India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.
In response, some MiG-21s have been modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, and other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs of their own. The IAF’s hope is that they can maintain an adequate force until the multi-billion dollar 126+ plane MMRCA competition delivers replacements, and more SU-30MKIs arrive from HAL. Which still leaves India without an affordable fighter solution. MMRCA can replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but what about the MiG-21s? The MiG-21 Bison program adds years of life to those airframes, but even so, they’re likely to be gone by 2020.
That’s why India’s own Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is so important to the IAF’s future prospects. It’s also why India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft. Even with that help, the program’s delays are a growing problem for the IAF. Meanwhile, the west’s near-abandonment of the global lightweight fighter market opens a global opportunity, if India can seize it with a compelling and timely product.
Latest updates[?]: CAE USA-Mission Solutions won a $10.6 million modification for the F-15E, F-16 and F-22A contract aircrew training and courseware development contract. The contract modification is for exercising Option Year Three. The Boeing F-15E dual-role fighter is an advanced long-range interdiction fighter and tactical aircraft. The F-15E is the latest version of the Eagle, a Mach 2.5-class twin-engine fighter. The F-16 and the F-15 Eagle were the world’s first aircraft able to withstand higher g-forces than the pilots. The F-16 Fighting Falcon entered service in 1979. The F-22A Raptor is an advanced tactical fighter aircraft developed for the US Air Force. It entered service with the USAF in December 2005 to replace the F-15, with emphasis on agility, stealth and range. Work under the contract modification is expected to be finished by April 1, 2020.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Rolls Royce won a $69.1 million deal for the T56 Engine Component Improvement Program (CIP). The T56 Engine CIP establishes a prioritized list of projects each calendar year to include developing engineering changes to the engines, developing organizational, intermediate and depot level repairs as needed, and designing modifications to existing support equipment as well as initiating new support equipment designs as required by engine driven changes. The T56 family military turboprop is the leading large turboprop engine globally by a number of units sold and has over 230 million operating hours. It was originally developed by the Allison Engine Company for the Lockheed C-130 Hercules transport entering production in 1954. It has been a Rolls-Royce product since 1995 when Allison was acquired by Rolls-Royce. The T56 is a robust, reliable turboprop engine operating in military and civil aircraft worldwide. The engine’s commercial version, the T56 501-D, is the world-leading large turboprop engine. Work will take place in Indianapolis, Indiana and is scheduled to be finished by December 31, 2029.
T56 turboprop engine
(click to view larger)
There’s a lot of focus on the latest programs and purchases. It’s certainly justified given the sums at stake, but it can lead casual observers to ignore a major source of funding and profits: service and support for existing equipment.
Latest updates[?]: Northrop Grumman Systems won a $495 million contract for the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft. This contract provides for modernization and sustainment of 16 mission and one trainer aircraft. The deal will support the current JSTARS Program Office and Air Combat Command projections of improvements to increase or maintain E-8C performance, capability, reliability, and maintainability. The JSTARS is an airborne battle management, command and control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform. Its primary mission is to provide theater ground and air commanders with situational awareness to support military operations. In 2015, team JSTARS set a major milestone when they surpassed 100,000-combat flying hours in support of the US Central Command while flying the E-8C Joint STARS out of Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. Northrop will perform work at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; and Melbourne, Florida, and is expected to be completed by Sept. 26, 2024.
E-8C JSTARS: Before
The USA’s E-8 JSTARS is a Boeing 707-300 derivative that provides a picture of the ground situation analogous to the E-3 AWACS’ picture of the air situation. JSTARS aircraft use their radars to determine the direction, speed and patterns of military activity of ground vehicles, helicopters, and even groups of people. They then send this information via secure data links with air force command posts, army mobile ground stations and centers of military analysis around the world.
These surveillance and communications relay capabilities are somewhat unique, and have proven extremely useful in a series of conflicts from Desert Storm in 1991 to the present day. Europe originally intended to field a similar, smaller AGS aircraft based on the Airbus A321, but that project has now been cut to a small fleet of RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs. With the Global Hawk limited by its payload capacity, and the USA’s E-10A program canceled, the USA’s 17-aircraft operational JSTARS fleet is likely to remain very popular for some time to come. The question is how to keep that fleet relevant, flying, and allocated among all of the units clamoring for their attention.
At present, the USA and Israel have strong global leads in the UAV field, especially in the area of plane-sized Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) class or larger machines. That lead is eroding quickly, however, as new countries and firms decide that UAVs offer a useful niche with manageable development costs.
