The Insider

By Sara Sirota
April 14, 2021 at 4:28 PM

The Air Force Research Laboratory released a long-awaited request for proposals Tuesday for weapons that can thwart commercial off-the-shelf small unmanned aerial systems.

AFRL plans to award a $490 million contract, which will support rapid development and prototyping of capabilities that can fill technology gaps throughout an entire kill chain. The lab is also particularly interested in systems that counter small UAS swarms, according to a November 2019 statement of work included in the RFP.

Proposals are due May 14, and AFRL expects to begin work in August. The period of performance will last about 72 months.

By Tony Bertuca
April 14, 2021 at 3:23 PM

President Biden today announced he is ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.

"It is time to end America's longest war," he said during a televised address. "I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth."

The United States officially has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan, but there are about 1,000 additional special forces personnel there as well.

Biden said the troop drawdown will begin May 1 and be complete by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack that triggered the longest armed conflict in American history.

"We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result," he said.

Biden pledged "significant humanitarian and development assistance" to Afghanistan and its military, with plans to support continued peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.

Biden noted U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden 10 years ago.

"Think about that," he said. "I believed that our presence in Afghanistan should be focused on the reason we went in the first place: to ensure Afghanistan would not be used as a base from which to attack our homeland again. We did that. We've accomplished that objective."

Biden said keeping thousands of U.S. troops massed in Afghanistan made little sense since the threat of transnational terrorism has spread across the globe.

"With the terror threat now in many places, keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year makes no sense to me and our leaders," he said.

Biden said he has ordered a reorganization of U.S. counterterrorism capabilities.

"We will not take our eye off the terrorist threat," he said.

Biden's decision is opposed by many lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who has called it "reckless."

But House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) released a statement supporting the president's decision, saying the United States "cannot wait for the perfect security conditions" to begin withdrawing troops.

"Our goal in the region has always been to prevent transnational terrorists from launching an attack against the United States or our allies, but there are other means to monitor that threat and manage risk and, at this point, the cost and risk of a continued troop presence -- both U.S. troops and those of our allies -- outweigh the benefits," Smith said.

Biden, during his speech, said he carries a card in his pocket with the updated numbers of U.S. casualties in Afghanistan. As of today, he said, 2,488 U.S. troops and personnel have died in the conflict, while 20,722 have been wounded.

"War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking," he said. "It's time to end the forever war."

By Sara Sirota
April 14, 2021 at 3:21 PM

The Air Force has begun market research to identify potential sources that can dismantle, dispose of, and demilitarize the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system.

According to a sources-sought notice released today, the Air Force is looking for contractors that can destroy all Minuteman III-related operational ground equipment and aerospace vehicle equipment, which are currently deployed near Warren Air Force Base, WY, Minot AFB, ND, and Malmstrom AFB, MT. The disposal will also include relevant training sites and depots.

Responses to the sources-sought notice, due May 14, will help the Air Force determine if it can award a contract competitively or to a small business. The notice did not indicate when the service anticipates releasing a request for proposals.

The Air Force is currently in the process of developing the Minuteman III system's replacement, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which is slated to begin fielding in 2029.

By John Liang
April 14, 2021 at 1:35 PM

This Wednesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the Navy's unmanned system capabilities, an Army multidomain task force stationed in Germany and more.

Navy Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, spoke this week at an AUVSI conference on unmanned systems:

Moton: Navy moving deliberately to develop unmanned capabilities, implement unmanned campaign framework

The Navy is working on testing and scaling unmanned capabilities as it moves to implement its unmanned campaign plan, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, according to the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants.

The Army is creating five multidomain task forces around the world to prepare for future warfare against near-peer adversaries, such as China and Russia, with one such task force in Germany:

Army to deploy 500 soldiers to Germany for MDTF and theater fires

U.S. Army Europe and Africa will receive roughly 500 additional soldiers for a multidomain task force and a theater fires command, the Army announced April 13.

Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks established an innovation steering group as part of a new Pentagon governance structure announced last month:

DOD officials preview 'innovation steering group' action on rapid tech adoption

Top Defense Department research officials have told lawmakers the Pentagon's newly formed innovation steering group is studying internal changes DOD can make to accelerate technology adoption and reduce barriers to working with the department.

