The Insider

By Audrey Decker
September 27, 2021 at 12:14 PM

Boeing delivered the most advanced version of the F/A-18 Super Hornet to the Navy this month.

“Block III gives the Navy the most networked and survivable F/A-18 built with a technology insertion plan that will outpace future threats,” according to today’s press release from Boeing.

Boeing will build 78 F/A-18s with the Block III configuration for the Navy and deliver these capabilities through the mid-2030s.

The new capabilities include a “10-inch-by-19-inch touch screen display, enhanced networking, open mission systems, reduced radar signature and a 10,000-hour airframe,” the press release states.

Block III allows the jet to receive apps-based solutions to upgrade the aircraft, giving Navy pilots more situational awareness, Boeing said in the press release.

Also, Boeing will use Service-Life Modification lines to extend the life and upgrade the Block II Super Hornets to Block III, Boeing said.

In August, the House Armed Services Committee added $970 million to the F/A-18E/F program for 12 jets in the fiscal year 2022 budget.

Adm. Andrew Loiselle, the commander of Carrier Strike Group 4, said last month that the Navy doesn’t want any of these aircraft because new Super Hornets won’t be a suitable platform for the mission at the end of their 30-year service life.

"That takes us out to about 2055," Loiselle said. "There isn't a lot of analysis out there that supports fourth-generation viability against any threat in that timeframe. You have to juxtapose that with the capabilities a [Service Life Modernization] Block III will deliver."

By John Liang
September 27, 2021 at 9:39 AM

Mercury Systems announced today it has agreed to buy Gulf Breeze, FL-based avionics company Avalex Technologies Corp.

Avalex is expected to generate approximately $40 million in revenue for the 12 months ending Dec. 31, 2022, according to a Mercury statement. The dollar amount of the sale was not disclosed.

“Avalex’s product and technology portfolio is highly complementary to Mercury’s existing offering," Mercury's President and CEO Mark Aslett said in the statement. "With deep expertise in integrated displays, digital video recorders, and communications management, their suite of innovative avionics solutions uniquely position the company to address and enable the growing demand for digitally converged solutions in the C4I and platform/mission management markets. Like our previous acquisition of Physical Optics Corp., Avalex is also experiencing accelerated growth due to their strong product offerings and supply chain delayering by the Government. Finally, we see strong alignment in our strategies and vision, as well as our cultures, values, and commitment to innovation."

The all-cash acquisition is expected to close by the end of December 2021, according to Mercury.

By Courtney Albon
September 27, 2021 at 8:53 AM

The Pentagon and Lockheed Martin have negotiated a “production smoothing” agreement for F-35 deliveries to increase stability as the company’s production process recovers from the impact of COVID-19.

The plan calls for Lockheed to deliver 133-139 jets this year, 151-153 in 2022 and 156 in 2023 “and for the foreseeable future,” according to a statement the company released this morning.

The projected delivery rates for 2021 match what Lockheed’s F-35 Vice President and General Manager Bridget Lauderdale told reporters in June while negotiations were underway but are slightly lower in 2022 than the company’s projections at the time, which saw deliveries hitting the 160s next year.

At the time, Lauderdale said the production line and supply base were stabilizing “and we will expect to ramp back up and support cost-effective and high quality of product as we go forward.”

The delivery targets come as the program is finalizing negotiations on a production contract for lots 15-17 aircraft. Program Executive Eric Fick told reporters recently he does not expect a finalized deal this month but hopes it will be completed in October.

By Tony Bertuca
September 27, 2021 at 5:00 AM

Senior defense officials are slated to testify before Congress about the end of U.S. operations in Afghanistan this week. 


The Senate begins consideration of the continuing resolution passed by the House that would keep the government funded through Dec. 3.


The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley, and Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of U.S. Central Command, to discuss the conclusion of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations.

Senior defense officials speak at the annual ComDef conference.

