The Insider

By Tony Bertuca
June 25, 2020 at 1:46 PM

Defense Secretary Mark Esper has approved a request for assistance from the Department of Homeland Security that would authorize the deployment of 4,000 U.S. military personnel at the southern border beginning in October, with more of the force coming from the National Guard.

"The duties to be performed by military personnel include the same categories of support as those currently being carried out along the border, including detection and monitoring, logistics, and transportation support to U.S. Customs and Border Protection," according to a statement from Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell.

"Military personnel will not directly participate in civilian law enforcement activities," he said.

The U.S. military mission on the southern border has been criticized and opposed by Democrats, but the Pentagon says troops will assist DHS there for as long as President Trump orders it.

Trump declared an emergency at the border last year and has diverted billions of dollars from the Pentagon to build a wall between Mexico and the United States. The funding shifts, meanwhile, have drawn opposition from Democrats and Republicans alike.

By Marjorie Censer
June 25, 2020 at 1:33 PM

The newly named head of SparkCognition Government Systems, established to provide artificial intelligence for the public sector, says he's focused on building needed infrastructure for the new business.

In an interview with Inside Defense this week, Logan Jones, who previously was vice president of Boeing's innovation cell HorizonX, said that what drew him to SparkCognition was that it's one of the few artificial intelligence companies "actually focused on helping national security and defense."

SparkCognition in May announced the new subsidiary and rolled out a high-profile board of advisers that includes former Pentagon officials Michèle Flournoy and Bob Work.

The company said its government systems business will be able to tailor its products for the public sector to cost-effectively improve critical functions.

Jones said developing SparkCognition Government Systems as a separate business is necessary.

"I think to be that trusted partner over the long run with DOD you have to become a company that focuses on DOD. You can't treat it as a side business," he said. "There is a government acquisition process, there's levels of trust that you have to get behind -- you can't do that by just doing it halfway."

Jones said he's considering multiple approaches for the business, from selling directly to the military to also working with prime contractors.

SGS still needs to set up needed infrastructure, from contract vehicles to hiring, according to Jones. Some SparkCognition employees will join SGS, he said, but the exact number isn't yet set.

By Courtney Albon
June 25, 2020 at 12:30 PM

House authorizers want to establish deputy assistant sustainment secretaries for the Air Force, Army and Navy who would be tasked with improving sustainment oversight, cost management and "strategic readiness" for each of the services.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) recommends in his mark of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill, obtained today by Inside Defense, that each service secretary appoint a deputy assistant secretary for sustainment.

Responsibilities would include: reviewing and overseeing baseline sustainment cost estimates; participating in life-cycle sustainment plan reviews; ensuring that programs use cost modeling, performance metrics and data analytics to update plans, build budgets and update assumptions; recommending cost-effective sustainment strategies; balancing the range of sustainment activities for all major weapon systems; and advising their respective service secretaries on how to best align sustainment, supply chain and strategic readiness.

The provision does not dictate a timeline for appointing the sustainment secretaries.

By Jaspreet Gill
June 25, 2020 at 12:13 PM

The House Armed Services Committee is once again restoring funding to the Block II upgrade program for the CH-47 Chinook, directing the Army to stick to its original plan to improve the helicopter.

The chairman's mark of the committee's fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill -- obtained by Inside Defense -- restores $29 million for Chinook advance procurement, which includes the Block II upgrade for the CH-47F in the conventional force.

The Army had asked for $18.4 million for Chinook advance procurement, consistent with its FY-20 request, which was ultimately denied by Congress.

The committee in its FY-20 mark restored $28 million and said it was "concerned that the Army is now reducing its support for the CH-47 Block II program which was determined to be necessary less than two years ago."

The service wants to use funding for the Block II upgrade, intended to increase the helicopter's payload, to fund development of new aircraft under the future vertical lift modernization priority.

Army spokeswoman Cathy Vandermaarel said in a statement in February the service wants to wait until FY-23 to decide whether to pursue Block II upgrades for the conventional force or recapitalize Block I aircraft.

Meanwhile, the Senate Armed Services Committee is granting the Army the requested cut in its mark of the defense policy bill.

By Justin Katz
June 25, 2020 at 10:47 AM

A Senate panel wants the Navy secretary to align the service's strike fighter fleet with force structures previously studied by the Air Force and other independent or third-party agencies.

"The committee commends the Navy on transitioning to a strategy focused on the acquisition of 5th generation aircraft but remains concerned that the current strike fighter shortage data demand an increase in the annual total acquisition of fighter aircraft," according to the report accompanying the Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the defense policy bill.

