Feb 27, 2017 00:48 UTC
After 21 years of service, the MQ-1 Predator
UAV will be retired in 2018
. The USAF will instead opt for a full MQ-9 Reaper
fleet citing better equipment and overall operational capabilities such as bigger payloads, higher flight ceilings, and top speeds. As a result, the USAF will no longer have to maintain a training pipeline or equipment on two separate aircraft, which eliminates the cost of operating two different airframes. Speaking on the Reaper, 432nd Operations Group commander Col. Joseph said in a statement "I think when we look at the legacy of the MQ-1 we're going to be scratching our heads wondering how we did so much with so little."
Its initial battles were fought within the Pentagon, but the US Army’s high-end UAV has made its transition to the battlefield.
The ER/MP program was part of the US Army’s reinvestment of dollars from the canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program, and directly supports the Army’s Aviation Modernization Plan. The US Air Force saw this Predator derivative as a threat and tried to destroy it, but the program survived the first big “Key West” battle of the 21st century. Now, the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” is in production as the US Army’s high-end UAV. As CENTCOM’s wars end, however, the Gray Eagle may find that staying in the fleet is as hard as getting there.
This FOCUS article offers a program history, key statistics and budget figures, and ongoing coverage of the program’s contracts and milestones.
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Feb 27, 2017 00:46 UTC
Airbus has announced that there have been no signs of further cracks or damage
in the combustion chambers of A400M
transport aircraft. Safety regulators from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had to conduct investigations and safety checks into all aircraft after unexplained cracks were discovered in the combustion chamber of an A400M engine owned by Malaysia last year. The EASA airworthiness directive called for inspections of all engines similar to the Malaysian one, and follow-on checks after 500 hours, and then every 250 hours after that. Airbus has also called for fresh talks
with European defense ministers in order to discuss the latest issues concerning the transporter and to agree on future steps to ensure the best interests of the program.
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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Feb 24, 2017 00:59 UTC
Boeing is taking some suppliers to court
after they sold mislabeled chemicals that caused the maiden flight of the KC-46
tanker to be delayed by a month. Able Aerospace Adhesives and AlfaKleen Chemical Labs, both from California, are being sued in the sum of $10 million or more for the mix up, whose incorrect chemical damaged components in the jet’s refueling system, and time was lost by Boeing in order to to replace those damaged parts. The liquid provided was certified to meet MIL-PRF-680 Type III certification; it was, however, actually more acidic than required.
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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Feb 23, 2017 00:29 UTC
The Portuguese government is considering the procurement
of Embraer KC-390
transport aircraft as a replacement for their fleet of C-130s. While no formal order is in place as of yet, the plan is to acquire up to six KC-390s to progressively replace the C-130 to conduct troop and cargo transport, firefighting, and air-to-air refuelling missions in the Portuguese Air Force. Several Portuguese companies, including OGMA-Indústria Aeronáutica de Portugal (partially owned by Embraer), Embraer Metálicas, Embraer Compósitos, and CEiiA, are participants in Embraer's KC-390 program.
KC-390 refuels AMXs
Global competition in the 20-ton air transport segment continues to intensify, with Brazil’s launch of its KC-390 program. Embraer figures reportedly place the global C-130 replacement market at around 700 aircraft. In response, it will develop a jet-powered rival to compete with Lockheed Martin’s C-130J, the larger Airbus A400M, Russia’s AN-12 and its Chinese copy the Yun-8/9, and the bi-national Irkut/HAL MRTA project. Smaller aircraft like the EADS-CASA C-295M, and Alenia’s C-27J, represent indirect competition.
Embraer is extending its efforts and markets by crafting a jet-powered medium transport with a cargo capacity of around 23 tons, that can be refueled in the air, and can provide refueling services to other aircraft by adding dedicated pods. The KC-390 has now become a multinational program, and may be shaping up as the C-130’s most formidable future competitor. A tie-up with Boeing underscores the seriousness of Embraer’s effort, which is now a production program…
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Feb 23, 2017 00:28 UTC
The Amphibious Combat Vehicle 1.1 by Science Applications International Corporation and BAE Systems for the USMC has been unveiled for the first time
. Developed to replace an aging fleet of amphibious assault vehicles, the Marines will receive a total of 16 vehicles with deliveries to commence in March. The earlier stages of the ACV 1.1 production effort were stalled by a contract protest by General Dynamics after the company was defeated in the Marine Corps' bidding process.
