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U.S. Army awards $17 million contract for Abrams’ aluminum road wheel inserts
October 22, 2019

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Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Jacob McDonald

The U.S. Department of Defense announced on Monday that Advanced Structural Technologies Inc. was awarded a contract for manufacture and supply of M1 Abrams tank aluminum road wheel inserts.

The contract, from U.S. Army Contracting Command, is valued at more than $17 million.

Work will be performed in Oxnard, California, with an estimated completion date of Oct. 21, 2021.

The M1 Abrams tank can reach a maximum speed of approximately 68km/h with a maximum cruising range of 426 km. The torsion bar suspension of the M1A1 Abrams consists of each side of seven road wheels with rotary shock-absorbers at the first, second and seventh road-wheel stations. All this power must rely on what are known as “road wheels,” which are mounted on the Abrams before the tank’s track is installed.

Aluminum inserts are used to resist corrosion and creep at the bolted interfaces between the component and the vehicle.

For the modern military powers of the world, strength must meet mobility and durability. This is especially true for vehicles operating in extremely hostile conditions, without these properties military vehicles and the people they protect are exposed to high risk. Often the mechanical properties of the vehicle are the difference between life and death.
 

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U.S. Soldiers receives next generation head protection system
October 22, 2019
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Photo by Sgt. Youtoy Martin


The U.S. Army Soldiers have begun to receive the next generation of head protection system called the IHPS, according to Army News Service.

The IHPS, a short for Integrated Head Protective System, is part of an upgraded Soldier Protection System (body armor). When fully assembled, the headgear resembles a full-face motorcycle helmet. It provides a larger area of protection for the head and face and weighs less than the current Army Combat Helmet.

The first issue of this mandible with the IHPS helmet went to an armored unit in Afghanistan a couple months ago, said Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for Soldier protective equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier.

Less than a week after receiving his new Integrated Head Protective System, or IHPS, the neck mandible saved the Soldier’s life in Afghanistan.

The armor crewman was in the turret manning his weapon when a raucous broke out on the street below. Amidst the shouting, a brick came hurdling toward his turret. It struck the Soldier’s neck, but luckily he had his maxillofacial protection connected to his helmet.

The neck protection was designed specifically for turret gunners to protect them from objects thrown at them, Ginger Whitehead said. She added most Soldiers don’t need and are not issued the mandible that connects to the IHPS Generation I helmet.

A new Gen II helmet is also now being testing by Soldiers, said Col. Stephen Thomas, program manager for Soldier protection and individual equipment at PEO Soldier.

About 150 of the Gen II IHPS helmets were recently issued to Soldiers of the 2-1 Infantry for testing at Fort Riley, Kansas. The new helmet is lighter while providing a greater level of protection, Whitehead said. The universal helmet mount eliminates the need for drilling holes for straps and thus better preserves the integrity of the carbon fiber.

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Lt. Col. Ginger Whitehead, product manager for Soldier protection equipment at Program Executive Office Soldier, points to the maxillofacial protection on the new Integrated Head Protection System, or IHPS, that saved a Soldier’s life recently in Afghanistan when a brick was thrown at his neck. Photo by Gary Sheftick

The new helmet is part of an upgraded Soldier Protection System that provides more agility and maneuver capability, is lighter weight, while still providing a higher level of ballistic protection, Thomas said.

The lighter equipment will “reduce the burden on Soldiers” and be a “game-changer” downrange, Thomas said at a PEO Soldier media roundtable Tuesday during the Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition.

It will allow Soldiers flexibility to scale up or scale down their personal armor protection depending on the threat and the mission, he said.
The new Soldier Protection System, or SPS, is “an integrated suite of equipment,” Thomas said, that includes different-sized torso plates for a modular scalable vest that comes in eight sizes and a new ballistic combat shirt that has 12 sizes.

The idea is for the equipment to better fit all sizes of Soldiers, he said.

The ballistic combat shirt for women has a V-notch in the back to accommodate a hair bun, Whitehead said, which will make it more comfortable for many female Soldiers.

The modular scalable vest can be broken down to a sleeveless version with a shortened plate to give an increased range of motion to vehicle drivers and others, she said.

The new SPS also moves away from protective underwear that “Soldiers didn’t like at all” because of the heat and chafe, Whitehead said. Instead the new unisex design of outer armor protects the femoral arteries with less discomfort, she said.

PEO Soldier has also come out with a new integrated hot-weather clothing uniform, or IHWCU, made of advanced fibers, Thomas said. It’s quick-drying with a mix of 57% nylon and 43% cotton.

In hot temperatures, the uniform is “no melt, no drip,” he said.

Two sets of the IHWCU are now being issued to infantry and armor Soldiers during initial-entry training, he said, along with two sets of the regular combat uniform.

The new hot-weather uniform is also now available at clothing sales stores in Hawaii, along with those on Forts Benning, Hood and Bliss, he said. All clothing sales stores should have the new uniform available by February, he added.
 

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U.S. Air Force redeploys its giant spy drone from Japan
October 22, 2019

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Photo by Senior Airman Juan Torres



The U.S. Air Forces redeployed a squadron of 319th Reconnaissance Wing Global Hawk RQ-4s from Yokota Air Base, Japan, to Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, Oct. 20, 2019, according to 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.

The three-month deployment kept operations running smoothly during the summer typhoon-season, when inclement weather has a higher potential to hinder theater-wide operations.

“We were pleased to welcome the 319th Reconnaissance Wing Det. 1 back to Yokota Air Base. They not only integrated seamlessly with our team but were also able to strengthen relationships with our local communities. The RQ-4 mission plays a critical role in the Indo-Pacific Region, and its presence here helps us ensure the safety and security of Japan,” said Col. Otis Jones, 374th Airlift Wing commander.

