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[?]: Sikorsky Aircraft won an $11.9 million contract modification, which provides non-recurring engineering to include investigations, systems engineering support, risk analysis and integration development in support of the CH-53K Data Transfer Unit and Defensive Electronic Countermeasure System Replacement Phase III, to replace existing subsystems within the CH-53K production aircraft. The CH-53K is the United States Marine Corps’ (USMC) heavy lift replacement for the CH-53E. Work will take place in Maryland, Connecticut, Iowa, Texas and Vermont. Expected completion date is in June 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[?]: Northrop Grumman won a $40 million contract modification for the Japan and Republic of Korea Global Hawk Program. It is a cofounded joint Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The contract provides for the co-development, test and integration of the Mode 5 software for the Republic of Korea and Japan Global Hawk fleets. he RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft with an integrated sensor suite that provides global all-weather, day or night intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Work will take place in California, Japan and Korea. Estimated completion date is July 31, 2023.
RQ-4A Global Hawk
Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV has established a dominant position in the High Altitude/ Long Endurance UAV market. While they are not cheap, they are uniquely capable. During Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), the system flew only 5% of the US Air Force’s high altitude reconnaissance sorties, but accounted for more than 55% of the time-sensitive targeting imagery generated to support strike missions. The RQ-4 Global Hawk was also a leading contender in the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV competition, and eventually won.
The Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration Program (GHM-D or BAMS-D) aims to use the proven RQ-4 Global Hawk airframe as a test bed for operational concepts and technologies that will eventually find their way into BAMS, and contribute valuable understanding to the new field of maritime surveillance with high-flying UAVs. It’s not just a test program, however, as its remaining drones also deploy to assist the fleet in active operations.
Latest updates[?]: Norway plans to deploy the P-8A Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft in the Arctic in 2022. According to Defense News, this represents a major advance in the country’s long-term efforts to enhance defense capabilities and readiness in the region. The Department of Defense unveiled the schedule on August 13, after it had already approved Ivins Air Station as the home base for its future Boeing-built fleet. The Royal Norwegian Air Force has ordered five P-8A Poseidons to replace its in-service fleet of six Lockheed Martin P-3C/N Orion maritime patrol aircraft and two Dassault Falcon 20 special mission aircraft. The P-3 Orions service operates from Andoya Air Force Station, which is located 190 miles inside the Arctic Circle.
Maritime surveillance and patrol is becoming more and more important, but the USA’s P-3 Orion turboprop fleet is falling apart. The P-7 Long Range Air ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) Capable Aircraft program to create an improved P-3 began in 1988, but cost overruns, slow progress, and interest in opening the competition to commercial designs led to the P-7’s cancellation for default in 1990. The successor MMA program was begun in March 2000, and Boeing beat Lockheed’s “Orion 21” with a P-8 design based on their ubiquitous 737 passenger jet. US Navy squadrons finally began taking P-8A Poseidon deliveries in 2012, but the long delays haven’t done their existing P-3 fleet any favors.
Filling the P-3 Orion’s shoes is no easy task. What missions will the new P-8A Poseidon face? What do we know about the platform, the project team, and ongoing developments? Will the P-3’s wide global adoption give its successor a comparable level of export opportunities? Australia and India have already signed on, but has the larger market shifted in the interim?
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon won an $11.5 million order, which provides for the upgrade of 10 AN/APG-79 radars from Configuration A to Configuration B and continuing required efforts to repair Weapons Replaceable Assemblies identified as nonfunctioning following baseline testing. AN/APG-79 provides situational awareness, near-instantaneous track updates, and multi-target tracking capability for Marine Corps combat aircraft. Work will take place in Texas, Mississippi and California. Estimated completion will be in July 2023.
AN/APG-79 AESA Radar
The AN/APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar began life as a replacement. Initial F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet production batches installed Raytheon’s all-weather, multimode AN/APG-73, but the APG-79 has intrinsic technical features that offered revolutionary increases in capability, reliability, image resolution, and range.
Unlike the APG-73 that equipped the first Super Hornets, the APG-79’s AESA array is composed of numerous solid-state transmit and receive modules that are fixed in place, eliminating a common cause of breakdowns. To move their beams, they rely on electronic changes in each module’s transmissions, creating useful interference patterns in order to aim, focus and shape their output. Other system components include an advanced receiver/exciter, ruggedized commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) processor, and power supplies. With its open systems architecture and compact COTS parts, it changes what both aircrews and maintenance staff can do with a fighter radar – and does so in a smaller, lighter package.
