Latest updates[?]: Japan has officially acknowledged that three Eurofighters from the German Air Force will be arriving at Hyakuri Air Base on September 28. The Germans will participate in joint training with F-2 fighter pilots from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force. The ASDF says the goal is to promote mutual understanding, strengthen defense cooperation and improve the ASDF's tactical skills.
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[?]: Switzerland has inked a deal to procure three dozen F-35A fighter jets, dodging a proposed popular referendum in the hopes of receiving the new jets by the end of the decade. Bern’s armaments director Martin Sonderegger and F-35 program manager Darko Savic signed the procurement contract on Monday, per a government release. The contract, worth $6.25 billion includes 36 of the conventional takeoff-and-landing aircraft variant, due to replace the nation’s fleets of F/A-18 Hornets and F-5 Tigers between 2027 and 2030. The Swiss parliament voted last week to green-light the procurement, which paved the way for the contract signatures.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon won a $9 million contract for the procurement of nine active electronically scanned array radar system APG-79 weapon repairable assemblies in support of the F/A-18 aircraft. The McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet is a twin-engine, supersonic, all-weather, carrier-capable, multirole combat jet, designed as both a fighter and attack aircraft. Work will take place in Mississippi. The deal contains no options and work is expected to begin October 2022 and be completed by January 2024.
The US Navy flies the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighters, and has begun operating the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare & strike aircraft. Many of these buys have been managed out of common multi-year procurement (MYP) contracts, which aim to reduce overall costs by offering longer-term production commitments, so contractors can negotiate better deals with their suppliers.
The MYP-II contract ran from 2005-2009, and was not renewed because the Pentagon intended to focus on the F-35 fighter program. When it became clear that the F-35 program was going to be late, and had serious program and budgetary issues, pressure built to abandon year-by-year contracting, and negotiate another multi-year deal for the current Super Hornet family. That deal is now final. This entry covers the program as a whole, with a focus on 2010-2015 Super Hornet family purchases. It has been updated to include all announced contracts and events connected with MYP-III, including engines and other separate “government-furnished equipment” that figures prominently in the final price.
Latest updates[?]: Saab has announced it successfully test-fired the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air-to-Air Missile (BVRAAM) from a Gripen E fighter jet for the first time. The event occurred at the FMV Vidsel test range in northern Sweden around the end of May or beginning of June 2022, and saw the weapon launched from an altitude of approximately 16,500ft and striking a target as planned.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Data from the F-15 Eagle Passive Active Warning Survivability System was analyzed by the US Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 6 team and the analysis was that the system is effective in contested airspace. “EPAWSS proves that the jet can also get into the middle of a fight and cause massive issues for our adversaries,” said Capt. Max Denbin, the team’s lead test engineer. “Whether in a more passive jamming role, or as a follow-on strike package, an F-15E or EX with EPAWSS causes detrimental impacts to opposing forces decision space,” said 1st Lt. Hagan Strader, lead analyst.
F-15C over DC
“Array of Aging American Aircraft Attracting Attention” discusses the issues that accompany an air force whose fighters have an average age of over 23.5 years – vs. an average of 8.5 years in 1967. One of the most obvious consequences is the potential for fleet groundings due to unforseen structural issues caused by time and fatigue. That very fear is responsible for the #1 priority placed on bringing new KC-X aerial tankers into the fleet to complement the USA’s 1960s-era KC-135 Stratotankers.
It can also affect the fighter fleet more directly.
Following the crash of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C aircraft Nov 2/07 (see crash simulation), the US Air Force suspended non-mission critical F-15 flight operations on Nov 3/07. While the cause of that accident is still under investigation, preliminary findings indicate that a structural failure during flight may have been responsible. In response, Japan suspended its own F-15 flights, which left them in a bit of a bind – even as Israel’s F-15s joined them on the tarmac. As the effects continue to spread and the USAF and others continue to comment on this situation, DID continues to expand its coverage of this bellwether event. A conditional restoration of the American F-15A-D fleet to flight status was soon overturned by the re-grounding of that fleet as a result of the report’s conclusions – a status that remains only been partially lifted. Meanwhile, the accident report has been released (compete with video dramatization) and the status of the remaining aircraft will have significant implications for the USAF’s future F-15 fleet size. Not to mention its other procurement programs.
Then, too, this is America. Now there’s a lawsuit.
Latest updates[?]: Tactical Air Support won a $265.3 million deal, which provides non-recurring engineering, inspection, modification, and block upgrade efforts for 16 F-5E and six F-5F Tiger II aircraft from a Swiss Confederation configuration to a Navy/Marine Corps N+/F+ configuration. Additionally, this contract procures eight block upgrade retrofits to existing fleet aircraft. Estimated completion will be in June 2027.
