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EXCLUSIVE: Imagery Industry Seeking Direct DoD Sales In Wake Of Tiny NRO Bid – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

American Airlines retires its McDonnell Douglas MD-80 aircraft and Airbus A300-600R jetliners at the Roswell Air Center in New Mexico. Capella’s highest resolution imaging mode shows the aircraft and their shadows reveal granular details such as the size of a cockpit, fuselage, wings and engines. (Capella)

WASHINGTON: In recent months, commercial remote sensing company representatives have become increasingly jaded with long-standing promises by the National Reconnaissance Office to increase its acquisition from, and support of, the burgeoning industry.

Many in industry had their hopes raised in the waning years of the Trump administration, and more recently by strong congressional pressure on the agency to take commercial providers seriously. More were cheered earlier this month at the annual GEOINT Symposium, when Deputy Director of National Intelligence Stacey Dixon reiterated the robust support of the Intelligence Community, as well as the Biden White House, for this capability.

But behind all the smiles and promises, a number of industry officials tell Breaking Defense, the facts on the ground tell a different story.

For example, industry officials are pushing back against the NRO’s move, first revealed by Breaking Defense, to impose a kind of “shutter control” on sales to other customers via its contracting process. Meanwhile, word on the street is that NRO’s fiscal year 2022 budget for purchasing commercial data has been slashed, along with that of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which buys analytical products from commercial remote sensing firms. (Neither IC agency will discuss its budget.)

And for that reason, at least some industry execs now say they are pivoting marketing efforts away from the NRO and instead focusing on direct sales to other US national security customers, such as the military services and Combatant Commands — and even foreign governments. This is in part because many commercial remote sensing firms, both in the US and abroad, have been funded by short-term venture capital, and waiting for substantial contracts come to fruition can be a life or death matter.

Such a shift could chip away at the relevancy of both the NRO and the NGA, which relies on NRO to provide imagery for its map making and other GEOINT products for US government customers. Indeed, former senior US intelligence official Sue Gordon earlier this month raised the question of how the IC can maintain its role “in a world that now has access to all the same data.”

In the midst of this grumbling comes a new blow to industry confidence, in the form of an Oct. 12 release of NRO’s new Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) Framework for Strategic Commercial Enhancements.

The BAA is an umbrella tool that, according to an email from NRO, covers acquisition of “new and emerging phenomenologies, such as commercial radar, hyperspectral imagery, radio frequency remote sensing, etc., as well as emerging and evolving electro-optical capabilities.” It was much touted by NRO leaders at  GEOINT earlier this month as a means to move forward more quickly than a traditional contracting pathway, developed after years of studying how commercial data best fits into the agency’s data architecture.

Along with the details of the framework (available to registered industry at NRO’s online contracting hub), NRO released a formal solicitation for bids in the first focus area, commercial SAR, open to both US and foreign-owned, US-based firms. The SAR solicitation is thus the model that NRO is using for acquisition of future “emerging phenomenologies,” with its acquisition of electro-optical imagery being kept under a more traditional contracting path.

For the SAR solicitation, “the combined stage 1 and 2 award is anticipated at $1.2 million. These awards could be made to a single provider, multiple providers, or no provider,” an NRO spokesperson confirmed in an email Thursday.

In response to a question about industry concerns and whether follow-on contracts are anticipated, the spy agency spokesperson said: “Mission requirements and needs will determine whether follow-on acquisition efforts for each of the BAA focus areas are required.”

Which, industry sources say, means that there is no way to know if a phase 3 follow-on will actually include real money, making it hard for remote sensing firms to plan how much time and effort to put toward winning NRO awards — and giving them even more incentive to abandon trying to work with the agency in favor of other customers.

Death By Study For Commercial SAR?

The tiny contract size and its  duration of 30 months — the same magnitude as a typical government study contract — was a bit of a shock to industry players.

“I’d call it a VERY minor slow toe dip,” said one stunned company rep, trying to find polite words. At the same time, the source said, “In the words of good parenting, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”

For context, Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards, used regularly by the Defense Department to bolster development of cutting-edge tech by small firms, have a range of $50,000 to $250,000 over six months. Follow-on Phase 2 contracts are generally about for $750,000 over two years.

