Latest updates[?]: A group of 12 Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) aircrew students have started their training to operate the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Lead by Lt. Col. Tetsuji Kamiguchi, 405th Air Refueling Squadron commander, the team consists of six pilots and six boom operators. The three-months conversion course is made up of three phases. The academic phase will have four classes daily before they proceed to the second phase to work on simulators and performed pre-briefs and debriefs. The group will then proceed to fly eight flights and a check ride with one of the 56th Air Refueling Squadron instructors before graduating.
KC-135: Old as the hills…
DID’s FOCUS articles cover major weapons acquisition programs – and no program is more important to the USAF than its aerial tanker fleet renewal. In January 2007, the big question was whether there would be a competition for the USA’s KC-X proposal, covering 175 production aircraft and 4 test platforms. The total cost is now estimated at $52 billion, but America’s aerial tanker fleet demands new planes to replace its KC-135s, whose most recent new delivery was in 1965. Otherwise, unpredictable age or fatigue issues, like the ones that grounded its F-15A-D fighters in 2008, could ground its aerial tankers – and with them, a substantial slice of the USA’s total airpower.
KC-Y and KC-Z buys are supposed to follow in subsequent decades, in order to replace 530 (195 active; ANG 251; Reserve 84) active tankers, as well as the USAF’s 59 heavy KC-10 tankers that were delivered from 1979-1987. Then again, fiscal and demographic realities may mean that the 179 plane KC-X buy is “it” for the USAF. Either way, the KC-X stakes were huge for all concerned.
In the end, it was Team Boeing’s KC-767 NexGen/ KC-46A (767 derivative) vs. EADS North America’s KC-45A (Airbus KC-30/A330-200 derivative), both within the Pentagon and in the halls of Congress. The financial and employment stakes guaranteed a huge political fight no matter which side won. After Airbus won in 2008, that fight ended up sinking and restarting the entire program. Three years later, Boeing won the recompete. Now, they have to deliver their KC-46A.
Latest updates[?]: Northrop Grumman won a $12 million contract modification, which increases the ceiling to extend services and adds hours increasing the full-scale fatigue repair time to achieve the required simulated flight hours in support of E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft development. The Advanced Hawkeye features a state-of-the-art radar with a two-generation leap in capability and upgraded aircraft systems that will improve supportability and increase readiness. Work will take place in California, Florida and New York. Estimated completion is in June 2023.
Northrop Grumman’s E-2C Hawkeye is a carrier-capable “mini-AWACS” aircraft, designed to give long-range warning of incoming aerial threats. Secondary roles include strike command and control, land and maritime surveillance, search and rescue, communications relay, and even civil air traffic control during emergencies. E-2C Hawkeyes began replacing previous Hawkeye versions in 1973. They fly from USN and French carriers, from land bases in the militaries of Egypt, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan; and in a drug interdiction role for the US Naval Reserve. Over 200 Hawkeyes have been produced.
The $17.5 billion E-2D Advanced Hawkeye program aims to build 75 new aircraft with significant radar, engine, and electronics upgrades in order to deal with a world of stealthier cruise missiles, saturation attacks, and a growing need for ground surveillance as well as aerial scans. It looks a lot like the last generation E-2C Hawkeye 2000 upgrade on the outside – but inside, and even outside to some extent, it’s a whole new aircraft.
Latest updates[?]: Three Boeing P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft for the first time fired AGM-84D Harpoon missiles during a NATO’s three week-long At-Sea Demo/ Formidable Shield 2021 exercise. Patrol Squadron FOUR (VP-4) successfully conducted a coordinated missile launch with VP-40 using two Air-to-Surface Missile (AGM-84D) Harpoons against a target barge off the coast of Norway on May 31, the Navy said.
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?
South Korea is moving to buy 4 long-range aerial refueling tankers with secondary transport capabilities, with a budget of WON 2 billion (about $1.8 billion). That capability isn’t a huge priority on the Korean peninsula itself, but it’s very useful for international operations. It’s useful as a way of projecting regional power, as territorial disputes flare with China.
As Asian economies grow and militaries modernize, these factors have made long-range aerial refueling a growing regional priority. China, India, Pakistan and China deploy the Russian IL-78. Japan fields 4 Boeing KC-767As, and may raise that to 8 under recent plans. Similar American KC-46As will join them in the region after 2017. Elsewhere in the region, Australia (5) and Singapore (4) picked Airbus Defense & Space’s larger A330 MRTT instead, and India looks set to buy 6 at some point. What will the ROKAF do?
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won an $18.9 million order, which provides for the production and delivery of 48 automatic backup oxygen system retrofit kits for the T-45 aircraft, to include installation tooling, engineering reach back, spares and support equipment. The T-45A Goshawk is a tandem-seat, carrier capable, jet trainer whose mission is to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots. Work will take place in Texas and Missouri. Expected completion is in September 2022.
Do you feel lucky…?
The T-45 Training System includes T-45 Goshawk aircraft, advanced flight simulators, computer-assisted instructional programs, a computerized training integration system, and a contractor logistics support package. The integration of all 5 elements is designed to produce a superior pilot in less time and at lower cost than previous training systems.
