Defense Business Brief: Companies invest in Kendall’s operational imperatives; KC-46 cleared for deployments; Swiss sign deal for F-35; and more.

I first attended the Air and Space Forces Association’s Air, Space & Cyber ​​conference in 2006, and over the past 16 years a lot has changed—and stayed the same.

It seemed like this week’s conference was the biggest yet, with around 16,000 registrations. Trying to move around the crowded corridors and floor of the exhibition hall was difficult at times.

But this year’s conference also provided time to reflect on what has and hasn’t changed. For me, the biggest change in the exhibition hall was seeing new technologies and systems developed by companies on their own. There were years – I’m thinking of the beginning of the last decade, let’s call it the era of sequestration – when there wasn’t much new to see. Companies sported the same things. Maybe there was a concept image or a model of something they wanted to build, but nothing tangible or concrete.

That year, several companies indicated they would make their own investments to develop new technology and weapons for the Luftwaffe. It’s a big change from the days when companies largely waited for the Air Force to submit a full set of requirements and begin a funded acquisition program before bending metal, as the saying goes.

At a press conference Monday, I asked Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall what he thought about why companies are investing in efforts that aren’t programs of record. He attributed the response in part to his seven “operational imperatives” — also known as the technology he believes will be needed to win future wars.

“One of the things that seems to have been achieved through the operational imperatives is that I defined the problems that we are trying to solve and that gave the industry some information to use in their own investments,” he said he. “I think they responded to that.”

While Kendall admitted “you always get lip service to anything new you say,” he now sees “some actual activity and content.”

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“I see people coming up with some innovative ideas that we definitely want to consider,” he said. “That really encourages me. What I’ve said repeatedly to the industry is that I don’t want you to wait for the tender to come out, I want you to think about how we can solve our problems. Of course, if we take on your solution to our problems, that gives you a head start. So it is in your interest to think ahead of us and implement his creative ideas.”

So why is the industry responding to Kendall’s operational needs? and his messages now, as opposed to when he was head of Pentagon acquisitions during the Obama administration? “I didn’t write any requirements,” he said. But: “I now have a lot more to do with requirements and budgets.”

The Air Force is also trying to figure out how much it can afford.

“We’re trying to communicate as openly as we can with the industry, so the industry knows what we’re interested in, what problems we’re trying to solve, what the value is for us, … so they can give us suggestions,” he said. “That encourages me.”

During the Cold War era, Kendall said, industry and government “worked much more closely together to solve problems. I don’t think we’re going to go back to it fully because of the ethical constraints we have, but I think we could do a much better job than we’ve done in the last 20 to 30 years.”

Among the news at AFA: First, the Air Force is scheduled to unveil the B-21 stealth bomber in the first week of December. With the aircraft not expected to make its first flight until 2023, it’s probably safe to say that the rollout will take place at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, California, factory. As I mentioned earlier in the week, the Reagan National Defense Forum takes place on the first weekend of December, about an hour away in Simi Valley. Dozens of defense officials will already be on the West Coast, and it’s safe to say many will be at the launch as well.

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Next up is the Air Force’s KC-46 tanker has been cleared for worldwide deployments, Gen. Mike Minihan, commander of the Air Mobility Command, said Monday. “We are ready to use this aircraft in any battle worldwide without hesitation,” Minihan said. The only aircraft that cannot be refueled by the KC-46 is the A-10 attack aircraft. The aircraft will not be officially declared combat-ready for several years until Boeing makes repairs to the tanker’s refueling cameras, dubbed the Remote Vision System. But according to flight-tracking apps, about a dozen KC-46 missions appear to be flying over the United States each day.

The Air Force created one too new Program Executive Officer for Command, Control, Communications and Battle Management or C3BM to oversee the Connect-Everything Joint All Domain Command and Control effort and the Advanced Battle Management System program. Brig. Gen. Luke Cropsey will serve as the PEO and Andrew Hunter, the Air Force acquisitions chief, and will work “closely with” Frank Calvelli, the Air Force assistant secretary for space integration.

Interestingly, a new bomber and tanker were among the top issues in 2006. Air Force leadership pushed to get a new bomber by 2018. Four years after that goal, the Air Force is getting closer to reality. And of course, who could forget the tanker. “The Air Force must start buying new tankers now as it will take decades to replace their aging KC-135 Stratotankers, the Air Force Secretary said,” reads the headline of an story. Here is the full agenda of what was then known as the Air & Space Conference in 2006. It’s well worth checking out.

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Back to this week, down in the exhibition hall, Several contractors presented new projects funded by the company. L3Harris Technologies’ plan to convert an Embraer-made KC-390 tanker into an air tanker with a refueling boom attracted a lot of attention. The twin engine tanker is used by L3Harris as a refueling aircraft needed in a war against an equal foe as it can land at more airfields than larger tankers used by the Air Force and other militaries around the world today. So what do Air Force leaders think of the KC-390? “We don’t have a need for it right now, but I would definitely sit down and listen,” said Gen. Duke Richardson, the chief of Air Force Material Command.

Boeing and Red 6 announced They “work together to develop cutting-edge technology for air combat and training in advanced tactical aircraft,” the augmented reality startup said in a statement. Announced on the sidelines of AFA, the partnership could result in Red 6’s technology being used in the T-7 pilot training jet and F-15EX fighter jet.

Not at AFA, Switzerland has signed a contract to buy 36 F-35 stealth fighters. More about this here.

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