The Insider

By John Liang
April 11, 2024 at 2:34 PM

This Thursday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on Pentagon officials urging lawmakers to pass the supplemental spending bill to help arm Ukraine, plus coverage from this week's Space Symposium and more.

Senior DOD officials this week discussed the necessity of passing the supplemental spending bill to aid Ukraine:

Russia poised to 'outshoot' Ukraine 10-1 in coming weeks without U.S. aid, top NATO general says

Gen. Christopher Cavoli, chief of U.S. European Command and supreme allied commander of NATO, said today that Russia currently has a 5-1 advantage over Ukraine when it comes to firing artillery shells, an alarming mismatch that in the coming weeks will be 10-1 if Congress doesn't pass a supplemental security spending bill to provide Kyiv with additional U.S. weapons.

Lack of supplemental will impact training of Ukrainians by late May, Wormuth says

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth told Congress today that by late May, the lack of a supplemental security spending package will hurt the service's efforts to train Ukrainian troops.

Coverage from this year's Space Symposium in Colorado Springs:

Kendall beginning two programs under new 'quickstart' authority

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is already getting started on his "quickstart" initiatives, just weeks after the fiscal year 2024 budget appropriated funds for the new process for rapid prototyping for new-start programs.

Space Force releases Commercial Space Strategy

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- The Space Force today released its long-awaited Commercial Space Strategy, which offers descriptions of what capabilities the service will seek and what processes it will create to ensure commercial integration.

Inside Defense was able to briefly chat with the Navy's No. 1 civilian official following Wednesday's Navy and Marine Corps budget hearing with the House Appropriations defense subcommittee:

Foreign shipyard repairs may be viable future option, Del Toro tells House appropriators

Opening the door to repairs on U.S. Navy ships in foreign countries is one way to ease pressure on domestic shipyards -- an idea that will be included in the service's fiscal year 2025 legislative proposals, according to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.

Jon Elliott, chief of test and evaluation and director of AI assess and assurance in CDAO, said this week that data security and protection is vital to DOD technology transition:

CDAO official says secure data sharing is key for tech transition

An official from the Defense Department's chief digital artificial intelligence office said today that CDAO is focused on providing tools for "data mesh" and establishing "AI pipelines" to help the transition of technology, something he noted the government currently struggles with because of data security.

In its fiscal year 2025 budget request, the Air Force indicated its fleet would reach 4,903 aircraft -- a historic low -- as the service moves to divest 250 aircraft and procure 99:

Air Force fleet will continue to hollow out as service balances readiness and modernization

The Air Force's aircraft inventory is on track to remain under 5,000 "for the remainder of the budget horizon," the service's top planner said Tuesday, hinting it could even drop close to 4,000 by 2029.

News on Army cannons:

Army eyes Next Generation Howitzer new start, third attempt at leap-ahead artillery

The Army, after a failed five-year project to rapidly prototype a self-propelled, extended-range cannon, wants to launch a new-start Next Generation Howitzer program, marking a third attempt since the end of the Cold War to build a leap-ahead artillery system -- this time with a goal to counter threats forecasted in 2040 and beyond.

Army to hold competitive howitzer evaluation in FY-25

After hosting an industry day to evaluate existing capabilities, the Army plans to hold a competitive evaluation for a new self-propelled 155mm howitzer in fiscal year 2025.

The Pentagon's new Transition Tracking Action Group will focus on ensuring that cutting edge systems and tools rapidly reach the hands of military personnel:

DOD stands up new team to track technology transitions

Heidi Shyu, under secretary of defense for research and engineering, inaugurated the Transition Tracking Action Group today in the hopes of giving the Pentagon greater visibility into its technology transition process.

The Army's fiscal year 2025 budget request for the Integrated Battle Command System proposes $2.1 billion for system development and demonstration funding over five years, a substantial increase compared to the FY-24 five-year plan which forecasted $1.1 billion:

Army doubles IBCS development funding in new five-year plan; ties in F-35, THAAD, more

The Army is doubling funding in its updated five-year budget plan for the Integrated Battle Command System in an effort to expedite development of software needed to integrate a list of new sensors, including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, the Remote Interceptor Guidance-360 and more.

By Abby Shepherd
April 11, 2024 at 12:32 PM

The establishment of a Naval Air Warfare Rapid Capabilities Office is still under way, after being included in the fiscal year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act.

