The US Marines’ helicopter force is aging at all levels, from banana-shaped CH-46 Sea Knight transports that are far older than their pilots, to the 1980s-era UH-1N Hueys and AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters that make up the Corps’ helicopter assault force. While the tilt-rotor V-22 Osprey program has staggered along for almost 2 decades under accidents, technical delays, and cost issues, replacement of the USMC’s backbone helicopter assets has languished. Given the high-demand scenarios inherent in the current war, other efforts are clearly required.
Enter the H-1 program, the USMC’s plan to remanufacture older helicopters into new and improved UH-1Y utility and AH-1Z attack helicopters. The new versions would discard the signature 2-bladed rotors for modern 4-bladed improvements, redo the aircraft’s electronics, and add improved engines and weapons to offer a new level of performance. It seemed simple, but hasn’t quite worked out that way. The H-1 program has encountered its share of delays and issues, but the program survived its review, and continued on into production and deployment.
DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This article covers the H-1 helicopter programs’ rationales and changes, the upgrades involved in each model, program developments and annual budgets, the full timeline of contracts and key program developments, and related research sources.
Latest updates[?]: Northrop Grumman won a $12.9 million contract modification, which provides for the retrofit of Airborne Electronic Attack Weapons Replacement Assembly with 100 production kits required for the modification of ALQ-218 avionics in support of EA-18G upgrades, to include 64 kits for the Navy, and 36 kits for the government of Australia. Work will take place in Connecticut and New York. Estimated completion will be in November 2023.
EA-18G at Pax
The USA’s electronic attack fighters are a unique, overworked, and nearly obsolete capability. With the retirement of the US Air Force’s long-range EF-111 Raven “Spark ‘Vark,” the aging 4-seat EA-6B Prowlers became the USA’s only remaining fighter for radar jamming, communications jamming and information operations like signals interception . Despite their age and performance limits, they’ve been predictably busy on the front lines, used for everything from escorting strike aircraft against heavily defended targets, to disrupting enemy IED land mine attacks by jamming all radio signals in an area.
All airframes have lifespan limits, however, and the EA-6B is no exception. The USA’s new electronic warfare aircraft will be based on Boeing’s 2-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighter, and has 90% commonality with its counterpart. That will give it decent self-defense capabilities, as well as electronic attack potential. At present, however, the EA-18G is slated to be the only dedicated electronic warfare aircraft in the USA’s future force.
DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This article describes the EA-18G aircraft and its key systems, outlining the program, and keeping track of ongoing developments, contracts, etc. that affect the program.
Latest updates[?]: Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is integrating Barak MX interceptors on the Navy's Sa'ar 6 corvettes. IAI's Barak MX interceptors along with IAI's complete naval combat suite will provide advanced defense systems to the Sa’ar 6 corvettes. The systems will be used to protect Israel's exclusive economic zone and strategic facilities that face diversified threats in the marine arena. The Barak MX system was chosen after it was demonstrated to meet the operational requirements and future challenges faced by the Israeli Navy.
Saar 5: INS Hanit
The 1,227t/ 1,350 ton Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class corvettes were built by Northrop Grumman in the 1990s for about $260 million each. It’s a decent performer in a number of roles, from air defense to anti-submarine work, to coastal patrol and special forces support. In 2006, the Israelis went looking for a next-generation vessel with better high-end capabilities. Six years later, Israel had nothing to show for its search. In the meantime, massive natural gas deposits have been discovered within Israel’s coastal waters, adding considerable urgency to their search.
The USA is Israel’s logical supplier, but given Israel’s size and cost requirements, the only American option was the Littoral Combat Ship. Israel pursued that option for several years, conducting studies and trying to get a better sense of feasibility and costs. Their approach would have been very different from the American Freedom Class LCS, removing the swappable “mission modules” and replacing them with a fixed and fully capable set of air defense, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons. In the end, however, the project was deemed to be unaffordable. Instead, Israel began negotiating with Germany, and reports now include discussions involving both South Korea, and a local shipyard.
Latest updates[?]: The US Navy announced, that it has finished a test of its first littoral combat ship-based unmanned mine detection system. The Unmanned Influence Sweep System designed for the LCS has a mine countermeasures unmanned surface vehicle, or MCM USV, and a towed minesweeping payload to sweep magnetic or acoustic mines, the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants.
Trimaran LCS Design
(click to enlarge)
Exploit simplicity, numbers, the pace of technology development in electronics and robotics, and fast reconfiguration. That was the US Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. Inspired by successful experiments like Denmark’s Standard Flex ships, the US Navy’s $35+ billion “Littoral Combat Ship” program was intended to create a new generation of affordable surface combatants that could operate in dangerous shallow and near-shore environments, while remaining affordable and capable throughout their lifetimes.
