A helicopter UAV is very handy for naval ships, and for armies who can’t always depend on runways. The USA’s RQ/MQ-8 Fire Scout Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has blazed a trail of firsts in this area, but its history is best described as “colorful.” The program was begun by the US Navy, canceled, adopted by the US Army, revived by the Navy, then canceled by the Army. Leaving it back in the hands of the US Navy. Though the Army is thinking about joining again, and the base platform is changing.
The question is, can the MQ-8 leverage its size, first-mover contract opportunity, and “good enough” performance into a secure future with the US Navy – and beyond? DID describes these new VTUAV platforms, clarifies the program’s structure and colorful history, lists all related contracts and events, and offers related research materials.
Latest updates[?]: The Advanced Electronics won a contract modification for the F-15 Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) Electronic System Test Set (ESTS). Services acquired under this effort are to provide the RSAF with an upgraded ESTS. The RSAF currently uses an A31U18240-2 ESTS configuration, and this shall provide the scope to upgrade and install the A31U18240-3 and A31U18240-4 configuration (frequently referred to as -3 and -4, respectively), as well as familiarization training, regression testing, and travel. Work will be performed at the RSAF Central Maintenance Facilities within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; the Science and Engineering facility in Huntsville, Alabama; and Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, and is expected to be completed April 16, 2021.
F-15S & weapons
In October 2010, talks that Saudi Arabia was negotiating a $30-60 billion arms package with the USA were made official with a full multi-billion request that included 84 F-15 Strike Eagles to replace the Kingdom’s Tornado strike aircraft and/or F-15A-D fighters, upgrades for another 70 planes, about 132 UH-60 Black Hawk utility and AH-64 attack helicopters, and armaments to equip them.
This article looks at those requests, their tie-ins, the issues that are part of these potential deals, and related follow-on requests. As is often the case with DSCA announcements, years can pass between the requests and the signed contracts, but these contracts have started to roll in, alongside other significant buys.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing won a $79.5 million contract modification for KC-46A long lead spares, initial spares and support equipment. This modification provides mission essential long lead spares, initial spares, and support equipment for use on the Japan KC-46 aircraft being produced under the basic contract. The US Air Force awarded Boeing $279 million for the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF) first KC-46A tanker in December 2017. The agreement was completed through the Foreign Military Sale process between the US government and Japan. Japan is now on contract for a total of four KC-46 tankers. Japanese partners produce 16% of the KC-46 airframe structure. Work under the contract modification will take place in Everett, Washington. Estimated completion date is June 30, 2024.
KC-135: Old as the hills…
DID’s FOCUS articles cover major weapons acquisition programs – and no program is more important to the USAF than its aerial tanker fleet renewal. In January 2007, the big question was whether there would be a competition for the USA’s KC-X proposal, covering 175 production aircraft and 4 test platforms. The total cost is now estimated at $52 billion, but America’s aerial tanker fleet demands new planes to replace its KC-135s, whose most recent new delivery was in 1965. Otherwise, unpredictable age or fatigue issues, like the ones that grounded its F-15A-D fighters in 2008, could ground its aerial tankers – and with them, a substantial slice of the USA’s total airpower.
KC-Y and KC-Z buys are supposed to follow in subsequent decades, in order to replace 530 (195 active; ANG 251; Reserve 84) active tankers, as well as the USAF’s 59 heavy KC-10 tankers that were delivered from 1979-1987. Then again, fiscal and demographic realities may mean that the 179 plane KC-X buy is “it” for the USAF. Either way, the KC-X stakes were huge for all concerned.
In the end, it was Team Boeing’s KC-767 NexGen/ KC-46A (767 derivative) vs. EADS North America’s KC-45A (Airbus KC-30/A330-200 derivative), both within the Pentagon and in the halls of Congress. The financial and employment stakes guaranteed a huge political fight no matter which side won. After Airbus won in 2008, that fight ended up sinking and restarting the entire program. Three years later, Boeing won the recompete. Now, they have to deliver their KC-46A.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency awarded three contracts this week to design a nuclear thermal propulsion system that will operate above low Earth orbit in 2025. General Atomics, Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin are the prime contractors for the deal, according to a DARPA new release. The Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO) program has the potential to achieve rapid maneuver in space, which has been challenging because current electric and chemical space propulsion systems have drawbacks in thrust-to-weight and propellent efficiency, respectively, according to the agency.
MBDA will equip the Royal Canadian Navy’s new Canadian Surface Combatant, a variant of the Type 26 Frigate, with Sea Ceptor missiles. According to the company, utilising the Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM) as its effector, Sea Ceptor will undertake the Close-In Air Defence System (CIADS) role on-board the new CSC frigates.