The online Fed Supernova event takes place Tuesday and Wednesday, featuring Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. David Allvin, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Hiedi Shyu and others.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a panel discussion on Africa’s security challenges.

The Heritage Foundation hosts a discussion with the Coast Guard commandant.


The House Armed Services Committee holds a hearing with Austin, Milley and McKenzie.


The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing with think tank experts on Afghanistan.


The Center for Strategic and International Studies hosts a national security conversation with Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks.

By Courtney Albon
September 24, 2021 at 6:13 PM

The Air Force has selected Rolls-Royce to re-engine the B-52 fleet, awarding the company a contract worth up to $2.6 billion to provide 608 engines and spares.

Rolls-Royce’s F130 engine was selected over offerings from competitors General Electric and Pratt & Whitney, the incumbent B-52 engine manufacturer. The company plans to manufacture the engine at its Indianapolis facility, which recently underwent a $600 million advanced manufacturing upgrade.

“We are proud to join a truly iconic U.S. Air Force program and provide world-class, American-made engines that will power its missions for the next 30 years,” Rolls-Royce North America CEO Tom Bell said in a press release today. “The F130 is a proven, efficient, modern engine that is the perfect fit for the B-52.”

The engine replacement effort is meant to improve the B-52’s fuel efficiency and range and keep the bomber flying into the 2050s.

Bell told reporters tonight that while the company will have a better sense of what set it apart from competitors following its debrief with the Air Force, he thinks the relatively low-risk design of the F130 played a role. He said the engine will require minimal changes to the B-52 wing, cell and pylons.

“In the F130, we have an engine where the thrust, the center of gravity, the circumference is very similar to the existing engine, but has a far superior service life, far superior fuel consumption numbers that allow the Air Force to get everything they wanted out of the CERP engine program,” Bell said.

Craig McVay, the company’s senior vice president for strategic campaigns, said during the media call that with the first phase of virtual prototyping completed, the company will proceed to Phase 2, during which it will complete a physical prototype. McVay said he expects a preliminary design review to occur within eight or nine months.

The Air Force is using mid-tier acquisition authorities for the program and expects to shift to a traditional acquisition pathway or to a rapid-fielding MTA once the prototype is complete, likely in the fiscal year 2025 timeframe.

The Air Force had originally expected to complete virtual prototyping and award a contract by last December, but that timeline shifted about nine months due to a longer-than-expected preliminary design phase and a decision by the service to shift some work from the program’s later physical prototyping phase to the virtual phase.

By John Liang
September 24, 2021 at 1:36 PM

This Friday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on fixed-price contracts, Space Training and Readiness Command and more.

Senate authorizers believe the reasoning behind an FY-17 provision establishing a preference for fixed-price contracts at the Pentagon is sound, but too broadly used:

Senate committee seeks repeal of DOD preference for fixed-price contracts

The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to repeal a law that previously set a preference at the Defense Department for fixed-price contracts to help control the ballooning costs of large acquisition programs.

Just because the AFA Conference is over doesn't mean the news stops:

STARCOM planning team crafting future space test and training range architecture roadmap

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- The head of Space Training and Readiness Command said this week a new operational planning team began work this week to flesh out a five-to-10-year architecture roadmap for a new National Space Test and Training Range.

Northrop aims to test first GBSD missile in late 2023

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- On “a focus track” to kick-start production of the Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent in 2026, prime contractor Northrop Grumman is looking to launch its first test missile in the effort to replace the aging Minuteman III system in the fourth quarter of 2023, a company official said.

Fincantieri Marinette Marine CEO Mark Vandroff said during a Defense One event this week that the company is investing in both its infrastructure and workforce as it prepares to start frigate construction:

Fincantieri Marinette Marine investing in infrastructure, workforce as frigate construction nears

Fincantieri Marinette Marine is set to start construction on the first Constellation-class frigate next spring as the company continues work on the ship’s design, according to the company’s CEO.

