Airbus launches new U.S. Space and Defense company

Airbus has established an independent company structured specifically to do business with the U.S. government, based partially on the success of offering commercial helicopters to the U.S. Army for training and utility missions.

Announced July 15, Airbus U.S. Space & Defense will operate under a Special Security Agreement (SSA) with the U.S. government that will allow the independent entity to offer commercial products and services directly to military customers. CEO Chris Emerson, formerly president of Airbus Helicopters, says the move was based on the success of building the UH-72 Lakota — based on the commercial H145 — for the U.S. Army.

Chris Emerson serves as chief executive officer and chairman of the board for Airbus U.S. Space & Defense. Airbus Photo
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“We’re delivering to them off a commercial line,” Emerson said of the Lakota during a July 15 conference call with reporters to announce the new venture. “In Columbus, Mississippi, we built Army helicopters and H125s right in the same building, right across the aisle from each other. Employees can cross and work on commercial one day, [and] military another day. That really lowers the cost and makes a cost-competitive offering for the Army. We don’t want to impact that, so we’ll continue to rely on the commercial industrial base, but the modification, support, [and] the contracting will all be done by Airbus U.S.”

The new organization plans to use the Lakota business model as a template for offering capabilities in low-cost satellite design and manufacturing, space exploration, geospatial intelligence, space-based sensors and equipment, secure communications and High Altitude Pseudo-Satellite technology.

“As we looked at the future and we looked at the requirements as they were growing with the National Guard and the Army, we couldnt meet those requirements not being under this trusted foundation of an SSA,” Emerson said. “In discussions with Airbus and our commitment to the Army, we made a decision that I would move into the SSA company. I would pull with me the rest of the Airbus business, the non-helicopter business … and take with me the military helicopters part.”

Scott Tumpak, currently vice president of military programs for Airbus Helicopters, and his team will move under the Airbus U.S. umbrella sometime this summer.

The UH-72A Lakota is a derivative of the EC145 twin-engine rotorcraft, and is operated by U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and other various military units worldwide. Airbus Photo

Based on recent U.S. government funding for the Airbus OneWeb Satellites venture to manufacture small satellites in mass quantities, Emerson also wants to position the new business to meet the growing demands of the U.S. space market, blending Airbus’s expertise in space systems and exploration with commercial investments.

“We also will have access to all our global business units around the world and all of their products and services, not to mention the billions in self-funded R&D that Airbus invests every year,” he added. “By tapping into commercial innovations that are ready now, we can get products and services to [the government] today at high quality and a very affordable price because we have already developed and are mass producing much of that in the marketplace.”

Operating under the SSA with the U.S. government allows the new Airbus U.S. Space & Defense to deliver products and services that support highly sensitive national security and defense requirements. All of Airbus’s existing government contracts like the UH-72 and all other Airbus Helicopters U.S. military work will now fall under the new entity, Emerson said.

The company has current contracts with NASA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), and all of the service branches of the U.S. military.

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“Because Airbus is based in Europe, in order for us to establish the trust and bona fides to be able to work at every security with the U.S. government, we needed to set up an independent board of directors that is independent of Airbus,” Emerson said. He has assembled an almost entirely new leadership team, including industry veterans and current U.S. Airbus executives.

The new Independent board of directors includes:

  • Letitia Long – former director of the NGA
  • Frank Miller – former Department of Defense (DOD) senior executive
    and special assistant to President George W. Bush
  • Retired General William L. Shelton, U.S. Air Force – former commander of the Air Force
    Space Command
  • Mark Sirangelo – scholar in residence at the University of Colorado, member of the Department of Defense Defense Innovation Board and previous head of Sierra Nevada Space Systems
  • Retired Rear Admiral Kevin Sweeney, U.S. Navy – former chief of staff to the Secretary
    of Defense

A separate board of advisors also was established that includes:

  • The Honorable Michael J. Bayer – president of Dumbarton Strategies and chairman
    of the Defense Business Board
  • Robert Cardillo – former director of the NGA
  • Robert B. Charles – former assistant U.S. secretary of state
  • Retired General Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army – former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army
  • Kathryn A. Condon – former Defense Department senior executive
  • Retired Brigadier General Stephen D. Mundt – former director of Army Aviation
  • Retired Vice Admiral James M. Zortman, U.S. Navy – former commander of U.S. Naval
    Air Forces (NAVAIR)

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