"The provision would establish a minimum number of F-35 and Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) aircraft that the Navy and Marine Corps would be required to purchase each year to mitigate or manage strike fighter shortfalls," the report continues.

The committee wants the Navy secretary to use previous studies about strike fighter inventories to guide the service's acquisition strategy. The Fiscal Year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act directed the Pentagon to conduct those studies as well as solicit assessments from a federally funded research and development center and an "independent nongovernmental institute."

Lawmakers would also direct the Navy to provide the new strategy in a report by March 2021.

"Finally, the provision would also prohibit the Department of the Navy's deviation from this strategy in its acquisition programs and related force structure until the Secretary of the Navy receives a waiver and justification from the Secretary of Defense and until 30 days after notifying the congressional defense committees of the proposed deviation," according to the Senate's report.

House lawmakers in their subcommittee marks of the policy bill are poised to pass new requirements and funding fences regarding both the F-35 fleets and NGAD program.

By Marjorie Censer
June 25, 2020 at 10:22 AM

Inside Defense has obtained a copy of the House Armed Services Committee chairman's mark of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill.

Read it here.

By Courtney Albon
June 25, 2020 at 10:01 AM

Senate policymakers want the Air Force to start looking for a new F-35A ammunition system that "provides a full-spectrum target engagement capability" after continued deficiencies with the aircraft's current gun.

In the report accompanying its mark of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill, the Senate Armed Services Committee highlights known concerns with the F-35A gun, which were raised most recently in Pentagon Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Robert Behler's annual testing report, that deemed the current gun, as installed, "unacceptable."

The provision would require the Air Force to seek a new provider, noting that while the program is working to improve the gun's performance, "the anticipated hardware and software solutions do not adequately address the lethality limitation of the F-35A gun."

"Improvements are necessary in ammunition performance, including the ability to penetrate hard targets as well as the ability to achieve combined explosive fragmentation, and incendiary effects," the report states. "The committee further understands that the currently qualified 25 mm ammunition effectively penetrates semi-hardened armor; however, the ammunition has limited capability against a broader range of target sets."

The committee does not prescribe a path or a timeline for identifying an alternative provider.

In his 2019 testing report, Behler noted that the gun muzzle's alignment within the aircraft is a contributor to the system's accuracy issues. Those issues led the Air Force to restrict gun use for low-rate initial production Lot 9 and newer aircraft.

The F-35A's gun is installed internally, while the B- and C-model variants have external gun pods and have not shown the same issues. Inside Defense reported in February that the Air Force would begin installing upgraded panels to fielded aircraft this spring and to production aircraft in the summer.

By Sara Sirota
June 24, 2020 at 3:52 PM

The Senate Armed Services Committee wants to give the Air Force an additional $128 million for low-cost attritable aircraft technology and is calling on the service to come up with a plan to advance the program.

LCAAT is an Air Force Research Laboratory effort that conducts experiments with small drones whose affordability can enable warfighters to deploy them in mass and either reuse them or leave them behind if they break. AFRL also seeks to integrate the systems with artificial intelligence to enable greater levels of autonomy.

The senators' funding boost is intended to purchase more of Kratos' XQ-58A Valkyrie drones, a demonstrator that LCAAT researchers use during experimentation, according to a summary of the panel's fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill that was released June 11.

Funding tables supporting the legislation, published today, state the added $128 million will help accelerate the program.

The bill also has a provision that would direct the Air Force's acquisition executive to submit a strategy to conduct operational tests and evaluate the utility of LCAAT systems. The plan would be due to the congressional defense committees by Oct. 1.

These proposals reflect growing interest by Senate authorizers to invest in LCAAT technology and assert oversight of the Air Force's plans to push the program forward.

While crafting the FY-20 defense policy bill, the panel recommended giving the service an extra $100 million to further development of LCAAT systems -- an addition that ultimately made it into the FY-20 Defense Appropriations Act.

However, the committee didn't pursue any reporting on the program. The House Armed Services Committee had sought a provision in the FY-20 defense policy bill to require the Air Force acquisition executive to prepare a report on the design, test and integration of LCAAT drones, but it was not included in the final legislation.

By Marjorie Censer
June 24, 2020 at 3:16 PM

Booz Allen Hamilton said today it is developing a 6,000-square-foot innovation center in Huntsville, AL, that will allow for collaboration and showcase technology such as additive manufacturing.

