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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 47 min 6 sec ago

US Military Contracts for Private Aerial Refueling Services

7 hours 40 min ago
K-707, F/A-18, EA-6B

Aerial tankers are essential when moving large quantities of men and materials long distances, or stretching the range and length of fighter combat air patrols. Most are government-owned, but a segment of semi-privatized services may be set to grow alongside existing military fleets. Could DID readers find themselves flying to an Azores vacation on a chartered aerial tanker during its “spare hours”? Thanks to Britain’s FSTA public-private aerial tanker partnership, they absolutely could.

The USA’s KC-45 competition was set to buy up to 179 aircraft instead. Even here, however, some outsourcing is going on. Enter Omega Refueling Services, Inc.

Using Omega’s Air Force

K-707 additions

The USA’s commercial air services program provides aerial refueling tanking for Navy and other Department of Defense and government agency aircraft, which includes customers like NASA. It may also be used in support of Foreign Military Sales cases, government contractors, and “other aircraft capable of aerial refueling.”

For instance, Australia withdrew its own 707-based aerial tanker from service in July 2008. Their Department of Defence has told DID that Omega waS providing air to air refuelling (AAR) services to the RAAF as a bridging option, until Australia’s first A330/KC-30A tankers achieve full operational capability. Activities have included support for exercises like RED FLAG in the USA and PITCH BLACK in northern Australia, Super Hornet training in the USA, and Super Hornet ferry flights from the USA to RAAFB Amberley, Australia. Many of these exercises and evolutions also include USAF and/or USN aircraft, which is convenient for all parties concerned.

Other known foreign contracts include Britain and Canada, and there are photos of the firm’s aircraft performing refueling operations over Switzerland.

The CAS program is administered by NAVAIR SYSCOM PMA-207.5. The tanker is funded for its flying hours to support Navy and Marine Corps Aviation, not for fuel use. Fuel purchases come from government-approved sources, using the same government credit card that military units use to pay for fuel; the costs are allocated and charged to the appropriate squadron, just as fuel from a USAF KC-135 would be. All flights are approved by the government’s Commercial Air Services Manager.

Omega Refueling Services, Inc. had 2 operational Boeing 707-300 tankers, modified with newer engines, 2 hose and drogue assemblies, electric, hydraulic and fuel lines, and 2 center wing fuel tank pumps. System controls and video monitoring devices in the cockpit control fuel offload. While this will allow them to refuel US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, and those of many foreign countries, the K-707 lacks the boom assembly needed to fit with the dorsal refueling slots of most USAF aircraft. The fuel tank system is similar to a military KC-135, with 2 reserve tanks, 2 outboard main tanks, 2 inboard main tanks, and a center wing tank. The K-707 lacks the KC-135’s forward and aft body tanks, however, and even Omega’s larger wing and fuselage tanks leave the “K-707 Omega” with a slightly lower total fuel capacity of 156,000 – 160,000 pounds. The planes are capable of flying up to 1,600-1,800 hours per year.

In May 2011, one of Omega’s K-707s was destroyed in a crash at Point Mugu, CA.

A KDC-10 aircraft is also available. This is a modified DC-10-40, with FRL refueling wing pods from Cobham plc’s subsidiary Sergent-Fletcher. It also uses a hose-and-drogue refueling system, which works well for the Navy and most foreign customers, but won’t help much with USAF aircraft (F-15s, F-16) that require a dorsal refueling boom.

Contracts & Key Events FY 2012 – 2014

Contracts – and a crash Omega KDC-10

All contracts are managed by US Navy NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD, unless otherwise noted.

Sept 26/14: FY 2015. Small business qualifier Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $31.2 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification, exercising an option under the Contracted Air Services Program. $18.9 million in FY 2014 US Navy O&M budgets is committed immediately.

Work will be performed at Victorville, CA (50%), and Norfolk, VA (50%), and is expected to be complete by September 2015 (N00019-13-D-0010).

Sept 25/13: FY 2014. Small business qualifier Omega Aerial Refueling Services Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $30.6 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for Commercial Air Services (CAS) Program aerial refueling services to the US Navy, other Department of Defense and government agencies, and foreign military sales aircraft. $11.6 million is committed immediately, and will expire on Sept 30/13 (we think that’s a typo; it should be 2014).

Work will be performed at Victorville, CA (50%) and Norfolk, VA (50%), and is expected to be complete by September 2014. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1’s one acceptable supplier provision (N00019-13-D-0010).

Aug 28 – Sept 6/13: Ops example. Omega’s service extend to a wide range of scenarios. One of the most interesting is work on UAV/UCAV designs that can fly aerial refueling evolutions. A Calspan Learjet has been modified with a non-functioning aerial refueling probe, and X-47B UCAV navigation, command and control, and vision processor hardware and software. Its challenge? To fly behind an Omega K-707 tanker, and demonstrate its ability to hold correct positions and operate with the installed systems. Testing went well.

The next step will using the kind of digital messaging and navigation processes that were demonstrated by the UCAV’s recent carrier landings, with Rockwell Collins TTNT datalink, and Precision Relative GPS (PGPS) algorithms. The final goal? A complete autonomous rendezvous, approach, plug, and safe separation. No fuel will be transferred to the Learjet, which isn’t equipped to receive it anyway, but the ability to fly that kind of evolution is enough challenge all by itself. People in the military overuse the phrase “game changer,” but a technology that could allow continuous 72+ hour missions and trans-ocean control from a carrier would indeed justify that description. Sources: US NAVAIR, “Navy autonomous aerial refueling tests underway”.

Sept 13/12: FY 2013. Omega Aerial Refueling Services Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $15.4 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification for Commercial Air Services (CAS) Program aerial refueling services to the US Navy, other Department of Defense and government agencies, and foreign military sales aircraft.

Work will be performed at various locations in the continental United States (34% East Coast and 23% West Coast); and at various locations outside the continental United States (43%), and is expected to be complete by September 2013. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year (N00019-07-D-0009).

FY 2008 – 2011

Contracts – and a crash K-707 & F/A-18s

May 19/11: Crash. One of Omega’s 2 refitted K-707 aerial tankers veers off the runway, crashes, and burns up during a takeoff attempt at Pt. Mugu, CA. Reports indicate that one of the engines may have caught fire before the crash.

All 3 people on board manage to escape from the former Pan-Am jet, but with 150,000 pounds of fuel on board, the subsequent fire is a real challenge for the fire department. Early surveys indicate that very little of the fuel survived to contaminate the nearby marshes. Flight International | Irish Independent | Sacramento Bee | Ventura County Star.

K-707 crashes, burns

March 10/11: 2011-2012. Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $31.5 million indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contract modification, exercising an option for contractor owned and operated aircraft in support of the Commercial Air Services (CAS) Program.

Work will be performed at various locations in the continental United States (45% East Coast and 35% West Coast), and at various locations outside the continental United States (20%); and is expected to be complete in March 2012 (N00019-07-D-0009).

March 11/10: 2010-2011. Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $32.4 million indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contract modification, exercising an option for contractor owned and operated aircraft in support of the Commercial Air Services (CAS) Program.

Work will be performed at various locations in the continental United States (45% East Coast and 35% West Coast), and at various locations outside the continental United States (20%); and is expected to be complete in March 2011 (N00019-07-D-0009).

Jan 21/10: Australia. Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. receives a $6.8 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide air-to-air refueling services in support of Royal Australian Air Force F/A-18 Hornet family fighters under the Foreign Military Sales Program. The RAAF conducts multiple exercises with the US Navy each year using its F/A-18 A/B+ Hornets, and is training its F/A-18F Super Hornet pilots in the United States at NAS Lemoore. See above for more details concerning Australia’s use of Omega’s services.

Work will be performed at Naval Air Station Lemoore, CA (50%), and at Royal Australian Air Force Base Williamstown, Australia (50%), and is expected to be complete in February 2011 (N00421-10-D-0009).

Australian contract

March 11/10: 2010-2011. Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA received a $32.4 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-07-D-0009), exercising an option for contractor owned-and-operated aircraft in support of the Commercial Air Services (CAS) program.

Work will be performed at various locations in the continental United States (45% East Coast, 35% West Coast) and at various locations outside the continental United States (20%), and is expected to be complete in March 2011.

Sept 15/09: More 2009-2010. Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA received a $6.9 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract (N00019-07-D-0009), exercising an option for contractor owned and operated aircraft in support of the Commercial Air Services (CAS) Program. This option provides for an additional 54,000 flight minutes, which equates to 900 flight hours.

Work will be performed at various American locations (45% East Coast and 35% West Coast); and at various locations outside the continental USA (20%), and is expected to be complete in March 2010.

March 18/09: 2009-2010 Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. of Alexandria, VA receives a $24.7 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract. It exercises an option for contractor owned and operated aircraft in support of the Commercial Air Services program, which provides aerial refueling tanking for Navy and other Government agency aircraft.

Work will be performed in Oceana, VA (45%); Point Mugu, CA (35%); and various military activities across the United States and abroad (20%), and is expected to be completed in March 2010 (N00019-07-D-0009).

March 17/08: 2008-2009 Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $30.8 million modification to a previously awarded indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, exercising exercise an option for contractor owned and operated aircraft in support of the commercial air services program.

Work will be performed in Oceana, VA (45%); Point Mugu, CA (35%); and various military activities across the United States and OCONUS (Outside the CONtinental US) (20%), and is expected to be complete in March 2009 (N00019-07-D-0009).

March 19/07: 2007-2008. Omega Aerial Refueling Services, Inc. in Alexandria, VA receives a $24 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide contractor owned and operated aircraft in support of the Commercial Air Services Program. This contract was not competitively procured.

Work will be performed in Oceana, VA (30%); Point Mugu, CA (25%); and various military activities across the United States and OCONUS (45%), and is expected to be complete in March 2008 (N00019-07-D-0009).

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Israel: LAW on Order

7 hours 54 min ago
M72 LAW, Ft. Benning
(click to view full)

The M72 Light Anti-tank Weapon (LAW) found both popularity and notoriety in Vietnam. On the one hand, it was easy to carry, and improved the squad’s firepower. On the other hand, it bounced off of North Vietnam’s obsolete tanks.

In 2006, a redesigned version of the LAW rocket restarted production, and returned the LAW to American military service. It still isn’t going to take on any tanks, but it’s very useful in modern urban warfare scenarios. In 2008, Israel submitted an export request for up to 60,000 of them…

LAW: carried, expanded
(click to view full)

Israel has used LAWs, but in general it relies on its own weapons to equip its forces with shoulder-launched rockets. The B-300 that was the template for the US Marines’ Mk153 SMAW and Israel’s follow-on SHIPON is a common weapon, the 90mm PZF-90 MATADOR was jointly developed with Singapore and Dynamint Nobel, and some Israeli units have even used RPG-7s.

The difference is that the MK153 launcher plus rocket weighs 29-30 pounds, with a 9-14 pound weight for each rocket reload. An RPG-7 is 14 pounds, plus 4.5-10 pounds per rocket. MATADOR, first used in the 2009 Gaza War, weighs 19 pounds total. An entire M72A7 LAW weighs about 8 pounds.

There are times when the full punch of a B-300 or specialized warhead capabilities of MATADOR are unnecessary, If all the squad needs is a simple, lightweight “Ranger key” that can blow the doors off of lightly armored vehicles, crash through reinforced doors or light walls, etc. then having 4 LAW rockets on hand is a lot more useful than the equivalent weight of a single B-300. Better yet, LAWs on’t require a dedicated carrier.

Contracts & Key Events M72A4 – A7
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Sept 24/14: Contract. Nammo Talley Inc. in Mesa, AZ receives a $63 million firm-fixed-price Israeli umbrella contract that orders “M72 Light Assault Weapons and variants.” It’s the 1st announced contract that matches the DSCA request. If Israel is looking at variants, some options include:

  • M72A4: Enhanced penetrator design, note shape.
  • M72A5: New standard model.
  • M72A6: Enhanced blast effect.
  • M72A7 (requested): A6 with insensitive warhead for Navy use.
  • M72E8: Can be fired from enclosure (i.e. inside a room) safely.
  • M72E9: Upgraded ability to defeat vehicle armor.
  • M72E10: Anti-personnel fragmentation round.

Funding and work location will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of Sept 24/18. Bids were solicited via the Internet, with 1 received by Israel’s FMS agent at US Army Contracting Command in Picatinny Arsenal, NJ (W15QKN-14-D-0086).

Sept 9/08: DSCA. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announced [PDF] Israel’s formal request for 28,000 M72A7 disposable 66mm LAW rockets, 60,000 M72AS 21mm Sub-Caliber Training Rockets, spare and repair parts, and other elements of support. The contractor would be Nammo Talley Defense Systems in Mesa, AZ, the estimated cost is $89 million, and no contractor support will be required since Israel already uses some LAW rockets, and training and support are inherently designed to be minimal anyway.

The M72A7 has lower penetration capability than the M72A5, or the enhanced penetration M72A4. What is does offer is an enhanced blast effect that makes it especially useful once it penetrates a building, and an insensitive warhead for greater safety. The latter is the difference between the M72A6 and A7.

Categories: News

New Afghan Leadership Rushes to Sign Security Agreements

9 hours 12 min ago

  • With a brand-new administration in place, Afghanistan signed its Bilateral Security Agreement with the US as well as the NATO Status of Forces Agreement.

Industry “Consolidation”

  • Boeing is relocating most of its defense services work from Washington state to Oklahoma City and St. Louis, which the company say will affect about 2,000 employees in a gradual transition over the next 3 years.

  • The Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI) warned [Leader Post] Canada’s prime minister that budget cuts are having sizable effects on readiness and leading to layoffs among smaller suppliers.


  • Russia is reviving [AIN] its Ilyushin Il-112 project to derive tactical airlifters from the Il-114 airliner. That plan had been abandoned years ago in favor of the cheaper Antonov An-140T, but that’s Made in Ukraine.

  • India’s DRDO has developed [Times of India] CO filters for submarines. A good example of successful localization, as opposed to the reach-for-everything approach that has dropped India on its face more than once.

  • South Africa’s Sunday Times alleges that President Zuma and the ANC took bribes from Thales, based on transcripts of testimonies from hearings in a dispute between the company and Ajay Sooklal, a former consultant of theirs. The presidency’s answer [BusinessDay] is that the allegations are “nothing new” and already on the Seriti’s commission’s plate. Thales was embroiled in a kickback scandal in Taiwan for more than 2 decades.

German Bunderswherunterreadiness

  • After feeble attempts at stonewalling reports that its readiness was falling short, Germany’s ministry of defense is now openly admitting its shortcomings. Pressure is building up on defense minister Ursula von der Leyen. Deutche Welle | AP | Der Spiegel [in German].

Better Refueling Booms

  • IAI says they successfully tested a fly-by-wire refueling boom for their K-767 MMTT tanker conversion. Their MMTT adapts selected used aircraft to dramatically lower purchase costs. Clients like Colombia and Brazil don’t need the boom, but it will give IAI the ability to compete in countries with planes that use dorsal refueling – like South Korea and Poland.

Robert O. Work on Asia/Pacific

  • In today’s video Robert O. Work, the Pentagon’s #2 for the past 5 months, talks at the Council on Foreign Relations about the use of military power, especially in Asia/Pacific:

Categories: News

Nightwatch: The USA’s E-4B NAOC “Doomsday” Fleet

9 hours 16 min ago
(click to view full)

In December 2005, the U.S. Air Force awarded Boeing a contract as Product Support Integrator (PSI) for the USAF’s E-4 National Airborne Operations Center fleet. These 4 modified 747-200s were introduced in 1974, and serve as complete flying command posts for national and military authorities. As one might imagine, they are hardened to resist the side-effects of nuclear attack, such as electro-magnetic pulse effects.

The 2005 contract was a 5-year, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract vehicle, with one 5-year option and a $2 billion cost cap. That’s a lot of money for a small fleet, but the E-4’s plays a military and civil role that gives the program enough leverage. The award continues a long history of support from Boeing, and includes associated modernizations as well. DID looks at the aircraft, the program, and ongoing awards.

The E-4B and Its Update Team

The USAF operates 4 of these 747-200 aircraft variants, assigned to the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, NE.
They’re big planes for a set of big missions.

The E-4B is designed for full national command, including the President of the United States and/or successors, Secretary of Defense, and/or Joint Chiefs of Staff. These command functions extend to nuclear forces if necessary.

It also has a civil role in the event of natural disasters. As of 1994, the E-4 fleet will also ferry Federal Emergency Management Agency crews to natural disaster sites and serving as a temporary command post on the ground until facilities can be built on site. E-4B support can cut timelines from days to hours.

E-4B overview
click for video

So, how does this relate to other command planes in the USAF’s inventory?

The VC-25 Air Force One is the President’s transport plane, with a much nicer interior and secondary command functions. An E-4B is kept on full alert at all times, and 1 remains relatively close to Air Force One so that the American President can get into an E-4B quickly from anywhere in the world.

The smaller 707-based E-6B Mercury/TACAMO has a simpler primary mission: it mirrors the command systems of the military’s STRATCOM authority for nuclear missiles, including VLF communications with American nuclear ballistic missile submarines. Its “Looking Glass” theater command post role offers helpful redundancy, but it would never be the primary option if a choice is available.

Inside tour
click for video

The E-4A debuted in late 1974, and the first E-4B conversion was delivered in 1980. By 1985, all E-4s were E-4Bs. As one might imagine, the E-4B has always had electromagnetic pulse protection, an electrical system designed to support advanced electronics, and communications equipment that’s as new as the requirements for hardened systems can offer. A spool within the aircraft can extend a long antenna up to 5 miles behind the plane, for VLF transmissions.

E-4B improvements include newer nuclear and thermal effects shielding, acoustic control, an improved technical control facility, and an upgraded air-conditioning system for cooling all those electrical components. An advanced satellite communications system improves worldwide communications.

The main deck is divided into 6 functional areas: a command work area, conference room, briefing room, an operations team work area, and communications and rest areas. An E-4B crew may include up to 112 people, including a joint-service operations team, an ACC flight crew, on-board maintenance and security personnel, a communications team and “selected augmentees.”

The goal of the 2005 PSI contract is to provide increased readiness for the fleet, and integrate multiple contracts (Contractor Logistics Support, Engineering Support Services, Message Processing System, and Block I upgrades) into a single best-value contract. USAF Air Combat Command (ACC) is the single-resource manager for the E-4B, and provides aircrew, maintenance, security and communications support. The Joint Chiefs of Staff actually control E-4B operations, and provide personnel for the airborne operations center.

Boeing remains the lead system integrator for the E-4 fleet, and leads a team that also includes L3 Communications, Rockwell Collins, and Greenpoint Technology Inc.

Contracts & Key Events FY 2012 – 2014

(click for full photo)

Sept 26/14: Boeing in Wichita, KS receives a sole-source $26.6 million task order for E-4B programmed depot maintenance and modifications. All funds are committed immediately, using USAF FY 2014 O&M and aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed at San Antonio, TX, and is expected to be complete by May 15/15. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Tinker AFB, OK manages the contract (FA8106-06-D-0001, 0047).

June 2/14: FAB-T terminals. Raytheon in Marlborough, MA receives a $298 million firm-fixed-price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for 84 FAB-T Command Post Terminals (CPT), which will allow broadband-speed reception from the USAF’s hardened, secure new AEHF satellites. FAB-T CPTs will equip E-4B NAOC and E-6B Mercury Block II command post aircraft, as well as some ground and mobile locations. After FAB-T reaches Milestone C, Phase 2 production contract options for Low-Rate Initial Production and beyond will open up for Raytheon, expanding the contract considerably.

It’s a sharp blow to prior incumbent Boeing, but not entirely unexpected. Buying FAB-T terminals for USAF B-2 and B-52 bombers, RC-135 SIGINT/ELINT aircraft, or other planes, would require another procurement process.

Work will be performed in Marlborough, MA and Largo, FL, with the Florida location serving as the assembly point. USAF FY 2013 through 2019 budgets will fund FAB-T buys over time, with just $31,274 committed immediately. Two bids were solicited and two received. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/HNSK at Hanscom AFB, MA, solicited 2 bids, and received 2 (FA8705-13-C-0005, PO 0002). Sources: Pentagon DefenseLINK | Raytheon, “Raytheon awarded $298 million for US Air Force FAB-T satellite terminal program” | Defense News, “Space Fence, FAB-T Awards Show an Emboldened DoD”.

Dec 3/13: Support. Boeing in Wichita, KS receives a $75.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, attached to the $1 billion E-4B “Product Service Integrator” deal (q.v. Dec 8/05). They’ll provide support and spares, programmed depot maintenance, modifications, and related activities.

$24.5 million in FY 2014 operations and maintenance funds are committed immediately. The Pentagon said that work would be performed in Wichita, KS and is expected to be complete by Nov 30/14. That’s half-right. Wichita has traditionally been the E-4’s base of support, but Boeing announced their intent to close the plant in January 2012, and it’s still on schedule for closure in March 2014. E-4 work has been moved to Oklahoma City, OK and San Antonio, TX. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WLKLC at Tinker AFB, OK manages the contract (FA8106-06-D-0001, PO 0030). See also Wichita Eagle, “Boeing: Work from Defense contract won’t be done in Wichita”.

July 1/13: Broadband SATCOM. Raytheon Network Centric Systems in Marlborough, MA receives a $34 million contract modification to continued development and testing of air (E-4, E-6) and ground fixed and transportable command post terminals with presidential and national voice conferencing. The systems are a parallel project award under the Family of Advanced Beyond line-of-sight Terminals (FAB-T) program, which leverages new AEHF hardened broadband satellites. The goal is a production-ready system by September 2014.

Work will be performed at Marlborough, MA, and is expected to be complete by by October 2013. Fiscal 2012 Research and Development funds are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/HNSK, Hanscom Air Force Base, MA manages the contract (FA8307-12-C-0013, PO 0013).

Sept 10/12: Broadband SATCOM. The Raytheon Co. Network Centric Systems in Marlborough, MA, is being awarded a $70 million firm fixed price contract for development, testing and production of FAB-T engineering development models of air (E-4B, E-6B TACAMO), ground fixed and transportable Command Post Terminals with Presidential and National Voice Conferencing (PNVC). FAB-T terminals are designed to work with the US military’s new AEHF hardened broadband satellites.

The location of the performance is Marlborough, MA. Work is to be complete by July 2013. The AFLCMC/HSNK at Hanscom AFB, MA manages the contract (FA8307-12-C-0013).

Feb 24/12: Raytheon in Largo, FL receives an $8.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee price contract for 1 installation lot of E-4B Mod Block 1 audio infrastructure obsolescence upgrades. Work will be performed in Largo, FL and is expected to be complete by Feb 28/13. The OC-ALC/GKSKH at Tinker Air Force Base, OK manages the contract (FA8106-12-C-0003).

FY 2005 – 2011

E-4B mission
click for video

Sept 19/11: Delivery. Boeing returns another E-4B to Offut AFB, NE after its programmed depot maintenance (PDM). Boeing’s E-4B program manager, Glenn Winkler, referred to “over and above” surprise issues uncovered during the maintenance, but the maintenance and modifications were completed, and the plane flew on to Offut AFB, NE after a new paint job by Boeing partner L-3 in Greenville, TX. Boeing.

June 7/11: CNS/ATM upgrade. Boeing announces an unspecified USAF award for the E-4B Communications Navigation Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) upgrade, Phase 1. The CNS/ATM upgrade will bring the fleet in line with new Federal Aviation Administration requirements for flight in civilian and international airspace, and will also allow the E-4Bs to operate more efficiently at airports and in crowded airspace. Their solution will be derived from current Boeing 737 cockpits, and the 4 E-4Bs will be upgraded in 3 phases.