Senate authorizers want the Air Force to ensure the B-21 Raider is “operationally capable of employing the Long-Range Standoff Weapon across all required mission sets”:

Senate panel aims to set timeline for integrating LRSO with B-21

Lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee want to require the Air Force to integrate its new nuclear cruise missile with the B-21 bomber within two years of the weapon achieving initial operational capability.

By Tony Bertuca
September 24, 2021 at 9:09 AM

The House voted 316-113 Thursday night to pass the fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill, clearing the way for nearly $778 billion in defense spending.

“For 61 consecutive years, the House has proven that our collective commitment to U.S. national security can help us rise above partisanship,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on what divides us, each year we choose to pass a defense bill that fulfills Congress’ constitutional obligation to ‘provide for the common defense’-- and we do so by focusing on what we have in common as Americans.”

Lawmakers considered more than 400 amendments on the floor, voting 142-286 to reject a provision backed by progressive Democrats that would have undone a $25 billion increase to the bill’s topline.

Smith said he opposed a GOP-led effort to increase total defense spending by $25 billion more than the White House’s request but said on the House floor that he respected the fact he had been outvoted.

“In an era where our politics is so dominated by divisiveness, it has never mattered more to show the American people that democracy still works,” he said in his statement. “As the legislative process continues and we head to the conference with our colleagues in the Senate, I am confident that our work will reflect the bipartisan tradition that has distinguished the Armed Services Committees for decades.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee, meanwhile, filed its version of the bill earlier this week. That bill also increases total defense by $25 billion more that the White House’s request.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL), the House Armed Services Committee’s ranking member, applauded the bill’s passage in the House.

“Providing the authorities and resources our troops need to defend our nation and defeat our adversaries is the greatest responsibility we have here in Congress,” he said. “I thank my colleague Chairman Adam Smith for working with us to produce this bipartisan bill and I’m glad to see its passage with overwhelming bipartisan support.”

The bill would also require U.S. women to register for a potential military draft, which was unpopular with some conservative Republicans.

Lawmakers also voted down an amendment that would have restricted the U.S. military’s submission of unfunded priorities lists to Congress.

Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, offered an amendment that would have allowed the six military branches to continue submitting the lists, but would have barred all combatant commands from doing so, except for U.S. Special Operations Command. Schrader’s amendment would also have barred the National Guard and Missile Defense Agency from submitting unfunded priorities lists.

But the amendment was defeated 167-256.

Congress received more than $25 billion in unfunded priorities lists following the White House's regular budget submission in April, and House and Senate authorizers have used the lists as a guide to write defense policy bills that boost defense spending.

By John Liang
September 23, 2021 at 3:35 PM

The Defense Department inspector general's office announced today it is looking into the Afghanistan drone strike that killed several civilians last month.

"The objective of this evaluation is to determine whether the August 29, 2021, strike in Kabul, Afghanistan, was conducted in accordance with DoD policies and procedures," a Sept. 23 memo states. "Specifically, we will review the pre-strike targeting process; the damage assessment and civilian casualty review and reporting process; and the post-strike reporting of information. We may revise the objective as the evaluation proceeds, and we will consider suggestions from management for additional or revised objectives."

The errant strike -- which officials originally believed was targeted at a suicide bomber -- killed 10 people in the same family, among them seven children.

By Ethan Sterenfeld
September 23, 2021 at 3:30 PM

Senate authorizers want the Army to submit a report on its efforts to modernize and expand short-range air defense systems, including the Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense.

“While the committee applauds the Army’s efforts to date, it remains concerned that potential adversaries, such as Russia and China, have developed new aircraft and unmanned aerial systems with operational speeds that can quickly close on U.S. ground forces,” the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote in the report accompanying its fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill.

“The committee believes there is an unmet requirement to engage hostile air assets at greater ranges to protect U.S. and allied ground forces,” the report stated.

In its report, the Army should address its prioritization of air defense modernization, whether the service has allocated enough funding for short-range air defense, how emerging air-based threats will affect the modernization plans and necessary force structure for short-range air defense, senators write.

