Bezos’ big rocket; Industry group warms to Trump?; Building planes ‘without tools’, $38B Israel deal, and more.
We spend a lot of time in the air here at the Global Business Brief, but let's set our sights a bit higher. It’s been an interesting few weeks for space launch. First we had the explosion of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which destroyed a Facebook satellite that would have brought internet access to remote parts of Africa. Now billionaire Jeff Bezos has sent a shockwave through the space launch community this week when he announced that his Blue Origin firm would build the New Glenn, a new family of reusable rockets.
While the battle between Blue Origin and fellow billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been well-chronicled, it now appears that Bezos is also gunning for United Launch Alliance, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin consortium that builds rockets that carry military satellites into orbit. That’s because the New Glenn rockets appear to compete directly with Boeing’s Space Launch System, the commercial rocket being developed for human spaceflight, aka the successor to the Space Shuttle.
Yet in the military space launch world, Blue Origin is teaming up with ULA. The consortium plans to use BO's BE-4 engine on its new Vulcan rocket — but some defense insiders now doubt the firmness of that pact. Late last week, ULA CEO Tory Bruno told Space News that while the BE-4 was the leading engine candidate to power the Vulcan, a final decision could be delayed until early next year.
Timing is everything. Just days after Bruno’s comments, Bezos made his announcement about the New Glenn family of rockets.
If nothing else, the moves shine a light on firms’ intense competition to launch people, cargo and satellites into orbit. But it also shows how rocket builders are increasingly like the players in a pickup basketball game: sometimes you end up on the same team as your rival, other times you compete against one another.
So why does this matter for defense? It adds another dynamic to the military space launch drama that has played out in recent years. SpaceX, which has fought for years to win military work for its Falcon 9 rocket, finally received an $82-million Air Force contract to launch a GPS satellite in 2018.
At the same time, there has been another battle over ULA using the Russian-made RD-180 engine on its Atlas V rocket. Sour relations between Washington and Moscow has prompted Congress to order the Air Force to find a different engine for the Atlas V. ULA has said it would rather build the Vulcan. What will the next twist be? Stay tuned.
Defense Firms Warming to a President Trump?
It appears that way. The Aerospace Industries Association, the main advocacy group for American defense firms, praised Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump after he and Democrat Hillary Clinton appeared at the Commander-in-Chief Forum, an event hosted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America last week.
“We appreciate the renewed attention that Mr. Trump brings to many of the concerns we raised with him — ending the [Budget Control Act] caps and sequestration, beefing up our forces, reducing government bureaucracy and sustaining our international partnerships,” AIA said.
AIA officials have reiterated several times in recent weeks that it has briefed Trump himself, but not Clinton. It did brief “informal advisers to Hillary for America,” a group of national security professionals advising the Democrat’s campaign.
“Regardless of the election’s outcome, we fully expect the next administration to work with Congress to provide the resources our military forces need to sustain peace, deterrence and stability,” AIA said.
AIA officials on Wednesday applauded comments this week by Michèle Flournoy, a top Clinton defense advisor, advocating to “get out from under” budget caps.
Here is the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber, your weekly source for all things future-of-the-business-of-defense. Send your tips, comments, and random thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit me up on Twitter: @MarcusReports. You can check out the Global Business Brief archive here. And tell your friends to subscribe!
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Boeing Challenges Denmark’s F-35 Pick
In a statement released Thursday morning, the firm said it was requesting the evaluation data that the Danish Defense Ministry used in evaluating the Joint Strike Fighter and F/A-18. “[W]e believe the Ministry’s evaluation of the competitors was fundamentally flawed and inaccurately assessed the cost and capability of the F/A-18 Super Hornet,” said Debbie Rub, vice president and general manager, Boeing Global Strike. “We’re taking this step because there’s too much at stake for Denmark and, potentially, other countries considering the Super Hornet.” There’s actually a ton a stake for Boeing because the Super Hornet needs orders to keep production alive. Denmark said in its selection report that the F-35’s lifetime costs would be less than the Super Hornet, a claim Boeing emphatically disputes.
Missile Defense Wins in $38B Israeli Aid Package
Lots has been written about the 10-year package, the largest in history, but it’s worth pointing out that of that, $500 million annually will go toward missile defense projects. “The multi-year missile defense commitment in the MOU will greatly facilitate long-term planning rather than missile defense assistance levels continuing to be appropriated year-to-year,” the White House said. “The $500 million in annual missile defense funding under the MOU exceeds the average level of non-emergency support the United States has provided to Israel for missile defense over the last five years.” That’s good news for firms like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, which have diverse missile defense portfolios.
Building Planes ‘Without Tools’
One of the key talking points from the Northrop Grumman and Boeing teams competing for the new Air Force T-X trainer is that their new planes will be manufactured using more modern techniques than the older aircraft being pitched by Lockheed Martin-KAI and Raytheon-Leonardo. When Boeing and Saab unveiled its first two T-X aircraft this week in St. Louis, Boeing Phantom Works President Darryl Davis told reporters that new manufacturing techniques would allow the firms to build the planes “without tools.” Davis wouldn’t go into detail, but Boeing has already replaced some workers using hand tools with robots in its commercial manufacturing. Meanwhile, Northrop’s T-X bid includes a partnership with KUKA, which specializes in automated manufacturing.
Big Air Force Conference Next Week
We’ll be at the National Harbor resort in Maryland next week for the Air Force Association’s annual Air-Space-Cyber conference. “Cyber”? Yes, that’s new; it was added to reflect the increased emphasis in that area. It’ll be my 11th AFA, but that’s nothing for many of the folks in attendance who have come to the event for decades. One highlight: Air Force Secretary Deborah James is expected to unveil the new B-21 stealth bomber. Feel free to send me your suggestions and I’ll tweet them out.