Phase 1 includes next-generation flight-management hardware and software, as well as a multimode receiver radio that combines several aircraft systems into a single component. Boeing Global Transport & Executive Systems (GTES) will incorporate the Phase 1 upgrades during the E-4Bs’ regularly scheduled maintenance cycle at Boeing’s Wichita, KS facility. The initial E-4B CNS/ATM Phase 1 aircraft is expected to enter flight test in Q4 2012.

Aug 20/10: Accident. A USAF Air Combat Command Accident Investigation Board rules that a May 12/10 accident at Offut AFB, NE was caused by pilot error. The E-4B’s tail hit the runway between 2-3 feet past the centerline, causing about $3.1 million worth of damage. The aircraft was quickly brought to a stop, with no injuries or further property damage.

According to the report, the board ruled that major factors included misperception of the operational conditions in altitude, glide path and descent rate on the aircraft’s short final; breakdown in visual scan during a night landing; overcontrolling the input to the yoke of the aircraft; and procedural error recovery technique that resulted in too much pitch. USAF.

Sept 21/07: Delivery. Boeing announces the delivery of a refurbished E-4B National Airborne Operations Center to the U.S. Air Force Strategic Command after completing programmed depot maintenance (PDM) at its modification center in Wichita, KS.

Dec 8/05: Support. Boeing in Wichita, KS receives a maximum $1 billion indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract fee to be the E-4B’s Product Support Integrator (PSI): a sole source, performance based effort to take care of logistics, maintenance, modernization, and engineering work, combining a number of separate contracts (CLS, ESS, MPS, & Block I) into one contract. Boeing has supported the E-4 fleet of 4 modified Boeing 747 aircraft for 25 years now, offering contractor logistics support, engineering services and technical order support.

Solicitation began August 2005, and negotiations were complete December 2005. The indefinite delivery/ indefinite quantity contract will have a 5-year basic period, plus 1 more 5-year option period, which would extend it to FY 2016. The Oklahoma City ALC at Tinker AFB, OK (FA8106-06-D-0001, announcement Feb 13/06). Boeing’s corporate release pegs the total value at up to $2 billion.

$1 billion performance-based support deal

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Military, Again: Afghan AF Picks MD-530F Helicopters

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 17:13
Afghan MD-530F
(click to view full)

In March 2011, MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ won a competition for the Afghan Air Force that could reach as many as 54 helicopters over the life of the 4 year contract, giving it an implicit value of up to $180 million. Discussions with MD Helicopters confirmed that these are MD 530Fs, designed for high altitude and/or hot weather operations, where thinner air costs helicopters some of their lift.

The MD 530F uses Rolls Royce’s 650 shp 250-C30 engine, instead of the 500E’s 450-shp 250-C20R. That drives a 5-bladed set of main-rotor blades that have been extended 6 inches, along with lengthened tail rotors on a correspondingly longer tail boom. In a typical working configuration, at a design gross weight of 3,100 pounds/ 1,406 kg and a useful load of over 1,509 pounds/ 684 kg, it can hover out-of-ground effect at 11,600 feet/ 3,536m (ISA + 20°C). An optional cargo hook is rated for 2,000 pounds/ 907 kg, and the helicopter also has a flat aft cargo compartment floor for internal loads. These may be training helicopters, but they can be repurposed for light utility tasks. MD Helicopter designs are not unknown in the military market…

MD’s Military Rise, Fall… and Rise? Israeli MD 500
(click to view larger)

Hughes’ OH-6 Cayuse/”Loach” was legendary as a light utility helicopter and gunship. OH-6s still serve with some militaries, their AH-6J/M “Little Bird” descendant is still used as a light gunship by US Special Forces’ 160th SOAR, and the MD500/530 Defender series of light attack helicopters is still in operation around the world in Israel, South Korea, and elsewhere.

The purchase and breakup of Hughes Helicopter into Boeing (AH-64 Apache, AH-6 Little Bird) and MD (civilian helicopters) badly hurt this helicopter family’s global momentum and presence, as Boeing chose to focus on the AH-64 Apache as its military offering. After its 2005 purchase and recapitalization by Patriarch Partners, MD tried to re-enter the light military segment, but losses in the US Army’s ARH armed reconnaissance and LUH light utility competitions left them still looking for a new military foothold.

Military MD-530F
(click to view larger)

While Mexico’s Navy uses the innovative MD Explorer, whose quieter NOTAR rotorless tail design sharply lowers the advance warning given to its targets, other military export orders have been slim. The Afghan order could reverse that trend, and a fleet of 54 helicopters would see use beyond the primary trainer role. That would re-establish MD Helicopters as a global competitor in the light utility space.


MD Helicopters has a July 2010 Memorandum of Understanding with Boeing for the AH-6i Light Attack Helicopter [PDF], which has been selected by Jordan and bought by Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the firm is developing their own MD-530G armed scout variant.

Their main global competitors are armed variants of the Bell 407, variants of Eurocopter’s EC145 and EC635 – and for advanced militaries, armed VT-UAVs like Northrop Grumman’s MQ-8 Fire Scout.

Contracts & Key Events Afghan MD-530Fs

Sept 26/14: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ receives a $35.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising an option for 12 more Afghan MD-530F primary trainer helicopters, bringing announced orders to 18. Meanwhile, MD Helicopters has been finalizing its MD-530G armed scout model/ conversion. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ, with an estimated completion date of Sept 29/15. US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL is the contracting agency. The contract was announced on this date, but awarded Sept 19/14 (W58RGZ-11-C-0070, PO 0019).

12 more

May 8/12: Sub-contractors. For each new Afghan MD-530F, Cobham Aerospace Communications will supply 4 of its N301A audio controllers; Cobham Antenna Systems will provide VHF communications, VOR/LOC/GS V-Dipole, DME, and Navigation Splitter Antennas; and Cobham Commercial Systems will supply an Artex C406-2HM emergency locator transmitter. Cobham plc [PDF] | Arabian Aerospace.

Feb 21/12: A US Army article discusses the training process and personnel involved in the MD-530F effort.

Sept 13/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. presents the first 3 Afghan MD-530Fs to the U.S. Army, as part of the Rotary Wing Primary Training Aircraft-Afghanistan Program.

Sept 7/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ receives a $14.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to provide logistics support and flight training devices for the Afghan Air Force’s MD 530Fs. Work will be performed in Shindand, Afghanistan, with an estimated completion date of March 31/16. One bid was solicited for this, with one bid received by U.S. Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-11-C-0070).


March 14/11: MD Helicopters, Inc. in Mesa, AZ wins an initial $19.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 6 new primary training helicopters, 2 corresponding flight training devices, and critical spare parts for the Afghan Air Force.

That initial order could reach as many as 54 helicopters over the life of the 4 year contract, giving it an implicit value of up to $180 million. Work will be performed in Mesa, AZ with an estimated completion date of March 31/16. The U.S. Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL solicited 9 bids, with 4 bids received (W58RGZ-11-C-0070).

First 6 helicopters and infrastructure

Categories: News

UK Changes Its Mind on Iraq Intervention While Obama Points to Intelligence Flaws

Mon, 09/29/2014 - 14:45

  • On Friday the UK’s House of Commons voted 524-43 in favor of joining a military coalition against ISIS. This includes authorizing strikes in Iraq, but explicitly excludes strike sin Syria which would have to be subject to a separate vote. On Saturday 2 Tornado GR4s proceeded [UK MOD] to fly over Iraq where they collected intelligence but didn’t find targets to strike. Less than 2 months ago Prime Minister David Cameron was ruling out military action.

  • At the 60 Minutes Sunday TV show President Obama admitted that the US government had underestimated ISIS. Or rather, “they” in the intelligence community did, to quote the President more accurately. Through 2013 the White House didn’t want to know, or help much as late as early 2014. The official narrative all along was that “Al Qaeda is on the run” despite ample evidence to the contrary, so finding someone else to blame for the current fallout is not entirely surprising.

  • The Guardian: Isis reconciles with al-Qaida group as Syria air strikes continue.


  • Afghan translators are still stranded [Magic Valley] in visa bureaucracy while the Taliban threat is worsening.

  • Pakistan’s military claims [Deutsche Welle] that its offensive against the Taliban in North Waziristan, underway since June, has led to the death of more than 1,000 militants. Chris Alexander, Canada’s current Minister of Citizenship and Immigration and ambassador to Afghanistan a decade ago, continues to believe [Khaama Press] that the Taliban have support within Pakistan’s government.


  • David Boey, formerly a defense journalist at Singapore’s Straits Times, notes the savvy use by the Royal Malaysian Navy of old civilians vessels [Jane's] and oil rigs [Malay Mail] to improve their anti-piracy capabilities on a budget.

  • China’s anti-corruption drive/purge among its civilian and military officials continues according to privately-owned China Daily.

  • China’s East China Navy Fleet conducts a training exercise in the South China Sea, with pictures on state-owned Xinhua.

Categories: News

Canada’s C$ 2.9B “Joint Support Ship” Project, Take 3

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 19:49
HMCS Protecteur
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As part of its spate of military modernization announcements issued just before Canada Day (July 1) 2006, the Canadian government issued an RFP that began the process of defining and building 3 “Joint Support Ships.” The aim was to deliver 3 multi-role vessels with substantially more capability than the current Protecteur Class oiler and resupply ships. In addition to being able to provide at-sea support (re-fueling and re-supply) to deployed naval task groups, the new JSS ships were envisioned as ships that would also be capable of sealift operations, as well as amphibious support to forces deployed ashore.

This was expected to be a C$ 2.9 billion (USD $2.58 billion) project. This article describes the process, the industry teams participating, and some of the issues swirling around Canada’s very ambitious specifications. Specifications that ultimately sank the whole project, twice, in a manner that was predictable from the outset. Leaving Canada’s navy with a serious problem, as its existing ships were forced into retirement. Will another go-round in 2012-13 help any? And what will Canada do in the meantime?

Take 2: Lessons, Process, and Contenders
Berlin Class
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The 24,700t Canadian oiler and supply ships HMCS Protecteur (T-AOR-509, commissioned 1969), and HMCS Preserver (T-AOR-510, commissioned 1970) have contributed to humanitarian aid missions in Florida and the Bahamas, peace-making off Somalia and East Timor, and have been poised for the evacuation of non-combatants from Haiti, to name but a few of their recent endeavors. In the end, both HMCS Protecteur (fire) and HMCS Preserver (corrosion) were forced into “early” retirement in September 2014, after 45 and 44 years of respective service time.

Canada picked the 20,240t Berlin Class as its follow-on supply ships in June 2013, but hasn’t managed to issue a build contract. Current projections involve an expected cost of C$ 2.6 billion, for ships that Canada is unlikely to receive before 2020 at the earliest.

This outcome wasn’t necessary, but it was predictable. Meanwhile, interim leases of much larger 49,600t American ships are being considered as a bridge-buy option.

JSS Procurement Plan #1 Dutch JSS concept
(click to view full)

The ship’s requirements were unveiled in June 2006. they included the ability to carry liquid and bulk supplies, amphibious support roles, a hangar for multiple helicopters, and a strengthened hull for operations in ice. August 2008 saw the predictable demise of that JSS program (vid. Appendices A & B), but Canada’s Protecteur Class still faced all of the same issues with maintenance, and still had a limited lifespan left.

Canada’s DND was still thinking things over in January 2010 when the Dutch made a move of their own, ordering their own “Joint Logistic Support Ship” with specifications that closely matched Canada’s stated JSS needs and requirements.

Canada made no move. Its government remained stuck considering what it wanted to do, and JSS discussions became intertwined with a proposed national shipbuilding strategy that added more complexity and delay. Some countries like Australia have shifted toward a single preferred shipbuilder approach, in order to keep their defense shipbuilding industrial base alive despite limited orders. Regional politics make that a perilous option for any Canadian government, so in June 2010 Canada opted for a dual preferred shipbuilders approach. Their National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy (NSPS) would build their future combat ships in one shipyard, and their future support and non-combatant ships at a second location.

With that step out of the way, July 2010 saw the JSS program’s re-start announcement, this time at C$ 2.6 billion instead of $2.9 billion. With the Canadian dollar close to par with the US dollar, currency shifts made up some of that difference. The other difference involved cutting the planned order to just 2 ships instead of 3, after previous program experience showed that it wasn’t possible to buy 3 ships that do all of the things that Canada wanted, for the money it was prepared to spend.

JSS Procurement Plan #2 A15 Cantabria
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October 2010 saw the final piece of the puzzle fall into place. A dysfunctional political and procurement system has led Canada’s government to use ACAN buys for big defense purchases, almost all of which have been organized as rigged sole-source decisions instead of competitions. The JSS program looked to pick one of 2 existing designs that were already in service with NATO allies.

The Dutch multi-role JSS, which isn’t in service yet, wasn’t one of the 2 choices.

Contender #1 was ThyssenKrupp Marine’s 20,240t Berlin Class, with 3 examples serving in the Germany Navy. These ships are mostly conventional oiler and replenishment ships, with storage for 9,330t of fuel oil, aviation fuel and fresh water, and 550t of mixed cargo. They can carry light armament and up to 2 medium helicopters, with an on-board hospital that can handle up to 43 patients.

Contender #2 was Navantia S.A.’s Cantabria Class, an enlarged 19,500t version of the Patino Class replenishment ship. Cargo specifications for the smaller Patino are 8,480t fuel capacity (6,820t diesel and 1,660t aviation), and 500t of mixed cargo. The Cantabria carries a crew medical center with 10 beds, including a operating facilities equipped for telemedicine by videoconference, an X-ray room, dental surgery, sterilization laboratory, medical surgery and gas containment center.

While each of these ships has some minor capabilities beyond the basic fleet replenishment mission, the most striking thing about these choices is their signal that Canada had effectively abandoned its attempt to make the JSS a multi-role amphibious operations ship.

JSS Procurement Plan #3 TKMS concept
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Discussions were held with each firm concerning Canada-specific modifications to their designs, and the terms under which they’d be willing to hand over their designs to a designated Canadian shipbuilder. Those discussions reportedly didn’t go well, and other reports surfaced that BMT Fleet Technology of Kanata, ON near Ottawa might offer an design if those negotiations failed.

The report turned out to be true, and in March 2012, Canada gave design contracts to BMT and to TKMS. BMT would offer a custom JSS design for Canada, while TKMS would offer a modified version of the Berlin Class. Canada would pick a design between the 2 once the teams were done, arrange license production in Canada at Vancouver Shipyards per the NSPS selections, then contract with the shipyard.

Adding a new design that is not in service would vastly increase the program’s risks. On the other hand, their parent company has an Aegir family of ships that were designed from the outset to be built in “local country” shipyards, and will form the basis for the UK’s new MARS fleet tankers.

Canada’s conclusion? The entire competitive structure had been a waste of time. Implementation costs would be 15% less with an off-the-shelf design, so that was the only contender offering enough contingency funding for an executable project. TKMS’ modified Berlin Class was picked in June 2013, but construction isn’t expected to begin until at least “late 2016,” and delivery isn’t expected until 2020 at the earliest.

Supply Ship Cost Comparison: Canada vs. Britain BMT’s MARS Tanker
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Canada isn’t the only country looking to reinvest in supply ships. As noted above, the Dutch are fielding a 28,000t multi-role supply and amphibious JSS support ship that’s similar to Canada’s original requirements, at a coat of around $500 million. Changing specifications in Canada have made that a poor comparison.

When it comes to simpler oiler/ supply vessels, Britain is a much better comparison. In 2002, Britain began a Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) program to replace 11 supply ships in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Their program also went through a great deal of internal turbulence, including a program split in 2007. In early 2012, however, the Royal Navy placed its first MARS contract for 4 double-hulled oiler ships, which would also have the ability to transport and transfer other supplies.

While the 20,240t Berlin Class would certainly qualify for this role, Britain ended up choosing the option Canada didn’t: BMT’s Aegir design, albeit in a larger 37,000t ship. This makes for a very interesting comparison, and Britain added one more major difference: their ships would be built abroad, because even the UK’s shipbuilding facilities weren’t deemed ready, or good value for money. Instead, they chose one of the world’s leading shipbuilders, with a commercial and military history of on-time, on-budget delivery: Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering in South Korea. The 1st ship, RFA Tidespring, is expected to enter service in 2016.

The cost differential is stunning.

Canada’s JSS program is budgeting C$ 2.6 billion for 2 ships of 20,240t each. Which means that each ship costs $1.3 billion. We’ll assume that rough parity with the US dollar continues throughout the project. We’ll also assume that the JSS project doesn’t end up with major cost overruns, even though this is a significant risk given Seaspan Vancouver’s lack of experience.

Britain’s 4 x 37,000t Tide Class MARS replenishment ships cost GBP 602 million total, or about $950 million equivalent. Which means that each ship costs $237.5 million. Their builder has a long record of solid performance, so this amount is fairly reliable.

The difference per ship = 5.47x, in order to build ships with just 2/3 the individual tonnage, and much greater risk of cost overruns or late arrival.

JSS: Contracts and Key Events 2014

Fire on board Protecteur; Both existing ships forced to retire; Lease of retiring US MSC Supply Class T-AOEs? At-sea emergency

Sept 23/14: Rent a T-AOE? CBC reports that Canada is considering a lease of the 49,600t Supply Class fast combat support ship USNS Bridge [T-AOE-10], which was recently inactivated by the US Navy because it costs $75 million per year to keep it in operation.

Older oilers cost about $40 million, and the new T-AKE dry supply ships cost aout $50 million, but they limit the speed of any naval group using them to under 20 knots. Carrier Strike Group transits are often 20-24 knots, and 25-26 knots is not uncommon; the Supply Class are the ships that can keep up. USNS Rainier [T-AOE-7] is scheduled to be held in reserve for another year, but current plans would also remove her from the fleet, over strenuous objections from fleet commanders.

A Canadian lease could help solve the US Navy’s problem by transferring the operating costs, while helping Canada at the same time. For the USA, the question is whether to give up control over the ships’ future usage, such as it is. If they believe the Canadians will send their T-AOEs and frigates to accompany US Navy strike groups often enough, it could still be a net plus. For the Canadians, the size difference is a big deal, because it affects required infrastructure. The USD $75 million per year operating cost could also be an issue to a military that may not have enough funds for operations under planned budgets. The good news is that crewing won’t be a big problem, since the 1960s-era Protecteur Class required almost twice as many crew as the late-1990s era Supply Class do. Sources: CASR, “The JSS Project: Delays, delivery dates, urgency, and alternatives” | CBC, “Canada’s navy looks to fill fleet gap with purchase from U.S.” | Defense News, “Canada To Seek NATO, US Support For Naval Air Defense, Resupply” | Defense News “Big Supply Ships May Get Reprieve – For Now” (July 2014).

Sept 19/14: Retired. Both HMCS Preserver and HMCS Protecteur are forced into retirement. HMCS Protecteur has never recovered from its engine fire (q.v. Feb 27/14) and collision with the destroyer HMCS Algonquin (q.v. Aug 31/13), which will also be scrapped. HMCS Preserver was found to have serious corrosion problems, and the destroyer HMCS Iroquois was scheduled for retirement in 2015 anyway, after 43 years of service.

Sources: CTV News, “Navy sending four Cold War era ships into retirement” | Nanaimo Daily News, “Navy to drop four ships, including Protecteur and Algonquin”.

Both T-AORs retire

Feb 28/14: Fire. As if its recent crash wasn’t bad enough (q.v. Aug 31/13), HMCS Protecteur suffers an engine room fire en route to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. She is taken under tow by the American destroyer USS Chosin, but the tow line breaks in rough seas. HMCS Protecteur is eventually towed into Pearl Harbor on March 6/14 by the fleet ocean tug USNS Sioux [T-ATF 171].

About 20 crew suffered minor injuries, but the damage to the ship is more serious. the engine room and propulsion control machinery is badly damaged, and there’s fire and smoke damage to adjoining compartments. Some doubt the ship will ever sail again, and she has to be towed back to Canada after the damage assessment is complete. Sources: CBC, “Line towing fire-damaged HMCS Protecteur to Hawaii breaks” | CBC, “HMCS Protecteur towed into Pearl Harbor” | US Navy, “HMCS Protecteur, Crew Arrive Safely to Pearl Harbor” | CBC, “HMCS Protecteur too badly damaged to sail home on her own”.

Protecteur fire


Berlin Class picked for JSS, but no contract; Inflation mismatch risks shortfalls; 2012 saw both existing oilers out of service; Collision with destroyer damages Protecteur. HMCS Protecteur
(click to view larger)

Oct 11/13: More delays. There isn’t even a contract for the JSS ships yet, and the government is already admitting to reporters that Canada’s existing supply ships will need to be retired before the new Berlin Class variants can enter service over the 2019-2020 time frame. This is a new admission, and it’s so even though the polar icebreaker project will be deferred in JSS’ favor.

Senior officials are already talking about a service gap of “at least 18 months,” without even a contract in place to offer an notional end date. Shipbuilding isn’t even expected to start before “late 2016,” despite the use of a licensed design as the base Meanwhile, making JSS the yard’s first major military shipbuilding project sharply raises the odds of industrial mistakes and rework, cost overruns, and schedule failures.

Any delays will have costs and implications beyond even the JSS project, because Seaspan Vancouver doesn’t have the capacity to run both projects in parallel. Meanwhile, CGCS Louis St. Laurent will need at least $55 million in refits in order to keep operating until 2021 – 2022. Further JSS delays would force Canada to either spend more, or to field a navy with no supply ships and no icebreaker. Sources: Canadian government, “National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy Secretariat announces Vancouver Shipyards to build the Joint Support Ships in 2016″ | CBC, “Arctic icebreaker delayed as Tories prioritize supply ships” | Postmedia, “Shipbuilding schedule conflict to cost taxpayers extra $55 million”.

Aug 31/13: Crash. HMCS Protecteur collides with the Tribal Class destroyer HMCS Algonquin during a west coast training exercise. The towing exercise certainly went “dramatically wrong”, but that’s almost a tangential point. Until the damage is fixed, Canada’s Pacific Fleet has no replenishment ship – a situation that can be repeated at any time with JSS, given that there are only 2 ships planned.

The same amount of money could build 4 or more similar ships abroad, as countries like Britain have done. The difference illustrates the non-monetary cost of Canada’s chosen approach. The Globe and Mail, “Canadian Pacific navy fleet severely hampered without damaged ships.”


June 2-10/13: Calling Berlin. Canada chooses ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems’ “proven, off-the-shelf” design, based on the German Navy’s double-hulled Berlin Class Einsatzgruppenversorger (EGV – Task Force Support Ship), over a variant of BMT Fleet Technology’s Aegir that was picked as the base for Britain’s forthcoming Tide Class support tankers.

It wasn’t a features contest. Ultimately, TKMS won because Canada believed that implementation costs would be 15% less with an off-the-shelf design, so that was the only contender offering enough contingency funding for an executable project. First Marine International was used to validate construction cost estimates.

The TKMS design can carry 2 CH-148 (S-92) medium helicopters, and has less fuel capacity than the Protecteur Class, but useable fuel is closer. It seems that the Protecteurs can’t transfer their full payload without creating stability challenges, and their single-hull design’s days are numbered by maritime rules. ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems designs show a pair of MK-15 Phalanx systems mounted for defense, 1 forward and 1 aft.

TKMS will prepare the detailed design package for Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd to review in preparation for actual production, and part of that process will involve definition contract negotiations between Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. and the Canadian government. Once these steps are complete, Canada will acquire the license for the ship design, allowing in-country production and support. Canada DND | Canada DND added background | Navy Recognition | TKMS concept: ship 3-view.