Since 2011, Pacific Air Forces has deployed the Global Hawk to Misawa Air Base, Japan, in 2014, 2015, and 2018 and Yokota in 2017 and 2019.

“Having alternate locations to execute our mission during seasons of inclement weather ensured our ability to continue executing U.S. Indo-Pacific Command and the Alliance reconnaissance requirements in support of the defense of Japan and to maintain international peace and security in the region,” said Lt Col Ben Craycraft, 319th Operations Group Det. 1 commander. “Our squadron of Global Hawks safely and flawlessly executed each mission daily, virtually unnoticed, without incident. This is all thanks to the extensive and outstanding support the Samurai Warrior Team at the 374th Airlift Wing provided our squadron.”

The RQ-4 is a giant, high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted and unarmed, designed to provide persistent, day and night, high-resolution, all-weather imagery of large geographic areas with an array of integrated sensors and cameras.

In addition to supporting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) requirements, the Global Hawk can be used for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations. One of its most notable missions was in support of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts during Operation Tomodachi after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

“In the past, the RQ-4s were instrumental in assisting with humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations as well as providing unmatched capabilities with High Altitude, Long Endurance (HALE) Reconnaissance,” explained Craycraft. “As in 2017, Yokota Air Base ultimately provided the most ideal location for our operations due to the Kanto Plain’s favorable weather and our ability to conduct operations without causing impact to flights or the local communities surrounding Yokota Air base.”
 

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U.S. Army takes next step toward new M17 weapons system
October 22, 2019
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Photo by Pvt. Matthew Marcellus

The U.S. Army has taken another important step towards the newest M17 adaptable weapons system, according to a recent service news release.

The new M17 modular handgun system is now being placed into service with all branches of the U.S. Military.

The modular handgun systems program is the first in a line of modernization efforts that the service will pursue over the next few years.

Soldiers assigned to 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division fired the M17 pistol for the first time during a qualification range, October 10. Within 1AD, 3ABCT is the first brigade to field and fire the new weapons system.

“The M17 pistol is an adaptable weapons system. It feels a lot smoother and a lot lighter than the M9,” said 2nd Lt. Michael Preston, an armor officer assigned to 1-67 AR. “I feel like the transition to the M17 will benefit us greatly in combat. Just from being out here today I was able to shoot well and notice that it felt lighter.”

The M17 is a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, which offers a lighter weight than the previous M9 pistol, weighing 30.8 ounces. It has an improved ergonomic design and a more modern internal striker firing mechanism, rather than an external hammer firing mechanism, to reduce trigger pull and improve accuracy and lethality.

The striker design of the M17 is less likely to snag on clothing or tactical gear when firing than an external hammer and furthermore, the M17 has a capacity of 17 rounds, two more than the M9.

The M17 pistol is the full-sized variant of the Modular Handgun System which also includes the compact M18 pistol, designed to replace the M9 and M11 pistols.

Soldiers using the new M17 pistol will potentially have greater maneuverability and operational flexibility while in combat, due to the reduced weight and improved design compared to the M9 pistol.

“When we climb out of our tanks, less weight is good,” said 1st Lt. Shannon Martin, an armor officer assigned to 1-67 AR and native of Scituate, Massachusetts. “Every ounce that you shave off the equipment is less weight for Soldiers to carry. So for those infantrymen who are rucking miles at a time, it is good for them to have less weight that they’re carrying so that they can focus on staying fit for the fight and being ready to go.”

The Modular Handgun System has an ambidextrous external safety, self-illuminating tritium sights for low-light conditions, an integrated rail for attaching enablers and an Army standard suppressor conversion kit for attaching an acoustic/flash suppressor.

“Coyote brown” in color, it also has interchangeable hand grips allowing shooters to adjust the handgun to the size of their hand.

The primary service round is the M1153 9mm special purpose cartridge, which has a jacketed hollow point projectile. It provides improved terminal performance against unprotected targets as well as reduced risk of over-penetration and collateral damage compared to the M882 9mm ball cartridge and the Mk243 9mm jacketed hollow point cartridge.

The M1152 9mm ball cartridge has a truncated, or flat, nose full metal jacket projectile around a solid lead alloy core. It provides improved terminal performance compared to the M882 ball cartridge.
The fielding of the M17 pistol has generated great excitement and energy among 1AD Soldiers, most of whom have never fired a handgun other than the M9 pistol.

“I think having a new weapons system has sprouted interest. We have Soldiers who say ‘Cool, I’m so excited to go and shoot these’, so it creates more interest in qualifying with a handgun,” said Martin. “During our deployment to Korea, we saw the M17 and we were all excited to get our hands on them, train with them and to see what’s different about them.”

The adoption and implementation of the M17 pistol reflects the Army’s continued commitment to modernization, ensuring that Soldiers are best equipped to deal with any threat and to project lethal force with efficiency.

The division began fielding and distributing the M17 to its units in August and have used classroom training time with these live-fire ranges to familiarize their Soldiers with the new handgun, ensuring that they are ready and proficient with the weaponry.

Soldiers learn through innovation and iteration. As part of ongoing modernization efforts, research teams rapidly develop new prototypes and arm Soldiers with new technologies, including protective gear, weaponry and communications capabilities.

“Adopting the M17 pistol is good for our readiness and lethality,” said Martin. “It forces us all to go out, shoot and be familiar and proficient with our new weaponry.”

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SAIC Picks Kongberg’s Turret for US Marines’ Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicles
October 22, 2019
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Picture for representation only.


Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has selected Kongsberg to design and manufacture an advanced, remote medium caliber turret for United States Marine Corps’ Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV).

The solution includes CORTEX ICS vetronics and combat services solutions for SAIC’s Advanced Reconnaissance Vehicle (ARV) offering to the Office of Naval Research and the United States Marine Corps, Kongsberg said in a statement Monday.

