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[?]: Saab announced that it would be working with Finnish firm Varjo to integrate the company's Human eye resolution mixed reality (XR) technology into all simulators for the Saab Gripen E/F aircraft. Saab's Head of Tactical Environment Simulation and Visualisation Stefan Furenbäck said in a statement, “We are finalising the basic functionalities in our own simulator so that we can use Varjo's XR-3 headsets in all our flight simulators. We've previously carried out smaller, independent prototype-like projects but now we're integrating them into our actual flight simulators.”
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[?]: Argentinian media reported that a Chinese team is in the country for sales discussion of the JF-17 to the local air force. The team from China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (CATIC) is negotiating the sale of 12 fighters.
FC-1/ JF-17, armed
The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…
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[?]: The Advanced Electronics won a contract modification for the F-15 Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) Electronic System Test Set (ESTS). Services acquired under this effort are to provide the RSAF with an upgraded ESTS. The RSAF currently uses an A31U18240-2 ESTS configuration, and this shall provide the scope to upgrade and install the A31U18240-3 and A31U18240-4 configuration (frequently referred to as -3 and -4, respectively), as well as familiarization training, regression testing, and travel. Work will be performed at the RSAF Central Maintenance Facilities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the Science and Engineering facility in Huntsville, Alabama; and Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and is expected to be completed April 16, 2021.
F-15S & weapons
In October 2010, talks that Saudi Arabia was negotiating a $30-60 billion arms package with the USA were made official with a full multi-billion request that included 84 F-15 Strike Eagles to replace the Kingdom’s Tornado strike aircraft and/or F-15A-D fighters, upgrades for another 70 planes, about 132 UH-60 Black Hawk utility and AH-64 attack helicopters, and armaments to equip them.
This article looks at those requests, their tie-ins, the issues that are part of these potential deals, and related follow-on requests. As is often the case with DSCA announcements, years can pass between the requests and the signed contracts, but these contracts have started to roll in, alongside other significant buys.
Latest updates[?]: Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has rolled out a prototype of the multirole fighter aircraft being developed for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) under the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) programme. The locally developed twin-engined aircraft KF-21 Boramae was officially unveiled in a ceremony held on April 9 at KAI headquarters in the South Korean city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, that was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.
KODEF ’11 slide
South Korea has been thinking seriously about designing its own fighter jet since 2008. The ROK defense sector has made impressive progress, and has become a notable exporter of aerospace, land, and naval equipment. The idea of a plane that helps advance their aerospace industry, while making it easy to add new Korean-designed weapons, is very appealing. On the flip side, a new jet fighter is a massive endeavor at the best of times, and wildly unrealistic technical expectations didn’t help the project. KF-X has progressed in fits and starts, and became a multinational program when Indonesia joined in June 2010. As of March 2013, however, South Korea has decided to put the KF-X program on hold for 18 months, while the government and Parliament decide whether it’s worth continuing.
Indonesia has reportedly contributed IDR 1.6 trillion since they joined in July 2010 – but that’s just $165 million of the DAPA’s estimated WON 6 billion (about $5.5 billion) development cost, and there’s good reason to believe that even this development budget is too low. This article discusses the KFX/IFX fighter’s proposed designs and features, and chronicles the project’s progress and setbacks since 2008…
Latest updates[?]: The final Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft acquired by Romania from Portugal was delivered to the eastern European nation on March 25. NATO’s Allied Air Command announced that the 17th aircraft was delivered to Borcea Air Base. This completed an order that commenced in 2016 when Romania acquired 12 F?16AM/BM Block 15 fighters (nine single-seat and three twin-seat), with a further five F-16s (four single-seat and one twin-seat) following for a final tally of 17.
The MiG-21 is reaching the end of its service life, but it can still be effective for a little while. India’s refurbished MiG-21 ‘Bisons’ combined Russian, Indian and Israeli technology to excellent effect in the COPE India 2004 and 2005 exercises with the USAF, and there’s even a Russian-Israeli MiG-21 2000 variant that exists for general sale. Israeli companies have made something of a specialty of refurbishing both Western and Soviet fighters with modern radars, avionics, and Israeli weapons like the Python air-air missile, giving the systems new life. An all-Israeli effort was undertaken for Romania, in order to create Romania’s MiG-21 ‘Lancers’ via upgrade.
The question is what comes next. In 2005, rumor had it that the success of those efforts had led to a more ambitious fighter deal between Israel and Romania for upgraded Cheyl Ha’Avir F-16A/Bs – but that deal appears to have fizzled for unknown reasons. Other firms entered the mix, including Saab with its JAS-39 Gripen and, surprisingly, EADS’ Eurofighter. Then the USA appeared to have flown away with the fighter replacement deal – but, not so fast.
Latest updates[?]: Two F-5Es had a mid-air collision off Taiwan’s Pingtung County at around 15:06 local time on March 22. The crash on Monday was the third such incident in the past half-year, at a time when the island’s armed forces are having to intercept Chinese aircraft on an almost daily basis. One of the pilots was found unconscious in the sea but could not be resuscitated and was pronounced dead at the hospital. Rescuers were still searching for the remaining pilot.
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[?]: India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the procurement of 83 indigenously designed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF), including 73 Mk 1A fighters and 10 Mk 1 dual-seat trainers. The Indian government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) announced that same day that the CCS, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the acquisition of the aircraft for $6.2 billion along with work on the design and construction of related infrastructure for $164.3 million. The LCA Mk 1A, which was designed by the government-run Aeronautical Development Agency and will be built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore, is still under development.
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[?]: Austrian defense minister Klaudia Tanner wants to sell the country’s Eurofighters as soon as possible. It is still unclear, which fighter will replace the Eurofighter Typhoon. However, in an interview with the daily newspaper „Der Standard“ Tanner has voiced plans to procure an interim aircraft from a neutral country until parliament decides to buy a new fighter aircraft. Before Austria procured the Typhoons in 2003 leading to many years of bribe an fraught investigations, the country’s Air Force was flying the Saab J35 Draken. As an interim solution between the Draken and the Typhoon, the service operated Swiss F-5 Tiger aircraft.
w. IRIS-T missiles
In 2003, Austria signed a EUR 2 billion contract to receive 18 EADS Eurofighters plus required support (just over $2.5 billion, or about $140 million per plane). The aircraft were already under construction in Germany when the 2006 election results forced the leftist SPO party, whose campaign promises included canceling the fighter deal, into the Austrian government coalition.
That shift led to a fraught series of negotiations within Austria, and then with EADS. The 2 sides played a game of billion-dollar chicken, leading to a settlement in 2007. The Eurofighter’s rough ride in Austria seemed to be over with delivery of the 15th and final aircraft in 2009, but controversies continue.