AAAV/ EFV, swim mode
The US Marine Corps’ AAVP7 Amtracs have been their primary ship to shore amphibious armored personnel carrier for a long time; the AAV7A1 was initially fielded in 1972, and underwent a major service life extension program and product improvement program from 1983-1993. The Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle was the USMC’s plan to replace the aging AMTRACS (lit. AMphibious TRACtorS), which saw extensive service deep inland during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The personnel version of the new EFVs would carry a crew of 3, plus a reinforced rifle squad of 17 combat-loaded Marines. A high-tech weapons station would provide firepower, via a stabilized ATK 30mm MK 44 Bushmaster cannon with advanced sights to replace the AAV’s unstabilized .50 caliber machine gun. A command variant would carry an array of communications and computer systems and staff personnel. The EFV remained the U.S. Marine Corps’ top land acquisition priority, even as its price tag and development issues cut its buy sharply. Push finally came to shove in 2010, however, as the USMC realized that it simply couldn’t afford the vehicle, or its performance.
That begat a new program called the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), designed to be a more realistic version of the EFV. A Marines version designed for only light water use was called the MPC, which was iced in June 2013. That program was resurrected under increased capabilities pressures as the APC 1.1, which had its coming out party during an industry day in July 2014. A draft RFP was released in November, with hopes that a final RFP would be issued in spring 2015.
$105.7 million was requested for ACV 1.1 research, testing and evaluation.
The APC 1.1 has been examined by the Congressional Research Service, producing this report, which – in a nutshell – says that the program has a few issues, the primary one being the strategic lack of “connectors” allowing equipment onshore. Current options (LCAC, JHSV and LCU 1600) are relatively unprotected.
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Feb 22, 2017 00:55 UTC
The UAE will become the first Middle East operator
of Raytheon's RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM
) Block 2 close-in weapon system. While the number of systems ordered remains unknown, the systems will be installed on the Emirate's Baynunah-class
corvettes, of which six vessels will be manufactured. Improvements made on the system's predecessor include kinematic and sensor upgrades to expand the missile's engagement envelope in order to defeat more maneuverable and higher speed anti-ship cruise missiles. Furthermore, the Block 2 upgrade significantly expands the missile's effective engagement envelope by introducing a larger dual-thrust rocket motor and independent four-canard control actuator system to increase effective range by about 50% and deliver a three-fold improvement in maneuverability.
Mk-44 firing RAM
The Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) MK-31 guided missile weapon system is co-developed and co-produced under a NATO cooperative program between the United States and German governments to provide a small, all-weather, low-cost self-defense system against aircraft and cruise missiles. The RIM-116 was later called RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile), because it spins during flight. To save costs, Designation Systems notes that the RAM was designed to use several existing components, including the rocket motor of the MIM-72 Chaparral, the warhead of the AIM-9 Sidewinder, and the Infrared seeker of the FIM-92 Stinger. Cueing is provided by the ship’s radar, or by its ESM signal tracing suite.
RAM is currently installed, or planned for installation, on 78 U.S. Navy and 30 German Navy ships, including American LSD, LHD, LPD and CVN ship types. This number will grow as vessels of the LPD-17 San Antonio Class and Littoral Combat Ships enter the US Navy, and the LCS will sport an upgraded SeaRAM system that will include its own integrated radar and IR sensors. Abroad, the South Korean Navy has adopted RAM for its KDX-II and KDX-III destroyers, and its LPX Dokdo Class amphibious assault ships; other navies using or buying RAM include Egypt, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and the UAE/Dubai.
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Feb 21, 2017 00:55 UTC
The state-owned manufacturer Russian Helicopters has said that they will commence deliveries
of the KA-226T
helicopter to the Indian military next year. 60 units will be delivered in Russia while a further 140 will be manufactured and assembled in India under an agreement signed last October. Russia expects sales of the advanced medium multirole Mi-171A2 to increase by at least 15% in 2017 with interest received from China, as well as from the Iranian oil and gas sector.
How safe are the Indian Army’s aging fleets of Chetaks (Aerospatiale SA316 Alouette III) and Cheetahs (SA315B Alouette II/III mix)? These old designs have consistently proven themselves in high altitude operations, and remain useful as long as their airframes remain safe. The problem is that at their age, the safety margin is pretty slim. Or worse.