Middle East & Africa
The Biden administration is seeing pushback from Senate Democrats after going ahead with a Trump-era deal to sell F-35 fighter aircraft to the United Arab Emirates. Citing national security concerns, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. files a bill to restrict the sale of the most sophisticated F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the UAE. In December, the Trump administration approved the sale of 50 F-35 fighter jets worth $10.4 billion, 8 MQ-9B drones worth $2.97 billion and a package of munitions worth $10 billion.
On April 15, French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly announced an order for eight H225M Caracal helicopters to support France’s aeronautics industry during a visit to Airbus Helicopters’ plant in Marignane. The helicopters will be used by the French Air Force (FAF) and will be delivered in 2024–25. They will equip a new unit in Cazaux in southwestern France and Djibouti in the Horn of Africa where they will replace three Puma helicopters.
Danish and American officials recently celebrated the rollout of the first F-35A Lightning II for the Royal Danish Air Force at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas. Like the F-16 before it, the F-35 is spearheading NATO’s air power and ensuring strategic integration of allied combat airpower. The vital interoperability of the fifth generation F-35 binds 13 allies and partners with the US in air dominance and enabling critical joint capabilities. The F-35 will serve as a force multiplier for Denmark, allowing the Royal Danish Air Force to train and fight alongside NATO allies and create a strong deterrent.
Lockheed Martin won a $66 million contract modification for Japan’s AEGIS weapons system. The deal extends performance and expands Aegis FMS in-scope work including Aegis Combat System computer program development and radar integration/test support services under new contract line item numbers. Case JA-P-NCO funds in the amount of $65,354,942 are being obligated at the time of award. Work will take place in New Jersey. The period of performance will be through through December 31, 2022.
Watch: Japan’s eight-Aegis defense system complete
Latest updates[?]: Lockheed Martin won a $66 million contract modification for Japan’s AEGIS weapons system. The deal extends performance and expands Aegis FMS in-scope work including Aegis Combat System computer program development and radar integration/test support services under new contract line item numbers. Case JA-P-NCO funds in the amount of $65,354,942 are being obligated at the time of award. Work will take place in New Jersey. The period of performance will be through through December 31, 2022.
The AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense System seamlessly integrates the SPY-1 radar, the MK 41 Vertical Launching System for missiles, the SM-3 Standard missile, and the ship’s command and control system, in order to give ships the ability to defend against enemy ballistic missiles. Like its less-capable AEGIS counterpart, AEGIS BMD can also work with other radars on land and sea via Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC). That lets it receive cues from other platforms and provide information to them, in order to create a more detailed battle picture than any one radar could produce alone.
AEGIS has become a widely-deployed top-tier air defense system, with customers in the USA, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Norway, and Spain. In a dawning age of rogue states and proliferation of mass-destruction weapons, the US Navy is being pushed toward a “shield of the nation” role as the USA’s most flexible and most numerous option for missile defense. AEGIS BMD modifications are the keystone of that effort – in the USA, and beyond.
The US Naval Research Laboratory has demonstrated that its electric unmanned aerial vehicle dubbed Hybrid Tiger can stay airborne for 24 hours using multiple power sources. “The flight was effectively a performance test in worst-case conditions: temperatures falling below zero degrees Celsius, winds gusting to 20 knots, and relatively little solar energy as we approached the solar solstice Dec. 21,” Richard Stroman, one of engineers involved in the testing, said. Daytime power come from solar panels integrated onto the wings and high-pressure hydrogen fuel tank and fuel cell system provides nighttime power. The drone also had algorithms in its flight control software to take advantage of thermals to gain altitude.
The US Navy announced that it landed an Osprey V-22 aircraft for the first time on a flight deck aboard a hospital ship. The flight testing is result of a seven-month mission to expand the ship’s capabilities for landing aircraft such as the V-22 Osprey and MH-60 Seahawk. Prior to the testing, the deck of Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy was upgraded to allow for the flights to take off.
Middle East & Africa
Elbit Systems Ltd. announced that it was awarded a contract valued at about $1.65 billion for the establishment and operation of the International Flight Training Center of the Hellenic Air Force, as part of a deal between the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the Hellenic Ministry of National Defense. The company noted that the contract will be performed over a period of about 20 years and will include price indexation. As per the contract, Elbit Systems will supply new M-346 training aircraft and will maintain the entire training fleet, comprised of dozens of M-346 and T-6 training aircraft for a period of approximately 20 years.