RadarSat 2, launched in 2007. (ESA image)

“My question is, why are we studying this again,” said another frustrated industry source, noting that the capabilities of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sat companies have been demonstrated not just directly to NRO but also in various Combatant Command and service exercises. “We, the collective we, know what SAR does,” the source said. “So, if we have data that can help inform decision-makers today, why aren’t we getting it to them?”

A perfect example comes from Thursday’s announcement from Capella Space that it has reached a new agreement with the Army to explore the use of firm’s SAR satellite imagery. According to the release, Capella not only received a contract from NRO in 2019, but also over the past year has “signed and maintained contracts with the US Navy, US Air Force, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, In-Q-Tel, the Space Development Agency, and the US Space Force to provide on-demand, high-resolution SAR data and analytics.” (Although to be fair, other industry sources note, those contracts are small.)

Capella also took “gold’ for best SAR image resolution in the NGA’s recent “Remote Sensing Olympics” comparing global capabilities of commercial companies.

And Capella is neither the only US SAR sat firm, nor the world’s first commercial SAR sat company looking to sell to the US government and the international market. Canadian company MDA Ltd. has the honor of being the first commercial firm to launch a SAR sat, RadarSat-2, in 2007, and has been selling SAR imagery since that time. And Umbra, another California startup, emerged from stealth mode earlier this summer, pitching itself directly at the US government market.

Finland’s ICEYE, which has a US arm, markets itself as the owner of the world’s first constellation of smallsats using SAR, with 14 birds now on orbit. The tiny company came in first in the NGA mock Olympics for highest revisit rate — that is, how often one of its satellites can return to the same ground target and take an image. The US arm of the multinational European aerospace conglomerate Airbus, Airbus U.S. Space and Defense, also is offering commercial SAR products to US government customers. Airbus is the biggest commercial SAR player in the European market.

To the NRO’s credit, said the disappointed source, part of the reason for the BAA’s small size and long duration is that the spy agency is trying to keep open possible awards to very early startups. For those companies, NRO has to do more extensive evaluation — including to ensure that new sources of data can be integrated with its own complex computer networks and top secret data. Still, the source noted, the solicitation could have been shaped into phases that would have allowed NRO to buy available imagery now, and wrap in new providers at a later time.

Gunsmoke-J experimental satellite (Army image)

Imagery Hungry Warfighters

Meanwhile, military commanders are clamoring for ever-more imagery and other types of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data from satellites (such as signals intelligence) to support future All Domain Operations around the globe with Russia and China.

The Army, at the moment, is the service most involved in trying to directly get its hands on remote sensing imagery and sat-provided ISR, not just from SAR sat operators but those providing electro-optical and other types of sensors. But the Space Force also recently put its hand up, pushing to expand its current role in providing commercial communications bandwidth to include remote sensing and ISR, eyeing service contracts with providers for open, long-term access.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Combatant Commands are eyeing using their own funding pots to acquire timely remote sensing/ISR satellite data. For example, Capella was an industry participant in the recent Northern Edge 21 exercise, sponsored every other year by Indo-Pacific Command.

“And COCOMS don’t want to wait two and a half years for this data” from NRO, one industry source noted.

The Army’s new deal with Capella is a no-cost Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the US Army Space and Missile Defense Technical Center (SMDTC). It will see Capella integrating SAR data into the Army’s Payload Development Lab, which is exploring SAR  and “other space-based technology concepts within both simulated and test environments,” the release says.

“Capella space is excited to be working with the United States Army as we continue to expand our support to the Department of Defense as the leading US provider of commercial SAR,” Amy Hopkins, the company’s new vice president of government services, told Breaking Defense.

Army SMDTC, as its website explains, “provides technologies to meet today’s requirements and future needs in directed energy, space, cyberspace, hypersonics and integrated air and missile defense.”

Tom Webber, the SMDTC director, said in the press release: “Capella is the first U.S. company to commercialize SAR and is uniquely positioned to provide mission-critical support to tactical users and advance the Army’s critical mission.”

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Prop gun discharged by Alec Baldwin kills ‘Rust’ film crew member : NPR

An aerial video image shows Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Officers responding to the scene of a fatal accidental shooting with a prop gun at movie set near Santa Fe, N.M., on Thursday.

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An aerial video image shows Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Officers responding to the scene of a fatal accidental shooting with a prop gun at movie set near Santa Fe, N.M., on Thursday.

