Latest updates[?]: Sikorsky Aircraft won a $12.3 million modification, which exercises an option to provide production system engineering and program management support in support of CH-53K low-rate initial production. Work will take place in Connecticut. Expected completion will be in May 2023. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Maryland, is the contracting activity.
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.
Trimaran LCS Design
(click to enlarge)
Exploit simplicity, numbers, the pace of technology development in electronics and robotics, and fast reconfiguration. That was the US Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. Inspired by successful experiments like Denmark’s Standard Flex ships, the US Navy’s $35+ billion “Littoral Combat Ship” program was intended to create a new generation of affordable surface combatants that could operate in dangerous shallow and near-shore environments, while remaining affordable and capable throughout their lifetimes.
It hasn’t worked that way. In practice, the Navy hasn’t been able to reconcile what they wanted with the capabilities needed to perform primary naval missions, or with what could be delivered for the sums available. The LCS program has changed its fundamental acquisition plan 4 times since 2005, and canceled contracts with both competing teams during this period, without escaping any of its fundamental issues. Now, the program looks set to end early. This public-access FOCUS article offer a wealth of research material, alongside looks at the LCS program’s designs, industry teams procurement plans, military controversies, budgets and contracts.
LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious assault support vessels are just entering service with the US Navy, and 11 ships of this class are eventually slated to replace up to 41 previous ships. Much like their smaller predecessors, their mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. The difference is found in these ships’ size, their cost, and the capabilities and technologies used to perform those missions. Among other additions, this new ship is designed to operate the Marines’ new MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, alongside the standard well decks for hovercraft and amphibious armored personnel carriers.
While its design incorporates notable advances, the number of serious issues encountered in this ship class have been much higher than usual, and more extensive. The New Orleans shipyard to which most of this contract was assigned appears to be part of the problem. Initial ships have been criticized, often, for sub-standard workmanship, and it took 2 1/2 years after the initial ship of class was delivered before any of them could be sent on an operational cruise. Whereupon the USS San Antonio promptly found itself laid up Bahrain, due to oil leaks. It hasn’t been the only ship of its class hurt by serious mechanical issues. Meanwhile, costs are almost twice the originally promised amounts, reaching over $1.6 billion per ship – 2 to 3 times as much as many foreign LPDs like the Rotterdam Class, and more than 10 times as much as Singapore’s 6,600 ton Endurance Class LPD. This article covers the LPD-17 San Antonio Class program, including its technologies, its problems, and ongoing contracts and events.
Special Forces has had an abiding interest in silenced motorcycles as stealthy and quick insertion/extraction vehicles – and, not just from having viewed Chuck Norris’s 1986 cheesy Delta Force movie, where his trusty motorcycle was portrayed as a Batmobile-like source of plot moving tricks. Air force combat controller teams (CCTs) have been shoving dirt bikes out of airplanes at least since 2010. A 2012 Marine Corp report cited motorcycle use by MARSOC operators, and the Marines have been conducting dirt bike training by third party vendors contracted as early as February 2012. But the airdrop and landing can cause temporary fuel system issues at precisely the wrong moment.
Special Forces toyed with the electric Zero MMX concept a couple years ago, but ditched it due to battery concerns. That vehicle found a home at the LAPD a year later. The electric bike’s charge lasted for only a couple hours.
DARPA gave a grant to Logos Technologies around that time to develop a hybrid bike that could run on several fuels and also support an electric motor with about 50 miles of range. That grant was only $150,000. Things appear to have advanced adequately to have earned a second grant. A Logos representative contacted this morning indicated the new grant was for $1 million.
The bike, called now the Silent Hawk (not to be confused with the silenced SOF helicopters revealed in the aftermath of the 2011 Bin Laden operation), is based on an electric racing bike frame made by Alta Motors. The hybrid engine is Logos Technologies’ development, reportedly from one they developed for a secret drone project.
