7 août 2018 | International, Naval

The US Navy’s top acquisition priority stumbles out of the gate

By: 

The U.S. Navy’s $122.3 billion Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine program is off to an inauspicious start after faulty welding was discovered in several missile tubes destined for both the Columbia and Virginia-class programs, as well as the United Kingdom’s follow-on SSBN program.

In all, 12 missile tubes manufactured by BWXT, Inc., are being scrutinized for substandard welds. Seven of the 12 had been delivered to prime contractor General Dynamics Electric Boatand were in various stages of outfitting, and five were still under construction. The Navy and Electric Boat have launched an investigation, according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Bill Couch.

“All BWXT welding requiring volumetric inspection has been halted until the investigation is complete,” Couch said.

The bad welds came to light after discrepancies were discovered with the equipment BWXT used to test the welds before shipping them to GDEB, according to a source familiar with the issue.

The discovery of a significant quality control issue at the very outset of fabrication of Columbia injects uncertainty in a program that already has little room for delays. The issue is made even more troubling because it arises from a vendor with an excellent reputation, and raises questions about whether the Navy can deliver Columbia on time, something the Navy says is vital to ensuring continuous nuclear deterrent patrols as the Ohio class reaches the end of its service life.

Full Article: https://www.defensenews.com/breaking-news/2018/08/06/the-us-navys-top-acquisition-priority-stumbles-out-of-the-gate-after-bad-welds-discovered-in-missile-tubes/

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  • La Bulgarie va voler américain, elle achète 8 F-16 Block 70 à Lockheed Martin

    6 avril 2020 | International, Aérospatial

    La Bulgarie va voler américain, elle achète 8 F-16 Block 70 à Lockheed Martin

    Par Michel Cabirol  Lockheed Martin a signé avec Sofia un contrat évalué à 512 millions de dollars pour la vente de huit F-16 Block 70. Et la Bulgarie volera américain... comme beaucoup de pays européens. Le ministère de la Défense américain (DoD) a annoncé jeudi que Lockheed Martin avait signé avec Sofia un contrat FMS (Foreign military sales) évalué à 512 millions de dollars pour la vente de huit F-16 Block 70. Fabriqués dans la nouvelle ligne de production de F-16 à Greenville (Caroline du Sud), les avions de combat américains, qui devraient être livrés en 2027, vont remplacer une flotte de 15 MiG-29 bulgares (sur 19) encore en service jusqu'en 2029. Membre de l'OTAN, la Bulgarie compte également dans sa flotte huit Sukhoi, dont deux d'entrainement. La Bulgarie assurera la défense de son espace aérien Sofia avait opté en décembre 2018 pour les F-16 parmi trois autres appareils en compétition : le F/A-18 Super Hornet de Boeing, l'Eurofighter Tranche 1 d'occasion (Italie) et le JAS-39 Gripen C/D (Suède). Puis, le Département d'État américain avait approuvé cette vente en juin 2019. Il avait évalué la vente ainsi que le soutien des appareils à 1,67 milliard de dollars. Cette vente avait alors estimé le DoD contribuera à améliorer la sécurité d'un allié de l'OTAN et d'un partenaire clé des États-Unis pour assurer la paix et la stabilité dans cette région. Elle permettra également à la Bulgarie d'assurer la défense de son espace aérien et d'être interopérable avec les États-Unis et l'OTAN. Selon le DoD, la Bulgarie s'appuie actuellement sur les États-Unis et le Royaume-Uni pour opérer des missions de police aérienne bulgares. "En acquérant ces F-16, la Bulgarie sera en mesure d'assurer la défense de son propre espace aérien et de ses frontières", avait expliqué le DoD. https://www.latribune.fr/entreprises-finance/industrie/aeronautique-defense/la-bulgarie-va-voler-americain-et-achete-8-f-16-block-70-a-lockheed-martin-844265.html

  • What do we know about CATS, India’s new fighter jet drone program?

    11 février 2021 | International, Aérospatial

    What do we know about CATS, India’s new fighter jet drone program?