KOAT 7 News via AP

SANTA FE, N.M. — Actor Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm on a movie set near Sante Fe, killing the film’s director of photography and injuring the director, according to the sheriff’s office of Santa Fe County, N.M.

Halyna Hutchins, 42, was airlifted Thursday afternoon, to the University of New Mexico hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Director Joel Souza, 48, was being cared for at Christus St. Vincent Medical Center as of Thursday evening.

Deputies responded about 2 p.m. to the Rust movie set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch after 911 calls came in of a person being shot on set, Juan Rios, a spokesman for the sheriff said.

“According to investigators, it appears that the scene being filmed involved the use of a prop firearm when it was discharged,” sheriff’s spokesman Rios told the Albuquerque Journal. “Detectives are investigating how and what type of projectile was discharged.”

The investigation is ongoing and authorities say no charges have been filed in this incident, the sheriff’s office said. Detectives are continuing to interview witnesses.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Officers respond to the scene of the shooting.

Luis Sanchez-Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP

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Luis Sanchez-Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Officers respond to the scene of the shooting.

Luis Sanchez-Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP

Production has so far been halted on the Western movie, which is being directed by Souza with Baldwin producing and starring.

A spokesperson for Baldwin said only there was an accident on the set involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks.

A publicist and manager contacted by NPR for further comment didn’t immediately respond.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Baldwin was seen Thursday outside the sheriff’s office in tears, but attempts to get a comment from him were unsuccessful.

Unions call for a continued investigation

SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and National Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement that the union was “devastated” by the tragic incident.

“This is still an active investigation and we do not yet have all the facts,” they said in a statement. “We will continue to work with production, the other unions and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again.”

The Cinematographers Guild, of which Hutchins was a member, said the group was mourning her loss.

The Guild’s National President, John Lindley, and National Executive Director, Rebecca Rhine said in a statement shared with Deadline: “The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event.”

Hutchins, who was originally from Ukraine, graduated from the AFI conservatory in 2015. She was selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019, according to her website.

On her Instagram account, Hutchins shared video of her riding a horse during the filming of Rust and a group photo of the crew on set, in which Baldwin is included.

Her recent work includes the superhero action film Archenemy, starring Joe Manganiello, and Blindfire.

Filming for Rust was set to continue into early November, according to a news release from the New Mexico Film Office.

The movie is about a 13-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother following the death of their parents in 1880s Kansas, according to the Internet Movie Database website. The teen goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.

Incidents on movie or television sets, in which someone is killed or injured, by a prop firearm are rare.

In 1993, Brandon Lee, 28, son of the late martial-arts star Bruce Lee, died after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming a death scene for the movie The Crow. The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but an autopsy turned up a bullet lodged near his spine.

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Getting Rid of ‘Excess’: New Army Sites Prepare Units To Receive Modernized Equipment – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

Soldiers prepare a vehicle for turn-in at the Modernization, Displacement, and Repair Site at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. (Katie Nelson/US Army)

WASHINGTON: A little known entity inside the Army has a grandiose task: prepare units across the service for the massive amounts of next generation capabilities the service plans to deliver to soldiers in the next decade.

To make the influx of new technologies possible, the service will rely on new Modernization Displacement and Repair Sites (MDRS) to churn out decades-old equipment from units to clear space for new capabilities.

“This is really setting the conditions for the next wave of modernization that’s going to come into the Army,” said Maj. Gen. Chris Mohan, commanding general of Army Sustainment Command, who spoke with Breaking Defense on the periphery of the Association of the United States Army conference last week.

The new effort reached full operating capability in April this year and has begun removing legacy equipment from units at 14 Army posts across the country. According to Mohan, ASC has 85,000 pieces of equipment to receive from soldiers, down from 130,000 during its initial year of operation.

The Modernization Displacement and Repair Sites are a part of the Army’s Regionally Aligned Readiness & Modernization Model (ReARRM) effort through which the service wants to set up more predictable cycles for when soldiers train, modernize and deploy. MDRS is one of the first steps in that and 14 sites are “focused” on “setting the conditions for ReARMM,” Mohan said.

The service is in the midst of a massive modernization effort, replacing everything from weapons to helicopters. At AUSA, Army Chief of Staff James McConville highlighted that 24 of the service’s “31+4” modernization priorities would reach prototyping by fiscal 2023, but many of those programs still have delivery schedules that are years down the road. Regardless, the service has to be prepared for when new tech arrives.