“We have been building upon our Stryker medium caliber turret experience for the past three years to develop a lighter, more lethal solution set,” said Pål E. Bratlie, executive vice president, Kongsberg.

The Marine Corps plan to replace 1980’s Light Armored Vehicle (LAV) with modern ARVs late in the next decade. While the LAV remains operationally effective, the life cycle of this system is set to expire in the mid-2030s.

The ARV will be highly mobile, networked, transportable, protected and lethal. The capability will provide sensors, communication systems and lethality options to overmatch threats that have historically been addressed with more heavily armored systems.

“The ARV will be an advanced combat vehicle system, capable of fighting for information that balances competing capability demands to sense, shoot, move, communicate and remain transportable as part of the naval expeditionary force,” said John “Steve” Myers, program manager for MCSC’s LAV portfolio.
 

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Has Airbus fixed midair refueling problems with the F-15 jet?
22 Oct 2019

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A Republic of Singapore Air Force F-15SG refuels from an A330 MRTT aircraft over the U.S. state ofIdaho during an exercise in September 2019. (Singapore's Defence Ministry)


MELBOURNE, Australia — Airbus has developed changes to the software that controls the A330 tanker boom specifically for midair refueling of the Boeing F-15 Eagle. The modification, known as boom flight control law, was coded in response to difficulties encountered during flight trials, and the update adds another receiver type to the list of aircraft certified for refueling from the tanker.

Airbus told Defense News that the need for a new boom control law came to light during flight trials between an A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport and U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets. Observers noticed midair refueling between the two aircraft was more difficult than other receivers due to the F-15 receptacle’s asymmetric design and “the associated aerodynamics effects" near the receptacle.

The new boom control law on the A330 MRTT provides the boom operator with an improved and smoother way to perform the contact, an Airbus Defence and Space spokesman told Defense News.

He added that the software modification for the A330 MRTT’s aerial refueling boom system, or ARBS, called Update III Loop 6.1, was certified in 2018 following flight tests between the MRTT and an unidentified operator’s F-15s during the development and certification phases to assess and validate the behavior of the new boom control laws.

The boom and receptacle method of air-to-air refueling is used on aircraft such as the F-15, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Fighting Falcon, and Boeing’s B-52 Stratofortress and B-1 Lancer, in which a boom operator on board the tanker maneuvers and plugs the refueling boom into a receptacle mounted on the receiver aircraft. The refueling receptacle is usually mounted along the receiver aircraft’s longitudinal centerline, although in some aircraft like the F-15, the receptacle is offset to one side.

This refueling method allows higher fuel transfer rates compared to the alternative probe and drogue approach, and the former method is usually used by the U.S. Air Force and larger receiver aircraft with higher onboard fuel capacity. Like many modern tanker aircraft, the MRTT is capable of supporting both refueling methods.

Why the F-15?
The Airbus spokesman did not go into detail about midair refueling difficulties with the F-15. However, an unclassified Republic of Singapore Air Force document seen by Defense News noted that during flight tests with its F-15SG aircraft, the receivers experienced “a left roll tendency was observed in the center and right side of the boom envelope” and that when the boom was disconnected between tanker and receiver, the fighter jet “may yaw left (up to approximately 2 [degrees]) into the boom as the boom was flying up and away from the receptacle”.

The standards-related document also said aircrew “qualitatively assessed that the workload was minimal to moderate and was manageable,” adding that the F-15’s tendency to roll while on the MRTT’s boom meant that it required “a slight constant right aileron and/or rudder inputs to maintain in position.”

This left roll/yaw phenomenon corresponds with what Defense News previously reported: During refueling trials conducted by an Australian MRTT in 2015 with U.S. Air Force receiver aircraft, the boom at certain flight parameters tended to move too close to and run the risk of contact with the F-15’s canopy.

Singapore’s F-15SGs have received category 3 clearance for refueling from the MRTT, though some restrictions still apply, including that the MRTT ARBS version “must be or later than Upgrade III Loop 6.1” and the F-15SG “shall not carry stores” on the two forward left weapons stations, known as LC3 and LC6.

In addition, MRTT air-to-air refueling operations must only be carried out with the ARBS in F-15 flight control law mode. The MRTT ARBS has two other control laws: “light and “heavy” depending on the weight of the receiver aircraft. These boom control laws are used by modern fly-by-wire refueling booms to improve handling characteristics during the different phases of air-to-air refueling.

Category 3 clearance is the highest of three levels between tanker and receiver aircraft, and it is considered a low-risk clearance due to comprehensive compatibility testing between both aircraft, which includes flight testing across a range of performance parameters.

What other countries are affected?
The Singaporean document was uploaded to the website of NATO’s Joint Air Power Competence Centre, alongside that of several other coalition and friendly countries such the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, France and Japan. Such documents are used to facilitate multinational interoperability between tanker and receiver aircraft.

Singapore is awaiting receipt of six A330 MRTTs. Its military operates a fleet of F-15SG multirole fighters used by two Singapore-based squadrons, and the fighter jets participate in U.S.-based training. Saudi Arabia and South Korea also operate the A330 MRTT and the F-15.

Airbus describes the Loop 6.1 update as the baseline for all new production aircraft, and it’s likely South Korea and France, which received their first A330 MRTT aircraft after Singapore, will operate tankers with the boom control update.

Airbus also says the update is available for MRTT operators upon request, and a spokesperson from Australia’s Defence Department told Defense News that all of its MRTTs, which are locally known as the KC-30A, “have upgraded boom flight control laws (version Loop 5.2 to 6.1), which better accommodate refueling with the F-15 Eagle.”

