Apr 29, 2016 00:45 UTC
Airbus has reported further delays to the development
of the A400M
with the latest issue involving the engine gearbox of the military transport plane. In a statement following the the first-quarter financial results by chief financial officer Harald Wilhelm, he warned of “serious challenges for production and customer deliveries” of the A400M this year. Negotiations on a new delivery schedule
are being held through OCCAR, the European procurement agency.
A400M rollout, Seville
Airbus’ A400M is a EUR 20+ billion program that aims to repeat Airbus’ civilian successes in the full size military transport market. A series of smart design decisions were made around capacity (35-37 tonnes/ 38-40 US tons, large enough for survivable armored vehicles), extensive use of modern materials, multi-role capability as a refueling tanker, and a multinational industrial program; all of which leave the aircraft well positioned to take overall market share from Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules. If the USA’s C-17 is allowed to go out of production, the A400M would also have a strong position in the strategic transport market, with only Russian AN-70, IL-76 and AN-124 aircraft as competition.
Airbus’ biggest program issue, by far, has been funding for a project that is more than EUR 7 billion over budget. The next biggest issue is timing, as a combination of A400M delays and Lockheed’s strong push for its C-130J Super Hercules narrow the field for future exports. This DID Spotlight article covers the latest developments, as the A400M Atlas moves into the delivery phase. Will Airbus’ 3rd big issue become its own customers?
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Apr 29, 2016 00:35 UTC
Latest updates[?]: April 29/16: Legislation being considered by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) could see the last external link of the USAF’s F-117A Nighthawk fleet sent to the scrap yard. Retired since 2007, a fleet of the pioneering stealth aircraft have been kept in special climate controlled storage hangers in the event they were ever needed again. Now, Congress is considering removing those mothballed aircraft and having them scrapped and gutted for hard-to-find parts.
KC-135: Old as the hills…
DID’s FOCUS articles cover major weapons acquisition programs – and no program is more important to the USAF than its aerial tanker fleet renewal. In January 2007, the big question was whether there would be a competition for the USA’s KC-X proposal, covering 175 production aircraft and 4 test platforms. The total cost is now estimated at $52 billion, but America’s aerial tanker fleet demands new planes to replace its KC-135s, whose most recent new delivery was in 1965. Otherwise, unpredictable age or fatigue issues, like the ones that grounded its F-15A-D fighters in 2008, could ground its aerial tankers – and with them, a substantial slice of the USA’s total airpower.
KC-Y and KC-Z buys are supposed to follow in subsequent decades, in order to replace 530 (195 active; ANG 251; Reserve 84) active tankers, as well as the USAF’s 59 heavy KC-10 tankers that were delivered from 1979-1987. Then again, fiscal and demographic realities may mean that the 179 plane KC-X buy is “it” for the USAF. Either way, the KC-X stakes were huge for all concerned.
In the end, it was Team Boeing’s KC-767 NexGen/ KC-46A (767 derivative) vs. EADS North America’s KC-45A (Airbus KC-30/A330-200 derivative), both within the Pentagon and in the halls of Congress. The financial and employment stakes guaranteed a huge political fight no matter which side won. After Airbus won in 2008, that fight ended up sinking and restarting the entire program. Three years later, Boeing won the recompete. Now, they have to deliver their KC-46A.
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Apr 25, 2016 00:50 UTC
The USMC has borrowed
a number of MQ-8C Fire Scouts
from the US Navy to test how they could be operated from the amphibious assault ships. It is believed that they may want a Group 4 or 5 unmanned aerial system (UAS), which are larger and have longer range and endurance, and that are capable of conducting ISR and fires missions. At present the RQ-21 Blackjack is operated from the corps ships, but that system, a smaller Group 3 system, is launched from a small catapult and recovered by hooking onto a tether, all of which limit the payloads that can be put on the aircraft.
MQ-8B Fire Scout
A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.
The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.
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Apr 21, 2016 00:40 UTC
A study has been ordered
by US Lawmakers into potentially restarting
the F-22 Raptor
production line. It's been nearly six years since Lockheed Martin ceased manufacturing the jet; however, due to the growing perception that the US military is losing its technological edge to adversaries like Russia and China, Congress has expressed keen interest throughout this year’s budget season in restarting the line. Only 187 jets were ever produced, falling short of the initial production aims of 749.
