The Insider

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.

By Tony Bertuca
April 8, 2024 at 5:00 AM

The week ahead is packed with events including numerous congressional hearings and two large conferences featuring senior Pentagon officials.


The Sea-Air-Space Conference begins at National Harbor, MD. The event runs through Wednesday.

The Space Symposium conference begins in Colorado Springs, CO. The event runs through Thursday.


The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. C.Q. Brown and Pentagon Comptroller Mike McCord to discuss the fiscal year 2025 budget request.

The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee holds a hearing on the Air Force and Space Force budget.

The Air and Space Forces Association hosts a discussion with the Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and programs.


The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the U.S. military posture in Europe.

The House Armed Services cyber, information technology and innovation subcommittee holds a hearing on the U.S. military’s cyber capabilities.

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee holds a hearing on the Navy and Marine Corps budgets.

The House Appropriations defense subcommittee holds a hearing on the Army budget.

The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on U.S. Cyber Command and U.S. Special Operations Command.


The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on U.S. European Command and U.S. Transportation Command.

The House Armed Services Committee holds its annual member day.

The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces and readiness subcommittees hold a joint hearing on U.S. Transportation Command.

The House Armed Services intelligence and special operations subcommittee holds a hearing on the defense intelligence enterprise's posture and capabilities to counter China.


The House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee holds a hearing on the missile defense and defeat budget.

The Air and Space Forces Association's Mitchell Institute hosts a discussion with the deputy chief of staff for Air Force futures.

By Georgina DiNardo
April 5, 2024 at 2:12 PM

The Pentagon, through the experimental event series Thunderstorm 24-3, is searching for innovative solutions on robotic partners and human-machine interfaces that can excel in various operational conditions.

The Thunderstorm event series, coordinated through the innovation and modernization office within the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, focuses on discovering new technologies and supplying industry, academia and government organizations with feedback on their innovative solutions to accelerate the technology-maturation process.

Each Thunderstorm event highlights a different aspect of emerging technology the Pentagon is looking to further develop.

“Thunderstorm 24-3 focuses on innovative solutions for robotic partners and human-machine interfaces (HMI),” a request for information posted yesterday said. “Robotics and HMI solutions are critical in DOD operations because they enhance warfighter capabilities in challenging environments and across multiple mission spaces.”

The Defense Department said it was searching for these capabilities as robotics can help lower the risk to humans and HMI capabilities can “reduce operator workload.”

“Applicable across all domains, robotics and HMI technologies provide a technological advantage in unpredictable operational conditions,” the notice said.

The application deadline for solutions is May 15 and Thunderstorm 24-3 is scheduled to occur on Sept. 16-20 near College Station, TX.

Meanwhile, Thunderstorm 24-2, which focuses on persistent sensors innovative capabilities, will take place in June.

By John Liang
April 5, 2024 at 1:53 PM

This Friday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on U.S. and Chinese naval officials meeting face-to-face again for the first time in two years, plus the dearth of Air Force aircraft spare parts and more.

This week marked the first in-person engagement between U.S. and Chinese naval officials since 2019, as 2021's meeting was virtual:

U.S. and Chinese Navy officials hold annual meeting after two-year pause

For the first time in two years, military officials from the United States and China met Wednesday and Thursday in Waikiki, HI to engage under the Military Maritime Consultative Agreement -- a practice in place since 1998 meant to safeguard operational safety in the air and sea and reduce clashes between the two militaries.

In more China-related news, the Pentagon wants to develop its own high-altitude surveillance balloons like the one China flew over the continental U.S. last year:

A year after Chinese spy balloon drama, U.S. military seeks its own high-flying balloons

A year after a Chinese stratospheric balloon flew across the United States -- triggering a political furor, discussion about gaps in domain awareness and the eventual combat downing of the airship -- the U.S. military is seeking funding to begin its own high-altitude balloon project to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Having more spare parts would free up 221 Air Force aircraft for mission-ready use:

Air Force to slash number of grounded aircraft by 43% if Congress OKs unfunded request

Roughly 221 aircraft at risk of being grounded can be saved if Congress approves the Air Force’s $1.5 billion unfunded priorities list request to restock spare parts, Inside Defense has learned.

