May 12, 2016 00:38 UTC
Airbus Helicopters is being kept busy with its Australian customers as it rushes to complete specifications
of NH Industries NH90, in which Airbus Helicopters is the largest shareholder. Requirements by the Australian government include a weapons system and fast-roping and rappelling capability, as well as limitations to maritime deployment. Australia is also looking to replace
its fleet of Airbus Tiger helicopters which have not met service standards.
NH90: TTH & NFH
The NH90 emerged from a requirement that created a NATO helicopter development and procurement agency in 1992 and, at almost the same time, established NH Industries (62.5% EADS Eurocopter, 32.5% AgustaWestland, and 5% Stork Fokker) to build the hardware. The NATO Frigate Helicopter was originally developed to fit between light naval helicopters like AW’s Lynx or Eurocopter’s Panther, and medium-heavy naval helicopters like the European EH101. A quick look at the NFH design showed definite possibilities as a troop transport helicopter, however, and soon the NH90 project had branched into 2 versions, with more to follow.
The nearest equivalent would be Sikorsky’s popular H-60 Seahawk/ Black Hawk family, but the NH90 includes a set of innovative features that give it some distinguishing selling points. Its combination of corrosion-proofing, lower maintenance, greater troop or load capacity, and the flexibility offered by that rear ramp have made the NH90 a popular global competitor.
As many business people discover the hard way, however, success can be almost as dangerous as failure. NH Industries has had great difficulty ramping up production fast enough to meet promised deliveries, which has left several buyers upset. Certification and acceptance have also been slow, with very few NH90s in service over a decade after the first contracts were signed. Booked orders have actually been sliding backward over the last year, and currently stand at around 500 machines, on behalf of 14 nations.
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May 11, 2016 00:45 UTC
Raytheon Missile Systems has been awarded
a $104.5 million USAF contract for the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) program. The company will provide form, fit, function, and refresh of the AMRAAM Guidance Section with work expected to be completed by February 27, 2017. Under the contract, work involved will include foreign military sales to Korea, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and Romania.
AIM-120C from F-22A
(click for test missile zoom)
Raytheon’s AIM-120 Advanced, Medium-Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) has become the world market leader for medium range air-to-air missiles, and is also beginning to make inroads within land-based defense systems. It was designed with the lessons of Vietnam in mind, and of local air combat exercises like ACEVAL and Red Flag. This DID FOCUS article covers successive generations of AMRAAM missiles, international contracts and key events from 2006 onward, and even some of its emerging competitors.
One of the key lessons learned from Vietnam was that a fighter would be likely to encounter multiple enemies, and would need to launch and guide several missiles at once in order to ensure its survival. This had not been possible with the AIM-7 Sparrow, a “semi-active radar homing” missile that required a constant radar lock on one target. To make matters worse, enemy fighters were capable of launching missiles of their own. Pilots who weren’t free to maneuver after launch would often be forced to “break lock,” or be killed – sometimes even by a short-range missile fired during the last phases of their enemy’s approach. Since fighters that could carry radar-guided missiles like the AIM-7 tended to be larger and more expensive, and the Soviets were known to have far more fighters overall, this was not a good trade.
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May 10, 2016 00:45 UTC
With the company currently rolling out its Leonardo re-brand, Finmeccanica has reported a strong financial first quarter
thanks to its recent $9.1 billion Eurofighter deal with Kuwait
. However, a drop in helicopter sales is negatively affecting the company. Helicopter orders dropped a massive €964 million in the first quarter from €1.35 billion last year to €384 million, which managers are attributing to turmoil in the oil and gas sector, resulting in companies buying fewer helicopters to access oil rigs.
The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine “teen series” fighters that began with the F-14 and F-15, continued with the emergence of the F/A-18 Hornet, and extended through to the most recent F/A-18 Super Hornet variants. Aerodynamically, it’s a half generation ahead of all of these examples, and planned evolutions will place the Eurofighter near or beyond parity in electronic systems and weapons.
