* The Air Force will test a plasma-based propulsion system on board a X-37B reusable space vehicle, in a joint effort between the The Air Force Research Laboratory, Space and Missile Systems Center, and Rapid Capabilities Office. A Hall thruster can provide greater fuel efficiency compared to conventional engines, with the new thruster a modified version of those equipping the Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) satellites. The launch is scheduled for 20th May.
* On Tuesday, the Air Force awarded a $325 million IDIQ contract to engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney for the Versatile Affordable Advanced Turbine Engines (VAATE) engine’s Phase III stage. That is the same amount GE won several months ago for the same project.
* Also Tuesday, Lockheed Martin was handed a $10.5 million contract to provide the UAE with Modernized Target Acquisition Designation Sights for the AH-64 helicopter, with the UAE having first formally requested the Apache in November 2010.
* The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency is looking to the Army for modernization of its UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, with a view to convert A-models to newer L-models. The deal is a mirror of a previous 2008 arrangement, with the CBP receiving upgraded L-models to extend the lifespan of their Black Hawks by 15 to 18 years.
* Saab is confident about Gripen exports to Eastern European states, with the company reportedly set to sign a contract with Slovakia for up to a dozen of the jets later this year. Finland is also looking to modernize its fighters, with the Air Force looking to upgrade its existing fleet towards the beginning of next decade. The Gripen has seen export success in Brazil, with the company also angling for a potential sale to India, to fulfill its single-engine fighter requirement.
* The Czech Republic is planning on bolstering its troop numbers by 63% by 2025, an increase of around 10,000 men. Similarly, the Czech defense budget is set to grow to 1.4% of the country’s GDP by 2020, up from the 2015 level of 1%.
* The DSCA has cleared a $96 million support contract for India’s fleet of five C-130J transport aircraft. Similarly, the agency has delivered a notification to Congress regarding a potential $1.5 billion support package for Australia’s fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft.
* India’s Coast Guard is reportedly set to join the Indian light transport aircraft replacement program, bringing the total value of the project up by 45% to around $2.76 billion for a revised total of 62 aircraft. A single bidder – a joint bid with partners Tata Group and Airbus – remains, following Alenia’s departure in October. This burgeoning number of aircraft may grow, with the Indian Navy also potentially seeking to jump on the bandwagon.
* Airbus Group Australia Pacific and the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) have commissioned a joint support center at Brisbane Airport to provide engineering, technical and other services to the Australian military’s fleet of Tiger and Taipan helicopters. The new center will be staffed by both civilian and military personnel, expected to number 250 people when the center is fully operational.
* Following the August 2014 announcement that BAE Systems intended to sell its majority share in its Land Systems South Africa business to South African state-owned Denel, the divestiture is reportedly complete. The $56.6 million deal comes as the company mulls selling most of its US services group.
* A Customs & Border Protection Black Hawk over Super Bowl XLIX…