Australia’s long coast is also its border, and they’ve taken an innovative approach to the problem. Unlike, say, the US Coast Guard, Australia has semi-privatized the coastal patrol function, placing contractors under the Customs service. Once intruders are detected, these contractors can then call on pre-arranged support from civil authorities and/or the Royal Australian Navy and Air Force. Contracted services of this nature are becoming more common around the world, but Australia was really breaking new ground when they began Coastwatch on such a large scale in 1995.
Coastwatch was re-competed, and in 2006, Cobham’s subsidiary Surveillance Australia Pty Ltd retained the contract through the A$ 1+ billion next phase, called Project Sentinel. The new contract under Australia’s CMS04 (Civil Maritime Surveillance 04) program has expanded the fleet and addressed some concerns, but there are still areas where Australia lags a bit behind the leading edge. Even so, Coastwatch remain a touchstone program for countries considering a similar path.
Latest updates[?]: Initial operational capability has been given by the USAF Air Combat Command for the QF-16 full-scale aerial target (FSAT). All 15 QF-16s located at the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida have been approved for target operations. Due to replace the legacy QF-4 aerial target, the QF-16 will introduce fourth-generation fighter capabilities in the aerial target mission, maintaining all inherent capabilities of the baseline F-16 Fighting Falcon, including supersonic flight and 9 G maneuverability.
QF-16: 1st flight
QF-16s are former F-16 fighters that will be fitted with equipment for remote-controlled flight, and used as aerial targets and decoys for testing against air-air missiles, radars, surface-air missiles, etc. Could they be used for more than that?
The QF-16 is a follow-on to the QF-4 aerial target drone, which are converted by BAE Systems. The USAF is running out of F-4 family airframes to convert, and production is set to end in FY 2013. The QF-16s will be their replacements, but the conversion process must still be developed and tested. BAE Systems won’t be leading the QF-16 program, however; Boeing won that contract.
Latest updates[?]: South Africa’s Defense Minister announced plans to update the country’s indigenous Rooivalk attack helicopter. Speaking at this year's African Aerospace & Defence Show, Nosiviwe Masipa-Nqakula said the helicopter has "blooded" itself having carried out a series of successful operations as part of the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Manufacturer Denel is also working on marketing the helicopter to other African governments who are fighting insurgencies, namely Nigeria and Egypt, and further afield governments like India and Brazil.
Base, Bleeding Out?
Back in July 2005 it was apparent India’s sanctions against Denel and possible disqualification from a $2 billion artillery contract could have a major effect on the South African defense firm as a whole. In August 2005, those sanctions came to pass, barring Denel from a contract it was likely to win and accelerating efforts already underway to radically restructure the firm.
CEO Shaun Liebenberg launched that shift in late 2005 with some frank discussion of the global defense market, and the position of small-medium players like Denel in it. At DSEI 2005 in London, UK, the outline of this new strategy was already apparent. Many of the products Denel is known for will no longer define the firm. But could it find a way to stanch the bleeding and survive in a globalized market?
Sonobuoys are used to detect and identify moving underwater objects by either listening for the sounds produced by propellers and machinery (passive detection), or by bouncing a sonar “ping” off the surface of a submarine (active detection). They usually float, or have at least some part of them that does. Specialized sonobuoys can also detect electric fields, magnetic anomalies, and bioluminescence (light emitted by microscopic organisms disturbed by a passing submarine); as well as measuring environmental parameters like water temperature versus depth, air temperature, barometric pressure, and wave height.
Sonobuoys are generally dropped from aircraft or helicopters that are equipped with a means to launch them, and electronic equipment to receive and process data sent by the sonobuoy. They can also be launched from ships. This entry will discuss some of the new sonobuoys in use, and cover related contracts.
The F-4 Phantom II fighter still flies with a number of air forces, including Egypt, Germany, Greece, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and possibly Iran. These large 2-seat multi-role fighters were a triumph of thrust over aerodynamics, and formed the mainstay of the USAF and US Navy fleets for many years. QF-4s are former F-4s that currently sit in storage at the AMARC “Boneyard” near Tucson, AZ. They are refurbished for flight at AMARC, then flown to BAE in Mojave, CA and fitted with remote-control equipment in a process that takes about 160 days. Once fitted for the UAV role, they are used as aerial targets and decoys for testing against air-air missiles, radars, surface-air missiles, et. al. As of April 2007, BAE Systems had converted 217 F-4s to the QF-4 configuration.
It’s financially prudent, and fitting in a way for an old warrior to go out in a fireball of glory – but sad, too, somehow. Recent announcements indicate some interesting possibilities ahead, however, even as the very last QF-4 order comes in.
