* Northrop Grumman will this year begin the production of the first E-2D Advanced Hawkeye early warning aircraft to have in-flight refueling (IFR) straight from the factory. Officials said that production of the line’s 46th model—a total of 75 have been ordered by the Navy—will begin later this year and delivered to the customer in 2020. A modified Advanced Hawkeye with a refueling probe has so far took on fuel from KC-130, KC-135, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the KC-10. According to Defense News, the Navy has had a longstanding requirement to make the E-2D capable of being refueled by USAF and Navy tankers, but a lack of funding at the time the aircraft began production meant the Navy couldn’t afford it. The new production cost is expected to be an additional $2 million on top of the ones currently rolling off the production line, however, retrofitting the 45 models made to date is estimated to cost about $6 million per airframe.
* After 11 years, Lockheed Martin said that the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase of the F-35 program is winding down after the completion of its final developmental test flight on Wednesday, April 11. The program so far has seen 9,200 sorties and 17,000 flight hours for three major variants. According to a company press statement released on Thursday, Lockheed said that the final flight saw a F-35C CF-2 complete a mission from Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, to collect loads data while carrying external 2,000-pound GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) and AIM-9X missiles. Developmental flight testing is a key component of the F-35 program’s SDD phase, which will formally be completed following an Operational Test and Evaluation and a Department of Defense decision to go into full-rate aircraft production.
* Speaking at a hearing of the US Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging threats, Air Force Lt. Gen. Marshall Webb told lawmakers that the service still lacks adequate funds for a program to add a laser to the AC-130J gunship. The Head of Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), Webb was answering a question from Sen. Martin Heinrich on why the service is moving slowly from testing a four-kilowatt laser to a 30-kilowatt version and now directly to a 60-kilowatt laser. “We’re $58 million short of having a full program that would get us a 60-kilowatt laser flying on an AC-130 by 2022,” Webb stated. In February, Webb told a roundtable discussion with reporters at the Air Force Association’s Air Warfare Symposium in Orlando, Florida, that the “challenge on having the laser is funding.”
Middle East & Africa
* Both the governments of the Ivory Coast and Senegal have signed a framework agreement with Indonesian aircraft manufacturer PT Dirgantara Indonesia (PT DI) for the delivery of aircraft for transportation and maritime patrol missions. The agreements will see two NC-212s and one CN-235 delivered to the Senegal Air Force while Ivory Coast has placed an order for one CN-235. Valued at $75million, contracts are expected to be finalized in July or August this year, with deliveries expected to take place within 18 months of signing.
* Israeli defense firm Rafael has offered a series of upgrades to South Africa that would upgrade its JAS-39 Gripens to the 4.5 generation standard. Working in conjunction with the warplane’s manufacturer Saab, included are offers to swap the current Litening 3 targeting pod with the 4.1 version and install a IP Mobile Ad-hoc Network Software Defined Radio. Also included in the package are the provision of Python 5 and the I-Derby ER air-to-air missiles which offer a 100 km range.
* Missile consortium MBDA is looking to sell its Sea Ceptor naval air defense system to Finland as part of efforts to help arm the latter’s fleet of Squadron 2020 corvettes. The firm’s offer is based on its Common Anti-air Modular Missile (CAMM), and is being made through the three companies—Atlas Elektronik, Lockheed Martin Canada and Saab—currently on the short list to supply the combat management system to the Finnish authorities. Speaking to Defense News, Paul Stanley, MBDA vice president for northern Europe, said that bidders for the CMS deal will propose an “air defense system as part of a package, with recommendations,” after which Finnish authorities will then “make a selection.” That indirect approach in the tender leaves the missile maker relying on the combat systems integrator, which is expected to offer Raytheon’s Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and Barak from Israel, he said. The Sea Ceptor system has already been certified and installed on three of the British Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates and will be installed on the service’s next generation Type 26 and Type 31 frigates. Exports have also been secured for new Zealand, Chile, and Brazil, while Spain is also looking to conduct a study for its own Sea Ceptor package. MBDA has also teamed with Lockheed Martin to develop a lightweight version of the MK41 launcher for CAMM, known as the extensible lightweight launcher (ExLS), which is intended to fit on smaller naval vessels.
* As part of efforts to sell amphibious aircraft to the Indian Navy, Japanese manufacturer ShinMaywa Industries has entered into a partnership with Mahindra Defence that will see the establishment of MRO and manufacturing and assembly facilities for the US-2 seaplane. “This partnership between two companies familiar with the aviation business is positive especially for MRO and maintenance services in the Indian defence aerospace sector,” says SP Shukla, chairman of Mahindra Defence. Mahindra—who supplies armoured vehicles, decoys, torpedos and electronics to India’s armed forces—also envisages a strategic partnership for future variants of the amphibious turboprop. Flight Global states that the joint venture “between Mahindra and Shinmaywa is the first major sign that New Delhi may be moving forward with its long-held plans to acquire US-2s for a number of roles, such as crew rotation at sea, supply of spares to ships, long-range search and rescue and surveillance.” Earlier reports from 2014 state that as many as 18 US-2s could be purchased, however, no firm order has ever been made.
* Azerbaijan shows off new military hardware in music video/political broadcast for President Ilham Aliyev: