The Netherlands is a notable player in the multinational F-35 program, as one of only two Tier 2 program partners, and the future site of a European maintenance hub. The government is still deciding whether it will join the Joint Strike Fighter’s IOTE (Initial Operational Test & Evaluation) phase and purchase 2 aircraft. Meanwhile, what was once a slam-dunk to replace RNLAF F-16s has now become a competition of sorts involving Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen. To this point, the Dutch have invested over EUR 850 million in the F-35’s development phases.
The financing arrangements involved are highly unusual. They have now become a subject of possible legal action, as the government insists that industry players owe it more than EUR 300 million…
On Nov 18/08, the Government of Canada awarded a USD$ 156 million contract to Lockheed Martin for 10 structural life extension wing kits. Each kit includes all-new outer wings, center wing lower surface assemblies, horizontal stabilizers, wing and horizontal stabilizer leading edges, and various items for the Canadian Forces’ CP-140 Aurora (P-3 Orion) maritime patrol aircraft. These items will be used by Canada’s Aurora Structural Life Extension Program as needed, and are designed to give the Canadian Forces an additional 15,000 flight-hours of service life per plane. Aging aircraft can develop unpredictable faults, but if this effort is successful, it could extend the planes’ in-service time by 15 years or more.
The American military procurement system faces a number of challenges at the moment, and the news isn’t very good on many fronts. There are success stories in the field – some larger, some smaller. but every one the product of dedication and planning by the workers, firms, and government officials involved. This article highlights 2 recent “good news” items:
DMSP: Built Better. The DMSP constellation has been collecting weather data for U.S. military operations for almost 40 years, and 2 operational satellites are in a 101 minute, sun-synchronous near-polar orbit at all times. The primary weather sensor on DMSP is the Operational Linescan System, which provides continuous visual and infrared imagery of cloud cover over an area 1,600 nautical miles wide. Additional satellite sensors based on microwaves, infrared, sounders, et. al. measure atmospheric vertical profiles of moisture and temperature, detect developing patterns of weather and track existing weather systems over remote areas – including severe thunderstorms, hurricanes, and typhoons. They also measure local charged particles and electromagnetic fields to assess the impact of the ionosphere on ballistic-missile early warning radar systems and long-range communications, monitor global auroral activity, and predict the effects of “space weather” on satellite operations.
“Dual guidance” bombs are becoming popular. They cost more, but deliver on versatility once all that money has been spent to get its carrying aircraft into position. GPS/INS guidance gives them the ability to bomb through sandstorm, fog, or other obscurement; or from high altitude, or without active targeting. Laser guidance adds other advantages, including improved accuracy and the ability to moving targets that have been “painted” by a laser designator.
Britain’s Paveway-IV project, France’s recent retrofits, Boeing’s LJDAM, and Raytheon’s Enhanced Paveway family weapons all fall into this category. So, too, does RAFAEL’s Spice, though it uses a combination of GPS/INS and imaging infrared (IIR). In October 2008, US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) added another entry when PMA-201 Precision Strike Weapons delivered the first Dual-Mode Laser-Guided Bomb (DMLGB) to the Fleet…
Lockheed Martin’s Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod was selected to equip US Air force aircraft in a competitive flyoff, and the firm has strengthened the AN/AAQ-33’s global position with 9 export customers (Belgium, Britain, Canada, Norway, Oman, Pakistan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Singapore). The latest update is a $147 million delivery order from the USAF for additional surveillance and targeting pods, which currently serve in the USAF alongside Northrop Grumman/RAFAEL’s AN/AAQ-28 LITENING AT.
Lockheed Martin’s competitors continue to improve their products, and so does Lockheed. New feature in development include Quint Networking Technology to enable a 2-way data link between other Sniper ATP-equipped aircraft and ground parties; real-time, streaming video via its data link to an Army Apache helicopter using the Video from its VUIT-2 system; improved low-light and infrared capabilities; and algorithm upgrades. Like their competitors, most capabilities are delivered in a single line replaceable unit “black box” to allow fast swap-outs and upgrades. Lockheed Martin release.
The 2006 controversy over the quality of Harrier support notwithstanding, close air support has proven to be a valuable asset to British forces in Afghanistan. When available and on-station, it provides a high-end counter to the standard enemy tactics of concentration and ambush. The cost of operating modern aircraft, however, and the size of modern air fleets, are both working to put a crimp in that option. Full battlefield coverage that can respond to any emergency within a few minutes is either cost-prohibitive, or beyond most militaries’ capabilities.
