Latest updates[?]: Sikorsky won a $120 million deal to provide logistics, engineering and modification install support for the H-53 helicopter for the Marine Corps, Navy, and Foreign Military Sales customers. Work will be performed in Stratford, Connecticut; and various locations within the continental US, and is expected to be completed in March 2028. No funds will be obligated at the time of award; funds will be obligated on individual orders as they are issued.
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.
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[?]: Lockheed Martin Rotary and Mission Systems won a $48.5 million modification for AEGIS fielding and sustainment engineering support, software development, in-service maintenance, integration, and logistics and fielding support for AEGIS combat system configurations already delivered, or in the process of being delivered, to the Navy fleet. Work will be performed in Moorestown, New Jersey (96%); and Dahlgren, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by December 2023.
The AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System seamlessly integrates the SPY-1 radar, the MK 41 Vertical Launching System for missiles, the SM-3 Standard missile, and the ship’s command and control system, in order to give ships the ability to defend against enemy ballistic missiles. Like its less-capable AEGIS counterpart, AEGIS BMD can also work with other radars on land and sea via Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). That lets it receive cues from other platforms and provide information to them, in order to create a more detailed battle picture than any one radar could produce alone.
AEGIS has become a widely-deployed top-tier air defense system, with customers in the USA, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Norway, and Spain. In a dawning age of rogue states and proliferation of mass-destruction weapons, the US Navy is being pushed toward a “shield of the nation” role as the USA’s most flexible and most numerous option for missile defense. AEGIS BMD modifications are the keystone of that effort – in the USA, and beyond.
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[?]: The US Navy awarded Gibbs & Cox a $39.6 million future surface combatant force (LSCF) design and engineering contract. The contract, through February 2024, supports the next-generation guided-missile destroyer (DDG(X))and other emerging ship concepts. It also includes feasibility studies in support of the broader navy fleet.
67% of the fleet
DID’s FOCUS Article for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class “destroyer” program covers the new ships’ capabilities and technologies, key controversies, associated contracts and costs, and related background resources.
The ship’s prime missions are to provide naval gunfire support, and next-generation air defense, in near-shore areas where other large ships hesitate to tread. There has even been talk of using it as an anchor for action groups of stealthy Littoral Combat Ships and submarines, owing to its design for very low radar, infrared, and acoustic signatures. The estimated 14,500t (battlecruiser size) Zumwalt Class will be fully multi-role, however, with undersea warfare, anti-ship, and long-range attack roles. That makes the DDG-1000 suitable for another role – as a “hidden ace card,” using its overall stealth to create uncertainty for enemy forces.
True, or False?
At over $3 billion per ship for construction alone, however, the program faced significant obstacles if it wanted to avoid fulfilling former Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter’s fears for the fleet. From the outset, DID has noted that the Zumwalt Class might face the same fate as the ultra-sophisticated, ultra-expensive SSN-21 Seawolf Class submarines. That appears to have come true, with news of the program’s truncation to just 3 ships. Meanwhile, production continues.
Latest updates[?]: BAE Systems won a $72 million deal for the manufacture and delivery of five Columbia-class submarine components. Work will be performed in Louisville, Kentucky (100%), and is expected to be completed by May 2030. Fiscal 2023 National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund funds in the full amount will be obligated at time of award, of which none will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Columbia-class program's goal is to design and build a class of 12 new ballistic missile submarines SSBNs to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 aging Ohio-class SSBNs. The Ohio-class submarines were designed to have a service life of 42 years (two 20-year cycles with a 2-year midlife nuclear refueling period). As the Ohio-class SSBNs were first deployed in 1981, they will start reaching the end of their service between 2027 and 2040, at a rate of about one boat per year. Starting in 2031, the Navy plans to replace each retiring Ohio-class boat with a new Columbia-class SSBN submarine.
