Latest updates[?]: Boeing won a $16.3 million modification for GOLDesp enterprise resource planning, Delta support equipment sustainment and survival radios sustainment in support of the 36 F-15QA aircraft. Work will be performed in Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, and is expected to be completed by November 30, 2024. Qatar signed a deal to buy 36 F-15QAs in June 2017, and in April 2020 the first jet took its maiden flight.
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[?]: Raytheon won a $63.1 million modification, which exercises options to procure 19 AN/APG-79(V)4 radar systems and associated software in support of radar retrofit and integration into the F/A-18C/D aircraft on behalf of the Marine Corps. The F/A-18 Hornet is an all-weather jet aircraft that is used by the US Navy and Marine Corps as both a fighter and attack platform. The AN/APG-79(V)4 is a scaled version of the AN/APG-79 AESA radar. It provides aircrew situational awareness, near-instantaneous track updates, and multi-target tracking capability. Work will take place California, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Texas. Expected completion date is in March 2023.
CF-18: which way?
(click to see clearly)
The F/A-18 Hornet is the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet‘s predecessor, with the first models introduced in the late 1970s as a spinoff of the USAF’s YF-17 lightweight fighter competitor. Hornets are currently flown by the US Marine Corps as their front-line fighter, by the US Navy as a second-tier fighter behind its larger F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, and by 7 international customers: Australia, Canada, Finland, Kuwait, Malaysia, Spain, and Switzerland. The USA’s aircraft were expected to have a service life of 20 years, but that was based on 100 carrier landings per year. The US Navy and Marines have been rather busy during the Hornets’ service life, and so the planes are wearing out faster.
This is forcing the USA to take a number of steps in order to keep their Hornets airworthy: replacing center barrel sections, re-opening production lines, and more. Some of these efforts will also be offered to allied air forces, who have their own refurbishment and upgrade programs.
Latest updates[?]: Bell Boeing won a $72 million contract modification, which exercises options to procure 15 Nacelle improvements kits, rotatable pool components and interim spares. The modification also provides for the installation of eight kits in conjunction with conversion area harness, electrical wiring interconnect system assessments, sustaining engineering, and over and above requirements for the CV-22 fleet aircraft. Work will take place in Texas and Pennsylvania. Estimated completion is in June 2025.
In March 2008, the Bell Boeing Joint Project Office in Amarillo, TX received a $10.4 billion modification that converted the previous N00019-07-C-0001 advance acquisition contract to a fixed-price-incentive-fee, multi-year contract. The new contract rose to $10.92 billion, and was used to buy 143 MV-22 (for USMC) and 31 CV-22 (Air Force Special Operations) Osprey aircraft, plus associated manufacturing tooling to move the aircraft into full production. A follow-on MYP-II contract covered another 99 Ospreys (92 MV-22, 7 CV-22) for $6.524 billion. Totals: $17.444 billion for 235 MV-22s and 38 CV-22s, an average of $63.9 million each.
The V-22 tilt-rotor program has been beset by controversy throughout its 20-year development period. Despite these issues, and the emergence of competitive but more conventional compound helicopter technologies like Piasecki’s X-49 Speedhawk and Sikorsky’s X2, the V-22 program continues to move forward. This DID Spotlight article looks at the V-22’s multi-year purchase contract from 2008-12 and 2013-2017, plus associated contracts for key V-22 systems, program developments, and research sources.
Latest updates[?]: Kampi Components won a maximum $9.7 million deal for hose assemblies supporting the Army AH-64 D & E Longbow helicopter. The AH-64 Apache is a twin-engined army attack helicopter. The AH-64D Longbow is fitted with the Longbow millimetre wave fire control radar and the Longbow Hellfire missile. Work will take place in Pennsylvania. Estimated completion date is November 9, 2024.
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[?]: South Korea is sending a KC-330 aerial refueling tanker to Australia today to bring back 27,000 liters of urea solution. The solution is needed by the country’s diesel vehicles to reduce harmful emissions. The plane is expected to depart at 5p.m. Korean time from Gimhae International Airport.
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[?]: Lockheed Martin won a $10.9 million contract for Advanced Raptor Enhancement & Sustainment (ARES) for the F-22 Program Office. This contract vehicle provides support for the necessary supplies and services to sustain and modernize the F-22 Raptor, including modernization hardware kit procurement and services such as upgrades, enhancements and fixes, as well as performance-based logistics services. The F-22A Raptor is an advanced tactical fighter aircraft. Lockheed Martin received a $7 billion five-year contract to maintain the USAF fleet of F-22 Raptor stealth fighters, in December 2019. Work under the new deal will take place in Texas. Estimated completion date is October 31, 2031.
