The US Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center (AATC) is planning to modify two KC-135s to equip them with a new communications, sensors and defensive pod. While tentatively called the Gladiator Pod, it is expected to enter flight testing on a few KC-135s in 2023. AATC intends to pack communication, defensive, and sensor technologies inside the shell of a Multipoint Refueling System (MPRS) Pod. The MPRS consists of a single refueling pod mounted on each wing of a KC-135 to support probe and drogue refueling. The communication systems that will be packed inside the Gladiator Pod will allow the KC-135 to act as a data node and host on the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS). Defensive systems will protect the tanker with limited fighter support. It was also disclosed that the KC-135 was able to receive off-board data from the Kratos Unmanned Tactical Aerial Platform-22 (UTAP-22) during a recent test China Lake.
The US military’s ability to meet demands has largely degraded over the past two decades, according to a Government Accountability Office report. “GAO found that reported domain readiness did not meet readiness recovery goals identified by the military services,” it said. The report spotlighted “the effects of Hurricane Michael and its associated infrastructure limitations on the Air Force’s F-22 fighter jets; the effects of trained pilot shortages on the Army’s AH-64 attack helicopter; and the effects of limited depot repair capacity on the Marine Corps’ light attack helicopters.”
Middle East & Africa
According to media reports, Morocco has carried out its first drone strike in the Western Sahara. The Polisario Front announced that its police chief Addah al-Bendir had been killed “on the field of honor” in a separatist-controlled part of the disputed desert territory. The reported use of a drone strike to kill a senior Western Sahara independence fighter would, if confirmed, mark a turning point in the conflict, experts say. A Polisario official told AFP that Bendir had been killed by a Moroccan drone after taking part in a military operation near a sand barrier separating Moroccan and Polisario-controlled zones. Moroccan military expert Abdelhamid Harifi told AFP that “officially, Morocco doesn’t have armed drones — but it has a whole range of state-of-the-art unarmed drones.”
A US Air Force contract with British company BAE will see the firm support equipment for the fleet of F-16 aircraft in “more than 25 countries” through 2031. “From Boresighting avionics testing and vehicle management system tests to aircraft power, hydraulics, and electrical systems support, BAE Systems’ comprehensive approach is a key enabler for F-16 sustainment worldwide. The company will enhance aircraft supportability, reduce the logistics footprint, and minimize life cycle cost through the contract, which includes obsolescence management, logistics and sustainment, and on-base support and depot development”, it says in a press release.
Korea Times quoted anonymous sources as saying the KAI FA-50 and Pakistan’s JF-17 are the finalists in Malaysia’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) competition. The report added that the JF-17 is in the lead as it “possesses a better mid-range weapons capacity.”
Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has rolled out a prototype of the multirole fighter aircraft being developed for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) under the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) programme. The locally developed twin-engined aircraft KF-21 Boramae was officially unveiled in a ceremony held on April 9 at KAI headquarters in the South Korean city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, that was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.
Watch: KC-135 Stratotanker Take Off and Landing at MacDill Air Force Base, United States Air Force
The 5th-generation F-22A Raptor fighter program has been the subject of fierce controversy, with advocates and detractors aplenty. On the one hand, the aircraft offers full stealth, revolutionary radar and sensor capabilities, dual air-air and air-ground SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) excellence, the ability to cruise above Mach 1 without afterburners, thrust-vectoring super-maneuverability… and a ridiculously lopsided kill record in exercises against the best American fighters. On the other hand, critics charged that it was too expensive, too limited, and cripples the USAF’s overall force structure.
Meanwhile, close American allies like Australia, Japan and Israel, and other allies like Korea, were pressing the USA to abandon its “no export” policy. Most already fly F-15s, but several were interested in an export version of the F-22 in order to help them deal with advanced – and advancing – Russian-designed aircraft, air-to-air missiles, and surface-to-air missile systems. That would have broadened the F-22 fleet in several important ways, but the US political system would not or could not respond.
