Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen David W. Allvin speaks to Air Force Recruiting Service leaders during a Senior Leadership Summit at the National Conference Center, September 1, 2021, in Leesburg, Virginia.

Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen David W. Allvin speaks to Air Force Recruiting Service leaders during a Senior Leadership Summit at the National Conference Center, September 1, 2021, in Leesburg, Virginia. U.S. Air Force / Tech. Sgt. Ryan Conroy

Defense Business Brief: Pentagon backtracks on conference travel ban; Anduril gets $1B SOCOM deal; FBI probes China’s stake in aircraft startup; and more.

Updated: Jan. 23, 9 p.m. to include a Pentagon statement that Press Secretary John Kirby “misspoke” when he said Pentagon officials could not travel to conferences amid the Omicron coronavirus spike.

Defense Department Press Secretary John Kirby “misspoke” last week when he told reporters that Pentagon officials could not travel to conferences amid the Omicron coronavirus spike.

“Recently Mr. Kirby misspoke when responding to questions about current travel restrictions,” the Pentagon said Saturday in an unattributed emailed statement. 

“Unrestricted travel is allowed for service members or civilians between installations that have met the criteria of the Secretary of Defense memorandum on the conditions‐based approach to personnel movement and travel, dated March 15, 2021,” the statement said. “If either installation does not meet the criteria, an exemption or waiver would be required. The Secretaries of the Military Departments, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (for Joint Staff personnel), the Director of Administration & Management (for the OSD components and Defense Agencies and DoD Field Activities), the Chief of the National Guard Bureau, and the Commanders of the Combatant Commands may approve waivers for mission essential travel, including attendance at conferences, to, from and through locations with travel restrictions.  The authority to approve waivers may be delegated in writing no lower than an appropriate military officer in the grade of O-6, or a civilian equivalent, in the traveler’s chain of command or supervision.    

Kirby, during a Jan. 18 briefing (the transcript is here) “The only travel that's permitted is what's considered critical to national security. “So participation in conferences is obviously put on hold. And that applies to everybody, uniformed and civilian alike.”

The comments raised eyebrows and questions, according to defense and industry sources because no formal travel ban had been issued in writing.

There are a number of upcoming conferences, including the Singapore Air Show (Feb. 15 to 18); Air Force Association Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida (March 2 to 4); Association of the U.S. Army Global Force Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama (March 29 to 31); Navy League Sea-Air-Space in National Harbor, Maryland (April 4 to 6); and Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado (April 4 to 7). In late November, as the omicron variant emerged, organizers of DSEI Japan, an arms show and conference, would be postponed. No makeup date has been announced.

U.S. Special Operations Command will give defense startup Anduril nearly $1 billion to be “a counter-unmanned systems, systems integration partner.” SOCOM received 12 proposals for the counter-drone tech. While the specifics of the deal were not publicly announced, other arms of the Pentagon have purchased Anduril’s counter-drone technology. In July 2021, the company announced it received a five-year deal from the Pentagon’s ​nse Innovation Unit.

“Anduril’s C-UAS solutions use its Lattice artificial intelligence (AI) operating system and a network of sensors to autonomously detect, classify, and track targets, alerting operators to threats and allowing options for mitigation or engagement,” the company said at the time. “Through multiple combat assessments and competitive test events, Anduril’s system demonstrated its effectiveness against a variety of UAS threats, ranging from hobby drones to those flown by state actors, and in a variety of scenarios, including against multiple UAS threats simultaneously.”

Carlyle Group is looking to sell Titan Acquisition Holdings, a ship repair and maintenance company, for $2 billion, Bloomberg reports, citing “people familiar with the matter.” 

The U.S. government is investigating Chinese investment in a U.S. aircraft startup, the Wall Street Journal reports. The FBI and Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. are looking into Chinese investment into California-based amphibious sport plane maker Icon Aircraft. A Chinese government-backed investment company owns the majority of Icon shares, WSJ reports. The FBI is also investigating whether sensitive technology with military applications has been transferred to China, the Journal reports.

Making moves

  • Kim Crider, a retired U.S. Air Force major general, has joined Deloitte’s government and public services practice “to lead the organization’s artificial intelligence innovation for national security efforts and help government agencies adopt and implement effective data analytics and AI solutions.”
  • Teledyne FLIR has named JihFen Lei executive vice president of Teledyne FLIR Defense. It also named David Cullin vice president and general manager of Unmanned and Integrated Solutions. 
  • QinetiQ has appointed Shawn Purvis president and CEO of QinetiQ US, effective Feb. 16. Purvis is currently president of Northrop Grumman’s Enterprise Services sector.

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