The first four kinetic M-SHORAD systems were fielded to Europe earlier this year, out of 144 the Army plans to field to four battalions. Each battalion will include 40 M-SHORAD vehicles.

Four prototypes of a directed-energy variant of the M-SHORAD will be fielded to Europe in fiscal year 2022, where they will operate in the same battery as the kinetic M-SHORAD systems. The DE M-SHORAD will have a 50-kilowatt solid-state laser, which could be more cost-effective to use against drones and rockets than kinetic systems.

Both the kinetic and directed-energy variants will be based on the Stryker combat vehicle, and they are the Army’s first new short-range air defense systems in decades.

Fires will be the decisive element of future large-scale combat operations, which will make air defense more important than ever before, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for operations, plans and training (G-3/5/7) said earlier this month.

By Tony Bertuca
September 23, 2021 at 2:26 PM

The House voted 420-9 today to pass a $1 billion supplemental funding bill that would replenish Israel’s Iron Dome rocket defense system.

House Democrats had initially included the funding in a stopgap continuing resolution introduced earlier this week, but a small group of progressive lawmakers objected to it and the money was stripped from the CR.

Senior Democrats then decided to pass the funding as a standalone supplemental measure.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) released a statement saying the funds would replace missile interceptors that were used to protect Israeli civilians from Hamas rockets during heavy fighting in May.

“The United States has long been committed to the objective of a two-state-solution: Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side in a lasting peace,” she said. “The legislation ensures that Israel can fully defend all its citizens and, coupled with the funding provided in the 2022 State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs bill for the humanitarian and development needs of the Palestinian people, furthers the cause of peace. This bill demonstrates that Congress’ commitment to our friend and ally Israel is bipartisan and ironclad. It fulfills our moral imperative to protect the lives of innocent civilians and helps build the foundations for peace.”

Only eight Democrats and one Republican voted “no" on the bill, while two Democrats voted “present.”

By John Liang
September 23, 2021 at 1:43 PM

This Thursday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the defense policy bill released this week by Senate authorizers and much more.

We start off with coverage of Air Force segments from the Senate Armed Services Committee’s fiscal year 2022 defense policy bill:

Senate panel aims to set timeline for integrating LRSO with B-21

Lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee want to require the Air Force to integrate its new nuclear cruise missile with the B-21 bomber within two years of the weapon achieving initial operational capability.

Senate panel wants new bomber study, options for 'low-cost' B-52 replacement and 225 B-21s

A Senate panel wants the Air Force to draft a new bomber study with options for a “low-cost,” non-stealthy B-52 replacement and an overall long-range strike inventory nearly 30% larger than currently planned that would more than double purchases of next-generation B-21s -- raising the acquisition objective from 100 to 225.

Senate panel proposes $1.7B boost to F-35A Block 4 mod plan

Senate authorizers want to add $1.7 billion to the Air Force’s fiscal year 2022 budget request for F-35A retrofit modifications, calling on the service to move “expeditiously” to upgrade older jets to the Block 4 configuration.

. . . Followed by the Army:

Senate panel approves Army legislative proposals on helicopter contracts, IFPC

Senate authorizers included legislative proposals from the Army to use multiyear helicopter procurement contracts and delay a new cruise missile defense system in their version of the fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill.

Senate bill would authorize extra $1.4 billion for Army procurement

The Senate Armed Services Committee's proposed fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill would authorize $22.7 billion in Army procurement funding, a $1.4 billion increase over the service's budget request.

. . . Navy:

Senate lawmakers worried about Navy shipyard improvement plan delays, cost overruns

The Senate Armed Services Committee is concerned about schedule delays and cost overruns associated with the Navy’s 20-year, $21 billion Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program.

Senate lawmakers request analysis of Navy radar options

Senate lawmakers want the Pentagon’s cost assessment and program evaluation office to review the Navy’s three radar systems supporting the Aegis combat system.