TKMS Berlin Class picked

Feb 22/13: The Canadian government offers a C$ 15.7 million trickle of contracts to Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyard, in British Columbia. The money will be used to assess the Joint Support Ship design options, review the future CCGS John G. Diefenbaker polar icebreaker’s design, refine the design and specifications for the offshore fisheries science vessel, and produce plans for construction, material, subcontractors and labor. STX Marine is acting as the shipyard’s design partner. Public Works Canada | Seaspan Shipyards [PDF] | MarineLog.

Seaspan study contracts

Feb 13/13: JSS & inflation. Opposition parties draw attention to the 2.7% inflation rate being used to cost the “C$ 2.6 billion” Joint Support Ship project, and to an internal DND audit that cites 3.5% – 5.0% as the norm for the shipbuilding industry. American defense planners have been known to use even higher figures. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose defends the estimate as coming from their usual process, but doesn’t explain the deviation from industry norms.

Over the course of a long project, the difference can add up to tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars. Which means either higher defense spending, cuts to the project, or cancellation of other projects. Higher defense spending is unlikely any time soon, and it’s hard to cut a 2-ship project. The situation could become even worse if other NSPS projects pick up the same flawed estimate, but the inflation rate issue is likely to surface again later in 2013, when the Parliamentary Budget Office tables their report on the JSS program.

Feb 13/13: Out of action. reports:

“National Defence reported late last year that biggest challenge facing the navy in 2012 was when its two support ships, the HMCS Protecteur and Preserver, went into maintenance at the same time…. because of their absence in late 2011 and early 2012, the navy was forced to turn to allies for help replenishing other Canadian vessels at sea until the re-supply ships came back online.”

Both oilers down

2010 – 2012

Canada launches 2nd JSS attempt, which sinks. Try plan #3? HMCS Preserver
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Dec 6/12: PBO denied. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is denied when he asks to see the winning NSPS shipyard bids, as part of a study examining the financial implications of the Joint Support Ship, and a similar effort focused on Canada’s project to build Arctic patrol vessels. From

“Public Works has provided PBO with some information related to the national shipbuilding strategy, including a number of agreements and reports related to Seaspan’s Vancouver Shipyards for the resupply ship study…. In a letter to Page dated Dec. 3, d’Auray indicated the winning bids were not relevant to the PBO study because they “do not stipulate awarding contracts, and the bidders were not asked to submit cost estimates for any of the vessels.”

Oct 19/12: Infrastructure. Part of the NSPS involved meeting a “target state” level of efficiency, as set by First Marine International standards. The ability to reach this state, and to finance the required upgrades, was an important part of the bidding process. Along those lines, Vancouver Shipyards holds a ground breaking ceremony as part of their C$ 200 million infrastructure investment: 4 new fabrication buildings, a shipbuilding gantry crane, and a load out pier.

While the government touts the investment as having “no cost to Canada,” Costs will be passed through one way or another. Especially when the shipyards in question are now sole-source bidders. The more likely result is that they’ll soak the provincial government for most of the funds, as their east coast counterparts at Irving did. Government of Canada

March 8-12/12: JSS Plan #3. Canada has moved forward with a new JSS approach, awarding relatively small design contracts for a custom JSS design from BMT, and a modified off-the-shelf Berlin Class design. Canada intends to pick a winner, and then license the design for construction in Canada.

BMT Fleet, who designed Britain’s new 37,000t MARS fleet tankers and supply ships, is awarded a 12-month, C$ 9.8 million design project to further develop their Contract Design as a JSS option. They have already done a JSS Preliminary Design under earlier contracts, and have been supporting the JSS project since December 2002 through a series of individual taskings issued under an Engineering, Logistics, and Management Support (ELMS) Services Contract. These have included a broad range of engineering and design studies.

At the same time, ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems has won an undisclosed contract to modify their Berlin Class Task Group Supply Vessel (EGV) to meet Canadian requirements. The modified design will be developed by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Canada (TKMSC) and TKMS subsidiary Blohm + Voss Naval. If the modified Berlin Class EGV design is chosen, it would be followed by a functional design contract, and those designs would be licensed for construction by a Canadian shipyard. This design contract includes initial provisions for a licensing agreement to that effect. Blohm + Voss | BMT Fleet.

New JSS approach, initial design contracts

Nov 4/11: HMCS Preserver crash. As it prepares to return to service following a C$ 44.7 million refit, HMCS Preserver hits the floating drydock at Irving’s shipyard in Halifax, NS. The drydock now has a hole, and the ship’s hull is reportedly dented above the water line.

The incident underscores the vulnerability of Canada’s fleet to problems with existing supply ships, and the importance of the future JSS. Until HMCS Preserver is returned to service, HMCS Protecteur will remain Canada’s only supply ship. Which it did – until it had to go in for repairs in 2012, leaving Canada with nothing. CBC | Global TV News | Ottawa Citizen’s Defence Watch.

HMCS Preserver crash

Oct 19/11: Trouble. The National Post reports that the JSS program has hit a major block:

“Defence sources said it is in trouble because two companies competing to design the new ships – ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany and Navantia S.A. of Spain – are backing away from the bidding process. It is understood that the government is not prepared to pay their asking price and is likely to turn to a domestic Canadian design being prepared by engineering support contractor BMT Fleet Technology of Kanata, Ont. None of the competing companies responded to requests for comment Tuesday… One Defence insider said the JSS problems reflect a lack of experienced procurement staff. “This is so depressingly Canadian – you go out to bidders, you indicate an interest in designs, you load on extras and then say ‘no, thank you.’ It could set us back another five years,” he said. The new supply ships were due to be in service by 2017 but sources say that deadline is unlikely to be met now.”

Bidders not playing

Oct 19/11: NSPS. Tim Colton’s Maritime Memos was right, it took just over a year from Canada’s government to announce the obvious. In their partial defense, there was a May 2011 election in between, and at least they didn’t pick an obviously disastrous political choice for the 20-30 year, C$ 33 billion program.

On the west coast, Seaspan subsidiary Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. in North Vancouver, BC wins the C$ 8 billion non-combat portion. They will build the 2-3 Berlin or Cantabria derivative JSS support ships, 4 off-shore science vessels for the Coast Guard, and a new polar icebreaker, for a total of 7-8 ships, worth about C$ 8 billion. Despite the JSS’ long-running competition, and the fleet’s need, the 3 off-shore fisheries and 1 oceanographic science vessels will be the first ships built. Other team members include and Alion Canada (design), CSC (logistics), Imtech Marine (ship systems), STX Canada Marine (design), and Thales Canada (ship systems).

There are 2 caveats worth noting. One is that the projects will involve 100% value industrial offsets, which matters because many ship systems and components, especially combat-related equipment, will come from outside Canada. The other is that the government can take over the shipbuilder if it signs up for NSPS, and then defaults on contractual obligations (vid. Part 3, Section 5.2). Read “Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy” for full coverage.

NSPS shipyards designated

Oct 8/10: NSPS. Public Works Canada announces the results of their initial shipbuilding strategy Solicitation of Interest and Qualification. One yard will be selected to build combat vessels, while a 2nd yard will build non-combat vessels. Five Canadian shipyards have been short-listed. Read “Canada’s National Shipbuilding Strategy” for full coverage.

Oct 8/10: RFI. Canada’s MERX government procurement board posts solicitation W8472-115312/A. It says the government has approved a new approach, restricted to “adapting the designs of recently built naval fleet replenishment ships that are operating with other NATO Navies.”

It then narrows the contenders down to ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems’ Berlin Class, and Navantia S.A.’s Cantabria Class. The process will begin by ordering risk reduction studies to cover adapting these designs to meet Canadian requirements, provide historical costs of building, and deliver a proposal that includes a data package and technology transfer agreement so a Canadian shipyard can build and support the ships. If one of these designs is selected for the JSS, Canada will amend the contract with that designer to implement its proposal.

RFI for v2.0

July 14/10: JSS, Take 2. Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) issues background materials concerning a second attempt at the JSS project. Specifications are very, very thin. The second go-round is listed as a C$ 2.6 billion project, though currency strength would offset some of the $300 million reduction. So would the revised plan of buying 2 ships, with an option for a 3rd.

Canada’s proposed shipbuilding strategy fits into the plan, but a construction bid can’t be expected before 2012 at the earliest. The mission description is close to meaningless, and will remain so until tradeoffs are specified among these capabilities, and exact requirements become clearer:

“The primary role of the JSS will include supply of fuel, ammunition, spare parts, food, and water. The JSS will also provide a home base for the maintenance and operation of helicopters, a limited sealift capability, and logistics support to forces deployed ashore… the [current] definition phase, will involve the assessment of both new and existing designs. Existing ship designs are those already built, operating, and meet key specific Canadian requirements. A new ship design is being developed by government and industry officials working side-by-side… The design is expected to be available in approximately two years, at which time a Canadian shipyard, selected as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, will be engaged to complete the design of and build the Joint Support Ships.”

See: Backgrounder | Release.

2nd JSS procurement attempt begins

June 3/10: NSPS. Canada announces a new shipbuilding strategy:

“Two shipyards will be selected to build the large vessels (1000 tonnes displacement or more)… process, led by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC)… will result in the signing of formal agreements establishing a long-term relationship between each yard and the Government of Canada. The negotiation and signing of umbrella agreements with the successful shipyards is expected to occur in the 2011-2012 timeframe.

One shipyard will be selected to build combat vessels. This will enable the procurement of the Canadian Surface Combatant [CSC frigate/destroyer replacement] and Arctic/Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS)… Another competitively selected shipyard will build non-combat vessels, such as the Joint Support Ships (JSS)… Shipyards among those not selected for the building of large vessels may be engaged in the building and support (maintenance, refit, and repair) of the approximately 100 smaller vessels included within the strategy. Maintenance, refit, and repair of the Navy’s fleet represent some [C$] 500 million annually.”

Now it has to start picking winners, and approving programs. Major ministry participants include Defense, Public Works, and Fisheries & Oceans. Plus Industry Canada. Not a recipe for speed. DND release | Public Works | Coast Guard.

National shipbuilding strategy announced

Jan 18/10: Dutch JSS. The Dutch go ahead with their own multi-role “Joint Logistics Support Ship” program, with a budget of EUR 385.5 billion for 1 ship. Could this represent a JSS contender if the project resurfaces?

2006 – 2009

JSS program launched, contracts signed, then program canceled. JSS v1.0
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April 13/09: Rust-out. Canadian Broadcasting Corporation News obtains copies of the Canadian Forces’ 2009-2010 Maritime Staff Capability Plan, in which navy Commodore Kelly Williams warns that maintaining the Navy’s existing 40 year-old supply ships will be problematic:

“Maintaining the obsolescent tankers is costly and will put further pressure on the already constrained [repair budget] and further delays in the mid-life refit for Halifax class [frigates] which will lead to rust-out…”

“Rust-out” is caused by repeatedly sanding warships, which leads to hulls becoming thinner and more fragile. CBC News quotes Liberal Party (official opposition) Senator Colin Kenny, who chairs the Senate’s standing defence committee, is highly critical of the program, which was begun under one of his own party’s governments:

“The navy only asked for three [ships] when it knew it needed four,” he told CBC News. “But the costs have come in that there’s only enough money for two. And if Mr. MacKay thinks things are on track, he really doesn’t know what’s happening.”

April 2/08: The Ottawa Citizen publishes an op-ed, “Celebrating a robust navy with an uncertain future.”

Aug 22/08: JSS – The End. Canada’s Ministry of Public Works and Government Services announces the termination of the JSS program:

“After receiving and evaluating the mandatory requirements for the Joint Support Ship Project from the bidders, the Crown has determined that the proposals were not compliant with the basic terms of the Request for Proposals (RFP). Among other compliance failures, both bids were significantly over the established budget provisions… The Department of National Defence and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans are currently considering the next steps. The government is committed to procure, repair and refit vessels in Canada according to the government’s Buy Canada policy.”

The Hill Times was blunt, as it offered more background details:

“According to industry insiders, both design teams were unable to come up with a ship design under-budget. Although details are tight, officials say one team submitted a blueprint for two vessels [instead of 3], while the other sent in a plan for three, which was way over budget. In other words, industry has sent a strong signal to Ottawa – either increase the funding or scale down the project.”

The government’s decision left the Canadian navy’s future ability to operate independently at risk. HMCS Preserver and HMCS Protecteur were expected to reach the end of their service life between 2010- 2012, but the failure of the JSS concept means that it will be very difficult to build replacement ships before that date. Meanwhile, HMCS Preserver is headed into dock to have its boiler system repaired, just 2 years after the last repair. Those systems are an ongoing risk, as the Canadian Press explains:

“An undated briefing note, leaked to The Canadian Press over the weekend, show the navy was bracing for the blow… “If the Protecteur and Preserver are going to be needed longer than expected, we will also determine what needs to be done to keep our supply ships safe, operational and available until they can be replaced… Many of their systems are nearly obsolete, such as the boilers they use to generate steam for main propulsion. As you might expect, it’s becoming increasingly difficult and costly to maintain these ships. Spare parts are no longer readily available, and the skills needed to operate and maintain systems that were already mature in the 1960s are becoming increasingly rare.”… Beyond basic mechanics, marine engineering designs and environmental laws have become more complex over the last 40 years. The navy’s two supply ships are single hull designs…”

See also: The Hill Times | Globe & Mail | Canwest News Service | Canadian Press | CBC.

JSS terminated

Aug 3/08: The National Post reports that discussions have begun with Dutch shipbuilders, in the wake of serious problems with the JSS bid. The Netherlands builds the highly-regarded Rotterdam Class LSDs – but political friction is building around the prospect of contracting for shipbuilding outside Canada. Even though…

“This year, the federal government determined that proposals from two Canadian consortiums earmarked to build the new fleet were “noncompliant.” Defence officials were told the Joint Support Ship budget was not enough to build the three vessels envisioned and attempts to obtain more funding from the government have been unsuccessful.”

See Apendix A, which discusses why this outcome could have been, and was, predicted long in advance. Meanwhile, Conservative Party Defence Minister Peter MacKay’s press secretary Jay Paxton is attempting to douse the flames of controversy regarding the Netherlands visit:

“Although the director-general of major project delivery land and sea was in Europe on other business, he had a chance to meet with government representatives from the Netherlands who are undertaking a similar project and they compared best practices in the context of an update on their project.”

May 19/08: The Ottawa Citizen reports problems with the JSS program:

“The $2.1 billion set aside for buying three Joint Support Ships is not enough, defence officials confirm. They point out that part of the problem is the new vessels would conduct missions far beyond the scope of re-supplying warships at sea, the role now done by the decades-old Protecteur-class ships… There is no similar type of ship in the world, as most navies use two types of vessels to perform the distinct roles.

Defence officials have heard from industry that the money set aside by the government might be enough for two ships, not three.”

Nov 24/06: Phase 2 contracts. The Phase 2 Project Definition contracts have been awarded. Teams led by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems Canada Inc. and SNC-Lavalin ProFac Inc. were selected, receiving identical contract of C$ 12.5 million (US$ 11 million). Irving Shipbuilding and BAE were eliminated. Each team will now have 14 months to develop a preliminary system specification, and a proposal for project implementation. A winner will be selected in 2008, and delivery of the first ship is planned for 2012. See MarineLog report.

Phase 2 definition contracts

June 26/06: JSS announced. Liberal Party Minister of National Defence Gordon O’Connor, Minister of Public Works and Government Services Michael Fortier and Chief of the Defence Staff General Rick Hillier announce the C$ 2.9 billion Joint Support Ship project for Canada’s Navy. This project includes a base cost of C$ 2.1 billion, plus an estimated C$ 800 million in contracted in-service support over 20 years. DND Backgrounder | DND Release.

Joint Support Ship program announced

Appendix A: The JSS v1.0 Procurement Process JSS concept
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Here’s how the three-step process announced by Paul Martin’s Liberal Party government in 2006 was expected to work:

Four industry teams were pre-qualified to compete for the contract. A request for proposals, to be issued shortly, will trigger the process to select two industry teams for the project definition phase.

The second phase, Project Definition, would see 2 qualified consortia selected from among the qualifying proposals. These two consortia will each be awarded a C$ 12.5 million contract to produce and deliver an implementation proposal consisting of a preliminary ship design, a project implementation plan, and an in-service support plan. These proposals will be evaluated on the basis of compliance and the proposal demonstrating the best value, taking into consideration technical merit and total ownership cost, will be selected as the winner.

The final phase, Project Implementation, will see the winning bidder awarded two separate but inter-related contracts. The first will be for the completed design for and construction of the Joint Support Ships. The second will be for the in-service support for the life of the vessels. Delivery of the first ship is targeted for 2012.

The expected overall project cost for the JSS includes a base cost of C$ 2.1 billion (USD $1.87 billion), plus an estimated C$ 800 million (USD $712 million) in contracted in-service support over 20 years. Industry teams were led by:

  • Irving Shipbuilding
  • BAE Systems (Project) Limited (BAE Systems Naval Ships)
  • ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AG
  • SNC-Lavalin Profac Inc.

A list of the required capabilities could be found in the Canadian government’s detailed 2006 release. Supply functions, medical care, repair facilities, self-defense, roll-on roll-off, lift-on lift-off helicopter operation, ice capabilities, deck space for vehicles… the list goes on. All in a 200m/ 28,000t ship:

  • The provision at sea of fuel, food, spare parts, and ammunition. Goal is to enable a Naval Task Group to remain at sea for up to 6 times longer than would be possible without these ships;
  • Afloat support to Canadian forces deployed on shore;
  • The ability to navigate in first-year arctic ice up to 0.7 m thick;
  • 20 knots sustained speed;
  • A covered multi-purpose deck space for vehicles and containers with space for additional containers on the upper decks. Total of 1,000 – 1,500 lane meters desired on upper and lower decks;
  • Ability to carry 7,000t – 10,000t of ship fuel,650 – 1,300t of JP-5 naval aviation fuel, and 1,100 square meters of ammunition.
  • The operation of 3-4 maritime helicopters per ship, with rapid reconfiguration possible should the ship wish, for example, to use its hangars for evacuated disaster survivors;
  • Roll-on Roll-off (RO-RO) of cargo;
  • Lift-on Lift-off (LO-LO) of cargo.

Other capabilities would include:

  • The ability to function as a Joint Task Force HQ
  • Work and living space for additional personnel, over and above the standard crew of up to 165 people;
  • Modern medical and dental care facilities, including an operating room for urgently needed operations;
  • Repair facilities and technical expertise to keep aircraft and other equipment functioning; and
  • The ship will be configured with both active and passive self-defence systems

The new Conservative Party government kept the JSS program, and followed the competition procedure to narrow the contest down to just 2 bidders: ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems AG, and SNC-Lavalin Profac Inc.

In the end, however, the specifications, design, and budget simply could not be made to agree. The JSS project is currently in limbo. A solution is required, and soon, but successfully executing one demanded a rethink of the project’s main premises.

Surprisingly, the project got exactly that. The next iteration featured an overarching national shipbuilding strategy, and a specification set that scrapped the multi-role requirement in favor of a slightly-modified variant of a serving NATO support vessel.

Appendix B: DID Op-ed/Analysis (June 30, 2006) HMAS Collins launch
(click for alternate view)

Candidly, the record for small to mid-size powers attempting to develop new military technologies is not all that good. Engineering is a challenging art at the best of times, and military projects are more demanding than most because of the myriad of parts to integrate and the advanced (and hence often new and unproven) nature of the technologies. Add local unfamiliarity into the mix, and the result is inevitably schedule slips and cost overruns – often significant slips, and major cost overruns.

Given the limited procurement resources of small to medium powers, such projects can easily threaten to swallow entire service procurement budgets. Cancellation means millions or even billions of dollars has been flushed down the toilet. On the other hand, continuing the program may break one’s military as other areas are starved to pay for it – all with no guarantee of success.

Australia’s Collins Class subs, for instance, are excellent vehicles. Yet cost overruns have measured in the hundreds of millions, remediation is not yet finished, and the schedule for full deployment has slipped by years. All for vessels of a well-understood ship type, based in part on a pre-existing class (Sweden’s Gotland Class), and built in cooperation with an experienced, world-leading firm in submarine technology.

Overall, the Collins Class is an example of a successful local to medium power project to develop an advanced military platform despite previous inexperience.

Canada’s Joint Support Ships, in contrast, conform to no known ship type in their breadth of required functions, and are based on no pre-existing class. The firms competing for the design are not world leaders in similar ship classes like amphibious assault ships or LPDs. Nor does the depth of Canadian design and build experience in related efforts give cause for optimism; quite the reverse. Indeed, the JSS’ breadth of functions alone suggests a difficult project for any entity or country to undertake, and little hope of much beyond mediocrity in all functions due to the required trade-offs.

The Canadian Forces may succeed in the end, and if DID would be happy to apologize. Indeed, we would be pleased to run an article here explaining why they believe they can succeed, and what steps they have taken to address their approach’s inherent risks and performance trade-offs.

For the project’s critics appear to have the high ground when they suggest that JSS is set up to become a budget-eating failure, and recommend that Canada replace the unwieldy JSS idea with a conventional oiler or two plus a few HSV rapid deployment vessels like the ones the USA is gravitating toward. Or recommend the LPD-17 San Antonio Class amphibious support ship as an alternative. Or even recommend a larger number of smaller Dutch/Spanish Rotterdam Class LPDs, plus the USA’s versatile new T-AKE supply ships.

Those kinds of risk reduction strategies would leverage successful R&D efforts, and spend more money on cutting steel and floating boats. As opposed to pursuing paper visions that risk sucking up vast resources and producing inferior products – or no products as all.

Additional Readings Canada’s NSPS and the JSS

Related Ships

News & Views

Categories: News

The USA’s JHSV Fast Catamaran Ships

Sun, 09/28/2014 - 16:00
Austal MRV/JHSV concept
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When moving whole units, shipping is always the cheaper, higher-capacity option. Slow speed and port access are the big issues, but what if ship transit times could be cut sharply, and full-service ports weren’t necessary? After Australia led the way by using what amounted to fast car ferries for military operations, the US Army and Navy decided to give it a go. Both services leased Incat TSV/HSV wave-piercing catamaran ship designs, while the Marines’ charged ahead with very successful use of Austal’s Westpac Express high-speed catamaran. These Australian-designed ships all give commanders the ability to roll on a company with full gear and equipment (or roll on a full infantry battalion if used only as a troop transport), haul it intra-theater distances at 38 knots, then move their shallow draft safely into austere ports to roll them off.

Their successful use, and continued success on operations, attracted favorable comment and notice from all services. So favorable that the experiments have led to a $3+ billion program called the Joint High Speed Vessel. These designs may even have uses beyond simple ferrying and transport.

The JHSV Ships Austal concept
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The design specifications established for the JHSV described an ocean-going vessel 450 feet in length or less, capable of carrying 600 short tons of cargo up to 1,200 nautical miles at a speed of 35 knots. It must also have seats for at least 312 passengers, and must be able to provide long-term berthing and galley facilities for at least 104 of those passengers in addition to the vessel’s 41 crew.

A single firm was ultimately selected to produce all planned JHSV ships, and Austal beat their rival Incat for the contract. Austal’s design ventured slightly beyond the program’s specifications. Length is just 103.0m/ 337.9 ft, with a Beam of 28.5m/ 93.5 ft, and a miniscule Draught of just 3.83m/ 12.57 ft.

The ship’s 4 Wartsalia WLD-1400-SR waterjets are powered by the same MTU 8000 class diesel engines used on Austal’s Independence Class Littoral Combat Ship, and the Hawaii Superferries. Specifically, JHSVs use 4 MTU 20V8000 M71Ls, rated at a maximum of 9.1 MW each. These engines and waterjets can push the ships to the required 35 knots at full cargo load, or 43 knots unloaded.

