The Insider

By Nick Wilson
February 15, 2024 at 2:38 PM

SAN DIEGO -- Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro today questioned the defense industry’s commitment to delivering naval capabilities on time and on budget, suggesting some unnamed companies are prioritizing stock prices and executive compensation over necessary capital investments, and promising to take legal action to ensure taxpayers receive adequate return on investment.

“Through initiatives like the Taxpayer Advocacy Project, I have directed our contract community and Office of General Counsel to ensure that we will leverage all legal means at our disposal to ensure that the American people are getting what they paid for,” Del Toro said, though he provided few additional details on this new initiative.

Speaking to a room full of defense contractors during the West 2024 conference, Del Toro congratulated companies for record profits, pointing to quarterly financial statements. But, he said, industry needs to deliver key warfighting capabilities -- including submarines, ships and aircraft -- on time, on budget and without excuses.

“You can't be asking for the American taxpayer to make greater public investments while you continue to goose your stock prices through stock buybacks, deferring promised capital investments, and other accounting maneuvers that -- to some -- seem to prioritize stock prices that drive executive compensation rather than making the needed, fundamental investments in the industrial base at a time when our nation needs us to be all ahead flank,” he said.

Del Toro’s comments break from the typical talking points of senior Navy officials, who generally emphasize the partnership between defense contractors and the service and promote collaboratively tackling industrial base issues.

But as the Navy faces heightened pressure to maintain an advantage over China, industry is struggling with often-cited workforce and supply chain issues, and key weapon and shipbuilding programs like the Virginia-class submarine face significant delays.

Now, the Navy is serious about holding industry accountable for poor performance and misconduct, according to Del Toro, who said he has directed a “deep dive into holding individuals accountable” for these offenses too.

By Georgina DiNardo
February 14, 2024 at 3:09 PM

A recent joint military experiment showcased a variety of multidomain uncrewed systems at Camp Roberts, CA, earlier this month, testing emerging technology being pursued by the Pentagon.

The Joint Interagency Field Experimentation event, which took place Feb. 6-8, aimed to “foster the defense innovation ecosystem by bringing together stakeholders across the Department of Defense and U.S. government with technology developers from industry and academia,” according to DOD.

JIFX 24-2, hosted by the office of the under secretary of defense for research and engineering, centered on multidomain uncrewed systems and countermeasures and included about 25 companies and “non-traditional performers” showcasing their technologies.

“Multi-Domain UxS encompasses autonomous vehicles capable of traversing between physical environments, such as moving along in ‘boat mode’ before taking off above the waves as an Unmanned Aircraft System,” DOD said.

The JIFX 24-2 experiments, according to the event website, included a variety of systems ranging from unmanned aerial systems, compact aerial inspection, GPS-denied unmanned aerial vehicles navigation, swarming meteorological measurement systems, systems that assessed off-road autonomous driving capabilities, intelligent humanoid robots, physical tokens for variable text encryption, C5ISR technologies for the tactical edge, target detection using neuromorphic vision, multidomain expeditionary artificial intelligence that analyzes behavior, frontline perception system and holographic situational awareness.

Many of the systems, however, are in line with the stated requirements of the Pentagon’s Replicator initiative, which aims to field thousands of attritable autonomous weapon systems by February-August 2025. However, Cdr. Tim Gorman, a Pentagon spokesman, told Inside Defense that JIFX 24-2 has "no ties to Replicator."

The systems that JIFX 24-2 showcased are all from small businesses, which is also where Replicator aims to collaborate to strengthen the domestic defense industrial base and explore creative, innovative solutions.

"Collaboration with industry is key to the Department of Defense's ability to resolve some of our greatest technological and security challenges," Heidi Shyu, DOD’s chief technology officer, said in a statement about JIFX 24-2.

"Field showcases like JIFX will allow us to explore, develop and field the capabilities that our troops deserve,” she continued.

By John Liang
February 14, 2024 at 2:22 PM

This Wednesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news from the Air and Space Force Association's annual Warfare Symposium out in Colorado as well as the AFCEA West Conference in San Diego.

The Air Force is warning of the negative effects of a full-year continuing resolution on the service:

Air Force paints ugly budget picture of full-year CR

The Air Force and Space Force will lose a combined total of $6 billion in modernization investments and suffer $13 billion in lost buying power if Congress cannot pass a fiscal year 2024 defense appropriation and opts for a yearlong funding patch, according to a new fact sheet.

More news from the AFA Warfare Symposium:

Kendall: Air Force having 'hard time' negotiating E-7 Wedgetail contract with Boeing

DENVER -- Senior Air Force leaders disclosed that negotiations with Boeing to contract for the first E-7A Wedgetail aircraft have been "difficult" due to non-recurring engineering development.

