🔷 On the Radar

🎖️ RIP to Robert “Al” Persichitti of Fairport, New York. The 102-year-old World War II veteran died en route to France to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the massive landing on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from Hitler.

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On the Radar

The Army set the capabilities it wants for its future tactical drone known as FTUAS (Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System). The service has been experimenting with a few different Group 3 drones for the program and is down to Griffon Aerospace and Textron Systems. This program, which started way back in 2018, will replace the RQ-7 Shadow, which was abruptly retired a few months ago.

  • The Merge’s Take: Due to the slowness of the program and the Shadow retirements, there is now a multi-year capability gap of Group 3 drones in the Army—and the service says there isn’t enough money to accelerate FTUAS. Beyond the Shadow retirement, when you consider that the service also killed the $20 billion FARA program, this makes little sense. FARA was a manned recon helicopter, and the program was killed to replace that mission with smaller distributed drones, which look remarkably similar to the FTUAS program. What’s going on here?

 

The Navy’s hypersonic anti-ship missile will be launchable from ships, subs, and jets. Acronym warning: the Hypersonic Air-Launched Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (HALO) program, aka the Offensive Anti-Surface Warfare (OASuW) Increment 2, is intended to replace the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), aka OASuW Increment 1. Lockheed Martin builds the LRASM (a JASSM derivative) and is competing against Raytheon for HALO.

  • The Merge’s Take: This is a Middle Tier Acquisition (MTA) rapid prototyping program with a planned flight demo in 2027, which is wicked fast for such a complicated weapon. One of the forcing functions for HALO is that LRASM is really the only air-launched long-range anti-ship missile in the US arsenal, and it's not cost-effective at scale. Each missile costs $3.2 million—a byproduct of being a DARPA project that went to production vs. a project engineered for production. Time will tell what HALO’s cost-per-shot is, but the land-air-subsurface use case definitely complicates things.

 

Eric Schmidt, the billionaire former CEO of Google, is quietly developing AI-powered combat drones through his secretive venture. The company, whose name keeps changing, is poaching talent from Apple, SpaceX, and Google to rapidly develop and deploy advanced low-cost drones to Ukraine to help the war. They have been flight testing in California and have also reportedly been scoping out companies and production facilities in Ukraine.

  • The Merge’s Take: This could help Ukraine fight the war and trigger a disruptive (and much-needed) shift in the US drone market to lower-cost offerings. Sounds like a win-win if it scales as intended.

 

The Air Force is developing modular test drones. The Air Force picked four firms to prototype a drone that can be used to test payloads, sensors, and other technology and can be produced at high rates at an affordable cost.

  • The Merge’s Take: In an unusual step, the Air Force partnered with DIU to ensure the vendor pool was full of non-traditional businesses and to keep the project on a rapid schedule—and it seems to have worked. More than 100 firms applied, and the 4 vendors selected were mostly non-traditional: Anduril Industries, Integrated Solutions for Systems, Leidos Dynetics, and Zone 5 Technologies. Regarding timing, the vendor prototypes are expected to be ready for flight assessments in just 6 months—a great forcing function to prevent over-engineering.

  • The Merge’s Spicy Take: We usually give the Army a hard time for its track record of terribly named programs, but we’re up for throwing shade elsewhere when it’s due. The official name of this modular test drone is the boring-sounding enterprise test vehicle (ETV). Considering the requirement lists a 500-mile range and the ability to deliver a kinetic payload, it’s really a low-cost modular cruise missile program that can dual-role as a test vehicle.

TRIVIA

Operation Overlord was the code name for the Allied landing in Northern France (i.e., D-Day.). The name is very fitting, but not what it was initially called. What was the code name for D-Day before Winston Churchill changed it?

A) Operation Torch
B) Operation Roundhammer
C) Operation Market Garden
D) Operation Husky

In That Number

20-0008

The first operational F-15EX, serial number 20-0008, arrived at Portland Air National Guard Base.

“20” is the year of the appropriation that bought the lot of aircraft; “0008” is for the 8th jet off the line.

Previous F-15EXs were assigned to test units.

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They Said It
“I could claim that we’re going to do it in 2028 and skip all the testing, and then I would be a case study in acquisition school.”

— Air Force Lt Gen Heath Collins, on the viability of accelerating the Pentagon’s hypersonic defense program. This program, known as the Glide Phase Interceptor (GPI), is planned to field in 2035, but Congress is mandating it be operational by 2029.

High-power Microwave (HPM) weapons are a type of directed-energy weapon that emits concentrated bursts of electromagnetic energy. These weapons neutralize swarms of drones by disrupting their electronic systems.

Epirus is a venture-backed defense tech company building the next-gen HPM systems and they’re being rapidly deployed with the Army now.

Get up to speed with our full feature write-up, then grab our podcast interview with CEO Andy Lowery that dives even deeper. This is a defense tech episode you don’t want to miss!

Check it out!

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ANSWER
Correct Answer: B. The code name Roundhammer resulted in the combination of two earlier plans called Round-up and Sledgehammer. When presented to Churchill, he changed it to Overlord because it risked revealing the larger campaign strategy (Operation Anvil was the Allied landing in Southern France—that was changed to Operation Dragoon.) Also, WTH is a round hammer?