Northrop Grumman won a $99 million contract modification, which adds scope to procure long lead items and associated services in support of the production and delivery of three E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft for the government of France. The French Navy has been operating the E-2C Hawkeye since 1998 and is the only country other than the United States to operate its E-2 Hawkeyes from an aircraft carrier. This capability enables interoperability exercises that support Hawkeyes from each other’s carrier flight decks. With the US Navy’s fleet transition to E-2D squadrons, the French Navy intends to maintain interoperability and partnership by taking steps to procure three E-2D aircraft. Work will take place in New York, California, North Carolina and Florida. Estimated completion will be in April 2027.
The first P-8A Poseidon fuselage for Norway arrived at Boeing. This marked a major milestone in the production of the first of five Poseidons for the Royal Norwegian Air Force. A derivative of the Boeing 737 Next-Generation commercial aircraft, the P-8 is first assembled at Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ 737 production line, where the fuselage receives additional wiring and systems needed to support military components, equipment and operation.
Japan’s first RQ-4B Global Hawk made its maiden flight on April 15, 2021 from Palmdale, California. “The unarmed RQ-4B Global Hawk will provide Japan with on-demand intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance information supporting the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s missions of protecting borders, monitoring threats and providing humanitarian assistance in times of need,” said Jane Bishop, vice president and general manager, autonomous systems, Northrop Grumman, in a press release. “This successful first flight is a significant milestone in delivering Global Hawk to our Japanese allies.”
Watch: Japan’s RQ-4B Global Hawk high altitude Makes First Flight!
Latest updates[?]: The US Navy announced that it landed an Osprey V-22 aircraft for the first time on a flight deck aboard a hospital ship. The flight testing is result of a seven-month mission to expand the ship's capabilities for landing aircraft such as the V-22 Osprey and MH-60 Seahawk. Prior to the testing, the deck of Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Mercy was upgraded to allow for the flights to take off.
In March 2008, the Bell Boeing Joint Project Office in Amarillo, TX received a $10.4 billion modification that converted the previous N00019-07-C-0001 advance acquisition contract to a fixed-price-incentive-fee, multi-year contract. The new contract rose to $10.92 billion, and was used to buy 143 MV-22 (for USMC) and 31 CV-22 (Air Force Special Operations) Osprey aircraft, plus associated manufacturing tooling to move the aircraft into full production. A follow-on MYP-II contract covered another 99 Ospreys (92 MV-22, 7 CV-22) for $6.524 billion. Totals: $17.444 billion for 235 MV-22s and 38 CV-22s, an average of $63.9 million each.
The V-22 tilt-rotor program has been beset by controversy throughout its 20-year development period. Despite these issues, and the emergence of competitive but more conventional compound helicopter technologies like Piasecki’s X-49 Speedhawk and Sikorsky’s X2, the V-22 program continues to move forward. This DID Spotlight article looks at the V-22’s multi-year purchase contract from 2008-12 and 2013-2017, plus associated contracts for key V-22 systems, program developments, and research sources.
Oshkosh Defense and BAE Systems will deliver prototypes of the US Army’s next Cold Weather All-Terrain Vehicle, the companies announced. The National Advanced Mobility Consortium, which is an alliance of defense contractors and research organizations involved in providing the US government access to technology developers, narrowed its choice down to the two companies. BAE Systems announced that its Beowulf vehicles were chosen. According to a statement, the vehicle has a modular design and can be reconfigured for multiple missions, such as logistical support, disaster and humanitarian relief, search and rescue, and other missions as required. Oshkosh Defense’s prototype is derived from the Bronco 3 and is in production by ST, which said the vehicle can traverse “swamps, desert, snow or water bodies to satisfy the most demanding mobility requirements of expeditionary forces,” the company said.
French shipbuilder Naval Group formally delivered a second Bouchard Class multimission offshore patrol vessel to the Argentine Navy. Piedrabuena (P 52) is the second of four Gowind OPVs ordered by Argentina under a $380 million contract signed with Naval Group in 2018. The contract included the refurbishment of OPV L’Adroit, which was built by Naval Group as a private venture and operated by the French Navy from 2011, as well as three new-build ships. The new-build OPVs are being built in France by Kership: a joint venture between Naval Group and Piriou.
Middle East & Africa
The US State Department is moving forward with the sale of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters and MQ-9 drones to the United Arab Emirates, a decision which will now face a legal challenge from a nonprofit seeking to halt the weapons agreement. At stake is an arms package approved in the waning days of the Trump administration, which includes 50 F-35s,18 MQ–9B Reapers, as well as thousands of munitions and hundreds of missiles. The total sale comes with an estimated $23 billion price tag.
