Wheeled armored vehicles have become much more common, but the Dutch-German Boxer stands out from the crowd. Its English acronym is “Multi Role Armoured Vehicle” (MRAV), but rather than being a family of different vehicles, the Boxer will use a single chassis, with snap-in modules for different purposes from infantry carrier to command, cargo, ambulance, etc.
The base vehicle has a maximum road speed of 100 km/h (60 mp/h) and an operational range of 1,000 km (600 miles). In its troop carrying configuration, it has a crew of 2 and can carry 10 fully equipped troops. The MRAV is fighting for space in a crowded market, but its principal countries are beginning to give it the front-line credibility it needs to succeed.
The 5th-generation F-22A Raptor fighter program has been the subject of fierce controversy, with advocates and detractors aplenty. On the one hand, the aircraft offers full stealth, revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, dual air-air and air-ground SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) excellence, the ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability… and a ridiculously lopsided kill record in exercises against the best American fighters. On the other hand, critics charged that it was too expensive, too limited, and cripples the USAF’s overall force structure.
Meanwhile, close American allies like Australia, Japan and Israel, and other allies like Korea, were pressing the USA to abandon its “no export” policy. Most already fly F-15s, but several were interested in an export version of the F-22 in order to help them deal with advanced – and advancing – Russian-designed aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems. That would have broadened the F-22 fleet in several important ways, but the US political system would not or could not respond.
This DID FOCUS Article tracks continuing maintenance and fleet upgrade programs, contracts, and timely news. A separate public-access feature offers a profile of the USAF’s most advanced fighter, and covers both sides of the F-22 Raptor program’s controversies.
Latest updates[?]: Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has rolled out a prototype of the multirole fighter aircraft being developed for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) under the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) programme. The locally developed twin-engined aircraft KF-21 Boramae was officially unveiled in a ceremony held on April 9 at KAI headquarters in the South Korean city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, that was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.
KODEF ’11 slide
South Korea has been thinking seriously about designing its own fighter jet since 2008. The ROK defense sector has made impressive progress, and has become a notable exporter of aerospace, land, and naval equipment. The idea of a plane that helps advance their aerospace industry, while making it easy to add new Korean-designed weapons, is very appealing. On the flip side, a new jet fighter is a massive endeavor at the best of times, and wildly unrealistic technical expectations didn’t help the project. KF-X has progressed in fits and starts, and became a multinational program when Indonesia joined in June 2010. As of March 2013, however, South Korea has decided to put the KF-X program on hold for 18 months, while the government and Parliament decide whether it’s worth continuing.
Indonesia has reportedly contributed IDR 1.6 trillion since they joined in July 2010 – but that’s just $165 million of the DAPA’s estimated WON 6 billion (about $5.5 billion) development cost, and there’s good reason to believe that even this development budget is too low. This article discusses the KFX/IFX fighter’s proposed designs and features, and chronicles the project’s progress and setbacks since 2008…
Latest updates[?]: Belgium’s first A400M has been delivered and flown to the 15th Wing Air Transport in Melsbroek. The second A400M for Belgium will be delivered in early 2021. The country has ordered seven aircraft. This A400M, known as MSN106, will be operated within a binational unit composed of a total of eight aircraft, seven from the Belgian Air Force and one from the Luxembourg Armed Forces. The second A400M for Belgium will be delivered in early 2021.
A400M rollout, Seville
Airbus’ A400M is a EUR 20+ billion program that aims to repeat Airbus’ civilian successes in the full size military transport market. A series of smart design decisions were made around capacity (35-37 tonnes/ 38-40 US tons, large enough for survivable armored vehicles), extensive use of modern materials, multi-role capability as a refueling tanker, and a multinational industrial program; all of which leave the aircraft well positioned to take overall market share from Lockheed Martin’s C-130 Hercules. If the USA’s C-17 is allowed to go out of production, the A400M would also have a strong position in the strategic transport market, with only Russian AN-70, IL-76 and AN-124 aircraft as competition.
Airbus’ biggest program issue, by far, has been funding for a project that is more than EUR 7 billion over budget. The next biggest issue is timing, as a combination of A400M delays and Lockheed’s strong push for its C-130J Super Hercules narrow the field for future exports. This DID Spotlight article covers the latest developments, as the A400M Atlas moves into the delivery phase. Will Airbus’ 3rd big issue become its own customers?
Latest updates[?]: McCallie Associates won a $27.6 million contract for C-5M sustainment. This contract is for the delivery of technical data for organizational maintenance of the C-5M using a common source database. The C-5M Super Galaxy strategic transport aircraft, a modernized version of the legacy C-5, was designed and manufactured by Lockheed Martin to extend the capability of the C-5 Galaxy fleet to remain in service at least until 2040. The C-5M Super Galaxy transport aircraft achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in February 2014. Work will take place in Nebraska. Expected completion date is June 9, 2025.