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[?]: Raytheon won a $48.2 million contract modification to exercise options for DDG 1000 class engineering support, material and other direct costs in support of the engineering efforts. Developed under the DD(X) destroyer program, the Zumwalt class destroyer (DDG 1000) is the lead ship of a class of next-generation multi-mission surface combatants tailored for land attack and littoral dominance with capabilities that defeat current and projected threats. Work will take place in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Expected completion date is in May 2022.
67% of the fleet
DID’s FOCUS Article for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class “destroyer” program covers the new ships’ capabilities and technologies, key controversies, associated contracts and costs, and related background resources.
The ship’s prime missions are to provide naval gunfire support, and next-generation air defense, in near-shore areas where other large ships hesitate to tread. There has even been talk of using it as an anchor for action groups of stealthy Littoral Combat Ships and submarines, owing to its design for very low radar, infrared, and acoustic signatures. The estimated 14,500t (battlecruiser size) Zumwalt Class will be fully multi-role, however, with undersea warfare, anti-ship, and long-range attack roles. That makes the DDG-1000 suitable for another role – as a “hidden ace card,” using its overall stealth to create uncertainty for enemy forces.
True, or False?
At over $3 billion per ship for construction alone, however, the program faced significant obstacles if it wanted to avoid fulfilling former Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter’s fears for the fleet. From the outset, DID has noted that the Zumwalt Class might face the same fate as the ultra-sophisticated, ultra-expensive SSN-21 Seawolf Class submarines. That appears to have come true, with news of the program’s truncation to just 3 ships. Meanwhile, production continues.
Latest updates[?]: Saudi Arabia has been cleared by the US Department of State to replenish its stock of Raytheon AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs). The approval covers up to 280 AIM-120C-7/C-8-variant missiles (the notification did not provide definite numbers for each version), plus spares, support, and training for an estimated $650 million.
AIM-120C from F-22A
(click for test missile zoom)
Raytheon’s AIM-120 Advanced, Medium-Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) has become the world market leader for medium range air-to-air missiles, and is also beginning to make inroads within land-based defense systems. It was designed with the lessons of Vietnam in mind, and of local air combat exercises like ACEVAL and Red Flag. This DID FOCUS article covers successive generations of AMRAAM missiles, international contracts and key events from 2006 onward, and even some of its emerging competitors.
One of the key lessons learned from Vietnam was that a fighter would be likely to encounter multiple enemies, and would need to launch and guide several missiles at once in order to ensure its survival. This had not been possible with the AIM-7 Sparrow, a “semi-active radar homing” missile that required a constant radar lock on one target. To make matters worse, enemy fighters were capable of launching missiles of their own. Pilots who weren’t free to maneuver after launch would often be forced to “break lock,” or be killed – sometimes even by a short-range missile fired during the last phases of their enemy’s approach. Since fighters that could carry radar-guided missiles like the AIM-7 tended to be larger and more expensive, and the Soviets were known to have far more fighters overall, this was not a good trade.
Latest updates[?]: Sentry View Systems won a $63 million deal for the Minuteman III Remote Visual Assessment Contractor Logistical Support 2.0. The LGM-30 Minuteman III, built by Boeing, is an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It is a long-range, solid-fuel, three-stage ICBM with the capability to carry single or multiple nuclear warheads. Work will take place in Utah, Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming. Estimated completion date is November 3, 2026.
LGM-30G Minuteman III
For 50 years, land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) have been part of the US primary strategic deterrence capability, the nuclear-armed triad that also includes submarine-launched ballistic missiles and long range heavy bombers.
Although the main target for the US deterrent – the Soviet Union – imploded in 1991, other threats – such as nuclear-armed rogue states and non-state actors – have emerged. To address these new threats, the US Air Force undertook a major ICBM modernization program.
To carry out this program, the USAF awarded a 15-year ICBM Prime Integration Contract (F42610-98-C-0001) in 1997 to a team led by Northrop Grumman. Since then, the team, which includes Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and ATK, has been carrying out a major modernization of the ICBM system to ensure its readiness.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing said it delivered the first KC-46A tanker to the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) marking the program’s first delivery to a customer outside the United States. The KC-46A has already completed more than 5,000 sorties and transferred more than 50 million pounds of fuel to other aircraft through its boom and drogue systems.
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.