Poor US policy is also helping to drive this trend, and the new P.1HH “Hammerhead” UAV is a classic example. Italy is likely to become the initial customer for this high-performance UAV, but the platform itself and the Italian firm that makes it have strong connections to the UAE…
Latest updates[?]: Australia now operates a full fleet of 12 Boeing EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, after the first two units arrived in February. The aircraft will be based at Royal Australian Air Force Base Amberley. Minister for Defense Marise Payne said that the Growlers "will work with Army and Navy to deliver a networked joint force able to maneuver and fight in the electromagnetic spectrum." Australia is the only country outside of the US to operate the Growler, and has already conducted successful weapon firings and integration flights with RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornets and US Navy EA-18G Growlers as part of Operational Test and Evaluation.
RAAF F/A-18F rollout
Australia’s A$ 10+ billion Super Hornet program began life in a storm. Australia’s involvement in the F-35 Lightning II program have been mired in controversy, amid criticisms that the F-35A will (1) be unable to compete with proliferating SU-30 family fighters in the region, (2) lack the range or response time that Australia requires, and (3) be both late and very expensive during early production years.
The accelerated retirement of Australia’s 22 long-range F-111s in 2010 sharpened the timing debate, by creating a serious gap between the F-111’s retirement and the F-35’s likely arrival. Further delays to the F-35 program have created new worries that even the upgraded F/A-18AM/BM Hornet fleet won’t last long enough to allow smooth replacement.
The Super Hornets survived potential cancellation, and the “surprise” stopgap buy has steadily morphed into a mainstay of the future RAAF, with a new and unique set of electronic warfare capabilities thrown into the mix. This DID Spotlight article describes the models chosen, links to coverage of the key controversies, and offers a history of contracts and key events from the program’s first official requests to the present day.
Latest updates[?]: Russia's Defence Ministry looks set to become the first customer of the Mil Mi-38 multi-role helicopter. The helicopter's manufacturer Russian Helicopters made the announcement in a press release last week, and it is expected to pass a series of flight tests according to the ministry's requirements. Designed to take part in a variety of missions, the Mi-38 is capable of carrying either troops or cargo as well as participating in search & rescue and offshore operations.
Russian Mi-8 and its Mi-17 derivative have been familiar sights for several decades, and continue to sell around the world. These helicopters are significantly larger than the American UH-60 Black Hawk family, but have about the same carrying capacity, at about half the price. They are also far more commonly armed than their American counterparts, giving them a secondary strike and fire support role that many countries find useful.
Successor designs have been hurt by funding delays, but the Russian oil and gas industry’s push toward more remote regions is creating a demand for higher performance machines. As an interim step before Russian manufacturers can field longer-range, compound helicopter designs like the Ka-92 or Mi-X1, the EuroMil collaboration between EADS Eurocopter and Oboronprom subsidiaries Mil and Kazan aims to produce the Mi-38. Improved engineering, and Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 2,500 shp PW127 T/S engine, aim to raise the helicopter’s maximum internal load from 4,000 kg to 5,000kg, and maximum sling load from 4,500 kg to 7,000 kg. While the initial target market is civil, military variants are certainly possible.
May 24/16: Russia’s Defence Ministry looks set to become the first customer of the Mil Mi-38 multi-role helicopter. The helicopter’s manufacturer Russian Helicopters made the announcement in a press release last week, and it is expected to pass a series of flight tests according to the ministry’s requirements. Designed to take part in a variety of missions, the Mi-38 is capable of carrying either troops or cargo as well as participating in search & rescue and offshore operations.
March 12/09:Kazan Helicopter Plant announces that they expect to receive about RUB 3 billion (approx. $85 million) in Russia’s upcoming Federal Target Program (FTP) for the development of civil aviation technology, split 50/50 between the state and Oboronprom, toward the completion and launch of the Mi-38. flight tests are scheduled to end in 2009, with serial production at the Kazan Helicopter Plant slated to begin in 2010.
Latest updates[?]: The Netherlands is to receive 12 tandem-rotor CH-47F Chinooks, adding to six already procured by the Royal Dutch Air Force. The $308 million contract was awarded by Boeing as the air force transitions away from the older D-model helicopters. Approval for up to 17 of the Honeywell T55-714A-powered helicopters was given in March 2015 through the US government's foreign military sales (FMS); however, Boeing has stated that none of them have yet been delivered.