Australia was the first country to operate the MRTT and has carried out extensive refueling trials with other coalition receiver aircraft. In addition to F-35A Joint Strike Fighters, F/A-18 Hornets and Super Hornets, Australia’s MRTTs have also been certified to refuel coalition aircraft such as the U.S. Air Force’s B-1 bomber and the A-10 close-air support plane, the French Rafale fighter jet, and the Indian Sukhoi Su-30 Flanker, among others.

Australia also wants to add the F-15 to that list. An Australian test pilot told reporters at the Avalon Airshow in Australia this year that there are plans to conduct trials with Singapore’s F-15SGs as well as Japanese F-15J and F-2 fighters.
 

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Congressional task force to examine long-term defense strategy for Russia, China
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In this Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2019, file photo, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., speaks at the Brookings Institution in Washington, about his vision for the future of U.S. foreign policy. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)


WASHINGTON ― The U.S. House has launched an ambitious new task force to examine how to maintain Pentagon’s technological edge against Russia and China, and take on sacred cows along the way, its chairmen said Tuesday.

Led by House Armed Services Committee members Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Jim Banks, R-Ind., the bipartisan Future of Defense Task Force has a six-month charter, and a broad scope. It’s expected to step-back from the annual budgeting cycle that dominates the committee’s work to examine long-term national security strategy and help the Pentagon become more innovative technologically.

The new group has a charter to “review U.S. defense assets and capabilities and assess the state of the national security innovation base to meet emerging threats and ensure long-term strategic overmatch of competitors.” To that end, it’s expected to hold a series of hearings and closed-door briefings and eventually issue a report with recommendations, even if they’re unpopular.

“We’re saying we don’t think enough people are asking the big-picture questions about how we prepare for 30 years from now―and I think a lot of people at the Pentagon will agree with that,” Moulton said, adding that America must match China’s efforts at leap-ahead technologies and long-term planning. He and Banks held a roundtable with reporters Tuesday.

“There’s no question that the model has changed, and innovation is no longer coming from big government contracts,” Moulton said. “The United States has to be smarter about adapting to this world. There’s a joke inside the Pentagon, if only the Chinese would hack our acquisition rules and copy them, we’d be more competitive. That’s a reality.”

The task force’s first hearing is set for Oct. 29, with the former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michele Flournoy under President Barack Obama and former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., and rumored candidate for defense secretary in the current administration.

Future hearings, Banks and Moulton said, could feature defense industry and “outside-of-the-box” witnesses. Potential topics for scrutiny include disruptive technologies like artificial intelligence, biotechnology, 5G and hypersonic weapons, and the Pentagon’s existing innovation organizations, like DIUx.

The task force’s formation comes as the Pentagon has not only been looking at some of these technologies itself but working to absorb Congress’s last round of acquisitions reforms. Senior leaders at the Pentagon have themselves been fundamentally rethinking modernization priorities amid fears Russia and China will outstrip the U.S. technologically.

A year after the Army’s began holding its “night court” to weed out inessential programs, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger issued planning guidance in July aimed at reshaping the force and shrinking it if necessary to pay for modernization and the Pentagon has launched a department-wide “night court.”

By Moulton’s reckoning, the Pentagon is not truly embraced the authorities Congress has granted it. “When you talk about creating a culture of innovating, it’s not just about replacing weapons systems, it’s how do we get the Pentagon to continually be asking [tough] questions themselves," he said.

The task force’s members include several new members of Congress who have practical national security experience and few senior HASC members―and both Banks and Moulton are recent military veterans. The two chairmen said they sought lawmakers willing to ask tough questions.

Among the other members are Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and a former Air Force officer who studied technology and policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; as well as Michigan Democrat Elissa Slotkin and Florida Republican Michael Waltz, who have both served in senior Pentagon policy positions.

Both Moulton and Banks said the idea was to have these younger members continue to ask challenging questions and energize the conversation.

“The task force’s work will complete in six months, but that doesn’t mean that Seth and I’s work ends at that point,” Banks said. “We’ll be here for a long time, and our work on the [annual defense policy bill] happens on a daily basis. This will set a platform for that work."

HASC members Reps. Susan Davis, D-Calif.; Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., Paul Mitchell, R-Mich., have also agreed to serve on the task force.
 

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Boeing could be out of the Air Force’s competition for next-gen ICBMs for good
22 Oct 2019

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This image taken with a slow shutter speed and provided by the U.S. Air Force shows an unarmed Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile test launch early Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2019, at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (Staff Sgt. J.T. Armstrong/U.S. Air Force via AP)

WASHINGTON — Boeing’s risk reduction contract for the Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent program is functionally cancelled, the company announced Oct. 21.

“Boeing is disappointed in the Air Force’s decision to not allot additional funding for the GBSD Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) contract,” said Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher. “The Boeing team has delivered substantial value under the contract, achieved all contract milestones on time and received strong performance feedback from the Air Force.”

“Continuing Boeing’s TMRR contract would advance the Air Force’s objectives of maturing the missile system's design and reducing the risk for this critical national priority capability,” he added.

GBSD is the Air Force’s program to replace its existing Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles, a major priority for the service as well as for U.S. Strategic Command, which oversees the operations of America’s nuclear arsenal.

Earlier on Monday evening, Politico reported that the Air Force had sent a letter to Boeing last week declaring its intent to stop funding the TMRR contract.

Without additional money from the Air Force to continue work, Boeing expected its funding stream for the GBSD contract to be exhausted on Oct. 18, the company stated in an Oct. 16 letter to the GBSD program office at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.

“The Air Force’s decision not to allocate any further funding to the TMRR contract requires immediate and irrevocable actions by Boeing to wind down contract performance within the allotted funds. These measures include the reassignment of approximately 300 Boeing employees and the flow-down of a Stop Work notice to all suppliers working on the TMRR contract,” states the letter, which was obtained by Defense News.

