Inside a nuclear weapons base; L3 boosts undersea portfolio; Free drinks at AFA conference and more.

Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota is a great place to take the pulse of America’s nuclear forces. Just 50 miles south of Canada, airmen stand perennial watch alongside B-52 bombers and about one-third of the country’s intercontinental ballistic missiles.

I hitched a ride to Minot this week with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who traveled here against a backdrop of North Korean nuclear tests and the Pentagon’s own preparations for an uber-pricy nuclear overhaul. Read about Mattis’ visit here, and when you come back, I have some fresh tech and businessy tidbits for you:

  • Goodbye, floppies. Yes, to launch an ICBM you still need a floppy disk. I saw them in the launch capsule at the bottom of the Juliett Missile Alert Facility. That’s not news, but these disks are being swapped out, with a newer technology: flash drives. These are not, Air Force officials say, the flash drives you might use in your phone or camera. They’re the large ones that were popular 15 or so years ago.
  • 3D printing. The nuclear force is as excited as anyone in the military about its potential, and is looking to print tools and components for ICBMs, according to Maj. Neil Copenhauer, who leads the 91st Missile Maintenance Squadron.
  • Tow trucks. Like your car, an ICBM needs routine maintenance. Moving parts require lubrication, engines need oil changes, light bulbs burn out, corrosion starts and spreads. Copenhauer said some of this maintenance can be done in the missile silo, but sometimes you simply have to yank an ICBM to the surface. So, how does one remove an 18-ton nuclear weapon? With a custom semitruck called a Transporter Erector. The 32-wheel truck’s trailer — which is made by the Air Force — stands upright and lifts the missile out of the silo. But those trucks are getting old; DRS Technologies is building at least two of 26 anticipated replacements.
  • Huey replacement bids due. The Air Force has been trying for more than a decade to replace the 1970s-era UH-1N Huey helicopters that help missileers — and visiting defense secretaries — to get around its far-flung missile fields. Now it’s trying again — and companies pitching a replacement must submit their bids by today. Still, the aircrews and maintainers here are making their ancient Hueys work. We flew from Minot north to Juliett Missile Alert Facility, a trip that included some high-performance maneuvers over a missile silo below. One of the security forces officers here said they need a larger helicopter to better fit a response team with all of their gear and weapons. He also noted that the Hueys now fly with gun mounts.


You’ve reached the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber. I’m currently in Omaha, Nebraska. Today I’ll visit U.S. Strategic Command. As always, send tips, feedback and random thoughts to or on Twitter @MarcusReports. Check out the Global Business Brief archive here, and tell your friends to subscribe!

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A New Mission for Tomahawk: Sinking Ships

In this week’s episode of  “New Missions for Old Weapons”, Raytheon will “begin integrating a new multi-mode seeker into the Tomahawk Block IV cruise missile.” The project — being led by the Pentagon’s Rapid Capabilities Office — is in response to an “urgent fleet requirements for defeating emerging maritime threats worldwide,” Raytheon said in a statement. The company is expected to deliver the missile in 2022.

L3 Boosts Underwater Portfolio

L3 Technologies has acquired Adaptive Methods, a systems engineering firm that “delivers Undersea Warfare (USW) and Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) capabilities for U.S. military.” It’s the latest such acquisition for the New York-based firm, which purchased underwater drone maker OceanServer earlier this year. In recent months, companies have been positioning themselves to compete for anticipated military deals in underwater drone market.

Thales Finalizes Purchase of Big Data Firm

Thales completed its acquisition of Guavus, a real-time big data analytics company. We told you about this deal back in May. Guavus will be part of Thales’ Defense & Security division.

Who’s at Next Week’s AFA Conference

It’ll be Heather Wilson’s first appearance as Air Force secretary at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber conference in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. The event typically sees some type of major announcement. Tons of Air Force four-stars will be there, along with lots of joint speakers: SecDef Mattis; Gen. Lori Robinson of NORTHCOM; Gen. Darren McDew, TRANSCOM, Gen. John Hyten, STRATCOM; Lt. Gen. Charles Brown, CENTCOM; and F-35 program manager Vice Adm. Mathias Winter.

Tuesday Night at AFA: Have a Drink On Me

No joke! I’ll be hosting a Defense One Cocktails & Conversation event on the sidelines of the Air, Space and Cyber conference. We’re assembling an awesome panel of Air National Guard leaders to talk about the Air Force’s role in homeland defense. Here’s who will join me for the discussion:

  • Col. Tom “Sling” Bladen, commander of the 104th Operations Group, Massachusetts Air National Guard
  • Brig. Gen. Thomas Wark, operations director for the National Guard Bureau
  • Brig. Gen. George Degnon, acting Adjutant General for the District of Columbia National Guard
  • Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Dubie, former deputy commander of U.S. Northern Command and vice commander of NORAD

Here’s a primer of some of the challenges being faced by the Air National Guard, which largely fly old fighter jets to protect the nation’s skies. I got a first-hand look at the high operational tempo at these small National Guard bases last year, including a ride in the back of an F-15 Eagle. The event runs from 4:45 to 7 p.m. on Tues., Sept. 19, and it’s free. Register here.

What They're Reading

Mattis, on his plane: On the flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Minot, SecDef was spotted with the Defense Intelligence Agency’s latest edition of “Russia Military Power.”

Missileers, in their bunkers eight stories underground: Warriors and Citizens: American Views of Our Military by Jim Mattis and Kori Schake. The book was spotted on a shelf behind the console where two officers would turn the switches to launch ICBMs.