AIM 120 AMRAAM
June 14, 2024

AMRAAM: Deploying & Developing America's Medium-Range Air-Air Missile

AIM-120C from F-22A (click for test missile zoom) Raytheon’s AIM-120 Advanced, Medium-Range Air to Air Missile (AMRAAM) has become the world market leader for medium range air-to-air missiles, and is also beginning to make inroads within land-based defense systems. It was designed with the lessons of Vietnam in mind, and of local air combat exercises like ACEVAL and Red Flag. This DID FOCUS article covers successive generations of AMRAAM missiles, international contracts and key events from 2006 onward, and even some of its emerging competitors. One of the key lessons learned from Vietnam was that a fighter would be likely to encounter multiple enemies, and would need to launch and guide several missiles at once in order to ensure its survival. This had not been possible with the AIM-7 Sparrow, a “semi-active radar homing” missile that required a constant radar lock on one target. To make matters worse, enemy fighters were capable of launching missiles of their own. Pilots who weren’t free to maneuver after launch would often be forced to “break lock,” or be killed – sometimes even by a short-range missile fired during the last phases of their enemy’s approach. Since fighters that could carry radar-guided missiles like […]
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Zumwalt Destroyer
June 11, 2024

The USA's DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class Program: Dead Aim, Or Dead End?

67% of the fleet (click to view full) DID’s FOCUS Article for the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class “destroyer” program covers the new ships’ capabilities and technologies, key controversies, associated contracts and costs, and related background resources. The ship’s prime missions are to provide naval gunfire support, and next-generation air defense, in near-shore areas where other large ships hesitate to tread. There has even been talk of using it as an anchor for action groups of stealthy Littoral Combat Ships and submarines, owing to its design for very low radar, infrared, and acoustic signatures. The estimated 14,500t (battlecruiser size) Zumwalt Class will be fully multi-role, however, with undersea warfare, anti-ship, and long-range attack roles. That makes the DDG-1000 suitable for another role – as a “hidden ace card,” using its overall stealth to create uncertainty for enemy forces. True, or False? (click to view full) At over $3 billion per ship for construction alone, however, the program faced significant obstacles if it wanted to avoid fulfilling former Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter’s fears for the fleet. From the outset, DID has noted that the Zumwalt Class might face the same fate as the ultra-sophisticated, ultra-expensive SSN-21 Seawolf Class submarines. That appears […]
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aerial refueling of f 35 lightning ii joint strike fighters at eglin afb, fla.
June 10, 2024

F-35 Lightning: The Joint Strike Fighter Program

F-35B: off probation (click to view full) 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.
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c 130j 135th as maryland ang in flight
June 6, 2024

The C-130J: New Hercules & Old Bottlenecks

RAAF C-130J-30, flares (click to view full) The C-130 Hercules remains one of the longest-running aerospace manufacturing programs of all time. Since 1956, over 40 models and variants have served as the tactical airlift backbone for over 50 nations. The C-130J looks similar, but the number of changes almost makes it a new aircraft. Those changes also created issues; the program has been the focus of a great deal of controversy in America – and even of a full program restructuring in 2006. Some early concerns from critics were put to rest when the C-130J demonstrated in-theater performance on the front lines that was a major improvement over its C-130E/H predecessors. A valid follow-on question might be: does it break the bottleneck limitations that have hobbled a number of multi-billion dollar US Army vehicle development programs? C-130J customers now include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, India, Israel, Iraq, Italy, Kuwait, Norway, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Tunisia, and the United States. American C-130J purchases are taking place under both annual budgets and supplemental wartime funding, in order to replace tactical transport and special forces fleets that are flying old aircraft and in dire need of major repairs. This DID FOCUS […]
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USS Lake Champlain (CG-57), a Ticonderoga-class Aegis-equipped guided missile cruiser,
June 4, 2024

Serious Dollars for AEGIS Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)

AEGIS-BMD: CG-70 launches SM-3 (click to view full) 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.
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May 28, 2024

LCS: The USA's Littoral Combat Ships

Austal Team Trimaran LCS Design (click to enlarge) Exploit simplicity, numbers, the pace of technology development in electronics and robotics, and fast reconfiguration. That was the US Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. Inspired by successful experiments like Denmark’s Standard Flex ships, the US Navy’s $35+ billion “Littoral Combat Ship” program was intended to create a new generation of affordable surface combatants that could operate in dangerous shallow and near-shore environments, while remaining affordable and capable throughout their lifetimes. It hasn’t worked that way. In practice, the Navy hasn’t been able to reconcile what they wanted with the capabilities needed to perform primary naval missions, or with what could be delivered for the sums available. The LCS program has changed its fundamental acquisition plan 4 times since 2005, and canceled contracts with both competing teams during this period, without escaping any of its fundamental issues. Now, the program looks set to end early. This public-access FOCUS article offer a wealth of research material, alongside looks at the LCS program’s designs, industry teams procurement plans, military controversies, budgets and contracts.
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f 16
May 16, 2024

Nothing but Netz: Used F-16s for Romania

MiG-21 ‘Lancer’ (click to view full) The MiG-21 is reaching the end of its service life, but it can still be effective for a little while. India’s refurbished MiG-21 ‘Bisons’ combined Russian, Indian and Israeli technology to excellent effect in the COPE India 2004 and 2005 exercises with the USAF, and there’s even a Russian-Israeli MiG-21 2000 variant that exists for general sale. Israeli companies have made something of a specialty of refurbishing both Western and Soviet fighters with modern radars, avionics, and Israeli weapons like the Python air-air missile, giving the systems new life. An all-Israeli effort was undertaken for Romania, in order to create Romania’s MiG-21 ‘Lancers’ via upgrade. The question is what comes next. In 2005, rumor had it that the success of those efforts had led to a more ambitious fighter deal between Israel and Romania for upgraded Cheyl Ha’Avir F-16A/Bs – but that deal appears to have fizzled for unknown reasons. Other firms entered the mix, including Saab with its JAS-39 Gripen and, surprisingly, EADS’ Eurofighter. Then the USA appeared to have flown away with the fighter replacement deal – but, not so fast.
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1920px mq 9 reaper uav (cropped)
May 14, 2024

MQ-9 Reaper: Unfettered for Export

0 Reaper, ready… (click to view full) The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…
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v22 osprey
May 10, 2024

V-22 Osprey

(click to view full) 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.
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April 11, 2024

KC-46A Pegasus Aerial Tanker Completes Firsts

KC-135: Old as the hills… (click to view full) 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) […]
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German Eurofighter
April 8, 2024

Eurofighter's Future: Tranche 3, and Beyond

Italian Eurofighters (click to view full) The multi-national Eurofighter Typhoon has been described as the aerodynamic apotheosis of lessons learned from the twin engine “teen series” fighters that began with the F-14 and F-15, continued with the emergence of the F/A-18 Hornet, and extended through to the most recent F/A-18 Super Hornet variants. Aerodynamically, it’s a half generation ahead of all of these examples, and planned evolutions will place the Eurofighter near or beyond parity in electronic systems and weapons. The 1998 production agreement among its 4 member countries involved 620 aircraft, built with progressively improved capabilities over 3 contract “tranches”. By the end of Tranche 2, however, welfare state programs and debt burdens had made it difficult to afford the 236 fighters remaining in the 4-nation Eurofighter agreement. A 2009 compromise was found in the EUR 9 billion “Tranche 3A” buy, and the program has renewed its efforts to secure serious export sales. Their success will affect the platform’s production line in the near term, and its modernization plans beyond that.
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UH-60L Blackhawk helicopte
April 1, 2024

ER/MP Gray Eagle: Enhanced MQ-1C Predators for the Army

ER/MP, armed (click to view full) Its initial battles were fought within the Pentagon, but the US Army’s high-end UAV has made its transition to the battlefield. The ER/MP program was part of the US Army’s reinvestment of dollars from the canceled RAH-66 Comanche helicopter program, and directly supports the Army’s Aviation Modernization Plan. The US Air Force saw this Predator derivative as a threat and tried to destroy it, but the program survived the first big “Key West” battle of the 21st century. Now, the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” is in production as the US Army’s high-end UAV. As CENTCOM’s wars end, however, the Gray Eagle may find that staying in the fleet is as hard as getting there. This FOCUS article offers a program history, key statistics and budget figures, and ongoing coverage of the program’s contracts and milestones.
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air bams gulfstream ii test bed
March 14, 2024