The RCO will be headed by an executive oversight board made up of the vice chief of naval operations, the Marine Corps assistant commandant, the Navy assistant secretary for research, development and acquisition and the commander of Naval Air Systems Command, according to a Navy spokesperson.

The office has not yet been stood up and pursuant to this taking place, “specific organizational decisions and policies are currently under review by the commander of the Naval Air Systems Command,” the spokesperson added.

According to language in the FY-24 NDAA, the office will fulfill naval and joint military operational requirements by identifying and rapidly developing “a new naval aviation weapons and airborne electronic warfare capabilities, innovative applications for existing naval aviation weapons and airborne electronic warfare capabilities, and other innovative solutions to enhance the effectiveness of naval aviation weapons and airborne electronic warfare capabilities.”

The RCO will also complete “rapid experimentation, development, testing and fielding of unclassified and classified naval aviation weapons and airborne electronic warfare capabilities,” according to the NDAA.

By Nick Wilson
April 11, 2024 at 11:28 AM

The Navy’s Science and Technology Advisory Board will convene at the end of April to deliver classified recommendations to service leaders on ways for the Navy and Marine Corps to quickly integrate disruptive technologies, a Thursday announcement states.

According to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, the recently established S&T board’s first assignment is to “investigate ways to rapidly integrate asymmetric technologies that have the potential to change the very nature of warfighting.”

“They are meeting later this month, and I greatly look forward to their recommendations,” Del Toro said Tuesday during the Navy League’s Sea-Air-space conference.

The closed meeting will run from April 30 to May 1, with Navy and Marine Corps leadership briefed on opportunities to leverage new, disruptive technologies to “expand warfighting advantage,” the announcement states.

The S&T board was established in September 2023 to provide the Navy with independent advice on a variety of policy areas including science, technology, manufacturing, acquisitions, logistics, medicine, and business management.

This week, Del Toro also announced the release of a new naval science and technology strategy, indicating it will emphasize unmanned systems, biotech and efforts to strengthen the shipbuilding industrial base.

By John Liang
April 10, 2024 at 2:20 PM

This Wednesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news from the Sea-Air-Space symposium, senior defense officials lobbying lawmakers to pass the supplemental spending bill and more.

We start off with continuing coverage of this year's Sea-Air-Space conference:

Navy has a plan to tackle shipbuilding delays, SECNAV says, though details remain scant

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- The Navy does indeed have a plan to remedy shipbuilding challenges, the service's top official said today, providing the first public indication that there is a strategy to tamp down widespread delays identified across its most critical ship and submarine programs.

DARPA's 'No Manning Required, Ship' to transfer to Navy in 2025

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- A long-endurance autonomous vessel currently under development with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is slated to transition to the Navy in 2025 following an initial round of testing, according to Capt. Scot Searles, program manager for unmanned maritime systems.

The Pentagon's top civilian told the Senate Armed Services Committee this week that trying to get the supplemental passed is the Defense Department's "most pressing priority":

DOD looks to rally support for supplemental spending amid partisan debate over capped budget

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown told senators Tuesday that the U.S. defense industrial base would benefit to the tune of $50 billion if Congress would pass a supplemental security spending package that would, among other things, provide weapons to Ukraine and replenish U.S. stocks, further surging domestic weapons production.

There's not much support in the Air Force for setting up a Space National Guard:

Kendall, Saltzman oppose standing up Space National Guard

The Air Force is "definitely not interested" in creating a separate Space National Guard, service Secretary Frank Kendall told lawmakers Tuesday. His remarks follow pushback from the National Guard Bureau over the proposed transfer of Air National Guard space units into the Space Force.

The Pony Express 2 demonstration, which consists of four payloads on two satellites launched in early March, are in final check-out before beginning operations that will be able to connect systems and direct communications:

Lockheed Martin launches Pony Express 2 demo satellites

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO -- Lockheed Martin launched two satellites to demonstrate an autonomous mission testing system intended to fit into the Defense Department's Joint All-Domain Command and Control effort, the company told reporters this week.

U.S. Africa Command recently submitted its latest unfunded priorities list to Congress:

AFRICOM sends Congress $500M unfunded list seeking more counter-drone systems

U.S. Africa Command has sent Congress an unfunded priorities list totaling more than $500 million, highlighting the need to counter armed drones in the region as -- according to a document obtained by Inside Defense -- it is “only a matter of time before U.S. forces in East Africa are attacked” by enemy drones or missiles.