“After 20 years of war, we have a tremendous amount of excess,” Mohan said, adding later “the constant turn and churn of units and equipment back and forth into the Middle East has allowed us to bring back and hold a lot of equipment we need to get rid of.”

For example, as the Army fields the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace Humvees, a Modernization Displacement and Repair Site takes possession of the Humvee. The site also worked to reduce the number of M-9 pistols as the service fields M-17s. At the site, excess equipment may be shipped to another unit that needs it, sent to a repair depot or given to the Defense Logistics Agency Disposition Services location for disposal.

Modernization Displacement and Repair Sites are one-stop shops for Soldiers to unburden themselves of excess equipment. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kelvin Ringold)

The site at Fort Stewart recently worked with a brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division on a “rather large fielding” of tanks and Bradley Fighting vehicles, Mohan said. The MDRS blocked off time and space for the unit to come to the yard and transfer their old equipment. Mohan said the unit’s leadership signed an operations order and treated it as such.

“That was kind of like a rehearsal for ReARMM for us. We’re going to be doing that across the Army,” Mohan said.

The process works like this: Army Materiel Command has a computer system that identifies excess equipment inside units and produces recommendations for where it can be moved. Army Sustainment Command will then ask the unit to validate that it can lose the identified legacy equipment and will then direct the movement of that equipment to an MDRS.

After the first year of operation, Mohan said one primary lesson is that the service must ensure that the sites have adequate capacity to handle the amount of equipment each will process during the upcoming year. He added that ASC also needs to fully understand how long the process actually takes, from first identification of excess equipment to processing it out of the site.

The most important aspect, Mohan said, is that commanders prioritize taking their units to an MDRS yard.

“The most important thing is it is absolutely essential that we’re in the back pocket of the installation commander or the division commander, because they have to carve out and make it a priority for the units so that the units can get turned in,” Mohan said.

To ensure modernization cycles are efficient and effective, Mohan said that division commanders have stressed to him the importance of having established processes in place. He said the MDRS efforts target fiscal 2023 as the year they need to fully be prepared, the same year McConville said many Army modernization prototypes hit the street.

As the MDRS effort matures, Mohan said the goal is to move from concentrating on one type of equipment at a time, like a JLTV or M-9, to focus on clearing a whole unit of their excess equipment at a time.

“As we get better at this and we get further along, what we’ll be able to do is … stop focusing on pieces of equipment, but [focusing] with units and say, ‘Okay, this unit is going into their modernization cycle.’ We will have set the conditions so that we can do it en masse.”

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A Northern California family who died while hiking was killed by heat exposure : NPR

A helicopter hovers over a remote area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 18. According to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, the area is reported to be where a family and their dog were found dead.

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A helicopter hovers over a remote area northeast of the town of Mariposa, Calif., on Wednesday, Aug. 18. According to the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, the area is reported to be where a family and their dog were found dead.

Craig Kohlruss/AP

A Northern California family found mysteriously dead in August on a hiking trail in the Sierra most likely died from a combination of hyperthermia and dehydration, the local Sheriff who led the investigation said Thursday.

The news sheds light on a case that has confounded investigators and the public and raised new questions about outdoor recreational activities in an era of rising temperatures and climate fueled extreme weather.

“This is a real tragedy,” Mariposa County Sheriff-Coroner Jeremy Briese said Thursday at a press conference. “An unfortunate and tragic event due to the weather.”

The married couple, Jonathan Gerrish and Ellen Chung, along with their 1-year-old daughter, Miju, and the family dog, Oski, were all found dead, inexplicably, on Aug. 17 on a steep switchback trail roughly 1.5 miles from where they parked their car. The family had hiked along the Hites Cove Trail in the Sierra National Forest near the Merced River. They were reported missing by friends.

Officials were baffled for weeks as to what killed the family

It was extremely hot that day with local temperatures reaching around 107 to 109 degrees, investigators say. The hiking trail included steep and semi-difficult terrain. Briese said that the family had an 85-ounce water bladder backpack along with snacks and a bottle that contained baby formula. The water bladder was empty when the bodies were found, he said.

