The AFWERX Spark Street area the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space & Cyber convention, Sept. 11, 2023.

The AFWERX Spark Street area the Air Force Association's annual Air, Space & Cyber convention, Sept. 11, 2023. U.S. Air Force / Matthew Clouse

Defense Business Brief: AFA wrap; 155mm production to rise; F-35 moves; and more...

Drones were thick upon the conference floor, though not quite as thick as the uniformed and besuited crowds at the Air & Space Forces Association’s national convention, held last week just outside Washington, D.C. 

Uncrewed aircraft were a major topic as industry prepares its offerings for the Air Force’s future competition to build its robot wingmen for its “collaborative combat aircraft,” or CCA program. The service announced four common “focus areas” at the conference between the Air Force and Navy’s CCA development: aircraft architecture, communications links, autonomy architecture and ground-control segments. While it’s yet to be seen when the services will kick off this competition, the Air Force aims to have the first of these by the end of the decade. 

Show go-ers also heard that engine tests have begun on the B-21 Raider, the Air Force stealth bomber slated for first flight later this year. There was buzz around the new photos of the B-21 released last week, adding to the few released last December at the aircraft’s rollout.

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Upping 155mm production. Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante said Friday the U.S. is on track to produce 100,000 155mm artillery shells per month in 2025—up from previous estimates from U.S defense officials. The country is currently producing 28,000 shells per month, and will reach 57,000 per month next spring, LaPlante said. Europe is boosting 155mm production as well. Defense officials say increasing production is key to keeping Ukraine in ammo while rebuilding stocks at home. 

Triton hits IOC, finally. Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton naval drone has finally reached initial operating capability, Navy officials said on Thursday. The Global Hawk variant is the service’s “only uncrewed, high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft performing persistent maritime intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and targeting,” the company’s press release said. Still, the U.S. Pacific Fleet has been flying the Triton for several years. Originally slated to reach IOC in 2020, it reached “early operational capability” that year. So far, the Navy has taken delivery of five of a planned 68 Tritons.

Another new Anduril drone. The defense startup has unveiled “Ghost-X,” the newest variant of its Ghost autonomous uncrewed aircraft system. The drone was built for “reconnaissance, security, and force protection,” according to the company. Earlier this month, Anduril announced it acquired autonomous drone maker Blue Force Technologies amid the Pentagon-wide push to buy large quantities of drones.

More F-35s for S. Korea; F-35s touch down in Denmark. The U.S. State Department has cleared the sale of 25 more F-35s to South Korea—a sale totaling over $5 billion. The proposed sale will improve Korea’s ability to meet threats and ensure interoperability with U.S. forces, according to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Korea has already ordered 40 F-35s.

Separately, Denmark’s first four F-35s landed at the Royal Danish Air Force's Fighter Wing Skrydstrup on Thursday, where they are to replace the country’s aging F-16s. “Denmark’s program of record calls for 27 F-35A aircraft, which will be flown and maintained by the Royal Danish Air Force. Denmark has received 10 aircraft to date, with six of these aircraft remaining at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, to support international cooperative F-35 training operations,” according to a Lockheed press release.

Boeing tests augmented reality dogfight training system. Boeing and start-up Red 6 have tested an augmented reality training system in a TA-4J tactical aircraft, gearing up to put the system into the Air Force’s T-7 advanced trainer. “Using Red 6’s patented technology, pilots will be able to see and interact with virtual aircraft, targets and threats on the ground and in the air, while also experiencing the cognitive loads of physically flying the airplane,” according to Boeing.

AeroVironment buys robotics control company. AeroVironment, an Arlington-based contractor that builds unmanned aerial vehicles, announced Monday it has completed the acquisition of Tomahawk Robotics, which specializes in AI-enabled robotic control and integrated communications systems. “Now that the acquisition is finalized, we’re able to further integrate both companies’ technologies and accelerate our implementation of AI and autonomy into AeroVironment’s platforms, enabling us to offer the best solutions for our customers’ operational needs,” AeroVironment CEO Wahid Nawabi said.

Save the date. DISA’s Forecast to Industry event, which details the agency's acquisition and procurement plans, is slated for Nov. 6, 2023, in Towson, Maryland. 

Making Moves

  • HawkEye 360 named Rob Rainhart president of the company. He has served as the company’s COO since 2019.
  • Chris Emerson has been appointed chairman of ALL.SPACE, a provider of fifth-gen “smart terminals.” Emerson previously served as the CEO of Airbus U.S. Space and Defense.