Latest updates[?]: The US Army activated a new air cavalry squadron tasked with providing permanent reconnaissance support to US forces in South Korea. The 5th Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Combat Aviation Brigade was activated in a ceremony on Camp Humphreys, the largest US military base overseas. The new squadron consists of roughly 500 soldiers and 24 AH-64E Apaches, the latest version of the Army’s attack helicopter. The 5-17th air cavalry squadron also includes RQ-7B Shadows, unmanned aircraft systems that provide reconnaissance and surveillance assistance to aviation brigades.
Latest updates: Total rises to 68.
War takes its toll on equipment, as well as men. In some cases, it wears out. In other cases, enemy fire or accidents destroy equipment. The USA has recognized this fact by funding wartime replacement expenditures as supplemental funding, which is outside the normal budgetary process. The intent is that this money will be spent on replacing equipment that has been worn out, damaged or destroyed, or will be used to provide specialized capabilities like MRAP mine-resistant vehicles that are directly related to front-line demands.
Admittedly, this hasn’t always been true. Politicians are what they are, and so are large organizations like the military. One area where this ethic has undoubtedly been honored, however, has been the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter fleet. This article covers US Army Wartime Replacement Aircraft (WRA) AH-64D Longbow buys, which are the only truly new attack helicopters in the America’s inventory. That will change with the new Block III model, which is more advanced than the WRAs.
Latest updates[?]: The first C-130H with eight-bladed propellors assigned to the 133rd Airlift Wing has returned home after modifications. The aircraft arrived home on May 11 at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport. Another seven C-130Hs are undergoing the modifications with a completion date by the end of September 2023. After which the cargo planes will get new T56 3.5 turboprop engines.
RAAF C-130J-30, flares
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.
In April 2009 Bath and Ingalls agreed to the Navy’s surface combatant plans, thus heralding a significant restructuring within the American naval shipbuilding community. Under the agreements, the USA would end production at 3 Graf Spee sized DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class “destroyers,” but shift all production from the Congressionally-mandated joint arrangements to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine, which had already made program-related investments in advanced shipbuilding technologies.
Northrop Grumman (now Huntington Ingalls Industries) would retain its DDG-1000 deckhouse work, but their main exchange was additional orders for DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers. Their Ingalls yard in Pascagoula, Mississippi would continue building the DDG-51 destroyers, beginning with 2 ordered in FY 2010-2011.
In March 2008, the Bell Boeing Joint Project Office in Amarillo, TX received a $10.4 billion modification that converted the previous N00019-07-C-0001 advance acquisition contract to a fixed-price-incentive-fee, multi-year contract. The new contract rose to $10.92 billion, and was used to buy 143 MV-22 (for USMC) and 31 CV-22 (Air Force Special Operations) Osprey aircraft, plus associated manufacturing tooling to move the aircraft into full production. A follow-on MYP-II contract covered another 99 Ospreys (92 MV-22, 7 CV-22) for $6.524 billion. Totals: $17.444 billion for 235 MV-22s and 38 CV-22s, an average of $63.9 million each.
The V-22 tilt-rotor program has been beset by controversy throughout its 20-year development period. Despite these issues, and the emergence of competitive but more conventional compound helicopter technologies like Piasecki’s X-49 Speedhawk and Sikorsky’s X2, the V-22 program continues to move forward. This DID Spotlight article looks at the V-22’s multi-year purchase contract from 2008-12 and 2013-2017, plus associated contracts for key V-22 systems, program developments, and research sources.
Latest updates[?]: Northrop Grumman won a $38 million contract modification, which increases the contract ceiling to procure an additional 173 Tech Refresh Mission Computers (TRMC) and an additional 173 TRMC trays in support of the Army’s domestic production UH-60V aircraft. The UH-60V is an upgraded version of the current UH-60L aircraft. Instead of the UH-60L’s legacy cockpit, the newer version features a fully open, digital and integrated avionics suite. The changes increase the life and mission capabilities of the UH-60 platform. Work will take place in Utah and California. Expected completion date is December 2023.
US Army HH-60Ms
In July 2012, the US military signed another huge contract with Sikorsky. With production of the Army’s HH/UH-60M, and the Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R helicopters, all in full swing, there’s no question about the need for future orders. In that environment, multi-year contracts allow efficiencies in purchasing, and security of staffing, throughout Sikorsky’s supply chain. These new helicopter types are also available to Foreign Military Sales class customers, under the American contract’s advantageous pricing and terms. The UH-60M, MH-60S and MH-60R models have already inked export deals, and official requests indicate that more deals are in the pipeline.