Austal’s design offers embarked troop berthing for 150 (104 permanent, 46 temporary) that can support 14 days of operations. Alternatively, airline-style seating for 354 troops, in addition to the crew of 41, allows the ship to support 96 hours of operations. Cargo capacity is up to 700 short tons/ 635 metric tons, in a usable cargo area 1863 m2/ 20,053 ft2, with a clear height of 4.75m and a turning diameter of 26.21m. The cargo area also has 6 ISO TEU (20′ ISO container) interface panels, for containers that need power. The Austere Loading Ramp Arrangement can support vehicles up to 70 ton M1A2 Abrams tanks, per requirements, and a telescoping boom crane can lift 18.2 metric tons at 10m, dropping to 12.3 metric tons at 15m.

The ship is required to be able to transport 600 short tons of troops, supplies, and equipment 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots, through wave height of up to 4 feet. It won’t quite manage that, in part because its 12.5 short tons overweight. Required range will also suffer a bit at 23 knots cruise speed (4,018 nmi vs. 4,700 nmi).

The JHSV’s flight deck can support all current Navy helicopters up to and including the Marines’ current med/heavy CH-53E Super Stallion, and Vertical Replenishment has been tested using a tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey. Flight operations will be handled by Kongsberg Maritime’s night-capable Helicopter Operations Surveillance System (HOSS).

HSV-2 Swift, frontal
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As NAVSEA noted:

“[JHSV] will be capable of transporting Army and Marine Corps company-sized units with their vehicles, or reconfigure to become a troop transport for an infantry battalion. Its 35-45 nautical miles per hour speed allows for rapid deployment and maneuver of conventional or special operations forces.

The JHSV will not be a combatant vessel. Its construction will be similar to high-speed commercial ferries used around the world, and the design will include a flight deck and an off-load ramp which can be lowered on a pier or quay wall – allowing vehicles to quickly drive off the ship.

JHSV testing

JHSV’s shallow draft will allow it access to small austere ports common in developing countries. This makes the JHSV an extremely flexible asset ideal for three types of missions: support of relief operations in small or damaged ports; as a flexible logistics support vessel for the Joint Commander; or as the key enabler for rapid transport of a Marine Light Armored Reconnaissance Company or an Army Stryker unit.”

It has taken time, but the US military is beginning to expand its thinking beyond these obvious applications, and begin thinking about ways to employ the JHSV’s vast internal space and mobility in front-line missions. The most dramatic example may involve mounting a 32MJ railgun on USNS Millinocket [JHSV 3] in 2016.

The JHSV Program Incat JHSV concept – lost
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The Joint High Speed Vessel’s Initial Capability Document received approval from the Department of Defense Joint Requirements Oversight Council on Nov 1/05, with all 4 military services concurring. The initial goal was 5 Army vessels, and 3 Navy vessels, for a program worth about $1.6 billion, but the Navy’s interest has continued to grow. The contract signed in November 2008 called for up to 10 ships, split evenly between the Army and Navy. An initial Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) allowed the U.S. Navy to use its surface ship acquisition expertise to buy these vessels on the Army’s behalf, with Army participation – until program changes moved all of these ships to the Navy’s procurement budget and operation.

All of the JHSVs were then transferred to Maritime Sealift Command under a May 2011 agreement. The first 4 / 10 projected vessels will be crewed by civil service mariners. JHSV 5-10 are slated to be crewed by contracted civilian mariners working for a private company. Military mission personnel will embark with either set, as required by mission sponsors. The goal was for JHSV to achieve Initial Operational Capability in 2012, and JHSV 1 just made it.

All ordered JHSV ships have been named now, and ships with the USNS listing have been delivered to US Military Sealift Command:

  • JHSV 1 USNS Spearhead (has deployed)
  • JHSV 2 USNS Choctaw County (accepted)
  • JHSV 3 USNS Millinocket
  • JHSV 4 USNS Fall River
  • JHSV 5 Trenton Resolute
  • JHSV 6 Brunswick
  • JHSV 7 Carson City Courageous
  • JHSV 8 Yuma
  • JHSV 9 Bismarck (North Dakota, not Otto von) Sacrifice
  • JHSV 10 Burlington

  • HSV USNS Guam (ex-Huakai)
  • HSV USNS Puerto Rico (ex-Alakai)

The Pentagon’s April 2011 Selected Acquisition Report placed the program at 18 ships, and its total cost at about $FY08 3.5 billion. That changed as FY 2013 budget plans cut all ships beyond the 10 in the current contract, and the US Navy is negotiating over cancellation of its JHSV 10 contract due to sequestration cuts. Annual budgets to date have included:

FY 2008: $231.9 million, 1 ship funded.
Navy: $18.4M RDT&E
Army: $5M RDT&E, $208.6M production, 1 ship

FY 2009: $364.2 million, 2 ships funded.
Navy: $11.6M RDT&E, $181.3M production, 1 ship
Army: $3.0M RDT&E, $168.3M production, 1 ship

FY 2010: $391.1 million, 2 ships funded
Navy: $8.2M RDT&E, $202.5M production, 1 ship
Army: $3.0M RDT&E, $177.4M production, 1 ship

FY 2011: $390.1 million, 2 ships funded.
Navy: $3.5M RDT&E, $203.9M production, 1 ship
Army: $3.0M RDT&E, $179.7M production, 1 ship

FY 2012: $376.4 million, 2 ships funded.
Navy: $4.1M RDT&E, $372.3M production, 2 ships

FY 2013 request: $376.4 million, 1 ship funded.
Navy: $1.9M RDT&E, $189.2M production, 10th & final ship

Note that advance materials purchases for future years are included in each year’s procurement budgets. After FY 2013, JHSV budgets are very small, reflecting only minor post-shakedown work.

Supplements: From Leased to Bought Hawaii Superferry
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At present, 1 leased vessel remains in military service, following the end of Incat’s HSV-2 Swift lease. Austal’s HSV 4676 Westpac Express catamaran continues to serve in Military Sealift Command in the Pacific around Guam and Japan, working closely with the Marine Corps as a troop and cargo transport.

HSV-2 Swift’s influence lives on in the JHSV concept of operations. The ship had supported relief operations in Indonesia post-tsunami, and in the Gulf Coast region following hurricane Katrina. In both cases, Swift’s high speed and shallow draft combined to make it an ideal platform for the delivery of relief supplies and support of other platforms operating in the area. During operations following Katrina, Swift was able to use ports that were inaccessible to other ships of the logistics force. It has also been a platform for UAV and aerostat experiments.

It’s likely that both charters will soon be replaced, thanks to a recently-purchased alternative with many similarities to the JHSV.

After its ferry service was forced into bankruptcy by environmental lawfare, the Hawaii Superferries Huakai and Alakai were pressed into service by their main creditor: the US Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD). They were called into service in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, and these Austal-built ships were very successful in that role. Both ferries were ultimately bought by the US Navy in 2011, for just $35 million. Once their $35 million conversions are done, they’re likely to replace Westpac Express and Swift as USNS Guam (ex-Huakai) and USNS Puerto Rico (ex-Alakai, slightly smaller). The superferries will offer more troop-carrying berths than their similar JHSV counterparts, in exchange for less military flexibility.

USNS Guam is expected to relieve Westpac Express in the Pacific some time in FY 2015.

Contracts & Key Events FY 2014

JHSV 1 passes trials & deploys; JHSV 3 passes acceptance trials; JHSV 4 launched. JHSV 1 deploys
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Sept 26/14: Naming. “Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced the next joint high speed vessel (JHSV) will be named USNS Trenton during a ceremony in Trenton, New Jersey, Sept. 25.” Um, OK. Trenton, which is still under construction, was publicly named by the Secretary of the Navy on April 12/13 (q.v.) Sources: US Navy, “SECNAV Names the Next Joint High Speed Vessel”.

Sept 16/14: #4 delivered. Austal delivers USNS Fall River to US Military Sealift Command. Construction update:

“Preparations are underway for the launch of Trenton (JHSV 5) later this month with construction on Brunswick (JHSV 6) progressing well. Metal cutting began for Carson City (JHSV 7) in early September.”

Sources: Austal, “Austal Delivers Fourth Joint High Speed Vessel”.

USNS Fall River

June 13/14: Aerostat zapped. From US Naval Forces Southern Command:

“During routine testing off the coast of Key West, the Aerostat tethered off the Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV-1) was struck by lightning at 12:21 in the morning, June 12…. The lightning strike caused the Aerostat to deflate and land in the water. Response efforts were delayed as the thunderstorm moved into the area. The Aerostat was subsequently sunk so to pose no hazard to other vessels or navigation.”

Aerostats are tethered blimps, used to dramatically expand a JHSV’s field of view (q.v. April 27/13). This can be very useful for survey and interdict deployments like Operation Martillo (q.v. March 31/14). Sources: US Navy, “USNAVSO/US 4th Fleet Statement regarding AEROSTAT”.

May 20/14: JHSV 3. USNS Millinocket will become the 1st JHSV deployed to the far east, where it will operate alongside the leased ship Westpac Express [HSV-4676] and the former Hawaii Superferry USNS Guam [HST-1].

MSC’s JHSV project officer Mike Souza says that USNS Millinocket is preparing for a move to San Diego, CA. She’ll serve as a display platform for the two EM Railgun prototypes during the May 26/14 International Symposium on Electromagnetic Launch Technology in La Jolla, CA. Some final post-delivery tests and trials will follow, including some interface testing with a Mobile Landing Platform ship. Once the post shakedown availability trials and fixes are done, Millinocket head to an unspecified new homeport in the Far East. Sources: Seapower, “Millinocket Will Be the First JHSV in Westpac”.

April 7/14: Experiment: Railgun. The US Navy plans to use JHSV 3 Millinocket as a test platform for one of its newest weapons in 2016: a 32MJ rail gun that can fire projectiles about 100 miles at Mach 7 speeds. JHSV was picked as the trial platform because it has the space to carry the large system on its deck and in its cargo bay. The gun itself isn’t unusually large, but once you throw in the capacitors for power storage, any additional power needs, extensive maintenance tools and parts, and ammunition, it adds up fast. Rolling and bolting that onto a JHSV is much easier than using any warship, and the trial underscores JHSV’s usefulness as a concept testbed.

On the weapon’s side of the equation, ONR Chief Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder touts the railgun’s economic benefit, as well as its military edge in extending the bombardment range of naval guns and the number of rounds on board. It’s true that $25,000 for a defensive railgun shot against incoming missiles is orders of magnitude better than a RIM-116 RAM ($900,000) or RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow Missile ($1.5 million), assuming the unproven assumption of equal effectiveness. One must also compute operating and maintenance costs over the railgun’s lifetime, however, which are going to be far higher than they would be for an All-Up-Round missile in its canister. The JHSV tests will offer some early data re: the gun’s robustness under trial conditions at sea, and that cost data point could end up being as valuable as any performance data. Sources: Reuters, “U.S. Navy to test futuristic, super-fast gun at sea in 2016″.

March 31/14: Operations. USNS Spearhead [JHSV 1] is preparing for a 2nd deployment, this time to the 4th Fleet’s waters around the Caribbean and South America. The US military is taking cautious steps to expand JHSV uses, and is explicitly following in the footsteps of HSV-2 Swift’s 2013 deployment. It’s well short of full innovation toward mothership roles, but still a step forward.

These extensions still have JHSV 1 operating primarily in a ferry capacity, with “adaptive force packages.” They’ll be carrying the USMC’s 4th Law Enforcement Battalion and equipment to the Dominican Republic. After the Marines are ferried back to Florida, a trip to Belize will involve a Navy Seabee explosive ordnance disposal detachment, and a riverine crew. From Belize, a a mobile diving and salvage unit and an explosive ordnance disposal team will be ferried from Guatemala to Colombia, before all of the units that were in Guatemala and Columbia end up ferried to Honduras.

In between, USNS Spearhead will “conduct detection and monitoring activities” in support of the multinational anti-drug Operation Martillo. Spearhead’s exact role isn’t made clear, but Spearhead works well with helicopters, Swift has shown that UAVs can be used from these ships, and it would be possible to have boarding teams embarked. Sources: US Navy, “Plans Finalized for USNS Spearhead’s Deployment to 4th Fleet AOR”.

March 21/14: #3 delivered. Austal delivers USNS Millinocket to US Military Sealift Command. They add that:

“Ships currently under construction are JHSV 4, which was christened in January and is being prepared for sea trials, JHSV 5, which has begun final assembly, and JHSV 6, which commenced construction in January in the module manufacturing facility. Five Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ships are also in construction at Austal’s US shipyard…”

Sources: Austal, “Austal Delivers Third Joint High Speed Vessel” | GD-AIS, “Austal Delivers USNS Millinocket (JHSV 3)”.

USNS Millinocket

March 10/14: JHSV 5. Trenton’s keel is formally laid. Sources: Austal USA, “Austal Commemorates Keel Laying for Trenton (JHSV 5)”.

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). JHSV will be able to carry 354 passengers for 96 hours, which is better than the required 312, but it’s overweight by 12.5 tons, and will fall short of required ranges at 23 knots (4,018 nmi vs. 4,700) and 35 knots (won’t make 1,200 nmi) transit speed. The extra weight amounts to about 4% fuel load, or 3,565 gallons.

Overall testing results have been positive. Loading tests demonstrated suitability up to M-1A2 tank loading onto a floating causeway. If the ships need replenishment at sea, both USNS Spearhead and USNS Choctaw County have successfully conducted fuel-only underway replenishments. For other supplies, vertical replenishment tests have included an MH-60S helicopter at night, and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotos by day, and Aircraft Dynamic Interface testing has included MH-53E Minehunting helicopters. DOT&E says that “manning and facilities can accommodate handling of all required helicopters, with the exception of fuel and power.” Finally, DOR&E says that with an embarked security team and weapons, JHSV can engage a moving surface threat. The bad news, aside from ship range?

“The JHSV’s organic container load trailer is not effective for loading 20-foot long metal storage containers. During the IOT&E, the test team took five hours to connect the container load trailer with a storage container and failed to load it…”

Jan 17/14: JHSV 4. Fall River is launched at Austal’s Mobile, AL shipyard, after a side trip to BAE. Instead of moving down a slipway, launches are now float-off affairs from a BAE floating drydock. Getting to the drydock requires a transfer onto a barge, using Berard Transportation rollers. The ship was christened on Jan 11/14, and will be formally delivered to the USN later in 2014, after final fitting out. Austal adds that:

“Three JHSVs and four LCSs are currently under construction in Austal’s Mobile, Alabama shipyard. Austal will begin production of one more ship in each program before the end of January.”

Sources: Austal, “Austal Launches USNS Fall River (JHSV 4)” and “USNS Fall River (JHSV 4) Christened – One of seven Navy vessels currently under construction at Austal USA”.

Jan 16/14: JHSV 1 deploys. Operational use of the JHSV fleet begins with USNS Spearhead’s deployment from NAB Little Creek. She’ll head to “the US 6th Fleet Area of Responsibility” (Africa) until May 2014, then on to the 4th Fleet AOR (Central & South America) until December 2014. Sources: USN, “USNS Spearhead departs on Maiden Deployment”.

1st deployment

Jan 9/14: JHSV 3. USNS Millinocket successfully completes Navy Acceptance Trials in the Gulf of Mexico. Formal delivery is expected in late January. Sources: MarineLog, “JHSV 3 completes Acceptance Trials”.

Oct 8/13: JHSV 1. USNS Spearhead has successfully completed initial operational testing and evaluation with the US Navy. Sources: Austal, “JHSV 1 successfully completes US Navy operational testing”.

FY 2013

JHSV 10 bought, but Navy wants to cancel it over sequestration; JHSV 1 & 2 delivered; JHSV 3 launched; Keel-laying for JHSV 4; Aerostat experiment. JHSV 2 Launch
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July 31 – Aug 6/13: Testing. USS Spearhead completes Initial Operational Test and Evaluation and Total Ship Survivability Trials, thanks to about 280 Marines from 1st Battalion/ 2nd Marine Regiment/ 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, and 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion. The Marines embarked Spearhead with their weapons, gear and vehicles and traveled from Morehead City, NC, to Mayport Naval Station, FL and back, while participating in various tests. Sources: US MSC Sealift magazine, October 2013.

June 6/13: Naming. The Secretary of the Navy names the last 3 JHSV ships under contract.

The future USNS Yuma (JHSV 8) honors the city in Arizona near the USMC’s big testing range, and will be the 4th ship to bear this name. JHSV 9 USNS Bismarck is named in honor of North Dakota’s capital city. As one might imagine, it’s a first for the US Navy. JHSV 10 USNS Burlington is also a first, named for the largest city in Vermont. US DoD.

June 6/13: JHSV 2. USNS Choctaw County is accepted into service, after completing acceptance trials in May. Delivery just 6 months after the 1st ship in the class is a very fast pace. US Navy | Austal.

USNS Choctaw County

June 5/13: JHSV 3. Millinocket is launched from the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, AL. It’s not done, just entering the final phase of construction, test, and activation, followed by preparation for sea trials late in 2013. US NAVSEA | Austal.

May 23/13: JHSV 4. The keel is formally laid for Fall River. Austal.

May 3/13: JHSV 2. USNS Choctaw County successfully completes USN Acceptance Trials. Sources: Austal, “Joint High Speed Vessel USNS Choctaw County (JHSV 2) completes Acceptance Trials”.

April 27/13: Aerostat experiment. The Miami Herald reports that the chartered catamaran HSV 2 Swift is currently testing an interesting combination for the US Navy. An aerostat (tethered blimp) mooring system has been attached to the starboard rear at the helicopter deck, and sailors are deploying hand-launched Aerovironment Puma mini-UAVs to investigate targets cued by the aerostat’s radar and optical sensors. When fully deployed to 2,000 feet, Raven Inc’s TIF-25K gives Swift a sea surveillance radius of 50 miles at almost zero operating cost, roughly doubling a warship’s surveillance radius, and increasing Swift’s by 10x.

The JHSV ships and Hawaii Superferries (esp. USNS Puerto Rico) are natural fits for this configuration, given their similarity to HSV 2. If weight and other issues can be worked out, the USA’s Littoral Combat Ships like the trimaran Independence Class could also be an option, and so could amphibious LSD and LPD ships. Still, Swift needs to work out a coherent concept of operations in these trials, including the question of barrier vs. mobile surveillance approaches.

If all goes well with the operational tests, the US Navy will consult with drug enforcement agencies, including the Key West, FL Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF) that oversees Operation Martillo in the Caribbean. If the system is deployed, the biggest losers would probably be expensive-to-operate P-3 quad-turboprop sea control planes. US personnel have also begun promoting the concept to other nations, including Colombia, though those countries would almost certainly use their own ships.

April 20/13: JHSV 3 christened. The Millinocket is christened at Austal’s Alabama shipyard, named after 2 Maine towns. No word on negotiations concerning JHSV 10, though Austal’s release does make a point of noting 10 JHSV vessels under contract. US MSC | Austal.

April 12/13: Naming. 3 JHSV ships are among the 7 named by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who actually stuck to class naming conventions this time instead of veering into political partisanship.

JHSV 5 will become USNS Trenton, after New Jersey’s capital city. JHSV 6 will become USNS Brunswick, after the seaport in Georgia. JHSV 7 will become USNS Carson City, after Nevada’s capital city. Pentagon, “Secretary of the Navy Names Multiple Ships”.

April 5/13: LCS Council. The CNO adds the JHSV program to the portfolio of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Council, which was set up to manage the logistics, support, training, and concept of operations involved in making LCS a useful part of the fleet. Sources: Gannett’s Navy Times, “LCS council adds new member”.

Added to LCS Council

March 15/13: JHSV 2. Choctaw County completes builder’s trials, reaching speeds of more than 41 knots. Delivery is expected this summer. Austal.

March 2/13: JHSV 10. The US Navy’s guidance regarding sequestration budget cuts involves negotiations to cancel JHSV 10’s contract. They have to hold negotiations, because the contract is already live. The question will be cancellation costs.

Dec 20/12: JHSV 10. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $166.9 million contract modification, exercising the construction option for JHSV 10. All contract funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (48%); Pittsfield, MA (9%); Franklin, MA (3%); Philadelphia, PA (3%); Henderson, Western Australia (3%); Atlanta, GA (2%); Chicago, IL (2%); Gulfport, MS (2%); Slidell, LA (1%); Iron Mountain, MI (1%); Houston, TX (1%); Dallas, TX (1%); Chesapeake, VA (1%); Milwaukee, WI (1%); Brookfield, WI (1%), and various sites inside and outside the United States each below 1% (21% tl.), and is expected to be complete by June 2017. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-08-C-2217).

JHSV 10 bought

Dec 5/12: #1 delivered. US Military Sealift Command accepts delivery of USNS Spearhead [JHSV 1] at Austal Shipyard in Mobile, AL.

Following delivery to the Navy, Spearhead will participate in operational testing before sailing to its layberth in Little Creek, VA. The Navy says that it expects the ship to begin conducting missions in Q1 of FY 2013. Which is to say, by Dec 31/12. US MSC | US Navy | Austal.

USNS Spearhead

Oct 1/12: JHSV 2 launch. Choctaw County is launched in Mobile, AL.

FY 2011 – 2012

JHSV becomes Navy-only; JHSVs 4-9 bought; 2 Superferries bought, re-named; JHSV program to end at 10; JHSV 1 christening, trials; Corrosion controversy. Austal JHSV concept
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Sept 15/12: JHSV 2 christened. USNS Choctaw County is christened during a ceremony at Austal USA in Mobile, AL. US MSC | Pentagon.

May 30/12: Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announces that the next JHSV will be named the USNS Millinocket. Pentagon.

May 8/12: The US Navy re-names the Hawaiian Superferries, which will becomes USNS Guam and USNS Puerto Rico.

They do not say, but it’s likely that the larger Huakai, tabbed to replace the Westpac Express and move Marines to and from Okinawa and Guam, is the future USNS Guam. The smaller Alakai was being considered for missions in Latin America and/or Africa, so it’s likely that she’ll become USNS Puerto Rico.US DoD.

April 25/12: The first of 43 modules for JHSV 3 have been successfully transported from the Module Manufacturing Facility (MMF), and erected in the final assembly bay on the waterfront, in preparation for the May 3/12 keel-laying ceremony. The 46 tonne, 20.4m x 8.3m x 9.4m module will be part of one of the catamaran akas. Austal.

April 19/12: JHSV-1 trials. The future USNS Spearhead completes builder’s trials of the ship’s propulsion plant, communication and navigational systems, ride control systems, pollution control systems; and first-of-class maneuverability and stability trials. The ship reached speeds of more than 35 knots, exceeding the program’s requirements.

Next steps include INSURV inspection, and commissioning. US Navy acceptance is scheduled by the end of 2012. USN PEO Ships | Austal.

Feb 24/12:JHSV 8-9. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $321.7 million contract modification, exercising construction options for JHSV 8 and JHSV 9.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (48%); Pittsfield, MA (9%); Franklin, MA (3%); Philadelphia, PA (3%); Atlanta, GA (2%); Chicago, IL (2%); Gulfport, MS (2%); Slidell, LA (1%); Iron Mountain, MI (1%); Houston, TX (1%); Dallas, TX (1%); Chesapeake, VA (1%); Milwaukee, WI (1%); Brookfield, WI (1%); various sites throughout the United States (5%); and various sites outside of the United States (19%). Work is expected to be complete by April 2016 (N00024-08-C-2217).