This DID FOCUS Article tracks continuing maintenance and fleet upgrade programs, contracts, and timely news. A separate public-access feature offers a profile of the USAF’s most advanced fighter, and covers both sides of the F-22 Raptor program’s controversies.
Latest updates[?]: Korea Times quoted anonymous sources as saying the KAI FA-50 and Pakistan’s JF-17 are the finalists in Malaysia’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) competition. The report added that the JF-17 is in the lead as it “possesses a better mid-range weapons capacity.”
FC-1/ JF-17, armed
The FC-1/ JF-17 Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project that aimed to reduce Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. It isn’t a top-tier competitor, but it represents a clear step up from Pakistan’s Chinese MiG-19/21 derivatives and French Mirage III/V fighters. This positioning addresses a budget-conscious, “good enough” performance market segment that the West once dominated, but has nearly abandoned in recent decades.
Pakistan has fielded JF-17s in squadron strength, with more on order and a Block II R&D program nearing completion. India’s competing Tejas fighter is overcoming project delays by looking to foreign component sources, but Pakistan and China remain out front with their offering, even though they began their project much later than India did. Pakistan and China have even set up a joint JF-17 marketing agency to promote export sales, which hasn’t paid off as quickly as they had hoped, but it would be unwise to count them out just yet…
Latest updates[?]: Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) has rolled out a prototype of the multirole fighter aircraft being developed for the Republic of Korea Air Force (RoKAF) under the Korean Fighter eXperimental (KF-X) programme. The locally developed twin-engined aircraft KF-21 Boramae was officially unveiled in a ceremony held on April 9 at KAI headquarters in the South Korean city of Sacheon, South Gyeongsang Province, that was also attended by South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto.
KODEF ’11 slide
South Korea has been thinking seriously about designing its own fighter jet since 2008. The ROK defense sector has made impressive progress, and has become a notable exporter of aerospace, land, and naval equipment. The idea of a plane that helps advance their aerospace industry, while making it easy to add new Korean-designed weapons, is very appealing. On the flip side, a new jet fighter is a massive endeavor at the best of times, and wildly unrealistic technical expectations didn’t help the project. KF-X has progressed in fits and starts, and became a multinational program when Indonesia joined in June 2010. As of March 2013, however, South Korea has decided to put the KF-X program on hold for 18 months, while the government and Parliament decide whether it’s worth continuing.
Indonesia has reportedly contributed IDR 1.6 trillion since they joined in July 2010 – but that’s just $165 million of the DAPA’s estimated WON 6 billion (about $5.5 billion) development cost, and there’s good reason to believe that even this development budget is too low. This article discusses the KFX/IFX fighter’s proposed designs and features, and chronicles the project’s progress and setbacks since 2008…
According to the US Navy, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division has completed five weeks of integrated test evaluations of the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. The Dahlgren Division, based in Virginia, performed interoperability testing with the G/ATOR system, preparing first by verifying the command’s infrastructure functionality, including power accessibility, radar data recording abilities and data analysis capabilities. The G/ATOR system, made by Northrop Grumman, is designed to detect low-observable targets with low radar cross sections such as rockets, artillery, mortars, cruise missiles and drones.
Northrop Grumman is designing a new radar instrumentation system for the B-1B bomber under a $2.3 million contract. The current radar instrumentation system is over 10 years old and faces diminishing manufacturing sources for components. Northrop will be producing new single board computers, ethernet-based protocol, high-speed data lines, and solid-state drive data collection units for installation on the two instrumented B-1Bs at Edwards Air Force Base. Work is scheduled to being later this year.
Middle East & Africa
Elbit won a contract by the Israeli Ministry of Defense last year to pursue a program to develop an airborne laser weapon system. A new video posted by Elbit shows the laser mounted on a Hermes 900 unmanned air vehicle. The aircraft has been modified with canards, probably due to the increase weight on the nose to house the laser turret or to improve pitch stability in order to have a stable beam.
