U.S. Air Force / artist rendering

Defense Business Brief: What outer space will look like in 2050; The Pentagon’s largest contractors; B-21 reveal date; and more.

Union Market, the warehouse of trendy eateries and shops sandwiched between Washington’s Union Station and Gallaudet University, is a place best known for hipsters, not defense contractors. So you can imagine my surprise and intrigue at the email in my inbox inviting me to a Lockheed Martin event in a neighborhood filled with retail wholesales.

After entering the warehouse through a back alley, visitors passed through a hallway that jolted memories of Star Wars and Space Mountain—a fitting entrance, considering the event was branded “Destination Space: 2050.”

Inside, engineers at interactive displays talked about nascent tech that could become a reality 30 years from now. We’re talking stuff like recycling existing satellites, refueling satellites and even manufacturing satellites, in space. There was even artificial intelligence that helped come up with ways to defend satellites from missiles, jamming, or other types of attacks. Then there was the stuff straight out of For All Mankind, like Moon bases.

The engineers behind the technology—not business development salespeople—explained to policymakers and reporters what they envision being possible some three decades from now. 

While the event was meant to showcase military, civil, and commercial space technology, a big take away—at least for me—was that much of the tech is dual use. For instance, an infrared satellite could detect an enemy rocket launch as well as track a forest fire.

All this to say, it was far different from the types of events defense contractors typically hold.

The Pentagon released its annual list of top contractors by fiscal 2021 contracts, which, per usual, is topped by Lockheed. Boeing, Raytheon Technologies, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman round out the top 5. L3 Technologies was No. 7 and Huntington Ingalls Industries No. 9. The remaining three companies: COVID-19 vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna, and health insurance company Humana. Remember, the Defense Department has been doing the contracting for the U.S. stockpile of COVID vaccines and treatments. The top three states getting defense contracts: Virginia, California, and Texas. Read the full state-by-state report here.

My colleague Patrick Tucker explores “why the Pentagon’s crush on Elon Musk is bad for democracy.” ICYMI, Musk’s SpaceX is in spat with the Pentagon over who’s to pay the bill for the Starlink communications satellites being used by Ukrainian military forces. Read Patrick’s take here.

The commander of U.S. Transportation Command says commercial airlines and ships will need to play a large role moving troops and supplies if the United States goes to war in the Pacific. To facilitate that and other possible scenarios, U.S. officials are looking for ways to give companies more access to military intelligence and technologies that would allow them to fly and sail in areas where civilian networks and navigation satellites are blocked. Read more here.

Here’s a timely report by the Quincy Institute’s Bill Hartung listing policy recommendations for the sale of U.S. weapons overseas. Among them: restricting the so-called “revolving door” between government and companies; making it so Congress needs to approve individual major arms sales; increasing the transparency of arms deals; and requiring better risk assessments by the State and Defense departments. Some lawmakers have been calling to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia after OPEC announced it would cut oil production, a move seen to benefit Russia and drive up prices at the gas pump.

Mark your calendars, the B-21 bomber will be unveiled to the public in Palmdale, California, on Dec. 2. In September, we predicted the big reveal would happen in conjunction with the Reagan National Defense Forum, which is on Dec. 3 in Simi Valley.

Lockheed reported its third quarter earnings, in which executives said supply chain woes are expected to continue into 2023. “We continue to anticipate growth over the long term, but with residual pandemic impacts and supply chain challenges continuing, we now expect to return to growth in 2024,” CEO Jim Taiclet said Tuesday on the company’s quarterly earning call.

After the earnings call on CNBC, CFO Jay Malave said acquiring computer chips is a “watch item,” but the company “really hasn’t seen a significant impact” due to electronic component shortages. Where it has seen supply chain showdowns, they have involved “more of [the] structural parts of the aircraft.” 

Also on the call, Taiclet revealed the company has stood up an internal group to create partnerships with mid-size defense, commercial, and space firms.

On tap: Raytheon, General Dynamics, Boeing, Northrop and L3Harris Technologies all report third-quarter earnings next week.

Palantir has added four new members to its Federal Advisory Board, including Dr. Deborah Birx, the former coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force; Will Hurd, the former Republican congressman from Texas; Gustave Perna, the retired Army general who was chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed; and Greg Simon, former executive director of the White House Cancer Moonshot Task Force and the Biden Cancer Initiative.