On Dec 7/07 the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Saudi Arabia’s request for 40 of Lockheed Martin’s AN/AAQ-33 SNIPER Advanced Targeting Pods, which would replace the older LANTIRN twin-pod systems installed on Saudi F-15S Strike Eagles. Sniper ATP pods significantly enhance an aircraft’s strike capability by adding stabilized long-range laser tracking and targeting illumination, high performance day/night surveillance, GPS targeting capabilities, and even some air-air target detection and tracking abilities to aircraft using them.
Most DSCA announcements attract little attention, but Saudi sales are facing some political hurdles in Congress these days.
by Johan Boeder in The Netherlands. Earlier versions of this article have been published in the Dutch press and Defense-Aerospace. DID has worked with the author to create an edited, updated version with full documentation of sources.
On May 3, 2007, during the 19th test flight of the prototype of the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter (JSF), a serious electrical malfunction occurred in the control of the plane. After an emergency landing the malfunction could be identified as a crucial problem, and it became clear that redesign of critical electronic components was necessary. Producer Lockheed Martin and program officials first announced there was a minor problem, and later on they avoided any further publicity about the problems.
The delay has become serious, however, and rising costs for the JSF program seem to be certain. In Holland, Parliament started a discussion again last week. Understanding the background behind these delays, and the pressures on European governments, is important to any realistic assessment of the F-35’s European strategy – and of the procurement plans in many European defense ministries…
It seems like a simple, and eminently sensible change. Instead of paying for hours of service and spare parts for military platforms, and trying to forecast usage, set required reliability levels. Then implement public-private partnerships and pay defense contractors a fixed rate per year, with incentives and penalties centered around required in-service rates. Sensible? Yes, and financially attractive because it turns large portions of the maintenance budget into pre-contracted, fixed costs. Simple? No.
Minor complications include the critical importance of in-service availability as something that extends beyond a mere contract term, and the need to avoid bankrupting one’s contractors after they have accepted most of your fleet’s maintenance risk. To which one must add factors such as highly variable per-year usage rates for equipment, the lack of adequate information to make accurate forecasts on either side of the table, the importance of creating the right incentives around long-term maintenance so this is not skimped, and the need to factor maintainability into future equipment contracts in a much more integrated fashion. Each one of those aspects, taken by itself, represents a major challenge. Together, they present formidable obstacles to success.
Faced with constrained budgets and rising maintenance costs, however, the British Ministry of Defence has spent the last several years creating exactly this kind of “future contracting for availability” through-life maintenance framework for platform after platform. The efforts of exceptional individuals like former Air Vice-Marshal Nigel Bairsto have made a tremendous difference, and so has the extensive organizational commitment of multiple MoD agencies and front-line commanders. Britain currently leads the world in this field, even as the rising curve of aging defense equipment throughout the Western world forces defense ministries and departments to confront the same issues. This Spotlight article provides an index of DID’s coverage in this area.
The F-35 Lightning II is a major multinational program intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role strike fighter that will have three variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE)Lightning jet. System development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3). Singapore and Israel are “Security Cooperation Partners.” Now the challenge is agreeing on production phase membership and arrangements, to be followed by initial purchase commitments around 2008-2009.
This article covers the $300 billion international program’s events, main contracts, and ancillary programs during FY/CY 2007. For more recent updates, see 2009-2010 JSF news and contracts.
The USAF has about 20% of its C-130E/H Hercules fleet on the ground or under significant flight restrictions right now, and has been pleading to be able to retire them instead of spending time and maintenance dollars on aircraft that will probably never fly again. This percentage will continue to grow as the hours continue to pile up. Meanwhile, the C-130Js are performing well in Iraq and Afghanistan, where their performance suffers much less from the heat and high altitude than C-130E/H versions. US Special Forces are also looking to renew their aging C-130 specialty aircraft and gunship fleet, but they worry that platforms like the C-130 won’t be survivable 15 years from now.
