Latest updates[?]: Woodward HRT Inc. won a maximum $9.7 million deal for F-15 rotary vane assemblies. The Boeing F-15E dual-role fighter is an advanced long-range interdiction fighter and tactical aircraft. The F-15E is the latest version of the Eagle, a Mach 2.5-class twin-engine fighter. Work under the contract will take place in California. Ordering Period End Date is April 1, 2025. The contracting activity is the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation, Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma.
F-15C over DC
“Array of Aging American Aircraft Attracting Attention” discusses the issues that accompany an air force whose fighters have an average age of over 23.5 years – vs. an average of 8.5 years in 1967. One of the most obvious consequences is the potential for fleet groundings due to unforseen structural issues caused by time and fatigue. That very fear is responsible for the #1 priority placed on bringing new KC-X aerial tankers into the fleet to complement the USA’s 1960s-era KC-135 Stratotankers.
It can also affect the fighter fleet more directly.
Following the crash of a Missouri Air National Guard F-15C aircraft Nov 2/07 (see crash simulation), the US Air Force suspended non-mission critical F-15 flight operations on Nov 3/07. While the cause of that accident is still under investigation, preliminary findings indicate that a structural failure during flight may have been responsible. In response, Japan suspended its own F-15 flights, which left them in a bit of a bind – even as Israel’s F-15s joined them on the tarmac. As the effects continue to spread and the USAF and others continue to comment on this situation, DID continues to expand its coverage of this bellwether event. A conditional restoration of the American F-15A-D fleet to flight status was soon overturned by the re-grounding of that fleet as a result of the report’s conclusions – a status that remains only been partially lifted. Meanwhile, the accident report has been released (compete with video dramatization) and the status of the remaining aircraft will have significant implications for the USAF’s future F-15 fleet size. Not to mention its other procurement programs.
Then, too, this is America. Now there’s a lawsuit.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won a $2 billion contract modification for Lot 7 production KC-46 aircraft, subscriptions and licenses and G081 flat file. The modification provides for the exercise of an option for an additional quantity of 15 KC-46 aircraft, data, subscriptions and licenses, and G081 flat file being produced under the basic contract. The company delivered the first KC-46A to the Air Force in January 2019. Since then, Boeing has delivered 42 tankers to four different bases. The next-generation KC-46 brings new capabilities and operational flexibility to the US Air Force and international customers. Boeing says the KC-46 is a multirole tanker designed to refuel allied and coalition military aircraft compatible with international aerial refueling procedures. It’s also equipped to carry passengers, cargo and patients on any mission at any time. Work will take place in Seattle, Washington and is expected to be finished by May 31, 2024.
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.
Latest updates[?]: General Electric won a $101.5 million contract modification, which procures 21 T408-GE-400 turboshaft engines and associated engine, programmatic and logistics services in support of CH-53K King Stallion Lot Five low rate initial production aircraft. The King Stallion is the premier heavy-lift helicopter ever built by the United States government. It is an all-new heavy-lift helicopter that will expand the fleet’s ability to move more material more rapidly. That power comes from three new General Electric T-408 engines, which are more powerful and more fuel efficient than the T-64 engines currently outfitted on the CH-53E. The T408 gives the CH-53K helicopter the power to carry a 27,000-pound external load over a mission radius of 110 nautical miles in hot weather conditions, nearly triple the external load carrying capacity of current aircraft. Work will take place in Massachusetts. Estimated completion is in December 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[?]: Kyodo News reports that the core team to develop Japan’s next fighter has formed and the team will eventually grow to have up to 500 members. Japan has plans to domestically develop a sixth-generation F-X stealth fighter that can keep China’s increasingly capable air force at bay. A development timeline foresees construction of a prototype in 2024, with a first flight to follow in 2028.
In December 2011, Japan picked Lockheed Martin’s new F-35A stealth fighter as its next fighter aircraft, to replace its aging F-4 “Kai” Phantom fleet. The F-35 was actually their 2nd choice.
Back in February 2006, Inside The Air Force (ITAF) reported that momentum was building within the USAF to sell the ultra-advanced F-22A Raptor abroad to trusted US allies, as a way of increasing numbers and production. Japan clearly wanted them, and the Raptor was a topic of diplomatic discussions in several venues, including a 2007 summit meeting. In the end, however, US politics denied export permission for downgraded export variants of the F-22, and its production line was terminated. That left Japan looking at other foreign “F-X” fighter options in the short term, while they considered a domestic stealth fighter design as their long-term project.
In the ensuing F-X competition, the F-35 Lightning II beat BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon, as well as an upgraded F/A-18E Super Hornet from Boeing. Now Lockheed Martin has to deliver, and so will its Japanese partners. Will the F-35A’s price and program delays create problems in Japan? This article looks at the JASDF’s current force, its future options, and ongoing F-X developments.
Some nations have aircraft carriers. The USA has super-carriers. The French Charles De Gaulle Class nuclear carriers displace about 43,000t. India’s new Vikramaditya/ Admiral Gorshkov Class will have a similar displacement. The future British CVF Queen Elizabeth Class and related French PA2 Project are expected to displace about 65,000t, while the British Invincible Class carriers that participated in the Falklands War weigh in at just 22,000t. Invincible actually compares well to Italy’s excellent new Cavour Class (27,000t), and Spain’s Principe de Asturias Class (17,000t). The USA’s Nimitz Class and CVN-21 Gerald R. Ford Class, in contrast, fall in the 90,000+ tonne range. Hence their unofficial designation: “super-carriers”. Just one of these ships packs a more potent air force than many nations.