Latest updates[?]: An Indian firm is partnering with AeroVironment to develop a new small UAV based on the US company's Raven and Puma models. The development was outlined as a planned collaborative project in January and formally announced as part of the bilateral Defense Technology and Trade Initiative program. Dynamatic Technologies will partner with AeroVironment to produce a land and maritime-capable UAV, known as the Cheel, which operates from a Ground Control Station also compatible with other AeroVironment systems.
Latest updates: Test crash, funding issues deliver a 1-2 punch to the program.
Those traditions have fused in a major Advanced Concept/Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (ACTD/JCTD) contract for a UAV that runs on hydrogen fuel cells, and can cruise at 55,000-65,000 feet for up to 7 days at a time, while carrying a 1,000 pound payload. Meet Aerovironment’s Global Observer, which promises formidable advantages in roles as diverse as communications relay, persistent ISR (intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance), maritime patrol, and even storm tracking and weather applications:
Northrop Grumman Technical Services in Sierra Vista, AZ recently received a $91.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to RESET its MQ-5B Hunters to “zero flight hours” condition, and incorporate the Tactical Common Data Link and Interoperability Engineering Change Proposal. Work will be performed in Sierra Vista, AZ, with an estimated completion date of Dec 30/12. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0025).
Originally designed by Israel Aircraft Industries, the Q-5 Hunter is the US Army’s oldest UAV. It entered service in 1996 as the RQ-5A, which saw action in Kosovo. Northrop Grumman is IAI’s American marketing and development partner, and their MQ-5B is the latest version. It adds weapon pylons for payloads like the GBU-44 Viper Strike, heavy fuel engines, an extended fuel-carrying wing that nearly doubles endurance to 21 hours, new datalinks and IFF, OneSystem GCS compatibility, and a modern avionics suite that includes automated takeoff and landing. MQ-5Bs first flew in July 2005, and deployed to the front lines a year later. Just under 30 UAVs of this type are in service, but they continue to rack up flying time, passing 100,000 hours in January 2011.
July 15/15: The Army has retired its MQ-5B Hunter UAV, with the type’s last flight taking place at Fort Huachuca, AZ. The Hunter was in service from 1996 and received several upgrades, including a $91.2 million reset in 2011. The UAV is being replaced with another Northrop Grumman-manufactured model, the MQ-1C Gray Eagle.
It may yet be a decade or two before the U.S. has an appetite for another “generation” increment for its fighters, but Boeing and Northrop Grumman are hungry now. Northrop is touting its new design teams dedicated to generating capabilities for the Navy and Air Forces future wish lists. The little information about their initial efforts indicate that it is oddly close to Boeing’s own requirements appetizer, which sported a flying wing design and preceded Northrop’s announcement by more than a year.
The flying wing focus may be a product of these airframes being quite similar to existing development work done for stealth fighter UAV programs, which have featured the more stealthy wing designs.
After seeing how chummy the service branches became in creating a joint strike fighter, Northrop is bowing to current service desires and employing two independent teams to ensure that both the Navy and Air Force can dream big without design compromises.
Some F/A-XX work was generated back in April 2012, when the Navy asked contractors for information about F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and Growler replacements – an early indication that the F-35 was not going to be all things to all services.
One interesting feature, at least in Boeing’s theoretical offering, is that the fighter can be flown by wire – still a politically charged feature in several ways. Pilots have been skeptical of unmanned fighters, such as the UCAS-D/N-UCAS/UCLASS program. The subsequent UCLASS project has been watered down by the Navy, with its role limited to surveillance type activities it is thought in order to preserve the more kinetic jobs for manned aircraft like the F/A-XX.
By the time 2005 drew to a close, Canada was pursuing UAV deployments on 3 fronts. The RQ-11 Raven’s early performance in Afghanistan led to purchases of soldier-portable mini-UAVs, which would be joined by older Sperwer tactical UAVs already in inventory. Canada’s Air Force was also crafting a multimillion-dollar plan to purchase the Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System (JUSTAS), for fielding around 2010.
Canada’s defense procurement system rivals India’s for inefficiency, so it isn’t completely surprising that nearly a decade of effort has produced essentially nothing.
Since 2007, we’ve been treated to ongoing speculation about Syria buying Russian weapons with Iranian financing, including reports of MiG-31 and MiG-29 fighters. Some reports even placed the Islamic Republic of Iran as the ultimate recipient. Other reports claimed delays in delivery of advanced S-300 long-range anti-aircraft missiles to Iran, which eventually became a cancellation and refund. Syria also discovered hang-ups in receiving advanced Russian equipment.
What was even more interesting were the parallel and verified reports that Israel may be selling UAVs to Russia, alongside speculation that these sets of events may be related.