Dutch CH-47D, Afghanistan
On Sept 27/06, the US DSCA (Defense Security Cooperation Agency) notified Congress of the Netherlands’ request for up to 9 of the newest CH-47F Chinook cargo helicopters in a country-specific CH-47F (NL) variant, complete with ACMS Block 6 cockpits and 18 T55-L-714A turbine engines. The Dutch were also looking to upgrade their 11 existing CH-47D Chinook Cargo Helicopters to the newer CH-47F configuration. If all options were exercised, the DSCA notification placed the contracts’ values at up to $652 million.
Early procurements are going to be a bit more modest, but at least the helicopters have finally begun to arrive, about 6 years later.
Latest updates[?]: After sensationally backing out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Canadian government will not exclude the jet from the renewed CF-18 replacement competition. Canadian minister of national defence Harjit Sajjan said at the annual Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) that once the government determines its needs, and capabilities are specified, potential contractors will be allowed to bid, including Lockheed Martin with its F-35. The announcement marks the first time that Sajjan has explicitly said that the F-35 could still be in the running, after weeks of hinting at the possibility.
Liberal versus Conservative politics are dominating the coverage of Canadian self examination of their defense procurement process. Conservatives came to power criticizing a broken and opaque process run by the Liberals, and now the Liberals are enjoying throwing similar barbs at the majority party. But in the fray, several interesting analyses have surfaced that the defense establishment is taking seriously.
The Harper government insists that a defense procurement overhaul conducted last year has yet to toll, and that patience is needed to prove that things have improved. By far, the largest effect is exerted by the major fighter and ship programs, which evolve in year and decade timescales.
As to the actual content of the report, much blame is placed at the cutting of procurement staff levels, which have been halved over the past 20 years. Also unpopular among the procurement officials are rafts of the new reporting requirements – reportedly up by about 50 percent – that are part of the Harper governments reforms.
Separately, the objectives of major defense procurement projects have also been called into question. Because the F-35 has greatest advantage in the objective of overpowering a state with top anti-air resources, Canadian officials are now questioning whether this is something relevant to Canada, especially in the face of a lopsided price disadvantage versus other fighters. Reportedly, the only other fighter contending still against the F-35 is Boeing’s Super Hornet. This analysis, a product of the 2012 decision to delay what was to be a $45 billion purchase of F-35s, did not draw a conclusive recommendation, although it did note that the likelihood of requiring a mission profile uniquely suited to the F-35 was low.
The F-35 program has been controversial in Canada, even more so than in other countries, complete with alleged plots to conduct secret initial procurement of four fighters to be delivered in 2015, with a commitment for 9 more two years later. Internal pressures led the Harper administration to develop a more explicit offset seeking program, called the Value Proposition Guide, as in show-us-what-industrial-value-we-can-bank domestically.
February 26/16: After sensationally backing out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Canadian government will not exclude the jet from the renewed CF-18 replacement competition. Canadian minister of national defence Harjit Sajjan said at the annual Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) that once the government determines its needs, and capabilities are specified, potential contractors will be allowed to bid, including Lockheed Martin with its F-35. The announcement marks the first time that Sajjan has explicitly said that the F-35 could still be in the running, after weeks of hinting at the possibility.
February 23/16: Major defense purchases through Canada’s problem-plagued procurement process is to be guided by a cabinet-level committee. The committee will have direct access to support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and is tasked with seeing that billion dollar sales, which include all aircraft purchases, will not be held up in federal bureaucracy. While details of the committee have not been disclosed, it will include high ranking members of the Liberal government including Procurement Minister Judy Foote, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Scott Brison, the president of the Treasury Board.
Latest updates[?]: The US State Department has approved the sale of three CH-47F Chinook helicopters to Australia. The $180 million foreign military sale includes six Aircraft Turbine Engines and three Common Missile Warning Systems, as well as three Infrared Signature Suppression Systems and logistical support. Australia has ordered seven of the latest CH47F model to replace the existing CH-47Ds currently in service with the Royal Australian Air Force. Delivery is expected to be completed by 2017.
Australian CH-47D: Afghanistan, 2006
In December 2005, Australia decided to upgrade its CH-47D Chinook fleet, in preparation for use on the front lines. Afghanistan’s high altitudes and sometimes-scorching temperatures reduce rotor lift. That made the Chinooks a far better choice than upgrading the ADF’s S-70 Black Hawk helicopters, whose reduced carrying capacity would limit their tactical uses. Those CH-47D Chinooks have gone on to play an important role in Afghanistan, amidst a general shortage of useful helicopters. Now, Australia seems determined to supplement its older CH-47D fleet with new and improved CH-47F models, which feature more modern electronics, uprated engines, and numerous other improvements.
The question was when the DSCA request would become an actual contract. That question has just been answered.