COVID looms over small firms; Conferences go virtual; GPS launch delayed, and more ...

Until coronavirus, this week was supposed to be all about the Navy, with a large swath of the naval and industry communities gathering at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space convention to check out the latest in naval technology and trends. Remarkably, it still wound up being all about the Navy, but for completely different reasons, which you can read about here.

One thing that my colleague Patrick Tucker would have been looking for in the exhibit hall is unmanned undersea and surface vehicles. The technology has been all the rage in recent years, everything from powering these craft to communicating with them at sea. Instead, he’ll have to settle for reading this new backgrounder about large unmanned surface and undersea vehicles, by Ron O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service.

In the meantime, there are worries that the UUV market may be especially susceptible to the effects of the coronavirus.

“The market for Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUV) relies heavily on small businesses, which accounted for over [one quarter] of the $667M spent in total on UUVs from FY15-19, including nearly half of the $80M awarded through sub-awards,” analysts from Govini wrote in a new assessment. “The top small business vendors are especially important in the UUV market, with the top two combining to receive over $87M in total obligations from FY15-19, more than half the total for all small businesses.”

As we’ve mentioned frequently in recent weeks, there’s a lot of concern about small businesses, which has prompted the Pentagon to speed up contracts to large companies, so those firms can in turn send money down to these smaller suppliers.

“Right now, the stakes are particularly dire for the fate of small businesses, epitomizing how the crisis exposes critical vulnerabilities in the National Security Innovation Base,” the Govini assessment says.

Moreover, the Pentagon “should target its support to those small businesses that are working on priority programs, technologies, and capabilities,” it says.

Here’s a Pentagon website with a host of acquisition-related measures the Pentagon is taking to keep companies in business amid coronavirus.

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JUST IN: Lockheed Martin Speeds More Money to Supply Chain

This marks the third straight week the company has sent ten of millions of dollars to it in an attempt to keep in business throughout the coronavirus pandemic. The $50 million fast-tracked this week brings the total over the past three weeks to $156 million. “[T]hanks to the DoD’s leadership and foresight in changing progress payment policy, we estimate that we will be able to flow down over $450 million in accelerated payments to our supply chain partners who are critical to supporting our economy and national security,” Lockheed CEO Marillyn Hewson said in a Thursday statement. The company is also using its corporate jet to fly government medical teams “to the most critical, high-priority locations around the country.”

Defense Conferences Go Virtual

The National Defense Industrial Association’s annual SOFIC special ops conference will be held virtually from May 11 to 15. “After canceling this year’s annual SOFIC event in Tampa, Florida, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, NDIA and SOCOM developed a new online platform to enable special operations professionals and industry partners to learn, network and collaborate on the initiatives and capabilities needed in the future,” the association said in a statement. Unfortunately there won’t be any virtual pierside cocktails or grouper sandwiches.

Similarly, the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference— which was supposed to be this week — will host hourlong virtual sessions every day next week. You can see the schedule here.

Navy Accelerates More Contract Awards

Following through on a promise to speed up contract awards amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Navy awarded Huntington Ingalls a $1.5 billion contract for the amphibious transport dock LPD 31.

Boeing Freezes Manufacturing in 3 Hubs

The company has suspending all airliner production in Washington state and South Carolina, and stopped building military helicopters in Philadelphia, all because of COVID-19. The company’s fighter jet production lines in St. Louis remain open.

Boeing workers in St. Louis are making face shields urgently needed by healthcare workers. More than 2,000 workers who build F-15 and F/A-18 fighter jets by day are volunteering eight hours of overtime each week to make the masks, according to the Machinists Union (IAM) District 837.

Meanwhile, the Navy awarded Boeing a contract for three additional MQ-25 Stingray refueling drones. The company, which is flight-testing the first aircraft, now has orders for seven of the aircraft.

How is coronavirus affecting the civil aviation market? It’s “a bit like falling off a cliff, only without the nice view,” the Teal Group’s Richard Aboulafia writes in a new assessment of the industry.

CAE Defense Work Continues, Building Ventilators

Despite temporarily laying off 2,600 of its 10,500 employees (and placing 900 on reduced work schedule), Canadian training and simulation firm CAE says “over 90% of CAE's operational sites are still delivering services to support defence forces who must always be prepared and ready in the interest of national security.” The company is also “developing an easy-to-manufacture ventilator” to treat coronavirus patients. “To mitigate the number of temporary layoffs, CAE significantly reduced capital expenditures and R&D investments,” the company said in an April 6 statement. It is also freezing and reducing salaries.

Coronavirus Delays GPS Satellite Launch

“The United States Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center has decided to reschedule the launch of GPS III SV03 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to minimize the potential of COVID-19 exposure to the launch crew and early-orbit operators,” the Space Force said in an emailed statement. The launch scheduled for late April will not happen before June 30. Space Force officials plan to reevaluate a new launch date in May.

Raytheon Technologies Launches Quietly

The company formed by the merger of Raytheon and United Technologies launched on Friday, but you’d barely know it from the quiet way it made its debut. Greg Hayes, the UTC CEO-turned-Raytheon Technologies CEO, talked to CNBC from what appears to be his home. There was also a press release posted on the company’s website. Since then … crickets.

Making Moves

U.S. Army Undersecretary James McPherson is now the acting Navy secretary, after acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly resigned earlier this week.

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