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?
Latest updates[?]: General Atomics won a $11.6 deal for logistics support activities including depot repair, engineering services, field team support and software maintenance services for the Italian Air Force MQ-9 Block 5 aircraft. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by January 31, 2024.
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 a $2 billion modification for KC-46A Air Force Production Lot 9 aircraft, subscriptions and licenses. The contract modification provides for the exercise of an option for an additional quantity of 15 KC-46A aircraft, data, subscriptions and licenses being produced under the basic contract. Work will be performed in Seattle, Washington, and is expected to be completed by Aug. 31, 2026.
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[?]: BAE Systems won a $72 million deal for the manufacture and delivery of five Columbia-class submarine components. Work will be performed in Louisville, Kentucky (100%), and is expected to be completed by May 2030. Fiscal 2023 National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, of which none will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Columbia-class program's goal is to design and build a class of 12 new ballistic missile submarines SSBNs to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 aging Ohio-class SSBNs. The Ohio-class submarines were designed to have a service life of 42 years (two 20-year cycles with a 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period). As the Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, they will start reaching the end of their service between 2027 and 2040, at a rate of about one boat per year. Starting in 2031, the Navy plans to replace each retiring Ohio-class boat with a new Columbia-class SSBN submarine.
The US Navy needs new SSBN nuclear missile submarines. Their existing Ohio Class boats will begin to retire at a rate of 1 hull per year, beginning in 2027, as they reach the end of their 42-year operational lifetimes. Hence SSBN-X, also known as the Ohio Replacement Program for now.
The first step toward recapitalization involved a new Common Missile Compartment and Advanced Launcher for current and future nuclear missiles. The next step involves finalizing a design that can serve effectively to 2080, without destroying the US Navy’s shipbuilding budget in the process. Good luck with that one, but they have to to try. The maintenance of the USA’s nuclear deterrent is too important, in a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating.
Latest updates[?]: Riverview Construction won a $10.5 million deal to construct a C-130 flight simulator training facility. Bids were solicited via the internet with six received. Work will be performed in Scotia, New York, with an estimated completion date of February 14, 2024. According to Lockheed Martin, the C-130 Hercules primarily performs the tactical portion of the airlift mission. The aircraft is capable of operating from rough, dirt strips and is the prime transport for airdropping troops and equipment into hostile areas. The C-130 operates throughout the US Air Force, serving with Air Mobility Command, Air Force Special Operations Command, Air Combat Command, US Air Forces in Europe, Pacific Air Forces, Air National Guard and the Air Force Reserve Command, fulfilling a wide range of operational missions in both peace and war situations.
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.
Latest updates[?]: The US Air Force Global Strike Command has announced a safety stand-down for all operations of the B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleet. The temporary halt follows an incident where a B-2 encountered an in-flight malfunction on December 10. According to the command, the aircraft was damaged upon an emergency landing at a runway at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.
All together now…
Britain’s practice of “contracting for availability” for key equipment, rather than paying for spare parts and maintenance hours, may be its most significant defense procurement reform. In a world where older air, sea, and ground vehicle fleets are growing maintenance demands beyond countries’ available budgets, it’s an approach whose success could have global significance.
Across the pond, the USA is significantly behind in this area. Fortunately, they have not ignored the model entirely. Recent changes to the contracts covering their B-2 Spirit stealth bomber fleet demonstrate that some progress is being made, via a $9+ billion commitment from 1999-2014, and 2 parallel development programs that are changing key sub-systems.
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon won a $59.3 million by the US Navy for the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS), SeaRAM, and Land-based Phalanx Weapon System. Work will be performed in Arizona, California, Mississippi, Texas and New Jersey and is expected to be completed by January 2024.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won an $8.7 million modification, which exercises options to provide continued integrated logistics support and engineering services in support of the Harpoon and Standoff Land-Attack Missile-Expanded Response Missile Systems and Harpoon Launch Systems for the Navy and various Foreign Military Sales (FMS) customers. Work will be performed in St. Charles, Missouri (91.89%); St. Louis, Missouri (5.47%); and Yorktown, Virginia (2.64%), and is expected to be completed in February 2024.
Harpoon in flight
The sub-sonic, wave-skimming GM-84 Harpoon is the US Navy’s sole anti-shipping missile, with the minor exception of small helicopter-borne AGM-119B Penguin missiles. The Harpoon has been adapted into several variants, and exported to many navies around the world. At present, the Harpoon family includes AGM-84 air, RGM-84 sea/land, and UGM-84 submarine-launched versions. Variants such as the Joint Standoff Land Attack Missiles and the upgraded AGM-84K SLAM – Expanded Response will also be covered in this DID FOCUS Article. It describes the missiles themselves, and covers global contracts involving this family.
The Harpoon family’s best known competitor is the French/MBDA M38/39/40 Exocet, but recent years have witnessed a growing competitive roster at both the subsonic (Israel’s >Gabriel family, Russia’s SS-N-27 Klub family, Saab’s RBS15, Kongsberg’s stealthy NSM, China’s YJ-82/C-802 used by Hezbollah in Lebanon), and supersonic (Russia’s SS-N-22 Sunburn/Moskit, SS-N-26 Yakhont, and some SS-N-27 Klub variants, India’s SS-N-26 derived PJ-10 BrahMos) tiers.
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[?]: Rheinmetall has delivered its first Lynx KF41 infantry fighting vehicle to the Hungarian Defence Forces in Budapest, attended by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. With the delivery, Hungary becomes the first NATO member and European country to receive the newly-developed medium-weight combat system.
Future Lynx naval
In 2006, Finmeccanica subsidiary AgustaWestland received a GBP 1 billion (about $1.9 billion at 02/07 rates) contract from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for 70 Future Lynx helicopters, and began a new chapter in a long-running success story. The Lynx is an extremely fast helicopter that entered service in the 1970s, and quickly carved out a niche for itself in the global land and naval markets. The base design has evolved into a number of upgrades and versions, which have been been widely exported around the world.
In Britain, Lynx helicopters are used in a number of British Army (AH7 & AH9) and Fleet Air Arm (Mk 8) roles: reconnaissance, attack, casualty evacuation & troop transport, ferrying supplies, anti-submarine operations, and even command post functions. The Future Lynx program reflects that, and British government and industry are both hoping that its versatility will help it keep or improve the Lynx family’s global market share. This is DID’s FOCUS Article for the AW159 Lynx Wildcat Program, describing its technical and industrial features, schedules, related contracts, and exports.