Latest updates[?]: The US is considering sending the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, a US defense official revealed at a press conference Tuesday. The Raytheon system is one of the capabilities “being considered with all others,” the official said regarding potential steps to strengthen Ukraine’s air defense against persistent Russian missile and drone attacks.
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 world’s P-3 Orion fleets have served for a long time, and many are reaching the end of their lifespans. In the USA, and possibly beyond, the new P-8 Poseidon Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft will take up the P-3’s role. While the P-8’s base 737-based airframe offers strong service & maintenance arguments in its favor, the airframe is expensive enough that the P-3s cannot be replaced on a 1:1 basis.
In order to extend the P-8 fleet’s reach, and provide additional capabilities, the Poseidon was expected to work with at least one companion UAV platform. This DID FOCUS Article explains the winning BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) concept, the program’s key requirements, and its international angle. We’ll also cover ongoing contracts and key events related to the program, which chose Northrop Grumman’s navalized MQ-4C Triton Global Hawk variant.
Latest updates[?]: The Israeli Navy has received the 76/62 Super Rapid Multi-Feeding naval gun for two Sa’ar 6-class corvettes at its Haifa Naval base. The 76/62 enables air, anti-surface, and anti-missile defense for INS Oz and INS Magen ships. The Israel Navy is one of the first international forces to procure the gunnery, according to Leonardo. Since 1973, the navy’s Sa’ar 4.5 fast attack craft have operated with six integrated 76/62 systems.
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[?]: Lockheed Martin won a $23.4 million contract modification to exercise options for the engineering, design, and technical services in support of the MK 41 Vertical Launching System electronic systems and computer programs. The deal combines purchases by the US and the governments of Japan, Spain, Canada, and Chile under the Foreign Military Sales program. Work will take place in Maryland, New Jersey, Washington and California. Estimated completion will be by July 2023.
MK 41s in action
The naval MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS) hides missiles below decks in vertical slots, with key electronics and venting systems built in. A deck and hatch assembly at the top of the module protects the missile canisters from the elements, and from other hazards during storage. Once the firing sequence begins, the hatches open to permit missile launches of various types. It is also being adapted for land use, as part of the USA’s plan to forward-deploy ballistic missile defense in allied countries.
The Mk.41 is the most widely-used naval VLS in the world, in service with the US Navy and with many countries outside the United States. Lockheed Martin is the system’s prime contractor, with components and canisters provided by BAE Systems Land & Armaments. In September 2011, however, the US Navy assumed the final integrator role.
Latest updates[?]: F-15s assigned to the 144th Fighter Wing, California, carried out Alaska Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training exercise with F-22s from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson last month. There were two objectives in this exercise: one is to free up F-22s to allow them to be deployed in the Pacific and the second is to improve interoperability between the two different generations of fighters.
Into that good night
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.
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[?]: Boeing won a $17.7 million contract modification, which increases the scope to procure the necessary test and engineering support to complete the development of the Next Generation Jammer – Mid-Band system and the phased replacement of the AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System currently mounted to the EA-18G aircraft. The AN/ALQ-99 intercepts and automatically processes radar signals and power manages the system's transmitters to effectively jam large numbers of diverse radar threats with very high effective radiated power. The AN/ALQ-249(V)1 Next Generation Jammer Mid-Band (NGJ-MB) system is part of a larger NGJ system that will augment, and ultimately replace the legacy ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) currently used on the EA-18G Growler aircraft for Airborne Electronic Attack. Work will take place in Missouri and Maryland. Estimated completion will be in February 2023.
The US Navy owns the only operational tactical jamming fighters in the world, but the AN/ALQ-99 pods they depend on use analog technologies, are hard to maintain, and have reliability issues. All-digital technologies and modern transmit/receive electronics offer huge leaps ahead in capability and availability, which is why the US military is working on a Next-Generation Jammer (NGJ) replacement for the pods on its tactical strike aircraft.
The EA-18G Growler will be the NGJ’s first platform, but the flexibility of modern technologies mean that it may not be the last.
