* A month after it was reported to have accidentally been sent to Cuba, the US has regained possession of its Hellfire air-to-ground missile. The inert munition had been used in NATO training exercises in Spain during 2014, however, shipping errors had it mistakenly sent from Paris to Havana instead of Miami. Further comment on specific defense trade licensing cases by the US State Department is restricted by federal law, but a team from Lockheed Martin were dispatched to retrieve the missile and take it home.
* Testing of the refueling capabilities of the KC-46 tanker has hit another target with the successful refueling of an F/A-18 fighter. This follows its first ever refueling flight on January 24, where it successfully refueled an F-16. While the first test utilized the tanker’s refueling “boom,” a rigid, telescoping tube that an operator on the aircraft extends and inserts into a receptacle on the receiving aircraft for fuel transfer, the F/A-18 test was the program’s first usage of the KC-46’s hose and drogue system. Located on both the plane’s wing and centerline, the hose and drogue system enables the KC-46 to refuel smaller aircraft such as the F/A-18 with up to 400 gallons of fuel per minute. All tests are part of the program’s Milestone C demonstration before a low-rate initial production decision is made later this year.
* After four months of being grounded, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has allowed for testing to resume on the Joint Land Attack Cruise Missile Defense Elevated Netted Sensor System (JLENS). The unmanned radar ballons haven’t been used since October, after one of them broke free from its moorings at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, and drifted 160 miles north over central Pennsylvania. An investigation into the incident reported that a number of errors were responsible including design issues, as well as human and procedural error. Funding for the program was recently slashed by three quarters by Congress to reflect “test schedule delay.”
* Unique mission requirements over the next few decades may see separate sixth-generation fighters for the USAF and US Navy. The departure runs contrary to the current joint development effort of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program which will eventually replace F-16s, F/A-18s, A-10s and AV-8Bs in service across all services. The sixth-generation fighters will replace the Air Force’s F-22 and the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet variant in the 2030s. The comments were made by Lt. Gen. James “Mike” Holmes, Air Force deputy chief of staff for plans and requirements, who added that while some common technologies and other common elements would be found in both aircraft, they would be different enough that they would not be the same aircraft.
Middle East North Africa
* The US State Department has approved a $154.9 million Foreign Military Sale (FMS) to Saudi Arabia. The deal includes the provision of five MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapons System (CIWS) Block 1B Baseline 2 Kits, equipment, training, and logistics support. The systems will be installed on Patrol Chaser Missile (PCG) Ships operated by the Royal Saudi Naval Forces Eastern Fleet, as well as one going to the Naval Forces School. The Phalanx CIWS will give the ships greater defense capabilities against enemy anti-ship missiles.
* The delivery of 24 Pantsir-S1 air defense systems and missiles to Iraq from Russia has been completed. The systems were part of a wider defense package estimated to have been worth $4.2 billion with between 42-50 of the units on order. It remains unclear whether more will be delivered in future as part of the same or future deals, after Russian officials and businessmen met with top Iraqi officials last week in Baghdad to discuss oil, gas, and defense cooperation. The previous sale was met with some controversy as former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki almost cancelled the deal over allegations of corruption.
* A new project is underway to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) into asteroid busters. Russian scientists believe they can upgrade the missiles to be capable of destroying near-Earth asteroids 20-50 meters in size. They even have a potential target in the asteroid Apophis which is expected to come dangerously close to Earth in 2036. While exact funding, if any, has not yet been approved for the project, design works for the modernization have begun. One of the first issues revolves around fueling rockets which ordinarily begins ten days prior to their launch. Any ICBM needed to destroy such an asteroid would be required at much shorter notice.
* Analysts have recommended that Japan retain and upgrade its F-15J fleet in order for it to efficiently work alongside its newer F-35As. With its expensive F-2 program still a long way off, and budget constraints limiting the amount of F-35s Japan can procure per annum, alternative options need to be looked at. Citing its range, payload, and interoperability with the F-35s; investing scarce resources into increasing the life of the F-15 fleet and equipping them with AESA radars to counter threats from low flying cruise and ballistic missiles seems a prudent move. These missile threats are seen as a much more worrying threat to Japan’s safety than Chinese fighters.
* North Korea announces its new KN-08 mobile ICBM unit: