The US military has been coming to the realization that its aging aircraft fleet will begin posing serious challenges in the coming years. Canada is experiencing similar problems. In 2005, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier said that:
“Our [CC-130 E/H] Hercules fleet right now is rapidly going downhill. We know that three years and a little bit more than that, the fleet starts to become almost completely inoperational and we will have to stop supporting operations – or else, not be able to start them.”
This Spotlight article offers additional details regarding the Canadian CC-130 recapitalization program, and the thinking behind it; some background that points up the parallels between the issues faced by the Canadians, and the experiences of other air services; and some insight into why the buy took so long, after the C-130J was declared Canada’s preferred choice in an “expedited” process. Canada has begun using the new planes on operations, and is preparing to accept the last “CC-130J.” This will shift its focus to issues of long-term support costs.
In January 2006 the Pentagon attempted to remove FY 2007 funding from the F-35 Lightning II’s second engine option, the GE/ Rolls Royce F136. As predicted, protests from fellow Tier 1 partner Britain followed at the highest levels of government. Many in the US Congress, meanwhile, were openly skeptical of handing Pratt & Whitney’s F135 engine the keys to the entire F-35 fleet. In the end, the Pentagon’s argument that low program risk made R&D spending on F136 development a waste, failed. Congress re-inserted funding, and F136 development has continued on schedule.
Fast forward to the FY 2008 budget. For the second year in a row, the USAF removed funding for the GE/RR F136, arguing that killing the F136 would free up $1.8 billion. Politicians disagreed, and the USA’s GAO auditors backed them up. Funding was reinstated. Again. That process was repeated every year until December 2011, when Pratt & Whitney was finally handed its engine monopoly over the US military’s core fighter jet of the future.
In 2000 the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) signed a 7-year ‘lease-and-support’ agreement with Boeing and the United States Air Force for the use of 4 Boeing C-17 Globemaster IIIs (3 + 1 “active reserve”) for the period 2001 – 2007, with an option for a possible extension to 9 years. Although it has the ability to operate from unprepared strips, the RAF uses the C-17 as a strategic transport aircraft to established bases, especially those that are far from Britain. The C-17 made its RAF operational debut during the Afghanistan conflict in 2001.
Front line needs soon had the C-17 fleet in high demand, and a combination of an aging C-130K Hercules force and delays to Britain’s 25 22 planned A400M transports stretched the RAF’s transport fleet even more. Instead of extending the C-17 lease, therefore, a deal struck with Boeing in 2006 saw the UK buy all 4 aircraft outright, and add a 5th aircraft to the RAF’s C-17 fleet at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Since then, the fleet has kept on growing. A 6th C-17 was ordered in 2007, a 7th was ordered in 2009, and #8 was ordered and delivered in 2012.
The CIM-2000 Scorpene class diesel-electric attack submarine partnership was just the first step for Spain’s Navantia, as it joined with France’s DCNS to enter the global submarine market. Now Navantia is building on that base of expertise, to field its own S-80 Class for the Spanish Armada. Spain’s new submarines will be larger boats than Navantia/DCNS’ Scorpene Class, with Air-Independent Propulsion (AIP) systems as standard gear, and completely new designs for both external shape and internal systems.
This article will cover the S-80 submarines’ capabilities and associated key events and contracts – including sub-contracts to American, British, and Italian firms.
The long-range C-17 Globemaster III heavy transport aircraft remains the backbone of US Air Mobility Command inter-theater transport around the world, and its ability to operate from shorter and rougher runways has made it especially useful during the Global War on Terror. Recent buys by Australia, Britain, and Canada have broadened the plane’s its global use. Now NATO, who has relied on the SALIS arrangement and its leased super-giant AN-124s from Russia, is looking to buy and own 3 C-17s as NATO pooled assets with multinational crews. Participating countries will receive allocated flight hours relative to their participation, and thus far they include 12 nations: Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, and the United States.
This order will not materially change the coming shut-down of C-17 production, but it does look like the inauguration of a pool that will fill a gaping hole in Europe’s defense capabilities – its complete lack of heavy airlift. This article covers NATO C-17 acquisition program, including its structure and ongoing announcements.
The program now has an adequate name, as NATO SAC has signed a contract, all 3 aircraft have been delivered, and SAC C-17s have been busy on missions for a couple of years now.
The Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) needs to replace most of its helicopters. Its Sikorsky S-92 VIP helicopters are predictably modern, but the operational front is less promising. The QEAF had been depending on a combination of a small handful of Lynx maritime helicopters, 12-13 old Sea King/ Westland Commando medium naval utility and patrol helicopters, 6 SA330 Puma medium utility helicopters, 6 somewhat more modern SA332F Super Pumas, and 12 old SA324G Gazelle light armed scout helicopters. Age is taking its toll.
The Emirate is a small country, but its does need some flyable helicopters, and could benefit by improving its maritime overwatch capabilities. Iran’s military, with its fleets of small boats and mines, is coupled with a second-track internal threat of subversion and terrorism. In both cases, helicopters are a military’s most valuable assets. A 2008-2011 buy of 21 AW139 light-med utility helicopters was a good first step, and in 2012, Qatar began to get equally serious about improving both its maritime surveillance capabilities, and its armed helicopter punch…
In February 2010, Sikorsky announced an indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity agreement with the US Department of State to purchase up to 110 modernized S-61N/T Sea King helicopters, for itself or for other government departments. USDoS is expected to be the largest customer, buying them for “passenger and cargo transport missions in support of its worldwide operations.”
That will reduce, but not eliminate, the State Department’s regular need to lease helicopters for this purpose. As one example, the helicopter that spirited Rep. Alan Grayson [D-FL] out of Niger during the 2010 coup was flown by Blackwater/Xe’s Presidential Airways. The Sikorsky contract probably won’t change that sort of need, but it will make a difference in countries like Afghanistan. Because of the current state of helicopter support there, the role of private contractors to fill the gaps has been growing. The initial S-61T delivery order has been sent there, as an alternative the ensures availability for the department’s personnel. That has been followed by more orders, and Sikorsky is pointedly touting its S-61Ts as a broader alternative to leased machines in theater – many of which are earlier-model S-61s.
Performance-Based Logistics has become a way of life in Britain’s military, and has also been adopted for some programs in the USA, Canada, France, and other countries. Now, a $5.8 billion contract will add the UAE to that list, and support every aircraft and helicopter in the UAE’s armed forces: Air Force, Army, Navy, Special forces, and the Presidential Guard.
Afghanistan has been a tough test for the NATO alliance. Thus far, the report is mixed. While a number of allied countries have committed troops, few of the NATO countries’ available helicopters have been committed, despite promises made and commanders’ requests from the field. Britain, the Netherlands, and the USA had contributed much of the combat helicopter support in the most active combat zones, alongside some CH-47s from non-NATO partner Australia. They’ve been supplemented by helicopters from some east bloc countries like Poland and the Czech Republic (Mi-8/17s), and by a few CH-47D Chinooks and Bell 412ERs from Canada. The sizable helicopter fleets belonging to NATO members like France, Germany, Italy, and Spain have also seen some use in Afghanistan, with the Italian contingent (currently CH-47s, NH90s and A129 attack helicopters) covering a wide area to the west. The most serious fighting, and corresponding need, remains in the south.
That has created political tensions within the alliance, especially when set against the backdrop of European shortfalls in meeting NATO ISAF commitments. At one point, the USA was forced to extend the deployment of 20 CH-47 heavy helicopters by 6 months, in order to try and make up the shortfall. With Canada and the Netherlands out of the picture after long combat deployments in the south, the situation is likely to become even more strained. Over the longer, term, however, a 2-track solution has emerged. Track one involves keeping up the pressure, and some members of NATO have responded. Track 2 has involved stanching the wound by chartering private helicopter support that can take care of more routine missions in theater, freeing the military helicopters for other tasks.
Sikorsky’s H-60 Hawk family has become the backbone of the US Army and Navy’s helicopter force, with a number of fielded variants. The USAF’s HH-60 is well known for its medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) role, as well as its combat search and rescue functions. The US Army also operates dedicated MEDEVAC models. The UH-60Qs include a 6 patient litter system, on-board oxygen generation, medical suction system, and other advanced medical capabilities. They are complemented by more recent HH-60Ls, and the entire fleet will eventually be recapitalized using new HH-60M MEDEVAC models.
The HH-60M’s higher power rating might make them somewhat more useful in hot and/or high altitude conditions like Afghanistan. In that theater, H-60 helicopters have taken a back seat to larger machines like Boeing’s H-47 Chinooks, the USMC’s CH-53E Super Stallions, and Eurocopter’s Super Puma/Cougar series. In the mountainous altitudes around Tora Bora, for instance, the California Army National Guard’s 126th Medical Co. (Air Ambulance) reportedly had to use its UH-60Ls stripped of their heavy litter carousels. One area where usefulness can receive quick improvements across the entire fleet, however, involves surveillance and visualization.