In 2003, India issued an RFP for 197 light helicopters estimating a deal worth between $500-$600 million to buy 60 helicopters outright, with the remaining 137 being built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Eurocopter’s AS550 C3 Fennec and Bell Textron’s 407 competed in the second and final round of summer trials, and as 2007 ticked toward a close, it looked like we had a winner. As often happens in India, however, the process ended up completely derailed. A new RFP out for a successor “Reconnaissance and Surveillance Helicopter program” (RSH) went out in 2008, and testing was done in 2010. Has the RSH competition gone the way of the 1st aborted contract, even as India’s high altitude border posts struggle for adequate support?
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Feb 21, 2017 00:49 UTC
Sri Lankan media reports that Pakistan has offered an F-7 fighter for free
in return for each JF-17
that Sri Lanka purchases from Islamabad. The report claims that in its efforts to push a deal for the fighter, Pakistan has hired a Singapore-based consultancy group to assist with the lobbying, and that attempts have been made to pay kickbacks to Sri Lankan defense ministry officials as well as high-ranking military personnel.
FC-1/ JF-17, armed
The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…
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Feb 17, 2017 00:56 UTC
Saab is continuing a defense partnership with Indian industry, offering a sensor package
for India's s LCA Tejas
fighter. Included in the technology transfer is the company's Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fighter radar integrated with a compact electronic warfare suite. The package will also have synergies with the systems developed for the Gripen
fighter, currently being pitched to New Delhi to fill their Navy requirement for carrier-based fighters
India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.
In response, some MiG-21s have been modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, and other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs of their own. The IAF’s hope is that they can maintain an adequate force until the multi-billion dollar 126+ plane MMRCA competition delivers replacements, and more SU-30MKIs arrive from HAL. Which still leaves India without an affordable fighter solution. MMRCA can replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but what about the MiG-21s? The MiG-21 Bison program adds years of life to those airframes, but even so, they’re likely to be gone by 2020.
That’s why India’s own Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is so important to the IAF’s future prospects. It’s also why India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft. Even with that help, the program’s delays are a growing problem for the IAF. Meanwhile, the west’s near-abandonment of the global lightweight fighter market opens a global opportunity, if India can seize it with a compelling and timely product.
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Feb 17, 2017 00:50 UTC
Latest updates[?]: February 17/17: Lockheed Martin has been contracted by the DoD external link for Trident II ballistic fleet missile production and deployed system support. The $540 million contract modification supports production efforts for the US.Navy and the British Royal Navy, who deploy the missile on their Ohio-class and Vanguard-class submarines respectively. Lockheed Martin received roughly $453 million in weapon procurement funds from the Navy, plus an additional $50.7 million from the Royal Navy. The company also received $36 million in fiscal 2017 operation and maintenance funds, which are set to expire at the end of the current fiscal year.
Trident II D5 Test Launch
Nuclear tipped missiles were first deployed on board US submarines at the height of the Cold War in the 1960s, to deter a Soviet first strike. The deterrence theorists argued that, unlike their land-based cousins, submarine-based nuclear weapons couldn’t be taken out by a surprise first strike, because the submarines were nearly impossible to locate and target. Which meant that Soviet leaders could not hope to destroy all of America’s nuclear weapons before they could be launched against Soviet territory. SLBM/FBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile/ Fleet Ballistic Missile) offered shorter ranges and less accuracy than their land-based ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) counterparts, but the advent of Trident C4 missiles began extending those ranges, and offering other improvements. The C4s were succeeded by larger Trident II D5 missiles, which added precision accuracy and more payload.
The year that the Trident II D5 ballistic missile was first deployed, 1990, saw the beginning of the end of the missile’s primary mission. Even as the Soviet Union began to implode, the D5’s performance improvements were making the Trident submarine force the new backbone of the USA’s nuclear deterrent – and of Britain’s as well. To ensure that this capability was maintained at peak readiness and safety, the US Navy undertook a program in 2002 to replace aging components of the Trident II D5 missile called the D5 Life Extension (LE) Program. This article covers D5 LE, as well as support and production contracts associated with the American and British Trident missile fleets.
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