Space Force creating Space Futures Command to handle capabilities requirements

DENVER -- As part of the Air Force's organizational shakeup, the Space Force will create a new field command to streamline requirements generation for the young service.

Air Force to down select for CCA program in coming months

DENVER -- The Air Force is on track to down select for the first increment of Collaborative Combat Aircraft in the coming months, but budgetary constraints may only allow for two vendors instead of a preferred three, service Secretary Frank Kendall said today.

We also have coverage from this week's AFCEA West Conference out in San Diego:

Red and Black Seas demonstrate mounting tactical challenges to defending ships, naval officials say

SAN DIEGO -- Two ongoing naval conflicts, one playing out in the Red Sea and other in the Black Sea, have illuminated a single critical lesson: the Navy and Marine Corps must rapidly advance their techniques and tactics to stay abreast with the rapidly changing "character of war," especially when it comes to defending ships from missiles and drones, service officials said.

CNO: Navy on track to begin operationalizing a hybrid manned-unmanned fleet as early as FY-29

SAN DIEGO -- The Navy is making progress in the development of a hybrid manned-unmanned fleet, according to the chief of naval operations, who said the service is on path to begin widespread integration and operationalizing of unmanned platforms as early as fiscal year 2029.

By John Liang
February 14, 2024 at 10:46 AM

BAE Systems announced this morning that it has received regulatory approval to buy Ball Corp.'s Ball Aerospace business unit for $5.5 billion.

"BAE Systems and Ball Corp. will be executing the plan to complete the acquisition in the coming days," according to a BAE statement.

The two companies originally announced the deal last August.

"The newly acquired business will be called Space & Mission Systems and will map within the Electronic Systems reporting segment," BAE said.

BAE Systems CEO Charles Woodburn said in the announcement: "The addition of this quality, fast-growing technology-focused business will significantly expand our presence in this increasingly critical space domain and further enhances our value compounding model of top line growth, margin expansion and high cash generation."

By Nick Wilson
February 13, 2024 at 5:28 PM

SAN DIEGO -- The Marine Corps is preparing to test a semi-submersible, autonomous vessel prototype designed to covertly resupply ground forces with missiles, the head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command said today.

According to Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl, the service has been developing a prototype “Autonomous Low-Profile Vessel,” or ALPV, over the past year, and will test the vessel in an operational setting for the first time during the upcoming Project Convergence Capstone 4 exercise this spring.

The ALPV is specifically designed to carry two Naval Strike Missiles for the Navy/Marine Corps Expeditionary Ship Interdiction System (NEMESIS) -- a robotically controlled, anti-ship missile capability consisting of a medium-range cruise missile launcher mounted on a Joint Light Tactical Vehicle.

The ALPV will rely on its stealth and low signature to avoid detection and deliver missiles to forward-deployed Marines, Heckl said during the West 2024 conference here. The platform’s goal, he said, is to enhance lethality and strengthen supply logistics.

While the Marine Corps has practiced deploying and recovering the ALPV from multiple surface vessels over the past year, Project Convergence will mark the first time it is tested within the operational context of an exercise.

According to Heckl, the Marine Corps found inspiration for the ALPV in an unlikely place: drug trafficking.

Government Counter-narcotics bodies, like the Florida-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, struggle to detect similar vessels used to smuggle drugs into the United States via the ocean, he said.

Like the developing Landing Ship Medium, the ALPV is part of the Marine Corps push to strengthen its logistics networks as part of force design modernization. While the effort is still in its early developmental stages, Heckl said the Marine Corps envisions eventually procuring a variety of low-cost ALPV variants customized for specific payloads.

By John Liang
February 13, 2024 at 1:41 PM

This Tuesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the Senate's supplemental spending bill plus coverage of the Air and Space Forces Association's annual Warfare Symposium and more.

A Senate supplemental spending bill passed early this morning doesn't have much chance in the House:

Senate passes $95B security supplemental after all-night vote

The Senate voted 70-29 to pass a $95.3 billion supplemental spending package early this morning that would provide military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, with tens of billions intended for the U.S. defense industrial base.

The Air and Space Forces Association is hosting its annual Warfare Symposium in Colorado this week. Here's some of our coverage:

Kendall announces details of restructuring for 'great power competition'

DENVER -- Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall's massive restructuring of the service to compete against potential adversaries, such as China, will include a new command for generating capability requirements, a new process for deploying combat wings and elevated offices for electronic warfare and nuclear systems.

Air Force looking to improve radar on munitions

DENVER -- The Air Force's top commander in Europe today said he wants to add new capabilities to the service's munitions stockpile, including improved radar to locate and take down small drones.