It’s a rare event that may get more routine, experts warn, given rising temperatures from human-caused climate change. Several Western states reported record heat this summer. Record-breaking “heat domes” hit Oregon and Washington killing at least 100 people, but likely far more. In Portland, Ore. temperatures reached 108, 112 and 116 degrees over three consecutive days in June.

Hyperthermia, often called “heat stroke,” results from an abnormally high body temperature usually to exposure and over-exertion. The body is unable to regulate its temperature and cool down. In some cases it can damage a person’s heart, brain, lungs and other vital organs and prompt injury or death.

For weeks police and national forest investigators were baffled as to what killed the family. They had explored and ruled out a range of possibilities, including lightning strikes, potentially toxic gases from abandoned mines, suicide, weapons and foul play.

Friends say the couple, recent transplants from San Francisco to the former Gold Rush town of Mariposa in the western Sierra foothills, were relatively experienced hikers out on a day trip with their infant and dog.

A leading theory, previously, was that exposure to water contaminated with toxic algae blooms may have been a major factor. Water not far from the trail later tested positive for toxic algae including anatoxin-a, also known as Very Fast Death Factor (VFDF).

The deaths have caused “indescribable pain”

Briese addressed that Thursday.

“We do not have any evidence indicating that Jonathan, Ellen or Miju ingested any of that water,” he said. “And we also know that there has not been any reported deaths of humans connected to Anatoxin-a.”

The sheriff said toxicology and coroner reports support his investigative findings that the family of three died from heat-related stress. The dog’s cause of death was not determined, though Briese said he suspects heat was also the leading factor.

In the statement read by a sheriff’s deputy, family and friends said the deaths have caused “indescribable pain.”

“Our hearts will never forget the beautiful lives of Jonathan, Ellen, Miju and of course, Oski,” the statement said. “They will remain with us wherever we go and in whatever we do. In the future, when we sit beneath the trees listening to the wind soaring through the branches, we will hear them and we will remember.”

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Austrian Company Unveils ‘AK-47-Proof’ Helmet

Austrian helmet manufacturer Ulbrichts has unveiled its latest rifle helmet, claiming that it shields against Kalashnikov and AR-15 rounds.

The Schwanenstadt-based company claims that the VPAM 6 standard helmet not only halts the full speed 7.62×39 MSC (mild steel core) and NATO caliber 7.62×51 NATO (M80) (NIJ III) bullets but also prevents backface deformation — the indent that a bullet makes in back of the helmet after striking it — causing skull and brain damage.

Ulbrichts claims that the titanium-composite helmet restricts the residual energy released upon a bullet impact from more than 2,000 joules to well below the survivable 25 joules. The helmet weighs 500 grams.

A ZENTURIO C1300 Special task force helmet. Image: Ulbrichts

Forehead Shield, Visor

“Tests according to MIL-STD (military standard) at a certified US NIJ (National Institute of Justice) and MIL laboratory show that the average value of backface deformation hit by a Kalashnikov steel core round is lower than 10mm, while most other helmets can not manage comparable values against 9mm handgun ammunition,” the company revealed on its website.

“Furthermore, the residual kinetic energy of this system is far below 25 Joules when hit by the Kalashnikov 7.62x39mm MSC.”

In February, the company unveiled its modular VPAM 6 forehead shield ‘FORTIS’ and the VPAM-6 visor for extra protection. The company is pitching the helmets for first responders, law enforcement, and special service officers. The standalone VPAM 6 helmet will be available from next year. 

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What Is The King Stallion, The Marine Corps’ Heavy-Lift Helo? – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

A Marine Corps CH-53K King Stallion lifts a Navy MH-60S Knighthawk Helicopter from a draw in Mount Hogue, California, Sept. 5, 2021. The Knighthawk conducted a hard landing during a search-and-rescue mission, which resulted in no casualties or injuries of its crew. The two day operation was the first official fleet mission for the CH-53K King Stallion, as it is currently undergoing an operational assessment while the Marine Corps modernizes and prepares to respond globally to emerging crises or contingencies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Therese Edwards)

WASHINGTON: The Marine Corps’ heavy-lift helicopter program has been through its share of ups and downs in recent years, from several negative testing reports to multiple scheduling delays. But last month, it scored a major win when the squadron tasked with putting the aircraft through its paces, VMX-1, used it for a real-world operational mission.

