How many hypersonic weapons does the Pentagon intend to buy? Top officials won’t say.
To be clear, we’re not talking about the number of types of Mach-5-plus missiles. There are a half dozen or so being developed in largely classified programs: Conventional Prompt Strike; Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon; AGM-183 Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, or ARRW; Tactical Boost Glide; Operational Fires; and the Hypersonic Air-breathing Weapon Concept. Then there’s the Army’s Common Hypersonic Glide Body, which may become a sort of basic airframe for a range of such weapons. And there may be even more efforts in secret.
Instead, we wonder how many of each of these types will eventually stock the nation’s arsenals.
“We are making a major investment in production of hypersonic weaponry, at scale,” Mike Griffin, defense undersecretary for research and engineering, said Wednesday at a McAleese and Associates conference in Washington. “I’m not going to quote a number, but I’ll just say we’re going to be making a major investment of many billions of dollars in production, at scale.”
Griffin used the phrase “at scale” numerous times. The Pentagon is requesting $3.2 billion for hypersonic weapon projects in 2021. He added that future defense budgets will show a “major investment.” He urged companies in attendance to “treat my comments here as the classic ‘demand signal.’”
In particular, Griffin said, the military needs “aero shells,” heat-resistant noses for the fast-flying missiles.
“Anything that we’re going to fly at a high speed needs aero shells,” Griffin said. “The United States has not been in the business of designing and producing entry vehicle aero shells…in decades...We need to get back into that business and we are.”
While the CEOs of big defense companies, like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman often tout their hypersonic contracts, new players are emerging. Earlier this year , Leidos acquired Dynetics, a player in the space.
Now enter another company set to become a major player in this expanding market: Spirit Aerosystems, a key aviation supplier who has been eying more defense business. The Kansas-based firm announced last week that in January it acquired FMI for $120 million.
“FMI is an industry-leading technology company specializing in high-temperature materials and composites, primarily for defense, with several applications on hypersonic missiles,” Spirit CEO Thomas Gentile said on a Feb. 28 quarterly earnings call. “FMI is the sole source on several legacy strategic defense programs and they are partnered with the defense primes as well as the Department of Defense.”
Specifically, the company makes “3D woven carbon-carbon composite” nose cones and other missile components that can reach temperatures hotter than 4,000 degrees.
“Their performance on several Air Force and Navy programs over the last couple of decades has earned FMI attractive positions on strategic defense applications,” Gentile said. “Acquiring FMI aligns with Spirit's strategic growth objectives to diversify its customer base and expand our current defense business.”
You’ve reached the Defense One Global Business Brief by Marcus Weisgerber. Jim McAleese still gets all of the top government program and acquisition officials at his conference year after year. Most of today’s newsletter comes from what was said there on Wednesday. Send along your tips and feedback to email@example.com or @MarcusReports. Check out the Global Business Brief archive here, and tell your friends to subscribe!
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What Super Tuesday Means for Defense
Defense investors say they’re breathing easier after a strong Super Tuesday showing by former vice president Joe Biden, who won 10 states to the four won by Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, and who accepted the endorsements of erstwhile candidates Pete Buttigieg, Sen, Amy Kobachar, D-Minn, and Mike Bloomberg. “We consider the recent moderate candidate consolidation & Biden’s gains on Super Tuesday to be ‘good’ for defense as it reduces the chance of a less-defense-friendly ultra-progressive in the White House,” Citi analyst Jon Raviv wrote in a Wednesday note to investors.
Pentagon Aims to Solicit Bids for New Missile Interceptor Soon
The plan was to start soliciting bids for a new missile interceptor by the end of February, but Vice Adm. Jon Hill, the Missile Defense Agency director, said military officials ordered a requirements review. A team of MDA officials are reviewing those requirements with U.S. Northern Command the organizations that would oversee the Next Generation Interceptor, once it’s battle-ready.
Last month, when the Missile Defense Agency sent its fiscal 2021 budget proposal to Congress, Hill said the MDA was preparing to run its Next Generation Interceptor proposal past the Joint Requirements Oversight Council, a board chaired by Gen. John Hyten, Joint Chiefs vice chairman and made up of senior officials from all military branches. The Missile Defense Agency must get the board’s blessing before it solicits bids from companies for the new missile.
“We realized that our requirements were almost so technical, there was no way a warfighter would ever be able to understand them say, ‘Yes, go for it,’” Hill said.
The admiral said the board was concerned about the time it would take to field the new missile.
“We want to deliver the first round as soon as possible, but it also means we cannot take shortcuts in the design or in the requirements or in the flight-testing regime,” Hill said.
A proposal request is “imminent,” he said, noting the Missile Defense Agency would go before the Joint Requirements Oversight Council again “within the next week.”
Officials expect the first new interceptor to be ready by 2027 or 2028, maybe sooner depending on development, Hill said. The plan is to fly an intercept before the missile entered serial production.
“NORTHCOM wants it as soon as possible,” Hill said.
The Next Generation Interceptor project was born last year when the Pentagon canceled a different effort to develop a new kill vehicle for existing missile interceptors in Alaska and California. The existing missiles are designed to shoot down North Korean and Iranaian long-range missiles.
U.S. officials have long been warning that allies’ use of Chinese-made 5G broadband infrastructure threatens national security. Now Huawei, the Chinese telecom company at the center of the debate, is fighting back. The company took out a full-page advertisement in Wednesday’s Washington Post (the ad appeared in the digital version of the print edition. I have not seen the physical paper). In the ad, Huawei accuses U.S. politicians of “trying to disconnect communities across America." Expect more. (Quick side note, Huawei is a major sponsor of Hockey Night in Canada.)
- Boeing has released a concept image of its proposal for the Army’s Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft competition. All five teams have now released concept images or models of their FARA entrants.
- Northrop Grumman wants Australia to buy Triton maritime surveillance drones faster than planned to make up for a proposed delay in U.S. Navy buys of the high-flying aircraft. Reuters reports that Northrop is offering Australia the drones at a cheaper price and with more opportunities for local suppliers. More here.
- A Defense Department contractor has been charged with passing classified information to a Lebanize national with ties to Hezbollah. The U.S. Justice Department alleges Mariam Taha Thompson, 61, passed the names of people helping the U.S. in the Middle East to the foreign national, CNN reports. More here.
President Trump has nominated Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown, to be the next U.S. Air Force chief of staff. Brown, the commander of Pacific Air Forces, would replace Gen. Dave Goldfein who is planning to retire.