Complete AFA Warfare Symposium coverage.

The Air Force's top acquisition official spoke at an Atlantic Council event late last week:

Hunter: Foundational architectures the cornerstone for future Air Force acquisition

The Air Force will develop several foundational architectures that acquisition chief Andrew Hunter said today will better integrate the service and boost competition for major programs.

U.S. Special Operations Command chief Gen. Bryan Fenton told the Defense Writers Group last week that artificial intelligence will help counter unscrewed aerial system attacks in a multitude of ways:

SOCOM sees AI as key to countering unmanned drone attacks

The chief of U.S. Special Operations Command said today that integrating artificial intelligence and autonomy will be key to developing and fielding systems that can counter unmanned aerial systems.

By Abby Shepherd
February 12, 2024 at 3:23 PM

The Navy -- looking to increase the performance envelope of a sea-skimming target -- has asked Northrop Grumman to conduct a study into the target's capabilities.

Under a contract to be awarded in the first quarter of fiscal year 2025, Northrop Grumman will “perform a study to increase the performance envelope of the GQM-163A Coyote Supersonic Sea-Skimming Targets (SSST),” according to a notice posted Monday.

The Coyote target is used by the Navy to train and qualify systems and crews on naval vessels, according to a 2022 Northrop Grumman release. The Coyote was originally designed as a Mach 2.5+ sea-skimming target but was later improved to reach Mach 3.5+ as a diving target from an altitude over 50,000 feet.

Naval Air Systems Command awarded the Coyote program to Northrop Grumman in 2000 -- a contract worth over $329 million. As of 2022, the company had delivered more than 145 targets to the Navy.

U.S. Central Command continues to face attacks from Houthi rebels based in Yemen -- mostly unmanned surface vessels and anti-ship cruise missiles targeted against Navy ships and merchant vessels transiting the Red Sea. The improvement of the Coyote’s performance envelope could prove useful in the Navy’s mission of continued deterrence against Houthi attacks.

By John Liang
February 12, 2024 at 1:58 PM

This Monday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on funding for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine upgrade, over-the-horizon radars and more.

We start off with news -- outside the paywall -- that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine upgrade effort will run out of money soon if a full appropriations bill isn't passed:

F-35 engine upgrade program to run out of money in June without FY-24 budget

An ongoing engine modernization program for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will have to halt at the end of June if Congress isn't able to rectify a monthslong partisan divide over the fiscal year 2024 budget, Inside Defense has learned.

More aircraft engine news:

Pratt & Whitney reaches crucial digital design milestone for NGAP prototype

Pratt & Whitney has completed a crucial preliminary design review of its digital offering for the Air Force's secretive Next Generation Adaptive Propulsion prototype, according to an advance news release from the company.

The Air Force's top acquisition official spoke at an Atlantic Council event late last week:

Hunter: Foundational architectures the cornerstone for future Air Force acquisition

The Air Force will develop several foundational architectures that acquisition chief Andrew Hunter said today will better integrate the service and boost competition for major programs.

U.S. Special Operations Command chief Gen. Bryan Fenton told the Defense Writers Group last week that artificial intelligence will help counter unscrewed aerial system attacks in a multitude of ways:

SOCOM sees AI as key to countering unmanned drone attacks

The chief of U.S. Special Operations Command says integrating artificial intelligence and autonomy will be key to developing and fielding systems that can counter unmanned aerial systems.

The fiscal year 2024 budget request included $423.6 million for a homeland defense OTHR system and sought to complete installation of the first system in FY-27 and second in FY-28, but Congress has yet to pass an appropriations bill:

Air Force needs to award OTHR contract 'soon' to meet end-of-decade timeline, contractor says

U.S. Northern Command has pushed the need for modernized over-the-horizon radar capabilities within a few years, which a major contractor said would be possible only if the Defense Department is able to issue contracts soon.

The Pentagon's top acquisition official spoke last week at a RAND Corp. event in Arlington, VA, alongside members of the congressional Planning, Programming, Budget and Execution Reform Commission:

DOD would 'love' a special counter-drone fund but senior officials say Congress will balk

Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante said the Defense Department would "love" to have a special category of money with spending flexibility to quickly counter attacks from unmanned drones, especially since U.S. adversaries change their tactics nearly every two weeks. But he also said he knows congressional appropriators think his wish for "agility" sounds a lot like a "slush fund."

February 12, 2024 at 12:28 PM

Without an approved appropriations bill all F-35 Joint Strike Fighter engine modernization efforts, "to include the Engine Core Upgrade (ECU) and Power and Thermal Management Upgrade (PTMU), will be delayed," a spokesman for the the F-35 Joint Program Office is warning.

