Latest updates[?]: The Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group is underway for a patrol of the Indo-Pacific and this deployment notes a number of firsts. The Marine Corps is sending its F-35C out to sea for its first operational deployment by bringing VMFA-314 aboard the carrier. VRM-30 will also deploy for the first time along with its CMV-22B. The squadron was established at NAS North Island in 2018.
F-35B: off probation
The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 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. Lightning II system development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3), with Singapore and Israel as “Security Cooperation Partners,” and Japan as the 1st export customer.
The big question for Lockheed Martin is whether, and when, many of these partner countries will begin placing purchase orders. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the F-35 program, including contracts, sub-contracts, and notable events and reports during 2012-2013.
Latest updates[?]: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems won a $103.2 million deal for the production of Gray Eagle unmanned aircraft systems, satellite airborne data terminals, and government furnished equipment maintenance. The MQ-1C Gray Eagle is an extended range / multipurpose (ER/MP) unmanned aircraft system developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for the US Army. It has an endurance of 25 hours, speeds up to167 KTAS, can operate up to 29,000 feet, and carries 1,075 lb (488 kg) of internal and external payload.
Its initial battles were fought within the Pentagon, but the US Army’s high-end UAV has made its transition to the battlefield.
The ER/MP program was part of the US Army’s reinvestment of dollars from the canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program, and directly supports the Army’s Aviation Modernization Plan. The US Air Force saw this Predator derivative as a threat and tried to destroy it, but the program survived the first big “Key West” battle of the 21st century. Now, the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” is in production as the US Army’s high-end UAV. As CENTCOM’s wars end, however, the Gray Eagle may find that staying in the fleet is as hard as getting there.
This FOCUS article offers a program history, key statistics and budget figures, and ongoing coverage of the program’s contracts and milestones.
Latest updates[?]: The US Army is contracting Oshkosh Defense for technical support. The $13.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract provides for a number of support activities on the Mine Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle family of vehicles. The Oshkosh M-ATV has an empty “curb weight” of 25,000 pounds, and a Gross Vehicle Weight of 32,500 pounds, including the M-ATV objective maximum of 4,000 pounds of payload. The core of the vehicle is the US Marines’ MTVR medium truck chassis, and its TAK-4 suspension, giving it a 70% off-road mobility profile. M-ATV’s Super Multi-Hit Armor Technology (SMART) armor is used in theater by NATO and has since been augmented by “Underbody Improvement Kits” to improve mine protection. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of July, 2021.
“The Government plans to acquire an MRAP All-Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV). The M-ATV is a lighter, off-road, and more maneuverable vehicle that incorporates current MRAP level [bullet and mine blast] protection. The M-ATV will require effectiveness in an off-road mission profile. The vehicle will include EFP (Explosively Formed Projectile land mine) and RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade panzerfaust) protection (integral or removable kit). The M-ATV will maximize both protection levels and off-road mobility & maneuverability attributes, and must balance the effects of size and weight while attempting to achieve the stated requirements.”
— US government FedBizOpps, November 2008
Oshkosh Defense’s M-ATV candidate secured a long-denied MRAP win, and the firm continues to remain ahead of production targets. The initial plan expected to spend up to $3.3 billion to order 5,244 M-ATVs for the US Army (2,598), Marine Corps (1,565), Special Operations Command (643), US Air Force (280) and the Navy (65), plus 93 test vehicles. FY 2010 budgets and subsequent purchases have pushed this total even higher, and orders now stand at over 8,800 for the USA, plus another 800 for the UAE.
Latest updates[?]: After sensationally backing out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Canadian government will not exclude the jet from the renewed CF-18 replacement competition. Canadian minister of national defence Harjit Sajjan said at the annual Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) that once the government determines its needs, and capabilities are specified, potential contractors will be allowed to bid, including Lockheed Martin with its F-35. The announcement marks the first time that Sajjan has explicitly said that the F-35 could still be in the running, after weeks of hinting at the possibility.
Liberal versus Conservative politics are dominating the coverage of Canadian self examination of their defense procurement process. Conservatives came to power criticizing a broken and opaque process run by the Liberals, and now the Liberals are enjoying throwing similar barbs at the majority party. But in the fray, several interesting analyses have surfaced that the defense establishment is taking seriously.