The US Navy needs new SSBN nuclear missile submarines. Their existing Ohio Class boats will begin to retire at a rate of 1 hull per year, beginning in 2027, as they reach the end of their 42-year operational lifetimes. Hence SSBN-X, also known as the Ohio Replacement Program for now.
The first step toward recapitalization involved a new Common Missile Compartment and Advanced Launcher for current and future nuclear missiles. The next step involves finalizing a design that can serve effectively to 2080, without destroying the US Navy’s shipbuilding budget in the process. Good luck with that one, but they have to to try. The maintenance of the USA’s nuclear deterrent is too important, in a world where nuclear weapons are proliferating.
Latest updates[?]: A bipartisan group of US senators has asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to explain the reasons behind not sending the MQ-1C Gray Eagle drones to Ukraine. The 16 lawmakers demanded the explanation in a letter following the Pentagon’s reported refusal to send the General Atomics platform for fear of technology theft.
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[?]: BAE Systems has finished a successful test of its APKWS laser-guidance kits, showcasing the weapon’s versatility and accuracy in engaging a broad set of targets. The rockets went “three on three against fortified targets,” firing direct shots and defeating well-armored targets such as a steel plate and an armored military vehicle. “We’re giving our customers more in-mission options for precision strikes against tougher targets,” BAE program manager Sam Kirsh said.
Hydras & Hellfires
The versatile Hydra 70mm rocket family is primed for a new lease on life, thanks to widespread programs aimed at converting these ubiquitous rockets into cheap laser-guided precision weapons. Conversion benefits include cost, use on both helicopters and fighters, more precision weapons per platform, low collateral damage, and the activation of large weapon stockpiles that couldn’t be used under strict rules of engagement.
Firms all over the world have grasped this opportunity, which explains why strong competition has emerged from all points of the compass. America’s “Advanced Precision-Kill Weapon System (APKWS)” is one of those efforts, but the road from obvious premise to working weapon has been slow. After numerous delays and false starts since its inception in 1996, an “APKWS-II” program finally entered System Design and Development (SDD) in 2006. In 2010, it entered low-rate production, and it was fielded to the front lines in 2012. That date will still put APKWS on the cutting edge of battlefield technology, as a leading player in a larger trend toward guided air-to-ground rockets.
When it was introduced, back in 1970, the C-5 Galaxy was the largest plane in the world. It also has the highest operating cost of any US Air Force weapon system, owing to extremely high maintenance demands as well as poor fuel economy. Worse, availability rates routinely hover near 50%. To add insult to injury, the Russians not only built a bigger plane (the AN-124), they sold it off at the end of the Cold War to semi-private operators, turning it into a commercial success whose customer list now includes… NATO.
Meanwhile, the USA still needs long-range, heavy load airlift. The AN-124’s commercial success may get its production line restarted, but the C-5 has no such hope. Boeing’s smaller C-17s cost more than $200 million per plane. That’s about the cost of a 747-8 freighter, for much higher availability rates than the C-5, and a longer lifespan.
What’s the right balance between new C-17s and existing C-5s? The US Air Force believes that the right balance involves keeping some of the larger C-5s, and thought they could save money by upgrading and renewing their avionics (AMP) and engines (RERP). Their hope was that this would eliminate the problems that keep so many C-5s in the hangar, cut down on future maintenance costs, and grow airlift capacity, without adding new planes. Unfortunately, the program experienced major cost growth. In response, the C-5M program wound up being both cut in size, and cut in 2. The C-5A and C-5B/C fleets are now slated for different treatment, which will deliver fewer of the hoped-for benefits, in exchange for lower costs and lower risk.
Latest updates[?]: Austal USA won a $11.4 million contract modification to exercise an option for littoral combat ship (LCS) industrial post-delivery availability support for USS Augusta (LCS 34). The LCS main purpose is to take up operations such as patrolling, port visits, anti-piracy, and partnership-building exercises to free up high-end surface combatants for increased combat availability. Work will take place in Alabama and Massachusetts. Expected completion will be by September 2023.
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.