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May 7, 2021 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

Contracts for May 6, 2021

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  • Four rocket companies are competing for Air Force funding, and it is war

    August 14, 2019 | International, Aerospace

    Four rocket companies are competing for Air Force funding, and it is war

    By ERIC BERGER Monday marked the deadline for four US rocket companies to submit bids for Air Force contracts, encompassing all national security launches from 2022 to 2026. This is a hugely consequential and much-contested bid process that has implications for the American aerospace industry for the next decade and beyond. The Air Force is seeking two providers for about two dozen launches. The prime contractor will receive 60% of the launches while the secondary contractor claims the remaining 40%. As the US military pays a premium for launch contracts to its nine reference orbits, this guaranteed revenue is extremely valuable to US companies aspiring to run a profitable launch business. The lead-up to Monday's deadline has included heavy political lobbying from the four companies: United Launch Alliance, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman. As a result of this, Congress is considering some changes to the Air Force's procurement policy, including an on-ramp for a third provider during the 2022 to 2026 period. But so far, the Air Force is resisting this. Here's a look at the four bidders and what is at stake for each of them. United Launch Alliance United Launch Alliance—a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin that enjoyed a monopoly on national security launches before the emergence of SpaceX—may be bidding for its life. To wean itself off its costly Delta boosters (as well as the Russian rocket engines that go with its workhorse Atlas V rocket), ULA has been developing the Vulcan rocket to cut costs while maintaining performance. The company says the Vulcan will be ready for its first flight in 2021. "Vulcan Centaur will provide higher performance and greater affordability while continuing to deliver our unmatched reliability and orbital accuracy precision from our treasured cryogenic Centaur upper stage," ULA's chief, Tory Bruno, said in a news release Monday. "ULA is the best partner for national security space launch, and we are the only provider to demonstrate experience flying to all orbits including the most challenging heavy-class missions, providing the bedrock foundation for the lowest risk portfolio of two launch service providers for the US Air Force." With increasing competition from SpaceX, Europe's Arianespace, Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and Russian launch vehicles, ULA has been unable to capture much of the commercial market for satellite launches in the last decade. Therefore, it has largely been reliant on government business, mostly from the military. But ULA also relies on NASA through its science missions and lifting cargo and crew missions to the International Space Station. If the company does not emerge victorious from this competition, it faces an uncertain future unless Vulcan can become commercially viable. Moreover, ULA will lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars in government money to finalize Vulcan if it does not receive an award. Historically, Boeing and Lockheed have been stingy parents, and whether or not they would pay to complete Vulcan is unclear. One intriguing twist with ULA's bid is that its Vulcan rocket will use the BE-4 rocket engine, which is being developed and manufactured by Blue Origin—one of the four competitors in the Air Force bidding process. Blue Origin has said the Air Force competition was designed to unfairly benefit ULA. SpaceX The Hawthorne, California-based rocket company is the only bidder proposing to use rockets that are already flying—the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters. This family of rockets has had a string of 49 successful launches since a static fire accident in September 2016, and according to SpaceX, it can meet all of the Air Force's desired orbits and payload specifications. "SpaceX means to serve as the Air Force's long-term provider for space launch, offering existing, certified, and proven launch systems capable of carrying out the full spectrum of national security space-launch missions and requirements," said the company's president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell. Since the Air Force agreed to admit SpaceX to the national security launch competition in 2015, the company has won several contracts for key missions and begun flying them for the military. These include the National Reconnaissance Office Launch 76, Orbital Test Vehicle 5, Global Positioning System III-2, and STP-2 flights. SpaceX also likely will offer the government the lowest price on service to orbit. However, in its criteria for awarding missions, the Air Force listed price among the last of its considerations. Due to its lower price point, especially with is reusable Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX has considerable commercial business to offset the loss of Air Force contracts. But it would hurt financially, all the same. Blue Origin Jeff Bezos' rocket company has bid its very large New Glenn rocket for the Air Force missions. However, when this rocket will begin flying is not entirely clear, as there are questions about whether it will be ready by the beginning of the 2022 contracting period. What is clear is that Blue Origin does not believe the US Air Force has created a fair bidding process. Already, the company has filed a "pre-award" protest with the US Government Accountability Office. "The Air Force is pursuing a flawed acquisition strategy for the National Security Space Launch program," Blue Origin said, according to SpaceNews. The Air Force decision to award contracts to just two companies creates a "duopoly," Blue Origin says, and it limits commercial development of strategic US assets such as rocket engines and boosters. Bezos has been investing about $1 billion a year of his own money into Blue Origin, which has largely been used to support development of the BE-4 engine and New Glenn rocket. He is likely to continue development of the New Glenn rocket without Air Force funding, but company officials say it is not fair to hold their wealthy founder against their bid. Northrop Grumman Northrop has been developing the Omega rocket for this competition since at least 2016. The Omega vehicle differs from the other entrants in the competition as its first and second stages, as well as side-mounted boosters, are powered by solid-rocket motors rather than liquid-fueled engines. The bet by Northrop is that the US military, through its national security launch contract, would want to support one of the nation's most critical suppliers of solid-rocket motors for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Northrop officials have not said whether they would continue development of the Omega rocket if Northrop were to lose out on the Air Force contract. Northrop's bid suffered a setback in May when an "anomaly" occurred during test firing of its solid-propellant Castor 600 rocket motor, the Omega rocket's first stage. From a video provided by the company, a major part of the rocket's large nozzle appeared to break apart, blasting debris around the area. Afterward, a Northrop vice president, Kent Rominger, called the test a success. "It appears everything worked very, very well on this test," he said. "And at the very end when the engine was tailing off, we observed the aft exit cone, maybe a portion of it, doing something a little strange that we need to go further look into." Nevertheless, the test cannot have instilled absolute confidence in the Air Force.