Both groups have made noises lately about a competition that could involve Airbus’ recently-delayed A400M, which breaks through the 20-ton cargo barrier that has stymied several US armored vehicle programs. Those rumblings, and the delay, may have handed Lockheed both motive and opportunity to make its proposal…
Now a related and rather public controversy has boiled over, thanks to a United Press International article by Theodore Gaillard. Gaillard’s piece cites testing and reliability issues with the missile, but it also goes a step further and argues that JASSM is the wrong concept. In response, his articles have provoked an official reply from Lockheed Martin that directly addresses his arguments.
On Oct 29/07, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Israel’s formal request for a wide variety of missiles and ammunition. Previous orders have outfitted its air force for air-air and air-ground combat. While many of this order’s missiles are likely to find themselves aboard Israeli helicopters, this is not exclusively true, and the overall picture is one of rebuilding ammunition stocks for the ground forces and their supporting arms.
The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $1.329 billion. Specific items requested include:
In the second quarter of 2008, the US Marine Corps is expected to issue an RFP to begin replacing its aging LAV amphibious wheeled armored personnel carriers. When they do, they will be hearing from a somewhat unusual competitor…
France’s Rafale is part of a set of European 4+ generation fighters that were developed and fielded during the 1990s-early 21st century, with the aim of surpassing both existing offerings among America’s “teen series” fighters, and Russia’s Mig-29 Fulcrum and SU-27/30 Flanker family. The French had originally discussed a consortium with Britain & Germany, but France’s insistence on carrier capabilities and accompanying weight limits, and their non-negotiable demand that it be in charge of any fighter project and allocate work sharing, created a competitor in the Eurofighter and forced Dassault to go it alone.
Morocco’s air force currently flies 2 squadrons of old F-5s, and 2 squadrons of slightly newer Mirage F1s. Their neighbor and rival Algeria flies MiG-23s of similar vintage, but adds far more modern and capable MiG-29s. The Force Aérienne Algérienne also flies SU-24 Fencer and SU-25 Frogfoot strike aircraft, and is set to receive 36 multi-role MiG-29SMTs and 30 multi-role SU-30MKs as part of a multi-billion dollar weapons deal with Russia. Morocco is looking for replacement aircraft that will prevent a complete overmatch, and initial reports pegged them as the Rafale’s first export customer. That competition has become a dogfight, however, and recent reports of a used F-16 buy mean the Rafale risks repeating an all-too familiar scenario. In part, says one report, because of French government screw-ups…
Oct 16/07: Boeing announces a $46 million contract from Lockheed Martin to integrate the F-22A Raptor the U.S. Air Force Distributed Mission Operations (DMO) training network, which will enable Raptor pilots to train with other aircrews flying different simulated aircraft at locations throughout the world. Once the contract is complete, Raptor pilots on the East Coast would be able to train with AWACS crews in the Midwest and F-15 pilots in Europe, as part of a joint synthetic battlespace made up of a combination of live, virtual, and programmed-in elements.
The contract allows for the design and test of new software and systems for the F-22 Full Mission Trainer (FMT), and the Boeing team will incorporate the enhanced FMTs into an F-22 Mission Training Center (MTC) that is scheduled to begin operations in 2009. Boeing has delivered and currently operates 5 F-15C MTCs around the globe and has the lead on F-15E and F-16 MTC contracts. The company also delivers DMO-capable systems for the Royal Saudi Air Force and the Finnish Air Force, and is building DMO components for Apache Longbow aircrew trainers for the United Kingdom.
Pam Valdez, director of F-22 Sustainment, says that “inserting the Raptor into the DMO network will act as a training force multiplier for the entire Air Force, helping it achieve its transformational goal of ‘train as you fight.'” The Boeing release adds that Lockheed Martin’s Marietta, GA facility recently delivered Raptor no. 103 to the Air Force.