Digitization and smaller electronics affect the battlefield in a number of ways. In the area of air defense, it has become possible to make small radars quite powerful, while also connecting them in networks that can provide a combined picture of a broader area. The result is a system that makes short-range assets like shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles far more effective. If careful attention is paid to integration issues, these systems can serve singly as quickly-deployable initial protection for key sites, be combined to extend coverage over a local region, or serve as a form of local distributed backup to guide larger and more advanced missiles if higher-echelon radars are knocked out.
Their usefulness even extends beyond enemy forces. One of the toughest problems involved in coalition warfare is ensuring that simple misunderstandings or lack of a common picture doesn’t lead to “friendly fire” tragedies. A deployable local air control system can minimize those odds.
Britain’s Land Environment Air Picture Provision (LEAPP) program is GBP 100 million contract with Lockheed Martin UK INSYS designed to address these needs, and provide ground forces with a detailed local picture of activity in the air…
“On average, existing CH-53E aircraft are more than 15 years old, have over 3,000 flight hours under tough conditions, and are becoming more and more of a maintenance challenge with a 44:1 maintenance man-hours:flight hours ratio. Not to mention the resulting $20,000 per flight-hour cost ratio. According to Jane’s Defense Weekly, a 1999 analysis showed that the existing fleet has a service life of 6,120 flight hours, based on fatigue at the point where the tail folds. Currently, the USMC expects the existing fleet will start to reach this point in 2011, at a rate of 15 aircraft per year.”
That kind of maintenance time can create a downward spiral as work backlogs delay maintenance, which increases the number of off-duty helicopters, which forces the Navy to run existing helicopters harder, which means they need maintenance more quickly. Airframe fatigue issues will be tricky and unpredictable, as experience with the USAF’s F-15 fleet demonstrates. On the maintenance front, however, Defense News reports that the US Navy is undertaking a $150 million engine upgrade involving titanium nitride-coated blades on helicopter engine compressors. TiN is already used on USMC CH-46 Sea Knights and British Lynx helicopters, among others, to help cope with the sandblasting these components receive in desert operations. The goal is to improve the “time on wing” from 350 hours to 1,100 hours, and time between full overhauls from 2,400 to 3,200 hours, resulting in an estimated savings of $22 million per year. They’re already part way there. About half of the fleet’s 3-engine CH-53Es Super Stallion mainstays, older twin-engine CH-53Ds, and MH-53E Sea Dragon minehunters have been upgraded, and “average time on wing” has risen to about 665 hours. See the full Gannett Navy Times report.
The Franco-Italian FREMM (FREgate Multi Mission or FREgata Multi Missione) program is designed to create an affordable and somewhat flexible naval combatant that offers good to very good performance in the 3 key fleet roles of anti-submarine warfare (ASW), ship to ship combat, and fleet defense. Each ship will be produced in 1 of 3 variants will tip this common package toward further specialization, offering excellent performance in the ASW, land attack, or air defense roles. A DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class AEGIS destroyer can already perform all of these roles at a top-tier level, but they weigh 8,350t/9,200 tons and cost about $1.1 billion each, even after a production run of over 60 ships. In contrast, FREMM is a European project that aims to offer less all-around performance in a 5,800t hull, while including design advances like greater stealth, and Herakles/ Empar electronically scanned radars whose multiple-beam capabilities offer a potent defense against saturation attacks from supersonic missiles. All for a target price around EUR 350-450 million (currently about $525-675 million) per ship.
So far, anticipated orders sit at 28 ships: (17 France, 10 Italy, 1 Morocco), but export sales are more than possible as the FREMM consortium of DCNS, Finmeccanica, and Fincantieri goes head to head with other French (DCNS Lafayette Class variants), Spanish (Navantia’s AEGIS frigates), and Russian offerings in the global defense market. First, however, they must secure the expected orders from their home countries.
Italy provided some moments of high drama for the program in 2005, though they eventually managed to finesse their way out of the 2005 drama, ordering its first 2 frigates. A repeat seemed likely in 2007-2008, and a similar escape was used as Italy raised its order to 6 ships. Now a supplementary contract to Thales evokes an interesting comment regarding Australia…