Victory for Palantir; F/A-18’s next chapter; New Air Force One flies; and just a bit more...
It’s been a week of #avgeekery. As I sat down to write this week’s GBB, a plane I’ve covered quite a bit in recent months was spotted moving down a runway in Victorville, California.
An all-white Boeing 747-8 with tail number N894BA took off Wednesday from the Southern California Logistics Airport, a Mojave Desert airfield where a bunch of passenger jetliners await new owners — or slow deaths by cannibalization for parts. Despite its lack of livery and rather generic call sign of “Boeing 076-Heavy,” this plane is special: over the next few years, it will be transformed into the next Air Force One.
Arriving at Lackland Air Force Base outside San Antonio, Texas, the future presidential transport did a fly-by before circling around and landing. Then it taxied to a mammoth complex on the east side of the runway where Boeing does heavy maintenance on 747s, C-17s, KC-135s, and soon, Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets. I went there once, and saw a whole bunch of planes, stripped down to the airframes.
Hat-tip to Tyler Rogoway over at The War Zone, who last weekend posted pictures of the jets. A door on one plane was open and the engine covers had been removed, a sign that the aircraft was being prepped for its journey to San Antonio.
So what’s next for the next Air Force Ones? The second jet, tail number N895BA, awaits its own flight to San Antonio. There, the planes will be transformed for presidential use, likely starting with being stripped down to the bone.
Don’t expect to hear much about the progress until the plane is delivered to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland sometime around 2024. A quick story: Boeing used to work on the current Air Force Ones in Wichita, Kansas. About a decade ago, I visited the facility to check out an E-4B Doomsday plane, which one might have assumed to be the most sensitive aircraft on the flight line. But parked on the backside of a massive hangar, concealed from public view, was a bright and shiny VC-25 — aka Air Force One. As our shuttle bus passed by, I asked my Boeing escort what it was doing there. The spokesman declined to acknowledge the existence of the aircraft sitting in front of us.
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From Defense One
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What’s Next for the Super Hornet
The F/A-18 Super Hornet took a step toward the future last week when the U.S. Navy awarded Boeing a $4 billion deal for 78 new fighters jets. The planes will be in the new Block III configuration, which can fly further and has a whole bunch of new bells and whistles, such as a giant display in the cockpit. On top of that, the Navy is planning to upgrade its existing Super Hornets to this new configuration in the coming decade, which means Boeing will be building and modifying F/A-18s into the 2030s.
On Wednesday, I caught up with Dan Gillian, Boeing’s vice president of F/A-18 and EA-18G programs. He called last week’s multi-year deal “a great opportunity to buy the right number of airplanes in an efficient way.” The new Super Hornets will be built in St. Louis, while the older jets will get their upgrades — which include new conformal fuel tanks and cockpit displays — in either St. Louis or San Antonio.
The first of two Block III test jets will be delivered to the Navy later this year. The first of the jets purchased last week are expected to arrive in early 2021.
On the international front, Kuwait’s first Super Hornet is expected to make its first flight “very soon.” Boeing is hoping to sell Super Hornets and to Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Canada and India. The U.S. government gave Finland the OK to buy EA-18G Growlers, the electronic jamming version of the Super Hornet.
“The Navy’s funding of Block III in fiscal year ‘18 and now the continued buy of airplanes, culminating with multi-year-4 brings great confidence to the international world,” Gillian said.
More about fighter jets: The State Department cleared Morocco to buy 25 new and upgrade its 23 existing F-16s. Together, the deals are worth nearly $4.8 billion. “This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a major Non-NATO ally that continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in North Africa,” the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, said in a March 25 statement. “The proposed sale will contribute to Morocco's self-defense capabilities. “
Palantir Wins Round 1 of Battle With Raytheon
The U.S. Army has chosen Palantir over Raytheon to provide its battlefield intelligence systems, part of the Distributed Common Ground System program. Raytheon spokesman Chris Johnson said the firm plans to compete for future DCGS-A orders. “While we are disappointed in the Army's decision on this initial delivery order, it represents a relatively small number of systems,” he said in an email.
The Latest on the Space Force
Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was asked during a March 26 House Armed Services Committee Hearing to rank, in order of priority, the Pentagon space reorganization priorities. The stand up of U.S. Space Command, which is expected in the coming months, is first, followed by the Space Development Agency, a new satellite development organization. Creation of a Space Force is third. It’s worth pointing out that Shanahan and the Pentagon actually control the first two of those, while Congress must approve the Space Force.
Senator Angus King, I-Maine, is not a fan of the Space Force. During a March 27 Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing, King said: “I want someone to explain to me why we need a Space Force – particularly when it’s not going to include [National Reconnaissance Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Office of Special Counsel], the private launch companies, Missile Defense [Agency]. I mean, it strikes me as a solution in search of a problem… and I understand the change in the dynamic and offensive and defense capabilities. I just don’t understand creating a new box, with a new name, within the Air Force, increases our ability to deal with these issues.
Sikorsky-Boeing SB>1 Helicopter Flies
The helicopter, being developed for the U.S. Army’s Future Vertical Lift program, on March 21 at Sikorsky’s facility near West Palm Beach, Florida. Nicknamed Defiant, the coaxial helicopter is supposed to fly nearly twice as fast as conventional helicopters. “This design provides for exceptional performance in the objective area, where potential enemy activity places a premium on maneuverability, survivability and flexibility,” Dan Spoor, vice president of Sikorsky Future Vertical Lift, said in a statement. Here’s a video of the flight. The SB>1 [sic] is competing against the Bell V-280 tiltrotor.
- Here’s a new GAO report about the challenges that lay ahead for military space acquisition at a time when the Pentagon is trying to outpace the threat.
U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. David Berger has been nominated to get his fourth star and become commandant of the Marine Corps. He is currently serving as the deputy commandant for combat development and integration; and commanding general, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Quantico, Virginia.
U.S. Army Gen. James McConville, the service’s vice chief, has been nominated to become chief of staff, replacing Gen. Mark Milley who President Trump has tapped as the next Joint Chiefs chairman.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Jay Raymond has been nominated to lead the soon-to-be-established U.S. Space Command. He is currently the head of Air Force Space Command.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian, has been nominated as the next commander of U.S. Air Forces Europe and U.S. Air Forces Africa. He’s currently the deputy commander of those two posts.
Andy Marshall, the futurist who led the Pentagon’s secretive Office of Net Assessment died this week. Here’s an obituary written by the New York Times’ Jullian Barns.