Mar 24, 2017 00:55 UTC
The US Navy’s MQ-25A Stingray
unmanned aerial tanker is likely to have a wing-body-tail design
after Lockheed Martin's Skunk Work division found that a flying wing design is not the best aerodynamic shape for the service's latest requirements. While the Navy had initially intended a surveillance and possible strike capability for the aircraft, the current requirements suggest a strong emphasis on a tanking role and less on ISR. As a result, competing firms Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, General Atomics and Boeing are likely to redesign their bids for the competition.
UCAS-D/ N-UCAS concept
The idea of UAVs with full stealth and combat capabilities has come a long way, quickly. Air forces around the world are pursuing R&D programs, but in the USA, progress is being led by the US Navy.
Their interest is well-founded. A May 2007 non-partisan report discussed the lengthening reach of ship-killers. Meanwhile, the US Navy’s carrier fleet sees its strike range shrinking to 1950s distances, and prepares for a future with fewer carrier air wings than operational carriers. Could UCAV/UCAS vehicles with longer ranges, and indefinite flight time limits via aerial refueling, solve these problems? Some people in the Navy seem to think that they might. Hence UCAS-D/ N-UCAS, which received a major push in the FY 2010 defense review. Now, Northrop Grumman is improving its X-47 UCAS-D under contract, even as emerging privately-developed options expand the Navy’s future choices as it works on its new RFP.
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Mar 22, 2017 00:29 UTC
Lockheed Martin has been given a $40 million contract modification
to strip and recoat F-22 coatings for the USAF's F-22 Raptor
fleet. Work on the contract will be performed at various locations in California, Georgia, Utah, and Texas, and work is expected to be completed by the end of June 2019. At the time of the award, the company received $6.4 million. The fifth-generation tactical stealth fighter has been in service since 2005 and designed to perform air superiority missions.
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.
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Mar 08, 2017 00:42 UTC
Boeing received a contract-modification of $46 million
to perform interim contractor support for Saudi Arabia's recently purchased F-15s
. The above support refers to an agreement wherein a service will defer an investment due to a lack of technological capabilities, such as equipment spares or technical data. Boeing is expected to complete this service for Saudi Arabia by the end of March. The contract is comprised entirely of foreign military sales to Saudi Arabia and supports the recent commissioning of F-15SA fighters by the kingdom.
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.
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Feb 27, 2017 00:46 UTC
Airbus has announced that there have been no signs of further cracks or damage
in the combustion chambers of A400M
transport aircraft. Safety regulators from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) had to conduct investigations and safety checks into all aircraft after unexplained cracks were discovered in the combustion chamber of an A400M engine owned by Malaysia last year. The EASA airworthiness directive called for inspections of all engines similar to the Malaysian one, and follow-on checks after 500 hours, and then every 250 hours after that. Airbus has also called for fresh talks
with European defense ministers in order to discuss the latest issues concerning the transporter and to agree on future steps to ensure the best interests of the program.
A400M rollout, Seville
Airbus’ A400M is a EUR 20+ billion program that aims to repeat Airbus’ civilian successes in the full size military transport market. A series of smart design decisions were made around capacity (35-37 tonnes/ 38-40 US tons, large enough for survivable armored vehicles), extensive use of modern materials, multi-role capability as a refueling tanker, and a multinational industrial program; all of which leave the aircraft well positioned to take overall market share from Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules. If the USA’s C-17 is allowed to go out of production, the A400M would also have a strong position in the strategic transport market, with only Russian AN-70, IL-76 and AN-124 aircraft as competition.
Airbus’ biggest program issue, by far, has been funding for a project that is more than EUR 7 billion over budget. The next biggest issue is timing, as a combination of A400M delays and Lockheed’s strong push for its C-130J Super Hercules narrow the field for future exports. This DID Spotlight article covers the latest developments, as the A400M Atlas moves into the delivery phase. Will Airbus’ 3rd big issue become its own customers?
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Feb 24, 2017 00:59 UTC
Boeing is taking some suppliers to court
after they sold mislabeled chemicals that caused the maiden flight of the KC-46
tanker to be delayed by a month. Able Aerospace Adhesives and AlfaKleen Chemical Labs, both from California, are being sued in the sum of $10 million or more for the mix up, whose incorrect chemical damaged components in the jet’s refueling system, and time was lost by Boeing in order to to replace those damaged parts. The liquid provided was certified to meet MIL-PRF-680 Type III certification; it was, however, actually more acidic than required.
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.
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Feb 17, 2017 00:56 UTC
Saab is continuing a defense partnership with Indian industry, offering a sensor package
for India's s LCA Tejas
fighter. Included in the technology transfer is the company's Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fighter radar integrated with a compact electronic warfare suite. The package will also have synergies with the systems developed for the Gripen
fighter, currently being pitched to New Delhi to fill their Navy requirement for carrier-based fighters
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.
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