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October 22, 2020 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security, Other Defence

Budget for secretive military intelligence program hits nine-year spending high

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon's secret intelligence fund received $23.1 billion in appropriated funds for the recently concluded fiscal 2020 — the highest total for the account in nine years.

The increased funding for the Military Intelligence Program, or MIP, comes after FY19 saw a rare decrease in year-over-year spending power for the classified account. The funding, which includes both base dollars and overseas contingency operations money, “is aligned to support the National Defense Strategy,” per a four-sentence statement from the Pentagon.

The department annually waits until after the fiscal year ends to announce how much money it was given for the fund. The Pentagon requested less than $23 billion for the MIP in its FY20 budget request, meaning Congress gave the fund a slight increase over requested amounts.

“The department has determined that releasing this top line figure does not jeopardize any classified activities within the MIP,” the statement read. “No other MIP budget figures or program details will be released, as they remain classified for national security reasons.”

According to a 2019 Congressional Research Service report, the MIP funds “defense intelligence activities intended to support operational and tactical level intelligence priorities supporting defense operations.” Among other uses, these dollars can be spent to facilitate the dissemination of information that relates to a foreign country or political group, and covert or clandestine activities against political and military groups or individuals.

MIP money also partly goes to U.S. Special Operations Command to pursue “several current acquisition efforts focused on outfitting aircraft — both manned and unmanned, fixed and rotary wing — with advanced ISR and data storage capabilities that will work in multiple environments,” according to CRS.

MIP funding went as high as $27 billion in FY10 and sat at $24 billion in FY11. But by FY15, it hit a low point for the decade, at $16.5 billion, per CRS.

The MIP then had three straight years of growth, going from $17.7 billion in FY16 to $18.4 billion in FY17, and to $22.1 billion in FY18. It dipped in FY19 to $21.5 billion.

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  • Lockheed Martin delivers HELIOS laser weapon to U.S. Navy

    January 12, 2021 | International, Naval

    Lockheed Martin delivers HELIOS laser weapon to U.S. Navy

    Jan. 11 (UPI) -- A long-awaited seaborne defensive laser weapon system known as HELIOS was delivered to the U.S. Navy for testing, builder Lockheed Martin announced on Monday. The Navy is scheduled to test the 60kw High Energy Laser with Integrated Optical-dazzler and Surveillance, or HELIOS later this year, and will go to sea aboard an unnamed guided missile destroyer assigned to the Pacific Fleet. HELIOS, designed in a $150 million contract with Lockheed Martin, is designed to "burn the boats," or unmanned drones, with a high-energy laser beam. It follows a 2019 demonstration of laser power, although with half the wattage of the device announced on Monday, aboard the amphibious transport dock USS Ponce. The scalable laser design architecture combines multiple kilowatt fiber lasers to attain high beam quality at various power levels, according to Lockheed officials. HELIOS was designed as a weapon capable of burning small speed boats, notably of the type the Iranian military deploys in armed groups, as well as unmanned aerial vehicles. It can also merely "dazzle" a UAV's electro-optical sensors, damaging them and preventing them from performing their missions. The system can be used as an alternative to firing missiles or other projectiles at enemy craft, and can theoretically fire an unlimited number of laser blasts at targets. HELIOS is one of a number of laser weapons the Navy is currently working to develop.

