F-35, updates incoming | DARPA tests its self-flying aircraft kit | AUS & US navies test CEC
Lockheed Martin is being awarded with a contract modification in support of the F-35 Block 4 pre-modernization Phase II effort. Priced at $130.4 million the modification provides for requirements decomposition and design work that sees for the maturation of the aircraft’s weapon capabilities. Block 4 is part of the F-35 JPO’s Continuous Capability Development and Delivery or C2D2 effort that seeks to keep the fighter jet relevant against emerging, dynamic threats by quickly fielding incremental updates to the jet’s software, much like regularly updating one’s smartphone. The Block 4 update program will allow the aircraft to finally meet its full contractual specifications. The whole Block 4 update program is expected to cost $10.8 billion through FY2024. The contract combines purchases for the Air Force ($17.4 million), the Navy ($14.2 million), Marine Corps ($14.2 million) and for relevant international partners ($84.3 million). Work will be performed at Lockheed’s facility in Fort Worth, Texas and is expected to be completed in March 2020.
BAE Systems is being tapped to support the Navy’s Mk 41 Vertical Launch System. The company will provide the Navy with mechanical design agent engineering services at a cost of $45.9 million. The contract covers a variety of efforts including the provision of mechanical, cable, canister and canister support equipment; design and system engineering support; integration support and associated ancillary material. The Mk 41 is the most widely-used naval VLS in the world, and can be described as a naval Swiss army knife. The Mk 41 VLS can hold a wide variety of missiles: anti-air and ballistic missile defense, anti-submarine, land-attack and more. The Mk 41 VLS is installed on US Navy CG-47 and DDG- 51 class ships, as well as on warships of 11 allied navies. Work will be performed at BAE’s facilities in Minnesota and South Dakota, and is scheduled for completion by March 2020.
General Atomics is being contracted to improve the MQ-9’s reliability during adverse weather conditions. The $10.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract is awarded by the US Air Force and provides for “MQ-9 weather tolerance activities”. The MQ-9 is a larger and more powerful derivative of the MQ-1. The major difference in layout is the upward V-tail. Environmental factors, such as adverse weather conditions, affect a UAV’s overall reliability and are most often mitigated with operating limitations that restrict the system’s operational value. Environmental factors that can have major effects on an UAV’s reliability include precipitation, icing and wind. Work will be performed at GA’s factory in Poway, California and is expected to be completed by December 31, 2020.
A team of the US Army, DARPA and Sikorsky engineers and pilots successfully demonstrate DARPA’s “self-flying aircraft kit”. In a series of flight tests the team operated a S-76B commercial helicopter equipped with DARPA’s Aircrew Labor In-Cockpit Automation System (ALIAS). ALIAS comprises a set of hardware and software that allows an aircraft to autonomously take-off, travel to its destination and autonomously land. ALIAS has been around for several years, and the recent test brings DARPA one step closer to finalize its one-size-fits-all drop-in solution for automating a variety of aircraft. The test demonstrated that the software, could take off, fly in difficult winds and at low altitude, avoid wires and other obstacles, and even make determinations about whether or not it is safe to land in one place or another. Program Manager Dave Baden said the technology is important because it reduces the workload on the pilot: “Either to execute the MEDEVAC, the close air support mission or whatever they are there to do. “Rather than concentrate on moving controls, they can concentrate on what really needs to be done”. During next phase of tests Sikorsky will for the first time fly a Black Hawk military helicopter equipped with ALIAS.
Middle East & Africa
Reuters reports that Iran is now producing its ‘indigenously’ designed Kowsar fighter jet. “Soon the needed number of this plane will be produced and put at the service of the Air Force,” Defense Minister Amir Hatami said at a ceremony on Saturday to launch the plane’s production, which was shown on Iranian television. Iran first unveiled the Kowsar in August and claims that it is a fourth-generation fighter with an advanced manoeuvring capability and equipped with a multi-purpose radar. However, some military experts believe that the Kowsar is merely a carbon copy of an F-5 first produced by Northrop Grumman in the 1950s. The F-5 was sold to Iran in the 1960s and first entered operation in the Iranian Imperial Air Force in 1965. The news comes as tensions mount with the United States after the reimposition of US sanctions on Tehran.
The Romanian government is ordering three more Patriot air-defense systems from the US. Defense Minister Mihai Fifor said Friday that the units, purchased this week, were in addition to a $3.9 billion military contract that Romania signed with the US in December 2017. As part this multi-billion deal, Bucharest will the receive Patriot Configuration 3+, the most advanced configuration available, as well as an undisclosed quantity of GEM-T and PAC-3 MSE interceptor missiles. Mike Ellison, an official with Raytheon, which makes the Patriot missiles, said: “Romania is purchasing the most advanced, capable, cutting-edge tactical ballistic missile defense system in the world.” A NATO member since 2004, the procurement comes as Romania looks to modernize its Soviet-era equipment and improve its defense capabilities as tensions with neighboring Russia continue. The missiles are expected to become operational by 2020.
Australia is strengthening its defense relationship with the United States. One of the Royal Australian Navy’s Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers and one of the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers jointly tested the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) real-time sensor netting system for the first time. This sensor netting system allows ships, aircraft, and even land radars to pool their radar and sensor information together, creating a coherent picture. The CEC provides real time integration of fire control quality sensor data, as each CEC unit combines on-ship radar measurement data with those from all other CEC units using the same CEC algorithms. The result is a superior air picture based on all the data available, providing tracks (i.e. identified items) with identical track numbers throughout the net. During the test the HMAS Hobart established secure data links with the USS John Finn, after which the vessels shared tracking and fire control data. Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne said that “these trials are the culmination of 12 months of preparations and demostrate Hobart ‘s formidable capability,” he added that the trial marked “a significant milestone in the testing and qualifying of Hobart’s combat and weapons systems”.
Watch: US Army Pilot Tests ALIAS’ Autonomy Capabilities in Demonstration Flight