Austal’s release offers a snapshot of current progress. USNS Spearhead is scheduled for builder’s sea trials in early March 2012. JHSV 2 is taking shape in Austal’s final assembly bay. Modules for JHSV 3 are being built, and the ship’s official keel laying is scheduled for April 12/12.

JHSV 8 & 9 bought

Jan 26/12: JHSV cut. The Pentagon issues initial guidance for its FY 2013 budget, and next plans. They include lowering planned JHSV buys by 8 ships, leaving only the 10 in the current contract. Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF] | Alabama Press-Register.

Just 10

Jan 20/12: Superferry supplement bought. Inside the Navy reports that the cost for the 2 Hawaii Superferries, plus required modifications, is actually $70 million. The superferries were seen as a better option to move 880 Marines, because JHSV wasn’t designed for maximum passenger seating. Read “Hawaii Superferry’s Bankruptcy = US Navy Opportunity” for full coverage.

Dec 19/11: Superferries. The Defense Authorization Act of 2012, which will soon become law, looks set to buy both of the Austal-built Hawaii Superferries out of the firm’s bankruptcy, then send them to US MSC, alongside the future JHSV vessels. Read “Hawaii Superferry’s Bankruptcy = US Navy Opportunity” for full coverage.

Superferry supplements bought

Oct 10/11: JHSV 3 begun. Austal announces the official beginning of fabrication for JHSV 3 Fortitude. Austal USA President and COO, Joe Rella:

“The race is on… The world is about to learn just how much value Austal’s investments in modular ship fabrication offers our Navy and Military Sealift Command customers. We challenge ourselves every day to build each ship faster and more efficiently than the one before.”

Oct 7/11: JHSV 6 named. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus names JHSV 6 as USNS Choctaw County. He grew up in that Mississippi county, though there are also Choctaw counties in Alabama and Oklahoma. Ray Mabus said that “I chose to name JHSV after Choctaw County to honor those men and women who represent rural America.”

The name eventually migrates to JHSV 2. US MSC.

Sept 10/11: JHSV 1 christened. JHSV-1 Spearhead is launched at Austal USA’s yard in Mobile, AL. The formal christening ceremony is held on Sept 17/11. The ship is reported to be slightly over budget, but not badly so – a welcome departure for a USN first ship of class. US MSC | Austal | Alabama Press-Register | Maritime Executive.

June 30/11: JHSV 6-7. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $312.9 million contract modification, exercising options for JHSVs 6 and 7. Note, as usual, that this is not the full price of a ready to serve ship. On the other hand, JHSVs have much lower amounts of “government furnished equipment” beyond the base seaframe and installed gear, so the figure will be much closer than it would for a warship.

Options remain for another 3 ships under the current FY 2009-2013 contract, though the program of record tops out at 18 ships. Spearhead [JHSV 1] is scheduled for launch in August 2011, and delivery in December 2011, with other ships currently in various stages of assembly.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (48%); Pittsfield, MA (9%); Franklin, MA (3%); Philadelphia, PA (3%); Henderson, WA (3%); Atlanta, GA (2%); Chicago, IL (2%); Gulfport, MS (2%); Slidell, LA (1%); Iron Mountain, MI (1%); Houston, TX (1%); Dallas, TX (1%); Chesapeake, VA (1%); Milwaukee, WI (1%); and Brookfield, WI (1%), with other efforts performed at various sites throughout the United States (5%) and outside the United States (16%). Work is expected to be complete by June 2014. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-08-C-2217). See also US NAVSEA | Austal.

JHSV 10 bought

June 20-22/11: Corrosion issues? After USS Independence [LCS-2] corrosion reports hit Austal’s share price, a company release addresses the issue. It notes the complete lack of such problems on all of Austal’s commercial and military ships to date, and suggests that the US Navy may have failed to follow basic procedures. Information Dissemination has a different take, and wonders if Austal’s JHSV, which may not have a cathodic protection system either, could also be at risk due to the military’s added electronics:

“In the case of LCS-2, the problem was apparently accelerated by stray currents in the hull from the electrical distribution system problems the ship has been having since it was turned over to the Navy. LCS-4 doesn’t have [a cathodic protection system] either, but apparently CPS is part of the lessons learned process and was included in the fixed-price contracts for Austal versions of the LCS beginning with LCS-6. LCS-2 will have the CPS installed at the next drydock period, while Austal has said a CPS will be added to LCS-4 before the ship is turned over to the Navy. The question everyone seems to be asking is whether the JHSV could suffer the same issue… I’d be curious to know if Westpac Express has a CPS installed, or some other form of prevention is used at all.”

MarineLog’s report says that yes, cathodic protection is used on Westpac Express. See: Austal | Alabama Press-Register | Information Dissemination | MarineLog | WIRED Danger Room.

June 17/11: Corrosion issues? The US Navy has told Congressional appropriations committees that “aggressive” corrosion was found in the propulsion areas of the Littoral Combat Ship USS Independence, which rely on Wartsila waterjets. The ship has been given temporary repairs, but permanent repairs will require dry-docking and removal of the water-jet propulsion system. The strong Australian dollar has hurt Austal’s commercial exports, so this blow to its defense business has added impetus. Bloomberg | Alabama Press-Register | Sydney Morning Herald.

Corrosion in new ships isn’t unheard of, though it’s never a good sign. Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Class AEGIS frigates had this problem, for instance. The Independence Class runs some risks that are specific to its all-aluminum construction, however, as key subsystems with different metals create risks of galvanic corrosion.

Corrosion controversy

June 11/11: Industrial accident. A 50-ton block from JHSV Vigilant, containing the ship’s service diesel generators, breaks loose while the module is being lifted and repositioned for further work. One source reported that pad eyes tore loose from the module, causing it to fall about 3 feet and tip over.

The extent of the damage to the module, and the cost of repairs, are still being assessed. The good news is that modular construction ensures less schedule impact. Defense News.


June 9/11: Inside the Navy reports that a June 14/11 Defense Acquisition Board meeting will determine the Navy’s readiness to procure JHSV ships 6-10. Defense officials may opt to fast-track the decision as a “paper DAB,” granting approval without requiring a meeting.

June 2/11: Sub-contract. Taber Extrusions LLC announces contracts to supply extruded aluminum products for JHSV 3 Fortitude, and LCS 6 Jackson, from its facilities in Russellville, AR and Gulfport, MS. Some structural extrusions for both ships will also be manufactured by Taber and supplied to Austal through a contract with O’Neal Steel Corp.

Taber has an 8,600 ton extrusion press with a rectangular container and billet configuration. The firm says that compared with smaller presses and round containers, their tool gives superior metal flow patterns with much tighter tolerances for flatness, straightness and twist; and better assurance of critical thickness dimensions. The resulting wide multi-void extrusions are friction stir welded into panels, and tight tolerances improve productivity while reducing downstream scrap. When finished, they make up some of the ship’s decking, superstructure and bulkheads.

May 2/11: Army Out. The US Army signs a memorandum of agreement to transfer custody of all 5 of its JHSVs to US Military Sealift Command. Army watercraft personnel who had been training to operate the ships have been reassigned. Instead, JHSVs will be operated by the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command, and crewed by civil service (JHSV 1-4) or civilian contract (JHSV 5-10) sailors. The transfer was approved in principle in December 2010, during Army-Navy talks.

MSC has been slated to operate the Navy JHSVs since August 2008, and in May 2010, MSC announced that the vessels would each have a core crew of 21 mariners (vid. May 13/10 entry). That template will now apply to all ships of class, which will carry a USNS designation instead of the Navy’s USS. US DoD | US MSC | Gannett’s Navy Times.

Navy-only now

Oct 12/10: #4 & 5 bought. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $204.7 million contract modification, exercising options to build JHSV 4 and 5. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL, and is expected to be complete by December 2013. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-08-C-2217).

The $204.7 million is on top of the earlier $99.6 million long-lead materials contract, bringing the total so far to $304.3 million for the 2 ships. See also Austal.

JHSV 4 & 5 bought

FY 2009 – 2010

Program baseline set; Austal wins; JHSVs #1-3 bought; Long-lead items for #4-5; JHSV 1 keel-laying; Austal opens new manufacturing facility; Hawaii Superferries in Haiti; JHSV program to reach 23 ships? JHSV 1 construction
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Sept 28/10: JHSV 2 begins. Austal announces that they’ve begun construction of JHSV 2 Vigilant for Maritime Sealift Command. A subsequent release fixes the start date at Sept 13/10.

July 22/10: JHSV 1 keel-laying. Keel-laying for the first JHSV ship, Spearhead, at Austal’s Mobile, AL facility. Austal | Press-Register advance report.

June 3/10: #4-5 lead-in. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $99.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-08-C-2217) for JHSV 4 and 5 long lead time materials, including main propulsion engines, aluminum, waterjets, reduction gears, generators and other components, beginning in fall 2010.

Work will be performed in Detroit, MI (38%); Chesapeake, VA (18%); Henderson, Australia (13%); Gulfport, MS (10%); Ravenswood, WVA (9%); Ft. Lauderdale, FL (4%); Mobile, AL (3%); Auburn, IN (2.6%); Winter Haven, FL (1%); Gardena, CA (1%); and Davenport, IA (0.4%), and is expected to be complete by December 2011. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages this contract. See also Austal release.

May 26/10: Sub-contract. Kongsberg Maritime has successfully delivered the first JHSV Helicopter Operations Surveillance System (HOSS) to General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems. The sub-contract was awarded in November 2009.

The JHSV HOSS system will provide comprehensive flight deck coverage for helicopter operations, even in very low light conditions, on a MIL-S-901D shock qualified 19″ SXGA liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor in the JHSV control room. The monitor’s Night Vision Device (NVD) optical filter makes it suitable for night operations in ship compartments directly overlooking the flight deck. defpro.

March 25/10: JHSV 4 named. US Navy Secretary Ray Mabus officially names the 2nd US Navy ship under the JHSV program: USNS Fall River [JHSV 4]. US Navy | Gannett’s Navy Times.

March 16/10: Support. Reuters reports on a recent US Navy SBIR research solicitation, aimed at more quickly and cheaply diagnosing cracking in aluminum ship structures. From US Navy SBIR N10A-T041: “Fracture Evaluation and Design Tool for Welded Aluminum Ship Structures Subjected to Impulsive Dynamic Loading” :

“A new analysis tool combined with an experimental validation protocol is needed to accurately characterize the dynamic response and fracture behavior of welded aluminum ship structures subjected to extreme loading events. The goal of this effort is to develop an explicit dynamic failure prediction toolkit for fracture assessment of welded thin-walled aluminum structures. To efficiently characterize a large size ship structure, innovative modeling techniques using fractured shell elements are needed along with a mesh independent crack insertion and propagation capability. In addition to innovative crack simulation in a shell structure, advanced constitutive models have to be implemented in the toolkit to capture the rate dependence and anisotropy in strength, plastic flow and ductility. Developing and demonstrating novel damage simulation and fracture prediction methods has significant potential impact on design and operation of current and future Navy welded aluminum, ship structural systems.”

US Navy Commander Victor Chen reiterated the Navy’s confidence in the JHSV and Littoral Combat Ships; the JHSV is aluminum construction, as is the LCS-2 Independence Class, and the LCS-1 Freedom Class uses an aluminum superstructure on a steel hull. He adds that:

“We already have a level of confidence in how to work with aluminum. The Office of Naval Research is trying to expand the knowledge base and build on what we already know.”

May 13/10: Crewing plans. The US Navy and Military Sealift Command announce the crewing plan for USN JHSVs (even numbers, JHSVs 2-10). Because the ships are new and could conduct a wide variety of missions, MSC determined that the best course of action is to institute a pilot program where JHSV 2 Vigilant and JHSV 4 Fall River will be crewed by 21 civil service mariners each, in order to create a base of experience and knowledge. Delivery as USNS Vigilant is scheduled for FY 2013, but the crews arrive beforehand; while USNS Fall River’s delivery is scheduled for FY 2014. JHSVs 6, 8 and 10 will be crewed with 21 civilian contract mariners each, with specifications developed based on experience with the first 2 ships.

The Army Transportation Corps officers have apparently won their argument to crew the Army’s JHSVs as USAV ships, involving larger crews of soldiers. Within a year, however, that victory would be undone. US MSC.

April 2/10: SAR baseline. The Pentagon adds [PDF] the JHSV program to its Selected Acquisition Reports. The program’s baseline is $3.9355 billion, and subsequent SARs set the number of ships at 18. The program is listed under the US Navy.


Feb 11/10: Superferries. The former Hawaii superferries Huakai and Alakai are pressed into service by the USA’s Maritime Administration (MARAD), in the wake of the disaster in Haiti. The ships are managed by Hornblower Marine Services (HMS), and the deployment is seen as an earl concept test of the similar JHSV design’s operations. Haiti’s lack of port infrastructure has not, to date, been a major problem for these ships.

Maritime Executive magazine has the full report, and see also July 30/08 entry.

Feb 3/10: JHSV Boost? Defense News reports that the JHSV program may be about to get a very big boost. Navy Undersecretary Bob Work:

“There was a big debate within the [Navy] department on patrol craft, PCs… People said these are very good for irregular warfare. But when we looked at it we said we wanted to have self-deployable platforms that have a lot of payload space that you can take to the fight whatever you need – SEALs, Marines, riverine squadrons. So we decided to increase the Joint High Speed Vessel program.” Work said the Navy now envisions buying up to 23 of the ships for its own use, in addition to five being built for the Army. “We like their self-deployability aspects,” Work said. “They can be a sea base, they can be an Africa Partnership Station, they’re extremely flexible.”

Jan 28/10: JHSV 2 & 3. Austal USA in Mobile AL receives a $204.2 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-08-C-2217), exercising options for JHSV ships 2 and 3. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL, and is expected to be complete by July 2012. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC issued the contract. See also the June 19/09 entry for related advance materials purchases.

The accompanying Austal release, adds that the similar (ex-)Hawaii Superferry ships, “Alakai” and “Huakai,” have been mobilized by the US Maritime Administration, and are currently supporting the ongoing relief operation in Haiti.

JHSV 2 & 3 bought

Dec 18/09: Industrial. Austal announces success in the US Navy’s Production Readiness Review (PRR), which allows their Mobile, AL facility to immediately begin construction of Fortitude [JHSV 1]. US Navy Program Manager George Sutton referred in part to Austal’s recently-competed Module Manufacturing Facility (MMF) when he said that:

“Considerable investments in the Austal shipyard coupled with the implementation of proven commercial technology gives me high levels of confidence in the shipyard’s ability to execute the program.”

Nov 10/09: Industrial. Austal officially opens its new $88 million state-of-the-art Modular Manufacturing Facility (MMF) in Mobile, AL, equipping its US shipyard with the ability to build up to three 100 metre-plus vessels each year. Phase 1 facility boasts 35,000 m2 of manufacturing space under one roof, including a 7,900 m2 warehouse, as well as paved parking for more than 2,000 vehicles.

The MMF will increase Austal USA’s capacity to assemble and outfit unit modules before consolidating them into the full vessel, automating component manufacture, including pipe runs, from a 3D model. This approach is widely used in advanced European and Asian shipyards, but is less common in the USA. Austal’s MMF is equipped with routers for the precise cutting of aluminum plate, as well as automated pipe and plate benders. Test constructions are currently underway at the new facility, with work on the first 103 meter JHSV scheduled to commence before the end of 2009. The facility will also build LCS-2 Independence class trimarans for the Littoral Combat Ship program. Austal release.

July 17/09: Ship names 1-3. The Pentagon announces names for the first 3 JHSV ships. The Army will field Fortitude [JHSV 1] and Spearhead [JHSV 3], while the Navy’s first JHSV will be named Vigilant [JHSV 2]. The names for JHSV 2 and 3 eventually change.

Spearhead would later become the name for JHSV 1 instead. US Navy Team Ships | MarineLog.

June 19/09: #2-3 lead in. Austal USA in Mobile AL receives a $99.6 million modification to their JHSV contract (N00024-08-C-2217), covering long lead time materials needed for JHSV 2 and JHSV 3. These materials include items like aluminum for the hulls, main propulsion engines, waterjets, reduction gears, generators, and other components that need to be on hand before construction begins in June 2010.

Work will be performed in Detroit, MI (38%); Chesapeake, VA (18%); Henderson, Australia, (13%); Gulfport, MS (10%); Ravenswood, WVA (9%); and Ft. Lauderdale, FL (4%); Mobile, AL (3%); Auburn, IN (2.6%); Winter Haven, FL (1%); Gardena, CA (1%); and Davenport, IA (0.4%), and is expected to be complete by July 2013. US Naval Sea Systems Command manages the contract

Once construction contracts are awarded for the 2 ships later in FY 2009, these materials will be moved with their associated costs into their respective ship construction line items.

April 6/09: US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates takes the unusual but approved step of making his FY 2010 defense budget recommendations public. They include another 2 high speed ship charters from 2009-2011, until JHSV ships begin arriving.

Nov 13/08: Austal wins. Austal USA in Mobile AL received a $185.4 million Phase II modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-08-C-2217) for 1 (one) JHSV, and for associated shore-based spares. The firm also has options for up to 9 additional ships by 2013, which could raise the contract’s total value to about $1.6 billion. The Naval Sea Systems Command, in Washington Navy Yard, DC manages this contract, which eliminates fellow Phase I winners Bollinger/Incat and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. The 103m JHSV design appears to be based on Austal’s Westpac Express catamaran, which is currently under long term charter to the US Marines.

Work on this initial contract will be performed at the firm’s American facility in Mobile, AL and is expected to be complete by November 2010. Austal is teamed with General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, who will design, integrate, and test the JHSV’s electronic systems, including an Open Architecture Computing Infrastructure, internal and external communications, electronic navigation, aviation, and armament systems.

Austal already produces ships in Mobile, AL, which has about 1,000 employees and will now grow to about 1,500 employees. Ships produced at this location include some similar civilian designs like the Hawaii Superferry, as well as the Independence Class trimaran Littoral Combat Ship produced in partnership with General Dynamics Bath Iron Works. Austal USA is growing the Alabama facility, and phase one of what will ultimately be a $170 million expansion should be complete by summer 2009. The assembly-line style manufacturing building will allow construction of 3 LCS/ JHSV/ Hawaii superferry scale vessels per year, rising to a capacity of 6 ships per year at full build out. Austal | General Dynamics | Marinelog | Alabama Press-Register | Biloxi-Gulfport Sun-Herald | Western Australia Today | Maine’s Brunswick Times-Record re: union lobbying in Congress to scrutinize the deal.

Austal Wins! JHSV 1 bought

FY 2005 – 2008

From initial requirements draft, to 3-team preliminary design contracts, to final RFP submissions. Westpac express,
loading in Australia
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July 30/08: Austal announces its final Phase II JHSV submission to the US Navy, following an extensive detailed design and review process. The firm expects that a single Phase II contract for up to 10 JHSV ships will be awarded in late 2008.

Austal’s release adds the interesting tidbit that the firm was recently awarded a new contract to provide additional features and equipment on Hawaii Superferry’s second commercial 107 meter catamaran, in order to allow its use by the military if required.

Jan 31/08: Preliminary design. The US Department of Defense awards a trio of $3 million Phase I preliminary design contracts for the JHSV. Winners include:

Team Austal: Austal USA, Austal Ships (Australia), and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (GDAIS). This is sort of the same Austal/GD core team building the trimaran LCS 2 Independence design for the USA’s Littoral Combat Ship competition – but note competitor #3…

Team Incat: Louisiana-based Bollinger Shipyards, Inc., Incat of Australia, and its design arm Revolution Design, Nichols Brothers Boat Builders and Kvichak Marine in Washington State, and Gladding-Hearn (Duclos Corp) in Massachusetts. Their design will be based on Incat’s 112 meter wave-piercing catamaran, currently in commercial service. Consortium source.

General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works. No information.

See: US NAVSEA release [PDF] | Incat Australia release | Austal release | UPI re: Bath Iron Works | Springbored’s blog commentary re: Austal-GD dynamics.

Preliminary design contracts

April 23-27/07: Representatives of the US Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the shipbuilding industry meet at at Quantico Marine Corps Base, VA, to discuss the JHSV’s current status of the Joint High Speed Vessel and update prospective contractors on the vessel’s design requirements. US Army release.

November 2005: Initial Draft. The JHSV program office’s Initial Capability Document received approval from the Department of Defense Joint Requirements Oversight Council in early November. All four military services concurred with the decision. The Analysis of Alternatives for this program is scheduled to report out before the end of the 2005 calendar year, and procurement of the lead ship is planned for FY 2008. NAVSEA release

Appendix A: The US Military’s HSV/TSV Experience Westpac Express
(click to view full)

Instead of arising from a drawing board or a notional requirements sheet, the JHSV’s requirements were based on 7 years of experience operating similar leased vessels, from 2001-2008. The core concept is based on an Australian innovation: fast catamaran ferries from Austal and Incat that are in widespread civilian use. Each ship has a carrying capacity equal to about 20 C-17 heavy airlifters, and their waterjets can power these aluminum catamarans through the water at a consistent 35-40 knots in calm seas. Robert Kaplan, in “Hog Pilot and Blue Water Grunts“:

“Who thought up the idea of using car ferries to get Marines to a combat zone and then link up with pre-positioning ships?” I asked a Marine chief warrant officer. “No-one at the Pentagon. Just a bunch of guys brainstorming here,” the chief replied.”

It was more than just brainstorming. Incat’s HMAS Jervis Bay had been used very effectively by Australia during East Timor’s 1999 independence referendum and subsequent operations, and its demonstrated capabilities attracted American interest.

The chartered vessels quickly lived up to their billing. Normal transit for a Marine battalion from Okinawa, Japan to South Korea aboard ferry or amphibious shipping is about 2-3 days, and moving it by air would take 14-17 “lifts” from C-17 aircraft, a process that might require several trips unless that many planes were available. The same deployment could be carried out by Austal’s chartered WestPac Express catamaran in 24-30 hours; which is to say, at about half the time of conventional naval options, and at about 25% of airlift’s costs. One ship can carry a complete battalion of up to 970 Marines, along with 663 tons of vehicles and equipment. If the Marines must deploy from Guam, where many are being moved from Okinawa, the added distance makes JHSV an even more timely and cost efficient option.

“I Serve With HSV-2!”
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Austal’s ships weren’t the only high speed vessels in operation. The Army operated Incat’s HSVX-1 Joint Venture in conjunction with the Navy, and TSV-1X Spearhead was under sole Army control until its 2005 return to commercial service. Both ships saw extensive Army use in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, as well as supporting operations in the Pacific, Atlantic, Mediterranean, Horn of Africa, Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia.

In one operation, TSV-1X Spearhead moved the 101st Airborne Division’s military police and their equipment from Djibouti, Africa to Kuwait in the Persian Gulf. The fast catamaran made the 2,000 mile trip in just 2.5 days. Its naval LSV predecessor would have needed 10 days to make the voyage, and would only have carried the equipment, forcing the troops to fly separately.

HSVX-1 Joint Venture was even used by Special Operations Command as a proof-of-concept platform for a special operations force afloat in the western Pacific. Its modifications included a helicopter landing deck and hangar, along with a small military command, control and communications suite. Modifications to its complement also included ScanEagle UAVs, letting US Navy experiment with UAVs, blimps and related vehicles in a persistent surveillance role. The combination of high speed transport, persistent surveillance, and advanced communications may prove to be very complementary.

A 3rd Incat ship, the 112m HSV-2 Swift, was contracted to serve as an interim Mine Warfare Command and Support Ship (MCS), supporting R&D into new mine warfare modular payloads. From 2004 onward, its scope of use became far broader, and Swift’s geographic range expanded to include Africa, Asia, and recovery efforts in the USA after Hurricane Katrina. It remains in American service as of 2013, and continues to trial new approaches like aerostats and UAVs.