  • Dutch Patriot missiles, UK C-17 support cleared by US State Department

    September 25, 2020 | International, Aerospace, Security, Other Defence

    Dutch Patriot missiles, UK C-17 support cleared by US State Department

    Aaron Mehta WASHINGTON — The U.S. State Department on Thursday OK’d two potential arms deals for a pair of NATO allies. The Netherlands was cleared to purchase 34 Patriot Advanced Capability‑3 (PAC-3) missiles, with an estimated price tag of $241 million. The United Kingdom, meanwhile, was cleared to purchase $401.3 million worth of logistics support for its fleet of C-17 aircraft. The announcements, posted on the website of the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, do not represent final locked-in sales. All Foreign Military Sales announcements must be cleared by Congress, after which dollar and equipment totals can change in final negotiations. The Netherlands deal would include the 35 PAC-3 missiles, as well eight kitted 2-pack PAC-3 MSE Missile Round Trainers, six kitted 2-pack PAC-3 MSE Empty Round Trainers, four PAC-3 MSE Skid Kits, one lot of Classified PAC-3 MSE Concurrent Spare Parts and one lot of Unclassified PAC-3 MSE CSPs, along with logistics support. “The Netherlands will use the enhanced capability to strengthen its homeland defense and deter regional threats, and provide direct support to coalition and security cooperation efforts,” per the DSCA. The Netherlands operates four Patriot batteries. The prime contractor would be Lockheed Martin. The Netherlands typically requires industrial offsets when buying foreign-made weapons, which are to be negotiated later between Lockheed and the Dutch. The U.K. request includes “aircraft component spare and repair parts; accessories; publications and technical documentation; software and software support; U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistical support services; and other related elements of logistical and program support” for its C-17s. Boeing will be the prime contractor. “This proposed sale will improve the United Kingdom’s capability to meet current and future threats by ensuring the operational readiness of the Royal Air Force. Its C-17 aircraft fleet provides strategic airlift capabilities that directly support U.S. and coalition operations around the world,” per the DSCA announcement. Since the start of fiscal 2017, the Netherlands has been cleared for 11 other FMS cases, totaling $1.95 billion in potential sales. In that same period the U.K. has been cleared for seven FMS cases, worth a potential $7.35 billion  

  • India looks to make $25B from defense production by 2025

    August 7, 2020 | International, Aerospace, Naval, Land, C4ISR, Security

    India looks to make $25B from defense production by 2025

    By: Vivek Raghuvanshi  NEW DELHI — The Indian government on Monday introduced a new draft policy that sets a $25 billion defense production target, including making $5 billion from exports, by 2025. The Defence Production and Export Promotion Policy is meant to bolster local production of weapons and platforms by developing “a dynamic, robust and competitive” defense industry. The draft policy also said the Ministry of Defence will set up a technology assessment cell to assess industry’s ability to design, develop, produce and re-engineer assembly lines to manufacture major systems such as armored vehicles, submarines, fighter aircraft, helicopters and radars. “The DPEPP 2020 is envisaged as overarching guiding to provide a focused, structured and significant thrust to defense production capabilities of the country for self-reliance and exports,” the MoD said. However, some defense experts and analysts are unimpressed with the draft policy. Amit Cowshish, a former financial adviser for acquisition with the MoD, said the DPEPP is high on rhetoric but low on specifics. India’s current defense production turnover is about $11.42 billion. Of this, $9 billion comes from state-owned enterprises and ordnance factories, while the private sector accounts for $2.42 billion. From the total amount, $1.53 billion comes from export business. It disregards financial reality, which is grimmer now due to the rampant pandemic than was the case in the past,” Cowshish said, referring to the spread of the coronavirus that has hit economies worldwide. A more productive defense industry in India will depend on how much money the government can spare for local procurement as well as the availability of materiel in the domestic market — two factors that should be a matter of concern, particularly with export targets, according to Cowshish. Currently, India spends about $18.52 billion annually on weapons and platform purchases, out of which 60 percent is sourced from domestic companies, with remaining supplies coming from foreign vendors. About $11 billion of those appropriated funds go toward India’s 50 state-owned laboratories focused on defense research and development, nine state-owned companies, and 41 ordnance factories. Conversely, private defense companies, including 3,500 micro and small enterprises, get a little over $2 billion from this. A CEO of a private defense company in India, speaking to Defense News on condition of anonymity, said the draft policy fails to provide “a clear road map and direction for streamlining defense procurement and production.” He argued that defense production will only improve if there’s mutual trust, hand-holding, active participation and patience in the development process between the private and public sector. Senior executives at the state-owned enterprises Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Bharat Electronics Limited would not comment on the draft policy, saying they are not authorized by the government to comment on MoD policy issues. However, Venkatesh Damal Kannan, a former research and development director with Hindustan Aeronautics, said achieving the $25 billion target would be possible if the current capital allocation of $18.52 billion for purchasing weapons and platforms is doubled. There should also be a willingness from the Indian military to field a larger number of indigenous products, Kannan added, and improved bureaucratic processes in the MoD. However, Cowshish said the military’s arms requirements should not be held hostage by efforts for indigenization. “In the meantime, especially in situations like the one we are faced with vis-a-vis China, there is no alternative to buying equipment, platforms, ammunition from abroad if what is needed is not available in India,” he said.

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