Latest updates[?]: The F-35's GAU-22/A 25mm cannon has been tested on the ground at Edwards Air Force Base, with the General Dynamics-designed weapon having been developed for both internal and external gun systems of the Joint Strike Fighter. The cannon is mounted on an external pod for the F-35B and C variants, with the Air Force's F-35A variant positioning the weapon internally. The four-barrel system allows the fighter to let loose just 180 rounds per reload, allowing for three short passes at best. That last problem featured heavily in criticism of the Air Force for floating the idea - since backtracked - that the F-35A could serve as the main ground forces protection platform. The program has been busy testing other weapons in recent weeks, including the Marines testing live JDAM bombs in early July. The Pentagon has been mulling what to include in future F-35 weapon tranches, with options including the Small Diameter Bomb II and Joint Strike Missile, as well as several others.
Grim Reapers F-35C
The $400 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.
This article will serve as DID’s central repository explaining and contrasting all 3 F-35 variants, detailing the fighter family’s core technologies and features, and laying out the core industrial framework whose “political engineering” has made the program almost impossible to kill. It will also summarize the core arguments that swirl around the fighter’s future capability, and provide useful background links regarding the program and its key technologies.
India’s Navy will be hard-pressed to keep an adequate submarine force afloat over the medium term. Its 6 “Project 75” Scorpene Class submarines won’t begin deploying before 2019, 2 of its 10 aging Kilo Class boats have been wrecked, and its 4 U209 submarines are quickly approaching the end of their useful lives.
Nevertheless, if submarine strength is to be maintained while waiting for the Scorpenes, it’s the U209s that are going to have to fill the numbers gap…
In July 2006, the Indian government announced that Russia would build 3 “stealth warships” for India under a Rs 5114 crore (INR 51.14 billion, then about $1.1 billion) contract signed in New Delhi. The contract actually covers 3 modified Krivak III/ Talwar Class frigates, as a follow-on to an earlier $900 million purchase in 1997.
The Krivak III/ Talwar Class ships like INS Tabar are not really stealth warships, esp. by comparison to more modern designs like Singapore’s new Formidable Class frigates from France (a Lafayette Class derivative). They’re best described as mid-range multi-role frigates, with some stealth features and a potential emphasis on anti-submarine work. By mid-2013 they had all been commissioned by the Indian Navy.
In mid-May 2013, MBDA signed an MoU with Lockheed Martin that has the potential to shake up the naval missile industry. It sounds innocuous: both companies agree to jointly explore the market for the integration of MBDA naval missile systems into Lockheed Martin’s MK-41 Vertical Launch System, and ExLS VLS/cell insert. They’ll begin with a late 2013 demonstration involving Britain’s new CAMM-M Sea Ceptor missile, but the implications reach far beyond.
Right now, the naval missile market is divided by launcher type, and many of MBDA’s missiles sit in a DCNS banlieue.
Pakistan’s location on the Indian Ocean next to the Persian Gulf, and its rivalry with India, ensure that its maritime patrol and strike capabilities will need to operate across a wide expanse of ocean. Maritime patrol aircraft are critical to that effort, because of the surveillance area that a single plane can cover. Like India, Pakistan relies on a mix. In its case, that mix includes converted Fokker F27 twin-turboprops, a couple of early-model Dassault Atlantiques, and a high-end force of 2 P-3C Orion aircraft, reactivated in 2006. The 4-engine Orions have much better range than Pakistan’s other maritime patrol aircraft, which widens that country’s sphere of naval influence.
Subsequent orders have served to detail the modernization work for Pakistan’s Orion fleet, via a deal for 8 more P-3 aircraft, refurbishment orders, and the accompanying orders for AGM-84 Harpoon missiles that can attack naval or land targets.
In order to defend against a threat, you have to be able to simulate it for realistic training and evaluation. Navy ships are increasingly threatened by supersonic anti-ship missiles, which can leave defenders as little as 45 seconds from the moment they break the horizon to impact with the ship. The USA’s GQM-163 Coyote target was developed to simulate those, but the Russians also sell an interesting hybrid threat. The 3M54E “SS-N-27 Sizzler” variant of the Klub missile uses the usual sub-sonic, sea-skimming approach in order to extend its range, until it gets within 60 km/ 36 miles of its target. Then it boosts to supersonic speed, and performs evasive maneuvers to confuse defenses.