Air Force spokeswoman Capt. Cara Bousie told Defense News that the service had not cancelled Boeing’s TMRR contract. However, she declined to comment on whether the Air Force had sent Boeing a letter stating its intention to curtail funding for the contract.

Regardless of the semantics, a decision to cut short the TMRR contract would effectively hand the GBSD award to Northrop Grumman, the sole company competing against Boeing to produce the weapon system.

Both Boeing and Northrop were awarded risk reduction contracts worth up to $359 million in 2017, beating out Lockheed Martin for the chance to bring their designs into the production stage.

But Boeing withdrew from the GBSD competition in July, claiming that Northrop Grumman’s purchase of one of the only two U.S. solid rocket motor manufacturers — Orbital ATK, now known as Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems — gave the company an unfair advantage in terms of being able to offer the lowest-cost system.

In a July 23 letter, Leanne Caret, who leads Boeing’s defense business, wrote that the current acquisition approach gives Northrop “inherently unfair cost, resource and integration advantages.”

“We lack confidence in the fairness of any procurement that does not correct this basic imbalance between competitors,” she stated. Caret added that a joint bid between the two companies was unrealistic, as Northrop would have no incentive to partner with Boeing when it can put forward a solo bid.

However, Boeing switched tactics about a month later, with Frank McCall, its director of strategic deterrence systems, telling reporters in September that the company hoped to persuade the Air Force to force Northrop to partner with it.

“We think clearly it’s time for the Air Force or other governmental entities to engage and direct the right solution. Northrop has elected not to do that,” McCall said during the Air Force Association’s annual conference. “So, we’re looking for government intervention to drive us to the best solution.”

The Air Force did not take Boeing up on that suggestion. Nor did Northrop, which pointedly released its list of suppliers days before the AFA conference. The list — which featured Aerojet Rocketdyne, Collins Aerospace, Lockheed Martin and other major defense contractors — did not include Boeing.

Boeing, in its letter to the program office, stated that the dissolution of the risk reduction contract could disadvantage the Air Force as it moves forward with the GBSD program, even if it ultimately opts to sole-source from Northrop.

“The Government’s decision also prevents Boeing from completing the work left to be performed under the TMRR contract, including the major milestones of a successful Software System Review and Preliminary Design Review,” it said. "We believe this work would provide substantial value to the Government, irrespective of the fact that Boeing will not participate as a prime offeror under the current EMD [engineering, manufacturing and development] solicitation structure for the next phase of the GBSD program.

In September, McCall pointed to Boeing’s ongoing risk reduction work on GBSD as a positive sign that the service may not be ready to sole-source the program to Northrop.

“The service is maintaining our work," he said. “They continue to accept our deliverables, continue to fund our contract. So, I think we’re in good shape with the service.”

But with the TMRR contract revoked, Boeing’s last hope may be an appeal to Congress. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama as someone who has already raised shown support for Boeing’s position, McCall said in September.

McCall declined to name others, but should this turn into a legislative fight, it could come down to Boeing’s supporters – with strongholds in Alabama, Washington and Missouri – versus those of Northrop Grumman.
 

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Three US Navy Ships Monitored Russia's Maritime Activity in Arctic
22.10.2019
by Tim Korso

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The US vehemently opposes any extension of Russia's activities in the Arctic region, regardless of their nature, and has even considered building a military base there to have a continuous presence.

The US 6th Fleet has reported that its Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Donald Cook (DDG 75) completed its latest mission on 16 October, which took place in the Artic. According to a 6th Fleet Public Affairs office statement, the destroyer was conducting a routine maritime security patrol to "monitor Russian maritime activity" above the Arctic Circle.

Along with USS Donald Cook, another destroyer of the same class, USS Farragut (DDG-99) and guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy were patrolling above the Arctic Circle in September this year. Vice Admiral Lisa M. Franchetti, commander of the 6th Fleet noted that such patrols allow the US Navy to be prepared to "deter and […] defeat aggression" if needed without specifying by which state or actor.
"The US 6th Fleet must be ready to conduct the full range of naval operations throughout the EUCOM and AFRICOM areas of responsibility. This includes being prepared at the operational and tactical levels, in concert with our allies, partners, and joint forces to deter and, if necessary, defeat aggression", Franchetti said.
Washington has long opposed Russia's efforts to expand its activities, both scientific and military, in the Arctic region, despite Moscow's request to the UN to extend the borders of its continental shelf in the north, which is successfully navigating the approval process. Russia seeks to explore the Arctic's gas and oil reserves, as well as to turn it to a major trading route, possibly connecting it to China's Belt and Road initiative.

The US is considering building a military base in the far north of Alaska to counter Russia in the Arctic under the 2020 National Defence Authorisation Act. However, the US lacks icebreaker ships to freely operate in the Arctic's waters, with only one functional at the moment.
 

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USNS Burlington returns to shipyard for bow modifications
Oct. 23, 2019
By Ed Adamczyk


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The USNS Burlington, which was delivered to the U.S. Navy less that a year ago, will undergo modifications to its bow by shipbuilders Austral USA, the Defense Department announced on Tuesday. Photo by Brian Siriani/U.S. Navy

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Shipbuilder Austral USA received a $8.1 million contract to implement a bow modification to the recently-built USNS Burlington, the Pentagon said.

Austral USA's Mobile, Ala., shipyard will modify the ship's bow to "10-knot Sea State 5" standards, the Navy said Tuesday in a contract announcement.

The ship, delivered to the Navy in November 2018, is the 10th Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport vessel. Owned by the Military Sealift Command, its missions include overseas contingency operations, humanitarian assistance and special operations forces support.

At 338 feet in length it is designed to carry up to 600 tons of cargo, 312 troops and MSC attachments over 1,300 miles between refueling, at an cruising speed of 40 miles per hour.