Booz Allen said it has had offices in Huntsville since 2003 and has more than 200 employees there. A company spokeswoman said the new facility will result in additional hires, but the number isn't yet finalized.

The new innovation center will be located in the historic Stovehouse factory and will use a reconfigurable layout, the company said. It is slated to open this winter.

By John Liang
June 24, 2020 at 2:08 PM

This Wednesday INSIDER Daily Digest has a plethora of news from the House and Senate versions of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill.

Before we get to the authorization bill coverage, though, here's a story on the Air Force's Advanced Battle Management System:

Next ABMS on-ramp event to feature Reaper spy drone, Sentry radar system

The MQ-9 Reaper and E-3G Airborne Warning and Control System are among the aerial assets slated to participate in the next Advanced Battle Management System on-ramp, according to an Air Force official.

. . . along with a story on Army recruiting in the era of COVID-19:

Army developing 'autonomous recruiting operations concept' amid COVID-19 pandemic

The commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command said Tuesday the service is developing a new concept focused on tech-savvy recruiters while shifting all recruiting operations virtually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Additionally, the Joint Strike Fighter program is under scrutiny by the House Oversight and Reform Committee:

House lawmakers investigating Lockheed's F-35 spare parts 'failures'

The House Oversight and Reform Committee is calling on Lockheed Martin to release a slew of documents related to its work on the F-35 Autonomic Logistics Information System and its alleged misuse of Electronic Equipment Logs.

Back to the policy bills, Senate authorizers want to do away with the Pentagon's chief management officer position:

Senate defense bill would terminate CMO post

The Senate Armed Services Committee has approved a fiscal year 2021 defense authorization bill that would "terminate" the position of the Pentagon's chief management officer, a post lawmakers once intended to be the third-most senior official at the Defense Department.

Senators also want to bring back an annual Pentagon aviation plan:

Senate panel moves to restore annual aviation plan, 30-year forecast

A Senate panel is proposing legislation to re-instate -- after a brief hiatus -- the requirement for the Pentagon to produce an annual aviation inventory and funding plan, a move that could provide lawmakers as well as aerospace and defense analysts insight into the U.S. long-term investment plans for the approximately 14,000 aircraft flown by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.

House and Senate authorizers have differing ideas for how the Navy should buy sealift ships:

House, Senate offer dueling strategies to regulate Navy sealift recap

House and Senate authorizers are both poised to expand the Navy's ability to purchase used sealift vessels in this year's defense policy bill, but are taking different approaches to encourage the service to more aggressively recapitalize its logistics fleet.

Lawmakers want DOD to provide more details on the Marine Corps' top uniformed officer's recently released planning guidance:

House authorizers want report on Commandant's Planning Guidance

House lawmakers are moving to mandate that the Pentagon present a report on Marine Corps Commandant General David Berger's Planning Guidance.

House authorizers want to tamp down the Navy's enthusiasm for unmanned vessels:

Lawmakers again take aim to regulate Navy's unmanned efforts

Despite a less aggressive public campaign from the Navy this budget cycle to highlight unmanned ships, House lawmakers are continuing to push for legislative provisions to temper the service's rapid efforts to develop the untested technology.

Last but certainly not least, Senate authorizers want a space launch capability development program:

Senate lawmakers propose $250M for Phase 3 space launch technology development effort

The Senate Armed Services Committee's mark of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill includes language to establish a space launch capability development program with a $250 million funding ceiling that would help the Air Force inject new technologies for future competition and support industry in meeting launch requirements.

By Marjorie Censer
June 24, 2020 at 11:11 AM

AeroVironment said both sales and profit grew during its most recent quarter.

The company reported quarterly sales of $135 million, up 54% from the same three-month period a year earlier. The bulk of the growth came from improved product sales.

AeroVironment said quarterly profit totaled $17.5 million, more than triple the quarterly profit produced the prior year.

For the year, AeroVironment said its sales hit $367 million, up 17% from its fiscal year 2019 sales. The company reported an additional $45 million in product sales.

Profit for the year totaled $41.1 million, down about 13% from FY-19. The company said its FY-19 profit had been buoyed by a one-time gain from a litigation settlement.

By Marjorie Censer
June 24, 2020 at 9:26 AM

Maxar Technologies said this week it plans to exercise its option to take full ownership of Vricon, a 3D data and analytics firm that was formed as a joint venture between Maxar and Saab in 2015.