The MQ-4C Triton: Poseidon's Unmanned Herald

BAMS Operation Concept (click to view full) The world’s P-3 Orion fleets have served for a long time, and many are reaching the end of their lifespans. In the USA, and possibly beyond, the new P-8 Poseidon Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft will take up the P-3’s role. While the P-8’s base 737-based airframe offers strong service & maintenance arguments in its favor, the airframe is expensive enough that the P-3s cannot be replaced on a 1:1 basis. In order to extend the P-8 fleet’s reach, and provide additional capabilities, the Poseidon was expected to work with at least one companion UAV platform. This DID FOCUS Article explains the winning BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) concept, the program’s key requirements, and its international angle. We’ll also cover ongoing contracts and key events related to the program, which chose Northrop Grumman’s navalized MQ-4C Triton Global Hawk variant.
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Saab JAS-39 at ILA 2010
March 13, 2024

The JAS-39 Gripen: Sweden's 4+ Generation Wild Card

South African JAS-39D (click to view full) As a neutral country with a long history of providing for its own defense against all comers, Sweden also has a long tradition of building excellent high-performance fighters with a distinctive look. From the long-serving Saab-35 Draken (“Dragon,” 1955-2005) to the Mach 2, canard-winged Saab-37 Viggen (“Thunderbolt,” 1971-2005), Swedish fighters have stressed short-field launch from dispersed/improvised air fields, world-class performance, and leading-edge design. This record of consistent project success is nothing short of amazing, especially for a country whose population over this period has ranged from 7-9 million people. This is DID’s FOCUS Article for background, news, and contract awards related to the JAS-39 Gripen (“Griffon”), a canard-winged successor to the Viggen and one of the world’s first 4+ generation fighters. Gripen remains the only lightweight 4+ generation fighter type in service, its performance and operational economics are both world-class, and it has become one of the most recognized fighter aircraft on the planet. Unfortunately for its builders, that recognition has come from its appearance in Saab and Volvo TV commercials, rather than from hoped-for levels of military export success. With its 4+ generation competitors clustered in the $60-120+ million range vs. the […]
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Dominican Republic air force A-29 Super Tucano
February 21, 2024

Super Tucano Counter-Insurgency Plane Makes Inroads in Africa

Super Tucano Embraer’s EMB-314 Super Tucano trainer and light attack turboprop continues to rack up global orders, solidifying its position as the globe’s pre-eminent manned counter-insurgency aircraft. The latest order set of about $180 million expands the plane’s footprint into 3 African states: Angola, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania. They join Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, and Indonesia as customers for this aircraft. The Super Tucano is known as the A-29 or ALX in Brazil, but abroad, it’s the EMB 314 successor to Embraer’s widely-used EMB 312 Tucano trainer. A-29 is better for marketing, though, and Embraer is trying to shift the designation. The Super Tucano offers better flight performance than the EMB 312 Tucano, plus armoring and wing-mounted machine guns, weapons integration with advanced surveillance and targeting pods, precision-guided bombs, and even air-to-air missiles. This makes it an excellent territorial defense and close support plane for low-budget air forces, as well as a surveillance asset with armed attack capability. Brazil uses it this way, for instance, alongside very advanced EMB-145 airborne radar and maritime patrol jet platforms. Meanwhile, in Africa…
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c 17 globemaster iii 1
February 7, 2024

Last of the Globemasters: The Final C-17 Orders

Happy ‘trails… (click to view full) The C-17 has had more money-driven last hurrahs than The Who. Even so, FY 2010 featured the USAF’s last planned orders of C-17 Globemaster III short field, heavy-lift transport jets. The Pentagon had been trying to end the program for years, but 3 factors led Congress to keep adding new C-17s to the budget, year after year: (1) deep doubts about the premises, pre-9/11 vintage, and quality of the Pentagon’s mobility studies; (2) uncertainty concerning the C-5 Galaxy super-heavy transport’s upgrade programs; and (3) a fleet wear tempo much higher than originally forecast, driven by constant requests from theater for C-17s. All things end, and there were no new C-17s bought in the FY 2011 or FY 2012 budgets. That would leave the USA with a total ordered fleet of 223, once they’re all under contract. At long last, they are.
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UH-60L Blackhawk helicopte
January 10, 2024

