A good month for Boeing could get even better before week’s end. After receiving an $805 million contract to build four MQ-25 aerial refueling drones for the U.S. Navy, the company won a $2.4 billion deal for new Air Force security helicopters. Boeing doesn’t even have to bend much metal for the latter contract: the MH-139 helicopter will be built by Leonardo, the Italian aerospace and defense firm.
What’s next? As soon as this evening, the Air Force is expected to name the winner of the $15 billion contract to build the T-X pilot-training jet. Boeing and Swedish aerospace firm Saab are bidding against three other competitors and teams. [UPDATE: Boeing won the T-X contract.]
A T-X win would mark a substantial turnaround of Boeing’s defense business. When Leanne Caret took charge in 2016, Boeing had just lost its bid for the $80 billion contract to build the Air Force’s new bomber, F/A-18 and F-15 fighter jet orders were drying up, and the end of production of both planes was in sight. There were serious questions about what would happen to Boeing’s presence in St. Louis, home to those fighter jet production lines and, at the time, the firm’s defense and space headquarters. (Boeing says it will build the 350 T-X trainer jets in St. Louis if it wins the T-X contract)
Caret has has since moved the defense business to Arlington, Virginia, literally across the street from the Pentagon, and reorganized the leadership structure in 2017 and again this year. This week, Fortune ranked her No. 23 on its annual Most Powerful Women list. (FWIW, Oprah is No. 51.)
“Boeing has indicated that it is seeing robust defense demand indicators based on a positive budget environment, and pending award activity could help shape the 2020s,” Citi analyst Jon Raviv wrote of Boeing’s defense business in a note to investors on Monday.
And then there’s this tiny data point: during the radio broadcast of Wednesday’s Cardinals-Brewers baseball game, Boeing ran a help-wanted ad seeking aviation mechanics, structural engineers, and software developers for its St. Louis operations.
Still, not everything is rainbows and unicorns. Most notably, troubles building the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker have cost the company more than $3 billion. The Air Force is supposed to receive its first tanker in the coming weeks.
Why did Boeing win the helicopter deal? Cost. The Air Force hasn’t said much since it announced the winner, as the losing bidders still may contest the decision. A version of the commercial Leonardo AW-139, the Boeing-Leonardo offering beat out new Black Hawks proposed by Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky and used-but-overhauled Black Hawks proposed by Sierra Nevada. The MH-139 will replace the UH-1N Huey, which have been guarding intercontinental ballistic missile fields since 1970.
The Air Force said in its announcement that Boeing’s bid was $1.7 billion less than the service’s $4.1 billion program projection. As with the KC-46 tanker, the deal includes a fixed-price contract — meaning that if the project runs into development hiccups, it’s Boeing who will eat the costs.
Other observations: The selection of MH-139 marks the second time the Pentagon has chose a foreign-made, commercial helicopter over American-made military aircraft for stateside missions. In 2006, the Army chose the Airbus UH-72 Lakota, which like the MH-139, is not meant for combat missions.
This MH-139 win is a much bigger deal for Leonardo, which has been seeking a substantial U.S. military contract like this for more than a decade. The firm is also vying for the T-X contract, solo-bidding its T-100 jet trainer. So, if the Air Force selects Leonardo’s training jet, the Italian company could have a really, really good week too.
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From Defense One
An Italian-Designed, American-Built Helicopter Will Replace US Air Force Hueys // Marcus Weisgerber
The selection of the Boeing-Leonardo MH-139 ends a years-long quest to replace the 1970s-era UH-1Ns.
The Must-Haves of the Next Strategic Nuclear Bomber // Patrick Tucker
Air Force officials opened up — just a bit — about at the thinking that’s informing the design process.
DARPA-Funded Work May Help Troops See Around Corners // Patrick Tucker
By setting up multiple sensors, researchers have learned to “see” what’s out of sight.
One-on-One with Sean Stackley
Last week, L3 Technologies named Sean Stackley as corporate senior vice president and president of its Communications & Networked Systems business. Before joining L3 in January, Stackley spent nearly 10 years as assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition. Here are some excerpts from a conversation we had last week at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space, and Cyber conference.