Document: AFRICOM's FY-25 unfunded priorities list

The Defense Writers Group hosted an event this week with officials from the Energy Department's Center for AI Security Research:

AI experts' main security goals are stopping data poisoning and targeting existing vulnerabilities

Leading experts from the Energy Department's artificial intelligence research center believe the most pressing risk areas revolving around AI today are possible data poisoning of Large Language Models and the possibility of adversaries exploiting existing vulnerabilities in systems.

To be held over a four-month period starting this summer at the Yuma Proving Ground in Arizona, a scheduled demonstration follows an April 3 industry day that provided an overview of the self-propelled howitzer performance demonstration:

Army to host howitzer demonstrations this summer following ERCA cancellation

The Army is inviting industry manufacturers to demonstrate the capabilities of existing 155mm howitzer systems, pivoting in its acquisition approach after the cancellation of the Extended Range Cannon Artillery program.

By Nick Wilson
April 10, 2024 at 12:32 PM

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- The Navy aims to increase the number of parts produced through metallic additive manufacturing and equipped on submarines from "a couple" today to "near 100" by year's end, Executive Director of Strategic Submarines Matt Sermon said at the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space conference.

As the sea service looks to improve submarine maintenance rates, it is moving to advance additive manufacturing capabilities and develop expedited processes to create and equip 3D-printed parts on submarines.

“We are progressing. We have permanently installed parts on submarines now -- a couple,” Sermon said today. “I’d like to have hundreds. we have a couple. I think we'll be near 100 by the end of this year and we've got a bunch of them in progress.”

In one recent instance, a government and industry team used AM to produce a replacement for a ballistic missile submarine valve that had previously been cannibalized six times during maintenance availabilities. Through a new, expedited process, the team was able to scan, print, equip and test this valve in the span of nine weeks.

The legacy supply system would have taken 23 or 24 months to deliver the same part, Sermon said. “Probably nine weeks after we identified the problem, we had stopped a multiyear cannibalization chain,” he added.

While Sermon said the Navy is making great strides in the maturation of AM, he acknowledged the technology is still limited in its scope and application.

The Navy is only pursuing accelerated AM processes for “low-severity” submarine components, meaning parts that are not exposed to ocean pressures or to the heat of the boats’ nuclear reactors. But the service will continue maturating its additive manufacturing capabilities across key materials, Sermon said.

By Nickolai Sukharev
April 9, 2024 at 5:01 PM

The Army will host a planning briefing later this month at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to discuss contracting opportunities on future capabilities, according to a public notice.

“The APG [Advance Planning Briefing to Industry] will identify potential contracting opportunities that are aligned with the roadmaps of each respective organization, specifically focusing on Fiscal Years 2025–2026,” the April 8 notice reads.

Focusing on four areas -- command and control, research, testing and chemical and biological defense -- the briefing intends to help industry better understand future Army capabilities and help inform “internal development efforts.”

Scheduled for April 23-25, speakers will be from the Army Development Command, the program executive office for integrated electronic warfare and Defense Logistics Agency and other service and Defense Department agencies.

The Army is developing Project Convergence, the service’s contribution to the Pentagon's Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control initiative, which aims to integrate all the services into a combined operating force in combat environments.

Army projects include the Integrated Battle Command System, designed to connect the service’s missile defense system into one command-and-control system and efforts to improve the mobility of battlefield command posts.

The service is also implementing open architecture approaches in vehicles and fire control systems to allow for easier and quicker software upgrades.

By John Liang
April 9, 2024 at 4:31 PM

Hexcel announced today that its board of directors has appointed Thomas Gentile as CEO and president of the company.

Gentile succeeds current Chairman, CEO and President Nick Stanage, who will become the board's executive chairman and retire at the end of this calendar year, according to a Hexcel statement.

Gentile most recently was president and CEO of Spirit Aerosystems from 2016 to 2023, and before that worked for years in various senior leadership positions at General Electric.

By Georgina DiNardo
April 9, 2024 at 3:16 PM

The Defense Innovation Unit and the Naval Postgraduate School announced a partnership at the Sea-Air-Space Conference today aimed at speeding up commercial, dual-use technology solutions adoption and education.

DIU Director Doug Beck and retired Navy Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau, NPS president, unveiled a memorandum of understanding which attempts to strengthen innovation efforts, while educating defense leaders to maintain a leading edge.

“The MOU will build upon past successes and existing relationships between DIU and NPS to expand complementary efforts and future opportunities targeting education, research, and innovation through student fellowships at DIU, personnel exchanges, collaborative experimentation, and projects with the Naval Innovation Center (NIC) at NPS,” DIU said today.