Poland inked an agreement to procure five C-130H transport aircraft from the US under the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program, the country’s defense minister announced. The aircraft will join the existing C-130E fleet at 33rd Transport Aviation Base in Powidz.
Babcock International won a two year contract with the UK Ministry of Defense, for continuation of in-service support to the Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS). Phalanx CIWS is a rapid-fire, computer-controlled radar and 20mm Gatling gun system and is the Royal Navy’s primary defence for ships against the threat of anti-ship missiles.
The president of Taiwan’s National Chung-Shan Institute of Science and Technology (NCSIST) Chang Chung Ch’eng told lawmakers today that work on the next generation fighter is progress ahead of schedule. Chang said the program is split into research into the overall design and power. This phase of the program is expected to complete in 2024. The development program is progressing smoothly. The engine program has a budget of $309 million while the fighter design portion has a budget of $59 million. A total of 24 key technologies are to be studied.
Watch: WITH THE ARCTIC UP FOR GRABS, THE ARMY NEEDS A NEW SNOW CARRIER || 2021
Latest updates[?]: Babcock International won a two year contract with the UK Ministry of Defense, for continuation of in-service support to the Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS). Phalanx CIWS is a rapid-fire, computer-controlled radar and 20mm Gatling gun system and is the Royal Navy’s primary defence for ships against the threat of anti-ship missiles.
The radar-guided, rapid-firing MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS, pron. “see-whiz”) can fire between 3,000-4,500 20mm cannon rounds per minute, either autonomously or under manual command, as a last-ditch defense against incoming missiles and other targets. Phalanx uses closed-loop spotting with advanced radar and computer technology to locate, identify and direct a stream of armor piercing projectiles toward the target. These capabilities have made the Phalanx CIWS a critical bolt-on sub-system for naval vessels around the world, and led to the C-RAM/Centurion, a land-based system designed to defend against incoming artillery and mortars.
This DID Spotlight article offers updated, in-depth coverage that describes ongoing deployment and research projects within the Phalanx family of weapons, the new land-based system’s new technologies and roles, and international contracts from FY 2005 onward. As of Feb 28/07, more than 895 Phalanx systems had been built and deployed in the navies of 22 nations.
Bell Boeing won a $143.2 million delivery order from the US Navy for the logistics and repair support of MV-22B, CMV-22 (Navy) and CV-22 (Air Force) Osprey components. The Navy is planning to use the CMV-22 variant as a replacement of the Grumman C-2 Greyhound for carrier onboard delivery. The service marked a milestone last November, when a CMV-22B conducted the first carrier landings, take-offs and refueling on the USS Carl Vinson. COD deployments should begin sometime later this year. All work will be performed in Fort Worth, Texas. Work is expected to be completed by December 2025.
The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center C-130 Hercules Detachment was at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to test the LITENING targeting pod. The pod is being evaluated in its role to aid precision airdrops. “The pod helps the C-130 airdrop mission by adding the ability to generate airdrop location coordinates, locate and avoid enemy and sensitive objects, such as people or structures; and track airdropped supplies following the airdrop release,” Lt. Col. Justin Brumley, AATC director of operations said.
Middle East & Africa
Bell announced that it has started the production of 12 Lot-16 AH-1Z attack helicopters for Bahrain. Deliveries to the Royal Bahraini Air Force is set to start from later this year. A delegation from Bahrain toured the Bell Amarillo production facility to observe the production line and ceremoniously sign on the first rotorcraft.
IAI and Thales UK are offering what they call a “next Generation ship-killing solution” to the Royal Navy. Sea Serpent has anti-ship and anti-surface attack capabilities at ranges “in excess of 200km”. According to a press release, the Sea Serpent deploys an innovative RF seeker head and a sophisticated data analysis and weapon control system to provide precise target detection, discrimination and classification.
Elbit Systems will supply an additional J- MUSIC Direct Infrared Countermeasures self-protection system to the Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Fleet. The MMF programme is a multinational pooling and sharing initiative. The fleet consists of nine A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport aircraft able to provide strategic transport, air-to-air refueling and medical evacuation capabilities to its six participating nations (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and Norway).
Taiwan has launched the first of a new class of multimission amphibious ships that can carry troops and equipment to its offshore and South China Sea islands. The vessels can also conduct surface warfare missions with anti-ship missiles. The landing platform dock, named Yu Shan after Taiwan’s tallest mountain, was launched at the shipyard of the state-owned shipbuilder CSBC Corporation in the southern Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung on Tuesday. The launch ceremony was attended by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng, among other senior civilian and military officials.
Watch: Israel and Thales to develop Sea Serpent Missile for Royal Navy