Q. Are you going to be based here in DC?
A. Initially in DC, and I’m going to assess in the near-term where the right place is for a headquarters [to] have the biggest impact for the segment and for the company.
Q. Right now, where is most of the new segment’s business?
A. If you look at a heatmap, the new segment has 23 business units. Of those 23, about one third are in … the Northeast, Salt Lake City is the largest single concentration, that’s about one third, and about one-third on the West Coast. We also have businesses in Europe and the Asia-Pacific. The prior Communications segment was headquartered in Salt Lake City. We’re not immediately concluding that’s the right answer.
Q. CEO Chris Kubasik has lofty goals for growth. What are the goals for your sector?
A. I’m not going to put numbers out day one. I’ve had the opportunity, in my time on board, to get a pretty reasonable handle on what the capabilities are, what we do across this new segment, what the opportunities are, what they currently look like in terms of size … We’re going to spend this transition period where we bring in the sectors that make up the new segment and spend enough time understanding what all the synergies are before we start putting markers out there.
Q. Kubasik wants L3 to be perceived among the industry’s giants. What do you make of the company’s perception?
A. Pre-Chris … the perception of L3 was that it’s a holding company. What L3 does, it goes out and it acquires companies. It does keep them in stovepipes. In fact, there’s past history where L3 companies competed against L3 companies. That didn’t lead to much growth. When I say growth, I’m not talking about in the financial sense. I’m talking about building higher-order, more complex systems that leverage the technologies across the company to deal with some of the tough challenges that the Department of Defense has. Chris Kubasik takes a look at the holding company mentality and says, “It was good for the past [but in the future] L3 needs to integrate its capabilities. There’s a business side of that integration and there’s also a technical side of that integration. Let’s be more strategic in terms of how we make our acquisitions. [And] it’s not just the technology, it’s the people.”
Speaking of Acquisitions
L3 announced this week that it has acquired ASV Global, an unmanned surface vessel and autonomous vessel control systems company, adding to the ever-growing list of acquisitions in this underwater drone market. The new company will be known as L3 ASV.
Also, Boeing completed its acquisition of Millennium Space Systems, “a provider of agile, flight-proven small-satellite solutions.” It will operate under Boeing Phantom Works as a subsidiary as Millennium Space Systems, A Boeing Company. “It will retain an independent operating model while benefiting from Boeing’s resources, scale, manufacturing capability and technology research as the leading provider of aerospace products and services,” Boeing said in a statement.
Patriots for Poland
Raytheon received a $1.5 billion production deal for four Patriot units for Poland. “Patriot will enhance Polish, European and NATO security while creating jobs in Poland and the US,” Tom Laliberty, vice president of Integrated Air and Missile Defense at Raytheon’s Integrated Defense Systems business, said in a statement.
JEDI Deadline Extended
From my colleagues at Nextgov: the Pentagon has extended the bidding window for the much-watched JEDI cloud contract. “It’s the second time the department extended JEDI’s original Sept. 17 deadline, following other amendments that answered industry questions and a pre-award bid protest from Oracle,” Nexgov writes. For background on the JEDI contract, and someone trying to undermine it, read here.
AE Industrial Partners Acquires Gryphon Technologies
Private equity firm AE Industrial Partners has acquired defense engineering and technical services firm Gryphon Technologies. “AEI will combine Gryphon Technologies with
CDI Government Services … a fully-owned subsidiary of CDI Corp,” the company said in a statement. “Gryphon Technologies, headquartered in Washington, DC, is a premier professional and engineering services provider specializing in defense systems and integration, naval architecture and marine engineering, program management, test and evaluation, cybersecurity and logistics.”
Dana Mehnert will become president of Harris’ Communication Systems business on Sept. 30. He succeeds Chris Young, who is retiring 36 years at Harris, Exelis and ITT.
Charles “CR” Davis has been appointed as senior vice president of L3 International. “In this newly-created position, he will oversee L3’s international offices and serve as chairman of the company’s international boards in Australia, Canada and the U.K.,” the company said in a Sept. 24 statement. Davis, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who was an F-35 program manager, reports to Stephen O’Bryan, L3’s chief global business development officer.