Latest updates[?]: South Korea is sending a KC-330 aerial refueling tanker to Australia today to bring back 27,000 liters of urea solution. The solution is needed by the country’s diesel vehicles to reduce harmful emissions. The plane is expected to depart at 5p.m. Korean time from Gimhae International Airport.
South Korea is moving to buy 4 long-range aerial refueling tankers with secondary transport capabilities, with a budget of WON 2 billion (about $1.8 billion). That capability isn’t a huge priority on the Korean peninsula itself, but it’s very useful for international operations. It’s useful as a way of projecting regional power, as territorial disputes flare with China.
As Asian economies grow and militaries modernize, these factors have made long-range aerial refueling a growing regional priority. China, India, Pakistan and China deploy the Russian IL-78. Japan fields 4 Boeing KC-767As, and may raise that to 8 under recent plans. Similar American KC-46As will join them in the region after 2017. Elsewhere in the region, Australia (5) and Singapore (4) picked Airbus Defense & Space’s larger A330 MRTT instead, and India looks set to buy 6 at some point. What will the ROKAF do?
Latest updates[?]: Lockheed Martin won a $14.1 million contract modification for AN/SLQ-32(V)6 design agent engineering services. The AN/SLQ-32 is a shipboard electronic warfare suite built by Raytheon and the Hughes Aircraft Company. It is currently the primary electronic warfare system in use by US Navy ships. AN/SLQ-32(V)6, the latest fielded variant of the AN/SLQ-32, incorporates receiver, antenna and combat system interface upgrades developed under the SEWIP Block 2 ACAT II program and adds the High Gain High Sensitivity adjunct sensor developed under the SEWIP Block 1B3 ACAT II program. Work will take place in Syracuse, New York, and is expected to be completed by November 2021.
The US Navy’s AN/SLQ-32 ECM (Electronic Countermeasures) system uses radar warning receivers, and in some cases active jamming, as the part of ships’ self-defense system. The “Slick 32s” provides warning of incoming attacks, and is integrated with the ships’ defenses to trigger Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff (RBOC) and other decoys, which can fire either semi-automatically or on manual direction from a ship’s ECM operators.
The “Slick 32” variants are based on modular building blocks, and each variant is suited to a different type of ship. Most of these systems were designed in the 1970s, however, and are based on 1960s-era technology. Unfortunately, the SLQ-32 was notable for its failure when the USS Stark was hit by Iraqi Exocet missiles in 1987. The systems have been modernized somewhat, but in an era that features more and more supersonic ship-killing missiles, with better radars and advanced electronics, SLQ-32’s fundamental electronic hardware architecture is inadequate. Hence the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP).
Latest updates[?]: NATO’s Multinational MRTT Fleet will take delivery of its first two A330 MRTT aircraft next month. The handover is at the Main Operating Base in Eindhoven. The third and fourth aircraft are currently under conversion at the Airbus Defense facilities in Getafe, Madrid. The fifth A330 was flown from Toulouse to Getafe earlier this month. Six countries have signed up for the program to operate 8 aircraft. The contract includes options for 3 more tankers.
Voyager & friends
Back in 2005, Great Britain was considering a public-private partnership to buy, equip, and operate the RAF’s future aerial tanker fleet. The RAF would fly the 14 Airbus A330-MRTT aircraft on operational missions, and receive absolute preferential access to the planes. A private contractor would handle maintenance, receive payment from the RAF on a per-use basis – and operate them as passenger charter or transport aircraft when the RAF didn’t need them.
The deal became politically controversial, and negotiations on the 27-year, multi-billion pound deal charted new territory for both the government, and for private industry. Which may help to explain why a contract to move ahead on a “Private Financing Initiative” basis had yet to be issued, and procurement had yet to begin, over 7 years after the program began. In March 2008, however, Britain issued the world’s largest-ever Defence Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract. This FOCUS Article describes the current British fleet, the aircraft they chose to replace them, how the new fleet will compare, the innovative deal structure they’ve chosen, and ongoing FSTA developments.