The NIC was established at NPS in December 2022 by Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.

“I look forward to witnessing the vision for the Naval Innovation Center coming to life at NPS,” Del Toro said. “The NIC will provide an educational opportunity and venue unavailable anywhere else in the world, where industry and academic partners will work side-by-side with our NPS students to research and discover advanced warfighting solutions.”

The partnership also attempts to bolster relationships with industry and academia that are leading the innovation game.

“DIU partners with many Silicon Valley organizations, from tech icons to start-ups as well as universities, and NPS is a natural fit given its defense focus,” Beck said. “Through this partnership we will connect companies with NPS talent and technology leaders, providing a catalyst for their learning and applied research to deliver innovative solutions for the joint force.”

The 2023 Naval Education Strategy calls for naval education to include innovative methods in line with national security priorities.

“Our students are warrior-scholars, and they come to NPS to learn and make a difference,” Rondeau said. “NPS provides a venue to challenge assumptions, try new ideas, and with our industry partners, we serve as an innovation hub to rapidly adapt research concepts into prototype applications and capabilities. This new partnership with DIU will greatly enhance the impact our students can have on the fleet and force through expanded collaborations and greater access to emerging technologies.”

By Tony Bertuca
April 9, 2024 at 2:56 PM

The Senate Armed Services Committee announced today it will begin work on its version of the fiscal year 2025 defense authorization bill on June 12, with subcommittee work set to begin June 11.

The full committee, which traditionally closes its legislative markup sessions to the public, will announce the details regarding time and location at a later date.

The committee notes that the full committee may convene to consider the bill June 13 and June 14 if needed.

By John Liang
April 9, 2024 at 2:10 PM

This Tuesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on a deployment delay of the Marine Corps' CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter, the Space Force proposing the absorption of Air National Guard units with space functions and more.

The Marine Corps' CH-53K helicopter will be deployed a little later than originally thought:

Marine Corps pushes initial CH-53K deployment to 2026

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- The Marine Corps is now planning to launch its initial CH-53K heavy-lift helicopter deployment in calendar year 2026, program manager Col. Kate Fleeger said today, marking a delay of roughly a year compared to the 2025 deployment date previously listed by the service.

(Complete Sea-Air-Space coverage.)

A new Defense Department legislative proposal, sent to Congress late last month, would allow the Space Force to absorb Air National Guard units with space functions, deactivate such units or assign them new federal missions:

National Guard leaders oppose Air Force plan to transition state space units into Space Force

A legislative proposal from the Air Force to shift National Guard space operations directly into the Space Force would create a significant strategic and tactical gap in national security, top National Guard officials said this week.

A recent exercise, which took place off the Southern California coast from March 4-15, was a way for the Navy to observe industry multidomain unmanned systems solutions for possible future integration to fleet operations:

Anduril software integrated into unmanned vehicles during Navy exercise

Anduril Industries announced today that its Lattice system was used as the primary integration software for testing unmanned vehicles across multiple domains at the Navy's Integrated Battle Problem 24.1 exercise.

A joint statement from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, U.K. Secretary of State for Defence Grant Shapps and Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence Richard Marles said “collaboration opportunities” may exist with Japan:

AUKUS officials consider adding Japan to security pact

Defense officials from the U.S., U.K. and Australia said today they are considering including Japan in Pillar II of the AUKUS security agreement, which supports developing and fielding emerging weapons technologies focused on the Indo-Pacific region.

Funding proposed by the White House would aim to strengthen domestic microchip and semiconductor production while helping speed up artificial intelligence development in areas like consumer electronics, high-performance computing and automotive:

Biden seeks $6.6 billion in CHIPS and Science Act funding for new chip factory

The Biden administration announced today a proposed $6.6 billion in direct funding under the CHIPS and Science Act to be directed to a preliminary agreement between the Commerce Department and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) to build a third chip factory in Arizona.

By John Liang
April 8, 2024 at 4:00 PM

This Monday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on naval shipbuilding delays, Australia's hopes for the AUKUS agreement and more.

A recent naval shipbuilding review outlined a 12- to 16-month delay for the lead Columbia-class submarine (SSBN-826); an 18-to-26-month delay for Ford-class aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-80); a three-year delay for the lead Constellation-class frigate (FFG-62); and 24 to 36 months of schedule slips for the Virginia-class submarine program:

Congress mulls shipbuilding delays ahead of Navy budget hearing

With the Navy's highest-ranking officials set to appear before Congress this week for their first fiscal year 2025 budget hearing, lawmakers are weighing the implications of a new shipbuilding review that identified months-long delays across critical acquisition programs.

