What comes after Project Maven?; Lessons from a 1987 magazine; Missile-defense success; and a bit more.

A 1987 issue of Government Executive magazine kicking around the Defense One newsroom this week offered some sobering perspective on just how much changes — and stays the same. Amid the advertisements for clunky “portable” Compaq computers, this defense-heavy issue from the late days of the Reagan administration discussed acquisition reform, supplier concerns, and plenty of other topics still in the news today.

There’s talk of the “erosion of the defense industrial base” and how only seven of the 22 aircraft manufacturers from World War II still existed. There are contractors complaining about new procurement rules, the president decrying the “surge and starve” budget cycle, and the defense secretary complaining about the press. Oh, and there’s even an article about illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border. Sound familiar?

Wait, there’s more. There’s talk of the Pentagon tapping into private research-and-development talent, debate over fixed-price development (specifically for an electronic upgrade to the F-14 Tomcat and A-6 Intruder), and Pratt & Whitney and General Electric competing for military engine deals. And let’s not forget the article about making sure exported technology does not fall into the hands of the wrong great power.

There’s an advertisement for General Dynamics’ storied F-16 production line in Fort Worth, Texas, where B-24 bombers were assembled during World War II. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is made in that factory now. There’s a story about the Advanced Tactical Fighter, the precursor to what became the F-22 Raptor. Take a look at some of them here.

Basically, the game has changed less than the players (though a handful of the government officials quoted are still around). Perhaps the most notable change: a wide variety of defense firms has largely shrunk to a Big Five. Of course, Boeing, General Dynamics, Lockheed (and Martin Marietta), and Northrop (and Grumman), were around, but they didn’t exist as they do today, the result of a massive consolidation in the 1990s.

That trend is continuing today. Just a few weeks ago, we wrote about how L3 Technologies and Harris would merge, the latest if a flurry of mergers and acquisitions. Northrop’s buying of Orbital/ATK, Lockheed buying Sikorsky, United Technologies’ deal to buy Rockwell Collins (which should be closing soon), GD buying CSRA ,and SAIC’s plan to buy Engility. And that’s just the big guys.

“Deal activity in the global aerospace and defense sector has been driven by an increased focus on emerging technologies, intensified competition, and rise in government spending to modernize the defense IT infrastructure,” PWC said in an analysis of third-quarter 2018 mergers and acquisitions in the defense and aerospace sector.

So far in 2018 (and this doesn’t include L3-Harris), deals have been valued at $30.3 billion, according to PWC. That’s 49 percent lower than the first three quarters of 2017, but it’s 48 percent “above the ten-year annual deal value average of $21.3 billion and on track to be a strong follow-up to the 2017 record year.”

That means there still could be more M&A on the horizon. It’ll be interesting to see what the sector looks like 30 years from now.


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Pentagon Looks Beyond Project Maven

The officials behind Project Maven, the Pentagon’s push to automate the identification of objects in drone video, have said from day one that they are looking beyond their niche effort to how the military writ large could use artificial intelligence and machine learning to free up humans for other tasks. It’s now asking tech companies for their ideas. The Army Research Laboratory, the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (aka the Project Maven crew) and the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center are holding an “industry day” on Nov. 28 “to discuss AI software prototyping activities and future industry participation.” During the daylong event, officials will focus on five areas. training data, algorithms, integration, infrastructure and testing.

Another Successful Missile Defense Test

But still not a peep about the noticeably absent Missile Defense Review. In the latest test, the destroyer USS John Finn intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile with a Raytheon SM-3 off the coast of Hawaii, according to the Missile Defense Agency. Some more details:

  • The SM-3 interceptor was the Block IIA version being co-developed by the U.S. and Japan. According to its maker Raytheon: “The IIA variant has larger rocket motors and a bigger kinetic warhead, raising its effectiveness against evolving threats. SM-3 is the only ballistic missile interceptor that can be launched at sea and on land.”
  • It’s the second successful intercept for the Block IIA version, according to Raytheon. The successful test follows two failures. “Based on observations and initial data review, the test met its objectives,” MDA said.
  • The test “demonstrated the integrated capabilities of the Aegis Weapon System and how it has continually evolved to counter advanced threats,” according to Lockheed Martin, maker of the Aegis combat system used on Navy warships. “This test demonstrated the new engagement assessment functionality, bi-directional missile communications and sensor improvement algorithms.”

Gettin’ Jammy Wit It

The Pentagon is furthering its development of electronic jammers, which defense officials call critical to future wars. The Navy awarded twin $35.8-million deals to Northrop Grumman and L3 Technologies. The two companies will now compete for the Next Generation Jammer Low Band program. Raytheon — which won the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer Mid Band program — protested the Navy’s choice of Northrop and L3. The Government Accountability Office denied that protest. Pentagon budget documents show the Navy plans to spend more than $1.5 billion on the Next Generation Jammer program over the next five years. The jamming pods are carried on Navy EA-18G Growlers.

Speaking of L3: The company has agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit that the alleges the L3 discriminated against military reservists by not hiring them. From the New York Times: “As part of the proposed deal, the company has agreed to pay a total of $1.35 million to ... about 250 qualified reservists who have applied for jobs since 2011 but weren’t hired.” The whole story is here.

Belgium Joins F-35 Club

The Joint Strike Fighter beat out the Eurofighter Typhoon. Belgium plans to buy 34 F-35s (say that five times fast). They will replace the country’s 54 F-16s. Airbus, who builds the Eurofighter jointly with BAE and Leonardo, called the F-35 selection “a lost opportunity to strengthen European industrial cooperation in times when the EU is called upon to increase its joint defence efforts.”

Boeing to Spend $3.5B in Israel to get $10B Defense Deal

The agreement between Boeing and Israel will apparently advance a deal for F-15, refueling tankers and helicopters, Reuters reports. “The ‘reciprocal procurement’ agreement calls for Boeing to collaborate with Israeli industries for at least 35 percent of the value of any transaction it signs with the Israeli government. This could ease concerns in Israel over new requirements in a U.S. aid package that divert funds away from local industries.”

Analyst: Space Force to Give Boeing/Lockheed Sales Bump

“Boeing and Lockheed Martin are in prime position to skyrocket as a result of the formation of the Space Force,” says investment website Seeking Alpha. “This could lead to a double in all military revenue for both companies.”

Army Teams with Carnegie Mellon

The cooperative research and development agreement is “to establish an advanced technology center to support defense efforts for artificial intelligence, robotics and other emerging capabilities,” the Army states. The teaming is the latest Pentagon attempt to deepen the ties between the military, academia and industry.

Textron Systems to Buy Robotics Company

Staying on the robotics, Textron Systems plans to acquire Maine-based Howe & Howe Technologies. The firm makes Ripsaw Super Tank, which “has been chosen by U.S. government customers for its speed, mobility and off-road performance.” It has also “built the world’s first and only purpose-built robotic firefighting solution, its Thermite firefighting robot, as well as the Bulldog line of extreme firefighting and medical transport vehicles.”

Another acquisition: Applied Insight has acquired Organizational Strategies, “a leading provider of analytics, mission IT, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services to government and commercial customers.”

Making Moves

Former Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work has joined Mitre’s Visiting Fellows Program. Since leaving the Pentagon in 2017, Work has joined the boards of Raytheon and data analytics firm Govino. He joins former Defense Secretary Ash Carter in Mitre’s Visiting Fellows Program.

Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Burke Whitman, commander of Marine Forces Reserve and Marine Forces North, to serve as Pentagon Press Secretary, the Washington Examiner reports.