Latest updates[?]: Leonardo announced that it is working with General Atomics Aeronautical Systems to install the former’s Seaspray 7500E V2 radar on the MQ-9B SeaGuardian. To be mounted into the centerline radar pod, this radar will be made available to international customers. It replaces the GA-ASI Lynx Multi-mode Radar. According to Leonardo, the Seaspray 7500E V2 is well-suited to the SeaGuardian mission set, using Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) technology to detect, track and classify hundreds of maritime contacts.
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[?]: General Electric won a $101.5 million contract modification, which procures 21 T408-GE-400 turboshaft engines and associated engine, programmatic and logistics services in support of CH-53K King Stallion Lot Five low rate initial production aircraft. The King Stallion is the premier heavy-lift helicopter ever built by the United States government. It is an all-new heavy-lift helicopter that will expand the fleet’s ability to move more material more rapidly. That power comes from three new General Electric T-408 engines, which are more powerful and more fuel efficient than the T-64 engines currently outfitted on the CH-53E. The T408 gives the CH-53K helicopter the power to carry a 27,000-pound external load over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles in hot weather conditions, nearly triple the external load carrying capacity of current aircraft. Work will take place in Massachusetts. Estimated completion is in December 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[?]: India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the procurement of 83 indigenously designed Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF), including 73 Mk 1A fighters and 10 Mk 1 dual-seat trainers. The Indian government’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) announced that same day that the CCS, which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the acquisition of the aircraft for $6.2 billion along with work on the design and construction of related infrastructure for $164.3 million. The LCA Mk 1A, which was designed by the government-run Aeronautical Development Agency and will be built by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) in Bangalore, is still under development.
India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.
In response, some MiG-21s have been modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, and other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs of their own. The IAF’s hope is that they can maintain an adequate force until the multi-billion dollar 126+ plane MMRCA competition delivers replacements, and more SU-30MKIs arrive from HAL. Which still leaves India without an affordable fighter solution. MMRCA can replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but what about the MiG-21s? The MiG-21 Bison program adds years of life to those airframes, but even so, they’re likely to be gone by 2020.
That’s why India’s own Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is so important to the IAF’s future prospects. It’s also why India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft. Even with that help, the program’s delays are a growing problem for the IAF. Meanwhile, the west’s near-abandonment of the global lightweight fighter market opens a global opportunity, if India can seize it with a compelling and timely product.
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon Missiles and Defense won an $8.5 million contract for procurement of long lead material in support of Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) Foreign Military Sales production requirements to include all up rounds, instrumental kits, engineering services and spares. This contract involves FMS to Korea, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Taiwan and Japan. The Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) is a fleet-area air defense weapon that provides anti-air warfare and limited anti-surface warfare capability against today’s advanced anti-ship missiles and aircraft. With a range of 90 nautical miles and an altitude of 65,000 feet, the SM-2 is an integral part of layered defense that protects naval assets, giving warfighters greater operational flexibility. Work will take place in the Netherlands, Texas, Arizona and is expected to be finished by March 2023.
SM-2 Launch, DDG-77
(click to view larger)
Variants of the SM-2 Standard missile are the USA’s primary fleet defense anti-air weapon, and serve with 13 navies worldwide. The most common variant is the RIM-66K-L/ SM-2 Standard Block IIIB, which entered service in 1998. The Standard family extends far beyond the SM-2 missile, however; several nations still use the SM-1, the SM-3 is rising to international prominence as a missile defense weapon, and the SM-6 program is on track to supplement the SM-2. These missiles are designed to be paired with the AEGIS radar and combat system, but can be employed independently by ships with older or newer radar systems.
This article covers each variant in the Standard missile family, plus several years worth of American and Foreign Military Sales requests and contracts and key events; and offers the budgetary, technical, and geopolitical background that can help put all that in context.
Latest updates[?]: NHIndustries has flown the first of 22 new NH90 helicopters for Qatar, with the consortium announcing in late December 2020 that both variants ordered by the Gulf state had made their maiden flights. According to NHI, the flights of the first NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) and Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) variant NH90 for the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) included take-off, general handling, functional checks, and landing operations. The QEAF is due to receive 12 maritime NFH and 16 land-based TTH variant NH90s under a USD2.8 billion deal signed in March 2018.
NH90: TTH & NFH
The NH90 emerged from a requirement that created a NATO helicopter development and procurement agency in 1992 and, at almost the same time, established NH Industries (62.5% EADS Eurocopter, 32.5% AgustaWestland, and 5% Stork Fokker) to build the hardware. The NATO Frigate Helicopter was originally developed to fit between light naval helicopters like AW’s Lynx or Eurocopter’s Panther, and medium-heavy naval helicopters like the European EH101. A quick look at the NFH design showed definite possibilities as a troop transport helicopter, however, and soon the NH90 project had branched into 2 versions, with more to follow.
The nearest equivalent would be Sikorsky’s popular H-60Seahawk/ Black Hawk family, but the NH90 includes a set of innovative features that give it some distinguishing selling points. Its combination of corrosion-proofing, lower maintenance, greater troop or load capacity, and the flexibility offered by that rear ramp have made the NH90 a popular global competitor.
