May 7, 2021
US deploys extra warplanes to protect its troops withdrawing from Afghanistan, EU countries are again talking about forming a military rapid-response force, the Air Force’s first Skyborg autonomous drone prototype made its first flight, Airbus announces UK MoD contracts, Sierra Nevada protests US Air Force’s planned award to Sikorsky for HH-60W upgrades.
HERE ARE THE TOP INDUSTRY AND WORLD STORIES
US deploys extra warplanes to protect its troops withdrawing from Afghanistan (Guardian)
• The United States has deployed a dozen additional warplanes to bolster protection of American and coalition troops making a final withdrawal from the country as Taliban insurgents step up pressure on Afghan government forces, top Pentagon officials have said.
• General Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said F-18 attack planes had been added to a previously announced package of air and sea power – including the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the North Arabian Sea and six air force B-52 bombers based in Qatar – that can be called upon as protection for withdrawing troops. Also part of that previously announced package are several hundred Army Rangers.
• US officials said before the withdrawal began that they expected the Taliban to attempt to interfere, even as the insurgents continued pressuring government forces, especially in Helmand and Kandahar provinces in southern Afghanistan.
• “There continue to be sustained levels of violent attacks” by the Taliban against Afghan security forces, Milley said, speaking alongside the defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, at a Pentagon news conference. He said there had been no attacks against US or coalition forces since they began pulling out of the country at the start of the month, and he described the Afghan forces as “cohesive”, even as speculation swirled around Kabul’s ability to hold off the Taliban in the months ahead.
• Both Milley and Austin, a retired army general, are veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
• “They’re fighting for their own country now, so it’s not a foregone conclusion, in my professional military estimate, that the Taliban automatically win and Kabul falls, or any of those kinds of dire predictions,” Milley said. “There’s a significant military capability in the Afghan government. We have to see how this plays out.”
EU countries are again talking about forming a military rapid-response force (Business Insider)
• Fourteen European Union countries including Germany and France have proposed a rapid military response force that could intervene early in international crises, a senior EU official said on Wednesday, two decades after a previous attempt.
• The countries say the EU should create a brigade of 5,000 soldiers, possibly with ships and aircraft, to help democratic foreign governments needing urgent help, the official said.
• EU defence ministers will take up the idea on Thursday at a regular meeting chaired by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who has chided the bloc for reluctance to intervene more abroad, particularly in failing states such as Libya.
• The 14 countries are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Spain.
The Air Force’s first Skyborg autonomous drone prototype made its first flight (Defense News)
• The Air Force carried out the first flight test of a “Skyborg” drone last month with an Kratos UTAP-22 Mako equipped with a bespoke autonomy system, moving the service one step closer to fielding an uncrewed “loyal wingman” for human pilots.
• During a two-hour and 10 minute flight test held April 29 at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, a UTAP-22 equipped with the Skyborg autonomy core system performed a serious of basic flight maneuvers to demonstrate the safe operation of the system, the Air Force stated in a May 5 news release.
• The autonomy core system, or ACS, is a package of hardware and software that effectively acts as the brains of the Skyborg aircraft, allowing the drone to conduct operations without the need of a human pilot to physically fly the aircraft.
• “The ACS demonstrated basic aviation capabilities and responded to navigational commands, while reacting to geo-fences, adhering to aircraft flight envelopes, and demonstrating coordinated maneuvering,” the Air Force said in a news release.
• The Skyborg test was monitored from several unspecified airborne and ground command and control centers.
Airbus announces UK MoD contracts (Shephard News)
• Airbus has announced multiple contracts to increase the UK MoD’s communication capabilities.
• Airbus on 5 May revealed a series of contracts awarded by the UK MoD in Q1 2021.
• These deals are a part of the continuing Skynet 5 military SATCOM services upgrade and ongoing work by Airbus for the MoD’s Defence Digital organisation.
• Activities in the maritime arena include further quality of service improvements for Maritime Network Evolution services to enable Wi-Fi access for deployed personal and improvements for eight SCOT5 FMT ships.
