Latest updates[?]: Sikorsky won a $120 million deal to provide logistics, engineering and modification install support for the H-53 helicopter for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Foreign Military Sales customers. Work will be performed in Stratford, Connecticut; and various locations within the continental US, and is expected to be completed in March 2028. No funds will be obligated at the time of award; funds will be obligated on individual orders as they are issued.
The U.S. Marines have a problem. They rely on their CH-53E Super Stallion medium-heavy lift helicopters to move troops, vehicles, and supplies off of their ships. But the helicopters are wearing out. Fast. The pace demanded by the Global War on Terror is relentless, and usage rates are 3 times normal. Attrition is taking its toll. Over the past few years, CH-53s have been recalled from “boneyard” storage at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, in order to maintain fleet numbers in the face of recent losses and forced retirements. Now, there are no flyable spares left.
Enter the Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program, now known as the CH-53K. It aims to offer notable performance improvements over the CH-53E, in a similar airframe. The question is whether its service entry delay to 2018-2019 will come too late to offset a serious decline in Marine aviation.
Latest updates[?]: The British Ministry of Defense is reportedly investigating the supply of Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 fighter jets to European MiG-29 operators. The ultimate aim is to replace the Soviet-era MiG 29 planes gifted by these operators to Ukraine, with these advanced Eurofighter aircraft. In parallel, Poland is considering gifting its Soviet-made MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine within the next four to six weeks, a move that would bolster Ukrainian forces’ firepower. These planes are already familiar to the country’s air force and can be utilized immediately. However, both the UK and Poland have stated that this supply would be part of a larger international coalition. Other countries, including Slovakia, have also declared their readiness to provide their MiG-29 planes to Ukraine, and NATO nations have urged others to come forward.
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[?]: Boeing won a $2 billion modification for KC-46A Air Force Production Lot 9 aircraft, subscriptions and licenses. The contract modification provides for the exercise of an option for an additional quantity of 15 KC-46A aircraft, data, subscriptions and licenses being produced under the basic contract. Work will be performed in Seattle, Washington, and is expected to be completed by Aug. 31, 2026.
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[?]: Airbus US Space & Defense won a $297.5 million modification for UH-72 Lakota contractor logistics support and engineering services. Work will be performed in Grand Prairie, Texas, with an estimated completion date of December 31, 2023. The UH-72A Lakota is a light utility helicopter specifically designed to meet the requirements of the US Army. The UH-72A Lakota helicopters were acquired to replace the UH-1H Iroquois and OH-58 A/C Kiowa helicopters.
DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This is DID’s FOCUS Article regarding the US Army’s Light Utility Helicopter program, covering the program and its objectives, the winning bid team and industrial arrangements, and contracts.
The US Army’s LUH program will finish as a 325 helicopter acquisition program that will be worth about $2.3 billion when all is said and done. It aimed to replace existing UH-1 Hueys and OH-58 Kiowa utility variants in non-combat roles, freeing up larger and more expensive UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for front-line duty. In June 2006, a variant of Eurocopter’s EC145 beat AgustaWestland’s AB139, Bell-Textron’s 412EP Twin Huey, and MD Helicopters’ 902 Explorer NOTAR (No Tail Rotor) design. The win marked EADS’ 1st serious military win in the American market, and their “UH-145” became the “UH-72A Lakota” at an official December 2006 naming ceremony.
Eurocopter has continued to field new mission kits and deliver helicopters from its Mississippi production line, while trying to build on their LUH breakthrough. A training helicopter win will keep the line going for a couple more years…
Latest updates[?]: Lockheed won a $49.6 million modification, which provides non-recurring engineering and add/delete efforts to bring 12 MH-60R aircraft from standard Foreign Military Sales configuration to a unique configuration for the government of Australia. Additionally, this modification procures 12 Australian unique modification one kits and 10 embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems spares. Work will take place in New York, Connecticut and Alabama. Expected completion will be in December 2026.
MH-60Rs fire Hellfire
Australia’s AIR 9000, Phase 8 project aimed to buy 24 modern naval helicopters to 16 existing S-70B-2 Seahawks, along with the disastrous A$1.1 billion, 11-helicopter SH-2G “Super Seasprite” acquisition attempt. With a total sales and support value of over A$ 3 billion, it was a highly coveted award.
