Apr 23, 2015 18:40 UTC
Tinker Air Force Base (Oklahoma) has been named
as one of four potential locations to base the Air Force's fleet of new KC-46A
refueling tankers, alongside Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base (North Carolina), Westover Air Reserve Base (Massachusetts) and Grissom Air Reserve Base (Indiana).
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 20, 2015 01:50 UTC
The X-47B UCAV currently being developed by Northrop Grumman, has conducted successful aerial refueling
from a KC-707, the first time the demonstrator has completed this difficult test set. Additionally, the US Office of Naval Research recently
successfully tested the ability of UAVs to "swarm", sharing information in flight with some autonomy, as part of its LOCUST program
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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Apr 16, 2015 01:00 UTC
The Air Force has completed operational testing
of Raytheon's MALD-J
, with this step allowing the system to move closer to full-rate production. The decoy-jammer was successfully tested with the Marines in December last year
, when its in-flight targeting datalink
was tested in Yuma, bringing the total number of successful tests to 42.
The Bosnian “Nighthawk Down” incident in 1999 showed that even old air defense systems could still be dangerous, and that smart tactics and selective use could keep those systems alive against heavy opposition. The challenge is finding them and targeting them. Against truly advanced air defense systems like the Russian SA-20 family, however, the challenge is survival. Advanced stealth technologies, advanced anti-radar weapons, and successful electronic jamming are required.
Air-launched decoys can help, and they are not a new concept by any means. The same technologies used in cruise missiles allow construction of “stealth in reverse” decoys that fly long distances along pre-planned flight patterns, carrying radar reflectors that simulate the radar return of fighter or bomber aircraft. Enemy air defenses see them as incoming aircraft, and must decide to either shut down and hide, or activate and reveal their position. If American aircraft are flying behind a wave a decoys, either option can be dangerous. The USAF’s ADM-160B/C Miniature Air-Launched Decoy (MALD) program began as a DARPA effort in 1996, but made it all the way into production, and is branching out into new fields. The US Navy already has their own ITALD, but they liked one of the new MALD variants enough to add it, too.
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Mar 30, 2015 00:45 UTC
Lockheed Martin was awarded a $485 million
IDIQ contract Friday for advanced targeting pods
, a portion of which are earmarked for FMS. The Sniper pod
is operational on the F-15, F-16, F-18, B-1, B-52 and A-10 platforms. Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Canada, the UK and Belgium are previous export customers. A separate $8.9 million contract will also see Lockheed provide the Jordanian Air Force with 10 of the targeting pods, through the UK as a third party.
Sniper on F-16
At the end of September 2010, the USAF dropped something of a bombshell. Under their $2.3 billion Advanced Targeting Pod – Sensor Enhancement (ATP-SE) contract, the service that had begun standardizing on one future surveillance and targeting pod type decided to change course, and split its buys.
This decision is a huge breakthrough for Northrop Grumman, whose LITENING pod had lost the USAF’s initial 2001 Advanced Targeting Pod competition. As a result of that competition, the USAF’s buys had shifted from LITENING to Sniper pods, and Lockheed Martin’s Sniper became the pod of choice for integration onto new USAF platforms. Since then, both of these pods have chalked up procurement wins around the world, and both manufacturers kept improving their products. That continued competition would eventually change the landscape once again.
In January 2015, Rafael announced that their upcoming upgrade that they call G-4 Advanced outside the U.S., and “G-5″ for the Americans will have air-to-air targeting capabilities.
In addition to more diverse targeting, the pods are said to feature inter-asset communications and sensor sharing capabilities – in essence some of the whiz-bang features touted in the F-35 platform that is supposed to push the F/A-18 into obsolescence.
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Mar 18, 2015 00:01 UTC
A major review
has been launched by the Pentagon to assess the current state of play of missile defense systems, capabilities and programs, seeking to update a previous review from 2011. The Patriot
is likely to come under scrutiny, as well as the THAAD system.
THAAD: In flight
The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system is a long-range, land-based theater defense weapon that acts as the upper tier of a basic 2-tiered defense against ballistic missiles. It’s designed to intercept missiles during late mid-course or final stage flight, flying at high altitudes within and even outside the atmosphere. This allows it to provide broad area coverage against threats to critical assets such as population centers and industrial resources as well as military forces, hence its previous “theater (of operations) high altitude area defense” designation.
This capability makes THAAD different from a Patriot PAC-3 or the future MEADS system, which are point defense options with limited range that are designed to hit a missile or warhead just before impact. The SM-3 Standard missile is a far better comparison, and land-based SM-3 programs will make it a direct THAAD competitor. So far, both programs remain underway.
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Mar 06, 2015 00:50 UTC
Despite the spontaneous combustion issue, Germany remains committed to the NH90, signing a deal
for 18 new helicopters for its navy.
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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