Testing on a previously-built EFT ship, the USNS Spearhead, showed damage from waves striking its forepeak, the bottom of the foremost part of the flat hull section spanning the two catamaran hulls. Repairs to the ship cost about $511,000 and included structural reinforcement of the bow.

At "Sea State 5," when waves reach eight to 13 feet in seas considered "rough" on the World Meteorological Organization sea state code, the ship must slow to five knots, or 5.7 mph.

The USNS Burlington is expected to receive a similar modification.

Work is expected to be completed by February 2020, a Defense Department statement said on Tuesday.
 

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USAF Unit Moves Reveal Clues To RQ-180 Ops Debut
Oct 24, 2019

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Almost six years after Aviation Week first disclosed the existence of a large, classified unmanned aircraft developed by Northrop Grumman, there is a growing body of evidence that the stealthy vehicle is now fully operational with the U.S. Air Force in a penetrating intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) role.

Thought to be dubbed the RQ-180, the advanced design is believed to have been flying since 2010 and under operational test and evaluation since late 2014. According to new information provided to Aviation Week, the aircraft became operational with the recently reformed 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. at Beale AFB, California, this year. The Air Force declined to comment on the status of the program.

RQ-180 First flight believed to have occurred in 2010

At least seven vehicles have been developed and are in operation

Although images of the aircraft remain elusive, an assessment of new evidence enables a clearer picture to be drawn of the secret aircraft’s progress through early flight testing, development and initial deployment. New information from open sources backs up the first reports of its existence published in 2013 and fills in gaps in the program’s earlier history as well as subsequent test and operational evaluation at sites mostly in and around California and Nevada.

Developed to conduct the penetrating ISR mission that has been left unaddressed since the retirement of the Lockheed SR-71 in 1999, the RQ-180 ultimately emerged from what was originally a large unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) design proposed by Northrop Grumman to the Air Force in 2005. At the time, Northrop was competing against Boeing with a smaller tailless design for the Air Force/U.S. Navy Joint Unmanned Combat Air Systems (J-UCAS) program.

However, when J-UCAS was canceled in 2006 after the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review opted to restructure the joint-service program into a Navy-only UCAV carrier suitability demonstration, funding was removed from the fiscal 2007 defense budget request. A total of $239 million was requested in lieu of the Pentagon funding to begin a U.S. Navy carrier-based, long-endurance UCAV demonstration program.

At the same time, Air Force funds were transferred into a classified high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) program which, it is believed, led to a competition between Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Northrop also publicly discussed a range of longer-winged X-47C configurations around this time. The largest of these was a 172-ft.-span design with two engines derived from General Electric’s CF34 and capable of carrying a 10,000-lb. weapon load.

Although Aviation Week commissioned an artists’ impression of the aircraft incorporating a cranked-kite wing configuration when it broke the RQ-180 story (AW&ST Dec. 9, 2013, p. 20), industry sources have since said the aircraft differs in detail from the published concept. Additional evidence now suggests the final configuration may be closer to the company’s more familiar flying-wing designs, with a simpler trailing edge similar to that seen in the Air Force’s official rendering of the B-21 Raider. Northrop Grumman originally crafted the same basic trailing edge configuration for the B-2 under the Advanced Tactical Bomber program but changed it to the stronger load-carrying sawtooth design when the Air Force added the low-level penetration role.

The RQ-180 design also was likely strongly influenced by Northrop Grumman’s work for the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) SensorCraft project, aimed at developing technologies for future stealthy, high-altitude unmanned surveillance platforms. In 2002, AFRL unveiled several SensorCraft vehicle studies, including a Northrop Grumman flying wing with a highly loaded airfoil capable of handling large aeroelastic deflections. Two years later, the company revealed it was partnering with AFRL to mature advanced conformal antenna integration technology for SensorCraft under a five-year, $12 million effort called the Low-Band Structural Array (Lobstar) program. At the time, the company said Lobstar would “enhance the surveillance capabilities of aerial vehicles by embedding antennas in the primary load-bearing structures of composite aircraft wings.”

In 2007, following a yearlong Air Force HALE contest, Northrop signaled it had been successful when the corporation’s leaders reported they expected to win a major restricted program. By June of that year, observers of the Air Force’s top-secret Area 51 test complex at Nellis AFB, Nevada, noted that construction was underway for a new large hangar at the “Southend” zone of the Groom Lake facility. The size and dimensions of the building suggested it was being made ready for an aircraft with a relatively large span wing.

As the new Groom Lake hangar neared completion in early 2008, Northrop Grumman’s financial reports revealed the company had been awarded a large classified aircraft development contract valued at $2 billion for an operational ISR UAV with an unprecedented combination of extreme low-observable (LO) features and aerodynamic efficiency. The development effort was undertaken by Northrop Grumman’s Advanced Technology Development Center, the equivalent of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works or Boeing’s Phantom Works.

In 2009, with Northrop well underway on low-rate initial production of the RQ-180, the Air Force began preparations to evaluate the new vehicle and established a flight-test organization at Groom Lake dubbed the “Mad Hatters.” That same year, the Air Force published an “unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) flight plan” which outlined a near-term priority requirement for an LO penetrating ISR “special category” UAS. In February 2009, a paper by Col. Eric Mathewson, director of the Air Force’s UAS Task Force, referred to an unidentified project as MQ-L/O. (AW&ST Aug. 29, 2011, p. 46).

New information given to Aviation Week now points to 2010 as the key year for the program. First flight of the prototype air vehicle at Groom Lake, known as V1, was believed to have taken place on Aug. 3, 2010. Circumstantial evidence that supported the buildup of pre-first-flight test activity included frequent flights to the site by Northrop Grumman-owned Beech 1900D logistics aircraft, one of which was seen parked by the large Southend hangar in a May 2010 satellite image.

