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[?]: Raytheon won a $72.8 million order, which provides non-recurring engineering in support of early identification, development, and qualification of corrections to potential and actual F135 propulsion system operational issues, to include safety and reliability/maintainability problems identified through fleet usage. Additionally, this order provides for continued engine maturation, evaluates component life limits based on operational experience, improves operational readiness, and reduces engine maintenance and life cycle costs in support of the F-35 Lightning II program. Work will take place in Connecticut. Expected completion will be in December 2026.
F135 Engine Test
Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney have successfully performed the first start of an F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft test engine, using an integrated power package (IPP) that the functions traditionally performed by the auxiliary power system, emergency power system, and environmental control into a single system. The system was used to start a Pratt & Whitney F135 short-takeoff/vertical-landing (STOVL) engine at the company’s advanced test facility in West Palm Beach, FL. The IPP is a subsystem of the F-35 Power and Thermal Management System (PTMS).
The JSF program has targeted the successful IPP engine start as a major milestone since the beginning of the System Development and Demonstration phase of the program in 2001. The achievement paves the way for additional development testing in preparation for the F-35’s first flight in 2006, and comes about a month after the Pratt & Whitney F135 System Development and Demonstration (SDD) program successfully completed the post test Critical Design Review (CDR) by the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Joint Program Office (JPO). The JPO review found that the F135 propulsion system has met all review objectives and is on track to deliver the first flight test engine later this year.
Latest updates[?]: The United States on Friday unveiled the B-21 Raider, a high-tech stealth bomber that can carry nuclear and conventional weapons and is designed to be able to fly without a crew on board. The slickly choreographed ceremony at B-21 manufacturer Northrop Grumman’s facility in Palmdale, California opened with the US national anthem as older bombers roared over a crowd that included top US officials.
B-52H, B-1B & B-2A
The good news? 2006 saw a convergence of opinion within the USAF that a new long-range strike platform was needed. This is understandable given the B-52H Stratofortress fleet’s age (40-50 years), the B-1B Lancer’s internal power and electronics issues, both of these platforms’ low survivability against advanced air defense systems, and the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber’s very small numbers (21, of which 7-12 are generally operational). The unmanned J-UCAS program, meanwhile was seen as having inadequate range and payload (Boeing X-45C: 1,400 mile radius with 8 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs). The USAF decided that J-UCAS wasn’t a solution and pulled out, stalling American UCAV development until the Navy chose to go ahead with the carrier-based N-UCAS.
The bad news? They seemed to have little idea of exactly what they wanted in their bomber. The FY 2010 budget killed those plans anyway, but in September 2010, pressure to field a new bomber began to rise again. By the time fiscal year 2015 budget planning was in motion, both DoD and the Air Force seemed committed to making the program one of the service’s top 3 priorities.
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.
Latest updates[?]: Rheinmetall has delivered its first Lynx KF41 infantry fighting vehicle to the Hungarian Defence Forces in Budapest, attended by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. With the delivery, Hungary becomes the first NATO member and European country to receive the newly-developed medium-weight combat system.
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.
In a dawning age of rogue states, ballistic missile defenses are steadily become a widely accepted necessity. Iran is widely believed to be developing nuclear capabilities, and Israeli concerns were heightened after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad urged that Israel be “wiped off the map” (the fact that America was also placed in that category went largely uncovered).
Because missile defenses are so important, states like India and Israel have taken steps to ensure that they have the ability to build many of the key pieces. The Arrow project is a collaboration between Boeing and IAI to produce the missile interceptors that accompany the required radars, satellites, command and control systems.
NOTE: Article capped and coverage suspended in 2011.
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.
Latest updates[?]: The Qatar Air Force took delivery of the first NH90 Tactical Transport Helicopter (TTH) recently, manufacturer Leonardo has announced. The first TTH version helicopter for land-based tasks was delivered on 11 December, in line with contractual commitments, and will be followed in the coming months by the first NFH, dedicated to naval operations, after qualifications. Deliveries will continue until 2025.
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[?]: Greece received 70 Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed reconnaissance helicopters and one Boeing CH-47D Chinook heavy-lift helo. The Hellenic Army purchased the OH-58Ds through the US Excess Defense Articles program. The shipment consists of 36 fully equipped aircraft, plus 24 that lack certain avionics, navigation, and communication equipment, and will be dedicated to training. The remaining 10 airframes are to be used for spares. Six of the helicopters came ready to fly. The deal for the Kiowa Warriors is valued at $44,2 million.
YRH-70 test, 2005
The US Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH) program aimed to replace around 375 Bell Textron OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters, after the $14.6 billion RAH-66 Comanche program, was canceled in 2004. Instead, the Army would buy a larger number of less expensive platforms, with reduced capabilities. Bell Helicopter Textron initially won the ARH competition with a militarized version of its highly successful 407 single-engine commercial helicopter, but despite significant private investment after Army funding stopped in March 2007, spiraling costs killed the ARH-70 in October 2008.
What hasn’t changed is the battlefield need for on-call, front-line aerial surveillance and fire support. With its existing OH-58D stock wither wearing down, or shot down, the Army needs to do something. But what? The eventual answer: scrap the Kiowa fleet for a combination of attack helicopters and UAVs.
Latest updates[?]: Local media reported that Elbit Systems has won a tender to deliver its ATHOS (Autonomous Towed Howitzer Ordnance System) 2052 to the Indian Army, in a deal estimated at over $1 Billion. The bid by Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit Systems and its Indian partner Bharat Forge has emerged as the winner in the Indian Army’s 155 mm, 52 calibre towed artillery gun competition. The price point at which the Elbit-Bharat Forge gun is being offered is even lower than the indigenously developed Dhanush 155 mm, 42 calibre gun, which is being manufactured by the Ordnance Factory Board. According to Elbit Systems, ATHOS is capable of a range of more than 40km and utilizes a self-propelling capability and automatic laying mode. It is integrated with fully-computerized systems, achieving automatic control, accurate navigation, and target acquisition. The company has yet to command on the outcome of the Indian Tender.
FH-77Bs, Kargil War
India has marked over $4 billion worth of artillery projects to purchase several hundred new 155mm howitzers. They are intended to supplement India’s dwindling artillery stocks, while out-ranging and out-shooting Pakistan’s self-propelled M109 155mm guns. It seemed simple enough, and in the main towed artillery competition, BAE Systems Bofors had been competing against systems from Israel’s Soltam and Denel of South Africa.
Unfortunately, India’s 2 towed howitzer competitions, and its 2 self-propelled artillery procurements, have mostly served as cautionary tales. If the stakes weren’t so high, they’d qualify as farce. The simple process of buying off-the-shelf artillery guns has become a decades-long affair filled with legal drama, accusations of corruption, and multiple re-starts – but not one new gun. Competitions are declared, and canceled, again and again. One is on its 5th iteration. Another is on its 3rd. Meanwhile, India’s stock of operational 155mm FH77 howitzers has dwindled to around 200, and their last successful artillery buy was over 2 decades ago. Is there an end in sight to any of these competitions? Or a potential winner?