The mission itself was straightforward: Retrieve a downed MH-60S helicopter that suffered a hard landing in the White Mountain Range, a few hundred miles north of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.

What made the mission’s success noteworthy though is that the CH-53K is still in initial operational test and evaluation — in other words, the service is still evaluating the aircraft to make sure it’s fit for purpose before green-lighting it for widespread use.

“This lift was made possible by planners at all levels in VMX-1, 1st Landing Support Battalion (LSB), NAS Fallon Maintenance and their Search and Rescue Team, as well as PMA-261,” Col. Byron Sullivan, the commanding officer of VMX-1, said in an Oct. 12 service statement.

After its success during the unexpected September operation, Breaking Defense thought the CH-53K King Stallion, along with some of its developmental issues, was worth a closer look.

A Sikorsky CH-53 King Stallion flies at the ILA Berlin Air Show on April 25, 2018 in Schoenefeld, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Designed and built by Sikorsky, the rotorcraft-focused Lockheed Martin subsidiary, the King Stallion is the Marine Corps’ program of record for a new heavy-lift helicopter that can carry up to 27,000 pounds, a major upgrade from the legacy CH-53E Super Stallion.

Its purpose and importance to the Marine Corps is simple: It’s designed to transport anything and everything where ever it needs to go, whether it be weapons, equipment, supplies, troops or — in the September case — a damaged aircraft in need of recovery.

“The CH-53K is a new-build, fly-by-wire, dual-piloted, three-engine, heavy-lift helicopter… [capable of traveling] over a distance of up to 110 nautical miles, climbing from sea level at 103 degrees Fahrenheit to 3,000 feet above mean sea level at 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester.

The Marine Corps plans on buying approximately 200 operational aircraft as well as a handful of test articles. According to the service’s latest budget documents, the Pentagon has spent $1.2 billion in past years developing the King Stallion and is seeking another $256 million in the fiscal year 2022 budget request.

Additionally, Sikorsky says it plans to produce at least another 100 CH-53Ks for international sales. The State Department in July cleared at least 18 of those to go to Israel, and Germany is actively considering buying 40 for its replacement program. Sikorsky’s president, Paul Lemmo, said the company is in active discussion with at least three other unnamed nations as potential customers.

“Any other heavy-lift helicopter in the US inventory — that includes the [Boeing CH-47] Chinook — you’d have to break that helicopter apart to get it out,” Lemmo told a group of reporters about the September mission last week during the annual Association of the United States (AUSA) exposition.

But both the service and company have been fighting headwinds since 2018 when the first aircraft was delivered. The Marine Corps originally planned on the King Stallion getting its initial green light for fielding in December 2019. Now, almost two years on from that date, and the service is still working through the final hurdles before reaching what the Pentagon calls “initial operational capability.”

Pentagon testing reports discuss issues such as some materials delaminating during flight, and dampers, a part of the aircraft designed to reduce vibration, experiencing “load spikes” due to certain design characteristics. Other issues have also arisen from the wheel brakes’ design and problems in the flight control software that could have led to pilots losing control.

One issue that got a lot of attention in late 2019 was the helicopter’s engine re-ingesting its own exhaust, a problem the Navy considered a “significant technical deficiency.”

To Sikorsky and the Marine Corps’ credit, these issues have been resolved, according to the testing reports, but they illustrate why the King Stallion remains in a developmental phase two years past the original plan.

Lemmo, Sikorsky’s chief, told reporters the CH-53K is the first aircraft that was “born in a digital environment” and that has gone a long way to improving the learning curves in production. He said improvements in production that the company would normally see by the 100th aircraft are now understood by the 20th.

Lemmo also said the advances in digital modeling helped them solve the engine re-ingestion issues much quicker than they otherwise would have.

Sikorsky currently holds a Pentagon contract for performance-based logistics for the Navy’s CH-53E fleet, which has them providing the Navy’s maintenance centers certain data analytics and aircraft components. A company spokeswoman told Breaking Defense this week that Sikorsky anticipates in 2023 the Pentagon will renew that contract and begin similar support for CH-53K, which last up to seven years.

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Louisiana man, in prison on a Jim Crow conviction, gets a new hearing

NPR’s Steve Inskeep talks to reporter Natasha Del Toro about her Al-Jazeera documentary exploring the case of Brandon Jackson, who was sentenced to life in prison on a non-unanimous verdict.

