An F-35 Lightning, assigned to 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, is parked on the flight line during sunrise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 28, 2022.

An F-35 Lightning, assigned to 57th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, is parked on the flight line during sunrise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, March 28, 2022. U.S. Air Force / Airman 1st Class Josey Blades

Defense Business Brief: Major weapon projects face delays; Trump Air Force One paint job ditched; Hints about next-gen fighter builder; and more.

It’s that time of year when the Government Accountability Office provides its annual assessment of the Pentagon’s largest weapons programs. Among the major themes in the 252-page report: large projects continue to struggle to remain on schedule. The programs are also struggling to quickly deliver and update software.

“[M]ost of the 39 programs that reported using a modern software development approach deliver working software for user feedback more slowly than recommended by industry’s Agile practices, which call for rapid, frequent delivery of software and fast feedback cycles,” the report states.

GAO also “continued to find programs not fully implementing recommended cybersecurity practices, such as testing.”

More than half of the 59 programs reviewed reported “industrial base risks,” but most “did not plan for an industrial base assessment … to be conducted specific to their program.”

You can read the entire report here.

One of the programmatic items revealed in GAO’s annual report was that Boeing is having trouble hiring qualified aircraft mechanics to build the new Air Force One. The company blames an ultra-competitive labor market, but also the high-level security clearances each employee needs since the program involves classified information about the president’s travel procedures.

There’s also more Air Force One news, as Politico reports the Biden administration has opted against the new paint scheme selected by former President Donald Trump. That’s because an Air Force study found the dark paint on the plane’s belly could make the inside of the plane too hot. Boeing would have to make an expensive modification to the plane if the dark color was chosen, Politico reports.

There’s some more speculation about the company (or companies) that might be making the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance fighter jet. Aviation Week highlighted a “cryptic news release” from airplane part-maker Safran. “Safran Landing Systems Canada Inc. has been awarded a contract by Lockheed Martin to provide the design, development and qualification of a landing gear structure for a future aircraft,” the May 31 news release states. “This new structure will include a clean sheet design of the nose and main landing gear.” Cowen and Company analyst Roman Schweizer mentioned the story in a Friday note to investors.

We still don’t know which companies hold the NGAD contract, which Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall recently said is in the development phase. We’ve looked into the companies with the tech know-how to build a next–gen fighter. In October 2020, we pointed to statements from Lockheed Martin executives about growth expected in the company’s secretive Skunk Works Advanced Development Projects division.

Finally, Lockheed, Northrop Gumman, and L3Harris Technologies all won contracts to develop the new Stand-In Attack Weapon, a new air-to-ground weapon. While Lockheed and Northrop are old hats when it comes to munitions work, it’s a big win for L3Harris and its newly established Agile Development Group, a new internal company cell created to go after work related to urgent national security threats. The SiAW is being designed to fit inside the F-35 stealth fighter’s weapons bay.

From Defense One

Boeing Can't Find Enough Workers to Build the New Air Force One // Marcus Weisgerber

A new GAO report details the latest setback for the presidential planemaker. 

Raytheon Technologies to Move HQ from Massachusetts to Northern Virginia // Marcus Weisgerber

The move means the five largest defense contractors will all call the D.C. region home.

More Reality Checks Could Help Keep DOD Programs on Time and Budget, GAO Says // Patrick Tucker

The Pentagon has long espoused "knowledge-based acquisition," but doesn't insist on it.

DARPA's '3rd Wave' AI Aims to Compute Uncertainty Along with Accuracy // Alexandra Kelley

"Machine learning algorithms do not currently fit well into the modern statistical processing paradigm."

After Deadly Aviation Crashes, Congress May Tighten Pentagon Focus on Why // Tara Copp

2023 budget also seeks report on risks to anti-tank and anti-aircraft munition stockpiles after U.S. surge to Ukraine.

Lawmakers Plan to Save Some of the 24 Ships the US Navy Wants to Cut // Jacqueline Feldscher

House seapower panel has consensus on five ships; full Armed Services Committee will debate others June 22.

Biden Invokes Defense Production Act to Boost Clean Energy Manufacturing // Frank Konkel

"Reducing America's dependence on gas and oil is critical to U.S. national security," DepSecDef Hicks said.

In a Connected Era, We Talk Too Much About Individual Weapons // Travis Sharp, Chris Bassler and Tyler Hacker

Instead, budgeteers and lawmakers should weigh "networked force packages" of arms and gear.