It’s a deadly threat. Which is why the USA has been funding the Multi-Stage Supersonic Target Program since 2008, in order to develop a target that can bring the same kind of sizzle to defensive exercises.
Sometimes, an order request is just an order request. Sometimes, as seen in Singapore, it amounts to more than that. In September 2008, the US DSCA announced India’s official request to buy a package of 24 L-model Harpoon Block II ship-killing missiles, with added GPS guidance and littoral/ land attack capabilities, for up to $170 million.
India’s rival Pakistan is already arming its P-3 Orions with AGM-84Ls, so regional stability wasn’t an issue, but the exact match for India’s missiles remained a mystery for a while. The order seemed to presage a buy of P-8i Sea Control and Surveillance aircraft, and India did indeed end up choosing Boeing’s 737 derivative. In September 2010, however, reports indicated that the deal was really focused on India’s fleet of Jaguar IM strike aircraft. Now, in 2010, comes a request specifically aimed at India’s forthcoming P-8is…
The Emirate of Qatar sits in the middle of the Persian Gulf, a shallow and narrow body of water that lends itself to fast, small, missile armed ships and boats. Qatar’s Navy relies on 7 French and British 400t-500t Fast Attack Craft, and MBDA’s Exocet missile is their anti-ship weapon of choice. MBDA has just announced that the Qatar Emiri Navy’s 4 Vosper Thorneycroft Vita Class FACs will now be equipped with the new Exocet MM40 Block 3 missiles, under a recent batch buy.
The Block 3 replaces rocket fuel with turbojet propulsion, extending the missile’s range; and adds GPS-like targeting. That kind of geographic targeting is especially useful in cluttered near-shore zones, minimizing the odds of false lock-ons before the missile gets close to its target. The first operational firing of the MM40 Block 3 from a naval warship took place in France on March 18/10, from the Horizon Class advanced air defense frigate Chevalier Paul. MBDA release | French DGA re: test [in French].
Finmeccanica subsidiary SELEX Galileo recently announced [PDF] a EUR 26 million (about $38.7 million) contract for SM-1S radar seekers, as part of an MBDA contract for the provision of Marte MK2/N anti-ship missiles to “a Middle East customer.” The SM-1S integrates a new digital processor developed to enhance processing of the missile’s radar data, in order to improve detection and accuracy in environments that include near-shore’s high clutter levels.
The Marte Mk2/N anti-ship missile was introduced in 2006 as a naval variant of the helicopter-launched Mk2/S. The customer in this case is almost certainly the UAE, which became the Marte Mk2/N missile’s first customer when it contracted for 24 refit and new-build Ghannatha class 26.5 meter patrol boats at IDEX 2009. Some of these boats will carry the Mk2/N missile, while at least 6 will carry Patria’s 120mm Nemo automatic mortar turret instead, creating a flexible form of naval fire support that mirrors similar efforts in Finland.
Defense was an issue in the 2007 Australian election. The center-left Labor Party attacked the center-right Liberal Party by citing mismanaged projects, and accusing the Howard government of making poor choices on key defense platforms like the F/A-18F Super Hornet and F-35A Joint Strike fighters. That sniping continued even after Labor won the election, and has been evident in more than a few Defence Ministry releases.
The new government made some program changes, such as canceling the SH-2G Seasprite contract. Yet it has been more notable for the programs it has not changed: problematic upgrades of Australia’s Oliver Hazard Perry frigates were continued, the late purchase of F/A-18F Super Hornets was ratified rather than canceled, and observers waited for the real shoe to drop: the government’s promised 2009 Defence White Paper, which would lay out Australia’s long-term strategic assessments, and procurement plans.
On May 2/09, Australia’s government released “Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030.” DID has reviewed that document, and the reaction to date including a new ASPI roundup of reactions from around Asia.