  • Air Force study on future aerial refueling tanker could start in 2022

    February 4, 2021 | International, Aerospace

    Air Force study on future aerial refueling tanker could start in 2022

    By: Valerie Insinna WASHINGTON — The Air Force could begin to lay out its vision for a future aerial refueling tanker, previously known as KC-Z, as early as next year, the head of Air Mobility Command said Monday. The service intends to conduct an analysis of alternatives for an advanced aerial refueling aircraft in fiscal year 2022, AMC commander Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost said during a Defense Writers Group meeting with reporters. That study will help the Air Force determine precisely which capabilities a future tanker will need to to operate in more heavily contested battlefields against the threats posed by nations such as Russia and China. “We're thinking about the near peer [competition], and what we need for a near peer [competition],” she said. Key to that discussion is figuring out how much of the aerial refueling process can be performed without a human pilot or boom operator onboard the plane to fly it or give other aircraft gas. “Is going to be autonomous? Is it going to be pilot on the loop [or] pilot in the loop capability?” asked Van Ovost. “Is it going to be small? Is it going to be large? What kind of [self protection] is it going to have? What kind of electromagnetic spectrum capabilities is it going to have to both protect itself and enhance the lethality of the Joint Force while it's out there?” In April, Will Roper, then the Air Force's top acquisition official, told reporters that an agreement with Boeing for a new and improved KC-46 vision system could pave the way for autonomous aerial refueling. The addition of 4K high-definition cameras, modern processors and LiDAR (light detecting and ranging) sensors would help the new system accumulate much of the data necessary for a computer to correctly calculate all the variables that need to be solved for safe aerial refueling. “All you have to do is take that data that tells the world inside the jet the reality of geometries between the airplane and the boom outside the jet. Once you have that, you simply need to translate it into algorithms that allow the tanker to tank itself,” Roper said then. The Air Force is not the only service interested in automated aerial refueling. The Navy is flight testing the MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone — which, like the Air Force's new KC-46 tanker, is built by Boeing. The Navy eventually hopes to operate the MQ-25 onboard aircraft carriers, where it will be used to extend the range of fighter jets like the F-35C and F/A-18EF Super Hornet. Van Ovost acknowledged the Air Force is still years away from being able to hold a competition for the platform formerly known as KC-Z. After the Air Force completes its procurement of 179 KC-46s — which, if its current buy rate holds, will occur around the 2027 timeframe — the service will buy a non-developmental “bridge tanker,” she said. That effort, which replaces the KC-Y program, will likely be a battle between Boeing and an Airbus-Lockheed Martin team, which joined forces in 2018 to market Airbus' A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport to the U.S. Air Force. Both teams are expected to offer upgraded versions of their current aerial refueling aircraft. Van Ovost did not say when that competition will begin. Along with tackling questions about its future tanker, the Air Force is also set to begin a business case analysis whether to pursue contracted aerial refueling to support U.S. military training and test activities across the contiguous United States. After holding a Dec. 19 industry day with interested vendors, Air Mobility Command conducted a study into the feasibility and affordability of commercial air refueling services and submitted a proposal to Air Force leadership. However, Air Force leaders want more information before making a final decision, and have asked for a comprehensive business case analysis that would finalize a requirement for all of the services' needs, Van Ovost said. The study would come up with options for various contracting models — which could include tankers that are leased to the government or contractor-owned and operated — as well as hammer out details on Federal Aviation Administration certification requirements. “We're working with headquarters Air Force to finalize the parameters for the study, and then likely will be contracting out that study,” Van Ovost said. “And for expectation's sake, it does take a while. These kinds of business case analysis we have seen take 18 months, so we are going to put pen to paper and take a very close look at it.”

  • Defense Department halts F-35 deliveries amid repair bill disagreement with Lockheed

    April 20, 2018 | International, Aerospace

    Defense Department halts F-35 deliveries amid repair bill disagreement with Lockheed

    By: Valerie Insinna WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has suspended acceptance of most F-35 deliveries as manufacturer Lockheed Martin and the F-35 program office debate who should be responsible for fixing jets after a production issue last year. “While all work in our factories remains active, the F-35 Joint Program Office has temporarily suspended accepting aircraft until we reach an agreement on a contractual issue and we expect this to be resolved soon,” a Lockheed spokeswoman confirmed in a statement, adding that the company remains confident that it can meet its delivery target of 91 aircraft for 2018. News of the delivery pause was first reported by Reuters. The dispute is rooted in a quality control issue that caused F-35 deliveries to stop from Sept. 21 to Oct. 20. At the time, corrosion was found in fastener holes of F-35As being repaired at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Lockheed and the JPO were able to agree on a corrective action plan, one source said, and Lockheed was able to complete planned deliveries of the F-35 for 2017. But sometime after that, a dispute over who should pay for the fix resurfaced and the Defense Department opted to take another production pause, a source said, declining to comment on how long deliveries have been suspended. “Per the direction of the program executive officer, F-35 deliveries have been temporarily paused while the government and Lockheed Martin reach an agreement on a contractual issue regarding repair work to remediate the known aircraft fastener hole primer quality escape,” said a statement from the F-35 joint program office. “This is not a safety of flight issue but rather a contractual resourcing issue that needs to be resolved. The government has implemented this pause to ensure the warfighter receives a quality product from industry. We look forward to a swift resolution of this issue.” Production of the aircraft is ongoing at Lockheed's line in Fort Worth, Texas, and at final assembly and check out facilities in Nagoya, Japan, and Cameri, Italy. A source noted that some customers have accepted planes due to warfighter demands. According to Reuters, two aircraft have been delivered to the Defense Department since it imposed the suspension. Meanwhile, a repair bill for more than 200 jets is on the line. The corrosion issue is just one of several production problems that has plagued the F-35 over the last couple years. Vice Adm. Mat Winter, the F-35 joint program executive officer, spoke Wednesday at the Navy League's Sea Air Space conference but did not disclose the fact that deliveries had stopped. A statement from the F-35 joint program office was added at 9:05EST on April 12.

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