Unlike their counterparts in the Senate, which usually reviews the annual National Defense Authorization Act behind closed doors, the House Armed Services Committee conducts its review in the open. That means everyone gets to see where lawmakers stand on issues from weapon buys to defense policy. And despite whatever disagreements lawmakers might have on sensitive issues — like low-yield nuclear weapons — the bill typically passes through the committee with overwhelming bipartisan support. This year was no different as the measure passed 60-1, with Hawaii Democrat Rep. Tulsi Gabbard giving the lone nay.
Defense One correspondent Caroline Houck was in the hearing room until the markup wrapped early Thursday. She writes:
- Since the topline numbers were already set by Congress earlier this year ($716 billion for defense), lawmakers added fewer weapons than usual.
- The big additions to the Pentagon’s request were for ships. Lawmakers accelerated construction of a fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier (Huntington Ingalls, HII), funding for long-lead time materials for two additional Virginia-class subs (General Dynamics & HII) to be built in 2022 and 2023, two Littoral Combat Ships (for a total of three from Lockheed Martin and Austal). Also, there’s $623 million for a new JSTARS radar plane that the Air Force says it doesn’t want. There’s also an extra $300-plus million for Stryker vehicles (GD).
- The committee also funded all 77 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters (LMT) in the Pentagon’s spending request. But there is an amendment that allows the Defense Department to buy an unspecified number of additional F-35s if it can find savings.
- Then also money for upgrades/maintenance/spare parts. Specifically: "$18.5 billion to begin to rehabilitate and replace worn out Army equipment; $39.4 billion to begin to overcome the crisis in military aviation by getting more aircraft in the air.”
As we hit send, we still haven’t seen a committee summary of all the details. I’ll make sure you get it here next week. Here is the chairman's mark from Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.
One interesting item in Thornberry’s mark: A provision on page 700 that calls for better coordination of foreign arms sales: “The committee remains concerned, however, that the execution of foreign military sales (FMS) is not coordinated holistically across the Department to prioritize resources and effort in support of U.S. national security objectives and the defense industrial base. Consequently, acquisition decisions continue to be made in a stovepiped manner and without sufficient regard for the role of FMS.”
The committee wants briefings “on the procedures instituted by the Department to integrate FMS and other security cooperation activities into the planning process for defense acquisition” and “on options to improve, consolidate, and streamline missile defense foreign military sales across the Department.” (ICYMI: here are some thoughts by Defense One contributors on the subject: “Trump’s New Arms-Sales Policy Is Good but Sounds Awful,” “Arms Sales Decisions Shouldn’t Be About Jobs,” “What ‘Buy America’ Looks Like at an Overseas Air Show.”)
You’ve reached the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber. Shout out to aforementioned Caroline Houck who spent the night at the House Armed Services Committee annual mark-up of the fiscal 2019 NDAA on Wednesday/Thursday morning! This is my 13th NDAA and I’ve never stayed to the end. Thanks to the livestream, many reporters don’t go anymore, but the coverage from the ones who show up stands above the rest because they can chat with lawmakers on the sidelines and provide great color of the debates that last long into the night. Kudos to the few (looking at you Connor O’Brien, Joe Gould, Travis Tritten, Roxana Tiron, Paul McLeary, and the rest) who camp out all day, and night. As always, send your tips here and 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: Recent String of Crashes Isn't a Crisis // Marcus Weisgerber
But it will stand down every flying wing for one day to look for trends in the mishaps that claimed the lives of 18 airmen.
US Coast Guard Is Putting Cubesats Over the Arctic // Caroline Houck
As the icecap melts and activity rises in the high latitudes, the commandant says his force needs better situational awareness.
Fixing The Iranian Missile Problem // Behnam Ben Taleblu
It won't be easy, but Europe and Washington should pressure Iran into suspending missile flight-testing.
3D Maps That Can Detect Changes
The U.S. military is using 3D-mapping technology that its creators say could help spot buried roadside bombs, track moving vehicles, and identify structural changes to buildings.
Called Hivemapper, the product creates 3D maps from videos captured by drones, aircraft, and ground vehicles. Already in use by the commercial real estate and oil sectors, it’s the latest addition to the Pentagon’s algorithmic toolkit, which is increasingly using machine learning tech to augment human analysts.
“By taking all this video and actually creating a true global map, you can start to do some really interesting things from a change-detection perspective,” said Ariel Seidman, CEO and founder of the three-year-old Silicon Valley start-up, which has financial backing from Google and Spark Capital, the venture capitalists behind Twitter, Wayfair, Slack and others.
The Hivemapper app can ingest video imported from expensive, high-end sensors and commercial cameras, Seidman said. The change detection feature can determine if terrain has shifted as little as 50 centimeters. The technology could help the military pinpoint locations for for planning or targeting.
