General Dynamics Electric Boat's PCU North Dakota

General Dynamics Electric Boat's PCU North Dakota U.S. Navy

Defense Business Brief: Shipyard execs speak; Kendall’s USAF priority; Wedgetail purchase?; And more...

We’ll get to the news out of the Air Force Association’s Air, Space & Cyber conference in a bit—but first, some highlights from my Thursday discussion with U.S. shipyard execs at Defense One’s State of the Navy event.

Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, said he’s excited about the Biden administration-brokered AUKUS defense pact that will pave the way for Australia to receive nuclear-powered submarines. FYI: it is not yet determined what type of submarine Canberra will get:  A version of the U.S. Virginia class? The U.K.’s Astute class? Something else?

“It is a pretty exciting time and, personally, I think it feels right that we're partnering in this way with the Aussies to further our defensive posture,” Graney said. “But my message to my team is absolutely clear, and that is we stay focused on the mission at hand. The mission at hand is two Virginia submarines a year and [the] Columbia [class].”

He added, “We stand ready to support when tasked, and in the meantime, we've got plenty of work to do.”

Graney may be waiting for a while; in a Defense One interview earlier on Thursday, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said it might take “decades” to prepare Australia’s military and industry to support the arrival of the country’s first nuclear-powered ships.

Graney and Mark Vandroff, CEO of Fincantieri Marinette Marine also discussed the challenges getting their employees vaccinated against COVID-19 and ways they are looking to recruit skilled workers to build the Navy’s next generation of ships and submarines.

You can watch the entire discussion, here (free registration required).

Now to AFA, where we got to hear a bit of Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall’s priorities. Or, as it happens, priority: “China, China, and China,” Kendall said in a speech to AFA attendees. Brings back memories of former acting SecDef Patrick Shanahan, doesn’t it! Here are some highlights of what Kendall had to say:

  • China’s nuclear projects are putting them on a path to have “a de facto first-strike capability” a statement challenged by independent nuke-policy experts.
  • Kendall criticized Congress for not allowing the Air Force to retire old, unneeded warplanes and said the Air Force would continue pushing for retirements.
  • Northrop Grumman is building five B-21 stealth bomber test aircraft right now
  • Kednall also questioned the role of hypersonic weapons, which is officially one of his service’s top modernization priorities. 

You can read the full recap here.

The Air Force is considering buying the Boeing E-7 Wedgetail radar plane, Kendall said, furthering a theme we heard from some Air Force leaders at the Air Force Association’s last conference in February. “There is some interest in the E-7,” he said. “It has some really good capabilities and it could be useful to the Air Force, so we are taking a look at that.” That plane would likely replace the E-3 AWACS.

Kendall declined to weigh in on Lockheed Martin’s planned acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne due to an ongoing government review of the sale. In the past, he’s criticized some defense-related mergers and acquisitions, and particularly Lockheed’s purchase of Sikorsky. Darlene Costello, acting Air Force acquisition executive, said the service has been “providing input” to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the sale. “There has been a little bit of back and forth,” Costello said.

Meanwhile, the House passed the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, which totals $740 billion, roughly $24 billion more than the Biden administration requested.

From Defense One

Just Half of Workers at Two Critical Shipyards Are Vaccinated // Marcus Weisgerber

The sobering numbers offer a snapshot of defense contractors' struggle to get workers vaccinated.

Trump's Red, White & Blue Air Force One Paint Job is Not Final, General Says // Marcus Weisgerber

The concept image is "just something that's on a paper," according to Air Force acquisition official.

Air Force Secretary Warns of China's Burgeoning Nuclear Arsenal, Reveals B-21 Detail // Marcus Weisgerber

Frank Kendall also criticized Congress for not allowing the Air Force to retire old, unneeded warplanes and questioned the need for hypersonic weapons.

US Air Force Developing Combat Tanker-Airlifter that Can Land on Water // Tara Copp

In a conflict with China, aircraft will need flexibility in basing, and that means water takeoffs, landings.

Learn to Use Data or Risk Dying in Battle, New Army Project Teaches // Patrick Tucker

Project Ridgway pushes soldiers to use—and even create—the artificial-intelligence tools that will confer military advantage.

Users Can't Be Afterthoughts in the Pentagon's AI Efforts // Devaki Raj and Jake Harrington

The troops, commanders, and civilians who will use artificial-intelligence tools have vital roles to play in creating, training, and improving them.

Trade Versus Subs: The Risky U.S. Tradeoff in the Asia-Pacific // Ian Johnson

Which will matter more, a dozen more nuclear subs on the U.S. side of the ledger or a trade pact that could draw many of the world's largest economies ever-closer toward China?

Biden Just Gave France Something More Valuable than a Submarine Contract // Kevin Baron

The White House endorsement of European defense apart from NATO is worth more than a $66 billion deal with Australia.