Inside Defense has the story, now available to all.

By Tony Bertuca
February 12, 2024 at 5:00 AM

Senior defense officials are slated to speak at several events this week. The Air and Space Forces Association also hosts its annual air warfare conference in Colorado, while a key Navy conference takes place in San Diego, CA.


The Air and Space Forces Association hosts its annual Air Warfare Symposium in Aurora, CO, this week. The event runs through Wednesday.


The U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA International host the West 2024 conference in San Diego, CA. The event runs through Thursday.

Executives from Lockheed Martin, RTX, Boeing and General Dynamics speak at the Cowen Aerospace and Defense Conference.


The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on defense innovation and outpacing China.

The CyberScoop Zero Trust Summit is held in Washington.

The U.S. Institute of Peace hosts a discussion on the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy.


Washington Technology hosts a discussion on the National Defense Industrial Strategy.

By Vanessa Montalbano
February 9, 2024 at 6:09 PM

The Air Force has awarded autonomy startup Xwing military approval to fly cargo missions across California after successful completion of the AGILE FLAG 24-1 Joint Force exercise, the company said in a Friday news release.

This designation of airworthiness via a military flight release in unrestricted airspace marks the first granted under the Air Force Research Laboratory's AFWERX Autonomy Prime program.

“Xwing had to meet the rigorous safety and the technical standards necessary to transparently integrate its autonomous aircraft into the National Airspace System (NAS),” the announcement said. “Xwing proved its dynamic capability for rapid and cost-effective dispersed logistics, delivering mission-critical, time-sensitive cargo to multiple operating stations, demonstrating the potential of autonomous operations as a force multiplier within Agile Combat Employment (ACE).”

Autonomy Prime is an arm of the AFWERX program, which intends to bring small businesses and startups to the table to address the Air Force’s top priorities, including autonomy, and strengthen the industrial base. The goal is to better facilitate the transition from research and technology to operational capability.

Over the span of nearly two weeks, Xwing worked with Air Combat Command and Air Mobility Command to transport mission critical cargo between eight different public and military airports, racking up 2,800 autonomous flight miles across California and 22 overall hours in the air.

“AGILE FLAG was an opportunity to showcase autonomous light cargo logistics and demonstrate operational relevance and increased technical readiness,” AFWERX Autonomy Prime deputy branch chief Kate Brown said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the ACE concept encourages improved distribution among the bases to ensure that one is not singularly targeted and that each is capable of defending itself when faced with pacing threats. The Air Force has said that autonomy will play a major role in this and future efforts.

“We saw first-hand during AGILE FLAG that the use of Xwing’s autonomous aircraft eliminated the need to fly a larger aircraft such as a C-130 to deliver critical cargo to the warfighter on short notice,” said Maxime Gariel, president and co-founder of Xwing. “When you fly missions autonomously, you operate with the speed and efficiency required for dispersed ACE operations, delivering cargo and personnel at a much lower cost and risk.”

By John Liang
February 9, 2024 at 2:00 PM

This Friday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the cancellation of a multibillion-dollar Army helicopter program, a successful missile defense intercept test over the Pacific Ocean, the ongoing congressional fight over military funding and more.

We start off with the cancellation of a multibillion-dollar Army helicopter program:

Army canceling Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft program

The Army has announced it is canceling the multibillion-dollar Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) program, one of the service's highly touted Future Vertical Lift programs, at the conclusion of prototyping activities this fiscal year.

The Navy and Missile Defense Agency conducted a successful missile defense intercept test over the Pacific Ocean:

Major test over Pacific pairs next-gen missile interceptor, next-gen Aegis radar for first time

The U.S. military executed one of the "most complex" ballistic missile defense tests to date, pairing for the first time the most advanced Aegis guided missile interceptor with its next-generation Air and Missile Defense Radar to shoot down a medium-range ballistic missile target over the Pacific Ocean.

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall, speaking this week at a RAND Corp. event in Arlington, VA, said the White House intends to submit the FY-25 budget on March 11 regardless of whether Congress, which has been mired in stopgap continuing resolutions and partisan debate for months, can pass an FY-24 appropriations package:

Senior DOD officials say Capitol Hill dysfunction threatens their race against China

Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall and Pentagon acquisition chief Bill LaPlante said today that ongoing congressional dysfunction is hobbling their ability to compete with China, detailing some of the specific financial stress that lawmakers have put the department under as the government continues down an uncertain path toward the fiscal year 2025 budget submission.

