Latest updates[?]: The Netherlands will base its soon-to-be received MQ-9A Reaper medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles in the Caribbean region. The Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) is due to receive four MQ-9A Block 5 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from US manufacturer General Atomics next month.
The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).
The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…
Latest updates[?]: General Electric won a $12 million deal for maintenance and overhaul of the UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter. The UH-60 Blackhawk is a multi-mission medium lift helicopter. The primary mission of the Blackhawk helicopter is as a troop carrier and logistical support aircraft. The helicopter can also be configured to carry out medical evacuation, command-and-control, search-and-rescue, armed escort, electronic warfare and executive transport missions. Estimated completion date is January 14, 2027.
US Army HH-60Ms
In July 2012, the US military signed another huge contract with Sikorsky. With production of the Army’s HH/UH-60M, and the Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters, all in full swing, there’s no question about the need for future orders. In that environment, multi-year contracts allow efficiencies in purchasing, and security of staffing, throughout Sikorsky’s supply chain. These new helicopter types are also available to Foreign Military Sales class customers, under the American contract’s advantageous pricing and terms. The UH-60M, MH-60S and MH-60R models have already inked export deals, and official requests indicate that more deals are in the pipeline.
The new multi-year 2013-2017 contract could be worth up to $11.7 billion, and follows a 5-year, multi-service “MYP-VII” contract in December 2007. Like its predecessor, it covers UH-60M Black Hawk troop transport and light cargo helicopters, Army HH-60M SAR (Search And Rescue) / MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) helicopters, and the US Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
Latest updates[?]: The Air Force awarded L-3 Communications Integrated Systems a $24 million deal for C-130H program depot maintenance. The deal provides for the services required to complete C-130H PDM actions, perform required aircraft modifications and all transactional sustainment actions associated for the C-130 Foreign Military Sales Directorate. Work will take place in Waco, Texas. Expected completion date is January 31, 2027.
RAAF C-130J-30, flares
The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?
C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.
The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine “teen series” fighters that began with the F-14 and F-15, continued with the emergence of the F/A-18 Hornet, and extended through to the most recent F/A-18 Super Hornet variants. Aerodynamically, it’s a half generation ahead of all of these examples, and planned evolutions will place the Eurofighter near or beyond parity in electronic systems and weapons.
The 1998 production agreement among its 4 member countries involved 620 aircraft, built with progressively improved capabilities over 3 contract “tranches”. By the end of Tranche 2, however, welfare state programs and debt burdens had made it difficult to afford the 236 fighters remaining in the 4-nation Eurofighter agreement. A 2009 compromise was found in the EUR 9 billion “Tranche 3A” buy, and the program has renewed its efforts to secure serious export sales. Their success will affect the platform’s production line in the near term, and its modernization plans beyond that.
Latest updates[?]: United States Force in South Korea, is being outfitted with newest AH-64 Version 6 (V6) helicopter. “The upgraded aircraft integrates modern technology for both the aviator and maintainers in our battalion,” Capt. Timothy Luchs, D Company commander, said. “For our maintainers, the new systems onboard allows them better diagnostic capability and decreases the downtime of the aircraft. While for the aviator, AH-64E provides an overall increased situational awareness with an upgraded sensor suite, level 4 manned-unmanned teaming, and an upgraded drive system which is a vast improvement over the Delta variant of the model.”
Latest updates: Total rises to 68.
War takes its toll on equipment, as well as men. In some cases, it wears out. In other cases, enemy fire or accidents destroy equipment. The USA has recognized this fact by funding wartime replacement expenditures as supplemental funding, which is outside the normal budgetary process. The intent is that this money will be spent on replacing equipment that has been worn out, damaged or destroyed, or will be used to provide specialized capabilities like MRAP mine-resistant vehicles that are directly related to front-line demands.
Admittedly, this hasn’t always been true. Politicians are what they are, and so are large organizations like the military. One area where this ethic has undoubtedly been honored, however, has been the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter fleet. This article covers US Army Wartime Replacement Aircraft (WRA) AH-64D Longbow buys, which are the only truly new attack helicopters in the America’s inventory. That will change with the new Block III model, which is more advanced than the WRAs.
