“We are committed to working towards a safer world in which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons… However, the continuing risk from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the certainty that a number of other countries will retain substantial nuclear arsenals, mean that our minimum nuclear deterrent capability, currently represented by Trident, is likely to remain a necessary element of our security.” — UK SDSR, 1998
Britain has a big decision to make: do they remain a nuclear weapons power, or not? In an age of collapsing public finances and an uncertain long-term economic future, the money needed to design new nuclear missile submarines is a huge cost commitment that could crowd out other needs. Then again, in an age of collapsing non-proliferation frameworks, clear hostility from ideologies that want nuclear weapons, and allies who are less capable and dependable, the downside of renouncing nuclear weapons is a huge risk commitment. Pick one, or the other. There is no free lunch.
This article covers that momentous decision for Britain, and the contracts and debates associated with it.
Latest updates[?]: Exercise African Lion will take place in Kenitra, Morocco over the two-weeks and three C-130J from the 86th Airlift Wing are participating. The C-130J crews will assist in training their Moroccan counterparts in airdrop, airlift and aeromedical evacuation capacities. While on their way to Kenitra, the C-130s airdrop over 150 U.S. and British paratroopers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, and the 16th Air Assault Brigade over Grier Labouie, Morocco for a joint forcible entry via airborne assault demonstration.
RAAF C-130J-30, flares
The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?
C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.
The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine “teen series” fighters that began with the F-14 and F-15, continued with the emergence of the F/A-18 Hornet, and extended through to the most recent F/A-18 Super Hornet variants. Aerodynamically, it’s a half generation ahead of all of these examples, and planned evolutions will place the Eurofighter near or beyond parity in electronic systems and weapons.
The 1998 production agreement among its 4 member countries involved 620 aircraft, built with progressively improved capabilities over 3 contract “tranches”. By the end of Tranche 2, however, welfare state programs and debt burdens had made it difficult to afford the 236 fighters remaining in the 4-nation Eurofighter agreement. A 2009 compromise was found in the EUR 9 billion “Tranche 3A” buy, and the program has renewed its efforts to secure serious export sales. Their success will affect the platform’s production line in the near term, and its modernization plans beyond that.
Latest updates[?]: A group of 12 Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) aircrew students have started their training to operate the KC-46 aerial refueling tanker at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Lead by Lt. Col. Tetsuji Kamiguchi, 405th Air Refueling Squadron commander, the team consists of six pilots and six boom operators. The three-months conversion course is made up of three phases. The academic phase will have four classes daily before they proceed to the second phase to work on simulators and performed pre-briefs and debriefs. The group will then proceed to fly eight flights and a check ride with one of the 56th Air Refueling Squadron instructors before graduating.
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.
The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE)Lightning jet. Lightning II system development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3), with Singapore and Israel as “Security Cooperation Partners,” and Japan as the 1st export customer.
The big question for Lockheed Martin is whether, and when, many of these partner countries will begin placing purchase orders. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the F-35 program, including contracts, sub-contracts, and notable events and reports during 2012-2013.
The radar-guided, rapid-firing MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS, pron. “see-whiz”) can fire between 3,000-4,500 20mm cannon rounds per minute, either autonomously or under manual command, as a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles and other targets. Phalanx uses closed-loop spotting with advanced radar and computer technology to locate, identify and direct a stream of armor piercing projectiles toward the target. These capabilities have made the Phalanx CIWS a critical bolt-on sub-system for naval vessels around the world, and led to the C-RAM/Centurion, a land-based system designed to defend against incoming artillery and mortars.
This DID Spotlight article offers updated, in-depth coverage that describes ongoing deployment and research projects within the Phalanx family of weapons, the new land-based system’s new technologies and roles, and international contracts from FY 2005 onward. As of Feb 28/07, more than 895 Phalanx systems had been built and deployed in the navies of 22 nations.
The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).
The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won an $18.9 million order, which provides for the production and delivery of 48 automatic backup oxygen system retrofit kits for the T-45 aircraft, to include installation tooling, engineering reach back, spares and support equipment. The T-45A Goshawk is a tandem-seat, carrier capable, jet trainer whose mission is to train Navy and Marine Corps pilots. Work will take place in Texas and Missouri. Expected completion is in September 2022.
Do you feel lucky…?
The T-45 Training System includes T-45 Goshawk aircraft, advanced flight simulators, computer-assisted instructional programs, a computerized training integration system, and a contractor logistics support package. The integration of all 5 elements is designed to produce a superior pilot in less time and at lower cost than previous training systems.
The US Navy uses the Hawk-based T-45TS system to train its pilots for the transition from T-6A Texan II/ JPATS aircraft to modern jet fighters – and carrier landings. This is not a risk-free assignment, by any means. Nevertheless, it is a critical link in the naval aviation chain. This DID FOCUS article covers the T-45TS, and associated contracts to buy and maintain these systems, from 2006 to the end of FY 2014.
Latest updates[?]: Taiwan has successfully tested AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) locally for the first time. On May 10, the F-16D Block 70 Viper aircraft successfully destroyed target drones in tests. Each RoCAF F-16V was reportedly armed with two AMRAAMs and two short-range AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles, with the first and third aircraft each launching an AMRAAM which successfully engaged target drones.
AIM-120C from F-22A
(click for test missile zoom)
Raytheon’s AIM-120 Advanced, Medium-Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) has become the world market leader for medium range air-to-air missiles, and is also beginning to make inroads within land-based defense systems. It was designed with the lessons of Vietnam in mind, and of local air combat exercises like ACEVAL and Red Flag. This DID FOCUS article covers successive generations of AMRAAM missiles, international contracts and key events from 2006 onward, and even some of its emerging competitors.
One of the key lessons learned from Vietnam was that a fighter would be likely to encounter multiple enemies, and would need to launch and guide several missiles at once in order to ensure its survival. This had not been possible with the AIM-7 Sparrow, a “semi-active radar homing” missile that required a constant radar lock on one target. To make matters worse, enemy fighters were capable of launching missiles of their own. Pilots who weren’t free to maneuver after launch would often be forced to “break lock,” or be killed – sometimes even by a short-range missile fired during the last phases of their enemy’s approach. Since fighters that could carry radar-guided missiles like the AIM-7 tended to be larger and more expensive, and the Soviets were known to have far more fighters overall, this was not a good trade.
Latest updates[?]: Slovenia became the second Balkan state to receive the new Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) manufactured by American company Oshkosh. The Slovenian Defense Ministry announced that 38 of the vehicles arrived at the port of Koper on May 11. The only other Balkan country that has taken delivery of the tactical vehicles is Montenegro, which received its first 4x4 JLTVs in October 2020. Oshkosh is delivering the vehicles to Slovenia under a contract worth 32 million euros that was signed in November 2018.
Ultra APV demonstrator
In an age of non-linear warfare, where front lines are nebulous at best and non-existent at worst, one of the biggest casualties is… the concept of unprotected rear echelon vehicles, designed with the idea that they’d never see serious combat. That imperative is being driven home on 2 fronts. One front is operational. The other front is buying trends.
These trends, and their design imperatives, found their way into the USA’s Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) program, which aims to replace many of the US military’s 120,000 or so Humvees. The US military’s goal is a 7-10 ton vehicle that’s lighter than its MRAPs and easier to transport aboard ship, while offering substantially better protection ad durability than existing up-armored Humvees. They’d also like a vehicle that can address front-line issues like power generation, in order to recharge all of the batteries troops require for electronic gadgets like night sights, GPS devices, etc.
DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. JLTV certainly qualifies, and recent budget planning endorsements have solidifed a future that was looking shaky. Now, can the Army’s program deliver?