Defense budget caps on ice; On the road with DepSecDef Shanahan; Ellen Lord’s thoughts on autonomy and R&D; and more.

It looks like the Budget Control Act will be neutralized for two fiscal years, though it may return to bedevil defense hawks in 2020 and 2021. So indulge me for one last musing about a pending government shutdown (which technically still looms at midnight, though Congress intends to pass a temporary funding measure today). We can reconvene on the subject next year when the debt-ceiling limit comes back into sight.

In the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force C-40 Clipper — a military version of the Boeing 737 jetliner — the #avgeek in me wanted to talk about the flight controls, avionics, and the nifty mapping app on the iPad. But somewhere high over Arizona, the pilots turned the conversation to the odds of a government shutdown.

The discussion centered around how shutdowns affect day-to-day military operations, furloughs for civilians while troops keep working and not knowing if they’ll get paid for it, and contract pauses that create expensive delays.

It’s not the first time that worries about shutdown, budget caps, or sequestration have cropped up in unexpected places. There was the time I was in Kabul, Afghanistan, with then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2012. Again with Panetta in 2013, this time in Vicenza, Italy.  We in Washington hear about the impact of budget instability from the political suits and military brass frequently, but those concerns seem to carry more meaning when they come from a grunt or someone well down in the food chain.

Important Budget Dates

  • Feb. 12: The Trump administration is expected to send its 2019 budget plan to Congress. (We already know the Pentagon will seek $716 billion.)
  • March 23: The projected end of the next continuing resolution, which gives lawmakers a month-plus to hammer out the details of the agreed-to budget deal.
  • March 2019: The expected time Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling, always a political challenge.
  • Oct. 1, 2019: Day one of fiscal 2020, the next time Budget Control Act caps would return.


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From Defense One

Two-Year Budget Deal Would Raise Caps, Give Pentagon $700B in 2018 // Caroline Houck and Marcus Weisgerber

The deal comes with a new continuing resolution to give House and Senate lawmakers time to work out details.

Pentagon Warns CEOs: Protect Your Data or Lose Our Contracts // Marcus Weisgerber

Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan says cybersecurity should be a top priority for its contractors.

US Air Force Looks For New Ways to Buy, Protect Satellites // Marcus Weisgerber

Ideas include smaller constellations — perhaps even spacecraft built to commercial standards.

Two Days with Patrick Shanahan

I spent a rather whirlwind 39 hours traveling with the deputy defense secretary to Colorado Springs and San Diego this week. For Shanahan, whose previous two Pentagon trips were mostly to stand in for his boss James Mattis (at the Reagan National Defense Forum and a U.N. peacekeeping ministerial in Vancouver), this week allowed him to focus on some of his pet issues. Here are some takeaways.

  • Implementing the National Defense Strategy is a top priority. “This next six months is about putting hard goals in place for the implementation of the strategy and then the accountability that goes with it. Another trap that you can fall into is providing the answers for solving the problem. That’s not leadership’s role. Leadership’s role … is to get others to step up and to lead.”
  • Space is a major focus area for Shanahan. “[W]e’re going to continue to strengthen and sharpen our capabilities in space. It’s not about China or about Russia, it’s about what are those capabilities that we have. The environment is changing, like any other environment, so are we adapting, not only what capability we are putting into space, but how quickly we’re doing that.”
  • On space tech: “There is so much innovation going on with space, why would we want to be left out of it? The launch [of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy this week] is an example. We look at what people are doing with small satellites. You look at the capabilities that are being put on orbit and the amount of connectivity. We as a department need to be really good at space. If we’re really good at space, defensively we’re stronger.… [H]ow do we do something more whole of government and postures us for all of this technology that’s starting to spiral into space.”
  • Shanahan spoke at the West 2018 conference, a trade show sponsored by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute (full video of his speech). On the flight back to Washington, he spoke about the value of attending these type of events. “The part of going to talk to folks in industry is to get them excited about working with the government. They work really, really hard at those shows to be able to share the products and services that they have and then to create relationships. Those shows really bring a lot of the government and military folks out. That’s how they start to nurture those relationships.”
  • At Naval Base San Diego, Shanahan got a tour of something called the Mobile Innovation Center, a trailer filled with 3D printers where sailors learn to print parts and tools they need aboard ship. “You’re starting a revolution. This is the future,” Shanahan said. The tech could help speed maintenance and improve readiness. Navy officials said that sailors are coming up with ideas for using the technology much faster than anticipated. Among the challenges for the tech is being able to “crack the code” for certifying 3D parts, Shanahan said.

Ellen Lord On Autonomy

The new undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment talked to a few reporters last week, on Feb. 1, the day the former office of the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics split in two. Since there’s been a lot written about that, I asked her about artificial intelligence and autonomy, two words we’re hearing a lot these days.

  • “AI is very important to us. We have Project Maven…delivering incredible capability to the warfighter. We have pockets of artificial intelligence in places like [the Joint Improvised-Threat Organization] very successfully. We have some sustainment that’s leveraging AI.
  • “That will be a focus area of the new [undersecretary for research and engineering]. One of the things Dr. [Michael] Griffin is doing is coming up with more of an AI strategy for all of the department. I think we are leveraging things like our Defense Innovation Board.
  • “We’re really seeing what the art of the possible and then coming back and applying it to what we do. Right now, a lot of that is frankly black programs, so you don’t hear about it. I think you’re going to see AI applied across the sustainment domain as well as a lot of our new systems coming along. It’s part of what we’re talking about in terms of software and developing software differently.”
  • “We want to take all the datasets we have and leverage those to have machine learning, so that we get smarter and smarter systems.”
  • Asked if she sees AI being like cyber, going to an assistant secretary-like level, Lord said: “I have heard no discussion of that right now,” Lord said. “I think AI is a tool in a tool kit.”

Arms for Finland

The State Department approved two big arms sales to Finland: one for $640 million worth of Harpoon ship-launched missiles and the other for $112.7 million in Sea Sparrow missiles.

Making Moves

Rachel Stohl has been appointed managing director of the Stimson Center. She will oversee the strategic direction of the think tank’s “growing “Promoting Security and Prosperity” portfolio of programming around the world, including the Trade, Technology, and Security program; and WMD, Nonproliferation, and Security program.” She will continue to direct the Stimson Center's Conventional Defense program.  

Raytheon named Kelsey DeBriyn vice president of investor relations. DeBriyn joined Raytheon in October as a senior director of investor relations. Before that she was at an equity research analyst covering aerospace and defense and other industrial sectors at BlackRock. She replaces Todd Ernst, who was named vice president of corporate development in October.