U.S. European Command has submitted its fiscal year 2025 unfunded priorities list:

EUCOM's unfunded priorities list identifies unmet comms needs

U.S. European Command has sent Congress a $23 million unfunded priorities list, highlighting the need for new network technology, according to a document obtained by Inside Defense.

Document: EUCOM's FY-25 unfunded priorities list

The chief executive of HII spoke this week about supply chain issues affecting the delivery of the third Ford-class aircraft carrier:

Enterprise delay due to supply chain, HII CEO says

Supply chain issues are largely to blame for the potential 18-to-26-month delay facing the future Ford-class aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-80), according to HII CEO and President Chris Kastner.

By Georgina DiNardo
April 4, 2024 at 3:56 PM

Oceaneering International announced today the completion of a successful one-week autonomous underwater vehicle demonstration for the Navy and the Defense Innovation Unit, completing the first phase of a prototype agreement.

The demonstration included showcasing Oceaneering’s design, engineering and operating capabilities pertaining to the Freedom Autonomous Undersea Vehicle, which was selected by the Navy and DIU for evaluation with potential future use in the Large Displacement Unmanned Underwater Vehicles fleet the U.S. military is working on.

In February, the Navy and DIU announced they had awarded prototype agreements to Oceaneering, Kongsberg Discovery and Anduril Industries to assist with unmanned underwater vehicle platform prototyping and development.

Kongsberg and Anduril have not reported any official demonstrations yet.

DIU Navy lead Capt. Alex Campbell told Inside Defense in February that the prototyping agreements all contain milestones that began “with a series of in-water demonstration events of existing capabilities against government requirements.”

“The demonstration included several days of at-sea testing where Oceaneering successfully demonstrated many of the autonomous capabilities of the Freedom AUV, including undocking, docking, obstacle avoidance, precision payload placement, survey and transit,” Oceaneering’s press release said today.

This demonstration is the first phase of the contract Oceaneering signed with the Navy and DIU.

“Phase two, if executed, will contain prototype development tasks,” Oceaneering said.

Oceaneering said that the demonstration was an “important milestone” for maritime defense.

“Ultimately, advanced UUVs will supplement submarine fleets by conducting autonomous sensing and delivering payloads in challenging, dispersed, deep-sea environments,” Oceaneering said. “These events serve as critical baseline assessments to understand capability gaps and inform future development priorities.”

Oceaneering’s Subsea Robotics segment held the test at its subsea autonomy testing facility in Norway, where Peter Buchanan, senior director for the Subsea Robotics segment, said there were unpredictable weather conditions that helped display Freedom AUV’s ability in “tackling complex challenges.”

“It has been an extraordinary experience spending this week with the U.S. Navy and DIU showcasing the exceptional capabilities of our Freedom AUV unit,” Buchanan said. “Our collaborative sessions have been instrumental in highlighting the unit's proven capabilities, efficient data recovery, amazing vehicle control and autonomy, precise mission planning and effective troubleshooting strategies.”

By John Liang
April 4, 2024 at 3:25 PM

This Thursday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the Navy testing high-power microwave technology, the Air Force looking to use "drone swarms" to disarm enemy defenses and more.

