🔷 Foreign Relations II

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Keeping up (on) Foreign Relations

Long-time listeners will recall that last year we did a pod with former Australian diplomat John Fowler from International Intrigue to chat about China. Many of you said, “We want more!


The stars finally aligned, and we got to continue our conversation with John about China (and Russia) through the lens of diplomacy and national strategies.

Whether your jam is defense tech or the business of national security, it’s good to periodically fill your clue bag with the context of international relations—it underpins it all!

Those in the biz know that US national security is focused on “China, China, China,” so it should be no surprise that so does our latest episode—though we did take a few detours into Ukraine, Congress, and a few other things.

Here are a few highlights:

And more!

Whether you know all of those topics or they’re completely new to you, we guarantee you’ll be entertained. If you’re not careful, you might also learn something along the way.

In That Number


Orbital Sidekick’s GHOSt hyperspectral satellites gather data in 468 spectral bands—they just shared the first imagery.


In January 1966, an Air Force B-52 collided with a KC-135, destroying both aircraft. This disaster led to a small yet notable event four months later—on this day in 1966—that would’ve been lost to history had it not been a scene (and subplot) of a Navy movie with a recognizable lead actor. What movie was it?

A) Navy Seals (Charlie Sheen)
B) Under Siege (Steven Seagal)
C) A Few Good Men (Tom Cruise)
D) Men of Honor (Cuba Gooding Jr)
E) Tears of the Sun (Bruce Willis)

On the Radar

The Army is speeding up its plan to buy launched effects (LE) capable of flying at different ranges and deploying from various air and ground vehicles. The service plans to field 3 different categories, with programs of record in FY2027. LE are simply 1-way drones that launch from air or ground vehicles, performing either ISR or strike.

  • The Merge’s Take: Cancelling the FARA helicopter program freed up money and headspace to apply meaningful amounts of both to this effort. Expect to be peppered with more and more LE (or air-launched efforts (ALE)) news in the next 12 months as these efforts come to fruition and companies jockey for a seat at the table. Anduril’s recent A700M warhead test is a good example.


DIU’s ground-based drone project is underway, with prototype contracts of various vehicle sizes that will assess the feasibility of serving as scouts or escorts on the battlefield for the Army’s Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV) program.

  • The Merge’s Take: Interesting list of vendors: Overland AI, Forterra, Neya Systems, and Kodiak Robotics will do navigation systems to enable autonomous maneuvers; Scale AI and Applied Intuition will provide machine learning solutions; Palantir and Anduril will work as software system integrators.


The first 3 Air Force F-16s are about to begin modifications to host autonomy. The plan is to convert 6 F-16s under the Viper Experimentation and Next-gen Operations Model – Autonomy Flying Testbed program, VENOM-AFT, which is usually truncated to just VENOM.

  • The Merge’s Take: VENOM…as a nod to the Viper, which is the nickname of the F-16. We see what you did there. VENOM F-16s are catching a ton of press for their association with the Air Force’s collaborative combat aircraft (CCA) drone program, but the first use case is likely not for the Air Force at all. DARPA AIR (Artificial Intelligence Reinforcements) is a project that pre-dates the CCA program and plans on using F-16 fighter test beds for multi-ship AI air-to-air combat. Again, another nod to the time and effort that went into the acronym.

They Said It
“Often, we just don’t get the weapons systems at the time we need them – they come when they’re no longer relevant. F-16s were needed in 2023; they won’t be right for 2024.”

— a high-ranking Ukrainian military official, speaking anonymously, on the delays for getting F-16s being so long that the war has evolved before they arrive

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C. Men of Honor, with Cuba Gooding Jr. portraying the life of Chief Boatswain's Mate Carl Brashear. The scene where he gets hurt on the deck of a ship—and has his left leg amputated—was very real and happened on this day in 1966. What were they doing: recovering the final missing nuclear bomb the B-52 had been carrying. Here’s the story.