    Unveiled with pomp at Aero India 2021, the largest airshow since the start of the pandemic, the HAL Combat Air Teaming System (CATS) looks a bit derivative, with its centerpiece – the CATS Warrior – looking almost identical to the Kratos Valkyrie, a drone that captured the imagination of aviation community several years ago. The resemblance is not coincidental. Drones of this kind are informally called “loyal wingmen”, and they are often compared to unmanned fighter jets. Currently under development with most leading military powers, they are set to be controlled by artificial intelligence (AI) instead of ground-based operators, and accompany manned fighter jets into battle. In the United States, the Skyborg program is aimed at developing loyal wingmen for the US Air Force. In Europe, the Mosquito will soon be flying with the Royal Air Force (RAF), while the Future Combat Air System (FCAS) has at least several designs in the works. Russia has been working with the concept too, as did China and some other countries.  An ambitious project   On paper, theCATS looks very similar to all of those developments. According to the Indian press, it is going to be comprised of several interconnected systems: First off, the whole idea revolves around “Mothership for Air teaming eXploitation” (MAX), a modified two-seater variant of the HAL Tejas Mk-1A fighter jet designed to control a number of drones in flight.  It would carry the CATS Hunter, which is described as a fighter-launched cruise missile that would have a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles) with a regular warhead. In a different configuration, the Hunter would have a range of 350 kilometers (217 miles) and could return to base for reuse. Its payload, then, would consist of Air Launched Flexible Assets (ALFAs), swarming munitions each carrying 5 to 8 kilograms of explosives and likely similar in its concept to loitering munitions used by many modern armies. A mockup displayed at Aero India 2021 showed four ALFAs in an internal cargo bay of one Hunter. The last component of the CATS program would be the Warrior drone, a loyal wingman with stealth features, powered by the domestically-produced PTAE-7 turbofan engine and carrying a pair of air-to-air missiles, ALFAs or laser-guided bombs in its two internal bays. With an active electronically scanned array (EASA) radar, Electro-Optical/Infra-Red (EO/IR) imaging system and electronic warfare suite, it could be used both as a forward-deployed scout for regular aircraft as well as for directly engaging enemy targets.  It is important to understand that so far these projects are in a development stage. HAL claims that it has been working on the concept since early 2018, but the development really started only in late 2019 and early 2020. The deadline is scheduled for 2024-2025, which could seem optimistic for regular aircraft, but falls in line with similar projects: both the Skyborg and the Mosquito aim at initial operational capability by 2023.    Crucial differences   There are several key differences between the CATS and other similar programs though. First off, the CATS Warrior is the first loyal wingman showcased, at least in mockup form, with air-to-air missiles. Many manufacturers of prospective loyal wingmen have hinted at such a capability, yet they tend to be careful with their claims. The reason for that is clear: while it is relatively easy to make a drone capable of launching infrared-guided missiles, the participation in actual aerial combat, especially if such a drone is partially or primarily AI-controlled, is a whole other level of complexity. It is very likely that the first “generation” of loyal wingmen will have only rudimentary air-to-air capability and the option to engage in a pitched aerial combat will come later, with upgrades, refinements or subsequent programs (such as the DARPA’s LongShot). Both Kratos and Boeing, two companies that already developed and tested their loyal wingmen, talk quite assertively about reconnaissance and ground attack capabilities of their aircraft, but hint at air-to-air capabilities with far less certainty. The two aforementioned drones are supposed to be modular though, their components, such as detection or payload delivery systems, being mission-adaptable. The modularity of the CATS Warrior was not mentioned by HAL at the airshow, and the existence of the multi-purpose Hunter is partially compensating for its lack. Yet another large difference between the CATS and rival Western programs is an emphasis on AI control. It is quite clear that although ALFAs will likely use some form of artificial intelligence, the existence of dedicated two-seater control aircraft hints at Warrior being, at least in some part, piloted. According to HAL, its loyal wingman will be capable of autonomous take-off and landing, yet the capability of autonomous combat was not revealed – an element which, if planned, would likely become its main selling point.  In this regard, India is not alone, as the Russian Grom is intended to be human-controlled too, at least according to the current plan. But both American and European programs dedicate a lot of effort and investments into the development of AI capable not only of controlling swarms of combat drones, but of taking over part of the pilot's workload too. Human-AI teaming proved to be a difficult concept, necessitating the development of special algorithms and interfaces with features not explored before.   Reacting to circumstances   That might be the reason HAL keeps conservative with the control possibilities of its loyal wingman. The ground has not been proven for autonomous fighter jets, and being a pioneer in this field requires colossal research and development funding – money that would be better spent on more pressing issues. Such as the lack of fighter jets. India has been struggling with that for some time now, introducing a hotchpotch of models – from brand new Dassault Rafales to refurbished 80s-vintage MiG-29s – just to close the air defense gap.  The ramping up of the production of the HAL Tejas was not enough for that too. The latest MRCA (multi-role combat aircraft) competition has been dragging for some time now, and even if India finally selects its new fighter jet, it will take quite some time to reach operational capability. The CATS Warrior can be interpreted as a direct response to that. If the whole project will enter mass production by the mid-20s, as expected, it may become an ultimate way to solve IAF’s long-running problem without greatly increasing the production of the Tejas. With an advertised cost of $5 million per unit – more than most Western loyal wingmen, but still negligible in comparison with manned jets – it could be a saving grace for the country. https://www.aerotime.aero/27216-What-do-we-know-about-Indias-fighter-jet-drone-program

