- An F-35 released a weapon from its external rack for the first time in late September, according to a Lockheed Martin press release Friday. A test aircraft released four 500lb GBU-12 JDAM bombs over the Atlantic Test Range, building on testing conducted by the Marines in June when GBU-12 and GBU-32 JDAMs were dropped, presumably from the Joint Strike Fighter’s internal weapons bay.
- Meanwhile an F-35C landed aboard USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) on Friday as part of the second round of at-sea testing for the F-35C known as DT-II. Following the first round of tests in November – which included a catapult launch – this set of trials will also test the fighter’s fancy helmet, the Joint Precision Approach Landing System (JPALS) and operations with a full internal weapons bay. The tests are slated to last two weeks.
- An Air Force C-130J transport aircraft came down in Jalalabad, Afghanistan early on Friday morning, killing the aircraft’s six crew members and five civilian contractors on board. The Taliban claim that they shot down the aircraft as it took off, with this assertion denied by the Air Force. The crash is the sixth loss of a C-130J to date and the second time the USAF has lost one of the aircraft; however this is the first time US service personnel have been killed in a C-130J crash.
- The UK’s Watchkeeper UAV program has come under fire for cost overruns, with the majority of the 33 delivered Watchkeepers in storage despite a price tag of GBP1.2 billion ($2.4 billion). The program’s Initial Operating Capability timetable of 2017 is unlikely to be met, with only six British Army pilots trained to use the system. In total 54 Watchkeepers are due to enter service, with only three having seen very limited active service in Afghanistan. The news comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron announced on Sunday that he plans to double the UK’s fleet of UAVs.
- Finland is planning to replace two aging mine-layers and four fast attack boats heading out of service in the mid-2020s. The project, known as Squadron 2020, will see four corvettes inducted into the Finnish Navy in the latter half of next decade, with the Finnish Defense Ministry aiming to have the vessels under construction by 2019. The country’s Defence Forces estimate that the project will require approximately EUR1.2 billion ($1.36 billion) to complete, with plans also outlining a significant portion of indigenous components aboard the new vessels.
- France is increasing its defense budget next year by $671 million, with around half of this earmarked for new equipment, including orders for three A400M transporters, nine Rafale fighters and five Tiger attack helicopters, as well as a Barracuda submarine and a new frigate. The French government’s 2016 budget also allocated $4.2 billion for research & development, with the entire defense budget reaching $32 billion. The French budgetary increase comes as other European states have also announced defense budget increases in recent months.
Middle East North Africa
- Canada’s secretive plan to sell Light Armored Vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia will move forward despite criticism of the Gulf state’s human rights record. The deal – estimated to value $11 billion – has not been officially acknowledged by the Saudi government, with the Harper government contractually-assuring the deal’s low profile.
- The South Korean government has opened an investigation into a senior security official over his role in the decision to procure the F-35 in March 2014, with this finalized in September 2014. Kim Kwan-jin headed the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) committee responsible for the selection of the Lockheed Martin jet, despite an earlier DAPA recommendation of the Boeing design on technology transfer grounds in September 2013. The failure to see four core technologies transferred to the country from the F-35 program, confirmed in September, has hit the country’s KF-X indigenous fighter competition hard, with it now thought that the transfer of these technologies was never likely. The probe is now assessing whether Kim lied about the contract’s terms in order to set Lockheed Martin up for the win.
- Japan has stood-up a new defense procurement agency in an attempt to rationalize equipment acquisition for the Japan Self Defense Forces. The Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) will try to streamline acquisition, R&D and sustainment of JSDF equipment in the face of plateauing acquisition and research budgets. The agency is also an attempt by the MoD to invigorate international defense industry collaboration, particularly with the US. Growing Japan’s domestic defense industry is also a priority for the Japanese MoD, with the new organization pulling together components from the MoD to better manage equipment research, development and acquisition.
- The Indian Air Force (IAF) has signed a $1.2 billion contract with domestic firm Bharat Electronics Ltd for radar integration services, following clearance of the project by the Cabinet Committee on Security last month. The work will mesh the country’s civilian and military radar systems, as well as establish new nodes in the country’s growing ground-based radar network.
- The F-35C aboard CVN-79 for the fighter’s second round of trials: