LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious assault support vessels are just entering service with the US Navy, and 11 ships of this class are eventually slated to replace up to 41 previous ships. Much like their smaller predecessors, their mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. The difference is found in these ships’ size, their cost, and the capabilities and technologies used to perform those missions. Among other additions, this new ship is designed to operate the Marines’ new MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, alongside the standard well decks for hovercraft and amphibious armored personnel carriers.
While its design incorporates notable advances, the number of serious issues encountered in this ship class have been much higher than usual, and more extensive. The New Orleans shipyard to which most of this contract was assigned appears to be part of the problem. Initial ships have been criticized, often, for sub-standard workmanship, and it took 2 1/2 years after the initial ship of class was delivered before any of them could be sent on an operational cruise. Whereupon the USS San Antonio promptly found itself laid up Bahrain, due to oil leaks. It hasn’t been the only ship of its class hurt by serious mechanical issues. Meanwhile, costs are almost twice the originally promised amounts, reaching over $1.6 billion per ship – 2 to 3 times as much as many foreign LPDs like the Rotterdam Class, and more than 10 times as much as Singapore’s 6,600 ton Endurance Class LPD. This article covers the LPD-17 San Antonio Class program, including its technologies, its problems, and ongoing contracts and events.
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[?]: 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 Navy contracted Data Link Solutions with a $75 million modification for the Block Upgrade II retrofit of Multifunctional Information Distribution System (MIDS) low volume terminals (LVTs). The MIDS LVT is a low-cost fighter terminal with flexible, open-architecture designs. It provides the critical airborne, ground, and maritime link that allows for simultaneous coordination of forces and situational awareness in battlefield operations. The MIDS program was inaugurated via a Memorandum of Understanding amongst the founding MIDS nations, namely Germany, Italy, Spain, France, and the United States. The terminals provide secure, high-capacity, jam-resistant, digital data and voice communications capability for Navy, Air Force and Army platforms, and for Foreign Military Sales customers. Work will take place in Wayne, New Jersey and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Estimated completion date is in December 2026.
Link 16 Display
(click to see situation)
What one sees, all see. Jam-resistant Link-16 radios automatically exchange battlefield information – particularly locations of friendly and enemy aircraft, ships and ground forces – among themselves in a long-range, line-of-sight network. For example, air surveillance tracking data from an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft can be instantly shared with fighter aircraft and air defense units. More than a dozen countries have installed Link 16 terminals on over 19 different land, sea, and air platforms, making it an interoperability success story.
While recent advancements may make AESA radars the future transmitters of choice, Link 16 is the current standard. The Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Low Volume Terminals (MIDS LVTs) were developed by a multinational consortium to provide Link 16 capability at a lower weight, volume, and cost than the Joint Tactical Information Distribution System (JTIDS). This free-to-view DID Spotlight article throws a spotlight on the program, explaining Link 16, and covering associated contracts around the world.
Latest updates[?]: UK’s Marshall Aerospace signed a contract with Boeing to start work for the E-7 Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) program. Marshall is responsible for the conversion and delivery of the new fleet. The program has Marshall turn 737 Next-Generation aircraft into E-7s, including adding the Northrop Grumman multi-role Electronically Scanned Array surveillance radar, communication and mission computer systems. The E-7 is a twin-engine airborne early warning and control aircraft. The aircraft was designed for the Royal Australian Air Force. The Wedgetail can control the tactical battle space, providing direction for fighter aircraft, surface combatants and land based elements, as well as supporting aircraft such as tankers and intelligence platforms.
over New South Wales
The island continent of Australia faces a number of unique security challenges that stem from its geography. The continent may be separated from its neighbors by large expanses of ocean, but it also resides within a potential arc of instability, and has a number of important offshore resource sites to protect. Full awareness of what is going on around them, and the ability to push that awareness well offshore, are critical security requirements.
“Project Wedgetail” had 3 finalists, and the winner was a new variant of Boeing’s 737-700, fitted with an MESA (multirole electronically scanned array) radar from Northrop Grumman. That radar exchanges the traditional AWACS rotating dome for the E-7A’s “top hat” stationary antenna. That design, and the project as a whole, have run into severe turbulence, creating problems for Boeing earnings, the ADF, and other export orders for the type. DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This one covers contracts, events, and key milestones within Australia’s E-7A program, from inception to the current day.
Latest updates[?]: The British Royal Air Force (RAF) holds its annual Cobra Warrior exercise in September at Coningsby Air Base in Lincolnshire and it features a premiere: Israeli Air Force aircrew and fighter jets are to take part in a joint exercise with the Royal Air Force in Britain for the first time. The exercise is the culmination of the advanced Qualified Weapons Instructor course, and usually also includes crew and aircraft from other allied air forces who fly together with the British teams in complex combat scenarios. Last year, German and Italian aircraft joined the RAF. Recent British-Israeli defense cooperation has included the training of British personnel on the use of Israeli weapons systems acquired by Britain: the Watchkeeper WK450 drone, the Exactor ground-based missile, and the Litening targeting pod carried by RAF Typhoon and Tornado aircraft.
Britain’s Watchkeeper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program aims to give the Royal Artillery an advanced mid-range UAV for surveillance – and possibly more. Watchkeeper will be an important system, working within a complementary suite of manned (vid. ASTOR Sentinel R1) and unmanned (Buster, Desert Hawk, MQ-9 Reaper) aerial Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition Reconnaissance (ISTAR) systems. This will make it a core element of the UK Ministry of Defence’s Network-Enabled Capability strategy.
