Latest updates[?]: NHIndustries has flown the first of 22 new NH90 helicopters for Qatar, with the consortium announcing in late December 2020 that both variants ordered by the Gulf state had made their maiden flights. According to NHI, the flights of the first NATO Frigate Helicopter (NFH) and Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) variant NH90 for the Qatar Emiri Air Force (QEAF) included take-off, general handling, functional checks, and landing operations. The QEAF is due to receive 12 maritime NFH and 16 land-based TTH variant NH90s under a USD2.8 billion deal signed in March 2018.
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[?]: Leonardo successfully demonstrated unique integrated capabilities between a manned aircraft and an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This took place in the UK during Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUMT) trials between a Leonardo AW159 Wildcat helicopter and a semi-autonomous UAV from Callen-Lenz Associates. The demonstration was part of the British Army’s MUMT themed Army Warfighting Experiment (AWE) 19, and was planned and executed by Dstl and took place on Salisbury Plain in September.
Future Lynx naval
In 2006, Finmeccanica subsidiary AgustaWestland received a GBP 1 billion (about $1.9 billion at 02/07 rates) contract from the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) for 70 Future Lynx helicopters, and began a new chapter in a long-running success story. The Lynx is an extremely fast helicopter that entered service in the 1970s, and quickly carved out a niche for itself in the global land and naval markets. The base design has evolved into a number of upgrades and versions, which have been been widely exported around the world.
In Britain, Lynx helicopters are used in a number of British Army (AH7 & AH9) and Fleet Air Arm (Mk 8) roles: reconnaissance, attack, casualty evacuation & troop transport, ferrying supplies, anti-submarine operations, and even command post functions. The Future Lynx program reflects that, and British government and industry are both hoping that its versatility will help it keep or improve the Lynx family’s global market share. This is DID’s FOCUS Article for the AW159 Lynx Wildcat Program, describing its technical and industrial features, schedules, related contracts, and exports.
Latest updates[?]: NATO’s Multinational MRTT Fleet will take delivery of its first two A330 MRTT aircraft next month. The handover is at the Main Operating Base in Eindhoven. The third and fourth aircraft are currently under conversion at the Airbus Defense facilities in Getafe, Madrid. The fifth A330 was flown from Toulouse to Getafe earlier this month. Six countries have signed up for the program to operate 8 aircraft. The contract includes options for 3 more tankers.
Voyager & friends
Back in 2005, Great Britain was considering a public-private partnership to buy, equip, and operate the RAF’s future aerial tanker fleet. The RAF would fly the 14 Airbus A330-MRTT aircraft on operational missions, and receive absolute preferential access to the planes. A private contractor would handle maintenance, receive payment from the RAF on a per-use basis – and operate them as passenger charter or transport aircraft when the RAF didn’t need them.
The deal became politically controversial, and negotiations on the 27-year, multi-billion pound deal charted new territory for both the government, and for private industry. Which may help to explain why a contract to move ahead on a “Private Financing Initiative” basis had yet to be issued, and procurement had yet to begin, over 7 years after the program began. In March 2008, however, Britain issued the world’s largest-ever Defence Private Finance Initiative (PFI) contract. This FOCUS Article describes the current British fleet, the aircraft they chose to replace them, how the new fleet will compare, the innovative deal structure they’ve chosen, and ongoing FSTA developments.
Latest updates[?]: The Royal Air Force has ceased providing Search and Rescue (SAR) services for the United Kingdom mainland, with the Royal Navy scheduled to follow suit next year, with the responsibility then falling to a civilian government agency and private contractors through a GBP1.6 billion contract awarded in March 2013. The RAF's H3 Sea King helicopters used to conduct SAR operations are being retired as the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and private company Bristow Helicopters Ltd are phased-in to replace them. The latter will eventually become wholly responsible for the mainland UK's SAR coverage.
UK Sea King SAR
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) provide a 24-hour military and civil helicopter Search and Rescue (SAR) service for the UK and local regions from 12 bases, typically at 15 minutes notice. A wide range of air and naval assets could be pressed into use in emergencies, but the core of Britain’s SAR services are provided by a combination of about 40 Royal Navy and Royal Air Force Mk.5 Sea Kings, and by a handful of civilian helicopters under contract to the MCA. These machines must cover 11,000 km of coastline, and 3.6 million square km of ocean.
There has been a global trend toward public-private partnerships to perform some Coast Guard and SAR functions, including Australia’s billion-dollar Coastwatch program. Now Great Britain is jumping into the fray with a related approach.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing is expected to market a set of F-15 modifications capable of equipping the jet with sixteen air-to-air missiles at the Air Force Association conference in Maryland next week. The plans are yet to be outlined fully by the company, which would double the carrying capacity of the F-15 from the current eight missiles and allow the aging design to remain operational potent, given the potential pairing of the AIM-120D medium-range missile with the aircraft's Active Electronically Scanned Array radar system.
B-52H: to 2030?
