Hypersonic defense; Leonardo’s Lynn; Quad-A in person?; and more...

Amid the efforts by the U.S. military and its potential adversaries to develop hypersonic weapons, an increasing number of defense companies are looking to crank up existing missile-defense systems to counter faster-flying threats.

“There [are] some technologies that are there today that are fielded that are effective,” Scott Greene, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin’s $10 billion Missiles and Fire Control business, said in an interview Wednesday. “And there's some incremental things that you can do to the platforms that are out there today to make them more effective.”

Lockheed Martin makes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, air defense system, PAC-3 Patriot interceptor, and missile tracking radar. While Greene wouldn’t get into specifics, he said hypersonic defense is similar to traditional missile defense.

“The physics are similar,” he said. You have to to turn up your agility based on the speeds of the incoming projectiles, but there's a lot that we do that can be reused.”

Lockheed is also building the weapons themselves. Its hypersonic weapons projects are overseen by a committee of executives from the Space, Advanced Development Programs (better known as Skunk Works), and Greene’s Missiles and Fire Control. The company is also standing up a specialized manufacturing factory in Courtland, Alabama. The factory will put common suppliers and subsystems under the same roof. 

Greene believes the Courtland factory will allow the company to more quickly move projects from development into production. Inside there are robotics and automated systems that use artificial intelligence in manufacturing, he said. Digital manufacturing will allow “an engineer in Dallas or an engineer in Denver, an engineer in our facility at Skunk Works, [to] actually send designs across the country to a machine that actually then fabricates it right there based on the input that they just received.”

Lockheed is hardly the only company vying for market share in both the offensive and defensive sides of the hypersonic battle. Raytheon executives have touted the company’s desire to build defenses against hypersonic weapons. The company makes the Patriot system and other air- and missile-defense interceptors and tracking radars.

Lockheed Announces Team for DARPA Hypersonic Weapon Launcher Demo. Northrop Grumman will supply the solid rocket motor, Leidos’ Dynetics will supply the canister, all-up round and fins, and support integration and test, and small business ECE will provide the booster power pyro module. “The goal of the Operational Fires (OpFires) program is to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched system enabling hypersonic boost glide weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defenses and rapidly and precisely engage critical time sensitive targets,” according to DARPA. “OpFires seeks to develop an advanced booster capable of delivering a variety of payloads at a variety of ranges.”


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In-Person Conference On Tap

As the Association for the U.S. Army continues its annual meeting virtually this week, another Army trade organization is readying for an in-person conference with hundreds of attendees in Huntsville, Alabama, on Nov. 15 to 18, Politico reports. The Army Aviation Association of America, better known as Quad-A, says there will be medical professionals on site and attendees are subject to “temperature checks, mandatory masks [and] mandatory tracing.” Politico reports that more than 400 people are registered to attend the conference and that if called off, it will not be held virtually. In a letter posted on its website, the Army Aviation Association of America says it will make its go/no-go decision by Oct. 23. 

One-on-One with Bill Lynn of Leonardo DRS

Leonardo DRS CEO Bill Lynn, who was deputy defense secretary during the Obama administration, talks ships, the industrial base, and advice for Pentagon appointees if former Vice President Joe Bidwn wins next month’s presidential election.

Q. What do you make of the 500-plus ship plan announced by Defense Secretary Mark Esper last week? What could it mean for Leonardo DRS?

A. It's a little hard to assess when [the plan] comes this late [in a presidential term]. I think we're going to need a kind of a program and a budget to see exactly how they're gonna flesh this out. But, we feel it's going to be okay for us. Our biggest Navy program is the new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine; that's not going to change, no matter what. That's dictated by the half-life of a nuclear reactor. The schedule and the need is clearly not going to change. We're not going to abandon reliance on the sea-based deterrence.

In terms of ship counts ... we build things for both new ships and upgrading old ships. So if they buy new ships, our stuff goes on that. If they don't buy as many new ships, and they have to upgrade the older ships at a higher rate, we have that lane. So, we feel that we're in a pretty strong position however this comes out [but] I need to see a program and a budget before I can judge what this really changes,

Q. What programs are particularly at risk if the defense budget shrinks?

A. When the budget gets flatter, it forces the military departments into trade-offs. Cuts, the way the budget works, is that there's this ratchet effect of cost-of-living increases, in terms of salaries, in terms of benefits, in terms of the cost of technology. If the budget isn't going up at some rate, you're losing ground programmatically and so you have to make trade-offs — trade offs between force structure and modernization, trade offs between R&D and procurement, trade offs between current forces and future forces. I think we're starting down that path. 

I think we're in a pretty good position there, because we're not dependent on any single program. We don't have big, multibillion-dollar programs where a single decision could change our whole outlook. Obviously, we're not looking for anything to be canceled, but we can absorb changes, I think, reasonably well. 

We're not dependent on building new platforms for our growth....We build the communications, the sensors, the electronics, the gear that goes inside the platforms, whether it's an upgraded legacy platform or a new platform, our business continues. So it's not that these trade off don't change our trajectory some, but we feel we're pretty stable.

Q. As someone who presided over a shift in Pentagon priorities, what advice would you give the next administration as they evaluate the current portfolio?

A. Make hard decisions early. It...doesn't get easier. Set a course and stick to it. You're going to be in better shape than if you try, and hope that maybe in a year or two things will be a little bit different. You can defer the decisions [but] almost inevitably, that means that the decision you're faced with that is harder [it was] a year or two ago. You can't get lulled to complacency by the hope that maybe the fiscal situation or something will improve. It's far easier to react to that than the opposite.

Q. What’s the next big M&A?

A. We've consolidated so much since the early 90s. There's less room for it then there was. It doesn't mean it can't happen. Certainly the Raytheon-UTC [merger], I didn't see it coming. There's certainly room for some changes, but I think you can't see that big massive consolidation you saw in the early ’90s because there's just not enough players to allow it. But could there be more single episodes of consolidation? Sure.

Oshkosh Developing New JLTV Packages 

The maker of the Army’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle has already delivered more than 8,800 vehicles and is developing new configurations of the armored truck that is replacing tens of thousands of Humvees. Among the more than 100 upgrade kits are a blast-protected ambulance and a command-and-control vehicle. “We believe that we are the vehicle and we're ready for any near-peer threat,” George Mansfield, vice president and general manager of joint programs at Oshkosh Defense, said in an interview. The packages are modular and could be installed on existing vehicles. “We're working on some…additional kits for different configurations on the JLTV right now,” he said.

Like most defense firms, the Wisconsin-based company has remained open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve slowed down a little bit, but we continue to produce trucks every day,” he said. Mansfield said only a “very low” number of employees have tested positive for the coronavirus, but employees who have been in close contact with people infected with COVID-19 have had to quarantine. “We really haven't haven't seen a lot of positive cases, it's more the quarantining,” he said.

Making Moves

  • Northrop Grumman Corporation has named Tom Jones its next corporate vice president and president, Aeronautics Systems, effective January 1, 2021. He will succeed Janis Pamiljans, who intends to retire in February.
  • The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation has elected Ronda Schrenk its CEO. She has worked for more 25 years “in a variety of leadership and analytic positions at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the National Security Agency (NSA), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as well as in commercial, nonprofit, and academic organizations,” the group said in an emailed statement.