The US Navy uses the Hawk-based T-45TS system to train its pilots for the transition from T-6A Texan II/ JPATS aircraft to modern jet fighters – and carrier landings. This is not a risk-free assignment, by any means. Nevertheless, it is a critical link in the naval aviation chain. This DID FOCUS article covers the T-45TS, and associated contracts to buy and maintain these systems, from 2006 to the end of FY 2014.
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[?]: A Royal Australian Air Force E-7A early warning aircraft flew to Hawaii for the inaugural exercise Pacific Edge last month. The E-7A were joined by F-22s from the Hawaii Air National Guard as blue force. The red force was played by F-16s from the 442nd Training and Evaluation Squadron. Seventeen F-22 pilots also flew inside the E-7A during the three-week exercise to provide real-time feedback to the E-7A on what is happening inside the F-22 cockpit during air-to-air engagements.
over New South Wales
The island continent of Australia faces a number of unique security challenges that stem from its geography. The continent may be separated from its neighbors by large expanses of ocean, but it also resides within a potential arc of instability, and has a number of important offshore resource sites to protect. Full awareness of what is going on around them, and the ability to push that awareness well offshore, are critical security requirements.
“Project Wedgetail” had 3 finalists, and the winner was a new variant of Boeing’s 737-700, fitted with an MESA (multirole electronically scanned array) radar from Northrop Grumman. That radar exchanges the traditional AWACS rotating dome for the E-7A’s “top hat” stationary antenna. That design, and the project as a whole, have run into severe turbulence, creating problems for Boeing earnings, the ADF, and other export orders for the type. DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This one covers contracts, events, and key milestones within Australia’s E-7A program, from inception to the current day.
Latest updates[?]: Rockwell Collins won a $16.9 million order, which upgrades the E-6B Mercury mission computer from a 32-BIT to a 64-BIT Linux-based operating system, resulting in an increase to capability and reduced threat vulnerabilities. The principle mission of the E-6 Mercury is to connect the national command authority with the US Navy’s nuclear missile force carried aboard at-sea ballistic missile submarines. The E-6 is a militarized version of the commercial 707 civilian airliner and carries a very low frequency communication system with dual trailing wire antennas. Work will take place in Richardson, Texas and is expected to be finished in March 2023.
The USA’s E-6 Mercury (aka. TACAMO, as in TAke Charge And Move Out) “survivable airborne communication system” airplanes support their Navy’s SSBN ballistic missile submarine force and overall strategic forces. With the advent of the new “Tactical Trident” converted Ohio Class special operations subs, their unique capabilities become even more useful. The E-6B version also has a secondary role as a “Looking Glass” Airborne National Command Post, and in recent years they have seen use as communications relay stations over the front lines of combat.
Delivery of the first production E-6 aircraft took place in August 1989, with delivery of the 16th and final airplane coming in May 1992. This is DID’s FOCUS Article concerning the E-6 system, which includes details concerning the capabilities and associated contracts. The latest contracts involve important fleet upgrades, as the Navy tries to drag the jet’s systems into the 21st century.
The USA’s electronic attack fighters are a unique, overworked, and nearly obsolete capability. With the retirement of the US Air Force’s long-range EF-111 Raven “Spark ‘Vark,” the aging 4-seat EA-6B Prowlers became the USA’s only remaining fighter for radar jamming, communications jamming and information operations like signals interception . Despite their age and performance limits, they’ve been predictably busy on the front lines, used for everything from escorting strike aircraft against heavily defended targets, to disrupting enemy IED land mine attacks by jamming all radio signals in an area.
All airframes have lifespan limits, however, and the EA-6B is no exception. The USA’s new electronic warfare aircraft will be based on Boeing’s 2-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighter, and has 90% commonality with its counterpart. That will give it decent self-defense capabilities, as well as electronic attack potential. At present, however, the EA-18G is slated to be the only dedicated electronic warfare aircraft in the USA’s future force.
DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This article describes the EA-18G aircraft and its key systems, outlining the program, and keeping track of ongoing developments, contracts, etc. that affect the program.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won an $11.6 million contract modification, which adds scope for engineering services in support of Next Generation Jammer software development. Next Generation Jammer, an external jamming pod, will address advanced and emerging threats alike, as well as the growing numbers of threats. NGJ uses the latest digital, software-based and Active Electronically Scanned Array technologies and will provide enhanced airborne electronic attack capabilities to disrupt and degrade enemy air defense and ground communication systems. Work will take place in St. Louis, Missouri. Expected completion will be in December 2021.
The US Navy owns the only operational tactical jamming fighters in the world, but the AN/ALQ-99 pods they depend on use analog technologies, are hard to maintain, and have reliability issues. All-digital technologies and modern transmit/receive electronics offer huge leaps ahead in capability and availability, which is why the US military is working on a Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) replacement for the pods on its tactical strike aircraft.
The EA-18G Growler will be the NGJ’s first platform, but the flexibility of modern technologies mean that it may not be the last.