Inside Defense recently interviewed Rick Giannini, the chairman of the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition:

Carrier industrial base calls for continued carrier block buys, consistent refueling funding

A coalition of aircraft carrier industrial base companies is meeting with members of Congress this week to lobby for continued block buys of aircraft carriers and consistent funding for carriers' refueling and complex overhauls.

The Missile Defense Agency, which in February scrapped plans to issue a request for proposals for its original idea for a Regional Glide Phase Weapon system approach, this week published a "special topic" broad area announcement for "enhanced hypersonic defense":

MDA reboots hypersonic defense project, seeks industry Glide Phase Interceptor white papers

The Missile Defense Agency has launched a project to field a Glide Phase Interceptor -- a major U.S. military effort to develop a counter-hypersonic capability within the decade -- asking industry for proposals for a weapon compatible with the Navy's Aegis combat system with an eye to awarding contracts as soon as this summer.

Document: MDA BAA for hypersonic defense project

By Courtney Albon
April 14, 2021 at 1:16 PM

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has chosen three prime contractors to help develop a nuclear thermal propulsion system for a planned 2025 demonstration above low-Earth orbit.

The agency announced this week it has awarded contracts to General Atomics, Lockheed Martin and Blue Origin as part of its Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program.

According to an April 12 DARPA press release, General Atomics, which received a $22 million contract, will develop a preliminary design of a nuclear thermal propulsion reactor and propulsion subsystem concept. Lockheed received a $2.9 million contract and Blue Origin a $2.5 million contract, and both companies will develop operational and demonstration system spacecraft concepts.

"The performer teams have demonstrated capabilities to develop and deploy advanced reactor, propulsion and spacecraft systems," DRACO Program Manager Maj. Nathan Greiner said in the press release. "The NTP technology we seek to develop and demonstrate under the DRACO program aims to be foundational to future operations in space."

The goal of DRACO is to demonstrate the potential for rapid maneuver in space, traditionally a challenge due to thrust-to-weight ratios and propellent efficiency of current systems, according to DARPA.

"DRACO's NTP system has the potential to achieve high thrust-to-weight ratios similar to in-space chemical propulsion and approach the high propellent efficiency of electric systems," the release states. "This combination would give a DRACO spacecraft greater agility to implement DOD's core tenet of rapid maneuver in cislunar space."

DRACO is divided into multiple phases, and this week’s contracts were for the first, which is focused on risk reduction to inform future design, fabrication and demonstration phases.

By Tony Bertuca
April 14, 2021 at 12:53 PM

President Biden intends to nominate former Sandia National Laboratories Director Jill Hruby to become chief of the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, according to the White House.

Hruby joined Sandia National Laboratories in 1983 as a member of the technical staff and retired as director in 2017. Since her retirement, Hruby has been a member of the Defense Science Board, the NNSA Defense Programs Advisory Committee and the National Academy of Sciences Committee for International Security and Arms Control.

By Marjorie Censer
April 14, 2021 at 9:39 AM

(Clarification: An earlier version of this story did not make clear that American Rheinmetall is still partnered with Raytheon Technologies.)

L3Harris Technologies and American Rheinmetall Vehicles said today they have signed a teaming agreement to jointly develop the Army's new Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle, set to replace the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

"The agreement combines L3Harris' open system design and equipment manufacturing leadership with the maturity and modularity of American Rheinmetall Vehicles' Lynx next-generation fighting vehicle for an OMFV offering that is low-risk and easily upgradable," the companies said.

American Rheinmetall will serve as the prime contractor; L3Harris will provide vehicle mission systems, cybersecurity and its modular open systems approach.

American Rheinmetall previously teamed with Raytheon Technologies to pursue an earlier version of the OMFV program. However, the Army elected to cancel the prototyping competition and then restart the effort.

An American Rheinmetall spokeswoman said the company is still teamed with Raytheon, but adding new partners, including L3Harris.

Last month, Maj. Gen. Ross Coffman, the director of the Next Generation Combat Vehicles Cross-Functional Team, said the Army expects to "have some traditional and some non-traditional [contractors] . . . that are going to be competing" for OMFV.

"We are maximizing the field of who is going to be competing," he added.