Maxar said it will pay about $140 million for the company. Once the deal closes, Maxar plans to name Gilman Louie, the chairman of Vricon's board of directors and founder of In-Q-Tel, to its board.

"Vricon's products and technology are strongly aligned with Maxar's Earth Intelligence growth strategy and priority mission areas outlined in the U.S. National Defense Strategy," Maxar said. "Maxar expects that Vricon will extend the company's lead in existing markets with additional high-value growth products, by increasing Maxar's industry-leading accuracy and augmenting automated feature extraction and change detection capabilities."

"In addition, the transaction unlocks new and underpenetrated defense and commercial markets for Maxar, such as autonomous navigation and 5G telecommunications network planning," the company added.

The company said it expects the deal to close in July.

By Marjorie Censer
June 23, 2020 at 4:53 PM

The National Defense Industrial Association said today it is beginning a second survey of how small defense contractors are faring during the ongoing pandemic.

This survey, like the original one, which was completed in April, is being undertaken at the request of the Pentagon's acquisition office, NDIA said. About 770 small businesses participated in the first survey.

The new survey is anonymous and will be open through July 3. NDIA said it expects to release the results July 17 and that the findings from the new survey will be used "to form further COVID-related policy responses."

The first survey found that companies were struggling with hitting sales expectations, meeting contract obligations and getting access to capital in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.

By John Liang
June 23, 2020 at 2:33 PM

This Tuesday INSIDER Daily Digest has continuing coverage of the House Armed Services subcommittee mark-ups of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill.

Missile defense:

Lawmakers want NGI program on short leash after RKV failure

Lawmakers are proposing new reporting requirements for the Next Generation Interceptor development program that could -- if enacted -- impose additional congressional oversight on the new counter-intercontinental ballistic missile weapon system.

House wants DOD to draft plan for improving, expanding current GBI fleet

A key House panel wants the Defense Department to draw up options for improving currently fielded Ground-based Interceptors, forging a potential new program to both upgrade and expand the existing homeland ballistic missile defense fleet that could compete with the Pentagon's new plan for a "layered" homeland defense architecture.

Joint Strike Fighter:

Lawmakers propose new F-35 oversight requirements, NGAD review

House lawmakers are calling on the Defense Department to provide new details on the status of F-35 software development and modernization plans and directing Pentagon cost estimators to conduct a "non-advocate review" of the Air Force and Navy's Next-Generation Air Dominance programs.

Air Force:

House panel moves to slow Air Force tanker retirements

The House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee wants to block the Air Force from making its planned KC-135 retirements until after a key upgrade to the KC-46 remote visual system is completed.

House authorizers threaten to limit ABMS funds pending Global Hawk divestment review

A House panel is threatening to withhold funding from the military's flagship program to achieve joint all-domain command and control until the Air Force shares information on its Global Hawk divestment plans.


House authorizers seek to fence SECDEF travel budget until Congress gets Navy shipbuilding blueprint

Lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee are seeking to limit a portion of the Defense secretary's travel budget until the Pentagon presents Congress with the Navy's long-term shipbuilding blueprint.


House lawmakers seek report on future vertical lift sensor payloads

The House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee wants the Army secretary to deliver a report on future vertical lift sensor payloads amid concerns about the service’s FVL acquisition strategy.

House lawmakers show support for OMFV reboot

The House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee is showing support for the Army's Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle program restart in its mark of the fiscal year 2021 defense policy bill.

Last but certainly not least, some news on a big Navy contract for the Columbia-class submarine:

Navy awards Electric Boat $869 million Columbia contract mod; $9.5B in options for FY-21

The Navy has awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat an $869 million contract modification for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program.

By Marjorie Censer
June 23, 2020 at 2:25 PM

Private-equity firm AE Industrial Partners said this week it has acquired NuWave Solutions, which specializes in data management, advanced analytics, artificial intelligence and cloud solutions for government agencies.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and AEI said NuWave will be a standalone platform.

The private-equity firm has named Reggie Brothers chief executive of NuWave and Michael Buscher chief growth officer. Mark Keyser, a founder of NuWave, will remain with the company as an adviser to the board of directors.

Brothers was chief technology officer at Peraton. He previously served as undersecretary of science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security and as deputy assistant secretary of defense for research at the Pentagon.

Buscher was vice president of intelligence and special operations at Peraton. He also founded Vanguard Defense Industries.

"As Chief Growth Officer, Mr. Buscher will help expand NuWave's reach to the defense and intelligence communities," AEI said.