Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks greets Strategic Capabilities Office staff after arriving for a tour of their facilities at Chantilly, Va., March 11, 2022.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen H. Hicks greets Strategic Capabilities Office staff after arriving for a tour of their facilities at Chantilly, Va., March 11, 2022. Defense Department / Tech. Sgt. Jack Sanders

Defense Business Brief: Why backfilling arms stockpiles isn’t easy; Europe goes weapons shopping; Japan gets first Global Hawk; and more

It feels like the word of week has been: backfill. As U.S. and NATO officials ask around for simple-to-use weapons to send to Ukraine, the question they get back is: What do I get to replace the weapons I’m giving up?

The best place to find the Soviet-designed weapons that Ukraine is used to are other former Eastern bloc nations. But as we’re seeing, backfilling isn’t easy. It takes months—and in some cases years—for the Pentagon to order, and companies to build, the weapons and equipment that need replenishing. That means the only way to quickly backfill is to raid U.S. weapons stockpiles — which isn’t always easy.

“For some countries, it's harder to give those kinds of systems away just because of…how dependent they are on them or how many they might have,” a senior U.S. defense official said Wednesday. But, the official said: “We're actively having those kinds of talks right now.”

Slovakia has offered Ukraine its S-300 interceptors, but only if NATO sends interceptors that could protect Slovak airspace. Patriot missile maker Raytheon Technologies touts 17 nations operating Patriot—six of them are NATO members. The U.S. is the largest operator. As my colleague Tara Copp and I wrote last week, it takes months to train a Patriot operator, meaning whoever loaned Slovakia the interceptors would also need to deploy troops to operate the interceptors and train the Slovak military.

The same could be said of the stalled proposal to give Poland’s 29 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Poland already flies F-16s, so they’d accept those in return. Finding the planes quickly is where things get complicated. The U.S. Air Force is retiring the oldest F-16s in the Air National Guard, but it would take time to ready them for Warsaw. One of the only ways to immediately replace those planes would be to deploy F-16s of other NATO members to Poland. In the meantime, the Polish Air Force’s MiG-29 pilots and maintenance crews would all have to be retrained to fly and fix F-16s—again, something that doesn’t happen overnight.

Germany wants F-35s. Bonn announced its intention to order 35 of the stealthy warplanes to replace its old Tornado jets, part of its recent plans to increase defense spending.

US wants fewer F-35s. Bloomberg reports that the Pentagon’s 2023 budget proposal, expected to be sent to Congress in the coming weeks, would purchase 61 F-35s, down from the 94 that were planned.

Engine-maker Rolls-Royce will invest $400 million to update its engine test facilities in Indiana. “The Indianapolis facility will test engines for a variety of products, including the U.S. Air Force B-52 strategic bomber fleet, after Rolls-Royce won a $2.6 billion contract last fall to manufacture 650 engines for the iconic aircraft,” the company said.

The U.S. State Department approved a $950 million deal for eight MH-60R anti-ship and anti-submarine helicopters for Spain. It also approved a $750 million deal for the U.K. to buy a Ballistic Missile Defense Radar and Command and Control Battle Management and Communications. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for all of the weapons.

Japan’s first of three high-flying Global Hawk drones made an 18-hour flight from Palmdale, California, to Misawa Air Base, last week aircraft maker Northrop Grumman announced.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks visited the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office on March 11. “During her visit, the Deputy Secretary received briefings on emerging technologies, including autonomy and artificial intelligence, long range fires, and special and enabling capabilities,” the Pentagon said in a read out of her visit. Unfortunately, the Pentagon did not disclose any of the secretive work being done by the SCO, which typically works to modify existing weapons with new capabilities.

There’s been a lot of M&A activity over the past few weeks. We’ll start with the March 17 announcement that Textron has agreed to buy Pipistrel, an electrically powered aircraft business, based in Slovenia and Italy. Terms were not disclosed. On March 16, Booz Allen Hamilton announced it would buy EverWatch, “a leading provider of advanced solutions to the defense and intelligence communities.” Terms were not disclosed. Back on March 8, Google announced it would buy cyber defense firm Mandiant for $5.4 billion.

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