In this summer's Advanced Naval Technology Exercise Coastal Trident Program (ANTX-CT24) exercise, Epirus -- a Los Angeles-based technology company focusing on directed energy -- will participate in field experiments using its Leonidas HPM technology to "temporarily disable small vessels powered by outboard motors," like the uncrewed vessels seen in the Red Sea:

High-Power Microwave tech to be tested in Navy exercise

A defense start-up wants to successfully display High-Power Microwave technology that can potentially disrupt drones, similar to those launched recently by Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Alexus Grynkewich, commander of U.S. Air Forces Central, spoke with reporters this week during a breakfast hosted by the Defense Writers Group:

AFCENT commander wants to use 'drone swarms' to disarm enemy defenses

As the Pentagon moves to rapidly deploy an affordable mass of uncrewed aircraft to get intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities up to speed for potential future challenges in the Indo-Pacific, Defense Department forces are already facing some drone-related issues amid conflict in the Middle East, according to a top U.S. Central Command official.

Navy Comptroller Russell Rumbaugh said at an American Enterprise Institute event this week, in remarks that followed the service's release of a shipbuilding review identifying rampant delays across key programs:

Navy can't 'buy its way out' of programmatic challenges, comptroller says

The Navy can't "buy its way out" of the problems facing key acquisitions programs, a senior official said today, though the service is still determining exactly what it can do to alleviate widespread delays across high-priority submarine and ship acquisition programs.

DARPA wants to slash $900 million in sensor funding:

DARPA's sensor portfolio slashed by half in new five-year plan

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's sensor technology portfolio that aims to improve the accuracy and timeliness of surveillance and targeting systems is being offered up as a bill payer in the Pentagon's new five-year spending plan, with proposed reductions of more than $900 million when compared to the current blueprint.

Document: DARPA's FY-25 budget justification book

The Air Force's top uniformed officer spoke about the Collaborative Combat Aircraft program this week:

Air Force to write affordability into CCA requirements

The Air Force will write affordability into the requirements for its Collaborative Combat Aircraft, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin said last week.

By Georgina DiNardo
April 4, 2024 at 1:55 PM

Shield AI, a U.S. defense technology company, announced its definitive agreement to acquire Sentient Vision Systems, an Australian artificial intelligence company, citing its focus on Pillar II of the AUKUS security agreement.

Together, the companies will blend their operational knowledge of AI and develop “superior intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities for today’s rapidly changing defense and security environment,” Shield AI said today.

The merger, which is subject to federal regulatory approval, comes amid Defense Department efforts to further AUKUS Pillar II, which focuses on tri-lateral involvement between the U.S., the U.K. and Australia to develop and field advanced defense technologies.

Mark Palmer, Sentient Vision Systems’ CEO, said the new partnership underscores the goals outlined in AUKUS Pillar II.

“What stood out to us about Shield AI is that they are the only company in the world with an operational AI pilot, and therefore have the technological expertise and maturity to really deliver on the AI technology workstream underlined in AUKUS Pillar 2,” Palmer said. “The innovation breakthrough combining our computer vision AI-enabled ViDAR and Shield AI’s Hivemind will increase situational awareness, enabling quicker more effective decision making and help to save lives.”

In October, Shield AI and Sentient announced a multiyear agreement to combine Sentient’s ViDAR, which is an AI system that uses Electro-Optic or Infrared sensors to identify and label targets invisible to a conventional radar, with Shield AI’s Hivemind, which is an AI pilot that does not require remote GPS operators, naming the collaboration the “Sentient Observer.”

“This acquisition unites Sentient’s ViDAR and our Hivemind AI pilot, creating the world’s most advanced AI-piloted ISR sensor package,” said Ryan Tseng, CEO and co-founder of Shield AI. “Considering the imperative of covering vast maritime areas, especially in the Pacific, joining forces with Sentient was a strategic choice given their expertise in optical radar solutions. The integration of WAMI on V-BAT will revolutionize our offering, enabling Group 3-sized aircraft to perform tasks that previously required larger, costlier aircraft, significantly enhancing our customers’ operational capabilities.”

Shield AI plans to fly the “Sentient Observer” this year, as well as roll out the first deliveries.

