Latest updates[?]: The US State Department is moving forward with the sale of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and MQ-9 drones to the United Arab Emirates, a decision which will now face a legal challenge from a nonprofit seeking to halt the weapons agreement. At stake is an arms package approved in the waning days of the Trump administration, which includes 50 F-35s,18 MQ–9B Reapers, as well as thousands of munitions and hundreds of missiles. The total sale comes with an estimated $23 billion price tag.
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[?]: Poland inked an agreement to procure five C-130H transport aircraft from the US under the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, the country’s defense minister announced. The aircraft will join the existing C-130E fleet at 33rd Transport Aviation Base in Powidz.
RAAF C-130J-30, flares
The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?
C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.
Latest updates[?]: Babcock International won a two year contract with the UK Ministry of Defense, for continuation of in-service support to the Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS). Phalanx CIWS is a rapid-fire, computer-controlled radar and 20mm Gatling gun system and is the Royal Navy’s primary defence for ships against the threat of anti-ship missiles.
The radar-guided, rapid-firing MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS, pron. “see-whiz”) can fire between 3,000-4,500 20mm cannon rounds per minute, either autonomously or under manual command, as a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles and other targets. Phalanx uses closed-loop spotting with advanced radar and computer technology to locate, identify and direct a stream of armor piercing projectiles toward the target. These capabilities have made the Phalanx CIWS a critical bolt-on sub-system for naval vessels around the world, and led to the C-RAM/Centurion, a land-based system designed to defend against incoming artillery and mortars.
This DID Spotlight article offers updated, in-depth coverage that describes ongoing deployment and research projects within the Phalanx family of weapons, the new land-based system’s new technologies and roles, and international contracts from FY 2005 onward. As of Feb 28/07, more than 895 Phalanx systems had been built and deployed in the navies of 22 nations.
Latest updates[?]: Korea Times quoted anonymous sources as saying the KAI FA-50 and Pakistan’s JF-17 are the finalists in Malaysia’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) competition. The report added that the JF-17 is in the lead as it “possesses a better mid-range weapons capacity.”
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…
Latest updates[?]: The UK has confirmed it is to establish a joint operating unit with Qatar for the BAE Systems Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) aircraft as part of a wider military co-operation agreement signed by the two countries on April 1. The unit, which will be based at Royal Air Force (RAF) Leeming in England, will operate the Mk 167 (T2 in RAF nomenclature) variant of the Hawk recently acquired by the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) in support of its Eurofighter Typhoon procurement. The updated defense agreement will also see the RAF deploy a Voyager aircraft to Qatar to periodically provide air-to-air refuelling training for the Qatari Emiri Air Force.
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[?]: General Electric Aviation won a $21.6 million deal, which provides for 10 T-64 engine cores for the CH-53E aircraft as part of the T-64 Engine Reliability Improvement Program. The T64 is a turboshaft engine with a maximum power of 3,229 kW (T64-100) for applications on medium-size transport helicopters, such as the Sikorsky CH-53. Work will take place in Massachusetts, Vermont, North Carolina, Kentucky and Ohio. Estimated completion will be in December 2022.
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 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[?]: 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.
Latest updates[?]: HMX-1 and the White House Military Office is testing the VH-92A at Joint Base Charleston this week. The military says this is part of operational testing for Marine Helicopter Squadron One. It is unknown how much longer the process will last. The new Marine One, also referred to as VH-92A, is the next-generation presidential transport helicopter being developed for the US Marine Corps (USMC). Scheduled to enter service this year, the VH-92A helicopter will provide safe and reliable helicopter transportation for the US president and vice president.
In January 2005, the U.S. Navy selected the US101 as the new “Marine One” baseline helicopter, for use by the President of the United States. The US101 is an American variant of AgustaWestland’s successful AW101 multi-mission medium helicopter; it beat out Sikorsky’s S-92 Superhawk, which is already in use as a government VIP transport in countries like South Korea.
That $1.7 billion victory was first endangered, and then destroyed, by ongoing changes from the White House staff. In 2008, the program’s ballooning costs and requirements got a temporary reprieve when US Navy agreed to proceed with the VH-71, despite a cost per aircraft equal or greater than the President’s Air Force One 747s. By June 2009, however, the VH-71 program had shot itself down.
Another round of competition is on the way, and back in 2009 the Pentagon said it was considering buying 2 different helicopters in the VXX follow-on program. Faced with an initial Analysis of Alternatives deemed too expensive, the OSD accepted the Navy’s revised approach in May 2012, setting things in motion for a new program of record.
Latest updates[?]: A category 2 deficiency for the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker is prevent pilots from taking off in the tanker until the On-Board Inert Gas Generation System (OBIGGS) countdown timer reaches zero. OBIGGS will fill the fuel tanks with nitrogen to prevent the tanks from exploding if there is residual fuel inside. Maj. Tim McBride, an instructor pilot with the 931st Air Refueling Wing, told Defense News that the system take on average 1.5 hours to be ready. But occasionally, the countdown timer will reset and that increased the waiting time. To fix the issue, the service has decided to amend the flight manual so that the flight crew can now take off even if the OBIGGS is still counting down. This will be implemented next month.
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.