The KC-46 program hits another bump in the road | Turkish PM threatens to retaliate NDAA | China and its missile ‘bubble’
- Boeing’s KC-46 Tanker program hit another bump. Due to continuous cost overruns and schedule delays, the company has racked up more than $3 billion worth of pretax charges. Just last week Boeing disclosed another $81 million-pretax penalty on the program in its financial report for the first quarter of 2018. According to the terms of Boeing’s fixed-price development contract with the US Air Force, the company is responsible for any costs over the $4.9 billion award. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson has been publicly dismissive of the company’s progress, telling lawmakers that the company has perhaps been too focused on its lucrative commercial business to give the tanker program the attention it deserves. In total, Boeing has 34 KC-46s in some stage of production, and the first four aircraft planned for delivery have already flown and are in storage. Despite company officials reassuring that all ‘required assets available’ obligations can be met, it is yet unclear if Boeing will be able to deliver all of the 18 certified KC-46s and nine refueling pods this year.
- Jane’s reports that the first US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet has entered its Service-Life Modification (SLM) process ahead of the planes’ Block 3 enhancement program. 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 Navy currently has a program-of-record of 573 Super Hornets, 300 of which will undergo a comprehensive refurbishment ahead of the fitting of additional improvements under the Block 3 upgrade. Block 3 is the Navy’s answer to keeping the jets in service to 2030 and beyond. The upgrades introduce a better performing AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, a ‘shoulder-mounted’ conformal fuel tanks (CFTs), new General Electric F-414-400 enhanced engines as well as a new cockpit based on large touch-screen technology and a more advanced computers is designed to bring the Super Hornets closer to sensor fusion parity with the F-35, without relying on a helmet-mounted-display. All in all, F/A-18 Super Hornets outfitted with Block 3 upgrades will boost better performance, an increased operational radius, a smaller radar cross-section and better electronics. Work on the up to 14 years old fighter jets is being performed at the company’s St. Louis production facility in Missouri.
Middle East & Africa
- Turkish-US relations continue to face strenuous conditions as the Turkish Prime Minister (PM) Mevlut Cavusoglu warned that the country would retaliate if a bill being pushed by House Republicans becomes law. The bill in question is the US National Defense Authorizations Act valued at $717 billion. It includes a provision to temporarily halt weapons sales to Turkey, until a report on the relationship between the US and Turkey is completed by the Pentagon. The implied target of the bill would be the 116 F-35 Lightning II fighters that Washington has promised to sell Ankara, of which 100 are almost ready to be delivered. During an interview PM Cavusoglu criticized the measure, saying it was wrong to impose such a restriction on a military ally, alluding to the fact that Turkey has graciously allowed the US to use its Incirlik air base to launch its air strikes against ISIS. The bill, which still is many steps away from becoming law, is in many ways a response to Turkey’s recent purchase of S-400 air defense systems from Russia. The move to buy S-400s, which are incompatible with the NATO systems, has unnerved NATO member countries, which are already wary of Moscow’s military presence in the Middle East, prompting NATO officials to warn Turkey of unspecified consequences. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told PM Cavusoglu last month that the US was “seriously concerned” about Turkey’s buying of the S-400s. Last year, both countries temporarily curtailed embassy processing of visas after Turkey arrested an employee of the Turkish consulate in Istanbul as tensions flared.
- Europe’s largest defense contractor, BAE Systems, is currently collaborating with a small British firm on developing a solar-powered UAV. The joint project between BAE Systems and Prismatic seeks to further the develop the company’s product field of solar electric-powered vehicles. The PHASA-35 is a high-altitude, long-endurance UAV that is able to operate on the margins of space for months at a time. It could potentially provide surveillance, beyond line-of-sight communications and other services to military and civil users far cheaper than the cost of satellites, hence they are also referred to as high-altitude pseudo-satellites, or HAPS. PHASA-35 is expected to fly at up to 70,000 feet and carry a payload of about 15 kilograms. The two companies said the machine has the “potential” to fly for 12 months without returning to the ground. Another company in the business of developing high-altitude, long-endurance UAV’s is Airbus Defense and Space. Its solar-powered Zephyr currently holds the endurance record, having flown for 14 days non-stop.
- Excalibur Army, a subsidiary of the defense conglomerate Czechoslovak Group has unveiled its new Medium Armored Tactical Multi-Mission Vehicle (MATMMV). The Tatra T815 Patriot is based on the 4×4 Tatra Force chassis, which features adjustable ground clearance, a central backbone tube, independent swinging air suspended half axles designed to improve cross-country mobility and ride comfort. The vehicle is powered by a Cummins ISB 6-cylinder diesel engine, developing 210 kW coupled to an Allison 3200SP automatic transmission with six forward and one reverse gears coupled to a Tatra two-speed transfer case. This provides a maximum road speed and range of up to 130 km/h and 500 km respectively. The vehicle will be able to carry up to four soldiers in addition to the commander and driver. The T815 comes with a roof-mounted weapon station. Depending on the types of operations performed the weapon station that can be fitted with a 7.62 mm, a 12.7 mm machine gun or a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. The Tatra T815 Patriot is a welcome addition to the family of MATMMV’s that currently includes Steyr’s MMV and Navistar Defence’s Husky.
- China reportedly is increasingly strengthening its grip in the disputed South China Sea. Reports indicate that China has deployed long-range missiles to its artificial islands as means to enhance Beijing’s physical control over the region and potentially further complicating the movement of America military assets through the area. Collin Koh, research fellow at the Maritime Security Program at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said he expects to see future rotational deployment of high-powered assets, like fighter jets ad bombers to the air bases there. Arming the islands is part of China’s long-term strategy of creeping control in the strategic waters. The recent missile deployment can be an indication for China ramping up its activities on the disputed Spratly Islands. The Chinese-built HQ-9 is based on the Russian S-300 air defense system. It is used for long-range air defense of strategic targets, and the deployment of this system in the Spratly Islands potentially gives China the ability to target aircraft over the whole island group. By stationing missiles onto its outposts in the South China Sea, China de-facto builds a defensive barrier around its mainland. Its aggressive actions are not just a problem for countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines but is also a direct challenge to the US and its influence on the Pacific region by extending China’s anti-access, are denial “bubble”. The newly appointed commander of U.S. Pacific Command Adm. Philip Davidson acknowledged in a press conference that advances in Chinese military means Pacific Command needs to invest in increased resiliency in its forward-deployed force posture.
- The Blue Angels takeoff at Myrtle Beach 360