Rare-earths concern grows; F-35 news; Who's acting now? And more...

As the Pentagon looks to remove Chinese-made parts from its weapons, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Penn., wants the Defense Department to come up with a plan to make sure it has access to critical rare earth minerals today supplied largely by China.

“When you think about everything that is made on the civilian side [and] on the defense side that requires many of these rare earths to be part of their construction, I think that it’s more of a global issue,” said Houlahan, a member of the House Armed Services Committee and a former chemistry teacher who boasts about being “somewhat infatuated with the periodic table.” 

Earlier this month, she added an amendment to the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act that would require the Pentagon “to develop guidance on the streamlined acquisition of items with rare earth materials and to prevent our adversaries, like China, from controlling the world’s supply of these key materials.” It would also add tantalum — an alloy used in semiconductors, turbine blades, and rocket nozzles — as “a covered material for purposes of disposition under the National Defense Stockpile program.” The bill must still pass the full House and Senate to become law.

Concern about rare earths is rising along with tensions between Washington and Beijing. In May, China threatened to cut U.S. access to rare earths amid countries’ trade battle. 

CBS News recently reported on the global reliance on the minerals, which are key to modern electronics used in everything from mobile phones to fighter jets.

“I think people are starting to pay more attention to it as demonstrated by the 60 Minutes piece,” Houlahan said. “It hasn’t been terribly sexy to talk about rare earths, but all of a sudden it seems as though people have it in their vernacular.”


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L3 Harris Becomes Official on Saturday

That’s the closing date following the completion of the U.S. and EU regulatory approvals of the merger of L3 Technologies and Harris. The companies are expected to announce members of a new board of directors, who will meet on Saturday to “appoint themselves, set up committees,” L3 CEO Chris Kubasik said June 6. The new board is expected to appoint Harris CEO Bill Brown as the chairman CEO and Kubasik president and COO. “It’ll be an interesting 12 hours when we go from nothing to something overnight,” Kubasik said. “Then we’ll be ready by Monday morning.” The new L3 Harris is expected to divest Harris’ Night Vision business to Elbit Systems, a condition of the regulatory approval. The company’s new stock ticker will become LHX.

F-35 Updates

Replacing Turkish parts. How is Lockheed Martin doing in finding back-up suppliers if the U.S. boots Turkey, which makes more than 900 of the plane’s parts? Like most things, it’s a bit nuanced. Greg Ulmer, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 program general manager, said during an interview at the Paris Air Show that each of the plane’s parts are made by one or more companies. 

“We do have alternate sources for some of the material already, but given the capacity if we lost that source…it’s not like the other two remaining sources for a three-source part are sufficient for capacity,” Ulmer said. “We’re off looking at all of the that capacity requirement. “

Would losing those suppliers slow production, which is currently increasing, or raise the plane’s price, which is currently falling? “It depends on when a decision would be to stop [the outsourcing] of material,” Ulmer said. “Given enough horizon, there won’t be any impact. It’s really a function of time.

Next-gen ALIS. Formally called the Autonomic Logistics Information System, it manages every F-35 around the world and the plane’s parts. So, it’s kind of a big deal. Like the F-35 itself, ALIS has had its development problems over the years.

The system was designed before modern smartphones and touchscreens were ubiquitous. Lockheed and Air Force engineers are now working to make ALIS more like the devices the airmen using it are more familiar with.

First, this means getting ALIS into the cloud, Ulmer said. Right now, it exists on laptops and computers. If there’s a software update, each machine must be individually updated. 

Then there’s the interface. ALIS has “pull-down menu upon pull-down menu,” Ulmer said. “Literally, it’s eight clicks to take a weapon and load it.” An Air Force effort known as Mad Hatter are working to make it more automated using drag-and-drop technology. That is supposed to hit the streets in the “next couple of years,” Ulmer said.

Latest F-35 contract 

Just a few weeks ago, the Pentagon and Lockheed reached a handshake agreement for the 12th U.S. batch of 157 F-35s.  It will mark the first time that the JSF parties sign production, sustainment, and development deals in the same fiscal year in which the money was appropriated, Ulmer said. “That’s pretty significant overall for the program, kind of state of the health of the program, the relationship between Lockheed and its customers as good and improving,” he said.