By Sara Sirota
April 13, 2021 at 5:27 PM

Sierra Nevada Corp. has withdrawn a Feb. 22 protest with the Government Accountability Office against an Air Force solicitation for a nearly $1 billion HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter upgrades contract.

According to GAO's bid protest docket, SNC withdrew its complaint April 6 -- after the 30-day deadline by which an agency must file a response. SNC declined to provide a comment to Inside Defense about what led to the decision to withdraw.

A source familiar with the procurement told Inside Defense last week the company intends to file a complaint in U.S. Federal Claims Court, which SNC declined to confirm.

Court records indicate SNC did file a sealed complaint against the government in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims Monday over an unidentified pre-award contract. SNC has not responded to an email from Inside Defense asking if the new complaint is related to the GAO protest.

The company has not publicly disclosed its objections to the CRH upgrades contract in its original GAO complaint, which has not been released. However, the protest arrived just 11 days after the Air Force announced it would sole source the award to Sikorsky -- the prime contractor for the CRH program -- without competition.

The Feb. 11 justification and approval document the Air Force released detailing this sole-source decision argued awarding the contract to any other company "would result in unacceptable delays" to fielding. It further revealed the service was not yet in possession of a complete CRH technical data package, which is necessary for competition, and was "in dispute" with Sikorsky over intellectual property rights.

It’s not clear if SNC participated in market research for the HH-60W upgrades contract, but the company makes the kind of technologies the Air Force is looking to add to the new helicopters, like a degraded visual environment system that SNC is installing on the legacy HH-60G Pave Hawks.

By John Liang
April 13, 2021 at 1:55 PM

This Tuesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the defense budget, Army long-range fires and more.

The top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee spoke during a virtual event this morning hosted by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute:

Smith 'deeply concerned' over delayed budget

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said today he is concerned officials at the White House are "dragging their feet getting us the damn budget."

Related, in case you missed it:

Biden defense budget takes political hits from left and right

President Biden's first defense budget is being criticized by congressional Republicans, who say it is too small, and liberal lawmakers, who say it is too big.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville spoke at a virtual event this week hosted by The Washington Post:

Army defends long-range fires after Air Force criticism

Senior Army officials have defended the service's long-range precision fires ambitions in recent days after harsh criticism from the head of Air Force Global Strike Command.

The Air Force has formally reset the acquisition baseline for the KC-46 airborne refueling tanker program:

Air Force locks in new schedule targets for final KC-46A acquisition milestones

The Air Force has formally recalibrated schedule targets for the two remaining acquisition milestones for the troubled $43.9 billion KC-46A acquisition -- setting March 2022 for Required Assets Available, an objective that would mark initial operational capability delay of more than four years, and September 2024 for a full-rate production review.

The Air Force also has a new acquisition strategy for the Stand-in Attack Weapon program:

USAF's SiAW program abandons sole-sourced, AARGM-ER upgrade plan

The Air Force has changed its acquisition strategy for the Stand-in Attack Weapon -- a new strike capability for the F-35 -- and is no longer solely pursuing an upgrade to the extended-range variant of the Navy and Northrop Grumman's Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile.

By Tony Bertuca
April 13, 2021 at 1:35 PM

President Biden plans to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack that launched the longest armed conflict in American history.

A senior administration official who briefed reporters said Biden would formally announce the decision tomorrow.

News of the troop withdrawal was first reported by The Washington Post.

"President Biden has decided to draw down the remaining U.S. troops from Afghanistan and finally end the U.S. war there after 20 years,” the senior administration official said. “We will begin an orderly drawdown of the remaining forces before May 1 and plan to have all U.S. troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11."

The former Trump administration had set May 1 as the deadline to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The senior official said the withdrawal is not "conditions-based."

"The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe for staying in Afghanistan forever," the official said.

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jim Inhofe (R-OK) released a statement criticizing Biden's decision.

"To say I'm concerned is a vast understatement -- this is a reckless and dangerous decision," Inhofe said. "No one wants a forever war, but I've consistently said any withdrawal must be conditions-based. Arbitrary deadlines would likely put our troops in danger, jeopardize all the progress we've made, and lead to civil war in Afghanistan -- and create a breeding ground for international terrorists. We're talking about protecting American lives here."

The senior official said the Biden administration judges the "threat against the homeland now emanating from Afghanistan to be at a level that we can address it without a persistent military footprint in the country and without remaining at war with the Taliban."

