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 Advanced Electronics won a contract modification for the F-15 Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) Electronic System Test Set (ESTS). Services acquired under this effort are to provide the RSAF with an upgraded ESTS. The RSAF currently uses an A31U18240-2 ESTS configuration, and this shall provide the scope to upgrade and install the A31U18240-3 and A31U18240-4 configuration (frequently referred to as -3 and -4, respectively), as well as familiarization training, regression testing, and travel. Work will be performed at the RSAF Central Maintenance Facilities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the Science and Engineering facility in Huntsville, Alabama; and Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and is expected to be completed April 16, 2021.
F-15S & weapons
In October 2010, talks that Saudi Arabia was negotiating a $30-60 billion arms package with the USA were made official with a full multi-billion request that included 84 F-15 Strike Eagles to replace the Kingdom’s Tornado strike aircraft and/or F-15A-D fighters, upgrades for another 70 planes, about 132 UH-60 Black Hawk utility and AH-64 attack helicopters, and armaments to equip them.
This article looks at those requests, their tie-ins, the issues that are part of these potential deals, and related follow-on requests. As is often the case with DSCA announcements, years can pass between the requests and the signed contracts, but these contracts have started to roll in, alongside other significant buys.
Latest updates[?]: Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) completed a series of successful live-fire tests of the Barak air defense system. The tests were carried out to evaluate the system’s capability to deal with a range of scenarios and threats, including the interception of a ballistic target by the Barak ER (extended range) interceptor. The Barak ER missile, part of the Barak family of interceptors developed by IAI, is capable of intercepting ballistic and non-ballistic threats at a range of 150 kilometers. The extended range is made possible in part by adjusting the interceptor and the missile system's MMR radar to a 150 km range, according to the company.
Over a development timeline measured in decades, India’s indigenous “Akash” and “Trishul” programs for surface to air missiles have failed to inspire full confidence. Trishul was eventually canceled entirely. Akash had a a long, difficult development period, but seems to have found customer acceptance and a solid niche in the rugged terrain of the northeast. India still needed longer-range advanced SAMs to equip its navy and army, however, and decided to try to duplicate the success of the partnership model that had fielded the excellent Indo-Russian PJ-10 BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.
In February 2006, therefore, Israel and India signed a joint development agreement to create a new Barak-NG medium shipborne air defense missile, as an evolution of the Barak-1 system in service with both navies. In July 2007 the counterpart MR-SAM project began moving forward, aiming to develop a medium range SAM for use with India’s land forces. Both missiles would now be called Barak-8. In between, “India to Buy Israeli “SPYDER” Mobile Air Defense System” covered India’s move to begin buying mobile, short-range surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems for its army, based on the Python and Derby air-to-air missiles in service with its air force and naval aircraft. These projects offer India a way forward to address its critical air defense weaknesses, and upgrade “protection of vital and strategic ground assets and area air defence.” This DID FOCUS article will cover the Barak-8 and closely related programs in India, Israel, and beyond.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) is under pressure from the military to complete the Initial Operational Test & Evaluation of its Hai Chien 2 anti-air missile by this year. The Navy wants to start limited production of the missile from March next year so that the Tuo Chiang Class corvettes can have an anti-air capability. Unfortunately for NCSIST, the institute has run into problems integrating the missile with air defense radar. To meet the deadline by next year, it has to start shipborne testing in the next few months. So far, the missile has only been fired at sea once in 2014. Another effort to have the missile fired from the Mk 41 VLS is also delayed as the indigenous Hsun Lien naval combat systems is behind schedule.
Despite China’s ominous military buildup across the strait, key weapons sales of P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, Patriot PAC-3 missiles, and diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan had been sabotaged by Taiwanese politics for years – in some cases, since 1997. The KMT party’s flip-flops and determined stalling tactics eventually created a crisis in US-Taiwan relations, which finally soured to the point that the USA refused a Taiwanese request for F-16C/D aircraft.