Nimitz Class cutaway
As the successor to the 102,000 ton Nimitz Class super-carriers, the CVN-21 program aimed to increase aircraft sortie generation rates by 20%, increase survivability to better handle future threats, require fewer sailors, and have depot maintenance requirements that could support an increase of up to 25% in operational availability. The combination of a new design nuclear propulsion plant and an improved electric plant are expected to provide 2-3 times the electrical generation capacity of previous carriers, which in turn enables systems like an Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System (EMALS, replacing steam-driven catapults), Advanced Arresting Gear, and integrated combat electronics that will leverage advances in open systems architecture. Other CVN-21 features include an enhanced flight deck, improved weapons handling and aircraft servicing efficiency, and a flexible island arrangement allowing for future technology insertion. This graphic points out many of the key improvements.
DID’s CVN-21 FOCUS Article offers a detailed look at a number of the program’s key innovations, as well as a list of relevant contract awards and events.
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon won a $34.3 million contract, which provides engineering and test support services for the ALQ-249 Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) currently in development for the Navy EA-18G aircraft. The scope includes H16/H18/H20/H22 software support for NGJ pod and integration including requirements analysis, design, development, integration, testing, training and tools related to and in support of ALQ-249 and advanced electronic warfare initiatives for Navy and Foreign Military Sales customers. The NGJ is an external jamming pod. The AN/ALQ-249 utilizes the latest digital, software-based, and Active Electronically Scanned Array technologies in order to address advanced and emerging threats in the middle frequency bands of the electromagnetic spectrum. The EA-18G Growler is a variant in the F/A-18 family of aircraft that combines the proven F/A-18F Super Hornet platform with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite. Work will take place in El Segundo, California. Estimated completion will be in January 2025.
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.
The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs?
C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS Article describes the C-130J, examines the bottleneck issue, covers global developments for the C-130J program, and looks at present and emerging competitors.
Latest updates[?]: Northrop Grumman Systems won a $10.7 million modification to procure two additional Surface-to-Surface Missile Modules (SSMM) for integration into the Littoral Combat Ship framework. The SSMM fires a Longbow Hellfire missile that will be added to the surface warfare mission module aboard the Littoral Combat Ship. In July 2019 the US Navy successfully completed structural testing of the Longbow Hellfire missile for the Littoral Combat Ship Surface-to-Surface Missile Module. LCS is a modular, reconfigurable ship, with three types of mission packages including surface warfare, mine countermeasures, and anti-submarine warfare. The Program Executive Office Littoral Combat Ships (PEO LCS) is responsible for delivering and sustaining littoral mission capabilities to the fleet. Work will take place in Huntsville, Alabama; Bethpage, New York and Hollywood, Maryland. Estimated completion will be by November 2022.
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.
Latest updates[?]: The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory won a $133.5 million modification to provide research into the applications of technologies to meet guidance requirements for operations on the Common Missile Compartment for the US Columbia Class program and the United Kingdom Dreadnought Class program; provide specialized technical knowledge and support for the hypersonic guidance, navigation and control application; and provide technical and engineering services to support the guidance, navigation and control system that will support the Navy’s hypersonic flight experiments. The Columbia Class is an upcoming class of nuclear submarines. The Columbia SSBN program consists of a minimum of 12 submarines to meet the requirements for U.S. strategic deterrent force structure as set forth in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The Columbia Class program completed Acquisition Milestone B on January 4, 2017 and is in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development Phase. The British Navy has also planned to acquire Columbia-class submarine under the name of Dreadnought-class SSBN. This submarine will be armed with eight D-5 SLBMs, or half the number to be carried by the Columbia class. The modular design of the CMC (Common Missile Compartment) will accommodate this difference. The UK provided some of the funding for the design of the CMC, including a large portion of the initial funding. Work will take place in Massachusetts and California. Estimated completion date is September 30, 2021.
“We are committed to working towards a safer world in which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons… However, the continuing risk from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the certainty that a number of other countries will retain substantial nuclear arsenals, mean that our minimum nuclear deterrent capability, currently represented by Trident, is likely to remain a necessary element of our security.” — UK SDSR, 1998
Britain has a big decision to make: do they remain a nuclear weapons power, or not? In an age of collapsing public finances and an uncertain long-term economic future, the money needed to design new nuclear missile submarines is a huge cost commitment that could crowd out other needs. Then again, in an age of collapsing non-proliferation frameworks, clear hostility from ideologies that want nuclear weapons, and allies who are less capable and dependable, the downside of renouncing nuclear weapons is a huge risk commitment. Pick one, or the other. There is no free lunch.
This article covers that momentous decision for Britain, and the contracts and debates associated with it.
As the U.S. decides who will be president for the next four years a review of procurement spending indicates that the Trump Administration has shown little difference in appropriations versus previous administrations, despite claims to have radically increased spending.
The upshot is that the last four years saw about $2.9 in spending appropriated in inflation-adjusted dollars, which was larger than Barak Obama’s second term, but less than the Obama Administration’s first term.
President Trump’s campaign speech claims of spending during his term relative to previous terms are incorrect. President Trump claimed this year that military spending in the 90s “used to be ‘million.’ And then, about 10 years ago, you started hearing ‘billion.’ And now you’re starting to hear ‘trillion,’ right?” Of course, U.S. defense spending hit the billions in the late 1940s, and recent spending has been on pace with spending from the decade previous.
The Trump Administration has done little to change the often-criticized Pentagon trend of investing more money in fewer pieces of equipment, such as fighter jets that cost a quarter billion dollars each when fully kitted out. The navy is running fewer ships that each cost more. Previous administrations did no better in reversing this trend, of course.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden stated multiple times that he has no plans to reduce military spending, but indicated a desire to refocus military budgets and planning on “near-peer” powers Russia and China, while attempting to recover some of the goodwill of allies tested by the Trump Administration’s active skepticism in cooperation with allies, especially the NATO alliance.