As many business people discover the hard way, however, success can be almost as dangerous as failure. NH Industries has had great difficulty ramping up production fast enough to meet promised deliveries, which has left several buyers upset. Certification and acceptance have also been slow, with very few NH90s in service over a decade after the first contracts were signed. Booked orders have actually been sliding backward over the last year, and currently stand at around 500 machines, on behalf of 14 nations.
Latest updates[?]: Belgium’s first A400M has been delivered and flown to the 15th Wing Air Transport in Melsbroek. The second A400M for Belgium will be delivered in early 2021. The country has ordered seven aircraft. This A400M, known as MSN106, will be operated within a binational unit composed of a total of eight aircraft, seven from the Belgian Air Force and one from the Luxembourg Armed Forces. The second A400M for Belgium will be delivered in early 2021.
A400M rollout, Seville
Airbus’ A400M is a EUR 20+ billion program that aims to repeat Airbus’ civilian successes in the full size military transport market. A series of smart design decisions were made around capacity (35-37 tonnes/ 38-40 US tons, large enough for survivable armored vehicles), extensive use of modern materials, multi-role capability as a refueling tanker, and a multinational industrial program; all of which leave the aircraft well positioned to take overall market share from Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules. If the USA’s C-17 is allowed to go out of production, the A400M would also have a strong position in the strategic transport market, with only Russian AN-70, IL-76 and AN-124 aircraft as competition.
Airbus’ biggest program issue, by far, has been funding for a project that is more than EUR 7 billion over budget. The next biggest issue is timing, as a combination of A400M delays and Lockheed’s strong push for its C-130J Super Hercules narrow the field for future exports. This DID Spotlight article covers the latest developments, as the A400M Atlas moves into the delivery phase. Will Airbus’ 3rd big issue become its own customers?
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon won a $51.1 million contract modification for the Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) production program. This modification provides for the procurement and upgrade of test environment/equipment for AMRAAM production capacity. The AIM-120 advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM) is a new generation all-weather, missile manufactured by Raytheon. The AMRAAM has been delivered to more than 36 countries. This contract involves Foreign Military Sales to Norway, Denmark, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan, Slovakia, Poland, Netherlands, Kuwait, Qatar and Spain. Work will take place in Arizona. Expected completion is in January 2025.
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[?]: France selected MBDA’s MHT/MLP missile as its Future Tactical Air-to-Surface Missile (MAST-F) for the Tiger attack helicopter. The MHT/MLP (Missile Haut de Trame / Missile Longue Portée – high tier missile / long-range mobile missile) itself is based on the Missile Moyenne Portée, a man-portable anti-tank guided missile. The MHT/MLP is characterized by its high operational effectiveness. Weighing 20% less than other missiles in its category provides a weight saving of nearly 100 kg for the Tiger helicopter, which can carry up to eight missiles in combat configuration. Exploiting this weight saving increases the Tiger’s fuel capacity and so its combat endurance, with a significant gain in “playtime”.
Tiger HAP & HAC
Eurocopter’s Tiger had always had a very odd setup in that it came in two seemingly incomplete versions (HAP scout and HAC/UHT anti-tank), whose respective deficiencies severely limited multi-role flexibility and hence exports. The new Tiger HAD (Helicoptere Appui Destruction) variant fixes those deficiencies, and looks set to become the default version for new-build EC665 Tiger exports.
The HAD project began in December 2005, as the EU’s OCCAR organization for armament cooperation signed a formal contract in Bonn, Germany and set out initial procurement numbers for Spain. This was followed by the French DGA’s announcing the restructuring of its own 80-helicopter order, and each customer has made its own choices as the new variant has gone from concept to initial delivery.
Latest updates[?]: A Royal Australian Navy (RAN) Canberra-class amphibious assault ship has embarked a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter on its flight deck for the first time, marking a new level of interoperability between the two armed forces. The aircraft underwent deck landing qualification on HMAS Adelaide (L 01), the RAN’s second Canberra-class vessel, as part of Exercise ‘Sea Wader 2020’, which took place off the coast of Queensland, Australia. “The ability to operate our largest amphibious vessels with Singapore’s CH-47 Chinook helicopters means we can work together to mobilize and move personnel or supplies at sea, and enhance our combined joint capability”, said Linda Reynolds, Australia’s Minister for Defense, in a statement.
CH-47Fs take off
DII FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record; this FOCUS Article covers the CH-47F/MH-47G Chinook helicopter programs, in the USA and abroad. These helicopters’ distinctive “flying banana” twin-rotor design stems from the brilliant work of aviation pioneer Frank Piasecki. It gives Chinooks the ability to adjust their positioning very precisely, while carrying a large airframe whose load capacity has made it the world’s most popular heavy-lift helicopter. The USA expects to be operating Chinooks in their heavy-lift role past 2030.
The CH-47F looks similar to earlier models, but offers a wide range of improvements in almost every aspect of design and performance. While the related HH-47’s $10-15 billion CSAR-X program win was terminated, delivery orders continue for CH-47Fs and for MH-47G Special Forces configuration helicopters. International orders or formal requests have also come in from Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and the UAE, with India and other countries expected to follow.
The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…