Feb 04, 2015 01:50 UTC
Latest updates[?]: Feb 4/15: FY 2016 budge shelves UCLASS until 2023.
Even (theoretically) busting through sequestration, the 2016 Administration budget for the Navy opts to push UCLASS off
The new schedule has an RFP released in FY 2016, with an award in Q2 2017 and first flight milestone in Q3 2020. Initial capability wouldn't arrive until 2023. Where UCLASS was to originally get $669 million in FY 2016, the final document allowed it only $135 million.
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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Jan 30, 2015 08:38 UTC
Maj. Gen. Michael Lundy, the Army's aviation chief, indicated that in facing two competing technologies from two vendors for the medium-capacity variant of the Future Vertical Lift program, the Army would like both. One can be fitted for the troop carrying role, and the other for the attack/reconnaissance role. The Bell V-280 Valor (tilt rotor) has been theoretically competing against the Sikorsky/Boeing SB>1Defiant. Lundy told BreakingDefense.com
that the decision was akin to the split between the Apache versus the Black Hawk.
The plan depends on the assumption
- that other services have not been quite as bold in making - that sequestration will be lifted for FY 2016 onward. Lundy's tone was fatalistic, indicating that the Army was planning for that one rosy scenario because the others - however likely - wouldn't suit: "If we went to the worst case, it would affect almost every modernization program we’ve got in our branch."
In addition to vanquishing sequestration, the Army's modernization plans hinge on Congress approving their ARI plan, which involves shelving Kiowas and replacing that reconnaissance capacity with Apaches taken from reserve units, among other decisions that would be unpopular in many individual congressional districts.
The future is now
The JMR-TD program is the science and technology precursor to the Department of Defense’s estimated $100 billion Future Vertical Lift program, which is expected to replace between 2,000-4,000 medium class UH-60 utility and AH-64 attack helicopters after 2030.
In reality, FVL will fall far short of that number if it ever goes ahead, but those figures are the current official fantasy. While they’re at it, the Pentagon wants breakthrough performance that includes the same hovering capability as smaller armed scout helicopters, and a 100+ knot improvement in cruising speed to 230+ knots. That’s almost certainly achievable, thanks to new developments that involve very different helicopter designs.
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Jan 27, 2015 02:40 UTC
Latest updates[?]: Boeing conducted a flight test from Payne Field in Everett, Washington. The four-hour flight was uneventful.
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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Jan 22, 2015 01:45 UTC
Latest updates[?]: "Gen-5" version to come with air-to-air capacity. Northrop Grumman is fielding them just as the Navy is about to issue an RFP for about 300 targeting pods destined for F/A-18s.
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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Jan 13, 2015 07:38 UTC
Latest updates[?]: USN paying for hardware changes, but the radar's software weaknesses are still a problem, 7 years after introduction. January 2015 flight test was deemed successful by Raytheon.
AN/APG-79 AESA Radar
The AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar began life as a replacement. Initial F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet production batches installed Raytheon’s all-weather, multimode AN/APG-73, but the APG-79 has intrinsic technical features that offered revolutionary increases in capability, reliability, image resolution, and range.
Unlike the APG-73 that equipped the first Super Hornets, the APG-79’s AESA array is composed of numerous solid-state transmit and receive modules that are fixed in place, eliminating a common cause of breakdowns. To move their beams, they rely on electronic changes in each module’s transmissions, creating useful interference patterns in order to aim, focus and shape their output. Other system components include an advanced receiver/exciter, ruggedized commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) processor, and power supplies. With its open systems architecture and compact COTS parts, it changes what both aircrews and maintenance staff can do with a fighter radar – and does so in a smaller, lighter package.
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