Blake Stone, a policy analyst with the Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office, spoke this week on the sidelines of the SAE Media Group's Counter UAS Homeland Security USA Conference in Arlington, VA:

Updated counter UAS strategy will include homeland security annex

The Pentagon's Joint Counter-small Unmanned Aircraft Systems Office (JCO) will include a "homeland security annex" in the next update to its CUAS strategy, according to an official from the office.

Adm. Samuel Paparo, the U.S. Pacific Fleet commander nominated to replace retiring Adm. John Acquilino as the top U.S. military official in the region, said the U.S. military must think deeply about conducting mobility and logistics missions across the region where the vast spaces between locations that need to be covered is referred to as the "tyranny of distance":

INDOPACOM nominee concerned about U.S. ability to refuel in a fight against China

The presumptive new U.S. Indo-Pacific Command boss is concerned about the adequacy of the United States' refueling capability in the event of a regional conflict, presumably against China, vowing -- if confirmed -- to work with lawmakers to "close the gaps" to keep bombers, destroyers, cargo trucks and more in the fight.

Don't expect to see a public version of a congressionally mandated spectrum band report anytime soon:

Pentagon will not publicly release spectrum band report senators asked for

The Pentagon will not publicly release a report that senators requested the publication of after lawmakers voiced concerns about the National Spectrum Strategy's request for a deeper inquiry into the lower 3 GHz Band, Inside Defense has learned.

The Senate has approved an updated national security supplemental spending bill:

Senate Dems pare back security supplemental after GOP blocks border provisions

The Senate voted 67-32 to advance consideration of a $95.34 billion security supplemental spending package that would aid Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan after Republicans forced Democrats to remove border security and immigration reform provisions.

The Navy wants to develop a multimission affordable capacity effector (MACE) weapon through digital engineering and its range would be complementary to the Long-Range Anti-Ship missile (LRASM), which is estimated to be more than 200 nautical miles:

Navy asks industry if it can quickly build new low-cost, standoff air-launched weapon

The Navy wants to develop a low-cost, air-launched standoff weapon that would be funded starting in fiscal year 2026 and fielded as early as 2027 and has notified industry partners it is open to an exchange of ideas.

By Dan Schere
February 9, 2024 at 1:28 PM

The Army's Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office and Directed Energy Project Office are seeking high-energy laser solutions that can address Group 3 unmanned aerial system threats.

The service will hold an industry day in early April at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, according to a Feb. 6 government notice.

The directed-energy office wants to increase the ability of high-energy lasers to address Group 3 UAS threats, and will “asses the operationalized maturity” of industry solutions at the subsystem level, which includes the beam-control system, beam director, power/thermal systems and threat tracker, according to the notice. The system is to demonstrate a modular, open-system architecture, it states.

The Pentagon defines Group 3 UAS as those weighing between 55 and 1,320 pounds, and that operate at flight level.

Following the vendor demonstration, the government plans to issue a solicitation to develop a high-energy laser prototype solution, the notice states.

Companies are asked to submit a two-page summary and quad chart to the contacting officer by Feb. 21.

By John Liang
February 8, 2024 at 4:35 PM

Mercury Systems today announced that Douglas Munro had been promoted to vice president and chief accounting officer.

Reporting to Chief Financial Officer Dave Farnsworth, Munro will be responsible for the company's accounting operations and financial reporting.

Munro succeeds Michelle McCarthy, "who has accepted another role outside the company," according to a Mercury statement.

Munro has worked for Mercury since 2012, most recently serving as the company’s corporate controller.

By Nick Wilson
February 8, 2024 at 3:17 PM

The Marine Corps has postponed an Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle industry day, first scheduled for Feb. 29, to an undisclosed date later in fiscal year 2024 in order to further refine program requirements.

“The USMC has gained critical knowledge through the ARV prototyping effort and is applying that knowledge to refining the requirement,” according to a Feb. 8 announcement that provides no further explanation for the delay.

The Marine Corps spent FY-23 evaluating initial ARV prototypes from contractors Textron Systems and General Dynamics Land System. The two companies are now working to mature these vehicles and preparing to build additional 30mm cannon vehicle prototypes for further government testing ahead of the program’s engineering and manufacturing development phase.

At the industry day, the Marine Corps is expected to provide information on the upcoming EMD phase. The service anticipates releasing a request for proposals in the second quarter of FY-25 and awarding an EMD contract in the second quarter of FY-26.

The Marine Corps is eyeing a family of six ARV mission role variants to replace the legacy Amphibious Assault Vehicle and become the primary platform supporting the new mobile reconnaissance battalions.

The service’s FY-24 budget request includes $63.6 million in continuing research and development funding for the program and projects procurement to begin in FY-28.