Top Gun, redux
In the 1980s movie Top Gun, the revolutionary “MiG-28s” operated by the enemy air force were actually painted F-5E Tiger IIs, derived from a family of fighters whose design concept dates back to the mid 1950s. The F-5 family of aircraft were produced in large numbers, as they were an extremely popular export item. Many are still operated by countries around the world, and the US Air Force used them for many years as “aggressor” aircraft in Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT). They remain excellent for simulating similarly small, low profile adversaries like the MiG-21s and MiG-19s that gave American pilots such trouble over Vietnam. Or the IAF MiG-21s that caused trouble in the 2004 – 2005 COPE India exercises, for that matter.
“F-5Ns” are still routinely flown by American Navy and Marines adversary squadrons in training exercises, where they simulate small, low-cross-section (and hence hard to spot) enemies. Keeping them in service requires maintenance contracts – and some timely help from the Swiss also came in handy. This article covers a multi-year maintenance & support contract from 2008 – 2014, as a representative time period.
Latest updates[?]: Defense News reports that Lockheed Martin is evaluating how its Joint Air-to-Ground Missile can be configured for mobile, short-range air defense. “It’s a concept we have. We think it will have applicability to a number of platforms,” Rita Flaherty, the company’s vice president for strategy and business operations within its Missiles and Fire Control sector was quoted as saying.
The AGM-114 Hellfire missile remains a mainstay for the US military and its allies around the world, and efforts to replace it have repeatedly stalled. The Joint Common Missile (JCM) was meant to offer new guidance options, and use on fast jets as well as helicopters and UAVs. It performed well, but was canceled. It returned from the procurement dead as JAGM, a program that has undergone several major changes within itself. While other air forces field fast-jet solutions like MBDA’s Brimstone, JAGM will initially be limited to helicopters and UAVs, as a dual-mode guidance upgrade to current model Hellfire missiles.
Latest updates[?]: Two French Air Force Rafale fighters had a mid-air collision during an airshow demonstration on May 22. Both jets landed safely and one piece of the debris landed in the town of Gensac-la-Pallue. Photos online showed that the jet damaged was a Rafale in black livery that recently participated in NATO Tigers Meet. The aircraft from EC 3/30 had won an award for the best painted aircraft. EC 3/30 had also won the Silver Tiger award at the exercise in Greece.
(click for cutaway view)
Will Dassault’s fighter become a fashionably late fighter platform that builds on its parent company’s past successes – or just “the late Rafale”? It all began as a 1985 break-away from the multinational consortium that went on to create EADS’ Eurofighter. The French needed a lighter aircraft that was suitable for carrier use, and were reportedly unwilling to cede design authority over the project. As is so often true of French defense procurement policy, the choice came down to paying additional costs for full independence and exact needs, or losing key industrial capabilities by partnering or buying abroad. France has generally opted for expensive but independent defense choices, and the Rafale was no exception.
Those costs, and associated delays triggered by the end of the Cold War and reduced funding, proved to be very costly indeed. Unlike previous French fighters, which relied on exports to lower their costs and keep production lines humming, the Rafale has yet to secure a single export contract – in part because initial versions were hampered by impaired capabilities in key roles. The Rafale may, at last, be ready to be what its vendors say: a true omnirole aircraft, ready for prime time on the global export stage. The question is whether it’s too late. Rivals like EADS’ Eurofighter, Russia’s Su-27/30 family, and the American “teen series” of F-15/16/18 variants are all well established. Meanwhile, Saab’s versatile and cheaper JAS-39 Gripen remains a stubborn foe in key export competitions, and the multinational F-35 juggernaut is bearing down on it.
Latest updates[?]: According to Japan’s Sankei news, Tokyo has decided to switch its partner for developing the F-X fighter from Lockheed Martin to BAE Systems. Both countries had announced plans to develop a future fighter aircraft engine demonstrator in December 2021. The aircraft was supposed to be develop by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries with assistance from Lockheed Martin. However, talks on how to carry out the development work have run into roadblocks. This prompted Japan to switch the main partner to BAE Systems.
In December 2011, Japan picked Lockheed Martin’s new F-35A stealth fighter as its next fighter aircraft, to replace its aging F-4 “Kai” Phantom fleet. The F-35 was actually their 2nd choice.
Back in February 2006, Inside The Air Force (ITAF) reported that momentum was building within the USAF to sell the ultra-advanced F-22A Raptor abroad to trusted US allies, as a way of increasing numbers and production. Japan clearly wanted them, and the Raptor was a topic of diplomatic discussions in several venues, including a 2007 summit meeting. In the end, however, US politics denied export permission for downgraded export variants of the F-22, and its production line was terminated. That left Japan looking at other foreign “F-X” fighter options in the short term, while they considered a domestic stealth fighter design as their long-term project.
In the ensuing F-X competition, the F-35 Lightning II beat BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as an upgraded F/A-18E Super Hornet from Boeing. Now Lockheed Martin has to deliver, and so will its Japanese partners. Will the F-35A’s price and program delays create problems in Japan? This article looks at the JASDF’s current force, its future options, and ongoing F-X developments.
Latest updates[?]: F-15s assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing, California, carried out Alaska Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training exercise with F-22s from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson last month. There were two objectives in this exercise: one is to free up F-22s to allow them to be deployed in the Pacific and the second is to improve interoperability between the two different generations of fighters.
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.