Ukrainian troops receive FGM-148 Javelins provided by the US, February 11, 2022.

Ukrainian troops receive FGM-148 Javelins provided by the US, February 11, 2022. AFP via Getty Images / Sergei SUPINSKY

Defense Business Brief: Pentagon acquisition office overhaul; New Ukraine supplemental; Former Skunk Works boss’ new job, and a lot more.

It took 450 days, but the Pentagon finally has a Senate-confirmed top weapons buyer. Bill LaPante was sworn in as the undersecretary for acquisition and sustainment one week ago today. 

“Dr. LaPlante brings the experience, the capability, the knowledge, and the demeanor to succeed in this position,” David Berteau, the head of the Professional Services Council, an industry trade association, said April 7 after LaPlante’s confirmation. “From overseeing the DOD’s industrial base and acquisition policies and practices to implementing better support and sustainment for U.S. and allied forces around the world, he will be at the center of it all. LaPlante is uniquely qualified to lead the Pentagon’s work with industry to make contracting more effective, timely, and efficient.”

Meanwhile, within LaPlante’s acquisition and sustainment office, there is an overhaul happening in the newly created assistant secretary for industrial base policy directorate. It involves the creation of two new deputy assistant secretaries, one to focus on industrial base resilience and the other on industrial base development and international engagement. Jesse Salazar, who was the deputy undersecretary for industrial base policy, had his position dissolved.

Also on LaPlante’s to-do list: getting weapons to the Ukrainian military, which is about to enter month two of battling Russian forces, since Moscow’s invasion in late February. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks and Andrew Hunter, the Air Force acquisition chief who was also temporarily serving as the Pentagon’s top weapons buyer, met with the CEOs of eight large defense contractors about the need to arm the Ukrainian military just two days before LaPlante arrived at the Pentagon.

This week, the Biden administration announced a new $800 million weapons package for Ukraine, which includes new, never-before-heard-of kamikaze drones, my colleagues Jacqueline Feldscher and Tara Copp report. President Joe Biden said Thursday that next week he will send lawmakers a new funding request to keep arming the Ukrainian military.

Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Congress must move quickly to support Ukraine.

“When Congress returns next week, we must immediately turn to writing an aggressive supplemental for Ukraine that responds to the military and humanitarian needs of the Ukrainian people,” Inhofe tweeted. “Congress must look at all tools available to speed this process.”

Staying on Capitol Hill, Republicans are not happy with the Navy’s latest 30-year shipbuilding plan. “The plan calls for retiring 77 ships over the next five years, including two aircraft carriers and 11 littoral combat ships that are much younger than their 25-year expected lifecycle,” my colleagues Caitlin Kenney and Bradley Peniston write of the plan. Read the entire shipbuilding plan here.

Unrelated to the war in Ukraine, the Army this week awarded gun maker Sig Sauer a $4.5 billion contract to make soldiers’ new rifles and machine guns. The new guns will replace the  M4/M4A1 carbine and the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon.

Indiana continues to grow its participation in the Pentagon’s hypersonic weapon projects. The Defense Department awarded Notre Dame a $500,000 research contract “to use additive manufacturing techniques to construct a control array module for use on hypersonic vehicle designs.” Indiana-based Purdue University is building a 65,000-square-foot hypersonics and applied research facility, which includes new wind tunnels.

The Pentagon’s Defense Innovation Unit recently opened a new office in Chicago to

“identify new solutions, companies, and talent across the Midwest to solve pressing national

security challenges and offer companies a faster path to Department of Defense contracts.” The Chicago office is part of a “regional strategy to extend DOD’s reach as a customer and economic development partner to companies, labs, accelerators, academia, and investors across the country,” according to a press release. DIU also has offices in Silicon Valley, Boston, Austin, and the Pentagon.

Launch company Virgin Orbit has renamed its national security business from VOX Space to Virgin Orbit National Systems. “By bringing the brand under which we serve our national security customers into even closer alignment with the rest of Virgin Orbit’s established market presence, we show our laser focus on supporting the readiness of our national security space mission partners,” Virgin Orbit National Systems President Mark Baird said. The company also named Craig Cooning, a retired Air Force major general and former president of Boeing’s Network and Space Systems business, to the National Systems’ board.

TTM Technologies, a company that makes printed circuit boards, plans to acquire Long Island-based Telephonics from Griffon Corp for $330 million, my Washington Technology colleague Ross Wilkers reports. Telephonics makes surveillance, radar, and other types of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance equipment for the military.

Goldman Sachs is investing $125 million in Fortress Information Security, a supply chain cybersecurity provider for critical industries, the company announced. “This new investment will support Fortress’s mission of securing U.S. critical industries from cybersecurity and operational threats emanating from their supply chains,” Fortress said in a statement. 

Making moves

Former Lockheed Martin Skunk Works boss Jeff Babione has been named chief operating officer of commercial space firm Sierra Space. 

Aerojet Rocketdyne COO Amy Gowder is resigning effective April 29, “to accept another business opportunity,” the company said in an SEC filing.


From Defense One

Pentagon Reorganizes Industrial Policy Office to Shore Up Defense Firms, Supply Chain // Marcus Weisgerber

The restructure gives two new deputies to the assistant secretary for industrial policy—and "dissolves" another.

Biden's No. 2 Defense Industry Policy Official Leaves Post // Marcus Weisgerber

It's unclear why Jesse Salazar has left, the latest in a string of recent Pentagon departures.

The Navy's New Long-Range Shipbuilding Plan Is More Like a Menu // Caitlin M. Kenney and Bradley Peniston

With uncertainty rising at home and abroad, service leaders decided to offer Congress a trio of scenarios.

Kyiv Asked for a New Kamikaze Drone to Fight Russia. The Air Force Delivered Phoenix Ghost // Tara Copp

At least 121 of the new drones are headed to Ukraine as part of the latest $800 million security package.

Biden Announces Third $800M Weapons Package To Ukraine To Help Donbas Fight // Jacqueline Feldscher

The White House will ask Congress for more money next week to keep weapons flowing.

Inflation, Supply Problems Could Push F-35 Cost Higher Than Expected, Lockheed Says // Marcus Weisgerber

Negotiations continue on three batches of jets—Lots 15 to 17—that were expected to be finalized last year.

Soldiers Will Have to Wait Until Next Year for New Rifle, Ammo // Caitlin M. Kenney

Sig Sauer's decade-long contract to make the weapons leads off with a tiny order for quality testing.

AI Is Already Learning from Russia's War in Ukraine, DOD Says // Patrick Tucker

Today's battlefield data is helping smart machines model the wars of the future.

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