. . . Missile defense:

Senate panel directs MDA to draft plans to triple size of NGI fleet

A Senate panel wants the Missile Defense Agency to draft plans to expand production of a Next Generation Interceptor to replace the entire Ground-based Interceptor fleet, potentially raising the stakes by about $4.8 billion in the competition between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to design and manufacture a new homeland defense against North Korean nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles.

. . . and Cybersecurity:

Senate lawmakers seek new cybersecurity pilot programs and reviews at DOD

Senate lawmakers want Pentagon officials to develop pilot programs to disrupt adversary cyber operations, while assessing critical supply chain risks and reviewing acquisition of new cyber capabilities.

We also have news on the Army's Joint Light Tactical Vehicle program:

Army seeks to protect JLTV data rights in follow-on competition

The Army has updated the requirements for the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle follow-on competition to ensure it will own the technical data for upgrades made to the vehicle, according to new changes to the contract listing.

Plus, more coverage from this week's AFA conference:

Air Force eyes eventual space-based AMTI

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown wants the service to move toward conducting airborne moving target indications from space, as officials seek to replace the aging fleet of E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft.

Air Force favors F-35 engine replacement option, despite affordability concerns

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said this week he supports an F-35 engine replacement program that capitalizes on the billions of dollars the service has invested in adaptive propulsion technology, but said questions remain about affordability.

(For complete coverage of the AFA conference, click here.)

Last but certainly not least, a new Government Accountability Office report on the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program is out:

GAO recommends more transparency on Next-Gen OPIR schedule risks

A new report from the Government Accountability Office once again sheds doubt on the Space Force’s schedule for the Next-Generation Overhead Persistent Infrared program -- despite insistence from the service that its schedule remains on track to begin launching the satellites in fiscal year 2025.

By John Liang
September 22, 2021 at 2:14 PM

This Wednesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the House version of the fiscal year 2022 defense policy bill, the latest from the AFA conference and more.

We start off with the Biden administration's views on House lawmakers' fiscal year 2022 defense policy bill:

White House opposes House defense bill measures that pump funding into older programs

The White House supports the House’s overall fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill but opposes specific provisions that would add funding to Pentagon programs and weapon systems that “cannot be affordably modernized,” according to the Office of Management and Budget.

Document: Statement of administration policy on House authorizers' FY-22 defense policy bill

. . . Followed by the latest from the Air Force Association's annual conference:

Following tech refresh issues, Raytheon looks to begin delivering upgraded AMRAAM missiles in 2023

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- Raytheon is aiming to start delivering a set of upgraded Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles to the Air Force in January 2023, after officials faced technology refresh issues tied to an obsolescence upgrade.

CAPE review of digital Century Series strategy projects higher cost than Air Force BCA

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- A new assessment of the Air Force’s digital Century Series acquisition strategy from the Pentagon’s cost assessment and program evaluation office drew different conclusions than the service’s separate business case analysis, particularly in the area of cost.

SECAF eyes ABMS capability release contracts as part of broader program review

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD -- As part of his review of the Air Force’s Advanced Battle Management System, service Secretary Frank Kendall is diving into the contract vehicles tied to the effort’s first capability release, leaving the program’s cross-functional team lead unsure of whether “all three [are] going to survive as we designed them.”

(For complete coverage of the AFA conference, click here.)

Last but by no means least, we have news on the Pentagon's Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification program from our colleagues at Inside Cybersecurity:

NDIA white paper calls on Pentagon to develop CMMC-compliant cloud environments, targeted guidance for industry

The National Defense Industrial Association has released a white paper urging the Pentagon to provide more clarity on the requirements contractors must meet to reach compliance with DOD’s cyber certification program, and to make other changes to help companies meet the program’s objectives.

By Tony Bertuca
September 22, 2021 at 1:30 PM

The Senate Armed Services Committee has filed a fiscal year 2022 defense authorization bill to be considered on the Senate floor, while the House began debating its version of the bill last night.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI), the committee chairman, said the bill, which authorizes $25 billion more than the White House requested, is “bipartisan legislation” focused on “efforts to strengthen our cyber defenses, improve readiness, and accelerate the research and development of advanced technologies.”