The Harper government insists that a defense procurement overhaul conducted last year has yet to toll, and that patience is needed to prove that things have improved. By far, the largest effect is exerted by the major fighter and ship programs, which evolve in year and decade timescales.
As to the actual content of the report, much blame is placed at the cutting of procurement staff levels, which have been halved over the past 20 years. Also unpopular among the procurement officials are rafts of the new reporting requirements – reportedly up by about 50 percent – that are part of the Harper governments reforms.
Separately, the objectives of major defense procurement projects have also been called into question. Because the F-35 has greatest advantage in the objective of overpowering a state with top anti-air resources, Canadian officials are now questioning whether this is something relevant to Canada, especially in the face of a lopsided price disadvantage versus other fighters. Reportedly, the only other fighter contending still against the F-35 is Boeing’s Super Hornet. This analysis, a product of the 2012 decision to delay what was to be a $45 billion purchase of F-35s, did not draw a conclusive recommendation, although it did note that the likelihood of requiring a mission profile uniquely suited to the F-35 was low.
The F-35 program has been controversial in Canada, even more so than in other countries, complete with alleged plots to conduct secret initial procurement of four fighters to be delivered in 2015, with a commitment for 9 more two years later. Internal pressures led the Harper administration to develop a more explicit offset seeking program, called the Value Proposition Guide, as in show-us-what-industrial-value-we-can-bank domestically.
February 26/16: After sensationally backing out of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Canadian government will not exclude the jet from the renewed CF-18 replacement competition. Canadian minister of national defence Harjit Sajjan said at the annual Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) that once the government determines its needs, and capabilities are specified, potential contractors will be allowed to bid, including Lockheed Martin with its F-35. The announcement marks the first time that Sajjan has explicitly said that the F-35 could still be in the running, after weeks of hinting at the possibility.
February 23/16: Major defense purchases through Canada’s problem-plagued procurement process is to be guided by a cabinet-level committee. The committee will have direct access to support from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and is tasked with seeing that billion dollar sales, which include all aircraft purchases, will not be held up in federal bureaucracy. While details of the committee have not been disclosed, it will include high ranking members of the Liberal government including Procurement Minister Judy Foote, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Navdeep Bains, minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, and Scott Brison, the president of the Treasury Board.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing is expected to market a set of F-15 modifications capable of equipping the jet with sixteen air-to-air missiles at the Air Force Association conference in Maryland next week. The plans are yet to be outlined fully by the company, which would double the carrying capacity of the F-15 from the current eight missiles and allow the aging design to remain operational potent, given the potential pairing of the AIM-120D medium-range missile with the aircraft's Active Electronically Scanned Array radar system.
B-52H: to 2030?
The current US Air Force fleet, whose planes are more than 26 years old on average, is the oldest in USAF history. It won’t keep that title for very long. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling tankers are more than 40 years old – and under current plans, some may be as many as 70-80 years old before they retire. Since the price for next-generation planes has risen faster than inflation, average aircraft age will climb even if the US military gets every plane it asks for in its future plans. Nor is the USA the only country facing this problem.
As this dynamic plays out and average age continues to rise, addressing the issues related to aging aircraft becomes more and more important in order to maintain acceptable force numbers, readiness levels, and aircraft maintainability; avoid squeezing out recapitalization budgets; handle personnel turnover that becomes more and more damaging; and keep maintenance costs in line, despite new technical problems that will present unforeseen difficulties. Like F-15 fighters that are under flight restrictions due to structural fatigue concerns – or grounded entirely.
The biggest contracts aren’t always the ones deserving of the most attention. Enter the USA’s Joint Council on Aging Aircraft (JCAA), and initiatives like the Navy’s ASLS. Enter, too, DID’s Spotlight article. It seeks to place the situation and its effects in perspective, via background, contracts, and a research trove of articles that tap the expertise and observations of outside parties and senior sources within the US military.
The Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), named for U.S. Air Force pioneer Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, bills itself as “The World’s Premier Flight Simulation Test Facility.” Nearly half of the AEDC’s 58 test facilities are unique in the U.S., and 14 are unique in the world. These specialized test facilities have played a crucial role in the development and sustainment of virtually every high performance aircraft, air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon, missile, and space system in use by all four of the U.S. military services today. The Center has also been involved in the development of every NASA manned space system, many satellites, and numerous commercial aircraft and spacecraft systems.
In 2003, the Air Force consolidated the test operations contract and the base services contract into a single contract for operations, maintenance, information management, and base support, which was awarded to Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) in Tullahoma, TN.
In 2005, the Canadian Department of National Defence awarded a 22-year, $1.77-billion (USD $1.5 billion) contract to an “Allied Wings” team lead by Kelowna Flightcraft Ltd. of Kelowna, British Columbia, who beat out a competing group led by Bombardier’s military training division in Mirabel, Quebec. The long-term contract will provide primary flight training training and support services to the Canadian Forces and international allies. These services will be provided out of the “Canada Wings Aviation Training Centre” in the Southport Aerospace Centre near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba.
This is not the first time the Canadian government has chosen a public/private approach to aviation training. Bombardier was already managing the Contracted Flying Training and Support (CFTS) program, and the public-private NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program has been running since 1997. In some ways, however, the new “Allied Wings” contract was a logical next step aimed at solidifying Canada’s traditional advantages, as Canada attempts to make itself an international center of excellence for foreign military aviator training:
NATO Flying Training in Canada
Primary Training: Competition for CFTS [updated]
The Big Picture: International Flight Training in Canada [updated]
In March 2006, “Fractal Creep: New Digitized Camo Uniforms for USAF, USN, Jordan” looked at some of the new fractal camouflage patterns emerging on the market, and the some of the design decisions behind the uniforms themselves. The new uniform design is a pixilated tiger stripe, with 4 soft earth tones of tan, grey, green and blue. The Air Force Battle Uniform will have a permanent crease and will be offered in 50-50 nylon-cotton blend permanent press fabric, eliminating the need for winter and summer weight uniforms. It will also be available in more body sizes, tailored for men and women. A tan T-shirt and polish-free suede cowhide boots in matching green-gray color will accompany the uniform, and will be available in men’s and women’s sizes. So will a fleece.
Back in 2006, Brig. Gen Robert R. Allardice said that they:
European missile manufacturer MBDA plans adjustments to its long-range Meteor active radar guided air-to-air missile, to make it capable of deployment on Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). The MBDA Meteor will compete for orders with Raytheon’s medium range AIM-120C AMRAAM active radar missile, though the Meteor possesses longer range and several additional technological advances.
This move expands the Meteor’s original designated market, which was the Dassault Rafale, EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, and Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen fighter systems. MBDA’s move is interesting for a number of reasons, ranging from the convergence of different fighter system design philosophies to what it implicitly says about their projections re: future fighter exports.
Despite its staid sounding name, The Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC has been anything but staid and diplomatic in its recent series of reports on America’s defense procurement plans. “ABANDON SHIPS: The Costly Illusion of Unaffordable Transformation” was indeed a shot across the bow. Lest anyone think that assessment was an aberration, CSIS has now followed it up with its look at the US Air Force: “America’s Self-Destroying Air Power – Becoming Your Own Peer Threat” [Summary | Full report, PDF format]:
“[The] new Burke Chair report… examines the impact of a crisis in aircraft procurement on tactical, strategic, and enabling capabilities of US air power. It draws on recent government and other reports to describe the problems in US aircraft procurement and their impact on US air power and the challenges the next administration will face in force planning and budgeting.
…The problems described in this report must be kept in context. Every service has, to some extent, mortgaged its future by failing to contain equipment costs, and by trading existing equipment and force elements for developing new systems that it may never be able to procure in the numbers planned… US aircraft procurements are no exception. The problems are so severe that the US risks becoming its own peer threat to US airpower… These problems are compounded by the fact that there now are fewer program alternatives if any key aircraft program runs into trouble. They are also compounded by the systematic underestimation of technology risk, growth in performance requirements, the use of failed methods of cost analysis, and the pressure to “sell” programs by understating cost and risk. All have combined to push air modernization to the crisis point.”