Sep 23, 2016 00:48 UTC
The US State Department has cleared the sale
of four KC-46A
aerial refueling tankers to Japan in what is estimated to be a $1.9 billion deal. All aircraft will come equipped with Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system. Tokyo first announced its intention to purchase the new tankers last October, with the recent approval
from the Pentagon moving it closer to becoming the aircraft's first foreign customer for manufacturer Boeing.
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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Sep 20, 2016 00:42 UTC
Airbus admits to planned cost-cutting measures
as the European defense giant embarks on a project to introduce more digital methods into its operations. The company stated that "the envisaged cost-cutting aims at being a contribution to value creation and in particular to the digital transformation at Airbus Group," but denied reports that they are working on new cuts as a result of cost overruns on their largest planes. Aircraft such as the A400M
military transporter have undergone severe delays, cost overruns, and fines during its development, causing much ire from customer nations.
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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Aug 22, 2016 00:50 UTC
Contractors aiming to secure deals in relation to the Navy's MQ-25A program have been given vague hints
at what the service is expecting. Hopefuls looking to secure a slice of the action have been told they need to get that "sweet spot" between supporting mission tanking and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Born out of the scrapped Carrier-Based Aerial Refueling System (CBARS) program, the MQ-25 Stingray looks to include higher endurance for ISR capabilities in addition to just refueling. A lot of food for thought for those looking to get involved, but at least the initial "stealth tanker" concept has been shelved, for now.
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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Aug 15, 2016 00:55 UTC
Taiwan has agreed to part of a US weapons package that will see delivery of
13 sets of Phalanx close-in weapons systems
(CIWS) and other equipment set to the tune of $286.6 million. While not due for delivery until at least 2024, the new CIWS systems will add to one MK 15 Block 1B CIWS system found on one of its Kidd-class destroyers and give an uplift in capabilities to the older Phalanx systems currently in use. The deal is part of a wider $1.83 billion defense package that includes two Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates, 36 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, and 250 Block I-92F MANPAD Stinger missiles.
The radar-guided, rapid-firing MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS, pron. “see-whiz”) can fire between 3,000-4,500 20mm cannon rounds per minute, either autonomously or under manual command, as a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles and other targets. Phalanx uses closed-loop spotting with advanced radar and computer technology to locate, identify and direct a stream of armor piercing projectiles toward the target. These capabilities have made the Phalanx CIWS a critical bolt-on sub-system for naval vessels around the world, and led to the C-RAM/Centurion, a land-based system designed to defend against incoming artillery and mortars.
This DID Spotlight article offers updated, in-depth coverage that describes ongoing deployment and research projects within the Phalanx family of weapons, the new land-based system’s new technologies and roles, and international contracts from FY 2005 onward. As of Feb 28/07, more than 895 Phalanx systems had been built and deployed in the navies of 22 nations.
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Aug 15, 2016 00:45 UTC
The AIM-9X Sidewinder
has become the first short range air-to-air missile to be fully integrated on the F-35
Joint Strike Fighter. Testing of the missile so far has lead to a three for three success
with a fourth guided test expected by the end of the year alongside final integration work. The F-35 is capable of holding two AIM-9Xs on its wings, and when configured for air superiority missions, can hold four AIM-120s internally.
AIM-9X test, F-18C
(click for close-up)
Raytheon’s AIM-9X Block II would have made Top Gun a very short movie. It’s the USA’s most advanced short range air-air missile, capable of using its datalink, thrust vectoring maneuverability, and advanced imaging infrared seeker to hit targets behind the launching fighter. Unlike previous AIM-9 models, the AIM-9X can even be used against targets on the ground.
These changes will help keep it competitive against foreign missiles like MBDA UK’s AIM-132 ASRAAM, RAFAEL of Israel’s Python 5, the multinational German-led IRIS-T, and Russia’s R73/ AA-11 Archer. So far, only American fighter types can use AIM-9X missiles, but that hasn’t stopped a slew of export requests and sales, especially in the Middle East.
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Aug 11, 2016 00:56 UTC
An agreement between the Pentagon and Seoul will see the transfer of a crucial GPS component
for the Taurus cruise missile, paving the way for its operation by RoKAF F-15K fighters. It's expected that the Taurus will be delivered and in use by the end of the year. Dubbed as a "jamming proof" air-to-ground guided missile, the decision to allow Taurus exports to South Korea comes as North Korea flexes its muscles with ballistic missile tests.
F-15K Poster: apropos?
The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) originally planned to buy 120 advanced, high-end fighters as its next-generation platform, in order to replace its existing fleet of F-4 Phantom IIs and other aircraft. So far, it has bought 60 fighters in 2 phases. Back in 2002, the South Koreans picked the advanced F-15K derivative of the F-15E Strike Eagle for its F-X Next Generation Fighter Program, and bought 40. In 2008, a 2nd F-X Phase II contract was signed for 20 more F-15ks, with slight modifications.
As the 3rd phase loomed, the question was whether it will be a variant of their existing fleet, or something new. While the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) dreamed of developing their own “5th generation” aircraft for Phase 3, reality eventually had its say. Now, foreign manufacturers are offering the ROKAF a number of off-the-shelf options. But throughout 2013 DAPA couldn’t seem to be able to reconcile the air force’s desire for advanced technology with its budget constraints. Boeing seemed on the edge of winning with its F15-SEs as the sole contender within budget, only to be rejected by the end of September 2013. This reopened the tender with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as the likely favorite, a choice which was confirmed as 2014 unfolded.
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