“The DOD has asked for an all-seeing eye over tens of thousands of square miles, 24/7, without the need for GPS or communication links,” said Brandon Tseng, Shield AI’s president and cofounder. “For Shield AI, Sentient Observer is the final piece of that puzzle. The DOD can begin augmenting and replacing their legacy solutions for a distributed, low cost, low risk solution that doesn’t break the bank if an aircraft is shot down.”

By Vanessa Montalbano
April 4, 2024 at 11:32 AM

Skydweller Aero recently flew an unmanned, solar-powered and large-scale aircraft out of Stennis International Airport in Mississippi, according to a news release the company issued today.

The net-zero aircraft, dubbed Skydweller, can remain in the air for three months, or roughly 90 days, at an altitude of up to 45,000 feet, the aerospace company said. It is the first aircraft of its kind -- with a wingspan larger than that of a Boeing 747 -- that can take off, fly and land independently without assistance from a crew either on-board or in a remote location, it added.

“Our fleet of uncrewed aircraft will enable a multitude of long-duration missions that support national security and non-terrestrial communications with revolutionary cost savings,” Robert Miller, Skydweller’s chief executive, said in a statement.

In the release the company said Skydweller can complete several missions with one aircraft over large spans of time, while conventional combustion engine aircraft are typically limited to about 40 hours of perpetual flight time and require constant maintenance.

Part of the appeal attached to the solar-powered aircraft, Skydweller said, is that it would no longer deliberately place flight crews in hostile environments.

“A Skydweller aircraft can take off from the United States, fly itself to the South China Sea, and stay in the air on mission for weeks or months before returning home,” the company wrote. “Additionally, autonomy enables not just traditional long-duration missions, but also new missions that would have formerly been deemed unacceptable due to risk to the flight crew.”

The carbon neutral aircraft may also be used to collect long-term intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance above conflict zones, observe naval activity in contested waters and track illegal activity, including drug smuggling or wildlife poaching, according to Skydweller.

“This really is a first when it comes to national security and protecting Americans,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “It really is great news and it’s only the beginning.”

By Nickolai Sukharev
April 3, 2024 at 7:12 PM

(Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that three companies have been added to the original five selected to develop autonomous systems for the Army's Robotic Combat Vehicle.)

The Defense Innovation Unit announced yesterday it has selected Anduril Industries, Overland AI and Palantir Technologies and added them to five companies previously selected to develop autonomous systems for the service's Robotic Combat Vehicle.

“Together, these companies will support the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) program in developing a robust, capable and compliant software system that can operate in a variety of autonomous modes and rapidly integrate a variety of payloads as they become available,” the April 3 release reads.

The DIU selected Forterra, Kodiak Robotics, Neya Systems and Overland AI to develop the autonomous navigation software for the vehicle while Applied Intuition and Scale AI will develop the machine learning capabilities.

Anduril Industries and Palantir Technologies will be responsible for software system integration.

“We are excited to work with these best-in-class autonomy providers, software experts and systems integrators as we drive towards merging software capabilities developed through the RCV Software Acquisition Pathway (SWP) into the RCV Full System Prototype (FSP),” RCV Product Manager Steve Herrick said in the release.

“Our software system integrators will also be the first to implement Traceability, Observability, Replaceability and automated Consumption (TORC) compliance for Army software-centric ground vehicles, thereby helping the Army ensure programmatic flexibility and performance over time.”

Part of the Army’s human-machine integration efforts, the Robotic Combat Vehicle is designed to conduct reconnaissance missions and protect the flanks of crewed armored units. The vehicle is intended to be attritable will have a flatbed to accommodate both lethal and non-lethal payloads.

The Army initially envisioned light, medium and heavy variants but, in August 2023, prioritized development on the light variant through a middle-tier acquisition pathway and rapid prototyping approach, according to the Congressional Research Service.

In September 2023, the Army down selected General Dynamics, Oshkosh, Textron and HDT to develop prototypes of the vehicle for delivery in August 2024.

While General Dynamics, Oshkosh and Textron are developing tracked vehicles, HDT opted for wheels in their design.