The finalists were familiar, and both had roots in Australia. Sikorsky’s MH-60R is a modernized descendant of the RAN’s existing S-70B anti-submarine helicopters, and Australia’s army operates the S-70A utility helicopter. On the other hand, a multi-billion dollar 2006 order made the European NH90-TTH (“MRH-90”) the Army’s future helicopter, and some MRH-90s will even serve as Navy utility helicopters. NHI/Eurocopter’s NH90-NFH naval variant builds on that base. So why did the MH-60R make Australia its 1st export win?
Latest updates[?]: Austal USA won a $11.4 million contract modification to exercise an option for littoral combat ship (LCS) industrial post-delivery availability support for USS Augusta (LCS 34). The LCS main purpose is to take up operations such as patrolling, port visits, anti-piracy, and partnership-building exercises to free up high-end surface combatants for increased combat availability. Work will take place in Alabama and Massachusetts. Expected completion will be by September 2023.
Trimaran LCS Design
(click to enlarge)
Exploit simplicity, numbers, the pace of technology development in electronics and robotics, and fast reconfiguration. That was the US Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. Inspired by successful experiments like Denmark’s Standard Flex ships, the US Navy’s $35+ billion “Littoral Combat Ship” program was intended to create a new generation of affordable surface combatants that could operate in dangerous shallow and near-shore environments, while remaining affordable and capable throughout their lifetimes.
It hasn’t worked that way. In practice, the Navy hasn’t been able to reconcile what they wanted with the capabilities needed to perform primary naval missions, or with what could be delivered for the sums available. The LCS program has changed its fundamental acquisition plan 4 times since 2005, and canceled contracts with both competing teams during this period, without escaping any of its fundamental issues. Now, the program looks set to end early. This public-access FOCUS article offer a wealth of research material, alongside looks at the LCS program’s designs, industry teams procurement plans, military controversies, budgets and contracts.
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[?]: The Qatar Air Force took delivery of the first NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) recently, manufacturer Leonardo has announced. The first TTH version helicopter for land-based tasks was delivered on 11 December, in line with contractual commitments, and will be followed in the coming months by the first NFH, dedicated to naval operations, after qualifications. Deliveries will continue until 2025.
NH90: TTH & NFH
The NH90 emerged from a requirement that created a NATO helicopter development and procurement agency in 1992 and, at almost the same time, established NH Industries (62.5% EADS Eurocopter, 32.5% AgustaWestland, and 5% Stork Fokker) to build the hardware. The NATO Frigate Helicopter was originally developed to fit between light naval helicopters like AW’s Lynx or Eurocopter’s Panther, and medium-heavy naval helicopters like the European EH101. A quick look at the NFH design showed definite possibilities as a troop transport helicopter, however, and soon the NH90 project had branched into 2 versions, with more to follow.
The nearest equivalent would be Sikorsky’s popular H-60Seahawk/ Black Hawk family, but the NH90 includes a set of innovative features that give it some distinguishing selling points. Its combination of corrosion-proofing, lower maintenance, greater troop or load capacity, and the flexibility offered by that rear ramp have made the NH90 a popular global competitor.
As many business people discover the hard way, however, success can be almost as dangerous as failure. NH Industries has had great difficulty ramping up production fast enough to meet promised deliveries, which has left several buyers upset. Certification and acceptance have also been slow, with very few NH90s in service over a decade after the first contracts were signed. Booked orders have actually been sliding backward over the last year, and currently stand at around 500 machines, on behalf of 14 nations.
Latest updates[?]: Airbus revealed for the first time the upgrade of the Tiger Mk III upgrade it plans to roll out to France, Germany, and Spain. France is expected to finalize a deal for up to 180 H160M helicopters for its army, navy and air force by the end of the year. Beyond that, Airbus expects to sell as many as 400 helicopters through 2030, according to Matthieu Louvot, executive vice president of Airbus Helicopters programs.
Tiger HAP & HAC
Eurocopter’s Tiger had always had a very odd setup in that it came in two seemingly incomplete versions (HAP scout and HAC/UHT anti-tank), whose respective deficiencies severely limited multi-role flexibility and hence exports. The new Tiger HAD (Helicoptere Appui Destruction) variant fixes those deficiencies, and looks set to become the default version for new-build EC665 Tiger exports.
The HAD project began in December 2005, as the EU’s OCCAR organization for armament cooperation signed a formal contract in Bonn, Germany and set out initial procurement numbers for Spain. This was followed by the French DGA’s announcing the restructuring of its own 80-helicopter order, and each customer has made its own choices as the new variant has gone from concept to initial delivery.
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?