* Lockheed Martin announced Monday that is has met the US government’s target for the year of delivering 66 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to the US military and allied partners. The deliveries account for a 40 percent increase on ones made in 2016, and the firm is ready to ramp up production volume year-over-year to hit full rate of approximately 160 aircraft in 2023—Lockheed has already began preparing for this, having hired more than 1,300 employees at its facility at Fort Worth, Texas, since January of this year, with approximately 500 more positions expected to be filled. Lockheed hopes the production increase will bring down the cost of the F-35A to $80 million by 2020.
* Boeing has been awarded an $18.1 million US Air Force (USAF) contract modification in support of the service’s AC-130U gunships. The agreement calls for “integrated sustainment support” of the AC-130U gunships, and includes a clause for the continuation of services for the development, modification, sustainment and maintenance of the aircraft. The modification brings the total cumulative face value of the contract to just over $55 million. Work will be carried out at Fort Walton Beach, Florida; Hurlburt Field, Florida; Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan; and Ali Al Salem Air Base, Kuwait, with an expected completion date of Dec. 31, 2018. Armed with 40mm and 105mm cannons and a 25mm Gatling gun, the AC-130U is used for close air support missions, along with air interdiction and armed reconnaissance.
* The USAF’s B-52 Stratofortress stealth bomber has used its conventional rotary launcher in combat operations for the first time. The conventional rotary launcher, designed to allow the B-52 to carry more smart bombs, was first used during an operation on November 18 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve—the USA’s campaign against Islamic State (IS) militants operating in Iraq and Syria. Following this, its first use in a deliberately planned combat mission saw a B-52 target Taliban narcotics and IED facilities in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, as part of a new offensive to target the group’s revenue streams. During the sortie, the aircraft released 19 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMS)—a new record for the most amount of smart bombs dropped by the platform. The offensive also saw the F-22 Raptor employed against Taliban targets for the first time.
Middle East & Africa
* Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) has released the official specifications of its upcoming TFX fighter. Officially known as the Milli Muharebe Uçagi (National Combat Aircraft), the jet will have a maximum take-off weight (MTOW) of 27,215 kg, length of 19 m and wingspan of 12 m. Powered by two turbofan engines—likely to be developed by a joint venture involving Rolls Royce and private Turkish company Kale Group—each with 9072 kgf in thrust output, it will have an operational radius of over 1,111 km and a flight ceiling of over 16,764 m (i.e. 55,000 ft). Its maximum speed is Mach 2. TAI stated that the TFX “is envisaged … [to] work with F-35A planes planned to enter the inventory of the Turkish Air Force,” adding that TFX production will run until 2070.
* Sweden’s procurement agency, the Defence and Material Administration (FMV), has signed a multi-million dollar order with Saab for equipment for existing and new E-model JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft. The contract is supplemental to an earlier 2013 agreement for the development and modernization of the Gripen and is worth more than $46.9 million. While specific equipment requested was not disclosed, Saab did say that the order is a first step in changing the structure of the Gripen E production for the Swedish air force. “Saab, FMV and the Swedish Armed Forces have agreed on the terms of the contract based on the relevant needs and deliveries,” says Jonas Hjelm, Senior Vice President and Head of Business Area Aeronautics. “This joint approach is intended to secure availability so that the Swedish Armed Forces can keep the Gripen C/D fleet in operational service while Gripen E is being delivered and put into operational service in the Swedish Air Force.”
* Italy’s Leonardo has successfully test-fired a Raytheon AIM-9L Sidewinder air-to-air missile from its M-346 trainer aircraft, as part of continued development work on the platform. Testing took place off the island of Sardinia at Italy’s Salto del Quirra test range, with the firm confirming that the initial analysis of the flight-test data showed that all systems performed as predicted. The missile was released from an underwing pylon at an altitude of 5,000ft and a speed of Mach 0.8, and adds to previous qualification efforts for other weapons–such as guided bombs and a gun pod, on the M-346. Leonardo’s M-346FA (Fighter-Attack) is being marketed as a light attack aircraft that can be deployed in ground support roles, including air-to-ground attack, tactical, close air support (CAS), counter-insurgency (COIN), and interdiction with precision guided munitions. It is also suited for pilot training, air-to-air combat, air policing, airborne tactical reconnaissance, and airspace control missions. Other variants in the M-346 family include the include the M-346 Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) and multi-role M-346FT (Fighter Trainer).
* Following the successful test-firing of a BrahMos cruise missile from a Su-30MKI combat jet in November, work has begun on modifying additional Su-30MKI aircraft so they too can carry the air-launched variant of the weapon. A total of 40 Su-30s have been slated for the upgrades, which require structural modifications to safely carry the 2.5-ton missile—the heaviest weapon the Sukhoi’s can carry—as well as other mechanical, electrical and software modifications. The project expects to wrap up in 2020.
* The Pentagon has awarded Lockheed Martin a US Navy contract calling for new construction in support of Japan’s AEGIS program. Valued in excess of $135.8 million, the agreement calls for new construction and integration of a DDG AEGIS weapons system J7 baseline—a joint research program conducted by the US and Japan, Lockheed is developing an Aegis Baseline 9.C2 (BMD 5.1) variant computer program, referred to as J7, for deployment on Japan’s Aegis destroyers—which is a centralized, automated, command-and-control weapon system used to rapidly detect and track more than 100 targets at once. Work on the foreign military sale (FMS) will take place across several US and Japanese locations, ending in December 2018. Japan operates six destroyers equipped with the Aegis combat system, and plans to have two Aegis Ashore platforms operational by 2023 to help boost its theatre defense from potential North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
* Swedish Air Force Gripens fly in Christmas Tree formation