The Insider

By Sara Sirota
September 14, 2020 at 3:00 PM

The next-generation platform General Atomics is pitching to replace the Air Force's MQ-9 Reapers will leverage open architecture, artificial intelligence, advanced propulsion and other sophisticated technologies to enable reduced life-cycle costs, cross-domain communication, persistent operations and more, according to a statement the company shared with Inside Defense today.

The Air Force revealed in February a surprise plan to end its Reaper production line early and later released a request for information in June to develop an acquisition strategy for a new intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and strike unmanned aerial system.

General Atomics' description of its research and development plans aligns the company's offering with the Air Force's joint all-domain command and control goals -- in which every sensor connects with every shooter on a shared network, bolstered by emerging information and networking technologies.

"In the dynamic future-force mix of manned and unmanned systems, we envision next-gen ISR/strike as a conduit, supplier, and consumer of information," General Atomics President David Alexander said in the company's statement. "We believe it is imperative that future unmanned systems are able to communicate, share information, and collaborate -- together, and intuitively with their human counterparts -- across systems and domains in record time."

According to Alexander, General Atomics' focus on automation and autonomy -- key enablers of JADC2 and the Air Force's Advanced Battle Management System -- will not only reduce manpower requirements but also alleviate stress on the military's network in contested environments, allowing personnel to focus on essential tasks.

He also aligns the company's R&D with the service's demands for reduced dependence on runways or fixed-base infrastructure via the military's agile combat employment concept.

General Atomics' automatic takeoff, landing and remote taxi advancements, for example, eliminate the need for forward-deployed launch and recovery crews. Further, its multimission control capability enables commanders to control up to six drones with just one pilot.

These capabilities will be augmented, Alexander states, by advanced propulsion technology that provides its new platform with "ultra-long endurance and an ability to stay engaged in the fight far longer than current-generation UAS."

General Atomics did not immediately respond to a request for more specific details on the propulsion system or its other enabling technologies.

By John Liang
September 14, 2020 at 1:32 PM

This Monday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the Pentagon's role in recommending companies to a virtually unused Treasury Department COVID-19 rescue fund and more.

A Treasury Department COVID-19 rescue fund, which has gone almost entirely unspent because most contractors disliked the terms, is also the subject of behind-the-scenes debate on Capitol Hill:

DOD scrutinized over role in bailout fund that has drawn little interest from big companies

The Pentagon is being pressed by a congressional watchdog to explain its role in recommending to the Treasury Department companies to receive loans from a $17 billion COVID-19 rescue fund.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and contractor SRC for several years have been developing the Agile Condor high-performance embedded computing architecture to quickly and in real time process large amounts of sensor data with relatively little power:

DOD plans more demos of Agile Condor edge computer for autonomous drone ops

The Pentagon is planning more tests of the Agile Condor pod that enables an MQ-9 Reaper to autonomously surveil targets with artificial intelligence -- such as algorithms developed by Project Maven -- for extended periods, even if connection to the ground station is lost.

Inside Defense recently interviewed Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies executives about the case they've made to the Missile Defense Agency for their Next-Generation Interceptor proposal:

Northrop, Raytheon pitch NGI proposal that stresses incumbency backed by innovation

Northrop Grumman and Raytheon Technologies are pitching a Next-Generation Interceptor design backed by what they say are engineering teams with unparallel experience knocking down targets in space and knowledge of today's Ground-based Midcourse Defense system -- promising a unified, "seamless" corporate team to deliver a new booster and kill vehicle as if from a single company.

The Army's Robotic Combat Vehicle program has software problems:

Army official shares insights from RCV experiment

The Army's first soldier experiment for the Robotic Combat Vehicle effort showed some software issues that need some work, according to one of the officials involved.

The Army is unveiling an Open Innovation Lab for both government and industry partners to develop position, navigation and timing technologies, including for GPS-contested environments:

Army PEO IEW&S launches innovation lab within new modernization office

The Army's Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors announced this week it is opening a new product office focused on modernization and launching a new innovation-focused laboratory.

By Marjorie Censer
September 14, 2020 at 12:00 PM

Booz Allen Hamilton, buoyed by recent wins in artificial intelligence work, is pursuing independent research related to AI, including on adversarial machine learning.

In a call with Inside Defense last week, Edward Raff, chief scientist at Booz Allen, said the company is focused on growing its base of knowledge in AI.

