Missile defense update; Getting the Navy new tech; Bezos to keynote AFA and a lot more.
After a year In which North Korea occasionally threatened to fire nuclear-tipped missiles at the U.S., the annual Missile Defense Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, is a good place to get a sense of how the Pentagon views the threat and how companies are positioning themselves to offer solutions.
First, one question that remains unanswered: What’s the holdup with the Pentagon’s much-anticipated Missile Defense Review? Still no answers there.
But here are a few things we learned: First up, Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, head of the Missile Defense Agency, has dropped “ballistic” from the organization’s mission statement. That change echoes the word’s disappearance from the title of the 2018 Missile Defense Review.
Next, Pentagon officials are eying new ways to use the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for missile defense. The idea is to use the plane as a way to help shoot down a missile as its launching, in the so-called boost phase. The Pentagon originally wanted to do this with a giant laser on the nose of a 747 jumbo jet.
Third, the Missile Defense Agency is big on layers of space-based sensors to detect missile launches. Something else it’s thinking about: defending against hypersonic vehicles. Recall that Raytheon CEO Tom Kennedy talked about counter-hypersonics.
Fourth, MDA has what looks to be 15 upcoming flight tests between now and 2020.
Lastly, construction of the next Aegis Ashore site in Poland is behind schedule.
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Getting New Tech in Navy Weapons
James “Hondo” Geurts, the head of Navy acquisition has stood up a task force to ensure emerging technology makes it into the service’s new weapons. “[W]e will need to take advantage of rapidly emerging technologies that will change the very character of war where victory could be determined by those who can most quickly adopt these technologies for warfighting impact,” Geurts wrote in a July 27 memo reviewed by Defense One. “It is imperative that we create the systemic levels of collaboration, agility and transformation that are needed to maintain our technological and tactical edge.”
The “Navy Agility Campaign Task Force” will “elevate and scale the policies, tools, practices and training that will enable [the Navy and Marine Corps] workforce to accelerate emerging technology discovery, development and delivery,” Geurts wrote.
Boeing, Honeywell CEOs Dine With Trump
Dennis Muilenburg (Boeing) and Darius Adamczyk (Honeywell) were among the 13 business leaders to dine with President Trump at his Bedminster, N.J., club. “I think Boeing has to like me a lot," Trump said before the meal, according to a pool report. Clearly, both firms’ commercial businesses trump (pun intended) their defense business. Still, each is pursuing new Pentagon deals: Boeing is competing to sell helicopters to the Air Force for missile-field security and Honeywell new engines for the Army’s vast fleets of Black Hawk and Apache helicopters.
Firms Up Investments in New Manufacturing Tools
Defense companies keep investing in new types of manufacturing. This week Boeing invested in Digital Alloys, a Massachusetts-based “developing high-speed, multi-metal additive manufacturing systems that produce 3D-printed parts for aerospace and other production applications.” Meanwhile, Raytheon opened a $72 million, 30,000-square-foot facility — also in Massachusetts — that houses “automation technology to support complex radar testing and integration.”
Why it matters: We’re seeing a trend of firms investing in 3D printing and autonomy as they retool manufacturing plants for the future. In April, Boeing HorizonX (the firm’s venture arm) invested in Morf3D, a company whose “technology enables lighter and stronger 3D-printed parts for aerospace applications.” Lockheed Martin’s Gateway Center, a new satellite factory south of Denver, will use 3D printing, and let’s not forget the 3D-printed cap for a satellite fuel tank that we told you about a few weeks ago. Aerojet Rocketdyne is using the technology to make rocket engines and the list goes on.
Retired General on Space Force
Vice President Mike Pence today is expected to announced new changes in the way the military organizes its space forces. Last week, we detailed those changes, which includes a new combatant command for space and a new satellite-buying agency. Here’s an interesting take from Charlie Dunlap, a retired Air Force major general and deputy judge advocate general who is now executive director of the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University School of Law. Dunlap writes at Duke University’s Lawfire site about Space Force (or Space Corps). Dunlap has never been shy about sharing his opinions whether they were in line with or differed from the official Air Force position (I’m recalling an interview a decade ago on the subject of buying a fleet of small propeller-driven attack planes). Here’s the crux of his argument against a Space Force:
“[T]he way to address emerging security challenges in space is not to try to carve out another military fiefdom, but to seek holistic, cross-domain, and cross-service solutions. Further balkanization of the armed forces will only delay getting to where the Nation needs to be with respect to the security challenges of space.”
Want more Space Force? Analysts have been duking it out this week at Defense One:
- CNAS’ Adam Routh: The US Military Should Be Doubling Down on Space
- CNAS’ Paul Scharre: The US Military Should Not Be Doubling Down on Space
- Pacific Forum’s Stefan Soesanto: Do We Need a Space Force? That Depends on Our Answers to These Legal and Strategic Questions
Bezos to Keynote Air Force Association Conference
The Amazon founder-turned- rocket maker wants the Air Force to buy rockets from Blue Origin. And he also wants the Pentagon to buy his cloud. So he’s coming to speak at the Gaylord National Harbor in September at this year’s Air Force Association Air, Space and Cyber conference. It’s an old-school move, especially for the richest man in the world. In addition, the conference agenda list a 45-minute session called “SpaceX Remarks.” Will Elon Musk show up too? Don’t hold your breath; it’s merely a breakout session. But I’m sure AFA wouldn’t mind adding an extra keynote. Kudos to AFA for locking in Bezos and getting a speaker most attendees will want see. How with the Association of the U.S. Army and Navy League respond? Stay tuned.
Light Attack Plane Closer to Reality
If the Air Force decides to buy a propeller-driven light-attack plane, it will buy the Beechcraft AT-6 or Embraer A-29. Despite the death of a Navy pilot flying an A-29 during military trials of the two planes, the Air Force issued a draft solicitation late last week to the firms that make the planes. The Air Force plans to formally solicit bids from the two companies at the end of the year.
General Dynamics Gets Huge Army Contract
The U.S. Army has awarded General Dynamics Mission Systems $3.9 billion deal for equipment that will “improve interoperability and connectivity on the battlefield while garnering efficient competition to enable the latest commercial technology solutions to be integrated onto the Army's tactical network.” Basically, soldiers should get better connectivity on the battlefield.