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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Air Force announced the award of three Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service Agreements to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and United Launch Alliance.

The $500 million award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The $792 million award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The $967 million award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Defense Department has the option to narrow it to two companies no later than 2020 that will then compete for future launches.

Blue Origin was awarded for the preliminary work and will build its New Glenn Launch System.

Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems will manufacture its OmegA Launch System.

United Launch Alliance, which is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, will develop its Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

With the Congressional mandate to transition away from reliance on foreign rocket propulsion systems, and the planned Delta IV retirement, the Air Force developed an acquisition strategy to accelerate National Security Space launch requirements.

“Our launch program is a great example of how we are fielding tomorrow’s Air Force faster and smarter,” said Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson in a statement. “We’re making the most of the authorities Congress gave us, and we will no longer be reliant on the Russian-built RD-180 rocket engine.”

“Leveraging domestic commercial space launch systems is good for the Air Force, and a revitalized commercial launch industry is good for the taxpayer,” Wilson added.

While the prototypes are being developed, the Air Force will continue to competitively award commercial launch services contracts to providers who demonstrate the capability to design, produce, qualify and deliver launch systems and provide the mission assurance support required to deliver National Security Space satellites to orbit.

“I’m excited to announce these creative partnerships that directly support the Air Force’s strategy to drive innovation and leverage commercial industry,” said Dr. William Roper, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics. “These awards are a leap forward in space launch capabilities, ensuring continued U.S. dominance in space,” Roper added.

Boeing Awarded $2.4B Contract for New Helicopters

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By Debbie Gregory.

Boeing has been awarded a $2.38 billion contract by the U.S. Air Force to provide 84 of its MH-139 helicopter and related support (training devices and support equipment) to replace the more than 40-year-old UH-1N “Huey” helicopters, used to protect America’s intercontinental ballistic missile bases.

“We’re grateful for the Air Force’s confidence in our MH-139 team,” said David Koopersmith, vice president and general manager, Boeing Vertical Lift. “The MH-139 exceeds mission requirements, it’s also ideal for VIP transport, and it offers the Air Force up to $1 billion in acquisition and lifecycle cost savings.”

The MH-139 derives from the Leonardo AW139, which is used by more than 270 governments, militaries and companies worldwide. Leonardo will assemble the helicopters at its northeast Philadelphia plant, with Boeing integrating military-specific components at its facility south of that city.

“The new helicopter will be an important tool for Airmen charged with securing and defending the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Air Force said in a statement announcing the award.

The MH-139 helicopters will be the product of a joint effort between Boeing and Leonardo. Leonardo will assemble the helicopters at its northeast Philadelphia plant, with Boeing integrating military-specific components at its facility south of that city.

Earlier this year, six U.S. Senators wrote a letter to the Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson urging the Air Force to expedite the acquisition of a replacement helicopter.

Hueys first entered Air Force service in 1970.

“We’re proud to provide the U.S. Air Force with solutions across the entire services ecosystem,” said Ed Dolanski, president of U.S. Government Services, Boeing Global Services. “With the AW139 platform’s more than 2 million flight hours and established supply chain, we look forward to applying our expertise to drive cost savings while supporting mission readiness.”

The first delivery of an operational helicopter is expected in Fiscal Year 2021.

By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Air Force has taken the initial steps to buy commercial, off-the-shelf aircraft for its light attack aircraft fleet by issuing a pre-announcement of solicitation bids in December 2018.

The awardee will be chosen in the fourth quarter of the 2019 Fiscal Year, which runs from July 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2019. The Air Force still has yet to say how many aircraft it expects to purchase

While the program would remain a full and open competition, Air Force officials said the most viable aircraft are the Textron Aviation AT-6 Wolverine and Sierra Nevada/Embraer A-29 Super Tucano.

“LAA will provide an affordable, non-developmental aircraft intended to operate globally in the types of Irregular Warfare environments that have characterized combat operations over the past 25 years,” the notice explained. “Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) and Textron Aviation are the only firms that appear to possess the capability necessary to meet the requirement within the Air Force’s time frame without causing an unacceptable delay in meeting the needs of the warfighter.”