"We have a research agenda we've built up on questions we think are relevant to our clients and we think we have the skills in-house to tackle," he said. "Adversarial machine learning is one of them."

Another area the company has been researching for about three years is fairness and transparency as it relates to AI.

"There's other research we do that's just sort of opportunistic," Raff added.

Booz Allen has made artificial intelligence a key focus in recent years. Last year, Horacio Rozanski, Booz Allen's chief executive, said the contractor has sought to develop "premier offerings in artificial intelligence."

"We expect continued strong growth in demand as more and more federal agencies work to integrate AI into their missions," he said.

Earlier this year, the Pentagon's Joint Artificial Intelligence Center awarded the company a contract worth up to $800 million over five years to serve as the lead integrator for a marquee "Joint Warfighting" initiative that seeks to leverage AI and machine learning on the battlefield.

Raff said Booz Allen is seeking to differentiate itself by building its expertise, including by getting papers into peer-reviewed publications.

Meanwhile, he said the Pentagon is recognizing the importance of addressing the adversarial AI threat and security in AI.

"This is something we need to be thinking about now and not some after-the-fact Band-aid," he said. "Culture-wise, I think that DOD is doing a good job heading away from that trap."

Booz Allen's research team is "taking some of these adversarial questions and adjusting the lens to how we believe this will be really relevant to the DOD situation."

"How do we set all these knobs and parameters to be realistic to DOD?" Raff said the company is asking. "To me, that's really critical because if we just wait for the rest of academia to solve our problems, we could be waiting several extra years."

By Tony Bertuca
September 14, 2020 at 5:05 AM

Senior Pentagon officials are scheduled to participate in virtual conferences and congressional hearings this week. Meanwhile, defense company executives are slated to speak during several virtual conferences as well.

Monday

The Air Force Association hosts a virtual Air, Space and Cyber Conference that runs through Wednesday.

PAE is set to present at a Deutsche Bank virtual conference.

Tuesday

The Brookings Institute holds a virtual discussion on defense policy and the 2020 election.

L3Harris Technologies is slated to speak at a Morgan Stanley virtual conference.

Maxar Technologies is set to present at an RBC conference.

Wednesday

Senior military intelligence officials speak at the AFCEA International and the Intelligence and National Security Alliance's virtual Intelligence and National Security Summit on Wednesday and Thursday.

Leidos is scheduled to present at the Morgan Stanley conference.

Thursday

The House Armed Services intelligence and emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee holds a hearing with the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence.

The Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

CACI International, Maxar and PAE are slated to speak at the Morgan Stanley conference.

By John Liang
September 11, 2020 at 2:25 PM

This Friday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the Army's Robotic Combat Vehicle program, a new Army innovation lab for position, navigation and timing technologies, the Space and Missile Systems Center and more.

The Army's Robotic Combat Vehicle program has software problems:

Army official shares insights from RCV experiment

The Army's first soldier experiment for the Robotic Combat Vehicle effort showed some software issues that need some work, according to one of the officials involved.

The Army is unveiling an Open Innovation Lab for both government and industry partners to develop position, navigation and timing technologies, including for GPS-contested environments:

Army PEO IEW&S launches innovation lab within new modernization office

The Army's Program Executive Office for Intelligence, Electronic Warfare and Sensors announced this week it is opening a new product office focused on modernization and launching a new innovation-focused laboratory.

Inside Defense spoke this week with John Morris, the Space and Missile Systems Center's Production Corps' chief engineer:

SMC Production Corps developing digital engineering acquisition strategy, aims for IOC in January

The Space and Missile Systems Center's Production Corps is working to develop a digital engineering acquisition strategy and expects to reach initial operational capability on its flagship programs by January.

The Defense Department's No. 2 civilian official spoke this week at a virtual Defense News conference:

Pentagon moving ahead with new Navy fleet plans

Deputy Defense Secretary David Norquist, charged with overseeing a controversial study on the future force structure of the Navy, said today a series of analytical wargames led the Pentagon to develop plans for three notional fleets which he intends to discuss next week with Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

Gen. John Murray, commanding general of Army Futures Command, also spoke at the virtual Defense News conference:

Murray stresses joint collaboration, looking to Project Convergence

The Army this month is exploring its role in the joint all-domain command and control effort through Project Convergence, a sensor-to-shooter technology demonstration taking place at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ.