Into that good night
The 5th-generation F-22A Raptor fighter program has been the subject of fierce controversy, with advocates and detractors aplenty. On the one hand, the aircraft offers full stealth, revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, dual air-air and air-ground SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) excellence, the ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability… and a ridiculously lopsided kill record in exercises against the best American fighters. On the other hand, critics charged that it was too expensive, too limited, and cripples the USAF’s overall force structure.
Meanwhile, close American allies like Australia, Japan and Israel, and other allies like Korea, were pressing the USA to abandon its “no export” policy. Most already fly F-15s, but several were interested in an export version of the F-22 in order to help them deal with advanced – and advancing – Russian-designed aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems. That would have broadened the F-22 fleet in several important ways, but the US political system would not or could not respond.
This DID FOCUS Article tracks continuing maintenance and fleet upgrade programs, contracts, and timely news. A separate public-access feature offers a profile of the USAF’s most advanced fighter, and covers both sides of the F-22 Raptor program’s controversies.
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Apr 18, 2016 00:50 UTC
The US Navy has awarded BAE Systems a $22 million contract
to produce Archerfish mine neutralizers. Flown on board the MH-60S, Archerfish is a remotely-controlled underwater vehicle equipped with an explosive warhead to destroy sea mines. Deliveries of the systems are expected to begin in September 2017. The contract also includes further options which, if exercised by the DoD, could bring the total value to over $55.3 million.
USN Heli Plan
The US Army’s UH-60 Black Hawks have always had a naval counterpart. SH-60B/F Seahawk/ LAMPS helicopters were outfitted with maritime radar, sonobuoys, and other specialized equipment that let them perform a wide variety of roles, from supply and transport, to anti-submarine warfare, search and rescue, medical evacuation, and even surface attack with torpedoes or Kongsberg’s AGM-119 Penguin missiles. Like their land-based counterparts, however, the Seahawks are getting older. The Reagan defense build-up is receding into history, and its products are wearing out.
European countries chose to build new designs like the medium-heavy EH101 and the NH90 medium helicopter. They’re larger than the H-60s, make heavy use of corrosion-proof composites, and add new features like rear ramps. The USA, in contrast, decided to upgrade existing H-60 designs for the Army and Navy. Hence the MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopter (aka. “Romeo”) and MH-60S (aka. “Sierra”) Seahawks. MH-60Rs and MH-60Ss will eventually replace all SH-60B/F & HH-60H Seahawks, HH-1N Hueys, UH-3H Sea Kings, and CH-46D Sea Knight helicopters currently in the US Navy’s inventory. Both programs are underway, and will be covered in this DID FOCUS Article.
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Mar 30, 2016 00:30 UTC
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has published its annual report
on the the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS
) program, as authorized by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014. By analyzing the DOD budget for FY 2017 and speaking to program officials, the GAO found that the U.S. Navy has begun to develop modifications to existing shipboard systems to support the UCLASS’ latest iteration – Carrier Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS). As with the UCLASS program, CBARS will include an air system segment, an aircraft carrier segment, and a control system and connectivity segment.
UCAS-D/ N-UCAS concept
The idea of UAVs with full stealth and combat capabilities has come a long way, quickly. Air forces around the world are pursuing R&D programs, but in the USA, progress is being led by the US Navy.
Their interest is well-founded. A May 2007 non-partisan report discussed the lengthening reach of ship-killers. Meanwhile, the US Navy’s carrier fleet sees its strike range shrinking to 1950s distances, and prepares for a future with fewer carrier air wings than operational carriers. Could UCAV/UCAS vehicles with longer ranges, and indefinite flight time limits via aerial refueling, solve these problems? Some people in the Navy seem to think that they might. Hence UCAS-D/ N-UCAS, which received a major push in the FY 2010 defense review. Now, Northrop Grumman is improving its X-47 UCAS-D under contract, even as emerging privately-developed options expand the Navy’s future choices as it works on its new RFP.
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