The current US Air Force fleet, whose planes are more than 26 years old on average, is the oldest in USAF history. It won’t keep that title for very long. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling tankers are more than 40 years old – and under current plans, some may be as many as 70-80 years old before they retire. Since the price for next-generation planes has risen faster than inflation, average aircraft age will climb even if the US military gets every plane it asks for in its future plans. Nor is the USA the only country facing this problem.
As this dynamic plays out and average age continues to rise, addressing the issues related to aging aircraft becomes more and more important in order to maintain acceptable force numbers, readiness levels, and aircraft maintainability; avoid squeezing out recapitalization budgets; handle personnel turnover that becomes more and more damaging; and keep maintenance costs in line, despite new technical problems that will present unforeseen difficulties. Like F-15 fighters that are under flight restrictions due to structural fatigue concerns – or grounded entirely.
The biggest contracts aren’t always the ones deserving of the most attention. Enter the USA’s Joint Council on Aging Aircraft (JCAA), and initiatives like the Navy’s ASLS. Enter, too, DID’s Spotlight article. It seeks to place the situation and its effects in perspective, via background, contracts, and a research trove of articles that tap the expertise and observations of outside parties and senior sources within the US military.
The Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC), named for U.S. Air Force pioneer Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, bills itself as “The World’s Premier Flight Simulation Test Facility.” Nearly half of the AEDC’s 58 test facilities are unique in the U.S., and 14 are unique in the world. These specialized test facilities have played a crucial role in the development and sustainment of virtually every high performance aircraft, air-to-air and air-to-ground weapon, missile, and space system in use by all four of the U.S. military services today. The Center has also been involved in the development of every NASA manned space system, many satellites, and numerous commercial aircraft and spacecraft systems.
In 2003, the Air Force consolidated the test operations contract and the base services contract into a single contract for operations, maintenance, information management, and base support, which was awarded to Aerospace Testing Alliance (ATA) in Tullahoma, TN.
Britain’s E-3D Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) is based on Boeing’s 707 family, and its ability to see and direct air operations within hundreds of miles provides vital strategic support. Since its introduction in 1992, the RAF’s fleet of 7 E-3s has been used in every major UK military operation, including Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.
That availability depends on effective maintenance, and the UK MoD has a new approach. It’s meant to give them more flyable planes, while costing less money. The new Sentry Whole Life Support Program (WLSP) began in August 2005, when Northrop Grumman won a 20-year, GBP 665 million (then $1.2 billion) contract. Under that contract, NGC’s team is providing aircraft maintenance and design-engineering support services through 2025, in order to improve availability and reduce overall ownership costs. As is typical of recent British contracts, the government has chosen a public-private partnership founded on an unusual military combination: fixed base costs, and guaranteed time in-service percentages for the planes.
The USCG wants to buy 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRC), and these Sentinel Class boats are sorely needed by an overstretched US Coast Guard. An attempt to extend the lives of their aged Island Class cutters ended as an expensive failure in 2005, and string of blunders has delayed replacements. In February 2006, the Coast Guard’s Deepwater system-of-systems program ‘temporarily’ suspended design work on the FRC-A program due to technical risk. FRC-A was eventually canceled in favor of an off-the-shelf buy (FRC-B), and on March 14/07, the ICGS contractor consortium lost responsibility for the Deepwater FRC-B program as well. By then, even an off-the-shelf buy couldn’t get the Coast Guard any delivered replacements before April 2012.
When the Island Class refurbishment program was terminated in June 2005, 41 Island Class vessels like the USCGC Sanibel, above, still plied US and international waters. DID discusses the programs, their outcomes and controversies, the fate of the Island Class and FRC-A programs, and the work underway to replace them. The Island Class’ safe lifetime is running out fast, but by the end of 2013 FRC Sentinel Class deliveries were set to ramp up to full production pace. Will that be fast enough?
Under ATTAC (Availability Transformation: Tornado Aircraft Contract), BAE will take over depot-level support and maintenance for the RAF’s Tornado fleet, with the responsibility of ensuring that enough of Britain’s Tornado GR4 strike aircraft and Tornado F3 interceptors are available to fly, rather than paying BAE for selling spare parts and maintenance hours.
This “future contracting for availability” approach is a major departure from traditional military and commercial practice; but it has been proven on a smaller scale within the UK’s Tornado fleet, and a number of other platforms are already operating under these types of contracts in Britain. BAE hopes to achieve the required availability levels using a combination of embedded diagnostics, rear-echelon repair process improvements, and what BAE executive and former Air Vice-Marshall Steve Nicoll referred to as the “Dirk Gently approach” to problem diagnosis and maintenance during the September 2006 TFD Group Conference. DID explains what Nicoll meant, and discusses the ATTAC contract and its follow-ons in more detail.
The Aerospace Corp. is actually a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). The aerospace FFRDCs are non-profit companies that provides technical analyses and assessments for US national security and space programs. This may include scientific and engineering support involving launch, space, and related ground support systems, research and advisory services, general systems engineering, engineering support, and systems integration support. Most people in the industry know them as publishers of the excellent Crosslink magazine, but see their program involvement timeline for a better sense of how broad their efforts have truly been. As they put it: