Latest updates[?]: Sikorsky won a $30 million contract modification, which exercises an option to provide technical publications, logistics support analysis and logistics product data resulting from production engineering changes, diminishing manufacturing sources and material shortages in support of CH-53K aircraft production and fielding. Work will take place in Connecticut and New York. Estimated completion will be in December 2023.
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 US Air Force has awarded engineering firm KBR a $69.2 million contract to support the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane and Naval Air Systems Command all-weather airborne early-warning fleet. Work for the program will focus on the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, E-2C Hawkeye and C-2A Greyhound aircraft. Under the agreement, KBR will develop and integrate new intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting (ISR&T) capabilities for the fleet.
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[?]: The US is considering sending the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, a US defense official revealed at a press conference Tuesday. The Raytheon system is one of the capabilities “being considered with all others,” the official said regarding potential steps to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense against persistent Russian missile and drone attacks.
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[?]: Sikorsky won a $98.9 million deal for UH-60M Black Hawk aircraft. UH-60 Black Hawk is a multi-mission helicopter developed by Sikorsky that has been operational in the US Army since 1978. The export version of the UH-60 Black Hawk is designated as S-70A. Work will take place in Connecticut. Estimated completion date is June 30, 2027.
US Army HH-60Ms
In July 2012, the US military signed another huge contract with Sikorsky. With production of the Army’s HH/UH-60M, and the Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters, all in full swing, there’s no question about the need for future orders. In that environment, multi-year contracts allow efficiencies in purchasing, and security of staffing, throughout Sikorsky’s supply chain. These new helicopter types are also available to Foreign Military Sales class customers, under the American contract’s advantageous pricing and terms. The UH-60M, MH-60S and MH-60R models have already inked export deals, and official requests indicate that more deals are in the pipeline.
The new multi-year 2013-2017 contract could be worth up to $11.7 billion, and follows a 5-year, multi-service “MYP-VII” contract in December 2007. Like its predecessor, it covers UH-60M Black Hawk troop transport and light cargo helicopters, Army HH-60M SAR (Search And Rescue) / MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) helicopters, and the US Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
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?
In 2006 the US Air Force awarded Boeing a contract worth north of $10 billion for 141 HH-47 combat search-and-rescue helicopters, but by mid-2009 the CSAR-X program was cancelled during its System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase by the Pentagon. At the time Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote that this program had “a troubled acquisition history and raises the fundamental question of whether this important mission can only be accomplished by yet another single-service solution.”
That cancellation may have been warranted, but the underlying operational constraints are increasing as years go by, with a tentative replacement for aging helicopters that keeps slipping. In 2012, the Air Force got the green light to take another crack at it. The competition narrowed to a single bidder, and after wobbly budgetary announcements, the program was greenlighted. By the end of 2014 it was officially designated as HH-60W.
Latest updates[?]: The US Navy has carried out a demonstration of the MQ-8C Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) concept during Exercise Resolute Hunter. The exercise took place at San Clemente Island from June 21 to July 1. HSC-23 flew the unmanned rotorcraft for 23 hours during this period. It had taken off from Point Mugu and flown to San Clemente before control was handed over to a Portable Mission Control Station (MCS-P) deployed there. “Fire Scout is the Navy’s only unmanned helicopter with the ability to deploy from a ship or land with ISR&T at the extended range required for future warfighting,” said Capt. Dennis Monagle, Fire Scout program manager.
MQ-8B Fire Scout
A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.
The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Tactical Air Support won a $265.3 million deal, which provides non-recurring engineering, inspection, modification, and block upgrade efforts for 16 F-5E and six F-5F Tiger II aircraft from a Swiss Confederation configuration to a Navy/Marine Corps N+/F+ configuration. Additionally, this contract procures eight block upgrade retrofits to existing fleet aircraft. Estimated completion will be in June 2027.
Top Gun, redux
In the 1980s movie Top Gun, the revolutionary “MiG-28s” operated by the enemy air force were actually painted F-5E Tiger IIs, derived from a family of fighters whose design concept dates back to the mid 1950s. The F-5 family of aircraft were produced in large numbers, as they were an extremely popular export item. Many are still operated by countries around the world, and the US Air Force used them for many years as “aggressor” aircraft in Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT). They remain excellent for simulating similarly small, low profile adversaries like the MiG-21s and MiG-19s that gave American pilots such trouble over Vietnam. Or the IAF MiG-21s that caused trouble in the 2004 – 2005 COPE India exercises, for that matter.
“F-5Ns” are still routinely flown by American Navy and Marines adversary squadrons in training exercises, where they simulate small, low-cross-section (and hence hard to spot) enemies. Keeping them in service requires maintenance contracts – and some timely help from the Swiss also came in handy. This article covers a multi-year maintenance & support contract from 2008 – 2014, as a representative time period.
Latest updates[?]: F-15s assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing, California, carried out Alaska Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training exercise with F-22s from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson last month. There were two objectives in this exercise: one is to free up F-22s to allow them to be deployed in the Pacific and the second is to improve interoperability between the two different generations of fighters.
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.