Fortunately, the rise of precision artillery fire offers an alternative with less reach, but 100% persistence and availability within its range. By 2010, MBDA expects to begin selling a loitering attack UAV called ‘Fire Shadow’ for use in Afghanistan. This one-shot, rocket-boosted UAV sports a range of 165 km, 10-hour endurance, and a 50 pound warhead. To succeed, however, it will have to outclass an already-fielded option: British forces began using the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System’s M30/31 GMLRS 227mm GPS-guided rockets and their 200 pound warheads in 2007, as a significant supplement to the UK’s close support options. British forces have recorded over 140 firings of the rockets in Afghanistan, which have earned GMLRS a nickname: “the 70 km sniper”.
During this period, the M270 MLRS has maintained 100% mission availability, often operating in ‘switched on and ready’ mode for 48 hours at a stretch. That kind of use, under conditions that differ significantly from their originally-envisaged role defending NATO from the USSR, created a March 2007 Urgent Operational Request for changes to the vehicle…
The proliferation of UAVs and fighters equipped with stabilized, high-magnification video pods and imaging radars has a number of corollary consequences. Bandwidth has become a key battlefield constraint. Specialized reconnaissance fighter aircraft are a dead concept. And some poor analyst has to sift through the video tsunami at the other end, in order to find items of interest.
That last item explains why Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control, Orlando, FL kicked off FY 2009 with a $5.5 million cost plus fixed fee contract to “develop and demonstrate a Video and Image Retrieval and analysis tool system for video data exploitation.” One that lets an analyst quickly find and retrieve video content of interest from archives containing thousands of hours of video data. One that also provide alerts of “events of interest” during live operations, forwarding them to an analyst’s attention. That last item is rather double-edged. If it works – which DARPA projects by their very nature cannot say with assurance – it could trigger timely, lifesaving assistance to combat missions. It could also be used for annoying, soldier-killing battlefield micromanagement. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, work will be performed in Cherry Hill, NJ; Orlando, FL; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; and Littleton, CO, with an estimated completion date of March 29/10. Bids were solicited via the Web, and 20 bids were received by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, VA (HR0011-09-C-0027).
On Sept 9/08 The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] an official request from Saudi Arabia for 12 AH-64D Block II Apache Longbow Helicopters, and associated items. The request, which could result in $598 million worth of contracts, would be used by the kingdom:
“…for its national security, and protecting its borders and oil infrastructure. The aircraft will provide the Saudi military more advanced targeting and engagement capabilities. The proposed sale will provide for the defense of vital installations and will provide close air support for the Saudi military ground forces. This sale also will increase the Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) APACHE sustainability and interoperability with the U.S. Air Force, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, and other coalition air forces.”
Saudi Arabia already has 12 AH-64A Apaches, in service with 2 Aviation Battalion at King Khalid Military City, in the country’s northeast near Kuwait. A $400 million August 2006 DSCA request would have upgraded those helicopters to AH-64D status, but DID has seen no follow-on contracts to that effect. This request involves new equipment, including:
Limitations on UAV use are imposed by the threat of collisions between UAVs and manned aircraft. An RQ-7 Shadow UAV is definitely large enough to create real problems if it hits a helicopter or other aircraft, and a UAV’s extremely narrow field of view is a lot less safe than the awareness available to a human in a cockpit. Worse, many UAVs are small enough that a potential collision may not be noticed by other aircraft until it’s too late. There have already been accidents.
This isn’t just a military problem. It also represents the largest barrier to widespread civil UAV use. Europe’s EDA has a program underway to address deconfliction, the Israelis are looking into it, the US military is funding research from multiple UAV controllers to SWARMs, and even private contractors are busy searching for the key that will unlock a vast UAV market. The ultimate goal is a system that’s small enough to equip smaller and more affordable tactical and civil UAVs, as well as larger and more expensive military UAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk.
A recent project sponsored by the US Army, and led by Lockheed Martin, is bringing that goal closer – and may have ramifications for the inter-service balance of power.
Now Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri – Cantieri Navali Italiani S.p.A. has signed a definitive acquisition agreement to acquire the Manitowoc Marine Group (MMG), from its parent, The Manitowoc Company, Inc., for about $120 Million in cash. Lockheed Martin Corporation has agreed to be a minority investor with Fincantieri in the proposed acquisition.
Fincantieri is Italy’s leading shipbuilder, building a range of ships from aircraft carriers and frigates to offshore patrol vessels. MMG is a leading mid-tier American shipbuilder, who has worked on commercial, Coast Guard, and naval programs…