The Air Force and other branches of the U.S. military have evaluated these aircraft on no less than six separate occasions since 2007. The two single-engine turboprop aircraft were most recently part of the service’s light attack experiment at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

A fatal accident in June 2018 shut down the tests early, with the Air Force declaring it had all the data it needed. Navy Lt. Christopher Carey Short, of Canandaigua, New York, was piloting an A-29 when it crashed over the Red Rio Bombing Range in New Mexico.

Congress has added hundreds of millions into the defense budget in support of light attack aircraft projects, but the Air Force has suggested that a full light attack aircraft program that sees the purchase of between 200 and 300 aircraft in total could cost approximately $2.5 billion between the 2020 and 2024 fiscal years.

It should be noted that these aircraft are not a substitute for high-performance combat jets, but rather a complimentary capability with a smaller logistics footprint that helps reduce the operational and sustainment demands on those other fleets and their pilots.

Lockheed Will Design Hypersonic Missiles for U.S. Air Force

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By Debbie Gregory.

Washington is stepping up its efforts to develop and field hypersonic weapons as it competes to retain America’s technological advantage. To that end, Lockheed Martin has secured a contract worth close to $1 billion to provide hypersonic cruise missiles to the U.S. Air Force.

Hypersonic weapons — ones that can fly five times faster than the speed of sound — are a top priority of Michael Griffin, the defense undersecretary for research and engineering.

The indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract is for the “design, development, engineering, systems integration, test, logistics planning, and aircraft integration support of all the elements of a hypersonic, conventional, air-launched, stand-off weapon.”

“This effort is one of two hypersonic weapon prototyping efforts being pursued by the Air Force to accelerate hypersonics research and development,” service spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said in a statement. “The Air Force is using prototyping to explore the art-of-the-possible and to advance these technologies to a capability as quickly as possible.”

The other prototyping program is the Air Launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW).

“Design, development, production, integration and test experts from across Lockheed Martin will partner with the Air Force to achieve early operational capability and deliver the system to our warfighters,” said John Snyder, vice president of Air Force Strategic Programs at Lockheed Martin. “We are incredibly proud to be leading this effort.”

According to the Air Force, the ARRW effort is pushing the art-of-the-possible by leveraging the technical base established by the Air Force/Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) partnership.

Recent thinking from senior Air Force weapons developers had held that US hypersonic weapons might first be deployable by the early 2020s. Hypersonic drones for attack or ISR missions, by extension, were thought to be on track to emerge in the 2030s and 2040s.

But the aggressive new Air Force hypersonic weapons prototyping and demonstration effort is expected to change this time frame in a substantial way.

SpaceX Wins $130 million Air Force Launch Contract

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Air Force has awarded the contract to carry its national security satellites to SpaceX.

The $130 million firm-fixed price contract for evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) services will utilize SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket to deliver Air Force Space Command’s 52 satellite, known as AFSC-52, into orbit.

Scheduled for late 2020, the launched will originate from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

SpaceX had to demonstrate the capabilities of its Falcon 9 rocket several times before the Air Force certified that launch vehicle, but military officials apparently acquired enough data from the Falcon Heavy’s single launch and the Falcon 9’s track record to give their go-ahead for AFSPC-52.

SpaceX’s first Falcon Heavy launch went viral when the payload consisted of launching Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster sports car into a solar orbit past the reach of Mars, far below the payload capacity of 63.8 metric tons.

Work on the project will be performed in Hawthorne, California; the Kennedy Space Center; and McGregor, Texas.

The launch will support the Air Force Space Command’s “mission of delivering resilient and affordable space capabilities to our nation while maintaining assured access to space,” Lt. Gen. John Thompson, Air Force program executive officer for space and commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center.

“On behalf of all of our employees, I want to thank the Air Force for certifying Falcon Heavy, awarding us this critically important mission, and for their trust and confidence in our company,” said SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell. “SpaceX is pleased to continue offering the American taxpayer the most cost-effective, reliable launch services for vital national security space missions.”

SpaceX’s first substantial military contract was awarded in 2016, when the Air Force tapped Elon Musk’s company to launch a GPS III satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX was the sole bidder for the launch.

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