquiring the Protect RS4 variant of the capability. Estonia is procuring Kongsberg’s Protector RWS as part of its program to upgrade its CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicles, built by BAE Systems. “I am proud that we are expanding our footprint by going into partnership with Estonia as the 28th nation choosing the Kongsberg Protector RWS,” Arne Gjennestad, Kongsberg’s vice president of marketing and sales, said in a statement. Kongsberg noted the Protector RS4 is capable of firing Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin’s Javelin anti-tank guided missiles.

AETP Testing. General Electric said that it has finished Phase 1 testing of the company’s XA100 engine at GE’s Evendale, Ohio altitude test plant as part of the Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP), which aims to install significantly higher power engines on the service’s Next Generation Air Dominance fighter and possibly on the F-35A.  Phase 2 tests are to begin at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Complex early next year. David Tweedie, GE Edison Works’ general manager for advanced combat engines, said in a statement that GE continues “to burn down risk with full-scale engine testing, which is why the XA100 is the lowest risk, most capable, and fastest approach to keep the F-35 a preeminent fighter platform for the long term.” The Air Force has said that it has been dealing with a shortage of usable Pratt & Whitney F135 engines for the F-35. GE said that the XA100 is designed to fit both the F-35A and the U.S. Navy F-35C without any structural modifications to the airframes.

F-35 EW Upgrade. BAE Systems said that it has received a $493 million contract from Lockheed Martin to upgrade the electronic warfare (EW) suite on the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter to allow it to speed the detection and combating of advanced electromagnetic threats. BAE Systems said that it is to deliver “enhanced and highly capable core hardware” for the AN/ASQ-239 EW mission system for the F-35. “The upgraded system will improve superior situational awareness and electromagnetic attack and countermeasure capabilities with new sensors and more powerful signal processing,” BAE Systems said. Lisa Aucoin, BAE Systems’ vice president of F-35 solutions, said that the company will also leverage such capabilities for platforms other than the F-35. The upgraded EW suite for the F-35 is to include the Non-Intrusive Electronic Warfare Test Solution (NIEWTS) fault isolation and diagnostics capability, “which enables precise troubleshooting that further reduces maintenance costs,” per BAE Systems.

DESIL. The Navy officially opened its Directed Energy Systems Integration Laboratory (DESIL) during a ceremony on Dec. 3, the service said Dec. 14. DESIL, an 18,500 square-foot, three-story facility will be used to test and evaluate laser weapon systems in a maritime environment and is located at Naval Base Ventura County, Point Mugu. The facility will be able to use the Point Mugu Sea Range, including 36,000 miles of controlled air and sea space that stretches upward of 220,000 miles.  DESIL allows for the installation of directed energy systems on its roof and inside the building for test and evaluation. “The near-peer and actual peer adversarial threats faced by the Navy today are so stressing that if we don’t have facilities like this, we are simply not going to be able to keep pace. The directed energy and high-power microwave technology testing that can now be done in this facility will allow us to evaluate and field warfighting capabilities so that the Sailors and Marines on our ships can fight and win,” Vance Brahosky, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Port Hueneme Division’s (NSWC PHD) deputy technical director, said in a statement. The project broke ground in May 2020, with Harper Construction of San Diego constructing DESIL via a Military Construction contract with an estimated cost of about $23 million.

Australia Aegis. Australia awarded Lockheed Martin’s Australia subsidiary a $24 million design contract to help upgrade the Aegis Combat System on the Royal Australian navy’s fleet of three Hobart-class destroyers, the company said Dec. 16. This is a two-year SEA 4000 Phase 6 Combat System Design Agent (CSD-A) contract in which the company will help achieve integration of the Aegis Combat System Baseline 9 software into the destroyers. Lockheed Martin said most of the work will occur in Adelaide, Australia and create opportunities for local industrial partners. 

COMSUBRON 2. The Navy reestablished Commander, Submarine Squadron (COMSUBRON) 2 at a ceremony on Dec. 10 at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Maine. The squadron will provide administrative, manning, logistical, training, operational planning and readiness support for Los Angeles– and Virginia-class fast attack submarines homeported at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard during maintenance and improvement periods. The last iteration of the squadron was disestablished during a ceremony in Groton, Conn., in 2012. Since then, Submarine Squadrons 12 and 4 have provided operational oversight of submarines at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard from their location at Naval Submarine Base New London, Conn. Capt. Daniel Reiss is taking over as the commanding officer of the new Submarine Squadron 2.

Navy Fire Safety. Naval Sea Systems Command established the new Industrial Fire Safety Assurance Group (IFSAG) on Dec. 6 to help prevent future industrial shipboard fires and reduce the risks highlighted in previous fire investigations. “Over the past 12 years, the Navy has suffered 14 major shipboard fires that resulted in the loss of two capital asset ships, extended availabilities, and significantly increased costs,” the Navy said. IFSAG aims to provide the command with a team focused specifically on analyzing industrial shipboard fire metrics and developing actions to address and reduce the risks. IFSAG is designed to coordinate efforts across NAVSEA and set key principles to eliminate such fires. It will report directly to NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. William Galinis and Executive Director Giao Phan under the new code SEA 00FS (Fire Safety).