An example of the sound profile of current electric racing cycles can be seen in the video below. The bike used in the video is a Redshift model, the one employed by Logos for the first Darpa grant’s testing (although with a different engine than the one featured below):
The Westpac Express fast ferry ship has been instrumental in changing the way the US Navy approaches sealift in the Western Pacific. It’s fast enough to substitute for airlift in many cases, and large enough to move a Marine battalion with its gear. Early trials went very well, and the innovative designs and performance of Australian shipbuilders Austal and Incat laid a foundation of manufacturing experience and customer comfort that led to the innovative GD/Austal trimaran design for the new Independence Class “Flight 0” Littoral Combat Ship, while spawning a major acquisition program in the Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV).
HSV Westpac Express isn’t a Navy-owned ship; technically, it’s a chartered vessel. In July 2005, we noted an 18-month extension to its charter. In 2006, that service period was extended still further via a new charter, lasting up to 5 years. During that charter’s period, a bankruptcy in Hawaii created an opportunity to buy the Austal-built catamaran Superferry MV Huakai, which will replace Westpac Express in the Pacific. Until then, the USMC needs one more contract extension.
Turkey has been looking for a new amphibious assault ship for some time. The competition for an “LPD” began in 2010, and bids were requested in 2011, but it took until December 2013 for the SSM procurement agency to decide.
In December 2013, Turkey’s SSM procurement agency announced that the Defense Industry Executive Committee had directed them to begin contract negotiations with SEDEF Gemi Insaati AS, which is partnered with Navantia to offer the BPE/ Juan Carlos I Class design. If that fails, Turkey will look East…
You can live for weeks without food. A week without water will leave you dead, especially if you’re exerting yourself in unfriendly conditions. More bad news: water is heavy to carry, which means it takes a lot of resources to transport. There are all kinds of very clever single-soldier solutions for purifying water, but bases and outposts will need options that can scale and produce a steady supply. The US Marines are looking for expeditionary solutions, and TerraGroup’s TECWAR will be selling them some.
The U.S. Marine Corps sees the 120mm Expeditionary Fire Support System (EFSS) mortar as the 3rd leg of its expeditionary fire support triad. EFSS will be the short-range but easily transportable counterpart to the reduced-weight M777 155mm towed howitzer, and the truck-mounted M142 HIMARS rocket system.
Accompanying Marine Air Ground Task Forces (MAGTFs) in expeditionary operations, EFSS will be the heliborne Ship-To-Objective Maneuver (STOM) force’s primary fire support, before the larger and longer range systems can move into position. As such, the EFSS launcher, its Internally Transportable Vehicle (ITV) carrier, a portion of the basic load of ammunition, and a portion of its crew, must all be transportable by a single CH-53E Super Stallion or future CH-53K heavy lift helicopter, and/or a single MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The program’s path has not been smooth, and its vehicle choice in particular has come in for criticism, as it heads toward full-rate production.
Small business qualifier Skill Metric Machine & Tool, Inc. in Delray Beach, FL recently received a 5-year, maximum $48.5 million, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for AM-2 metal matting accessory packages, in support of the Expeditionary Airfield program. Those packages contain items that help assemble, secure, and lock/stake the mats into place, so they can act as emergency airfields for USMC fighters, transports, etc. Work will be performed in Delray Beach, FL, and is expected to be complete in October 2016. $1.5 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured as an 8(a) small business set-aside competition via electronic request for proposals, and 1 offer was received by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ (N68335-12-D-0001).
This sounds boring, but it’s critical to the way the US Marines fight. Anywhere in the world, the Marine Corps can install 4,000 feet of AM-2 steel matting and begin operating its airpower. At the 2010 Battle of Marjah, for instance, the Marines expected a really difficult fight, and needed consistent close air support. All with limited aerial tanker support, and just 10 AV-8B Harrier jets based over 150 miles away, at Kandahar Airfield. That would mean too much flying back and forth, and not enough time over the battlefield. Instead, a 4,000 foot expeditionary airfield was built at FOB Dwyer, just 10 miles from the battle, as a forward arming and refueling point (FARP). Result? Just 30 minutes from departure to a fully-fueled return, and full close-support coverage thanks to a 4x aircraft sortie rate.