Latest updates[?]: The US Air Force is passing targeting information from A-10 Thunderbolts to the F-35B jets in order for the latter to destroy them. Last week, the Idaho Air National Guard welcomed US Marines from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron (VMFA) 225, who fly the F-35B Lightning II, to Gowen Field. The squadron brought four of the fifth-generation fighters to train with A-10 Thunderbolt IIs from the 124th Fighter Wing’s 190th Fighter Squadron.
A-10A over Germany
The Precision Engagement modification is the largest single upgrade effort ever undertaken for the USA’s unique A-10 “Warthog” close air support aircraft fleet. While existing A/OA-10 aircraft continue to outperform technology-packed rivals on the battlefield, this set of upgrades is expected to make them more flexible, and help keep the aircraft current until the fleet’s planned phase-out in 2028. When complete, A-10C PE will give USAF A-10s precision strike capability sooner than planned, combining multiple upgrades into 1 time and money-saving program, rather than executing them as standalone projects. Indeed, the USAF accelerated the PE program by 9 months as a result of its experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This is DID’s FOCUS Article for the PE program, and for other modifications to the A-10 fleet. It covers the A-10’s battlefield performance and advantages, the elements of the PE program, other planned modifications, related refurbishment efforts to keep the fleet in the air, and the contracts that have been issued each step of the way.
Latest updates[?]: The United Kingdom has received its ninth and final Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 maritime multimission aircraft (MMA), with ZP809 arriving at Royal Air Force (RAF) Lossiemouth in Scotland on January 11. This brings a two-year delivery run that began with the arrival of ZP801 Pride of Moray in February 2020 to an end. Since then, ZP802 City of Elgin, ZP803 Terence Bulloch DSO DFC, ZP804 Spirit of Reykjavik, ZP805 Fulmar, ZP806 Guernsey's Reply, ZP807 William Barker VC, and ZP808 have all been received.
Maritime surveillance and patrol is becoming more and more important, but the USA’s P-3 Orion turboprop fleet is falling apart. The P-7 Long Range Air ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) Capable Aircraft program to create an improved P-3 began in 1988, but cost overruns, slow progress, and interest in opening the competition to commercial designs led to the P-7’s cancellation for default in 1990. The successor MMA program was begun in March 2000, and Boeing beat Lockheed’s “Orion 21” with a P-8 design based on their ubiquitous 737 passenger jet. US Navy squadrons finally began taking P-8A Poseidon deliveries in 2012, but the long delays haven’t done their existing P-3 fleet any favors.
Filling the P-3 Orion’s shoes is no easy task. What missions will the new P-8A Poseidon face? What do we know about the platform, the project team, and ongoing developments? Will the P-3’s wide global adoption give its successor a comparable level of export opportunities? Australia and India have already signed on, but has the larger market shifted in the interim?
Officially, it’s the B-52H Stratofortress. Unofficially, it’s the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F–cker). Either way, this subsonic heavy bomber remains the mainstay of the U.S. strategic fleet after more than 50 years of service. A total of 102 B-52H bombers were delivered from FY 1961-1963, and 94 were still on the books as of May 2009, flying mostly from Barksdale AFB, LA and Minot AFB, ND. Of these, 18 are slated for retirement, leaving a planned fleet of 76. By the time that fleet retires in the 2030s, many will be around 70 years old.
The B-52H can’t be flown against heavy enemy air defenses, but a steady array of upgrades have kept the aircraft relevant to follow-on strikes and current wars, where its long time on station and precision weapons have made the BUFF beautiful. Those changes have included advanced communications, GPS guided weapons, advanced targeting pods, and more. The USAF isn’t done yet adding new features, and maintenance remains a challenge for an aircraft fleet that’s always older than its pilots. All of these things require contracts, and the B-52H fleet has several of them underway. So, how does 2010’s 8-year, $11.9 billion umbrella contract fit in…?
A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.
The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.
Latest updates[?]: The Qatar Air Force took delivery of the first NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) recently, manufacturer Leonardo has announced. The first TTH version helicopter for land-based tasks was delivered on 11 December, in line with contractual commitments, and will be followed in the coming months by the first NFH, dedicated to naval operations, after qualifications. Deliveries will continue until 2025.
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-60Seahawk/ 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.