The first prototype, V1, had been in flight testing for more than 14 months when a second vehicle, V2, is thought to have joined the test campaign in November 2011. Three more test and development aircraft are also suspected of following the first vehicles into flight trials over the next 15 months, with first flights believed to have occurred in November 2012 (V3), July 2013 (V4) and February 2014 (V5).

Following the first flight of the fifth aircraft, RQ-180 testing transitioned to Edwards AFB, California, where Detachment 1 of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group was officially stood up at the secretive South Base area in March 2014. Tasked with operational test and evaluation, Detachment 1 appears to be a logical choice for the role as the group’s Detachment 2, based at Beale AFB, California, performed evaluations of the Lockheed Martin U-2R/S and RQ-4 Global Hawk.

Activity in the program stepped up through the remainder of the year, with the first flight of V6 believed to have taken place in September 2014. In late 2014 and early 2015, a unit described as Detachment 2 of the 15th Test Flight was stood up at Edwards AFB, likely marking another key phase for acceleration of the new UAS capability toward front-line operational service.

The 15th Test Flight, part of the 53rd Wing headquartered at Eglin AFB, Florida, has responsibility for test management oversight of the Air Force’s high-priority, rapid acquisition programs. According to 53rd Wing instruction documents published in 2014 and updated in 2018, the 15th Test Flight “provides operational test management services for a specific subset of developmental systems that require expedited delivery to the warfighter.” Detachment 2’s sister unit, Detachment 1, was assigned at the time to provide test management of Lockheed’s RQ-170 Sentinel at Creech AFB, Nevada.

In November 2015, the program marked another significant event—believed to be the first flight of the seventh air vehicle. Eight months later, the system took another step toward its operational debut when Detachment 2 of the 9th Operations Group was established at Edwards South Base. The 9th Operations Group is the operational flying component of the Beale-based 9th Reconnaissance Wing and is usually tasked with training and equipping U-2R, RQ-4 and Beechcraft MC-12W Liberty combat elements.

Following the establishment of Detachment 2 in 2016, preparations for initial operations entered the final phases and are believed to have culminated in a secret long-range graduation test mission from Edwards sometime in early 2017. No details of the flight, thought to have been code-named Project Magellan, have been acknowledged, but the mission is thought to have focused on validating the performance of the autonomous navigation system at extremely high latitudes—possibly as high as the Geographic North Pole. It should be noted the secret code name was shared with Northrop Grumman’s public search to find an engineering base for the B-21 program around that time.

With this mission accomplished, the RQ-180 was seemingly fit for initial deployment in 2017. And in quick succession during August that year, the 9th Operations Group stood up two new supporting units. Detachment 3 was established at Beale, while Detachment 4 was set up at Andersen AFB, Guam, representing a significant ramp-up in preparations for operational readiness. Detachment 3 had previously operated the RQ-4 out of Guam, while Detachment 4 had also formerly operated the Global Hawk out of Sigonella AB, Italy.

The following year, 2018, another unit was established at Beale to further test and evaluate the readiness of the aircraft. The activation of Detachment 3 of the 605th Test and Evaluation Sqdn., the command-and-control and ISR test manager for the Air Force’s Warfare Center and Air Combat Command, was accompanied by the deactivation of Detachment 1 of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group at Edwards AFB.

The assets and test personnel of the unit were believed to be immediately transferred to the newly activated 417th Test and Evaluation Sqdn., a unit which previously tested the C-17 and YAL-1 airborne laser. Until recently, the true test focus of the squadron—which was stood up in April 2018—was linked with preparations for B-21 testing. However, at this year’s Air Force Association meeting in September, it was announced that the new bomber test role has been assigned to the 420th Test and Evaluation Sqdn.

Further signs of RQ-180 regular operations support activity are believed to have been indicated by the activation during 2018 and early 2019 of Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group at Beale to serve as the schoolhouse unit for the aircraft. Given the 9th Operations Group’s role in training, planning and execution of U-2 ISR missions as well as training for RQ-4 flight crewmembers, this unit would be considered as a logical candidate to support and train RQ-180 operations.

In a final phase of changes this year, all of which have been focused on Beale, Detachment 3 of the 9th Operations Group was deactivated in April and its personnel and assets transferred and immediately activated again as the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn.—a shadowy unit that previously operated the MC-12W and was inactivated in November 2015 when these aircraft were transferred to the U.S. Army. However, evidence from open sources indicates the current commander of the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn. has held this role since 2015, even though the unit officially did not exist for most of that period.

Although the Air Force has made no reference to operations by the unit involving any particular aircraft type, the 427th Reconnaissance Sqdn., together with Detachment 5 of the 9th Operations Group and Detachment 3 of the 605th Test and Evaluation Group, hosted the opening of a new Common Mission Control Center at the base on April 23. The the new center will “provide combatant commanders scalable, tailorable products and services for use in contested environments,” the Air Force says. “Using software, hardware and human machines, the center will be able to manage C2 productivity, shorten the task execution chain, and reduce human-intensive communication.”
 

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USAF awards 3D-audio contract for A-10s
24 October 2019

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Once fielded, the Terma 3D-audio system will add to what is currently just a simple visual warning on a cockpit control panel with a directional audible sound in the pilot’s helmet, intuitively informing them where exactly the threat is coming from and enabling them to instinctively react to it. Source: US Air Force

The US Air Force (USAF) has contracted Terma North America to equip its Fairchild-Republic A-10C Thunderbolt II combat aircraft with 3D-audio to enhance the situational awareness of its pilots.

The USD60 million award, announced on 23 October, covers the procurement of 328 3D-audio systems for the A-10 aircraft. Work will be performed by a sub-contractor in the United States and Denmark, and will be complete by 28 February 2024.