Saronic Technologies showcased two autonomous surface vessels, the Spyglass and the Cutlass, during a recent naval exercise:

Autonomous surface vessels in line with Replicator demonstrated at naval exercise

During the Navy's Integrated Battle Problem 24.1 exercise, defense startup Saronic Technologies completed a demonstration of two Replicator-aligned autonomous surface vessels in collaboration with the Rapid Defense Experimentation Reserve.

Speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, Paul Myler, deputy head of mission for the Australian embassy, recently outlined the three major changes that he believes must occur for the partnership to be a sustained success:

Defense officials discuss Australia's 'ambitious' wish list for AUKUS

Two Pentagon officials today said Australia's "ambitious" goals for the future of AUKUS and defense technology sharing, which an Australian official outlined today, shows both countries are ready for catalyzing change that will help strengthen and unite their defense industrial bases.

The Army's FY-25 budget request forecasts a $1.8 billion requirement for Patriot Modifications in FY-27, $1.3 billion more than the $502 million the service anticipated for the same year as part of the FY-24 spending blueprint:

Patriot Mods program big winner in new Army five-year plan, nearly $3 billion boost

The Army has set new plans to triple annual spending on Patriot Modifications in fiscal year 2027 as part of a $3 billion increase over five years to improve the capability and readiness of the air defense system, a 174% hike compared to the current future years defense program.

The Army's Launched Effects program will involve "teaming between crewed and uncrewed systems to detect, identify, locate and report pacing threats in contested environments":

Army's FY-25 request includes $20M for Air Launched Effects new start

The Army's fiscal year 2025 budget request released last month includes $20 million for prototyping in the service's Launched Effects program -- a new start for the next fiscal year.

By Abby Shepherd
April 8, 2024 at 3:27 PM

The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier John C. Stennis (CVN-74) has finished the dry dock portion of its refueling and complex overhaul, HII announced Monday.

This dry dock phase consisted of significant upgrades, including defueling and refueling the power plant, upgrading aircraft launch and recovery equipment, painting the ship’s hull, restoring propeller shafts and installing refurbished propellers and rudders, according to HII’s news release.

“Witnessing Stennis leave the dry dock and return to the water is a testament to the hard work of our shipbuilders, the crew and our government partners,” Rob Check, Newport News Shipbuilding vice president of in-service aircraft carrier programs, said in a statement. “We remain laser focused on the work ahead during this RCOH period and look forward to preparing this mighty aircraft carrier for the next half of its operational life.”

The carrier will now receive the rest of its RCOH work and testing, which includes the overhaul and installation of major components, as well as the testing of electronics, combat and propulsion systems. Crew living spaces, galleys and mess desks will also be improved.

“Our focus remains steadfast to get our ship back into the fight and to foster the professional and personal development of our sailors,” Capt. J. Patrick Thompson III, the ship’s commanding officer, said in a statement. “We look forward to continue working with our industry partners to complete remaining production and test work and redeliver Stennis back to the fleet.”

Stennis is the seventh Nimitz-class aircraft carrier to undergo RCOH work and was originally delivered to the Navy in 1995. The Navy awarded the overhaul contract to HII in 2021 -- a contract worth $3 billion.

By Nick Wilson
April 8, 2024 at 2:45 PM

Contractor BAE Systems has received a $79 million contract modification to produce three production-representative test vehicles for the Amphibious Combat Vehicle Recovery variant, according to a Pentagon announcement.

ACV-R is the fourth and final variant planned within the Marine Corp’s ACV program, following personnel carrier (ACV-P), command and control (ACV-C) and 30mm cannon (ACV-30) versions.

Under the new award, BAE will deliver three ACV-Rs for government testing, which is expected to occur “next year,” a separate announcement from BAE states.

Equipped with a winch and crane, the ACV-R is intended to provide field support, maintenance, and recovery for the vehicle family. According to BAE, ACV-R will be capable of recovering vehicles weighing more than 30 tons.

“One of the most challenging things that can happen on the battlefield is for a vehicle to breakdown or need to be recovered,” BAE vice president of amphibious programs Garrett Lacaillade said in a statement included in the company’s release. “The ACV-R is a modern, highly capable recovery and mobile repair unit that provides critical expeditionary support to immobilized ACVs in the field and provides maintenance support capabilities without risking our Marines’ safety.”