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China ‘Not An Olympian Power’: Presumptive China Ambassador ‘Confident’ In US – Breaking Defense Breaking Defense

Nicholas Burns, career US diplomat and professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, testifies before the Senate Select Intelligence Committee in 2017. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON: In a distinct break with past rhetoric about China, the presumptive ambassador told Congress today that China is “not an Olympian power” and faces “substantial challenges.”

Nicholas Burns, one of America’s most respected career diplomats, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today that while Beijing claims the East is rising and the West is in decline, he’s “confident we can prove them wrong.”

Senatorial rhetoric about the latest version of the Middle Kingdom at the nomination hearing was vigorous but prudent. There was much talk of “strategic competition,” especially in the realms of advanced technology, biology, trade and national security.

“There should be little doubt that the right basic framework for thinking about our relationship with China today is strategic competition,” Chairman Bob Menendez told Burns. “Not because that is necessarily what we want, but because of the choices Beijing is making.”

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, (L) speaks to Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing during a meeting at the Diaoyutai government guest house on November 2006 in Beijing. (Photo by Elizabeth Dalziel-Pool/Getty Images)

On the crucial issue of nuclear weapons, Burns, clearly reflecting the Biden administration’s thinking, told senators that China is “blasting past” its decades-old commitment to a minimum nuclear force as “they’re rapidly” building up their nuclear arsenal.

Republicans on the committee kept pointing to a recent report in the Financial Times that China had tested a Fractional Orbital Bombardment system with a hypersonic glide vehicle. Earlier, Breaking Defense had reported startling comments by Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall about the Chinese having such a capability.

RELATED: After China’s ‘Hypersonic’ Test, US Alarm And Many Unanswered Questions

Today, the test appeared to be confirmed by the committee’s ranking member, Jim Risch, who also criticized the Biden administration’s reaction to the test and to the large number of recent PLA flights into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone.

“We have also seen a lot of unclear messaging, including recent allusions to a Taiwan agreement. And despite China’s massive and unconstrained nuclear build-up, the administration is considering a sole purpose nuclear declaratory policy that would put US allies at immense risk and shake confidence in US deterrence commitments,” Risch said. “This issue is even more important given China’s test this past weekend of a Fractional Orbital Bombardment system carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle. Such a system would allow the PRC to completely circumvent US early warning capabilities and increase the vulnerability of the continental US to a nuclear attack.”

Risch was presumably referring to the FT report that was published over the weekend, but said the test actually took place in August. The ranking Republican told Burns he looks “forward to hearing how you plan to address all of these challenges and to help us win this competition.”

Elsewhere today President Joe Biden was asked if he was concerned about Chinese hypersonic missiles, to which the president said, “Yes.”

Back in the hearing, Sen. Ted Cruz, another GOP member of the committee, said helping Taiwan defend itself against “a serious Chinese military incursion” would be “one of the most important steps we can and should take” on Capitol Hill. Cruz plans to introduce what he called the Taiwan Arms Act, designed to raise Taiwan’s status for arms sales “to that of our closest allies and partners.”

One of the most challenging diplomatic and public challenges the US will face is China’s increasing use of prescriptive challenges to US allies. They first rolled them out most publicly in Australia, where the Chinese used Australian TV News Channel 9 in November last year to leak what have become known as the 14 Grievances.

“At the top of the list are decisions to ban Huawei from the rollout of the 5G network, foreign interference laws, and calling for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19,” the channel reported at the time. “One official said to 9News, ‘Why should China care about Australia?’”

The American equivalent are the Two Lists, which Risch mentioned. “China has said it won’t work with us on anything until the United States gives in to the demands of its Two Lists. You and I discussed those lists yesterday, and some here hope to be able to see those lists,” Risch told Burns.

They were first presented to Beijing presented to Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in July. They include demands that the U.S. must not criticize China’s domestic system or its policies toward Hong Kong and Taiwan. It also requires that all US sanctions and export restrictions be lifted.

Burns did not sound as if US policy would be to meekly face the rising hegemony and agree to the demands.