As previously noted by the USAF, the overall acquisition strategy of the 3-Dimensional Audio Program is to deliver a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) system to drastically improve the spatial, battlespace, and situational awareness of its A-10C pilots by providing audio cues that are accurate to within 15° of both azimuth and elevation.

Already operational on Royal Danish Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft, the Terma 3D-audio system adds to what was previously just a simple visual warning on a cockpit control panel with a directional audible sound in the pilot's helmet, intuitively informing them where exactly the threat is coming from and enabling them to instinctively react to it.

According to Terma, applications for 3D-audio cueing include missile warning system threats; radar warner receiver threats; laser warner system threats; threats from small arms detection systems; indication of terrain obstruction warning and cueing; and applying direction to audio cues to aircraft subsystems to link display and auditory information.

There are about 350 A-10s in the inventories of the active USAF, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard, although a number have already been sent for mothballing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. While the contract is for 328 3D-audio systems, the USAF has previously said it intends to upgrade between 150 and 200 of its A-10Cs with the capability.
 

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Air Force F-15Es arrive in United Arab Emirates
The F-15Es arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base on deployment from the 494th Fighter Squadron, stationed at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in Britain, to support ongoing Middle East operations.
Oct. 24, 2019
By Ed Adamczyk

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U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter planes deployed to Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates last week, joining F-35s, KC-10s, E-3s and RQ-4 drones already stationed there. Photo by TSgt. Kat Justen/U.S. Air Force


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An unknown number of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle fighter planes arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates last week, the Air Force announced on Wednesday. Photo by SSgt. Anna-Kay Ellis/U.S. Air Force

Oct. 24 (UPI) -- F-15E Strike Eagle fighter planes arrived at Al Dhafra Air Base, United Arab Emirates, last week to support ongoing operations in the Middle East, the U.S. Air Force announced.

Citing operational security concerns, the Air Force did not specify how many planes arrived, but they join F-35A Lightning II, KC-10 Extender, E-3 Sentry, and RQ-4 Global Hawk aircraft at the base.

In a statement on Wednesday, U.S. Air Forces Central Command said the deployment is a "in support of ongoing operations to maintain air superiority, defend forces on the ground, enhance regional partnerships and demonstrate a continued commitment to regional security and stability."

The aircraft are part of the 494th Fighter Squadron, known as the "Panthers," stationed in Lakenheath, Britain.

The Strike Eagle, which first entered service in the 1980s, has been deployed in the past for military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Libya. Its specialty has been deep strikes against targets, combat air patrols, close air support for coalition troops.

The U.S. Air Force sent next-generation F35-A Lightning II fighter planes to the U.A.E. air base in April.Weeks later they carried out the F-35A's first combat airstrikes when they bombed an Islamic State tunnel network and weapons cache in Iraq.

The F-35s also participated in an "air operations in maritime surface warfare" integration exercise with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf in July.
 

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DARPA Launch Challenge prize money may not have been enough to hold competitors’ interest
23 October 2019
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Rocket Lab chose not to participate in the DARPA Launch Challenge because it chose to focus its limited time to fly a pair of Pentagon missions rather than use those valuable launch slots in the launch challenge. Pictured is the company's Electron rocket prior to a recent US Air Force mission. Source: Rocket Lab


Key Points
  • The prize money allotted for DARPA's Launch Challenge may not have been enough to maintain the interest of potential competitors as two teams have backed out
  • The first place prize money was about USD12 million for two launches plus additional funding for licensing
The prize money allotted for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA's) upcoming Launch Competition (DLC) may not have been enough to attract competitors willing to pursue the competition to its end as the competitor pool has dwindled from three companies to just one.

The goal of the DLC is to accelerate unconstrained launch capabilities to allow for flexibility and resilience, rather than one-of-a-kind, fixed infrastructure as launch is today. Competitors in early 2020 were to receive notice of the first launch site just weeks prior to launch and exact details on the payload just days before.

Competitors were to earn USD2 million for successfully delivering the first payload to a specified low earth orbit (LEO) destination. Within weeks of completing the first launch, competitors were to attempt to deliver a second payload to another LEO from a different launch site specified by DARPA. The first place prize, if successful, is USD10 million, with a second place prize of USD9 million and a third place award of USD8 million.

There is only one company, remaining unnamed by DARPA, currently pursuing the DLC after VOX Space, a subsidiary of Virgin Orbit, and Vector Launch dropped out. The companies told Jane's that while they supported the DLC's goal, they did not want to deprioritise existing customers to focus on the DLC.

Peter Beck, Rocket Lab founder and CEO, told Jane's on 22 October that while the company would not have lost money participating in the DLC, two launches for USD12 million total as a first place prize would have been on the low side of their price point.
 

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Lockheed Martin Awarded Air Force ICBM Contract
Potential value of the Mk21A contract worth $138 million
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The US Air Force has awarded Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) a $108 million contract for the Mark21A Reentry Vehicle (Mk21A) Technology Maturation and Risk Reduction (TMRR) contract.

The potential value of the contract is estimated at $138 million: $108 million awarded in the three-year contract and $30 million as a potential one-year contract.

"It is essential that Lockheed Martin continue our long-standing ICBM partnership with the Air Force to provide them with advanced solutions. We will continue to demonstrate, through this TMRR, cutting-edge engineering to defeat rogue nation threats," said John Snyder, vice president of Advanced Strategic Programs for Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin will work closely with the Air Force and the National Nuclear Security Administration to provide a technically low risk and affordable solution to modify existing Mk21 reentry vehicles with the capability to deliver the W87-1 Warhead for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent Weapon System.

The Mk21A TMRR contract is a key element of Lockheed Martin's strategy to remain the Air Force's trusted partner for ICBM Reentry Systems and modernization of the deterrent triad.
 

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