• Activities in the land domain include new orders for the Bracer device from the UK MoD, the first type of sale to deliver the T5 terminal, the unveiling of Team ICELUS and fibre broadband and infrastructure services for the MoD’s Abbey Wood headquarters.
• Air-related SATCOM contracts for Airbus included a deal to provide Ku-band airtime for the Poseidon P-8 maritime patrol aircraft as they enter service with the RAF, and agreeing renewals to provide continue Ku-band airtime support for the UK Reaper UAV.
• Airbus has teamed with KBR, Leidos UK, Northrop Grumman and QinetiQ to bring new thinking to future space solutions and launch the Open Innovation – Space initiative.
• Open Innovation – Space aims to increase SME involvement in UK future SATCOM services and space activities.
Sierra Nevada protests US Air Force’s planned award to Sikorsky for HH-60W upgrades (Janes)
• Sierra Nevada Corp (SNC) is contesting the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) intention to sole-source a USD980 million contract to Sikorsky for HH-60W Jolly Green II combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter upgrades.
• The bid protest, filed in the US Court of Federal Claims, alleges that the USAF’s intent to sole-source this contract violated the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA), which requires full and open competition in acquisition for supplies and services by US federal agencies. In its 19 April filing, SNC said that while the CICA permits an exception to the use of competitive procedures when there is only one responsible source, an agency must first provide an opportunity for all responsible sources to submit capability statements.
• The agency must then consider those capability statements before invoking the exception to competition. SNC alleges that the USAF did not comply with these mandatory requirements and that other responsible sources, such as SNC, did not have a fair opportunity to compete for the award.
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WE’RE KEEPING AN EYE ON
Hartlepool by-election: Conservatives win in seat Labour has held since 1964 (Telegraph)
• The Conservatives have won the Hartlepool by-election decisively in a further sign that Labour is losing its grip on its traditional northern heartlands.
• Jill Mortimer, the Tory candidate, overturned a Labour majority of 3,600 to turn the seat blue for the first time in its almost 50-year history. The Tories picked up 15,529 votes to Labour’s 8,589.
• In her acceptance speech Mortimer described the result as “truly historic” and said: “Labour has taken the people of Hartlepool for granted for too long — I heard this time and time again on the doorstep. People had enough. Now and now through this result, the people have spoken, and they’ve made it clear, it’s time for change.”
• Steve Reed, the shadow secretary for communities and local government, said the defeat was “absolutely shattering”.
• The count took longer than planned. Declaration times varied throughout the night, ranging from 5am to 6am, at one point moving back an hour, before finally being announced just after 7am.
DID YOU HEAR ABOUT THIS?
Johnson and Macron plan peace talks in Jersey fishing dispute (Times)
• Boris Johnson and President Macron will try to restore the “brotherly” relationship between Europe’s biggest military allies after yesterday’s stand-off over fishing rights in Jersey.
• Government officials admitted that relations were “not where we want them to be” after the deployment of naval vessels by both countries.
• The two leaders are expected to speak over the coming days to reset an alliance that has hit a new post-Brexit low after disputes about fishing, vaccines and financial services.
• A senior government source said that both sides were keen to “dial down the rhetoric” before next month’s G7 summit. “We’re a bit like a pair of brothers,” the source said. “We’re the closest allies and there is no fundamental unhappiness but things are bumpy.”
• France accused Jersey of restricting licences for small boats to operate within 12 miles of its shores, in a breach of the Brexit agreement. The crown dependency said that 17 of the 41 that had applied had been unable to prove they had historical links to the fishing grounds, as required under the deal.
• Britain learnt of plans by about 60 French boats, mainly dredgers and trawlers, to sail at dawn yesterday to St Helier, Jersey’s main port. To prevent a blockade Johnson dispatched two armed Royal Navy boats; France sent two patrol vessels to “guarantee the safety” of its fishing boats.
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