“Finally, and crucially, we will challenge Beijing, where we must, including when it takes actions that run counter to American values, and American interests and actions that might threaten the security of the United States, or allies and partners or undermine the rules-based international order,” Burns told the committee. “The PRC seeks to become the most powerful country economically, politically, and militarily in the Indo-Pacific. We have to stand with our allies and our friends to uphold a free and open Indo-Pacific, including by maintaining America’s commercial and military superiority in 21st century technologies.

“We also have to hold the PRC accountable for failing to play by the rules on trade and investment, including its theft of intellectual property, use of state subsidies, dumping of goods and unfair labor practice practices. These hurt American workers, and they hurt American businesses,” he said.

Burns then ticked off where China has confronted allies and partners, from India to Vietnam, the Philippines and others in the South China Sea, against Japan in the East China Sea and Australia.

China is “a country of extraordinary strength, but it also has substantial weaknesses and challenges — demographically, economically, politically,” Burns said. “We should have confidence in our strengths, American strengths; confidence in our business community, in our innovation community, in our universities; in our ability to attract the best students from around the world; confidence in our unmatched military, in our first rate Foreign Service, and civil service; confidence in our values that stand in brilliant opposition to China’s authoritarian regime. We will succeed.”

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Defense News

A salmonella outbreak is linked to onions from Mexico sold in the U.S. : NPR

A salmonella outbreak impacting more than 30 states and sickening over 600 people in the U.S. is being linked to onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico.


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A salmonella outbreak impacting more than 30 states and sickening over 600 people in the U.S. is being linked to onions imported from Chihuahua, Mexico.


Check your onions now: A salmonella outbreak impacting 37 states and sickening over 600 people in the U.S. is being linked to certain imported onions.

A warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says fresh whole red, white and yellow onions from Chihuahua, Mexico, were distributed to grocery stores and restaurants across the U.S. by ProSource Inc. They should be discarded.

Officials also urge consumers not to buy any whole red, white or yellow onions without stickers or packaging that show where they’re from, and to throw away any such onions that are already in the home.

Salmonella traced to onions has sent 129 people to the hospital, the CDC says.

Federal health investigators are working to determine if any additional onions and suppliers are linked to the outbreak.

The onions were last imported on Aug. 27. However, officials say they can last in storage for up to three months.

The CDC also advises that surfaces and containers that have been in contact with the onions should be washed with hot, soapy water or in a dishwasher.

Most people infected with salmonella can experience diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps, according to the CDC. Symptoms usually start six hours to six days after they eat the affected foods.

Health officials say most people recover without treatment after four to seven days.

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Defense News

Hyundai Unveils Army Robot With Both Legs and Wheels

South Korean Hyundai Rotem unveiled its leg-wheel military robot during the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition (ADEX) 2021.

Dubbed the DOSS (daring operations in service and search), the ultimate mobility vehicle has wheels for flat terrain and nimble legs that allow the robot to walk on uneven terrain such as boulders and narrow mountain trails.

Using its sophisticated leg-and-wheel locomotion, the robot can perform a variety of missions, including surveillance, reconnaissance, and transportation of goods and injured soldiers.

According to Hyundai, DOSS is “the world’s first transformable future ground platform that combines intelligent robot technology and wheels to freely move on rough terrain where off-road vehicles cannot go.”

Other High-Tech Military Robots

In February, Hyundai unveiled its TIGER X-1 mobility vehicle equipped with a loading box capable of carrying people and products weighing over 200 kilograms (440 pounds).

The high-tech vehicle also has a remote-controlled weapon station and is capable of connecting to drones. It can also recharge its battery pack while delivering goods or retrieving equipment.

TIGER army robot
Hyundai’s TIGER (transforming intelligent ground excursion robot) can be used both in flat terrain and uneven terrain. Photo: Hyundai’s New Horizons Studio

“We’ve been focusing more on the technology capabilities of TIGER X-1, and in future versions we’re going to be working to increase the size and payload capacity,” Hyundai official, Dr. John Suh, said in February. “At the same time, we had to garner some insights from our future customers about what they need in terms of size and capability.”

Meanwhile, American engineering firm Boston Dynamics has developed a four-legged robot called “Spot” capable of surveilling the surroundings and mapping its environment.

With a 3D vision system, the autonomous robot can also sense and avoid obstacles, climb stairs, and open doors. It can handle up to 14 kilograms (30 pounds) of payloads.

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