Babcock International and BAE Systems have been awarded a five year contract extension by the Ministry of Defense to continue in-service support to the Royal Navy’s 4.5 Mk8 Medium Calibre Gun (MCG). The agreement is worth $58.9 and will see the continuation of in-service support to the 4.5 MCG across 19 Type 23 Frigates and Type 45 Destroyers as well as HMS Collingwood.
Technology to protect emerging wideband receivers from interference, enabling their use in contested and congested environments, is being developed by BAE. According to BAE Systems, the British company will design mechanisms for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that protect emerging wideband receivers from interference, enabling their use in contested and congested environments.
The Indian Air Force has taken a new approach for its bid to acquire a fleet of aerial refueling tankers. It has now decided that it will lease those new tankers by the hour. And they will be used for training missions and free the Il-78 tankers for operational purposes.
Latest updates[?]: According to the US Navy, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division has completed five weeks of integrated test evaluations of the AN/TPS-80 Ground/Air Task-Oriented Radar (G/ATOR) system. The Dahlgren Division, based in Virginia, performed interoperability testing with the G/ATOR system, preparing first by verifying the command's infrastructure functionality, including power accessibility, radar data recording abilities and data analysis capabilities. The G/ATOR system, made by Northrop Grumman, is designed to detect low-observable targets with low radar cross sections such as rockets, artillery, mortars, cruise missiles and drones.
The US military’s long run of unquestioned air superiority has led to shortcuts in mobile land-based air defenses, and the US Marines are no exception. A December 2005 release from Sen. Schumer’s office [D-NY] said that:
“Current radar performance does not meet operational forces requirements… consequences could potentially allow opposing forces to gain air and ground superiority in future operational areas.”
One of the programs in the works to address this gap is the AN/TPS-80 G/ATOR mobile radar system. It’s actually the result of fusing 2 programs: the Multi-Role Radar System (MRRS), and Ground Weapons Locator Radar (GWLR) requirements. When the last G/ATOR software upgrade becomes operational, it will replace and consolidate numerous legacy radars, including the AN/TPS-63 air surveillance, AN/MPQ-62 force control, AN/TPS-73 air traffic control, AN/UPS-3 air defense, and AN/TPQ-36/37 artillery tracking & locating radar systems.
The F-15EX variant of the F-15 series of US Air Force fighter planes, was renamed the Eagle II in a ceremony on Wednesday at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. Lt. Gen. Duke Richardson announced the official designation in a rollout of the plane, which will replace the aging F-15C/D fleet. The US Air Force accepted its first F-15EX from manufacturer Boeing on March 11.
The US Air Force (USAF)/Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) conventional hypersonic glide weapon prototype failed its first booster vehicle flight test on April 5, according to a statement. The ARRW failed to complete its launch sequence and did not deploy from its Boeing B-52H Stratofortress heavy bomber carriage aircraft. The B-52H flew over the Point Mugu Sea Range near California, intending to fire the ARRW booster test vehicle. Instead, the weapon returned with the B-52H to Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.
Middle East & Africa
The Israeli Air Force (IAF) announced the arrival of its new Oron intelligence-gathering aircraft after it landed at Nevatim Air Base. The Oron is a Gulfstream G550 business jet that will have its mission systems installed over the next two years, the IAF said. This process will be led by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) in collaboration with the Ministry of Defense’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development (DDR&D), the IAF, the Intelligence Directorate, and the Israeli Navy.
Four Greek pilots have started their training on flying the Rafale. Three of them flew the Mirage 2000 previously while the other one flies the F-16. The four of them will later become instructors to help train the next batch of eight pilots.
The Cyprus National Guard carried out a joint training exercise with Israel on April 5 to April 6. Exercise ONISILOS GEDEON 2021 involves the Tor M1 air defense missile system and Israeli F-15s and F-35s.
According to Reuters, Taiwan’s Defense Ministry reported a new incursion by China’s air force into the island’s air defense identification zone, made up of eight fighter jets and two other aircraft, one of which flew through the strategic Bashi Channel. Taiwan has complained over the last few months of repeated missions by China’s air force near the island, concentrated in the southwestern part its air defense zone near the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands.