If HSVX-1 and HSV-2’s experiences sound a lot like the USA’s forthcoming Littoral Combat Ships, the similarity is no accident. Experience with these high-speed catamarans has played an important role in developing the LCS concept of operations, though the US Navy may not have taken the experiments to their logical conclusion. Given the emergence of naval unmanned vehicles, some observers believe that JHSV’s size and lower cost make it a better choice than the smaller LCS as a “robotic swarm mothership”.

Additional Readings & Sources

Thanks to DID reader and long-serving US MSC vet Lee Wahler for his assistance with this article.

JHSV and its Relatives

Ancillary Equipment

News & Views

Categories: News

F-35 Still Comes with Many Caveats

Fri, 09/26/2014 - 15:05


  • According to Flight Global Germany and Italy are eyeing continued use of their aging Tornados until 2025 or even later.

  • Latvia is concerned [WaPo] as Russia officials are making veiled threats on the grounds of alleged discrimination against ethic Russians in the Baltic state. Claiming to redress imaginary wrongs against Russian speakers was already the Russian playbook in Estonia back in 2007.


  • Senior EU officials say [The Guardian] that a major terrorist attack performed on European soil by returning ISIS fighters is “almost inevitable.”

  • Al-Qaeda: “why can’t we be friends” [WaPo]. Both AQ [India Today] and ISIS [Straits Times] are recruiting across South and East Asia.

  • Iraq President Fuad Masum is at the Council of Foreign Relations today to discuss ISIS and current events in his country. Video below:

Categories: News

VBTP Guarani: A New APC for Brazil

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 22:30
VBTP concept
(click to view full)

In December 2009, Brazil signed a EUR 2.5 billion deal with Italy’s Iveco that aims to renew its wheeled armored personnel carrier fleet, and revive Brazil’s land vehicle defense industry in the bargain. The 6×6 Guarani Viatura Blindada Transporte de Pessoal, Media de Rodas (VBTP-MR) is envisaged as a vehicle family that can replace Engesa’s wheeled vehicles. Their EE-9 and EE-11 have suffered from age-related problems, questionable protection levels, and a shortage of ready spares since Engesa’s 1993 bankruptcy.

Iveco is best known around the world for its trucks, but its Iveco Fiat Oto Melara joint venture has designed and fielded the core of Italy’s tank, wheeled APC, and tracked IFV fleets. The firm already has the new Puma wheeled 6×6/ 4×4 APC in its offering set, but the VBTP will offer them a new market, a new joint venture, and new export opportunities.

VBTP: The Need EE-11 Urutu
(click to view full)

Brazil’s armored vehicle fleet is currently dominated by a set of Engesa’s vehicles. The EE-11 Urutu wheeled 6×6 APC was popular with a number of foreign clients, as well as Brazil’s own forces. It is named after a local pit viper, per Brazilian tradition (bothrops alternatus, also known as Jararaca and Yarara). The EE-9 Cascavel 6×6 armored vehicle is easily recognizable by its 90mm gun, and was produced for Brazil and for numerous foreign clients. That warning silhouette is replicated in its choice of name, which refers to the South American Rattlesnake (crotalus durissus).

By the early 1990s, however, Engesa’s main client was Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The 1991 Gulf War, and subsequent international embargoes on weapon sales to Iraq, destroyed the firm. With its main client gone, no orders of consequence forthcoming in its home market, and its innovative Osorio medium tank elbowed aside by Saudi Arabia in favor of the American M1, Engesa went bankrupt in 1993. When it did, Brazil’s impressive local defense industry lost the heart of its advanced vehicle capabilities.

It also lost the main source of parts and maintenance for Brazil’s armored vehicle fleet. Brazil continues to operate its vehicles, and despite the EE-11’s weakness against some armor-piercing small arms rounds, it has been used in missions like the UN operation to stabilize Haiti. Even so, it was clear to the Brazilians that a replacement was needed. The combination of a rising resource economy and local threats have also driven 2 key trends in Brazil. One is a very significant increase in Brazil’s defense budgets, which have led to recapitalization programs for fighter jets, helicopters, air transports, and submarines. The other is a determination to restore Brazil’s decayed local defense industry, now that the Cold War’s inherent geo-political advantages for NATO and Warsaw Pact affiliated defense firms have vanished.

VBTP Guarani: The Vehicles Guarani

The new VBTP-MR is currently envisaged as an 18-tonne (about 20 ton) vehicle at full recommended weight (GVW), with amphibious capacity up to 17.5 tonnes. It will be powered by a FPT diesel engine coupled to an automatic gearbox, and is designed to carry a crew of 10 dismounts plus the driver. Outline specifications include dimensions of 6.9m long x 2.7 m wide x 2.34 m high, which allow its to fit into a C-130 Hercules or forthcoming Brazilian KC-390 transport aircraft dimensionally, as well as by weight.

The vehicle can be fitted with a variety of remote-controlled weapon stations for additional firepower, including Elbit’s ORCWS UT-30BR, with its 30mm cannon and ability to carry anti-tank missiles. Standard UT-30BR armament is a 30mm cannon, 7.62mm co-axial machine gun, and smoke grenades, along with a panoramic commander’s sight and a laser warner.

VBTP-MR concept
(click to view full)

Because the vehicles are currently under development, all figures should be considered provisional. The work is being carried out jointly by the Brazilian Army (through the project Mobility Strategy and the DCT – Department of Science and Technology) and Iveco. By late 2009, around 30 million Brazilian Reals (EUR 12 million) had been invested in vehicle definition with “major specialist Brazilian companies.”

VBTP: Contracts and Key Events 2012 – 2014

1st deliveries, production ramp-up. “Tropa de Elite 3″ trailer?

Aug/Sept 2014: State of the program. At the end of September Iveco delivered the 100th of a total of 128 vehicles to be delivered by the end of 2014 (16 pilot VBTPs, 86 evaluation vehicles + 26 addons). The 2015 budget sets aside BRL 200M ($82M) for 56 vehicles.

An entry on the Brazilian Army’s weblog explained in August how the Guarani was “finally operational.” The 33º BI Mec (Batalhão de Infantaria Mecanizado – Mechanized Infantry Battalion) received its 1st 13 vehicles back in March 2014 and should have 42 of them by 2015. They are being tested in the southern state of Paraná near Paraguay and seem to meet expectations. The vehicle can cross streams as expected, though it has a slight tendency to sink further on its right due to the engine’s position.

Sources: “Iveco Latin America construye el blindado VBTP-MR Guaraní número 100″ | Exército Brasileiro: “Guarani finalmente operacional” [in Portuguese].

Feb 12/14: Sub-contractors. Brazil picks Thales’ Sotas vehicle communication system as their armored vehicle communications system. Sotas will form the core of all voice and data communications in the Guarani, integrating various sensors, data terminals and radios. This follows a small 2011 purchase for testing purposes.

The Sotas system will also be retrofitted to EE-9 and EE-11 wheeled vehicles, and to tracked M113s, as part of their refurbishment programs. Initial systems under this contract will be delivered in June 2014, and Brazilian firms and depots will be trained to perform most maintenance thereafter. Sources: Thales, “Brazilian Army selects Thales’s intercom systems for vehicles”.

VBTP fires UT30-BR
(click to view full)

Dec 16/13: 26 more. A contract for BRL72 million ($31M) adds 26 Guaranis in Lote de Experimentação Doutrinária (LED – i.e. evaluation) configuration to the 86 ordered in August 2012.

Oct 24/12: REMAX RWS. Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary Ares Aeroespacial e Defensa Ltda. announces a $25 million contract to supply its stabilized REMAX remote weapon stations to the Brazilian Army. This is the 1st production order, and deliveries will be made from 2012-2014.

REMAX was designed to be part of the VBTP program, and seems to be characterized by a simple and easy to maintain design. The small-caliber RCWS has already completed testing, and can be mounted on a range of suitable vehicles. Elbit Systems.

Sept 13/12: UT-30 RWS. Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL Sistemas S.A. receives an initial $15 million production order for UT-30BR 30mm remotely operated turrets, to equip VBTP Guarani vehicles. It’s an order under the Jan 6/11 umbrella contract. Elbit Systems | AEL [in Portuguese].

Aug 7/12: +86. Brazil and Iveco sign a BRL 240 million (about $119 million) contract for 86 VBTP MR Guarani evaluation vehicles, for delivery from 2013-2014. The contract allows Iveco to start production beyond the current 16-vehicle pilot batch (vid. Dec 18/09 entry), and get ready to produce the Army’s main order.

The Guaranis will be produced at a dedicated Iveco factory in Sete Lagoas, Mato Grosso state. Large-scale production should begin in early 2013, and the supply chain involves 110 direct and 600 indirect Brazilian firms. The production rate for Brazil alone is expected to reach about 100 units per year over the next 20 years, and exports are likely. Argentina has already indicated interest in about 14 Guaranis as a peace-keeping buy.

Defence Minister Cesar Amorim says that 48 of these 86 vehicles were included in the government’s Growth Acceleration Program (PAC infrastructure/ stimulus) financing, as part of a wider BRL 1.527 billion military program that will also buy 4,170 trucks and 30 Astros 2020 missile launch Vehicles. The transfer of the funds money was authorized in late June 2012, through a Provisional Measure signed by President Rousseff. Now, if only the Army could do something about having enough ammunition for just 1 hour of war… Brazilian MdD [in Portuguese] | Mercopress.

86 evaluation vehicles

June 15/12: Brazil takes delivery of the 1st pre-series Guarani from Italy’s Iveco Defense Vehicles, during a formal ceremony at the Eurosatory 2012 exhibition in France. UPI.

1st delivery

May 10/12: REMAX RWS. ARES light RWS turret is featured in the Independence Day parade, mounted on a Guarani armored vehicle. ARES.

2009 – 2011

Program getting started. VBTP mockup, LAAD 2009
(click to view full)

Sept 7/11: UT-30 RWS. Elbit Systems announces that the 1st UT-30 unmanned turret has successfully completed VBTP acceptance testing in Brazil.

Aug 18/11: REMAX RWS. Elbit subsidiary ARES announces that the first phase of tests for the REMAX 12.7mm Remote Weapon Station have been successful, with a follow-on round of firing tests beginning later in the year. REMAX was developed by ARES under CTEx requirements, and would become the first Weapon Station manufactured and developed in Brazil.

Jan 6/11: UT-30 RWS. Elbit Systems’ Brazilian subsidiary Aeroeletronica Ltda. (AEL) receives a 440 million Real (about $260 million) framework contract to supply “a few hundred” of their 30 mm Unmanned Turrets to the Brazilian Army’s Guarani Project.

This is the full production follow-on to the April 13/09 award, but the exact number of orders isn’t clear yet. Orders will take place over a number of years, per Brazilian decisions and funding. Elbit Systems.

UT-30BR RCWS contract

Dec 18/09: Contract. The Brazilian Army signs a 6 billion Brazilian Real (about EUR 2.5 billion) umbrella contract to supply up to 2,044 base model VBTP-MR 6×6 wheeled APCs, to replace the old EE-11 Urutu in Brazilian service. The contract will run for over 20 years, and also includes manufacturer support.

The first prototype is under construction in Brazil, and is still scheduled for the first half of 2010. Another 16 units of a pilot batch will be produced by Iveco in Brazil between 2010 – 2011. Full production is planned to run from 2012-2030, and all production, including engines, will take place in Brazil. To that end, Iveco LA supported by Iveco Defence Vehicles will prepare a defense dedicated unit in Brazil, including Research, Sales & marketing, Production, Quality, and Aftersales service groups. The local supply chain is expected to involve more than 100 direct suppliers, and hundreds of indirect suppliers. Iveco release.

Umbrella contract: 2,044

April 7/09: Iveco announces that they will will present a mock-up of the new Brazilian 6×6 VBTP-MR at the April 14th Latin America Aero & Defense (LAAD) Exhibition. The company promises that a prototype will be delivered by the end of 2009, for army testing beginning in April 2010. Another 16 additional units are slated for production and testing up to 2011, when a decision is expected on a final VBTP-MR fleet order for the Brazilian Army.

Iveco’s production plan would produce the initial 16-17 vehicles using imported components, but local content would gradually increase to over 60%. The company already has a growing supplier base in Brazil, where it produces around 15,000 trucks per year plus diesel engines. Iveco release at Defpro | Defense Update LAAD 2009 report.

VBTP with UT30-BR
(click to view full)

April 13/09: UT-30 RWS. Elbit Systems Ltd. announces a contract to supply its UT-30 unmanned turrets to the Brazilian Army, for installation on the VBTP-MR. The company says they were selected as a result of a competition including leading global manufacturers in the field, but adds that the contract amount for the program’s first phase is not material to Elbit Systems overall results. That would change, of course, once orders are confirmed for full-rate VBTP production.

The ORCWS UT-30 unmanned turret is a complete system, incorporating an automatic cannon up to 30mm, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun, a Laser Warning System (LWS), commander panoramic sights, and smoke grenade launchers. A fully stabilized dual axes and an automatic target tracker keep weapons on target from the remote weapons station inside the vehicle. The turret does not crowd out space inside the vehicle, and offers light weight and a fold-flat capability for air transport.

Elbit’s ORCWS systems have been sold to a number of customers around the world, and equip several models of wheeled and tracked APCs. The Israeli firm is also an important local supplier to Brazil’s defense force, through its Brazilian subsidiary Aeroelectronica Industria de Componentes Avionicos S.A (AEL). The firm’s avionics equip most of Brazil’s fighter fleet, and it also sells and services a variety of defense-related electronics and optronics.

Elbit’s UT-30 turret picked

December 2007: IVECO L.A. and the Brazilian Ministry of Defense agree to co-develop a wheeled medium APC. The project will be supported by IVECO Defence Vehicles in Northern Italy, but VBTP-MR will be developed and manufactured at IVECO LA’s Sete Lagoas plant in Minas Gerais (Brazil).

Initial agreement

Additional Readings

Categories: News

LAS in, LAS out: Counter-Insurgency Planes for the USA and its Allies

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 18:40
(click to view full)

The USA needs a plane that can provide effective precision close air support and JTAC training, and costs about $1,000 per flight hour to operate – instead of the $15,000+ they’re paying now to use advanced jet fighters at 10% of their capabilities. Countries on the front lines of the war’s battles needed a plane that small or new air forces can field within a reasonable time, and use effectively. If these 2 needs are filled by the same aircraft, everything becomes easier for US allies and commanders. One would think that this would have been obvious around October 2001, but it took until 2008 for this understanding to even gain momentum within the Pentagon. A series of intra-service, political, and legal fights have ensured that these capabilities won’t arrive before 2015 at the earliest, and won’t arrive for the USAF at all.

The USA has now issued 2 contracts related to this need. The first was killed by a lawsuit that the USAF didn’t think they could defend successfully. Since February 2013 they have a contract that they hope will stick. The 3 big questions are simple. Will the past be prologue for the new award? Will there be an Afghan government to begin taking delivery of their 20 planes much beyond 2014? And will another allied government soon need to use this umbrella contract for its own war?

LAR/ LAAS Contenders Gracie Under Fire: EMB-314/ A-29 Super Tucano A-29: LAS concept
(click to view full)

The winning Super Tucano/ ALX aircraft is known as the A-29 to Brazil’s FAB, but abroad, it’s the EMB-314 multi-role successor to Embraer’s widely-used EMB-312 Tucano trainer. A-29 is better for marketing a light atack plane, though, and Embraer is trying to shift the designation for the up-engined version using the 1,600hp PT6A-68-3 with FADEC. The Super Tucano offers better flight performance than the EMB 312 Tucano, plus armoring and wing-mounted machine guns, weapons integration with advanced surveillance and targeting pods, precision-guided bombs, and even air-to-air missiles. This makes it an excellent territorial defense and close support plane for low-budget air forces, as well as a surveillance asset with armed attack capability. Brazil uses it this way, for instance, alongside very advanced EMB-145 airborne radar and maritime patrol jets.

The Super Tucano is a large and heavy training platform, as a tradeoff for being built from the ground up as an effective short-field light attack/ patrol/ counter-insurgency aircraft that can operate with little ground support. On the other hand, veteran pilots have praised the quality of its ride, the power of its large control surfaces at load and in crosswinds, and its level of visibility from both seats.

Unlike its fellow contenders, the aircraft carries 2 of FN’s M3P .50 caliber machine guns mounted in the wings, leaving its hardpoints free for other weapons or fuel. Its AN/AAQ-22 Star SAFIRE II surveillance and targeting turret was designed-in from the outset and is mounted under the nose, offering a better field of view and fewer blind spots. Avionics are generally from Elbit Systems, and the plane supports a variety of weapons including gun pods; rocket pods; bombs including Brazilian cluster and incendiary weapons, and various laser-guided bombs; the ability to mount surveillance and targeting pods like RAFAEL and Northrop-Grumman’s popular LITENING; and even an array of short-range air-to-air missile options that reportedly include the AIM-9L Sidewinder, Brazil’s MAA-1, and Israel’s Python 4/5.

It hasn’t fired laser-guided rockets yet, but it has all of the required capabilities. LAS variants will probably add the AGM-114 Hellfire light strike missile, but the Super Tucano is already integrated with the heavier AGM-65 Maverick. Elbit’s DASH helmet-mounted display is reportedly an option, and a partnership with Boeing looks set to add GPS-guided JDAM family and GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs.

Beyond Brazil (99 planes), the Super Tucano already had customers in Colombia (25), Chile (12), the Dominican Republic (8), and Ecuador (18) by the time the LAS RFP was issued in August 2010. Since then, the platform has added the African countries of Angola (6), Burkina Fasso (3), and Mauritania (1-4?); and Indonesia (16). Guatemala (6) is a pending customer.

AT-6: The Kansas Contender AT-6B, armed
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Beechcraft’s AT-6 is a derivative of its widely-produce T-6 trainer, which equips the US military and serves with a number of other air forces around the world. It’s up-engined with Pratt and Whitney’s 1,600hp PTA?68D engine, and adds Kevlar armoring inserts, CMC Esterline’s mission modified Cockpit 4000, a mission system based on Lockheed Martin’s A-10C upgrades, and L-3 WESCAM’s MX-15Di sensor suite in a mid-plane belly mounting. Thales Visionix’s Scorpion Helmet Mounted Display is reportedly an option as well.

One advantage of the AT-6B is that it can add new capabilities by leveraging outside investments in T-6B Texan and A-10C Thunderbolt operational flight program software updates. It’s also optimized for inexpensive operation, and leverages commonality with American pilot training infrastructure. On the flip side, aspects of its trainer design (narrow landing gear, low runway clearance, rear seat visibility less important, low armoring) are disadvantages in austere counterinsurgency situations. Another disadvantage is the need to mount its surveillance turret farther back in the belly, which creates line of sight blockages from its belly-mounted antenna blade (see photo) and from the AT-6B’s wings when tilted.

The AT-6B light attack/COIN version was actually at Farnborough 2006, back when they were still Raytheon Aircraft. It has been developed in an iterative fashion since then, and has been helped by participating in special forces exercises and working with the US Air National Guard on concept studies and demonstrations. By the end of 2012, weapons integrated and tested on the AT-6 included .50-cal/ 12.7mm gun pods; unguided bombs up to 500 pounds, Paveway-II laser-guided bombs up to 500 pounds; APKWS (BAE/GD), TALON (Raytheon/EAI), and GATR (ATK/Elbit) laser-guided 70mm rockets; and AGM-114P+ Hellfire short-range strike missiles. There has also been talk of adding AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air weapons. Even so, a corporate representative told us that:

“Understand that the airplane is not intended for heavy combat. Its primary role would be counter insurgency and ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, & Reconnaissance) as a node within a network. It could provide data and intelligence calling in whatever assets were appropriate to deal with the situation it was encountering.”

Iraq is the only country to submit an official request to buy the AT-6, but several years later, there’s no AT-6 contract follow-on to its 15-plane T-6B trainer fleet.

AT-802U: A Missed Opportunity? AT-802U
(click to view full)

Outside the 2 finalists, contenders for various phases of the LAAR/LAS competition have reportedly included Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346 advanced jet trainer (not integrated with weapons), Boeing’s proposed OV-10X revival of the Vietnam-era Bronco FAC/light attack plane (developmental), and even the Pilatus PC-6 Porter/ AU-23A armed short-take-off transport, which was also used in Vietnam.

The most interesting option was the Air Tractor AT-802U. It didn’t make the LAS finals, but it has an awful lot to recommend it to customers like Afghanistan. This single-engine turboprop is powered by the PT6A-67F engine, and adapted from the firm’s popular AT-802A crop duster. That sounds like an odd derivation, but it isn’t. Agricultural planes need good visibility, ruggedness, sure handling, the ability to work from unimproved runways or fields, long operating time, and low maintenance requirements. Every one of those traits translates directly into counter-insurgency requirements. In places like Afghanistan, where the narcotics trade has a large footprint and agriculture is a big part of the economy, crop dusting defended fields and agricultural surveying can are valuable counter-insurgency requirements all by themselves.

The AT-802 is big enough to handle the added payload and cockpit and engine armoring. The AT-802U variant combines an 8,000 pound/ 3,629 kg payload with an impressive 10-hour ISR mission time. Tested armament includes dual .50 cal. GAU-19/A 3-barrel Gatling guns, dual M260 7-tube rocket launchers, and 500 pound unguided Mk-82 bombs on 9 combined wing and fuselage hard points (expandable to 15). Its L3 Wescam MX-15Di sensor turret system is housed in a retractable mount under the nose, and it has mounting provisions for an optional AAR-47/ALE-47 threat warning and decoy-dispensing system. The cockpit is night-vision compatible, and its optional Compact Multi-Channel Data Link (CMDL) system is compatible with ROVER video feeds.

The AT-802U is also configurable for more advanced systems, but that would require more investment by customers like the US Department of State, the United Arab Emirates, or others. It’s combat-proven in Department of State Latin American counter-drug operations, where it has taken over 200 bullet strikes with no loss of life, and racked up a miniscule average of 1.7 maintenance man-hours per flight hour.

Unfortunately, this plane was excluded by several clauses in the original LAS RFP. Its landing gear doesn’t retract, for instance, so clause of the SRD disqualified it. The LAS also had to be “configured to be readily available for use as either a two-seat advanced trainer or a two-seat attack platform with no field level conversion.” That isn’t what the AT-802U does.

What Now for LAS? AAF C-27A: fail
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The Light Air Support contract is the much-diminished version of programs that have gone by names like OA-X and Light Attack/ Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR). Its devolution is instructive, because all the interests, rivalries, and prejudices that have brought things to this point are still operating. The past could be prologue.

Political/ legal obstruction. The Congressional resistance that stalled past Super Tucano requests from people like Afghan front commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal is still in place, and the legal and political reactions to the USAF’s 2nd award are still pending. What’s certain is that Beechcraft is in serious straits as it emerges from bankruptcy, and Boeing recently closed their Wichita, KS plant. Congressional delegations from smaller states with less diversified economies traditionally fight harder for these kinds of contracts, and this one has overtones of life and death for local industry, despite its small size. Expect a serious fight again.

Military disinterest. The USAF is still focused on big ticket fighters. Its pet plane is now the F-35 fighter instead of the F-22A, and the KC-46A tanker program has joined the F-35 in sucking all of the oxygen from the room. A country that seems disinclined to pursue counterinsurgency wars strengthens those big-ticket interest groups in the USAF, many of whom have been hostile to OA-X and its ilk from the beginning. Despite the operating savings, LAS’ very contract structure and order pattern demonstrates little appetite for domestic use as JTAC training and surveillance aircraft with front-line capability. Even US SOCOM, who has wanted Super Tucanos for a couple of years, is going to have its hands full funding desperately-needed replacement of its C-130 and helicopter fleets.

