* Much tut-tutting is heard in the trade press now that the Air Force is stating openly that the F-35 will not be prepared to take on the close air support (CAS) role for which it is, in small part, slated. This has not slowed down the Air Force’s ardor for retiring the current CAS airframe, the A-10. It is certainly handy for the Air Force to shift a few billion dollars over to the needful F-35 project in the interim.
* In related news, Senate Armed Services Committee Chair John McCain is promising to reverse what he sees as dunderheaded Air Force moves to mothball the A-10s. He has vocal congressional support, including that from fellow Arizonan Martha McSally (R-AZ) who herself was a warthog pilot supporting Operation Southern Watch over Iraq and Kuwait.
* The U.S. Navy is pumping out newly refurbished F/A-18s at a much faster clip than Lockheed is producing the F-35s, guaranteeing the Navy’s primary strike capacity will be its F-18s for the next decade at least. Plans are to extend the Super Hornet’s hours capacity from 6,000 to 10,000. The Navy hasn’t been terribly gung-ho on F-35 procurement, averaging about four per year for first seven years, and planning to order four more for 2016. The Navy intends to refurbish another 50 F-18s in the coming year, up from 40 the year before.
* The keel of the Colorado, the 15th and newest of the Virginia class fast attack submarine was laid in a ceremony in Rhode Island. The subs, at about $2.5 billion a piece, were designed in the Clinton era specifically to be more cost-efficient than the Seawolf class, which topped out at about $3.5 billion per boat by the time the third and last was finished. The Seawolf was one of the first major weapons systems in the modern era that was extinguished by the politically unsupportable weight of its costs in what would later be termed a “cost death spiral.” Reduced numbers of units caused a cost-per-unit rise that then fed additionally into the pressure to cut future units.
* The profusion of new sensors on the battlefield brings the command and control elements virtually closer to the action, but this can cut both ways. More people seeing more information does not quicken the decision making process, and pilots loitering over ISIS targets are starting to complain.
* Sikorski is about to start the upgrading process for UAE’s Black Hawks.
* Iran’s newly announced Soumar missile could carry a 410 kg warhead more than a thousand miles, or perhaps a bit less then that, in good part depending on whether or not the Iranians have access to the Russian TRDD-30 or Ukrainian R95 engines. The Russian version of this – the Kh55 – carries a roughly 200 kiloton nuclear warhead.
* Saudi Arabia beat out India this past year in defense imports to become the worlds largest importer by value.
* Yonhap is reporting that China’s President Xi Jinping directly appealed to South Korean President Park Geun-hye, entreating her to reject the American effort to install THAAD on the Korean Peninsula. The THAAD system, directed at the undeniable North Korean missile threat, could theoretically also cork up some of China’s capacity to lob missiles eastward toward Pacific targets. China is reportedly willing to give South Korea unspecified trade benefits, which seems a poor bargain versus an existential threat. The Chinese may be expecting to win only a limited assurance or a type of system limitation. Seoul’s strategy to date appears to have been reaffirmed in another Yonhap report, with the government repeatedly stressing it has no plans to purchase a THAAD system and shrugging at the suggestion that the U.S. would install its own to protect the 28,500 U.S. troops hosted by South Korea.
* Iran’s Soumar missile is unveiled. Here is a test flight…