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[?]: The US Navy awarded General Dynamics Electric Boat a $9.5 billion contract modification for the construction and test of the lead and second ships of the Columbia Class. The contract modifies a $5 billion deal awarded in 2017. It exercises an option to test the ships and to provide design and engineering support. „This modification to the integrated product and process development (IPPD) contract supports the fiscal 2021 construction start of the lead ship (SSBN 826) and advance procurement, advance construction, coordinated material buys and full construction of the follow hull (SSBN 827) in fiscal 2024“, the Pentagon said in a statement. The original contract was for design completion for the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, which are meant to replace the Navy's current force of 14 aging Ohio Class boats. The Columbia Class is an upcoming class of nuclear submarines. General Dynamic subsidiary Electric Boat in collaboration with Newport News Shipbuilding are construction the Columbia Class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) for the US Navy. Work under the contract modification will take place in Connecticut, Virginia and Rhode Island. Estimated completion will be by April 2030.
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[?]: 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.
Latest updates[?]: Sputnik reports that Russia is testing the Su-57 in an unmanned mode with the pilot just monitoring the overall system in the cockpit. The Sukhoi Su-57 is a fighter jet that performs the functions of a strike aircraft and a fighter and is capable of destroying all types of air, ground and naval surface targets. The Russian Defense Ministry placed an order for 76 Su-57 jets during the Army-2019 International Military and Technical Forum.
PAK-FA at MAKS-2011
(click to view larger)
Russia wants a “5th generation” fighter that keeps it competitive with American offerings, and builds on previous aerial and industrial success. India wants to maintain technical superiority over its rivals, and grow its aerospace industry’s capabilities. They hope to work together, and succeed. Will they? And what does “success” mean, exactly?
So far, preliminary cooperation agreements have been signed between Sukhoi/United Aircraft Corporation, for a platform based on Sukhoi’s T50/PAK-FA design. This DID FOCUS article consolidates specific releases and coverage to date, and adds analysis of the program’s current state and future hurdles.
Latest updates[?]: The US Army tapped Boeing with a $10.7 million Foreign Military Sale to Saudi Arabia. The deal provides for the integration and retrofit of 23 AH-6i aircraft with DVR, equipment stowage, and APKWS II capabilities. One bid was solicited with one bid received. AH-6i can be used to conduct light, precision, anti-armor, close combat attacks. The rotorcraft can also support reconnaissance, and combat search and rescue missions. The Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS) is a combat-proven, laser-guided 70mm rocket system designed and manufactured by BAE Systems in collaboration with the US Government. The weapon system is currently deployed by the US Military Forces. Work will take place in Mesa, Arizona with an estimated completion date of March 30, 2022.
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.
Latest updates[?]: The US Air Force has decided to buy two to three A-29 and AT-6 light attack aircraft. The final request for proposal was published on October 24. The A-29 will be deployed at Hurlburt Field, Florida, by Air Force Special Operations Command to develop an instructor pilot program for the Combat Aviation Advisory mission. The contract award is expected to be end of the year. The AT-6 will be going to Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, for continued testing and development of operational tactics and standards for exportable, tactical networks by Air Combat Command. The propeller-driven planes will be part of the Light Air Support program of the Air Force, which seeks a light counter-insurgency, ground attack and reconnaissance aircraft. The Air Force and US Navy have flown both planes since 2017 to assess their capabilities.
The USA needs a plane that can provide effective precision close air support and JTAC training, and costs about $1,000 per flight hour to operate – instead of the $15,000+ they’re paying now to use advanced jet fighters at 10% of their capabilities. Countries on the front lines of the war’s battles needed a plane that small or new air forces can field within a reasonable time, and use effectively. If these 2 needs are filled by the same aircraft, everything becomes easier for US allies and commanders. One would think that this would have been obvious around October 2001, but it took until 2008 for this understanding to even gain momentum within the Pentagon. A series of intra-service, political, and legal fights have ensured that these capabilities won’t arrive before 2015 at the earliest, and won’t arrive for the USAF at all.
The USA has now issued 2 contracts related to this need. The first was killed by a lawsuit that the USAF didn’t think they could defend successfully. Since February 2013 they have a contract that they hope will stick. The 3 big questions are simple. Will the past be prologue for the new award? Will there be an Afghan government to begin taking delivery of their 20 planes much beyond 2014? And will another allied government soon need to use this umbrella contract for its own war?