Apr 28, 2017 00:56 UTC
Bulgaria's interim government has selected
Saab's JAS-39 Gripen
as the replacement for their aging fleet of MiG-29 fighters. The Swedish jet won out against an offering of second-hand F-16s from Portugal and an Italian offer for the Eurofighter Typhoon. Further discussions with Saab on contract details are scheduled to take place once the new government takes office next month, but it is expected that at least eight aircraft will be procured at a cost of $850 million. This new government will oversee a large military modernisation effort, with plans already approved to purchase new warships as well as a new collection of armored vehicles.
South African JAS-39D
As a neutral country with a long history of providing for its own defense against all comers, Sweden also has a long tradition of building excellent high-performance fighters with a distinctive look. From the long-serving Saab-35 Draken (“Dragon,” 1955-2005) to the Mach 2, canard-winged Saab-37 Viggen (“Thunderbolt,” 1971-2005), Swedish fighters have stressed short-field launch from dispersed/improvised air fields, world-class performance, and leading-edge design. This record of consistent project success is nothing short of amazing, especially for a country whose population over this period has ranged from 7-9 million people.
This is DID’s FOCUS Article for background, news, and contract awards related to the JAS-39 Gripen (“Griffon”), a canard-winged successor to the Viggen and one of the world’s first 4+ generation fighters. Gripen remains the only lightweight 4+ generation fighter type in service, its performance and operational economics are both world-class, and it has become one of the most recognized fighter aircraft on the planet. Unfortunately for its builders, that recognition has come from its appearance in Saab and Volvo TV commercials, rather than from hoped-for levels of military export success. With its 4+ generation competitors clustered in the $60-120+ million range vs. the Gripen’s claimed $40-60 million, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for Sweden’s lightweight fighter? In 2013 a win in Brazil started to answer that question.
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Apr 27, 2017 00:54 UTC
Two US F-35As have landed in Estonia
for the first time, in what is being described as a show of NATO solidarity and reinforcement of US commitments to protecting NATO members along Russia's borders. The visit of the Joint Strike Fighters, which flew from UK and spent several hours in Estonia, is part of broader US jet pilot training program across Europe as the NATO alliance seeks to deter Moscow from any possible incursion in the Baltics. Training with the fifth-generation fighters is expected to last several weeks and the F-35 pilots will undergo exercises with other NATO aircraft as well as showcase the fighter's capabilities to allies that are also acquiring F-35 fleets.
F-35B: off probation
The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE) Lightning jet. Lightning II system development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3), with Singapore and Israel as “Security Cooperation Partners,” and Japan as the 1st export customer.
The big question for Lockheed Martin is whether, and when, many of these partner countries will begin placing purchase orders. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the F-35 program, including contracts, sub-contracts, and notable events and reports during 2012-2013.
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Mar 31, 2017 00:55 UTC
Indonesia has signed a letter of intent
to buy a number of A400M aircraft from Airbus. The announcement was made by the office of French President Francois Hollande following his recent trip to the region. While the number of aircraft to be sold was not given, Jane’s reported in January that Jakarta wanted to buy five A400Ms, joining neighboring Malaysia as only the second export customer for the troubled program. Previous attempts to sell the transport to South Africa in 2009, and more recently Chile, have all fallen through amid soaring costs and development delays.
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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Mar 30, 2017 00:56 UTC
Boeing has received a $59 million contract modification
to continue production for the USAF's KC-46
tanker aircraft. The deal will see the company provide interim contracting support, a temporary service conducted in lieu of organic capability for a predetermined time. The deal allows Boeing to defer investment in all or part of required support resources. Work is expected to be complete by March, 2018.
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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Mar 22, 2017 00:29 UTC
Lockheed Martin has been given a $40 million contract modification
to strip and recoat F-22 coatings for the USAF's F-22 Raptor
fleet. Work on the contract will be performed at various locations in California, Georgia, Utah, and Texas, and work is expected to be completed by the end of June 2019. At the time of the award, the company received $6.4 million. The fifth-generation tactical stealth fighter has been in service since 2005 and designed to perform air superiority missions.
Into that good night
The 5th-generation F-22A Raptor fighter program has been the subject of fierce controversy, with advocates and detractors aplenty. On the one hand, the aircraft offers full stealth, revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, dual air-air and air-ground SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) excellence, the ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability… and a ridiculously lopsided kill record in exercises against the best American fighters. On the other hand, critics charged that it was too expensive, too limited, and cripples the USAF’s overall force structure.
Meanwhile, close American allies like Australia, Japan and Israel, and other allies like Korea, were pressing the USA to abandon its “no export” policy. Most already fly F-15s, but several were interested in an export version of the F-22 in order to help them deal with advanced – and advancing – Russian-designed aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems. That would have broadened the F-22 fleet in several important ways, but the US political system would not or could not respond.
This DID FOCUS Article tracks continuing maintenance and fleet upgrade programs, contracts, and timely news. A separate public-access feature offers a profile of the USAF’s most advanced fighter, and covers both sides of the F-22 Raptor program’s controversies.
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Mar 08, 2017 00:42 UTC
Boeing received a contract-modification of $46 million
to perform interim contractor support for Saudi Arabia's recently purchased F-15s
. The above support refers to an agreement wherein a service will defer an investment due to a lack of technological capabilities, such as equipment spares or technical data. Boeing is expected to complete this service for Saudi Arabia by the end of March. The contract is comprised entirely of foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia and supports the recent commissioning of F-15SA fighters by the kingdom.
F-15S & weapons
In October 2010, talks that Saudi Arabia was negotiating a $30-60 billion arms package with the USA were made official with a full multi-billion request that included 84 F-15 Strike Eagles to replace the Kingdom’s Tornado strike aircraft and/or F-15A-D fighters, upgrades for another 70 planes, about 132 UH-60 Black Hawk utility and AH-64 attack helicopters, and armaments to equip them.
This article looks at those requests, their tie-ins, the issues that are part of these potential deals, and related follow-on requests. As is often the case with DSCA announcements, years can pass between the requests and the signed contracts, but these contracts have started to roll in, alongside other significant buys.
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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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