The 20-year war in Afghanistan, which has cost trillions of dollars, has led to the deaths of more than 2,300 U.S. troops and caused at least 100,000 Afghan civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, the senior official said, "the president is deeply grateful for the honor, courage and determination of the U.S. men and women who served in Afghanistan for almost two decades, as well as the sacrifices made not just by those troops, but also by their families."

By Marjorie Censer
April 13, 2021 at 1:22 PM

Peraton said today it has named Bill Evanina, the former director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center, to its advisory board.

Evanina joined the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to lead the NCSC in 2014, according to Peraton, and served during both the Obama and Trump administrations. He previously worked at the CIA and the FBI.

By John Liang
April 13, 2021 at 12:51 PM

In advance of this week's congressional intelligence committee hearings on worldwide threats, the director of national intelligence's related annual report has been released.

"This report reflects the collective insights of the Intelligence Community (IC), which is committed every day to providing the nuanced, independent, and unvarnished intelligence that policymakers, warfighters, and domestic law enforcement personnel need to protect American lives and America's interests anywhere in the world," the document reads.

The Senate Select Intelligence Committee is scheduled to hold its hearing on Wednesday, as will the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee the following day.

Check out the DNI's report here.

By Jordan Wolman
April 13, 2021 at 11:04 AM

Based on a tech demo in Arizona this past December, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division will move forward with prototyping and development of an aircraft produced by Martin UAV.

Martin UAV was selected out of 13 original submissions to the Navy's June 2020 call for unmanned aerial systems that are capable of operating in "austere deployed environments without ancillary support systems" and with a preference for systems that do not need launch or recovery equipment.

Two systems were then chosen for a live tech demo in December. Ultimately, Martin UAV's V-BAT was selected out of that competition, the Navy announced yesterday.

The tech demo involved "live flight demonstrations and performance of realistic scenarios," according to the Navy. A panel of "government personnel" observed the event.

According to Martin UAV, a Texas-based technology company, the V-BAT aircraft is the "only" single-engine, ducted fan vertical-takeoff-and-landing UAS with the ability to launch and recover from a hover, fly 11 hours in horizontal flight and transfer mid-flight to "hover and stare."

The V-BAT also has an open architecture. It is currently deployed through the Army's Future Tactical UAS program, U.S. Southern Command, a Marine Expeditionary Unit and the Coast Guard, Martin UAV said in an earlier press release.

By Ethan Sterenfeld
April 13, 2021 at 11:00 AM

BAE Systems has delivered its first prototype of the Mobile Protected Firepower light tank to the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD, a BAE spokeswoman said late last month.

The tank will be used in the Army’s soldier vehicle assessment at Ft. Bragg, NC, which began in January. The service will use the assessment to choose between prototypes from BAE and General Dynamics Land Systems.

“BAE Systems has delivered its first of 12 Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) prototype vehicles to Aberdeen to prepare for the Army’s Soldier Vehicle Assessment at Ft. Bragg,” a BAE spokeswoman said in a statement to Inside Defense. “Our MPF offering couples low signature, overwhelming firepower, high mobility, proven armor, and damage-mitigating technologies for maximum system and crew protection and survivability.”

BAE has faced more delays in delivering prototypes than General Dynamics, which delivered all 12 of its vehicles by the end of December.

Last week, a BAE official, speaking on background, told Inside Defense a lot of the delays were due to supplier issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The official also confirmed BAE has delivered two ballistic hull and turrets to Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD and will deliver another MPF prototype this month.

An Army spokeswoman confirmed the Army received BAE’s first MPF prototype.

By Tony Bertuca
April 12, 2021 at 4:52 PM

President Biden released the names of individuals he intends to nominate to become director of cost assessment and program evaluation and under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

Biden intends to nominate Susanna Blume for CAPE director. She is currently working at the Pentagon performing the duties of CAPE director in an acting capacity.

Blume previously served in the Obama administration as deputy chief of staff for programs and plans to the deputy secretary of defense. She also previously worked as director of the Center for a New American Security's Defense Program.

Biden intends to nominate former California congressman Gil Cisneros (D) to become under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

When he was in Congress, Cisneros served on both the House Armed Services and Veterans' Affairs committees.