Look out, cyber — the defense world has a new favorite buzzword.
“I feel a little bit like over the next couple of years autonomy is going to be a little bit like that word cyber,” said Chris Raymond, who leads the Autonomous Systems division of Boeing’s defense business. “There sort of has to be a definition and a meeting of the minds about what we’re talking about.”
“We see [autonomy] as expanding human capability,” Raymond said. “I think Boeing’s big belief is: autonomy is going to continue to walk into our lives both personally and into our business process and into our products…We do have a big focus on autonomy in the company beyond just my role in the defense side of Boeing.”
And beyond that, he said, Dennis Muilenburg, Boeing’s chairman, president and CEO, “views autonomy as very critical to the future of our industry.”
He was quick to point out that the firm doesn’t see autonomy as a “replacing humans kind of idea.” But he added that its advances would occasionally catch us unprepared.
“I personally think sometimes the technology will allow things to happen before we as humans want to either adopt it or have figure out a way to integrate it into the regulatory environment safely,” he said.
While there are only a few Pentagon projects — which are mostly in the early stages — that will use autonomy, more are expected.
“There are clear signals that people are interested in advancing autonomy, even if those programs we all see very visibly in the budget and get called a program of record aren’t that many yet,” Raymond said.
Boeing has been preparing for this with acquisitions and internal research and development. It recently purchased Aurora Flight Sciences and has been making investment in small tech firms through its HorizonX venture arm.
You’ve reached the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber. Thanks to everyone who came out to the Defense One Summit, especially those who were in their seats for my 0730 interview with Gen. Stephen Wilson, the Air Force vice chief of staff. As always, send your tips, feedback and random thoughts to email@example.com or @MarcusReports. Check out the Global Business Brief archive here, and tell your friends to subscribe!
From Defense One
US Air Force Wants to Get New Nuclear Weapons Faster // Marcus Weisgerber
Just months into the first development contracts, the service’s top general is looking for ways to speed things up.
China and the CIA Are Competing to Fund Silicon Valley’s AI Startups // Patrick Tucker
The U.S. intelligence community is upping its early-stage investments in machine-learning companies — but Beijing is pouring in far more.
Can Two Nuclear Powers Fight a Conventional War? // Marcus Weisgerber
The Pentagon just wargamed that scenario as part of its effort to determine what it needs for 21st-century deterrence.
Dubai Air Show Recap
Relatively few defense deals were announced at the biennial tradeshow, which is still mostly about commercial jetliners. An exception: the United Arab Emirates announced arms contracts worth $2.9 billion, led by a deal to upgrade its Mirage 2000-9 fighter jets.
UAE was also wrapped up in one of the show’s bigger surprises: the country is in talks with the U.S. to buy the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. UAE must agree to protect the jet’s sensitive data if it wants to buy the fifth-generation plane, Aviation Week reports.
Emirati officials have talked informally about buying the F-35 for years. After all, they fly the most advanced version of the F-16, one of the planes the F-35 is meant to replace. But making it happen is a different story. Remember it took the U.S. more than two years to approve an F-15 fighter sale to Qatar amid reported concerns from Israel. Israel received its first F-35s last year; it won’t be eager to see the jet join an Arab military.
Some other interesting stories out of Dubai:
- Textron’s Scorpion jet recently flew an 11-day demonstration for the Royal Saudi Air Force, Defense News reports. Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi that included an unidentified light close-air support aircraft.
- Lockheed Martin CEO Marillyn Hewson was in Riyadh this week meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman “to talk opportunities in promoting military industrial cooperation,” according to Arabian Veritas. MBS recently ordered the arrests of 11 princes in what the government bills says is a corruption crackdown and what critics say is a move to consolidate power.
- Hewson was also in Dubai for the air show and the Dubai International Air Chiefs Conference, where she talked about “three strategic actions nations can take to help maintain and sustain air power”: “make sustained investments in research, development, and procurement of defense and aerospace systems”; “Promote “greater cooperation and interoperability between nations that share broad interests in regional and global stability”; and “develop a workforce with the skills to maintain technological leadership.”
- Boeing defense CEO Leanne Caret said there is demand for rotorcraft and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, Reuters reports. At the same time, UAE is in negotiations with Boeing for AH-64E Apache new helicopters, SD Arabia reports.
- Raytheon International CEO John Harris sees told CNBC that he sees Missile Defense growth in the Middle East and Europe. Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia used a Pariot interceptor to shoot own an inbound missile fired from Yemen. In fact, the Patriot system has intercepted more than 100 missiles fired from Yemen.
Speed Read, Dubai Edition
Watch the Entire Defense One Summit
If you missed our annual event last week, you can watch the whole thing here. My favorite panel: “Nuclear Explosion: Renewing Options From North Korea to the White House.” It’s serious, informative and entertaining. Can’t beat that combo. Watch it here.
No Global Business Brief next week; it’s the Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. Don’t worry, we’ll be back on Nov. 30.
Raytheon Latest U.S. Firm Teaming with Saab
The U.S. and Swedish firms have inked a deal to develop new infantry weapons. “Initially, the team will upgrade the Carl-Gustaf reloadable shoulder-launched weapon system and explore opportunities to enhance Saab’s AT4 disposable weapon system to meet near-term U.S. and international requirements,” Raytheon said in a statement. Boeing has been working a lot with Saab of late, most notably on a pilot training jet for the U.S. Air Force and a ground-launched version of the Small Diameter Bomb. Raytheon makes a new version of the Small Diameter Bomb — one that can strike moving targets in bad weather — so one has to wonder whether it will team with Saab for a ground-launched version of it too.
F-15 Shoots Down QF-16 Drone
There’s always been a rivalry between F-15 and F-16 fighter pilots. Twin-engine vs. single-engine. Air-to-air vs. multirole fighter. Boeing vs. Lockheed Martin. The list goes on. So back when Boeing was chosen to turn old F-16 fighter jets into drones, there was a buzz in F-15 circles about the prospect of being able to shoot down a rival fighter. Well, it finally happened.
On July 19, “In the training capacity at the range, the first one was just shot down,” Chris Raymond, the vice president and general manager of the Autonomous Systems division of Boeing Defense, Space & Security, said this week. And the plane that killed it was an F-15 Eagle, Boeing officials said. “We have learned a lot in that program on how you take an existing system and go optionally piloted,” Raymond said of the QF-16 project.
Remember the F-16 was made by General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin), so Boeing getting the deal to turn it into a drone was a big deal at the time. Kudos to Dave Majumdar at The National Interest, who first reported the shoot down. (If you happen to have pictures or video, we’d love to see ’em!)
Lori Scherer has been named vice president of the intelligence portfolios within the National Security Engineering Center — a federally funded research and development center that MITRE runs for the Pentagon.