The new multi-year 2013-2017 contract could be worth up to $11.7 billion, and follows a 5-year, multi-service “MYP-VII” contract in December 2007. Like its predecessor, it covers UH-60M Black Hawk troop transport and light cargo helicopters, Army HH-60M SAR (Search And Rescue) / MEDEVAC (MEDical EVACuation) helicopters, and the US Navy’s MH-60S and MH-60R Seahawk helicopters.
The US Navy flies the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet fighters, and has begun operating the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare & strike aircraft. Many of these buys have been managed out of common multi-year procurement (MYP) contracts, which aim to reduce overall costs by offering longer-term production commitments, so contractors can negotiate better deals with their suppliers.
The MYP-II contract ran from 2005-2009, and was not renewed because the Pentagon intended to focus on the F-35 fighter program. When it became clear that the F-35 program was going to be late, and had serious program and budgetary issues, pressure built to abandon year-by-year contracting, and negotiate another multi-year deal for the current Super Hornet family. That deal is now final. This entry covers the program as a whole, with a focus on 2010-2015 Super Hornet family purchases. It has been updated to include all announced contracts and events connected with MYP-III, including engines and other separate “government-furnished equipment” that figures prominently in the final price.
India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.
In response, some MiG-21s have been modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, and other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs of their own. The IAF’s hope is that they can maintain an adequate force until the multi-billion dollar 126+ plane MMRCA competition delivers replacements, and more SU-30MKIs arrive from HAL. Which still leaves India without an affordable fighter solution. MMRCA can replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but what about the MiG-21s? The MiG-21 Bison program adds years of life to those airframes, but even so, they’re likely to be gone by 2020.
That’s why India’s own Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is so important to the IAF’s future prospects. It’s also why India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft. Even with that help, the program’s delays are a growing problem for the IAF. Meanwhile, the west’s near-abandonment of the global lightweight fighter market opens a global opportunity, if India can seize it with a compelling and timely product.
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.
Latest updates[?]: The Qatar Air Force took delivery of the first NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) recently, manufacturer Leonardo has announced. The first TTH version helicopter for land-based tasks was delivered on 11 December, in line with contractual commitments, and will be followed in the coming months by the first NFH, dedicated to naval operations, after qualifications. Deliveries will continue until 2025.
NH90: TTH & NFH
The NH90 emerged from a requirement that created a NATO helicopter development and procurement agency in 1992 and, at almost the same time, established NH Industries (62.5% EADS Eurocopter, 32.5% AgustaWestland, and 5% Stork Fokker) to build the hardware. The NATO Frigate Helicopter was originally developed to fit between light naval helicopters like AW’s Lynx or Eurocopter’s Panther, and medium-heavy naval helicopters like the European EH101. A quick look at the NFH design showed definite possibilities as a troop transport helicopter, however, and soon the NH90 project had branched into 2 versions, with more to follow.
The nearest equivalent would be Sikorsky’s popular H-60Seahawk/ Black Hawk family, but the NH90 includes a set of innovative features that give it some distinguishing selling points. Its combination of corrosion-proofing, lower maintenance, greater troop or load capacity, and the flexibility offered by that rear ramp have made the NH90 a popular global competitor.
As many business people discover the hard way, however, success can be almost as dangerous as failure. NH Industries has had great difficulty ramping up production fast enough to meet promised deliveries, which has left several buyers upset. Certification and acceptance have also been slow, with very few NH90s in service over a decade after the first contracts were signed. Booked orders have actually been sliding backward over the last year, and currently stand at around 500 machines, on behalf of 14 nations.
Latest updates[?]: Cracks have been found on the tails of Canada’s CH-148 fleet, the problem affects 19 out of the 23 helicopters. The issue surfaced on November 26 when one of the helicopter underwent scheduled maintenance and the cracks were discovered. Subsequent checks on three more rotorcraft also found cracks on those aircraft. So far only two were unaffected and two more are yet to be inspected.
Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Replacement Program has been a textbook military procurement program over its long history. Unfortunately, it has been a textbook example of what not to do. While Canada’s 50-year old Sea King fleet aged and deteriorated to potentially dangerous levels, political pettiness and lack of concern turned a straightforward off-the-shelf buy into a 25+ year long odyssey of cancellations, lawsuits, rebids, and more. Eventually, the Canadian military settled on Sikorsky’s H-92 Superhawk as the basis of its new CH-148 Cyclone Maritime Helicopter, which will serve from the decks of Canada’s naval ships and bases.
The civilian S-92 has gone on to some commercial success. To date, however, Canada has been the H-92’s only military customer – with all of the associated systems integration and naval conversion burdens that one would expect. After a long series of badly missed milestones and delivery delays, there are also deeper questions being raised concerning both the machines’ fitness, and DND’s conduct of the program as a whole. This article covers the rationale for, history of, and developments within Canada’s Maritime Helicopter Program.