Multi-million fighter jet contracts are underway | France doubles VBMR-L order | Airbus tests its VSR700
- Boeing is being tapped for the production of more fighter jets in support of the Navy. The $862 million modification to a previously awarded fixed-price-incentive-firm target contract provides for the procurement of 15 F/A-18E and 3 F/A-18F aircraft. Super Hornets are flown by the US Navy, replacing the service’s retired F-14 Tomcat Fighters. The F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets have been enlarged in all dimensions and fitted with 2 extra weapons pylons. The new design created pylon vibration problems early on, which explains the new “dogtooth” design on the wings’ leading edge. The F/A-18E is a single-seat Super Hornet. The 2-seat F/A-18F sacrifices some range, carrying only 13,350 pounds of fuel, which is 900 fewer pounds than the F/A-18E. In exchange for this reduced range, it adds a 2nd crewman with an advanced attack station cockpit to assist in strike roles. Block II Super Hornets come with a re-designed forward fuselage and a number of electronic countermeasures, including the AN/APG-79 AESA radar. Work will be performed at multiple locations in the continental US including El Segundo, California and St. Louis, Missouri. Production is expected to be completed by June 2020.
- The Navy is contracting Lockheed Martin for further work in support of the F-35 Lightning II program. The $735 million modification provides for the procurement of long-lead time materials, parts, components, and effort in support of the joint strike fighter. This modification combines purchases for the US Air Force ($359 million); US Navy ($193 million); and the US Marine Corps ($182 million). The Air Force flies the CTOL version of the F-35, it is considered the least expensive version of the aircraft with an estimated flyaway cost of $108,3 million. The Navy flies the C version of the plane, designed for carrier-based operations. It features 30% more wing area than other designs, with larger tails and control surfaces, plus wingtip ailerons. These changes provide the precise slow-speed handling required for carrier approaches and extend the plane’s range a bit. The average flyaway cost of the F-35C is about $125 million. The Marine Corps has the F-35B STOVL variant in its inventory, which is the most expensive Lightning II fighter variant with an average flyway cost of $135 million each. Work will be performed at various locations, including Fort Worth, Texas; El Segundo, California and Nagoya, Japan. Production is scheduled to be completed by December 2019.
Middle East & Africa
- Jordan is again flying its AH-1F Cobra attack helicopters. The Middle-Eastern Kingdom had put 12 of its vintage helicopters through an extensive upgrade process. Northrop Grumman and Science and Engineering Services (SES) have significantly modified the helicopter to extend its life by at least 20 years. The aircraft was rewired and reconditioned by SES to ensure its quality and integrity. Meanwhile, as the avionics systems integrator for the helicopters, Northrop Grumman is overseeing the design and incorporation of the avionics solution. As noted by Northrop Grumman, its avionics solution comprises a digital Integrated Mission Equipment Package (iMEP) made up of a commercially available FlightPro Gen III mission computer, a full suite of liquid-crystal display units, an embedded software digital map and navigation controls. The US resold many of its 498 AH-1F Cobras after it decided to retire the platform in 1999. This program marks the first global customer to modernize the avionics equipment on the AH-1F/S helicopters since their production during the early 1980s.
- France is ordering more Light-VBMR reconnaissance vehicles. The new ordering agreement provides for an additional 420 Light-VBMRs, which increases the total amount to 978 units. The vehicle is a key element in the French Army’s $12 billion Scorpion modernization program. This major program intends to rationalize a hodgepodge of aging land vehicles and systems while preserving France’s industrial base. VBMR-L will be produced by a consortium that includes Nexter, Thales, and Renault Trucks Defense. The 15-ton vehicle is designed to carry 10 troops and can be deployed in several configurations. Including a Troop Carrier, Scout (ISR), Communications and Electronic Warfare (EW), Ambulance, Command, and artillery fire direction configuration. The vehicle is armed with a remote controlled 7.62mm machine gun, a minigun at the rear and self-protection with a Galix smoke dispenser and can be airlifted by C-130 and A400M transport aircraft. The first batch of VBMR-L vehicles funded by the current order covers the development, production, and induction of 689 vehicles by 2025.
- Jane’s reports that Airbus’s Optionally Piloted Vehicle (OPV) has conducted its first fully unmanned flight demonstration. The OPV is a modified Hélicoptères Guimbal Cabri G light helicopter being used to develop the control laws for the VSR700, a vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle (VTOL UAV). The VSR 700 flight control system is a fully-digital, multi-channel system with a very high level of redundancy. The robust shroud and energy-absorbing skid of the tail rotor ensures superior safety during close-to-the-surface maneuvers, and during landing in cluttered zones. The VTOL UAV will be fitted with a turbocharged heavy-fuel engine, which develops a maximum power output of 155hp. The UAV will have a fuel storage capacity of 296l and can be optionally added with an auxiliary tank for carrying an additional fuel load of 70l. The fuel consumption of the UAV will be about 30 pounds an hour. Developed to meet the French Navy’s requirements for a shipborne rotary-wing tactical unmanned aerial vehicle and complement to manned helicopters, it could also be used in land-based military operations to carry out ISTAR (Intelligence Surveillance Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) missions, thanks to the VSR700’s optical sensors and maritime/land radar.
- India’s Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa has reaffirmed the Air Force’s (IAF) plan to buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. In a recent exercise the IAF demonstrated its capability to achieve and sustain a very high serviceability of aircraft and systems. However, at the same time there are concerns about the depleting combat strength of the Air Force. It is expected that India will reach its desired air combat strength by 2032. India is currently upgrading its fleet of MiG-29, Jaguar and Mirage-2000 aircraft as part of obsolescence management. France and India had a somewhat rocky procurement history regarding the Asian nations Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program. The induction of 36 Rafale aircraft is the result of negotiations that lasted close to a decade. Deliveries of the Dassault produced fighter aircraft will commence by September 2019 and are expected to be completed by April 2022.
- Boeing and Saab show off their SDB capability.
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