Stockpiling missiles; Interceptor project axed; F-35’s new EW gear; and more...

“A couple of years.” That’s how long Defense Secretary Mark Esper says it will be until the U.S. military has a hypersonic weapon.

The new SecDef’s comments to Fox News interview come as the Pentagon is building its stocks of existing weapons. 

This week, Cowen’s Roman Schweizer put a dollar value on some of that stockpiling. “DoD added $20B Y/Y for high-end weapons: $12.7B for Lockheed, $6.2B for Raytheon and $1.2B for Boeing,” he wrote in an Aug. 21 note to investors. The Pentagon’s annual missile spending has increased from about $11 billion annually to about $13.5 billion per year through the mid-2020s, he wrote.

That dollar figure is just for existing weapons, including the JASSM and LRASM cruise missiles, the PAC-3 and SM-6 interceptors; Sidewinder air-to-air missile, and JDAM satellite-guided bomb.

“The Pentagon has boosted spending to significantly increase the quantity of purchases of high-end weapons that would be used in a war against a peer competitor,” Schweizer wrote. “And we do not believe those numbers include hypersonic weapons or post-Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty cruise & ballistic missiles.”

Speaking of that, the Pentagon announced earlier this week that it fired a ground-launched Tomahawk cruise missile that would have violated the INF Treaty had the U.S. not withdrawn earlier this month.

So what does the future look like? “[W]e expect DoD will field long-range conventional cruise and ballistic missiles over the next several years, and there are a number of candidate systems (both hypersonic and slower),” Schweizer wrote.

During last month’s quarterly earnings calls, executives from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman all boasted about their work on hypersonic weapons and the potential market. But it’s still not clear just how soon the fast-flying weapons could be operational.

“We recognize the interest in hypersonic offensive weapons and defenses against them,” Capital Alpha’s Byron Callan wrote in an Aug. 14 note to investors. “However, this is a decade-long theme that will take time to mature.”

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Air Force (Appears) To Want the A-10, Again

After multiple attempts at retiring the Warthog, the Air Force now plans to install new wings on 112 planes over the next decade. That’s in addition to the 173 A-10s that received new wings over the past decade. So it appears the A-10 will be sticking around for a bit. And it looks like the A-10 will be getting more than new wings in the coming years. At a Defense Writers Group breakfast on Tuesday, Gen. Mike Holmes, head of Air Combat Command, said his command is “working to get funding” for a new “central computer” for the Warthog to “to bring it up to a more modern standard, which primarily is to make it more sustainable.”

Floods Force Nebraska-based Aircrews to Train in Texas, UK

Crews who fly in the RC-135, a specialized intelligence plane, must go to simulator training at a contractor facility in Texas or a Royal Air Force Base in the U.K. because flooding destroyed the Air Force’s three simulators at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Military.com reports. And it’s going to cost $200 million to replace them. Pilot simulators were damaged by flooding, but fixed a month later. “We're able to train on the airplane; it'll have an impact, though, on our capacity to train," ACC’s Holmes said Tuesday.

F-16 Sale to Taiwan, Approved

Just last month, there was speculation that the Trump administration was slow-rolling an $8 billion F-16 sale to Taiwan in order to use it as a bargaining chip in trade negotiations with China. For now, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The State Department cleared the sale on Tuesday. 

What’s part of the proposed sale: 66 F-16Vs, the newest, model of the Lockheed Martin-made plane, which will be equipped with Northrop Grumman-made AESA radars. There are space General Electric F-110 engines as well as all of the attachments to mount different types of bombs and missiles on the jet’s wings. The equipment included in the sale “is consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, and our support for Taiwan’s ability to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability,” a State Department official said.

Experimental Cubesats Launched

The Rocket Labs Electron rocket blasted off from New Zealand on Monday carrying two cubesats part of the Pearl White project. “The program goal is to design, develop, launch and operate two 6U cubesat experimental spacecraft as an on-orbit testbed for emerging technologies in 2019,” Air Force Space Command said in a statement. “The demonstration will test new technologies including propulsion, power, communications, and drag capabilities for potential applications on future spacecraft.”

Pentagon Kills Missile Interceptor Project

The Pentagon has canceled a billion-dollar effort to redesign a critical part of the interceptors the military would use to shoot down high-flying North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles. The part, known as the “kill vehicle,” sits atop a rocket. The device separates from the rocket and then uses special sensors to collide with the incoming missile in space. Boeing is the prime contractor for the Alaska and California-based interceptors, but Raytheon makes the kill vehicle. The Pentagon wanted to replace the interceptors current kill vehicle with a more reliable one. But that new effort faced “technical designed problems” prompting Pentagon leaders to kill it this week. Now the Pentagon plans to hold a competition for a next-generation interceptor.

New Navy Ship Radar Takes a Spin

The Raytheon-made SPY-6(V)2 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar “completed the first system-level tests,” during U.S. Navy trials on the Virginia coast, according to the company. The new radar is unique in that it can track aircraft, missiles and ships simultaneously. Two versions of the radar are being built, a rotating one for amphibious assault ships and Nimitz-class carriers, and “a three fixed-face array ... for Ford class aircraft carriers and the future FFG(X) guided missile frigates.”

BAE To Upgrade F-35 Electronic Warfare System

Lockheed Martin, the jet’s prime contractor, awarded BAE Systems a $349 million contract “to enhance the offensive and defensive electronic warfare capabilities of the F-35.” The upgrade will be part of a host of other “Block 4” upgrades to the planes in the coming years. BAE has already built more than 500 electronic warfare systems for the F-35.

Speaking of the F-35, the Marine Corps fired a live AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles from an operational jet for the first time earlier this month. The F-35B conducted a “simulated defensive combat air patrol with live AIM-9X missile” from the USS Wasp, which is in the Pacific. It fired the missile at flares fired out of an MV-22 Osprey, the Marines said in a statement. Here are some new pictures weapons being loaded on an F-35B.

At least 50 retired generals and admirals who called for Congress to add more F-35s to the Pentagon budget had a “personal or financial ties” to the program, according to new analysis from the Project on Government Oversight. The list is here.

Even more about the F-35 … My pal Valerie Insinna from Defense News has an F-35 deep dive in this week’s New York Times Magazine.

Space Command Will Stand Up Next Week

The original plan was to stand up the new combatant command by the end of 2018, but bureaucratic and legal hurdles prevented that. Now the plan is to stand up the command next week, Vice President Mike Pence said at a National Space Council meeting on Tuesday. The command will be located at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, while Pentagon leaders decide on its permanent home, which could also be Peterson. The Senate confirmed Gen. John “Jay” Raymond, the head of Air Force Space Command as the U.S. Space Command leader in June.

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