The Marine Corps expects the ACV-R to achieve initial operational capability in the first quarter of fiscal year 2028, budget documents state.

The service’s FY-25 budget request looks to continue acquisitions of earlier ACV variants, requesting $810 million for 80 ACV-30s -- a variant equipped with a stabilized, medium-caliber, remote turret system.

This procurement quantity reflects a reduction of 48 vehicles compared to the prior year’s expectations, due to spending caps under the Fiscal Responsibility Act and higher than expected costs for the vehicles, according to justification documents.

By Nick Wilson
April 8, 2024 at 8:00 AM

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- Lockheed Martin and Intel subsidiary Altera have been contracted by the office of the under secretary of defense for research and engineering to develop an electronic defense capability that could eventually be equipped on the Navy’s MH-60R helicopter fleet, according to a Monday announcement published ahead of the Navy League's Sea-Air-Space conference.

According to the release, Lockheed aims to develop a "low size, weight and power (SWaP), Sensor Open Systems Architecture (SOSA) aligned airborne electronic defense system,” that will rely on Altera’s “multi-chip package” composed of domestically produced semiconductors.

The final product is intended to eventually serve as an upgrade to the MH-60R’s existing ALQ-210 electronic support measures (ESM) system used for threat identification and situational awareness, company executives told reporters last week.

The $7.7 million contract was awarded “through the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Crane Division Strategic & Spectrum Missions Advanced Resilient Trusted Systems (S2MARTS) Other Transaction Agreement (OTA) vehicle and will be managed by the National Security Technology Accelerator (NSTXL),” the announcement states.

The initiative is part of the Pentagon’s Stimulating Transition for Advanced Microelectronics Packaging (STAMP) program -- an initiative launched in 2022 to rapidly field microelectronics modernization prototypes.

“As a STAMP awardee, Lockheed Martin will advance the progression of technology to enable a defense system that detects and identifies threats with greater speed and accuracy at a significantly reduced SWaP and cost, freeing space for equipment to support other missions,” the announcement states.

“While initially designed for the Sikorsky MH-60R helicopter, STAMP technology applies to platforms across all domains, including air, land and sea,” the release adds.

Work will extend through the next 18 months with the companies first integrating their technologies before beginning testing with the MH-60R program toward the end of this window. Company officials were unable to specify when the system may be fielded to the fleet.

By Nick Wilson
April 8, 2024 at 5:15 AM

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- Drone company Saildrone today announced a new partnership with Thales Australia to equip autonomous uncrewed surface vehicles with a towed-array sonar payload to support anti-submarine warfare missions.

The partnership will pair the latest evolution of Thales’ BlueSentry thin-line, towed-array system -- a platform-agnostic payload designed for compatibility with a variety of unmanned vehicles -- with Saildrone’s Surveyor medium-USV, a 65-foot-long autonomous vessel made for long-endurance, open-ocean missions including mapping and maritime domain awareness.

The towed-array system will enable the USV to perform intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions needed in ASW missions and will free up manned vessels typically involved in these operations, Saildrone announced today at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space conference.

“Thales Australia has a proud history of exporting specialized sonar and acoustic products in support of one of our closest allies, the United States,” Troy Stephen, vice president of underwater systems for Thales Australia and New Zealand, said in a statement included in the announcement. “This opportunity with Saildrone now represents the ability to expand that support to include our latest innovations in the field of undersea surveillance through the BlueSentry thin-line array system.”

In a statement shared with Inside Defense, Saildrone Founder & CEO Richard Jenkins said the effort is not directly related to AUKUS Pillar II, which seeks greater collaboration between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom in the development of advanced technologies including autonomy and undersea capabilities.

“That said, we anticipate considerable applications within the AUKUS Pillar II structure when it takes shape, at which time the Surveyor/BlueSentry combination will be a mature product ready to roll out at scale," Jenkins said.

In 2022, Saildrone and shipbuilder Austal USA announced a partnership to increase Surveyor production at the latter company’s aluminum production line in Mobile, AL. The two companies launched the first Austal-built Surveyor earlier this year.

The Navy is incorporating Surveyor USVs in exercises and experimentation. Last month, Rear Adm. James Aiken said the 4th Fleet has seen success using Saildrone systems in its operations, while Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti underscored the service’s focus on developing and fielding uncrewed technology.