Latest updates[?]: During a ceremony held on October 6 at the Pennsylvania National Guard’s Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, the US Army unveiled the newest variant of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, the UH-60V. As part of their preparation for beginning instruction, EAATS instructor pilots have been training on six UH-60Vs they received from the Utility Helicopter Program Office in July.
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[?]: Australia has been given clearance by the US State Department to purchase 12 MH-60R naval helicopters. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency says in Transmittal No 21-61 that the Foreign Military Sales package is worth up to $985 million.
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[?]: Northrop Grumman won a $8.4 million delivery order for support of the E2-D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft program avionics flight management computers. The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye (AHE) is the newest variant of the E-2 aircraft platform. In December 2020, Northrop Grumman was awarded a $13.1 million order to provide new computers and displays for the E2-D Hawkeye. The new contract is a 42-month contract with no option periods. Work will take place in California. Estimated completion date is February 5, 2025.
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[?]: J.I. Gascia Construction won a $7.6 million task order under a multiple award construction contract for a design-build KC-46A mission planning center at Travis Air Force Base, California.The work to be performed will provide a facility to support KC-46A mission planning. The contract contains four options, which requires the contractor to repair sewer line, construct the window infill, perform hazardous material remediation, and construct physical security upgrades at the mechanical yard. The KC-46A is a wide-body, multi-mission aircraft capable of transporting fuel, cargo, passengers, and patients. Work will take place in California. Expected completion will be by December 2022.
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 Aircraft won an $11.9 million contract modification, which provides non-recurring engineering to include investigations, systems engineering support, risk analysis and integration development in support of the CH-53K Data Transfer Unit and Defensive Electronic Countermeasure System Replacement Phase III, to replace existing subsystems within the CH-53K production aircraft. The CH-53K is the United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) heavy lift replacement for the CH-53E. Work will take place in Maryland, Connecticut, Iowa, Texas and Vermont. Expected completion date is in June 2024.
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[?]: Israeli Air Force engineers can now repair damaged runways with Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) mats and anchoring systems thanks to training by US Air Force and Army engineers. The US Air Force’s Rapid Airfield Damage Recovery concept uses the same type of technologies. This was the first time FRP kits were used in such a large crater configuration and the first time the kits were tested using F-35s.
In an exclusive June 2006 interview, Israeli Air Force (IAF) chief procurement officer Brigadier-General Ze’ev Snir told Israeli media that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was a key part of their IAF recapitalization plans, and that Israel intended to buy over 100 of the fighters to replace their fleet of over 300 F-16s.
Since then, however, the expected cost of that purchase has more than doubled. Israel’s F-35 contract had to deal with that sticker shock, with issues like the incorporation of Israeli technologies and industrial work, and with major schedule slips in the core F-35 program. Israel was even contemplating delaying its purchase, which would have removed an important early adopter for the Lightning II. In the end, however, Israel decided to forego other fighter options, and became the first foreign buyer of operational F-35s. So, how is the “F-35i Adir” shaping up?
Latest updates[?]: A Canadian board of inquiry has released its report into the crash of a CH-148 off Greece in April 2020. Six onboard the helicopter died. The pilot was performing a turning maneuver called “return to target” when the helicopter’s autopilot took control of the aircraft at the end of the turn. The pilot realized too late that the autopilot was flying the aircraft into the sea and pulled back the cyclic. He had overridden the autopilot for an extended period of time while executing the maneuver. The board of inquiry found that the autopilot software accumulates commands when it is not turn off. This could reduce pilot’s control of the helicopter in special cases. During the certification of the CH-148, this scenario whereby the autopilot was overridden for extended time was not tested.
Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Replacement Program has been a textbook military procurement program over its long history. Unfortunately, it has been a textbook example of what not to do. While Canada’s 50-year old Sea King fleet aged and deteriorated to potentially dangerous levels, political pettiness and lack of concern turned a straightforward off-the-shelf buy into a 25+ year long odyssey of cancellations, lawsuits, rebids, and more. Eventually, the Canadian military settled on Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk as the basis of its new CH-148 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter, which will serve from the decks of Canada’s naval ships and bases.
The civilian S-92 has gone on to some commercial success. To date, however, Canada has been the H-92’s only military customer – with all of the associated systems integration and naval conversion burdens that one would expect. After a long series of badly missed milestones and delivery delays, there are also deeper questions being raised concerning both the machines’ fitness, and DND’s conduct of the program as a whole. This article covers the rationale for, history of, and developments within Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Program.
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[?]: The American MQ-25 programme has successfully conducted the first ever aerial refueling operations between a crewed receiver aircraft and an uncrewed tanker. According to the US Navy, the successful flight “demonstrated that the MQ-25 Stingray can fulfill its tanker mission using the Navy’s standard probe-and-drogue aerial refueling method”.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Sikorsky won a $25.8 million deal for the repair/overhaul of the refueling probes on the HH-60G helicopter. The HH-60G Pave Hawk is the US Air Force’s primary combat search and rescue helicopter used by Air Force special tactics teams and pararescuemen. The Pave Hawk is a highly modified version of the Army Black Hawk helicopter which features an upgraded communications and navigation suite that includes integrated inertial navigation/global positioning/Doppler navigation systems, satellite communications, secure voice, and Have Quick communications. Work will take place in Connecticut. Expected completion is in May 2026.
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.