It hasn’t worked that way. In practice, the Navy hasn’t been able to reconcile what they wanted with the capabilities needed to perform primary naval missions, or with what could be delivered for the sums available. The LCS program has changed its fundamental acquisition plan 4 times since 2005, and canceled contracts with both competing teams during this period, without escaping any of its fundamental issues. Now, the program looks set to end early. This public-access FOCUS article offer a wealth of research material, alongside looks at the LCS program’s designs, industry teams procurement plans, military controversies, budgets and contracts.
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon won a $7 million modification in support of the evolved Seasparrow Missile Block II life of type buy of parts for the NATO Seasparrow Consortium. The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) (RIM-162) is a medium-range, surface-to-air missile designed and manufactured by Raytheon Missile Systems. It offers naval combatants reliable self-defense and high fire-power. Work will take place in California and Arizona. Estimated completion date is in October 2021.
The RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) is used to protect ships from attacking missiles and aircraft, and is designed to counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles. Compared to the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow, ESSM is effectively a new missile with a larger, more powerful rocket motor for increased range, a different aerodynamic layout for improved agility, and the latest missile guidance technology. Testing has even shown the ESSM to be effective against fast surface craft, an option that greatly expands the missile’s utility. As a further bonus, the RIM-162 ESSM has the ability to be “quad-packed” in the Mk 41 vertical launching system, allowing 4 missiles to be carried per launch cell instead of loading one larger SM-2 Standard missile or similar equipment.
This is DID’s FOCUS article for the program, containing details about the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile family, and contracts placed under this program since 1999. The Sea Sparrow was widely used aboard NATO warships, so it isn’t surprising that the ESSM is an international program. The NATO Sea Sparrow Consortium includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the USA – as well as non-NATO Australia. Foreign Military Sales ESSM customers outside this consortium include Japan, Thailand, and the United Arab Emirates.
The AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System seamlessly integrates the SPY-1 radar, the MK 41 Vertical Launching System for missiles, the SM-3 Standard missile, and the ship’s command and control system, in order to give ships the ability to defend against enemy ballistic missiles. Like its less-capable AEGIS counterpart, AEGIS BMD can also work with other radars on land and sea via Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). That lets it receive cues from other platforms and provide information to them, in order to create a more detailed battle picture than any one radar could produce alone.
AEGIS has become a widely-deployed top-tier air defense system, with customers in the USA, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Norway, and Spain. In a dawning age of rogue states and proliferation of mass-destruction weapons, the US Navy is being pushed toward a “shield of the nation” role as the USA’s most flexible and most numerous option for missile defense. AEGIS BMD modifications are the keystone of that effort – in the USA, and beyond.
The Precision Engagement modification is the largest single upgrade effort ever undertaken for the USA’s unique A-10 “Warthog” close air support aircraft fleet. While existing A/OA-10 aircraft continue to outperform technology-packed rivals on the battlefield, this set of upgrades is expected to make them more flexible, and help keep the aircraft current until the fleet’s planned phase-out in 2028. When complete, A-10C PE will give USAF A-10s precision strike capability sooner than planned, combining multiple upgrades into 1 time and money-saving program, rather than executing them as standalone projects. Indeed, the USAF accelerated the PE program by 9 months as a result of its experiences in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
This is DID’s FOCUS Article for the PE program, and for other modifications to the A-10 fleet. It covers the A-10’s battlefield performance and advantages, the elements of the PE program, other planned modifications, related refurbishment efforts to keep the fleet in the air, and the contracts that have been issued each step of the way.
Latest updates[?]: According to the US Army, a National Guard artillery unit was the first to conduct a live-fire test with the new M109A7 Self-Propelled Howitzer System last week. The 1st Battalion, 113th Field Artillery Regiment, 30th Armored Brigade Combat Team worked with the newly-fielded artillery at Fort Bragg, NC, for two weeks before a demonstration of the weapon, known in various iterations as the Paladin. The howitzers resemble lightly-armored tanks, and specialize in long-distance aerial bombardment. All systems can be controlled by a crew of four.
Before: M109 & M992
The USA’s 155mm M109 self-propelled howitzers (SPH) were first introduced in 1962, as a form of armored mobile artillery that could stand up to the massed fire tactics of Soviet heavy artillery and rockets. They and their companion M992 Armored Ammunition Resupply Vehicles (AARV) have been rebuilt and upgraded several times, most recently via the M109A6 Paladin upgrade.
In the meantime, the Army has re-learned a few home truths. Artillery arrives in seconds rather than minutes or hours, is never unavailable due to bad weather, and cheaply delivers a volume of explosive destruction that would otherwise require hundreds of millions of dollars worth of bombers and precision weapons. Most combat casualties in the gunpowder age have come from artillery fire, and the US Army will need its mobile fleet for some time to come. So, too, will the many countries that have bought the M109 and still use it, unless BAE wishes to cede that market to South Korea’s modern K9/K10 system, or new concept candidates like the KMW/GDLS DONAR. What to do? Enter the Paladin PIM program.
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.