Watch: Shocking! Massive revamp Type 23 Frigate and back to sea with full power
Latest updates[?]: The US Air Force (USAF)/Lockheed Martin AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW) conventional hypersonic glide weapon prototype failed its first booster vehicle flight test on April 5, according to a statement. The ARRW failed to complete its launch sequence and did not deploy from its Boeing B-52H Stratofortress heavy bomber carriage aircraft. The B-52H flew over the Point Mugu Sea Range near California, intending to fire the ARRW booster test vehicle. Instead, the weapon returned with the B-52H to Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California.
B-52H: flyin’ low,
Officially, it’s the B-52H Stratofortress. Unofficially, it’s the BUFF (Big Ugly Fat F–cker). Either way, this subsonic heavy bomber remains the mainstay of the U.S. strategic fleet after more than 50 years of service. A total of 102 B-52H bombers were delivered from FY 1961-1963, and 94 were still on the books as of May 2009, flying mostly from Barksdale AFB, LA and Minot AFB, ND. Of these, 18 are slated for retirement, leaving a planned fleet of 76. By the time that fleet retires in the 2030s, many will be around 70 years old.
The B-52H can’t be flown against heavy enemy air defenses, but a steady array of upgrades have kept the aircraft relevant to follow-on strikes and current wars, where its long time on station and precision weapons have made the BUFF beautiful. Those changes have included advanced communications, GPS guided weapons, advanced targeting pods, and more. The USAF isn’t done yet adding new features, and maintenance remains a challenge for an aircraft fleet that’s always older than its pilots. All of these things require contracts, and the B-52H fleet has several of them underway. So, how does 2010’s 8-year, $11.9 billion umbrella contract fit in…?
Will Dassault’s fighter become a fashionably late fighter platform that builds on its parent company’s past successes – or just “the late Rafale”? It all began as a 1985 break-away from the multinational consortium that went on to create EADS’ Eurofighter. The French needed a lighter aircraft that was suitable for carrier use, and were reportedly unwilling to cede design authority over the project. As is so often true of French defense procurement policy, the choice came down to paying additional costs for full independence and exact needs, or losing key industrial capabilities by partnering or buying abroad. France has generally opted for expensive but independent defense choices, and the Rafale was no exception.
Those costs, and associated delays triggered by the end of the Cold War and reduced funding, proved to be very costly indeed. Unlike previous French fighters, which relied on exports to lower their costs and keep production lines humming, the Rafale has yet to secure a single export contract – in part because initial versions were hampered by impaired capabilities in key roles. The Rafale may, at last, be ready to be what its vendors say: a true omnirole aircraft, ready for prime time on the global export stage. The question is whether it’s too late. Rivals like EADS’ Eurofighter, Russia’s Su-27/30 family, and the American “teen series” of F-15/16/18 variants are all well established. Meanwhile, Saab’s versatile and cheaper JAS-39 Gripen remains a stubborn foe in key export competitions, and the multinational F-35 juggernaut is bearing down on it.
The $382 billion F-35 Joint Strike fighter program may well be the largest single global defense program in history. This major multinational program is intended to produce an “affordably stealthy” multi-role fighter that will have 3 variants: the F-35A conventional version for the US Air Force et. al.; the F-35B Short Take-Off, Vertical Landing for the US Marines, British Royal Navy, et. al.; and the F-35C conventional carrier-launched version for the US Navy. The aircraft is named after Lockheed’s famous WW2 P-38 Lightning, and the Mach 2, stacked-engine English Electric (now BAE)Lightning jet. Lightning II system development partners included The USA & Britain (Tier 1), Italy and the Netherlands (Tier 2), and Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey (Tier 3), with Singapore and Israel as “Security Cooperation Partners,” and Japan as the 1st export customer.
The big question for Lockheed Martin is whether, and when, many of these partner countries will begin placing purchase orders. This updated article has expanded to feature more detail regarding the F-35 program, including contracts, sub-contracts, and notable events and reports during 2012-2013.