Speed Read

Falcon Heavy Launches Military Satellites. On Tuesday morning, Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket carried military satellites into orbit for the first time. The boosters were reused from an earlier Falcon Heavy flight; two landed successfully on Tuesday, but the center booster crashed into the Atlantic. An Air Force statement said 24 military satellites were successfully deployed during the STP-2 mission, which “provided the U.S. Air Force with insight into the SpaceX booster recovery and refurbishing process, enabling future National Security Space missions on SpaceX launch vehicles using previously flown boosters.” STP stands for Space Test Program (but for me, STP will always stand for Stone Temple Pilots — RIP, Scott Weiland).

B-52 could get new designation. New engines and other upgrades could prompt the Air Force to redesignate the B-52H as the B-52J, Air Force Magazine reports

Army OKs JLTV for full-rate production. The approval was granted June 20 by Bruce Jette, assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology. “The [Joint Light Tactical Vehicle] program remains on schedule and on budget, and ensures our troops have the protection, connection, and extreme off-road mobility they need today for current and future battlefields,” George Mansfield, vice president and general manager of joint programs for Oshkosh Defense, the JLTV maker, said in a statement.

Navy asks for frigate bids. The Navy, which issued the proposals request on June 20, hopes to pay between $800 million and $950 million per ship. At least four companies are expected to enter bids, USNI News reports: Austal USA, Fincantieri Marine General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Ingalls Shipbuilding. 

Germany solicits missile-defense bids. The MBDA and Lockheed Martin joint venture submitted its bid to Germany for TLVS, a new missile defense system intended to replace the country’s Patriot interceptors. 

Boeing moving its space HQ to Florida. The Space and Launch offices — currently at Boeing Defense, Space and Security headquarters in Arlington, Virginia — will move to Titusville, on Florida’s Space Coast near Kennedy Space Center.

Big Boeing bomb deal. The Pentagon has added $6.5 billion to the ceiling of its deal with Boeing for Joint Attack Munitions, bringing it to $10 billion. The satellite-guided smart bomb tail kits are made in St. Louis.

How to save $1.2 trillion. In a new report, Bill Hartung at the Center for International Policy prescribes five steps: Restrict the Overseas Contingency Operations budget account to war-related spending; cut private contractors by 15%; don’t create a Space Force; don’t put weapons or missile interceptors in space; and eliminate plans for a low-yield nuclear weapon and new nuclear cruise missile.

BAE gets amphib deal. Here’s the statement: “BAE Systems, along with teammate Iveco Defence Vehicles, has been awarded a $67 million contract modification by the U.S. Marine Corps to develop new variants for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) Family of Vehicles program for enhancing battlefield situational awareness and firepower.” More on that here.

GAO upholds protest for space contract. Some background: The Air Force awarded SAIC a $655 million deal in January for satellite ground station work. Peraton protest the award “was ineligible for award because it failed to meet a material requirement for small business participation.” GAO has now sustained the protest. More background from Space News here.

Making Moves

ICYMI, Fred Kennedy, head the brand new Space Development Agency, abruptly resigned over disagreements with his boss Mike Griffin, the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, Space News reports. Derek Tournear, who works for Griffin, has been named acting director, InsideDefense reports.

Also, Chris Shank, Strategic Capabilities Office director, resigned on June 14, Breaking Defense reports. David Honey, a senior Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency official, has been tapped as his replacement, InsideDefense reports.

Who’s acting? A short list:

  • Mark Esper, Army secretary who is the acting defense secretary
  • David Norquist, Pentagon comptroller who is performing the duties of the deputy defense secretary
  • Ryan McCarthy, Army undersecretary who is acting Army secretary
  • Jim McPherson, Army general council who is performing the duties of Army undersecretary
  • Matthew Donovan, Air Force undersecretary acting Air Force secretary
  • John Roth, Air Force comptroller who is performing the duties of the Air Force undersecretary

President Trump has said on June 21 that he would nominate Esper, Norquist and McCarthy for the posts of which they are current serving in an acting capacity, however, the White House has yet to send those nominations to Congress.

The White House also said Trump would nominate Dana Deasy, to be the chief information officer, his current job. The fiscal 2019 NDAA made the position now require Senate confirmation.

ManTech CEO Kevin Phillips, has been named to the Professional Services Council board of directors. 

Doug Laurendeau is now the head of strategy and business development at Lockheed Martin’s Rotary and Mission Systems business, succeeding Barry McCullough, who plans to retire in September.