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), the committee’s ranking member, said the defense authorization bill is the most important piece of legislation passed by Congress.

“Today we are one step closer to enacting the annual National Defense Authorization Act -- something Congress has done every year for the last 60 years in a row,” he said. “While I don’t support every provision in this bill, all senators will have the opportunity to improve it through an open floor process -- which I hope will begin in short order.”

The bill authorizes nearly $778 billion in total national defense spending, with $740 billion for the Defense Department, $27.7 billion for the Energy Department and nearly $10 billion for defense-related activities at other agencies technically outside the committee’s jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the House began the debate for its version of the defense authorization bill last night. Lawmakers are considering 476 amendments that have been approved for votes by the Rules Committee.

The topline of the House bill is also $25 billion larger than the White House has requested.

Watch Inside Defense for further, in-depth coverage of both bills.

By John Liang
September 22, 2021 at 12:27 PM

Raytheon Technologies expects to complete its acquisition of Centennial, CO-based SEAKR Technologies by the end of this calendar year, according to a company spokeswoman.

Raytheon announced last week it had agreed to buy privately held SEAKR Engineering. Once acquired, SEAKR will be part of Raytheon Intelligence & Space.

"The acquisition is expected to close by year end, subject to the completion of customary conditions and regulatory approvals," spokeswoman Alyssa Shaffer told Inside Defense in an email today.

Roy Azevedo, president of Raytheon Intelligence & Space, said in a company statement last week that the SEAKR acquisition enhances "our capability to provide qualified systems faster. SEAKR's culture of forward-thinking innovation will complement our ability to solve our space customers' hardest problems."

Earlier this year, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency completed preliminary design review for Pit Boss, the autonomous mission management center for the Blackjack program -- an effort aimed at demonstrating new capabilities to improve autonomy and networking for satellite constellations -- and chose SEAKR Engineering as the primary contractor.

By John Liang
September 22, 2021 at 12:20 PM

Boeing announced this week it has selected Toowoomba in Queensland, Australia as the site for the company’s first aircraft assembly facility outside of North America.

Boeing Australia will establish the facility in the Wellcamp Aerospace and Defence Precinct at Wellcamp Airport to produce and assemble the Loyal Wingman unmanned aircraft system. The aircraft made its first flight in February 2021.

The Loyal Wingman serves as the foundation for Boeing's Airpower Teaming System, which the company is adapting for the U.S. Air Force's Skyborg program and other international customers. The 38-foot aircraft will eventually employ artificial intelligence to collaborate with manned aircraft flying nearby.

In March, Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force announced they had successfully flown the Loyal Wingman drone for the first time and signed a deal to co-develop another three aircraft and advance its capabilities for manned-unmanned teaming.

In choosing Wellcamp Airport, Boeing has “taken an important step towards delivering their purpose-built final assembly facility," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said in a statement.

"This has the potential to greatly improve our state’s advanced manufacturing capability and help shape a workforce of Queenslanders with the skills to build some of the world’s most cutting-edge aircraft."

Treasurer and Minister for Investment Cameron Dick said this week's announcement reinforced the strength of the state’s almost 25-year relationship with Boeing.

“This announcement follows our success with Australia’s first commercial drone flight testing facility at Cloncurry Airport last December, of which Boeing was a first user," Dicks said. "It’s the result of an arrangement our government entered into with Boeing Australia last year to support the establishment of the primary final assembly facility for the Boeing Loyal Wingman here in Queensland, subject to defense orders. It’s expected the project could generate up to $1 billion dollars for Queensland’s economy over 10 years, with more than just defense industries to benefit."

The uncrewed aircraft is designed to operate as a team, using artificial intelligence to extend the capabilities of crewed and uncrewed platforms.