The 1998 production agreement among its 4 member countries involved 620 aircraft, built with progressively improved capabilities over 3 contract “tranches”. By the end of Tranche 2, however, welfare state programs and debt burdens had made it difficult to afford the 236 fighters remaining in the 4-nation Eurofighter agreement. A 2009 compromise was found in the EUR 9 billion “Tranche 3A” buy, and the program has renewed its efforts to secure serious export sales. Their success will affect the platform’s production line in the near term, and its modernization plans beyond that.
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May 09, 2016 00:45 UTC
Boeing has announced that they have developed a hardware and software fix
for the KC-46A
aerial tanker, allowing it to pass fuel to C-17 aircraft. The company encountered problems regarding a boom axial load issue during an earlier test to refuel the C-17, causing a setback to the already delayed flight test program. A "milestone C" decision on low rate production by the Pentagon is now expected in June after initially planned for April and now May.
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 28, 2016 00:45 UTC
France's DCNS has been announced as the winner
of the $38.7 billion Australian Future Submarine contract. The hotly contested tender for the 12 new subs also saw offers from Germany's Thyssen-Krupp Marine Systems and the Government of Japan to carry out the build. The new design will be based on DCNS's Shortfin Barracuda A1
submarine design, a conventionally-powered derivative of the nuclear-powered Suffren-class submarine now under construction for the French Navy. US made combat systems integrator and weapons systems will be installed by either Lockheed Martin or Raytheon in contracts expected to be announced shortly.
Bridge to the future?
In its 2009 White Paper, Australia’s Department of Defence and Labor Party government looked at the progress being made in ship killing surveillance-strike complexes, and at their need to defend large sea lanes, as key drivers shaping future navies. These premises are well accepted, but the White Paper’s conclusion was a surprise. It recommended a doubling of Australia’s submarine fleet to 12 boats by 2030-2040, all of which would be a new successor design that would replace the RAN’s Collins Class submarines.
The surprise, and controversy, stem from Australia’s recent experiences. The Collins Class was designed with the strong cooperation of ThyssenKrupp’s Swedish Kockums subsidiary, and built in Australia by state-owned ASC. The class has had a checkered career, including significant difficulties with its combat systems, issues with acoustic signature and propulsion, major cost growth to A$ 5+ billion, and schedule slippage. Worse still, reports indicated that the RAN can only staff 2 of its 6 submarines. High-level attention led to a report and recommendations to improve the force, but whether they will work remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the nature of Australia’s SEA 1000 future submarine project – and its eventual cost – remain unclear, with estimated costs in the A$ 36-44 billion range. This FOCUS article covers Australia’s options, decisions, and plans, as their future submarine program slowly gets underway.
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Apr 28, 2016 00:35 UTC
An upgrade to automate takeoff and landing of MQ-9 Reaper
UAVs is being pursued by the USAF
, making training Reaper pilots easier and allowing access to more runways. A similar upgrade already exists on US Army MQ-1C Grey Eagles
. According to General Atomics’ senior director of strategic development, Chris Pehrson, the air force tried last year to shift money from other accounts to begin implementing the automatic takeoff and landing system, but the request was denied by Congress.
The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).
The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…
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Apr 27, 2016 00:50 UTC
Orbital ATK has been awarded a $121.3 million contract
by the US Navy to provide conversion services of old stocks of US government-provided AGM-88B high-speed anti-radiation missiles. The conversion will see the munitions turned into 145 full-rate production Lot 5 advanced anti-radiation guided missile all-up-rounds, and 12 captive air training missiles, including related supplies and services necessary for manufacture, sparing, and fleet deployment of the missiles, for the Navy and the government of Italy. Completion is expected by September 2018.
The AGM-88E Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) is a medium range, supersonic, air-launched tactical missile whose primary job is to attack and kill enemy radars. AARGM is a US Navy major acquisition program, with around 1,750 expected orders from the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. The Italian Air Force is expected to buy up to 250 of these successors to the AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile, and Germany may also join.
So, why is AARGM a big deal? Perhaps the story of how a Serbian unit using an antiquated SA-3 battery managed to survive the 1999 NATO air campaign – and shoot down an F-117 Nighthawk stealth plane – will help put things into perspective. DID recounts those events, explains the new weapon, and offers updates on contracts and key milestones.
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