That seems to have brought things to a head. Most of the budget and political issues were eventually sorted out, and after a long delay, some major elements of Taiwan’s requested modernization program appear to be moving forward: P-3 maritime patrol aircraft, UH-60M helicopters, Patriot missile upgrades; and requests for AH-64D attack helicopters, E-2 Hawkeye AWACS planes, minehunting ships, and missiles for defense against aircraft, ships, and tanks. These are must-have capabilities when facing a Chinese government that has vowed to take the country by force, and which is building an extensive submarine fleet, a large array of ballistic missiles, an upgraded fighter fleet, and a number of amphibious-capable divisions. Chinese pressure continues to stall some of Taiwan’s most important upgrades, including diesel-electric submarines, and new American fighter jets. Meanwhile, other purchases from abroad continue.
As Asia-Pacific nations invest in submarines, serious regional players also need to invest in anti-submarine capabilities. Aircraft like the P-8A Poseidon are great, but nothing really replaces dedicated and capable ASW ships. Their opponents’ anti-ship missiles are also experiencing a jump in capability, so a secondary air defense role isn’t optional. Australia’s 2 remaining FFG-7 Adelaide-class frigates have finished an expensive and somewhat rickety systems upgrade, but they fall short of what’s needed, and won’t last all that much longer. The Adelaide-class will soon be succeeded by 3 new Hobart-class AWD. The RAN’s 8 ANZAC-class frigates are receiving much smoother ASMD air defense upgrades that will make them quite useful, but their service life will begin ebbing around 2024. Hence Australia’s SEA 5000 Future Frigate program, which may receive an early push from issues with Australia’s naval industrial base…
Latest updates[?]: The head of Australia's $32.2 billion Sea 1000 program has confirmed that construction of the pressure hull for the first of 12 Attack Class conventionally powered submarines is scheduled to begin in 2024. This will follow the construction in 2023 of a hull qualification section to prove procedures, equipment, and skills at the submarine construction facility now being built at Osborne North near Adelaide by government-owned Australian Naval Infrastructure to the functional requirements of Sea 1000's French-owned designer and build partner Naval Group.
Buoy oh buoy…
News reports from Japan indicate that country is suggesting to Australia that they go in together to build a new series of non-nuclear submarines, hoping to finalize a deal before the end of the year. The Australian DOD would confirm only that they are indeed talking to several countries about cooperating on a new series. The previous Australian government (Labor) had promised 12 new keels, but the sitting government put those plans into a study phase, concerned that doing so would result in an availability gap between the new subs and the existing Collins class boats.
The January 2010 failure of a generator aboard HMAS Farncomb was just the latest in a long history of problems faced by its fleet of 6 Collins Class diesel-electric submarines – which have sometimes been reduced to just 1 operational vessel. That readiness issue presents an immediate financial headache for Australia’s government, and adds a longer-term challenge to the centerpiece of Australia’s future naval force.
With just 6 submarines in its fleet, Australia’s current deployment set-up leaves little room for error. Even a normal setup of 2 in maintenance, 2 for training but available if needed, and 2 on operations makes for a thin line, given Australia’s long coastline and sea lanes. Almost 15 years after the first Collins Class boat was delivered, they are still short of this goal. When crewing problems are added to the mechanical issues, the failings of its current fleet are creating sharp questions about the Australia’s 2009 White Paper plan to build 12 new diesel-electric fast attack submarines, as the future centerpiece of the 2030 Australian Navy.
Latest updates[?]: Saab has signed an agreement with Australia to provide combat management systems for Navy's surface ships. According to the agreement, Saab will deliver its Next Generation’ Combat Management System (CMS) to Australia’s new Arafura Class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and the Supply class auxiliary oiler replenishment (AOR) ships. Saab will also modernize the 9LV CMS currently in use in the Anzac Class frigates and will provide the software for the future tactical interface for the Hobart class air warfare destroyer (AWDs) when their current CMS is modernized.
The FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates make for a fascinating defense procurement case study. To this day, the ships are widely touted as a successful example of cost containment and avoidance of requirements creep – both of which have been major weaknesses in US Navy acquisition. On the other hand, compromises made to meet short-term cost targets resulted in short service lives and decisions to retire, sell, or downgrade the ships instead of upgrading them.
Australia’s 6 ships of this class have served alongside the RAN’s more modern ANZAC Class frigates, which are undergoing upgrades of their own to help them handle the reality of modern anti-ship missiles. With the SEA 4000 Hobart Class air warfare frigates still just a gleam in an admiral’s eye, the government looked for a way to upgrade their FFG-7 “Adelaide Class” to keep them in service until 2020 or so. The SEA 1390 project wasn’t what you’d call a success… but Australia accepted their last frigate in 2010, and the 4 remaining ships will serve until 2020.
Latest updates[?]: The Falkland Islands have welcomed the arrival of new patrol vessel HMS Forth. British Forces South Atlantic Islands say that the ship has taken over the mission from HMS Clyde, which has offered protection to the Falklands and nearby South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands for the past 12 years. The long-term deployment of HMS Forth will see the ship act as the guardian and patrol vessel for the Falkland Islands and Britain’s South Atlantic territories. HMS Forth is a Batch 2 River Class Offshore Patrol Vessel and is fundamentally different in appearance and capabilities from the preceding Batch 1. Notable differences include the longer 90.5 meters long hull, a higher top speed of 24 knots, a Merlin-capable flight deck, a greater displacement of around 2,000 tonnes and greatly expanded capacity for accommodating personnel.
The UK’s forthcoming Ocean Class 90m+ Offshore Patrol Vessels stem from a shipbuilding sector agreement that the UK MoD signed with BAE in November 2013. Britain needed to find an affordable bridge-buy that kept its naval shipyards running in-between completion of existing ships, and delayed construction of the new Type 26 frigates. Rather than paying termination and industrial costs to keep the shipyard idle, the UK government decided to buy 3 OPVs, for delivery by 2017. This would also allow the Royal Navy to retire or gift out the existing River Class OPVs HMS Tyne, HMS Severn and HMS Mersey.
As of August 2014, the contract for these new open-ocean patrol vessels is complete…
Latest updates[?]: AAR Government Services won a $118.6 million firm-fixed-price contract for two C-40 aircraft. The deal is for the procurement, modification as well as delivery and includes associated peculiar support equipment and common support equipment for the Marine Corps. The C-40 is the military version of the Boeing 737-700C transporter. The C-40A or Clipper provides critical logistics support to the United States Navy. The contract is for the acquisition, modification, acceptance and delivery of two Boeing 737-700 Increased Gross Weight series commercial aircraft that will meet USMC C-9B replacement medium lift requirements and will be designated C-40A. Under the contract, a passenger-cargo configuration shall be certified to meet 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 25 or military airworthiness standards that will consist of seating and cargo pallets that will provide the USMC with the added mission flexibility to configure the aircraft in a cargo-passenger configuration. AAR will perform work in Illinois, Indiana, Florida, and Oklahoma and estimated completion date is in September 2021.
The 737 based C-40 Clipper represents a substantial upgrade over the 1970s-era, DC-9 based C-9 Skytrains and 727-based C-22Bs that have performed its transport roles to date. The C-9s are still in service with the US Naval Reserve and USAF, but they’re expected to be be phased out as the C-40s take up the load. Meanwhile, concern has been expressed about the funding levels for this replacement program, as well as the USAF and US Navy C-9 fleet’s continued durability. The USAF’s C-9A models are of particular concern.
The C-40 comes in 3 variants; the C-40A is a Navy aircraft, while its counterpart C-40C and executive/ VIP C-40Bs are USAF planes. The USAF’s C-40 leasing contracts have been a source of some controversy, but the program has continued, alongside Air Force and Navy buys.