Wait, how many generals for Space Force?; Radar battle heats up; Boeing’s combat drones

By Marcus Weisgerber

February 28, 2019

JUST IN: The Pentagon has sent its legislative proposal to create a U.S. Space Force within the Air Force to lawmakers on Capitol Hill, three defense officials tell Defense One. The proposal, which has evolved greatly since defense officials began working on it last summer, calls on lawmakers to approve a sixth branch of the military ordered up by President Trump.

It’s still unclear whether lawmakers will support the plan, or whether it will become a bargaining chip at some point down the road. Defense officials have been briefing congressional staffers in what is being termed a “soft rollout” over the past two days.

We’ve also learned that Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson stood up a U.S. Space Force Planning Task Force on Feb. 22, the day after Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan put her in charge of detailed planning for the new service branch. In a Feb. 22 memo, Wilson announced that "The team is supposed to deliver an “initial work plan that lays out key phases of transition from pre-establishment through full operational capability, key decisions to achieve each transition phase, and associated actions, timelines and milestones.” 

Here’s one deadline: The team is supposed to figure out what must be done to establish the “initial Space Force Staff” by Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal 2020.

Maj. Gen. Clinton Crosier, deputy, deputy chief of staff for strategy, integration and requirements, on the Air Staff at the Pentagon, is director of the planning team. He reports to John Stopher, Wilson’s principal assistant for space.

Here’s what we’ll be tracking in coming weeks and months:

Bonus: Consulting firm Avascent has a list of five big space-related things to watch in 2019. Hint: Space Force is only No. 5.


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Important Budget Info

A White House officials has basically confirmed that the Pentagon plans to inflate its war fund to circumvent federal spending caps, which is sure to set off a contentious fight in Congress. Russ Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, writes in Real Clear Politics: “Additional needed defense resources will be designated as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds, which are not subject to the spending caps.” Vought said that’s necessary “as long as Congressional Democrats insist on demanding more social spending in exchange for continuing to fund defense spending.” Lara Seligman at Foreign Policy first reported the White House would use the OCO budget to get around the spending caps.

Who Will Build the B-52’s Next Radar?

Northrop Grumman this week said Boeing was evaluating a its SABR radar for the B-52 bomber. (The Air National Guard is installing SABR on its F-16 fighters.) Raytheon is also pitching a radar for the job. But there’s more: at the bottom of its press release, Northrop says “a version of SABR has been developed for the B-1B fleet” and adds that the radar could be retrofitted to the F/A-18 Hornet. That’s intended for the ears of the Marine Corps; in January, Raytheon said the Corps had decided to install a Raytheon radars in its “classic Hornets.” Northrop apparently holds out hope that that Marines might reconsider.

Boeing Unveils Combat Drone

Boeing is developing a drone to fly alongside manned warplanes, company officials announced at Avalon, the Australian air show. From Reuters: “It is Australia’s first domestically developed combat aircraft in decades and Boeing’s biggest investment in unmanned systems outside the United States, although the company declined to specify the dollar amount.” Called the Airpower Teaming System, the drone “has enough capability to get the job done — from ISR to electronic warfare and more – but with a low-cost design that allows operators to confidently put it on the front line.”

F-35? What F-35? Last week, Lockheed began pitching the “F-21” to the Indian Air Force, touting the beefy proposed F-16 variant as “India’s pathway to F-35.” But since then, references to the F-35 have been removed from the pitch on Lockheed’s website, which now says more vaguely that the proposed aircraft “strengthens India’s path to an advanced airpower future.”

Spotted: F-117 Aloft

The folks at Combat Aircraft magazine scored some super-clear pictures that purport to show an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter flying on the Nevada Test and Training Range near Nellis Air Force Base and the mysterious Area 51 testing base at Groom Lake. Out of official service for more than a decade, F-117s have from time to time been seen in Nevada skies. Congress forced the Air Force to maintain the planes at Tonopah Air Force Base, where they were initially based in the 1980s when their existence was classified. In 2017, Congress gave the Air Force the OK to start fully retiring the F-117, Military.com reported.

New Search & Rescue Helicopter to Fly Soon

That’s the word from Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky. Two Air Force HH-60W helicopters have been sent for flight-testing at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach facility  — really in Jupiter, nowhere near West Palm Beach. “Both aircraft, which are being built for the U.S. Air Force, were transported late last year to West Palm Beach following final assembly at Sikorsky's facility in Stratford, Connecticut,” the company said.

Break, break. I’ve been writing about the Air Force’s attempts to replace its HH-60G Pave Hawk CSAR helicopter since I arrived in Washington, some 13 years ago. And that was long after the Air Force started to look for a replacement. o For one reason or another (upheld company protests, requirements debats, acquisition strategy debates), it’s taken more than 20 years to get to the point where a helicopter that’s a variant of an aircraft that’s been in production since the 1970s will make its first flight.

Making Moves

Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and former South Carolina governor, has been nominated for a seat on Boeing’s board of directors. She is expected to be elected to the board at an April 29 annual shareholder meeting. Boeing builds 787 Dreamliners in Charleston.

By Marcus Weisgerber // Marcus Weisgerber is the global business editor for Defense One, where he writes about the intersection of business and national security. He has been covering defense and national security issues for more than a decade, previously as Pentagon correspondent for Defense News and chief editor of Inside the Air Force. He has reported from Afghanistan, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, and often travels with the defense secretary and other senior military officials.

February 28, 2019