Latest updates[?]: Great Eastern won a $9.1 modification to exercise and fund the second 12-month option on a firm-fixed-price contract with reimbursable elements for the offshore support vessel Hercules. This vessel will be utilized to support refueling and resupply of the Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX-1). The contract includes a 12-month base period, three 12-month option periods, and one 11-month option period. Work will take place in the US Pacific Command’s area of responsibility. Estimated completion date is July 15, 2024.
SBX-1, Pearl Harbor
As rogue state proliferation by the likes of North Korea made missile defense a growing priority for nations including the USA, Japan, and Israel, the USA began to look at the linchpin of any defense: powerful radars that could both track ballistic missiles, and guide interceptors. The USA has its BMEWS tracking system, but that would not serve. America’s Safeguard ABM system was dismantled long ago – though Russia still maintains its counterpart System A-135 network around Moscow. Something new would be needed.
Enter Raytheon’s new XBR radar, based on an SBX-1 platform that looks a lot like a mobile oil drilling rig. Basing the radar at sea offers numerous advantages. One is the obvious ability to move the radar as threats materialize, allowing much greater coverage with fewer radars. Another is the ability to protect allies, without having to invest in expensive systems whose regional capabilities and value to the USA could be put at risk by the decisions of a single foreign government. In exchange for this freedom from political interference, of course, the designers must contend with nature’s interference in the stormy Pacific.
Boeing SBX system is linked to its land-based GMD (Ground-based Mid-course Defense) missile system but can also operate with other naval and land elements.
Latest updates[?]: The Kuwaiti Army will start to receive the upgraded M1A2 Abrams main battle tank (MBT), known as M1A2K, almost two years behind the initial schedule. In its announcement of the news via social media in late July, the army claimed the M1A2K will enter operational service "soon" and boost the combat efficiency of the Kuwaiti land forces. Kuwait plans to upgrade all 218 of its Abrams MBTs to the M1A2K configuration, but the program's timeframe seems to have been revised after it encountered delays for undisclosed reasons.
America’s M1 Abrams tanks come in a number of versions. In addition to the M1A1 that is now standard, the US Army is beginning to field its M1 TUSK for urban warfare. It also operates the M1A2 System Enhancement Program (SEP), currently the most advanced standard variant.
This Spotlight article covers the M1A2 Abrams SEP upgrade program, and will be updated and backfilled as new contracts are issued and key events take place.
Latest updates[?]: The US Missile Defense Agency has carried out its most complex test so far on July 24 by firing four SM-6 Dual II missiles at two short-range ballistic missile targets. While one target was destroyed, the agency was not sure if the other target was intercepted. This is the third flight test of the SM-6 Dual II missile from a Aegis BMD-equipped warship. The firing ship for the test was the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) and it took place off Hawaii.
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.
The 5th-generation F-22A Raptor fighter program has been the subject of fierce controversy, with advocates and detractors aplenty. On the one hand, the aircraft offers full stealth, revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, dual air-air and air-ground SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) excellence, the ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability… and a ridiculously lopsided kill record in exercises against the best American fighters. On the other hand, critics charged that it was too expensive, too limited, and cripples the USAF’s overall force structure.
Meanwhile, close American allies like Australia, Japan and Israel, and other allies like Korea, were pressing the USA to abandon its “no export” policy. Most already fly F-15s, but several were interested in an export version of the F-22 in order to help them deal with advanced – and advancing – Russian-designed aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems. That would have broadened the F-22 fleet in several important ways, but the US political system would not or could not respond.
This DID FOCUS Article tracks continuing maintenance and fleet upgrade programs, contracts, and timely news. A separate public-access feature offers a profile of the USAF’s most advanced fighter, and covers both sides of the F-22 Raptor program’s controversies.
Latest updates[?]: The Gray Eagle Extended Range (GE-ER) Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) completed initial flight tests equipped with a new brushless generator system, providing over 50% more power than the current system. The tests were held on May 13, 2021, at Yuma Proving Grounds, Arizona. The initial flight test of the system marks an important milestone towards upgrading the GE-ER fleet with generators that will significantly improve reliability and dramatically reduce platform sustainment costs. The new generator also provides electrical power to support expanding mission scenarios for the UAS, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. said.
Its initial battles were fought within the Pentagon, but the US Army’s high-end UAV has made its transition to the battlefield.
The ER/MP program was part of the US Army’s reinvestment of dollars from the canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program, and directly supports the Army’s Aviation Modernization Plan. The US Air Force saw this Predator derivative as a threat and tried to destroy it, but the program survived the first big “Key West” battle of the 21st century. Now, the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” is in production as the US Army’s high-end UAV. As CENTCOM’s wars end, however, the Gray Eagle may find that staying in the fleet is as hard as getting there.
This FOCUS article offers a program history, key statistics and budget figures, and ongoing coverage of the program’s contracts and milestones.