By Jaspreet Gill
September 11, 2020 at 1:15 PM

The Army is hosting a new competition to develop tools and concepts that can locate and track different learning traits to help train warfighters in the future, the service announced today in a press release.

The service is offering industry up to $1 million for the competition, called xTechBOLT, or Brain Operant Learning Technology, to "develop and demonstrate the use of BOLT tools that are neural pathways to capture emotions and empathy, as well as proof-of-concept mechanisms that could be developed to promote optimal retention and access to memories," according to the press release.

The Army is looking for early stage innovations that have the potential to improve military training outcomes with software- and hardware-based technologies.

"The goals for this competition are to better understand the effects of emotion and empathy on learning and memory, and the functions and interactions of various brain regions in relation to emotional and empathetic process and learning," the press release states. "Understanding these effects will help build the U.S. military of the future by revolutionizing how we teach and train warfighters, how we build better medical providers and how we utilize novel brain operant learning technologies."

Up to 10 applicants will receive $10,000 before advancing to the semifinals, where five vendors will receive $25,000 and have the opportunity to win $500,000 in the final stage of the competition.

The last day to submit white papers is Sept. 15.

By Marjorie Censer
September 11, 2020 at 11:04 AM

Austal USA said today it has completed the purchase of waterfront land, buildings and a dry dock that were owned by World Marine of Alabama.

The property and facilities, which are along the Mobile River, bolster "the company's new construction and service business lines," Austal said.

World Marine of Alabama is an indirect subsidiary of Modern American Recycling and Repair Services of Alabama.

"The purchase includes the 20,000-ton 'Pete B' Panamax-class floating dry dock, 100,000 square feet of covered repair facilities, and 15 acres of waterfront property along the Mobile River and Gulf of Mexico," Austal said. "The acquisition further increases Austal USA's growing steel and aluminum business portfolio that includes U.S. Navy multi-ship contracts for the Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF), research and development on unmanned and autonomous surface vessels, and an expanding global services business in San Diego and Singapore."

By Sara Sirota
September 11, 2020 at 10:58 AM

The Air Force Scientific Advisory Board will meet next week to learn the results of a fiscal year 2020 study on how the service plans to select and manage future vanguard programs, according to a notice published in the Federal Register.

Vanguard programs are intended to accelerate game-changing technology through prototyping and experimentation for quick transition into programs of record. The Air Force's inaugural efforts, which the service launched last year, are Skyborg, Golden Horde and Navigation Technology Satellite-3.

The Sept. 15 AFSAB meeting will occur virtually and be open to the public.

By Justin Katz
September 11, 2020 at 10:03 AM

The Navy's top requirements officer expects the service's unmanned campaign plan to be "matured" sometime this fall but also said the document would not remain stagnant even after its initial endorsement.

"I don't have a specific date, but I would also say that I don't view this as stone tablets. I think we're going to come up with an initial draft, we're going to iterate on it . . . and learn from experimentation," Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements, told reporters yesterday during a telephone roundtable.

The unmanned campaign plan, which Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday charged Kilby's staff with developing, is envisioned as a unifying document that ties the Navy's hundreds of unmanned aerial, surface and subsurface vehicles together.

"It's really tough to write requirements documents in a vacuum or without being able to test things or try things or think through new concepts," Navy acquisition chief Hondo Geurts previously told reporters. "Think of this as an alignment document so that we can align all the different activities going on."

Kilby said yesterday developing the document initiated a shift in the Navy's mindset about requirements. He said as N9I -- the two-star admiral in charge of requirements integration -- his office did not view the Navy's platforms "holistically."

"Are these plans all in alignment with each other or are they just being individually developed by the resource sponsor and that program manager* I would say they were not being developed in a vacuum, but I don't know that we had this umbrella aspect to it," he said.

Kilby used as an example the idea of not requiring a program office to develop a capability's network but rather require that all programs use a common network.

"That's the efficiency I think Secretary Geurts is talking about and to me it is driving a change of behavior because I have got to work closer with [the DCNO for information warfare] to make sure we are communicating coherently and specifically about the requirements," he said.

"So yes, you are seeing a change of behavior and you are seeing a change of focus," he continued.

By Ashley Tressel
September 10, 2020 at 5:19 PM

The Army has finished its analysis of which programs will be harvested for modernization efforts in the fiscal year 2022 program objective memorandum, otherwise known as the "Night Court" process, according to a senior leader.