  • Secretive, never profitable Palantir makes its market debut

    1 octobre 2020 | International, Terrestre, C4ISR, Sécurité

    Secretive, never profitable Palantir makes its market debut

    Frank Bajak, The Associated Press  BOSTON — Seventeen years after it was born with the help of CIA seed money, the data-mining outfit Palantir Technologies is finally going public in the biggest Wall Street tech offering since last year’s debut of Slack and Uber. Never profitable and dogged by ethical objections for assisting in the Trump administration’s deportation crackdown, Palantir has forged ahead with a direct listing of its stock, which is set to begin trading Wednesday. In its stock offering, the company isn’t selling newly minted shares to raise money; it’s simply listing existing shares for public trading. The low-key strategy may not generate the enthusiasm many technology offerings do. But it’s in character for a secretive company long reliant on spies, cops and the military as customers — and whose founders are holding onto voting control of the company. The big question for both investors and company management: Can Palantir successfully transition from a business built on the costly handholding of government customers to serving corporate customers at scale? The company is a hybrid provider of software and consulting services that often embeds its own engineers with clients. Analysts say its future depends on selling multinationals on its tools for gathering disparate data from an ever-expanding data universe and using artificial-intelligence technology to find previously undetectable patterns. Those can theoretically guide strategic decisions and identify new markets much as they have aided in tracking terrorists and sorting military intelligence. The company sets itself apart from most U.S. technology providers, and just moved its headquarters to Denver from Silicon Valley. Palantir colors itself patriotic and belittles other tech firms that won’t unquestionably support U.S. dominance in war fighting and intelligence. “Our software is used to target terrorists and to keep soldiers safe,” CEO Alex Karp wrote in a letter accompanying Palantir’s offering prospectus. While Karp acknowledged the ethical challenge of building software that “enables more effective surveillance by the state,” Palantir’s prospectus touts its work helping U.S. soldiers counter roadside bombings and fight the Islamic State group. The iconoclastic entrepreneur and PayPal co-founder endorsed President Donald Trump in 2016, worked on his transition team and holds the largest chunk of Palantir stock. Thiel already exerts tremendous power from the board of Facebook, which dominates global media and seeks to create a digital currency. In its IPO prospectus, Palantir paints a dark picture of faltering government agencies and institutions in danger of collapse and ripe for rescue by a “central operating system” forged under Thiel’s auspices. As the offering is structured, Thiel will be the dominant voice among the Palantir co-founders who will retain voting control. “Is that someone who you want deciding how a component of the (national) security apparatus is designed?” asked New York University business professor Scott Galloway. “If you believe that power corrupts and checks and balances are a good idea, this is just from the get-go a really bad idea.” Earlier in September, BuzzFeed reported that Thiel hosted a known white nationalist, Kevin DeAnna, at a 2016 dinner party, citing emails it obtained and published whose authors refused to talk to the online news outlet. Thiel declined through a spokesman to discuss the report with The Associated Press. Critics say he shares the blame for Facebook’s incomplete removal of toxic disinformation disseminated by the pro-Trump far-right fringe. Then there are Palantir’s fundamentals, which Galloway considers lousy. The company has just 125 customers in 150 countries, including Airbus, Merck, Credit Suisse and the Danish National Police. Slightly less than half its 2019 revenues were from government agencies, and three clients — which Palantir did not name — accounted for almost a third of revenues. “They’re massively unprofitable and they’ve never been able to figure it out,” Galloway said, noting that it took Google three years to earn a profit, and Amazon seven. Over a much longer span, Palantir has accumulated $3.8 billion in losses, raised about $3 billion and listed $200 million in outstanding debt as of July 31. Palantir, named for the mystical all-seeing stones from Tolkien’s “Lord of The Rings,” has recently been deepening its relationship with Uncle Sam, including winning a modest contract early in the COVID-19 pandemic for helping the White House gather data on the virus' impact. Senior emerging technology analyst Brendan Burke of Pitchbook says he isn’t worried that Thiel’s association with Trump will hurt the company if Trump loses the election. “The political connections don’t appear to be the main driver of their recent substantial contract wins,” he said, although he noted that government contracts can be more volatile than corporate ones, where Palantir’s foothold is less firm. Palantir offers two software platforms. Foundry is designed to link disparate and largely incompatible data sources into a central operating system. It’s the company’s primary hope for broadening its business. An earlier product, Gotham, has been used by defense and intelligence analysts and police departments to identify patterns deep within datasets. But the value of “predictive policing” tools developed with the platform have been questioned for their potential to unfairly target people of color. The New Orleans and New York City police departments, once customers, have used it. A 2017 research paper by University of Texas sociologist Sarah Brayne, who studied the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of Gotham, found the software could lead to a proliferation of unregulated personal data collected by police from commercial and law enforcement databases. On Monday, Amnesty International issued a briefing that says Palantir is failing to conduct human rights due diligence around its contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, calling it “deeply ironic” that the company crows about its determination not to work with regimes like China that abuse human rights. Palantir’s ICE contracts involve the maintenance and improvement of two products used in deportation raids. One of them, its web-based Falcon tool, has enhanced data accessible to investigators “involving the illegal movement of people into, within, and out of the United States,” according to documents obtained by The Associated Press, including court records, and by the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center in a freedom-of-information request. Palantir has acknowledged in its SEC filing that “unfavorable coverage in the media” and from social activists could hurt its business. It also says its contractual obligations might prevent it from being able to defend its actions publicly, although it recently named a former Wall Street Journal reporter to its board. Negative publicity over ICE contracts may also have hurt company recruitment on college campuses. https://www.defensenews.com/industry/2020/09/30/secretive-never-profitable-palantir-makes-its-market-debut/

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