The USN is upgrading its IRST systems | JAS-39: Nearing operational use | Nigeria order JF-17s from Pakistan
Boeing is being tapped to upgrade the Navy’s Infrared Search and Track systems. The $131.5 million order covers the procurement and upgrade of weapon replaceable assemblies installed on F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jets. The contract calls for Boeing to provide weapon replaceable assemblies that will optimize the Block I low-rate initial production jets, and covers other services such as technical risk reduction and tactics development. Infra-Red Search & Track (IRST) systems provide long range thermal imaging against air and ground targets. The systems can defeat radar stealth in some instances, by focusing on engine exhaust, or on the friction of the aircraft as it powers through the atmosphere. US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis recently called for 80 % of the Navy’s fleet of F/A-18s to be mission capable by end of fiscal 2019. Work will be performed at Boeing’s factories in Orlando, Florida and St. Louis, Missouri. The systems are expected to be completed in April, 2022.
L3 Technologies is being contracted to advance its prototype developed under the Navy’s Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) program. The awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract is priced at $35.8 million and provides for the demonstration and test of existing technologies and associated technical data for L3’s NGJ low-band prototype. The NGJ program will eventually replace the AN/ALQ-99 jamming system currently installed on the EA-18G Growler. The broader aim is to develop a more cost effective AEA system with better performance against advanced threats through expanded broadband capability for greater threat coverage. Work will be performed at multiple locations including – but not limited to – Salt Lake City, Utah; Boulder, Colorado and Waco, Texas. L3’s is expected to complete this contract in June 2020.
The US Air Force is awarding Northrop Grumman with a contract for its Precision Real-Time Engagement Combat Identification Sensor Exploitation (PRECISE) program. The $16.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract sees for the development of new technologies that continue to advance combat identification for warfighters. The program seeks to enhance the effectiveness of surveillance radar by blending EO technologies like visible-light, infrared, multispectral, and hyperspectral sensors. Beyond that, PRECISE looks to enhance current radar technologies through signal processing, alternative bandwidths, and similar approaches. Work will be performed at Northrop’s facility in Baltimore, Maryland and is expected to be completed by January 2024.
Middle East & Africa
Nigeria is making progress in its JF-17 fighter jet acquisition program. The country recently signed a $184.3 million contract with Pakistan that covers the production of three PAC/CAC JF-17 Thunder fighters. The Thunder is a joint Chinese-Pakistani project aimed at reduceing Pakistan’s dependence on western firms for advanced fighters, by fielding a low-cost multi-role lightweight fighter that can host modern electronics and precision-guided weapons. The fighter jet is a single engine, lightweight, multipurpose combat aircraft that costs $20 million per unit. Nigeria earmarked about $54 billion for the JF-17 program in its 2016 and 2018 budgets.
Latvia is strengthening its air-defence capabilities. The Latvian National Armed Force recently received the FIM-92A Stinger air-defense system from Denmark. The Stinger missile provides forward, short-range air-defense against low-altitude airborne targets. The Stinger provides Latvia with a SHORAD capability, focused on defending against low-flying aircraft, such as drones and attack helicopters, which present a considerable threat to maneuvering forces. “Currently, we are at a historic stage when Latvia receives significant armaments from allies to strengthen various of its military capabilities. Stinger will significantly contribute to the defense capabilities of Latvian Armed Forces units, opening up new opportunities for our country’s defense,” said Defense Minister Raimonds Bergmanis. The total contract value and number of units ordered has not been disclosed at this time.
Saab is one step closer to readying the Gripen E for operational use. One of the new JAS-39s successfully completed the first tests to verify the ability to release and launch external payloads earlier this month. During the test one of Saab’s pilots jettisoned one external fuel drop tank and fired an IRIS-T air-to-air missile. “As a pilot, flying with external stores such as drop tank and missiles is important to allow for evaluation of how the aircraft behaves with the stores attached. This test was also used to evaluate the effect on the aircraft when releasing and launching the stores. The highlight was of course to pull the trigger and watch the missile fire away. It also brings us closer to making the aircraft ready for its operational use”, says Marcus Wandt, Experimental Gripen Test Pilot at Saab. The JAS-39 Gripen is an excellent lightweight fighter by all accounts, with attractive flyaway costs and performance. Its canard design allows for quick “slew and point” maneuvers, allowing it to take advantage of the modern trend toward helmet-mounted displays, and air-air missiles with much wider boresight targeting cones.
One of South Korea’s Patriot missiles exploded during recently held annual air defense guided missile practice. South Korean media reports that before it exploded, the PAC-2 missile ascended for about four seconds after being launched at the Daecheon range. South Korea currently fields the PAC-2 GEM variant. This variant still uses the larger PAC-2 fragmentation missile, but have a range of improvements to their guidance systems, fuzes, and so forth. GEM-T is optimized against tactical ballistic missiles, while GEM-C is optimized against cruise missiles. An investigation will try to establish the exact cause of the incident.
The Royal Australian Air Force will soon have one of the world’s most advanced training fleets. BAE Systems Australia is currently upgrading the final Hawk Mk127 aircraft into its Williamtown maintenance facility. The Hawk Mk127 has been in service with the RAAF since 2001, upgrades of the 33 aircraft started in 2016 and are expected to be completed in 2019. The aircraft is an integral part of the air force’s fast jet training system, allowing the RAAF to place highly trained pilots into the cockpits of F/A-18s. The upgraded aircraft come with new training capabilities such as simulated radar, electronic warfare, digital mapping, ground proximity warning system and traffic collision avoidance. The Hawk lead-in fighter jet is prepared to deliver high calibre pilots for the F-35A joint strike fighter fleet.
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