Army Futures Command commander Gen. Mike Murray said during a virtual Defense News conference today the service did what it needed to do to make sure the budget proposal would reflect the service's effort to replace aging equipment and improve upon newer systems.

"The Night Court for '22 is done," he said. "We wrapped that up, that's all been decided. And this was either the third or fourth iteration. It is about hard decisions, and every year has been harder . . . and it's all about priorities. One thing that I will credit the Army senior leadership . . . [with] is consistent priorities for the last four, five years, which makes it not easy, but easier, to do the budget and the POM every year and really make sure that our priorities are funded first."

The process to align Army priorities with the 2018 National Defense Strategy has generated $35 billion for new projects across the five-year spending plans beginning in FY-20 and FY-21.

"There are some hard choices and there are some losers when you do that, and there is risk," Murray continued. "So a lot of it is balancing that risk between what we need to do to sustain the capability to fight tonight and make sure our soldiers have what they need today versus what we know they're going to need in the future."

By John Liang
September 10, 2020 at 2:48 PM

This Thursday INSIDER Daily Digest has an exclusive interview with North American Aerospace Defense Command's deputy director of operations and more.

U.S. Northern Command's new modernization strategy, the Strategic Homeland Integrated Ecosystems for Layered Defense (SHIELD), aims to harden maritime and air approaches to the United States to create a capable defense:

NORTHCOM retooling homeland defense for Russian, Chinese threats with SHIELD modernization plan

U.S. Northern Command wants to retool the U.S. weapon system inventory for homeland defense against Russian and Chinese threats -- particularly new, long-range, conventional strike weapons designed to hobble critical domestic infrastructure -- with unprecedented air and maritime sensing capabilities linked to all-domain command and control tools that would guide a new array of anti-missile systems.

Project Maven is the Pentagon's AI pathfinder program that uses algorithms to detect objects of interest in imagery collected by drones:

USAF partnering with JAIC to deploy 'AI as a service'

The Air Force is collaborating with the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center to leverage the digital infrastructure enabled by its enterprise-wide cloud, software development and data support initiatives to achieve Project Maven's original goals and develop 'AI as a service' for all the military departments.

The Office of Naval Research has awarded a $500,000 contract, made using special acquisition authorities to bypass a full-and-open competition, to Saildrone:

Navy studying slow-moving USVs for data collection; potential market survey to follow

The Navy urgently contracted the use of five wind-powered, unmanned surface vessels for data collection during a major exercise with the intent to survey industry for other capabilities if the demonstrations are successful.

Inside Defense spoke this week with Air Force Lt. Col. Christina Rusnock, materiel leader for F-22 modernization:

F-22 Capability Pipeline's first release delayed to September 2021

Unexpected software development challenges have pushed the first delivery of a major F-22 upgrade from the end of 2020 to September 2021 and drove the program and prime contractor Lockheed Martin to transition in June from a cost-plus contract to a hybrid, fixed-price arrangement.

Five brigade combat teams last year were chosen for Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System capabilities assessments in an effort to replace the RQ-7S Shadow UAS:

Army's FTUAS assessments expected to wrap up this month, helping inform requirements

The Army is addressing capability gaps and receiving feedback from units assessing prototypes of the Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System as the service works to define a capability development document for the effort, a service official said yesterday.

Defense Department acquisition chief Ellen Lord said this week that the Pentagon believes it will need between $10 billion and $20 billion to address costs incurred by defense contractors between March 15 and Sept. 1:

Lord: DOD may take up to six months to reimburse contractors for pandemic impacts

Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord said today it may take up to six months to reimburse defense contractors seeking reimbursement for hardships and inefficiencies experienced during the COVD-19 pandemic, but she reiterated that Congress has yet to appropriate any money for the cause.

By Jaspreet Gill
September 10, 2020 at 1:17 PM

Army Futures Command yesterday announced Col. Doug Matty as the new director of the service's artificial intelligence task force, according to a press release.

Matty was sworn into his new position during a ceremony which included Gen. John Murray, AFC commanding general, and officials from Carnegie Mellon University on Aug. 28.

Matty will serve as the "leader of strategic AI capabilities for the U.S. Army," the release states. He previously served as the deputy director of the AI Task Force and as former deputy director of U.S. Cyber Command's Capabilities Development Group.

The AI Task Force was formed in 2018 through a partnership with AFC and Carnegie Mellon University and was led by Brig. Gen. Matt Easley.

By Marjorie Censer
September 10, 2020 at 9:57 AM

Leidos said today it has named retired Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams vice president for defense group logistics, effective immediately.

"Williams will support the planning, oversight, and execution of logistics activities across the group, and drive innovation into corporate-wide logistics offerings," the contractor said.

Most recently, he was director of the Defense Logistics Agency.

By Marjorie Censer
September 9, 2020 at 4:15 PM

Mercury Systems today unveiled the first commercially available offering in its trusted system-in-package family, following a $15 million investment last year to expand its microelectronics packaging business.

The company said its RFS1080 product provides high-speed RF processing and will support radar, electronic warfare and 5G communications.

Last year, Mercury said it would invest to expand the scope of its custom microelectronics business in Phoenix.

"What we're enabling are dramatic SWAP -- size, weight and power -- improvements," Mark Aslett, Mercury's chief executive, said at the time.

Tom Smelker, who heads Mercury's microsystems group, told Inside Defense this week that the company got out to a quick start, but was slightly slowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"COVID hit, but didn't stop us," he said. "We've been progressing and moving a little bit slower than we originally planned."

He said the RFS1080 brings digital processing closer to the sensor and offers integrated security.

Smelker said Mercury has spoken directly with Pentagon acquisition chief Ellen Lord about the new capabilities.

Mercury said its technology "directly satisfies the DOD's requirement for onshore manufacturing of critical state-of-the-art microelectronics."

By John Liang
September 9, 2020 at 2:32 PM

This Wednesday INSIDER Daily Digest has news on the possibility that the major defense policy and spending bills won't be passed before the end of the fiscal year, and more.

Don't expect lawmakers to pass next year's defense authorization bill before the presidential election:

Thornberry: Defense policy bill unlikely to pass before election

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said today the House and Senate are unlikely to pass a final fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bill before the November election.

In that same vein, the White House has submitted lists obtained by Inside Defense of "anomalies" it would like to see funded during a possible fiscal year 2021 continuing resolution:

White House seeks CR exemptions for Columbia-class sub, Space Force

The White House is prioritizing the need to fund two Columbia-class submarines and restructure the Space Force in the event lawmakers cannot agree to pass regular appropriations bills and are forced to pass a stopgap spending measure, according to documents obtained by Inside Defense.

Document: OMB's FY-21 'anomalies' lists

Defense Secretary Mark Esper spoke this morning during a DOD symposium on artificial intelligence:

Esper: Pentagon will train acquisition workforce on AI, data science

The Defense Department will launch a training program next month for its acquisition professionals to specifically learn about artificial intelligence and data science capabilities, according to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The Defense Department inspector general's office released reports this week on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and the national security space launch enterprise:

DOD IG highlights lack of oversight in F-35 parts disposal decisions

A new Defense Department inspector general report finds that the F-35 joint program office has a "nonfunctioning process" to determine whether damaged parts should be repaired or discarded -- an issue that has led to a reduction in available spare parts and disposal of hundreds of parts without DOD approval.

SMC complied with new entrant launch certification guide, DOD IG says

The Defense Department inspector general's office this week published its audit of the Air Force's process to certify new entrants to the national security space launch enterprise, which confirmed the Space and Missile Systems Center generally complied with its own guidance, but recommended lifting some constraints in its process and working with SpaceX to assess reusability.

Navy Capt. Henry Adams, the commander of Surface Development Squadron ONE, spoke this week at the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International virtual conference:

Navy to work with SCO during unmanned surface vehicle transit

The Navy is working with the Pentagon's Strategic Capabilities Office to evaluate the command, control and design of large and medium unmanned surface vehicles.

Northrop Grumman has nabbed a big intercontinental ballistic missile contract:

Northrop wins $13.3 billion contract to develop GBSD

The Air Force has awarded Northrop Grumman a $13.3 billion contract to develop the military's next intercontinental ballistic missile system, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent.

Last but certainly not least, some news from our colleagues at Inside Cybersecurity:

Arrington: Rule change needed for DOD cyber certification program enters 'end phase,' release planned by November

The Defense Department expects to have a proposed acquisition rule needed to implement its cyber certification program out for public comment by November, according to Pentagon acquisition Chief Information Security Officer Katie Arrington, with the final regulation probably pushed into 2021.