Nor is there much call for counterinsurgency strikes to kill American civilians – with the admitted exception AECOM’s Col. Benson (ret.), who used to head up the US Army’s School of Advanced Military Studies officer training facility at Fort Leavenworth, KS.

With budget crunches abounding, future funding is not guaranteed. Even present funding could now be jeopardized, by the same Congressional politics that has derailed related efforts before.

Afghan instabilities. Along the way, Afghanistan has devolved, and its air force just retired 20 C-27A transports that the USA spent about $600 million buying and delivering. All parties are keeping omerta on the subject beyond Alenia’s “inability to perform to the contract,” but there are rumors that Afghan corruption was a big factor in the inability to maintain them. The regime’s ability to avoid the C-27A’s fate for its Super Tucanos has to be viewed as questionable, and its mere survival to take full delivery is not a complete certainty.

The key to LAS may turn out to be its ability to recruit other customers. Mexico needs planes like this, and gets a lot of US aid, but it already picked an armed T-6C+. Beechcraft factories in Mexico ensure that they won’t switch. Iraq has a standing AT-6 request they could now switch to the Super Tucano under LAS, but it’s hard to see US funding for that at this point. LAS would still be useful as a pass-through vehicle for an Iraqi purchase, and that might turn out to be important for the program.

Beyond Iraq, Embraer has proven to be perfectly capable of selling the plane itself in Latin America, Africa, and even Asia. US aid to East Africa, Thailand, or the Philippines would seem to be the best near-term bet for LAS beyond Iraq – but no-one can predict the future, and world events could create a demand elsewhere before 2019.

Contracts & Key Events FY 2014

Getting started.

Sept 25/14: 1st delivery. The 1st A-29 Super Tucano from the LAS contract is rolled out during a ceremony in Jacksonville, FL. Embraer expects to wrap up deliveries by mid-2015. The Brazilian company says it hired 72 employees (complemented by dozens of contractors) at the 40,000-square-foot facility since it opened the facility last year. They plan to keep using the plant for additional Super Tucano sales through FMS, while Embraer is to expand its corporate jet manufacturing capabilities in Melbourne, 175 miles further south in Florida. SNC on the other hand is laying off 90 people in Colorado after its loss in the CCiCap competition.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, it took 6 months of tense negotiations for president-elect Ashraf Ghani and runner up Abdullah Abdullah to come to a power sharing understanding. The Taliban have redoubled their offensive as NATO troops were phasing out their presence, coordinating attacks involving larger numbers of insurgents. Signing security agreements with the US and NATO is a high priority, but whether the West will leave more than a token presence entrenched at their bases seems uncertain. With a divided population, weak economy, and booming drug production, the new Afghan leaders have their work cut out for them.

Sources: SNC, Embraer, Denver Post: “Sierra Nevada Space Systems’ Dream Chaser employees laid off”.

Oct 3/13: Support. The Diario Oficial for the Brazilian MdD includes PORTARIA No 1.787. It states that the FAB’s “Diretor de Material Aeronautico e Belico” Lt. Gen. John Paul Cury has been instructed to negotiate agreements between the FAB’s COMAER and Embraer, and the US LAS program. Sources: Diario Oficial da Uniao [in Portuguese].

FY 2013

Super Tucano wins again, prevails over GAO challenge; 20 more A-29s coming for the AAF; HBC out of bankruptcy as “Beechcraft”; SNC loses their suit, but sheds light on why LAS was canceled. Super Tucano
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Aug 5/13: Senate FY 2014 budget appropriators have eliminated the $418.6 million Afghan LAS buy for a 2nd batch of 20 A-29s, in the wake of the SIGAR’s recent report (q.v. June 2013).

USAF Maj. Gen. Kenneth Wilsbach, the senior airman in theater, describes the AAF as “small but capable,” and says they began flying Mi-35 attack helicopter missions again in July 2013. Aviation Week.

June 2013: The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan (SIGAR) report’s title sums it up: “Afghan Special Mission Wing: DOD Moving Forward with $771.8 Million Purchase of Aircraft that the Afghans Cannot Operate and Maintain”. SIGAR recommends freezing all activity under the 48-plane contracts until improvements happen.

The Special Mission Wing won’t operate A-29s, it will have 4 squadrons that each contain 7 Mi-17 helicopters and 4 PC-12 light transports. On the other hand, some of the factors behind its disarray are common to the Afghan Air Force: maintenance issues, for instance, and better-paying offers elsewhere for pilots who know English. The other connection is political – the SMW’s disarray comes back to haunt AAF Super Tucano funding. SIGAR report [PDF].

June 18/13: AT-6, Plan C. Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture tells Flight International that he doesn’t expect Congressional lobbying to derail LAS, but thinks they have a 24-plane launch customer for the AT-6C that they’ll be able to announce before the end of 2013. Flight International.

June 13/13: GAO OK. Even before the GAO has made its decision publicly available, Beechcraft’s release reveals that they lost the challenge, and asks Congress to limit LAS purchases to the 1st 20 planes under contract. They sum up:

“It is deeply distressing that the Air Force selected a more expensive, less capable, foreign-manufactured airplane with weapons and systems unfamiliar to, and outside the control of, the United States military. We have known that the requirements for this procurement were written to favor the competition’s aircraft. During this protest, we learned that the GAO’s review looks only at whether the Air Force followed its process, but not whether the process itself was actually correct or appropriate. We question whether the Embraer aircraft with its foreign-made weapons can be certified to U.S. military standards in time to provide the mission-capable aircraft per the contract.”

Be that as it may, what they describe is what the GAO is supposed to do. Any attempt to substitute their own judgment of what is appropriate in a bid protest would be a flagrant abuse, even if the GAO was right and the Pentagon was wrong. They save that for their program reports, and leave it to the legislators to intervene in contracts on those grounds.

Around 2 weeks later, the GAO makes its decision publicly available. Short summary? To meet its proposed offer targets, the AT-6C would experience a 40% rise in Maximum Gross Take-Off Weight, and experience shows that anything over 20% is a serious risk for problems and certification delays, as well as service life issues. There were other issues as well, and the bottom line is that the AT-6C got an Exception aircraft evaluation + High risk, while The A-29 was rated as Exceptional + Low Risk. Major delays would be catastrophic to US plans, and within the RFP itself, there was ample scope to give Sierra Nevada & Embraer the award. US GAO | Beechcraft.

GAO protest fails, LAS cleared to continue

May 2013: FY 2014 OCO Request. The Pentagon releases their “Fiscal Year 2014 Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Request Afghanistan Security Forces Fund” request [PDF], which includes provisions for 20 more LAS planes, budgeted at $416.8 million:

“The initial purchase of twenty Light Air Support (LAS) fixed wing aircraft was funded with FY 2012 funds. An additional 20 aircraft, funded with FY 2014 funds, will bring the total number of LAS aircraft procured for the AAF to 40. A key challenge facing the Afghan Air Force (AAF) is its ability to directly support and assist the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) with air to ground kinetic actions. Currently, ISAF assets with some assistance from the Afghan Special Mission Wing carry this task out. The LAS program is intended to fill this AAF capability gap. The LAS cost per unit is $20.8 million. This is a 2014 [DID: withdrawal date] Enabler.”

April 25/13: Beechcraft’s case. Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture lays out the core of their protest and case. He starts by saying that the RFP was about compliance with requirements, contends that their AT-6 met all threshold and 5/7 objective requirements, and says their bid was $125 million cheaper. None of that is really new.

On a technical level. Boisture says that the AT-6’s design choices give it better takeoff, climb and cruise performance. The Super Tucano may be larger, but it carries 100 pounds less fuel, and unlike the AT-6 it can’t land at its Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight. Boisture adds that using the EO/IR turret forces the Super Tucano to give up its centerline weapons station.

It’s useful to know what the expected arguments are, but really, this is up to the GAO now. Aviation Week.

April 19/13: No Stop Work Order. The US Court of Federal Claims sides with the USAF decision to ignore a Stop Work Order until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviews their award. Beechcraft continues its protest with the GAO.

March 21/13: Lawsuit. Beechcraft Corporation announces that they filed suit again in the Court of Federal Claims, contesting the USAF’s decision to lift the stay of performance on the Light Air Support (LAS) contract while the GAO reviews the protest.

Note that their suit does not contest the award entire, which was the key to overturning the contract last time. Right now, they’re looking for an injunction to halt the existing contract while the GAO reviews their protest. If they’re successful, they’d keep their biggest political argument: the $125 million difference between the bid costs.

March 15/13: As you were. The USAF can’t stop Beechcraft’s protest, but they can use provisions of the Competition in Contracting Act to mandate that the best interests of the United States require continuation of the contract, while the protest takes its course.

They’ve just done that for LAS, and Beechcraft and the Kansas congressional delegation aren’t happy. A letter from state representatives cites waste of taxpayer dollars, which is true if the contract is overturned. What they don’t say is that it also impedes political efforts to stop the contract, by raising cancellation costs so that there’s a lot less difference between Beechcraft + cancellation fees, vs. SNC/Embraer. Beechcraft | Bloomberg | Wichita Eagle.

March 8/13: Protest. Beechcraft announces that they’re protesting the LAS award to the GAO. The award will be on hold until a decision is reached, which must come within 90 days. Their rationale? Beechcraft CEO Bill Boisture:

“Following our debrief with the Air Force earlier this week, we are very perplexed by this decision. Our belief that we have the best aircraft was confirmed by the Air Force rating our aircraft ‘exceptional’…. We simply don’t understand how the Air Force can justify spending over 40 percent more – over $125 million more – for what we consider to be less capable aircraft…”

A couple of notes. It’s possible for multiple contenders to rate as “exceptional”, but still differ with respect to objective (desired vs. mandatory) requirements. In this case, the best value competition had 3 categories, where capability was most important, past performance the 2nd, and cost in 3rd place. It’s hard to argue the AT-6B as superior on capability, and past performance is a tough row given that the A-29 is operational and the AT-6B isn’t. Within the challenge, however, these questions aren’t going to be relevant. GAO’s focus will be whether the USAF violated its own RFP guidelines, or treated one contender unfairly. Congress is where price will be relevant. A better and more proven capability for a foreign air force, flying aircraft bought with American money, may not be as important to politicians as it is to the US military. Beechcraft | SNC/Embraer.

Feb 27/13: Sierra Nevada Corp. in Sparks, NV wins a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide both aircraft and trainers for allied countries under the Building Partnership Capacity program. The 6-year contract could be worth as much as $950 million, and Delivery Order #0001 is more expensive this time – $427.5 million for:

  • 20 Super Tucano planes
  • 6 mission planning stations
  • 6 mission debrief systems
  • 2 ground training devices for pilot training: 1 computer-based trainer, 1 flight training simulator
  • Interim contractor support for all aircraft maintenance and supply requirements for the aircraft and associated support equipment
  • Long-lead spares for interim contractor support
  • Base activation work outside the continental United States
  • LAS flight certification to United States Air Force Military Training Center standards

This seems to be the same set as December 2011’s $355.1 million contract. To fully evaluate the 20.4% price jump, however, we’d have to look at the exact subsets of work under items like “base activation” and “interim contractor support,” which could be different.

The LAS program’s assembly line will be in Jacksonville, FL. Embraer says that the facility at Jacksonville International Airport is already undergoing modifications necessary to receive the aircraft assembly line, with the support of the state of Florida and the Jacksonville Airport Authority. Coincidentally, SNC touts the LAS contract as supporting “more than 1,400 American jobs” – the same as Hawker Beechcraft’s claims for the T-6 and AT-6 programs. That’s up from past releases, which said “more than 1,200.” Delivery is expected to be complete by April 2015.

This award is “the result of a full and open competition,” and 2 offers were received by the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8637-13-D-6003, #0001). FBO | SNC | Embraer.

Super Tucano wins again

Feb 19/13: Just Beechcraft. Beechcraft announces that they’ve emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, after dropping the “Hawker” from the corporate name. The firm has also dropped its jets, and its new line includes Bonanza and Baron piston-engine aircraft, the King Air family of twin turboprops, and the T-6/ AT-6 family. Beechcraft [PDF].

HBC out of bankruptcy

Oct 18/12: HBC bankruptcy. Hawker Beechcraft, Inc. announces that it couldn’t reach an agreement with Superior Aviation Beijing Co., Ltd., and will go through normal Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedures instead. They do keep the $50 million deposit, and the plan remains the same: exit jets, keep the rest. They expect to emerge from bankruptcy in Q1 2013 as Beechcraft Corp. Hawker Beechcraft | Reuters.

HBC bankruptcy

Oct 15/12: SNC loses suit. The US Court of Federal Claims rejects SNC’s lawsuit, except that it asks the USAF to evaluate whether its use of funding and earmarks for LAS concept demonstrations with the AT-6 (vid. Oct 14/10 entry) violate the requirement that LAS contenders be non-developmental aircraft.

It also sheds a bit of light on why the USAF decided on the re-compete. The biggest issues included an “incomplete and unorganized” record, destruction of documents by the program team, and this:

“In response to comments from agency counsel that the PCO’s [DID: Program Contracting Officer] proposed Competitive Range Determination (the “CRD”), which eliminated HBDC, was unsatisfactory, the PCO stated that she was not qualified to write it.”

The evaluations were also lacking supporting documentation, and the flight demonstrations were used to assess technical capability. It’s a mystery why that last bit would be a problem, but the process treats technical capability and execution risk as 2 entirely separate things. The glaring weakness in the CRD might have been enough by itself, but Program Management’s failure to adhere to the exact decision process, followed by poor document turnover and poor cooperation with counsel, led the USAF to conclude that this wasn’t a case it could take to court. Court Ruling No. 12-375C [PDF] | Aviation Week.

SNC loses suit – but shows why USAF cancelled LAS

FY 2012

Super Tucano wins, GAO OKs, HBC sues, contract canceled; SNC’s turn to sue; HBC into bankruptcy process, as their AT-6 qualifies an array of weapons. AT-6B vs. EMB-314
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Full comparison graphic, originals from SNC (JPG, 345.4k).

Sept 17/12: AT-6. Hawker Beechcraft announces [PDF] that they’ve completed Phase III weapons assessment at Eglin AFB, FL. Phases I and II of the weapons assessment included computer-aided deliveries of general purpose and laser-guided bombs, as well as air-to-ground and air-to-air gunnery using the aircraft’s two 50-caliber guns.

By the end of Phase III, weapons integrated and tested on the AT-6 included .50-cal/ 12.7mm gun pods; unguided bombs up to 500 pounds, Paveway-II laser-guided bombs up to 500 pounds; APKWS (BAE/GD), TALON (Raytheon/EAI), and GATR (ATK/Elbit) laser-guided 70mm rockets; and AGM-114P+ Hellfire short-range strike missiles.

That’s a very good array, which will suit the needs of most American allies. As a matter of comparison, the Super Tucano hasn’t tested laser-guided 70mm rockets or AGM-114 Hellfire missiles yet, but it offers a wider array of gun pods; a wider array of laser-guided weapons; Brazilian incendiary and cluster bombs; an array of air-to-air missiles including the AIM-9L Sidewinder, Brazil’s MAA-1 Piranha, and Israel’s Python 4/5s; and the heavier Raytheon AGM-65 Maverick strike missile.

July 24/12: Late. Air Force Brig. Gen. Timothy Ray, who heads the NATO air training command in Afghanistan, sums things up by saying that “Afghanistan is unlikely to gain an independent, fully functioning air force until around 2016 or 2017, two to three years after the U.S. pullout”.

The rest of the article provides a snapshot of the Afghan Air Force’s current state, and notes that the USA has spent nearly $300 million to upgrade the AAF’s Shindad AB facilities. Wall Street Journal.

July 10/12: Boeing and Embraer announce cooperation on the Super Tucano program, which will involve integrating Boeing weapons on the aircraft. Their GPS-guided JDAM family of bomb kits would be front and center in any such effort, and Boeing’s official statement is that:

“The new weapons integration capacity enhances the solution presented to the U.S. Air Force Light Air Support (LAS) program by not only meeting program requirements, but exceeding them in ways that are important to the customer.”

July 9/12: AT-6 LRIP. Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company (HBDC) announces that they’ve begun low-rate initial production the AT-6 light attack aircraft in Wichita, KS, “in response to significant indications of interest around the world for the AT-6.”

“The aircraft has successfully demonstrated high-end net-centric and light attack capabilities and full compatibility with U.S. and NATO Joint Terminal Attack Controller systems during the Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2010, the Air National Guard Operational Assessment, and capabilities demonstrations of precision guided weapons conducted between 2010 and 2012.”

AT-6 production begins

July 9/12: HBC Chinese ownership? Hawker Beechcraft, Inc. signs an exclusivity agreement that may lead to a buyout by China’s Superior Aviation Beijing Co. for $1.79 billion. This deal explicitly excludes Hawker Beechcraft Defense Company (HBDC), which would remain a separate entity. That would keep the T-6 and AT-6 out of China’s Hands, but the USA is mostly done with its JPATS trainer buys, so HBDC’s stand-alone survival would be questionable.

June 19/12: Bids in. Sierra Nevada Corporation announces that they’re participating in the new LAS source selection process, but they’re still pursuing court action to reinstate the December 2011 contract. Their release also contains a jab at the removal of any requirement for a flight demonstration.

SNC commits that about 86% of each aircraft’s dollar value will come from components supplied by U.S. companies “or countries that qualify under the Buy American Act,” and that Embraer will invest about $3 million in bringing the Jacksonville, FL.

June 12/13: SNC lawsuit. SNC has gone from a motion to see documents, to a lawsuit in the United States Court of Federal Claims that contests the termination of its December 2011 contract, and attacks the terms of the new RFP.

“According to SNC the cancellation of the contract was an extreme response to what appears to be paperwork errors on the part of the USAF. Moreover, the revised Request for Proposal (RFP) issued by the USAF is tilted in favor of the competition.”

To bolster that last point, SNC cites the elimination of flight demonstration/evaluation, the delay of First Article Testing until the point of delivery (!) in July 2014, and the fact that Amendment 8 now allows improvements that were made to the aircraft since the original source selection to be admitted into consideration. Their point of contention is that the USAF gave Hawker Beechcraft millions of Title X dollars for development, exercises etc. with US ANG pilots [DID: vid. Oct 14/10 entry], and that the products of that work should be tipping the scales. We understand the fairness argument there, but the EMB-314/ A-29 has a number of military customers doing the same things in real-life operational missions, so it’s not like there’s a major disadvantage. SNC.

May 8/12: HBC gripe. After an initial review of the revised LAS RFP, HawkerBeechcraft has this to say [PDF]:

“We are profoundly disappointed to see in the amended RFP that the USAF continues to permit antiquated pilot accommodation standards for ejection seat equipped aircraft which can place both USAF and partner nation pilots at unnecessary and higher risk. Those standards were developed by the USAF to protect their own male and female pilot population, and every aircraft acquired by the USAF should meet those modern safety standards.”

The Super Tucano reportedly uses Martin-Baker’s Mk 10 LCX ejection seat. Martin-Baker is the standard provider for pretty much every Western aircraft, including every US fighter type.

April 17/12: SNC sues. Sierra Nevada files a court motion in the botched Light Air Support award. They would like to see the content of the Air Force’s Commander Directed Investigation (CDI) of the LAS program, to assess whether a recompete is really warranted. SNC | Reuters.

Feb 28/12: Canceled. The USAF cancels the LAS contract with Sierra Nevada, and reinstates Hawker Beechcraft to the competition. USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said:

“That is one of the things I’m truly sad about – not withstanding the embarrassment of this to us as an Air Force – it’s the fact that we’re letting our [Afghan] teammates down here…”

See: HBC | Defense News.

LAS canceled

Feb 2/12: Lobbying. “Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC), the winner of the U.S. Air Force Light Air Support (LAS) competition, today issued a point-by-point rebuttal of misinformation being spread by the disqualified contender for the contract.”

APKWS loading, AT-6C
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January 2012: AT-6. BAE’s APKWS and Raytheon’s TALON laser-guided rockets fired from a HawkerBeechcraft AT-6C turboprop light attack plane at Eglin AFB.

The shots will help both BAE and HawkerBeechcraft, whose setback in the 20-plane American LAS competition was mitigated by an initial sale of 6 “weapons capable” T-6C+ to Mexico. Mexico has used existing Pilatus trainers against domestic insurgencies before. The T-6C family’s proven ability to fire laser-guided rockets makes the new planes more valuable to Mexico, and to other potential customers. BAE | HawkerBeechcraft | Aviation Week.

Jan 25/12: Second Line of Defense:

“We are publishing a USAF background paper currently circulating on the Hill. It validates everything we have written on Second Line of Defense for more than a year about the LAS competition…. This paper provides information on the LAS acquisition. Due to the ongoing litigation brought by Hawker Beechcraft Defense Corporation (HBDC), the United States Air Force (USAF) cannot release information regarding the LAS competition.”

Jan 19/12: A Defence Talk article sums up the current situation:

“Since September, many unexpected changes have been made to the original USAF requirements. At the start of the competition, the Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance Aircraft (LAAR) program, planned to supply up to 100 aircraft to the USAF, was paired with Light Air Support (LAS) to supply 20 aircraft to Afghan Air Force.

Nevertheless, in September the USAF backtrack on LAAR, reducing the number to 15 aircraft…. The change in priorities left Hawker and the SNC/Embraer team to duck it out for LAAR’s 15 and LAS’s 20 aircraft requirement…. Meantime the U.S. Navy has run into difficulties of its own, by clearly preferring the Super Tucano after it took part in an evaluation phase known as Imminent Fury programme in 2009 to develop a CAS/COIN platform for special operations. Since then, congress rejected additional funds of $22 million for further development in 2010 and $17 million last October for phase II known as Combat Dragon II programme for deployment and combat confirmation of the Super Tucano’s capabilities in Afghanistan.”

Jan 4/12: Stop work. In light of the pending legal review, the USAF issues a stop work order for the LAS contract that was awarded to SNC. Source.

Dec 30/11: LAS. Sierra Nevada Corp. in Sparks, NV wins a $355.1 million firm-fixed price delivery order for the Light Air Support (LAS) aircraft and associated support. It includes:

  • 20 Super Tucano planes
  • 6 mission planning stations
  • 6 mission debrief systems
  • 2 ground training devices for pilot training: 1 computer-based trainer, 1 flight training simulator
  • Interim contractor support for all aircraft maintenance and supply requirements for the aircraft and associated support equipment
  • 1 lot interim contractor support long-lead work in the continental United States
  • 1 lot interim contractor support base activation work outside the continental United States
  • LAS flight certification to United States Air Force Military Training Center standards

Work will be performed in Sparks, NV (55%), and Jacksonville, FL (45%). Delivery order #0001 is expected to be complete April 30/14, and the basic contract has a 5-year ordering period. ASC/WWYAC at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8637-12-D-6001, #0001).

A $355M contract confirms the USAF procurement of Light Air Support (LAS) A-29 Embraer Super Tucano aircraft via Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC). Deliveries of this batch of 20 planes is expected to be completed by the end of April 2014. They will be used by the Afghan air force for training, reconnaissance and air support. Last year Hawker Beechcraft filed a GAO protest for being excluded from the RFP and sued the US Air Force after losing the protest. DefenseLink | SNC | DefesaNet [in Portuguese].

Super Tucano wins LAS: 20 for AAF

Dec 27/11: HBC Sues. Hawker Beechcraft announces a lawsuit with the Court of Federal Claims.