CH-53K: The U.S. Marines' HLR Helicopter Program

CH-53K concept (click to view full) The U.S. Marines have a problem. They rely on their CH-53E Super Stallion medium-heavy lift helicopters to move troops, vehicles, and supplies off of their ships. But the helicopters are wearing out. Fast. The pace demanded by the Global War on Terror is relentless, and usage rates are 3 times normal. Attrition is taking its toll. Over the past few years, CH-53s have been recalled from “boneyard” storage at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, AZ, in order to maintain fleet numbers in the face of recent losses and forced retirements. Now, there are no flyable spares left. Enter the Heavy Lift Replacement (HLR) program, now known as the CH-53K. It aims to offer notable performance improvements over the CH-53E, in a similar airframe. The question is whether its service entry delay to 2018-2019 will come too late to offset a serious decline in Marine aviation.
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UH-60L Blackhawk helicopte
January 8, 2024

RIM-162 ESSM Missile: Naval Anti-Air in a Quad Pack

RIM-162: sections (click to view full) The RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) is used to protect ships from attacking missiles and aircraft, and is designed to counter supersonic maneuvering anti-ship missiles. Compared to the RIM-7 Sea Sparrow, ESSM is effectively a new missile with a larger, more powerful rocket motor for increased range, a different aerodynamic layout for improved agility, and the latest missile guidance technology. Testing has even shown the ESSM to be effective against fast surface craft, an option that greatly expands the missile’s utility. As a further bonus, the RIM-162 ESSM has the ability to be “quad-packed” in the Mk 41 vertical launching system, allowing 4 missiles to be carried per launch cell instead of loading one larger SM-2 Standard missile or similar equipment. This is DID’s FOCUS article for the program, containing details about the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missile family, and contracts placed under this program since 1999. The Sea Sparrow was widely used aboard NATO warships, so it isn’t surprising that the ESSM is an international program. The NATO Sea Sparrow Consortium includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, and the USA – as well as non-NATO Australia. […]
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UH-60L Blackhawk helicopte
November 24, 2023

The Fighter Still Remains... The Boxer MRAV APC Family

Boxer MRAV (click to view full) Wheeled armored vehicles have become much more common, but the Dutch-German Boxer stands out from the crowd. Its English acronym is “Multi Role Armoured Vehicle” (MRAV), but rather than being a family of different vehicles, the Boxer will use a single chassis, with snap-in modules for different purposes from infantry carrier to command, cargo, ambulance, etc. The base vehicle has a maximum road speed of 100 km/h (60 mp/h) and an operational range of 1,000 km (600 miles). In its troop carrying configuration, it has a crew of 2 and can carry 10 fully equipped troops. The MRAV is fighting for space in a crowded market, but its principal countries are beginning to give it the front-line credibility it needs to succeed.
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air bams gulfstream ii test bed
November 14, 2023

The MQ-4C Triton: Poseidon's Unmanned Herald

BAMS Operation Concept (click to view full) The world’s P-3 Orion fleets have served for a long time, and many are reaching the end of their lifespans. In the USA, and possibly beyond, the new P-8 Poseidon Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft will take up the P-3’s role. While the P-8’s base 737-based airframe offers strong service & maintenance arguments in its favor, the airframe is expensive enough that the P-3s cannot be replaced on a 1:1 basis. In order to extend the P-8 fleet’s reach, and provide additional capabilities, the Poseidon was expected to work with at least one companion UAV platform. This DID FOCUS Article explains the winning BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) concept, the program’s key requirements, and its international angle. We’ll also cover ongoing contracts and key events related to the program, which chose Northrop Grumman’s navalized MQ-4C Triton Global Hawk variant.
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