The initial August 2005 contract award to Thales UK’s joint venture was worth around GBP 700 million, but that has risen, and the program expected to create or sustain up to 2,100 high-quality manufacturing jobs in the UK. The Watchkeeper platform is based on Elbit Systems’ Hermes 450 UAV platform, which is serving as a contractor-operated interim solution on the front lines of battle.
Latest updates[?]: The French procurement office and the Navy are currently in the process of building a basic frame of reference for France's future aircraft carrier. Defense News reports that the Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA) and the Navy have been working on a “reflection for definition studies,” with those studies required to launch the carrier project. The studies will outline the future carrier's must have capabilities including the embarkment of Rafale fighter jets, its successors and UAVs. A first study was launched on August, examining lessons learned on aircraft carriers in operation and the second study will focus on technology and overall architecture. The overall dossier comprising the two studies is expected to be completed at the end of 2019 or early 2020, and will allow the authorities to decide the capabilities of the ship. Fance has been interested in building another aircraft carrier for many years, however it cancelled its promising PA2/CVF carrier project due to financial constraints back in 2013.
PA2 Concept, June 2006
Throughout most of the Cold War period, France maintained two aircraft carriers. That changed when the FNS Foch, the last Clemenceau Class carrier, was retired in November 2000 (it now serves the Brazilian Navy as the Sao Paolo). As Strategis notes, France has lacked the capacity to ensure long-distance air coverage during the FNS Charles de Gaulle’s maintenance cycles or during other periods when the carrier is not available for active duty (approximately 35% of the time). In 2015, the ship will be taken out of service for an extensive maintenance overhaul. Despite a slippage in initial construction dates from 2005 to 2007-2008, the French still hope to take delivery by 2014 so the new ship can be operational by the time their sole operational aircraft carrier goes off line for repairs.
That was the original idea, anyway. Recent developments once again cast doubt on the PA2’s future. The time for a decision was postponed to 2011, but in 2013, DCNS was still waiting, and became increasingly clear France couldn’t afford a second carrier. In fact, the firm is taking its case to the export market. Who might be interested within the next decade is unclear.
The Pentagon’s Defense Business Bureau, an advisory group designed to give private sector expertise to senior leaders, announced its global analysis of DoD practices found potential savings of about $25 billion per year, to be squeezed mostly out of logistics, procurement, property management, HR, and healthcare, in that order.
The savings presume a capacity for the military to create ongoing and cumulative productivity increases – as does the private sector, generally. While the rather top-down analysis is likely to seem far fetched to military professionals, it does starkly compare behaviors in the private sector that differ, and that have resulted in vast, cumulative efficiencies.
When it comes to specifics, speaks generally about four areas of recommendations: renegotiating contracts; cutting the workforce; IT modernization and the catch-all business process re-engineering.
DoD contractors will be interested to see the nature of the target painted on their piece of budget pie. The DDB hopes to realize $9 to $18 billion in savings per year by saving 10-25 percent of contract spending. How they hope to do that? “More rigorous” negotiations; contract aggregation for economies of scale; a push for greater productivity in labor contracts; and the elimination of gold plating requirements.
Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work charged the DDB with producing the report back in October in an effort to gauge the scope of changes that would help modernize the whole of the defense enterprise.
The report doesn’t break too much ground in terms of tactics recommended, as previous reports have largely enumerated the various savings the DDB hopes the military will recognize.
The USA’s Global Positioning System service remains free, but the European Union is spending billions to create an alternative under their own control. In addition to civilian GPS (the Open Service), services to be offered include a Safety of Life Service (SoL) for civil aviation and search and rescue, a paid Commercial Service with accuracy greater than 1 meter, plus a Public Regulated Service (PRS) for use by security authorities and governments. PRS/SoL aims to offer Open Service quality, with added robustness against jamming and the reliable detection of problems within 10 seconds.
Organizational issues and shortfalls in expected progress pushed the “Galileo” project back from its originally intended operational date of 2007 to 2014/15. After a public-private partnership model failed, the EU gained initial-stage approval for its plan to finance the program with tax dollars instead of the expected private investments. Political issues were overcome in 2007 by raiding other EU accounts for the billions required, but by 2011, it became clear that requests for billions more in public funds were on the way. Meanwhile, doubts persist in several quarters about Galileo’s touted economic model. Security concerns regarding China’s early involvement, and its potential Beidou-2/Compass projects, have been equally persistent, and there is good reason to expect that the constellation has a military purpose. On a European political and contractual level, however, Galileo is now irreversible.
This article offers background, players, developments, contracts, and in-depth research links for Galileo, as well as linked EU programs like GIOVE and EGNOS.
The US military has been coming to the realization that its aging aircraft fleet will begin posing serious challenges in the coming years. Canada is experiencing similar problems. In 2005, Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier said that:
“Our [CC-130 E/H] Hercules fleet right now is rapidly going downhill. We know that three years and a little bit more than that, the fleet starts to become almost completely inoperational and we will have to stop supporting operations – or else, not be able to start them.”
This Spotlight article offers additional details regarding the Canadian CC-130 recapitalization program, and the thinking behind it; some background that points up the parallels between the issues faced by the Canadians, and the experiences of other air services; and some insight into why the buy took so long, after the C-130J was declared Canada’s preferred choice in an “expedited” process. Canada has begun using the new planes on operations, and is preparing to accept the last “CC-130J.” This will shift its focus to issues of long-term support costs.