“Rather than these analysts just staring at the video for hours upon hours, now the change detection capability automatically alerts them to, here’s all the changes relative to the last time you were here and then if they want to, they can go poke in and look at that change that has actually occurred,” he said.
Seidman declined to name specific government users, but said there are “defense [and] military customers.”
The U.S. military has been increasingly seeking commercial technologies to help intelligence analysts scour countless hours of drone video. Last year, it deployed algorithms — part of an initiative called Project Maven — to help analysts identify objects in these types of videos.
Commercially, Hivemapper is being used by companies like Zipline, a firm that uses drones to deliver medical supplies in Africa. Zipline is is using the technology to build high-definition maps of its delivery sites so the drones can fly autonomously. The drones will record video on their flights to continuously update the 3D maps, Seidman said.
Commercial real estate firms use Hivemapper to look at development in cities; oil and gas companies are using it in dashboard cameras in trucks, in addition to drones, at oil fields.
The system can run on independent servers if deployed in a remote region or though the government cloud, Seidman said.
Seidman created Hivemapper late 2015. After refining the technology the following year, they’ve been focusing on growth. It recently opened a Washington, D.C., office, a sign it’s targeting government deals.
“The core product is there and customers are … adopting it,” Seidman said. “Now it’s just ‘how do we continue to add more and more customers and more partners.’”
Boeing CEO on Iran Deal, Tanker, Trade
Dennis Muilenburg’s appearance at an Economic Club of Washington luncheon Wednesday could not have been more perfectly timed: it took place the day after President Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. Politics aside, that decision is a big deal for Boeing (BA), which can no longer sell more than $17 billion in 737s and 777s to Tehran. But Muilenburg downplayed the decision. “None of those airplanes were in our backlog,” he said. “We continue to stay completely inside the U.S. government process here. We’re going to continue to do that going forward.” Europe-based Airbus (AIR.DE) too will lose about $20 billion in planned jetliner sales to Iran. “It’s very important to us that from a U.S. government standpoint that the outcome in Iran remains is level playing field [for Boeing and Airbus],” Muilenburg said.
On the new Air Force One: “We’re proud of the fact that we build and support Air Force One. It’s a really important mission.” The new 747-8 planes — which the Air Force bought from Boeing last year — will be modified into flying White Houses “over the next few years.”
On the delayed Air Force KC-46 tanker: “We are on the cusp now of delivery,” Muilenburg said, noting 34 airplanes are in production or in testing. That test program is “95 to 97 percent” complete. Muilenburg said he flew on a test aircraft a few weeks ago. “This airplane is ready to go.”
On trade policy at a time when there is fear of trade wars: Muilenburg said about 90 percent of Boeing’s manufacturing is in the U.S. It sells about 70 percent of products overseas. “We need trade agreements that allow us to compete globally, sell globally and that’s part of what creates U.S. manufacturing job,” he said.
Earnings Season Dust Settles
So how does The Street feel about feel about defense stocks on the heels of earnings season? Goldman Sachs upgraded Northrop Grumman (NOC) from “buy” to “conviction buy,” a label the investment bank hangs on its must-buy stocks. Citi upgraded Huntington Ingalls to buy, while Raytheon remains its top defense-stock pick.
New Marine One Could Tear Up White House Lawn
That VH-92 is so darn powerful that it needs special modifications so it doesn’t destroy the lawn when it lands at the White House. That little fact was revealed in the rather positive Government Accountability Office report we told you about right here. “[T]he program is not meeting a key system capability requirement to land the aircraft without adversely affecting the landing zone (including the White House Lawn),” the report states. (Side note, I enjoy GAO’s capitalization of “Lawn”). But have no fear, helicopter maker Sikorsky says all will be fine when the VH-92 shows up at the White House. “The items cited by the Government Accountability Office have been resolved or are being addressed by Sikorsky and will not impact on-time delivery of fully capable VH-92A helicopters to our customer,” a company spokeswoman emails. “Sikorsky design will meet all program requirements and we have been executing to an accelerated schedule.” That entire GAO report, which calls the program stable and reducing its costs, is here.
Lockheed Martin has named retired Vice Adm. Barry McCullough the vice president of strategy and business development for its Rotary and Mission Systems business area. “McCullough will be responsible for developing and executing the business strategy for the multi-billion Rotary and Mission Systems portfolio across four lines of business,” the firm said in a statement. “McCullough will also lead the way to support international growth, providing our products and capabilities to customers around the world.” In the Navy, McCullough was a commander of U.S. Fleet Cyber Command/U.S. 10th Fleet and deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and director of surface warfare.