ATHENA laser downs UAVs in testing | Bulgaria and Slovakia pause MiG-29 replacement | No bribes in Eurofighter deal, finds report
- Lockheed Martin announced that it successfully shot down drones with a 30 kilowatt laser during testing of the weapon in August. Conducted at the White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico, in conjunction with the US Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command, the ATHENA (Advanced Test High Energy Asset) laser brought down five Outlaw unmanned aerial vehicles. The system is being used as a test-bed for future technology and is part of Lockheed Martin’s Accelerated Laser Demonstration Initiative for developing higher powered lasers for battlefield use. Investment in laser technology by both industry and government has been increasing as the Pentagon looks to use the technology as the next generation of weaponry to counter enemy indirect fire, improvised explosive devices, drones, missiles and aircraft.
- The US Air Force’s (USAF) newest gunship, the AC-130J Ghostrider, will be declared operational later this month. However, the aircraft will not be combat ready for another two years as the USAF Special Operations Command is behind in training operators. The new configuration has taken the refuelling pods out of an existing MC-130J, replacing them with weapons racks outfitted with precision strike packages. Armaments found on the Block 10 AC-130J configuration includes an internal 30mm gun, GPS-guided small diameter bombs and laser-guided missiles that will launch from the rear cargo door, while the Block 20 adds a 105mm cannon and large aircraft infrared countermeasures. Future updates include the addition of wing-mounted Lockheed AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-surface missiles and radio-frequency countermeasures. A number will have the 30mm gun replaced with a high-energy laser.
Middle East & Africa
- The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has established a second Iron Dome battalion as it looks to prepare itself for aerial threats along its northern border. A service press release quoted Brig. Gen. Zvika Haimovich, Commander of the Aerial Defense Division, as saying “Israel’s northern theatre has always been the most threatened area,” adding that the new ‘Iron Dome’ battalion was born out of this reality, and will provide an active defense response in the northern theatre. It will also defend Israel’s maritime space together with the navy. The IAF said the Iron Dome system has thousands of available missiles for an effective response to a wide array of threats, a lack of which temporarily silenced the Iron Dome during a truce in the 2012 Pillar of Defense operation into the Gaza Strip.
- An Austrian parliamentary report has failed to find evidence in support of claims that Airbus committed fraud in order to secure a 2003 Eurofighter Typhoon deal. Vienna commissioned the investigation in March in order to ascertain whether claims made by the Defense Ministry—that politicians accepted bribes from Airbus and the Eurofighter consortium during the procurement’s tender process—were true. While the report found no proof of bribery involving lawmakers, it did uphold another ministry complaint that the government were “deceived” by the consortium that they could deliver certain jets as initially agreed, and also found that Airbus had provided millions of euros in sponsorship money in connection with the deal to a soccer club that is seen as close to Austria’s Social Democrats— the ruling party during the tender. A separate criminal investigation continues.
- Bulgaria will restart its MiG-29 fighter jet replacement program, ditching an earlier decision by an interim government to adopt Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen. While Prime Minister Boiko Borissov had initially promised to uphold the previous government’s decision and continue negotiations with the Swedish aerospace firm and government, he has subsequently voiced concerns that the Gripen was not the right choice for the Bulgarian Air Force. A parliamentary committee set up to investigate the bid process has subsequently found “disturbing facts” in relation to the tender and instead, Sofia will rewrite its requirements and invite bidders to resubmit their offers. In addition to Saab, entries in the previous 2016 tender included second-hand F-16s from Portugal and second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy.
- Another government joining Bulgaria in putting the breaks on MiG-29 fighter replacement is Slovakia, who will instead focus on modernizing its ground forces. The central European NATO member state has been in talks with several firms, including Lockheed Martin for its F-16s and Saab for its Gripen, the latter proving somewhat of a regional favorite and is in use with neighboring Hungry and the Czech Republic. A decision had been expected next month in order to have deliveries coincide with the ending of a Russian MiG-29 maintenance contract in autumn 2019, but this may need to be extended in order to prevent a capability gap.
- A South Korean lawmaker has blamed the previous administration for the purchase of obsolete CH-47D helicopters purchased for $130 million. Rep. Rhee Cheol-hee of the Democratic Party of Korea said that 14 Chinooks were sold by the US after fifty years of service with US forces stationed on the peninsula, but have failed to work properly since their delivery to South Korean forces in 2014. Delivery of key navigation equipment has also been delayed hampering their use. Rhee added that the military had rushed to buy the helicopters, citing their lower price when compared to newer models, and that the recent cancellation of a planned upgrade mirrored the fact that the decision to buy the Chinooks was wrong from the beginning.
- Lockheed Martin’s ATHENA laser weapon in action:
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