“The company still has no concrete reasons for the AT-6’s exclusion, having been denied explanation by the U.S. Air Force on two occasions. The LAS contract is valued at nearly $1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money and exclusion of the AT-6 could result in a de facto award to a non-U.S. company. “We are disappointed in the GAO’s decision as we were relying on their investigation to provide transparency into what has been a bidding process of inconsistent, irregular and constantly changing requirements…” said Bill Boisture, Hawker Beechcraft chairman and CEO.”

Dec 22/11: GAO OK. The GAO dismisses Hawker Beechcraft’s protest of the LAS award. All it will say of the USAF’s actions is that:

“After reviewing HBDC’s responses to issues raised during discussions, the Air Force concluded that HBDC had not adequately corrected deficiencies in its proposal. In this regard, the agency concluded that “multiple deficiencies and significant weaknesses found in HBDC’s proposal make it technically unacceptable and results in unacceptable mission capability risk.”

Their ruling didn’t address that. It’s a narrow dismissal, on a narrow point of timing:

“Accordingly, HBDC was required to request a debriefing within three days of its receipt of the Air Force notice on November 4, or, absent a debriefing, was required to file its protest no later than 10 days after that date.[4] Where HBDC did not timely request a debriefing, and failed to file its protest until 17 days after it was notified that its proposal had been excluded from the competitive range, the protest is untimely and must be dismissed.”

Nov 20/11: Lobbying knife fight. We submit “Obama Admin Bans US Aircraft Maker, Favors Non-US Firm with Ties to Iran on Light Aircraft Project” as a snapshot of the type of public lobbying underway. It cites the fact that the order would keep the T-6 line open past 2015, securing “1,400 employees in 20 states – including 800 at Hawker Beechcraft in Wichita” who work on the AT-6 and T-6 programs.

We’re not sure how long 20 planes can keep them busy, but OK, sure. The article also focuses on Embraer’s sale of 40 EMB-312 Tucano trainers to Iran 22 years ago, in 1989. Tucanos are globally popular training aircraft in service with 17 air forces. They lack the EMB-314 Super Tucano’s purpose-built close air support construction and mounted machine guns, but they can be armed. Iran has armed them for close support roles within the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Air Force (as distinct from Iran’s regular air force), and Brazil’s Lula administration has remained friendly to Iran without being aggressive toward the USA.

Nov 18/11: AT-6 out. Hawker Beechcraft says that the AT-6 has been excluded from the Light Air Support bidding process, and they don’t know why. We’ve received unverified reports of landing gear issues, and other engineering glitches related to added weight on the T-6 airframe, but we can’t confirm them. Here’s what Hawker Beechcraft says:

“We have been notified by the United States Air Force in a letter that the Beechcraft AT-6 has been excluded from the Light Air Support competition. The letter provides no basis for the exclusion.

We are both confounded and troubled by this decision, as we have been working closely with the Air Force for two years and, with our partners, have invested more than $100 million preparing to meet the Air Force’s specific requirements. Additionally, the AT-6 has been evaluated and proven capable through a multi-year, Congressionally-funded demonstration program led by the Air National Guard.

We have followed the Air Force’s guidance closely and, based on what we have seen, we continue to believe that we submitted the most capable, affordable and sustainable light attack aircraft as measured against the Air Force’s Request for Proposal. We have requested a debriefing from the Air Force and will be exploring all potential options in the coming days.”

See: HBC release | DC Examiner | DefenseTech.

AT-6 out of LAS

FY 2010 – 2011

LAS RFP; RAND urges OA-X forward; Support expressed, but funding delayed; AATC experiments with AT-6. AT-6B exercise
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Jan 18/11: LAS. System Demonstration completed. Source.

Dec 28/10: LAS. Vendor proposals received. Source.

Oct 14/10: AATC & AT-6. The Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Command Test Center (AATC) at Tucson International Airport, AZ is working on the requirements for light attack planes, and working with the AT-6 as a concept demonstrator. they inserted systems from A-10 and F-16 aircraft into the plane, performed testing on their own and with shipped-in A-10 and F-16 pilots, and continue to make adjustments and refinements.

AATC Director of Engineering Lt. Col. Keith Colmer is back from Iraq, after flying close air support and overwatch missions in an F-16. Colmer is concerned about the economics. F-16 cost per flying hour is around $15,000 – $17,000 dollars per flight hour for fuel and maintenance, and the A-10 isn’t that much cheaper. In contrast AATC officials peg the AT-6 at about $600 dollars per flight hour.

Overall, they see an aircraft with multiple uses. Joint Terminal Attack Controllers that embed with ground forces aren’t getting enough sorties to keep them trained, and a less expensive aircraft could not only perform that training, it could let them fly in the backseat on occasion to improve their understanding. Other countries are already using similar planes for border security, counter drug and homeland defense; and military sensor turrets can easily be re-used for state emergencies like fires, floods or other disasters, in places where UAVs can’t get civil flight clearance. USAF.

AATC experiments

Sept 14/10: In the wake of the LAS RFP, most of the “Light Attack Armed Reconnaissance” discussion at the Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference has shifted toward building the capabilities of partner air forces, and less around American use. Derek Hess, director of AT-6 development programs for Hawker Beechcraft, describes it as:

“…a structurally enhanced Beechcraft T-6A/B airframe with a more powerful Pratt & Whitney PT6A-68D engine, and a Lockheed Martin A-10C Mission System that is integrated with the T-6B primary flight avionics system. It also has the same sensor suite as the MC-12W with a laser designator/range finder. “When our airplane wakes up in the morning, it believes it’s an A-10…”

Aug 12/10: LAS RFP. LAAR is now Light Air Support, as the USAF releases its Request for Proposals, solicitation #FA8637-10-R-6000:

“The purpose of this contract is the acquisition of nondevelopmenatal Light Air Support Aircraft for current and future Building Partnership Capacity (BPC) nations. The procurement includes necessary Aircraft Interim Contractor Support (ICS); Ground Training Devices (GTDs) and corresponding Contractor Logistics Support (CLS); and Air Advisor Training for US Pilots allowing them the capability to train other Building Partnership Capacity (BPC) nations. The supplies covered are more fully defined in the attachments. This solicitation includes provisions for the Government, to include any Federal Agency, to procure additional quantities of the same supplies and services in the future, by issuing one or more orders against the resulting contract as other customers are added onto this vehicle by the contracting office (LAS Program Office).”

The Afghan delivery order will involve 20 planes. The RFP is amended many times, with the last change coming on May 30/12.


May 10/10: LAAR. IHS Jane’s:

“There have been several proposals for LAAR – from the Aermacchi M-346 jet, through a reborn OV-10 Bronco, to the Air Tractor AT-802U militarised agricultural aircraft – but the front-runners appear to be two evolutions of turboprop trainers: Embraer’s Super Tucano and the Hawker Beechcraft AT-6.”

Spring 2010: Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal sends an urgent request to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to acquire 4 EMB-314 Super Tucanos for American use, to provide extra air power to support Special Operations troops in Afghanistan.

The project stalls after lawmakers led by the Kansas congressional delegation block the $44 million request for funding. They’re reportedly concerned that the buy would give the EMB-314 an advantage in the LAS competition. Source.

Super Tucano UOR denied

April 8/10: AT-6. Hawker Beechcraft begins flying its modified AT-6 prototype, which it expects to submit for LAAR. Defense Tech.

April 5/10: RAND study endorses OA-X. RAND’s “Courses of Action for Enhancing U.S. Air Force “Irregular Warfare” Capabilities” makes a number of recommendations. Two of them involve training a lot more Iraqi and Afghan aviators, and standing up a dedicated counter-insurgency (COIN) air wing equipped with about 100 “OA-X” light attack aircraft.

They’d be designed to improve the training pipeline, make it much easier to partner with and transition Iraqi and Afghan aviators to similar planes, and reduce excessive flying hour demands for expensive and aging jets like the F-16, which are only using a small fraction of their capabilities. RAND Report MG-913 | DoD Buzz.

RAND report backs OA-X

Feb 5/10: OV-10X. Speaking at the Singapore Air Show at Changi Airport, Boeing’s vice-president of business development for Global Strike Systems, Jeff Johnson says that interest has been strong enough to ensure continued development of the modernized OV-10X Bronco, even if it loses the LAAR competition for up to 100 aircraft.

“Several countries have got very excited about the type of capability that an OV-10 could bring to their air forces,” he said. He added that the company could have a flying prototype ready within nine months, but that the real challenge would be costing the low-rate production run of the LAAR programme (the USAF has a requirement for 100 aircraft).”

Despite this statement, after the LAAR peters out and vanishes, Boeing drops the project, and ends up helping Embraer with its Super Tucano. IHS Jane’s.

Feb 2/10: LAAR funding delay. DefenseTech reports that:

“Air Force budget officials said the so-called “light attack aircraft” would not have any significant funding until the 2012 submission, where the service will allot $172 million for the so-called COIN plane.

The Air Force did, however, take a step toward a COIN wing by ordering up 15 Light Mobility Aircraft to the tune of nearly $66 million. According to a submission to FedBizOpps, the LiMA must be able to carry a minimum of six pax and crew, operate from “austere landing surfaces” and carry a minimum of 1800 pounds with crew. The plane needs a loading door that can take litters and a 36 inch warehouse skid and have two pilot stations but be able to be flown by one pilot.”

LiMA turned out to be the Pilatus PC-12, which is currently in use by US special forces.

Jan 20/10: LAAR. Secretary of the Air Force Michael Donley specifically mentions LAAR as part of the USAF’s “balanced force” concept, during his remarks to the Air, Space, and Cyberspace Power in the 21st Century Conference. Full transcript.

Dec 4/09: LAAR. The US military is expected to ask for $90 million in FY 2010, to begin the LAAR program. Long term costing estimates are $2 billion for 100 aircraft, to be placed under Air Combat Command rather than AFSOC. The goal is to have the first 24 reach IOC by 2013.

Possible contenders include the AirTractor AT-802U (a modified crop duster), Alenia Aermacchi M-346, Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, Hawker Beechcraft AT-6, and Boeing’s OV-10X Bronco. Some sources also mention the Pilatus PC-6 Porter short-take-off transport, which was armed into the AU-23A, used in Vietnam, and later sold to the Thai Air Force. Defence IQ | Defense Media Network | Airforce Technology (some elements inaccurate).

Sept 16/09: AT-6. Hawker Beechcraft and Lockheed Martin have teamed to compete for the LAAR competition, with Lockheed Martin Systems Integration in Owego, NY acting as the AT-6’s mission systems integrator. Space War.

FY 2008 – 2009

OA-X gains traction; LAAR RFI; Boeing’s Bronco. USAF OV-10
(click to view full)

Sept 11/09: OV-10X. Boeing confirms that it will bid a modernized version of the Vietnam-era OV-10 Bronco for the USAF’s LAAR requirement. The OV-10 served very capably as a forward air control and light strike plane in Vietnam, but like the “Misty” F-100F Commando Sabres fast FACs, it was an uncommonly dangerous way for a pilot to make a living.

Boeing inherits the OV-10 Bronco’s design rights from its 1980s acquisition of North American Rockwell. The DEW Line.

July 27/09: LAAR RFI. The USAF releases a “Air Combat Command (ACC) Light Attack/Armed Reconnaissance (LAAR)” Request for Information to Industry, involving up to 100 aircraft under the OA-X program. Description:

“ASC is seeking information to determine the most cost-effective acquisition strategy to fulfill the need for 100 LAAR fixed-wing aircraft with deliveries starting in FY12 and an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in FY13. All proposed systems will be USAF Military certified and flown by military pilots. Existing ACC facilities will be used for aircraft storage and maintenance and USAF organic Organizational-level maintenance will be established by IOC date of FY13. Depot level maintenance will be contractor provided.”

The LAAR aircraft will operate as a forward air controller (FAC), with voice, video and data-links, but it will be armed with weapons and surveillance systems that include a laser designator, to allow immediate response. The cockpit will be fully modern and night vision compatible, with an oxygen system. Flight up to 30,000 feet is desired but not required. Weapons will include podded 7.62mm mini-guns, up to 2 500-pound guided-munitions or rocket launchers, and the ability to use the AGM-114N Hellfire missile. They’re also looking for a plane that can operate from austere airfields on 5-hour missions with 30-minute fuel reserves, and ferry itself up to 900 nm (1,667km). See the full RFI document [MS Word] for full specifications and requirements.


April 2008: OA-X. Col. Gary L. Crowder, then commander of Air Forces Central’s Combined Air and Space Operations Center, makes a serious pitch for using light attack aircraft for missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, and details an international partnership building program.

Crowder has spent much of his Air Force career studying irregular warfare and counterinsurgency, but service leadership is busy arguing for more F-22As, and is very unreceptive until Gen. Norton A. Schwartz becomes Air Force Chief of Staff in mid-2008. Discussion of an “OA-X” aircraft begins. Airforce Magazine.

Additional Readings

News & Views

Categories: News

South Korea’s F-X Fighter Buys: F-35As and F-15Ks

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 17:30
F-15K Poster: apropos?
(click to view full)

The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) originally planned to buy 120 advanced, high-end fighters as its next-generation platform, in order to replace its existing fleet of F-4 Phantom IIs and other aircraft. So far, it has bought 60 fighters in 2 phases. Back in 2002, the South Koreans picked the advanced F-15K derivative of the F-15E Strike Eagle for its F-X Next Generation Fighter Program, and bought 40. In 2008, a 2nd F-X Phase II contract was signed for 20 more F-15ks, with slight modifications.

As the 3rd phase loomed, the question was whether it will be a variant of their existing fleet, or something new. While the Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA) dreamed of developing their own “5th generation” aircraft for Phase 3, reality eventually had its say. Now, foreign manufacturers are offering the ROKAF a number of off-the-shelf options. But throughout 2013 DAPA couldn’t seem to be able to reconcile the air force’s desire for advanced technology with its budget constraints. Boeing seemed on the edge of winning with its F15-SEs as the sole contender within budget, only to be rejected by the end of September 2013. This reopened the tender with Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as the likely favorite.

F-X to KF-X: The Best-Laid Plans… ROKAF F-4D Phantom II
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South Korea’s relationship with Boeing’s F-15 began in 2002, with a $3.6 billion contract to deliver 40 aircraft to the ROKAF, beginning in 2006 and ending in August 2008.

Their 2-seat F-15K Slam Eagles were the first F-15s produced with an updated version of the GE F110 engine common on many US F-16C/D aircraft, and on the ROKAF’s first 40 F-16 Block 30s, making South Korea the world’s first F-15 customer to fly that engine. They will also carry the SLAM-ER missile as their medium-range precision strike weapon.

F-15Ks have not been equipped with the AESA radars found on some US F-15Cs and Singapore’s forthcoming F-15SGs, however, relying instead on the AN/APG-63v1 radar upgrade, whose back-end can accommodate an AESA array in future, if one is added.

The ROKAF’s F-X-2 Strike Eagle
with SLAM-ERs
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In May 2006, the Korean Overseas Information Service said that the ROKAF would purchase another 20 multi-role aircraft, with delivery planned to begin in 2009. This 2nd phase of the F-X next-generation warplane procurement project didn’t quite go as planned. The ROKAF had reportedly hoped to order another 40 planes for F-X-2, but had to settle for just 20 more instead. Then their open competition fell apart. The F-35 was excluded for having incompatible timelines, Dassault and Sukhoi didn’t attend the DAPA presentation after being named as candidates, then Eurofighter pulled out, leaving Boeing’s F-15K as the only submission. DAPA put out a second request for tenders in response, and Boeing was, again, the only respondent.

The actual Phase 2 deal was signed in April 2008. It covered 21 more F-15Ks, to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229-EEP extended life engine, instead of the GE F110-129 that equipped its previous 40 planes.

An earlier F100 variant powers its 140 “KF-16″ Block 52s, and these arrangements ensure that troubles with either engine type will still leave South Korea with a substantial fighter force.

F-X-3 and KF-X F-35A Lightning II
(click to view full)

The 5-year process of getting to a Phase 3 RFP has seen its share of twists and turns, along with some confusion in terminology.

The F-35 Lightning II was initially seen as the only F-X-3 contender, but F-35 program delays began to make its participation questionable, and South Korea’s politics are pushing them to build up their own defense industry as a prime supplier.

The multinational F-35 program has no space for that kind of lead role, so Korean discussions for Phase 3 quickly shifted to some kind of indigenous “5th generation” KF-X design, possibly in concert with a major foreign defense firm. That approach carries immense cost and risk, and eventually the reality of cost, development, and technology transfer risks became impossible to ignore. South Korea’s indigenous fighter efforts beyond the FA-50 will either be shelved entirely, or focus on a different KF-X program that aims to develop a post-2020 fighter in the F/A-18 Super Hornet’s class. Read “KF-X Fighter: Pushing Paper, or Peer Program?” for full coverage.

For its top-tier F-X Phase 3 fighters, South Korea has reverted to the sensible choice of buying an off-the-shelf or late-development foreign platform. According to a ROKAF report submitted to the National Assembly in 2007, DAPA initially planned to open bidding in 2011 for 60 “5th-generation” jets under a 5.4 trillion won/ $5.4 billion program, aiming to deploy the planes between 2014 – 2019. By the end of 2014 DAPA settled on a 40 fighter order worth WON 7.3 trillion ($7B), with a 2018 – 2021 time frame.

However, despite Lockheed Martin’s promises, the US GAO isn’t at all confident that the F-35 Block 3F software iteration, which is the first fully combat-capable set, will be ready by the 2018 delivery date.

Stealth, and the F-X-3 competitors J-20 Prototype
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At the ROKAF’s high end, stealth has been mentioned as an important characteristic for F-X-3, and neighboring China’s unveiling of its J-20 stealth fighter has added force to the ROKAF’s desires. So, too, has Japan’s decision to buy F-35A Lightning II stealth fighters. South Korea’s 2012 RFP was initially written to require certain stealth levels and an internal weapons bay, which would have removed all contenders except the F-15SE and F-35. Those requirements were removed before the RFP’s release, but DAPA’s Oh Tae-shik had said that they would “evaluate stealth capability as one of the key aspects, giving an advantage to an aircraft with a lower [radar] observability.”

Those choices affected each of the competitors, but the key is that they widened the field. The finalists were:

  • Boeing: F-15SE Silent Eagle
  • EADS: Eurofighter Typhoon
  • Lockheed Martin: F-35A Lightning II

Unfortunately, all 3 contenders submitted bids for the fighters, industrial giveaways, etc. that were above South Korea’s budget. The competition was briefly suspended, as the government tried to figure out what to do. Bids then resumed, and Boeing was the sole contender for a few weeks, before being rejected for not being a 5th generation offering. The competition was taken away from DAPA, and the military forced stealth requirements that excluded all competitors but the F-35.

F-35B Hovers
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Lockheed Martin’s (picked). China’s unveiling of their J-20, and Japan’s purchase of F-35s, added pressure to keep up with the neighbors. F-35s are the only option as an off-the-shelf stealth strike fighter, so they became the ROKAF’s sole-source buy.

That happened after the F-35 had dealt itself out of DAPA’s competition. DAPA’s relaxation of stealth and internal weapon carriage requirements let others compete, and the F-35 was hampered by issues in meeting speed, external weapons carriage, evaluation flight, and cost requirements. The F-35A will also have the smallest set of qualified weapons to 2020, and may take several years after that before it reaches even the limited breadth of the Eurofighter’s array. In the end, however, cost was the biggest issue. Japan’s base cost per fighter has already risen past $120 million, and the F-35 couldn’t meet the ROKAF’s budget for 60 planes.

The F-35B STOVL’s combination of vertical landing capability, USMC compatibility, and stealth could have made it a compelling choice for the ROKAF, but the ROK’s April 2013 DSCA request involved conventional long-runway F-35As that can carry 2,000 pound bombs internally.

F-15 Silent Eagles
Boeing concept
(click to view full)

Boeing (lost). Boeing had an interesting card up its sleeve: the South Korean government’s dream of participating in the development of a new, stealthy fighter platform could survive, albeit in a toned-down form. They would have made Korea the launch partner for its most advanced F-15 fighter yet: the F-15SE Silent Eagle. It doesn’t offer the same radar signature reduction as an F-35, and is only optimized for air-to-air combat stealth. In addition, the canted tails that improve lift and reduce side radar signature are only an option within their bid, rather than a standard feature.

What the F-15SE does offer is improved radar stealth over the F-15K, internal weapon bays, and major advances in controls (fly-by-wire), onboard radar, electronic countermeasures, and sensors. In short, Boeing had to win on advantages like range, carriage capacity, low risk, fleet commonality, and the broadest array of weapon capabilities within South Korea’s budget.

The F-15SE would have given the ROKAF a platform that’s compatible with many of its existing fighters, while boasting advanced capabilities that Korean firms could help manufacture for other F-15 customers. It also offered the singular promise of a 90%+ common high-end fleet, if the ROKAF moved to refit its existing F-15Ks and create a uniform high-end F-15 force of Silent Eagles. Fly-by-wire would probably be too expensive for the upgrades, and canted vertical tails are an unlikely retrofit option, but all other components could be added.

AIR_Eurofighter_Weapons_Array_lg.jpg"> Eurofighter Typhoon
(click to view full)

EADS (lost). The Eurofighter Typhoon was a Phase 3 competitor throughout, unlike its pullout from F-X-2. EADS proposed to phase in Korean assembly for Phase III, and in 2013 they improved that offer to involve 12 planes made in Europe, and the last 48 assembled at KAI. It wasn’t entirely clear whether KAI would also be performing structural manufacturing, and if so how much. The Eurofighter’s challenge was that technology transfer and local manufacturing adds cost. That hurt them in Japan, despite being rated as the best industrial offer. They hoped that pledges to assist South Korea with development of its proposed K-FX fighter would help tip the balance.

Eurofighter’s Typhoon has more RCS (Radar Cross-Section) shaping features than most people realize, but it has no conformal weapons bay. Instead, its design philosophy was built around the concept that full stealth adds too much expense, and will be compromised by future technology developments. EADS’ design focused on agility, long-range sensors, and long-range weapons instead. The Typhoon does extremely well in those fields, though its range of weapon options is far narrower than the F-15’s. In the end, it wasn’t enough. The bid was eliminated from DAPA’s selection on a questionable technicality, then precluded from the relaunched competition by stealth requirements it can’t meet.

Gripen: no bid.
(click to view full)

Saab (declined). The Swedish firm indicated a preliminary interest, and made themselves eligible to bid with the JAS-39 Gripen NG. Saab would have been able to offer South Korea a position as a full platform co-development partner, but chose not to bid in the end.

Their Gripen Demo prototype is finishing testing, but the operational Gripen E/F is still in development between Sweden & Switzerland. The Gripen is a smaller fighter than the other competitors, and lacks the stealth enhancements found on the F-15SE or F-35, but its combination of RCS shaping and smaller size have made it difficult to find during NATO exercises like Spring Flag 2007. Overall, it’s a versatile and very agile fighter with a good weapons array, short-takeoff and landing capabilities, and a proven record of low purchase, operations, and maintenance costs. On the flip side, the Gripen’s size creates limits as well as advantages.

Contracts & Key Events 2014

JSF Order confirmed. Landing the F-35A
(click to view full)

Sept 24/14: JSF. DAPA confirms the terms of its order for 40 F-35As, for a total of 7.3 trillion won (US$7.04 billion), at a price per unit of about 120 billion won ($115M), on top of which come the usual overhead like support, spares, and training. The actual Letter of Offer and Acceptance (LOA) will be signed within days, under a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) process. Lockheed Martin agreed to transfer flight control and fire-extinguishing technologies. Deployment is planned between 2018 and 2021.

Source: Yonhap: “Seoul to buy 40 F-35A fighters from Lockheed Martin in 7.3 tln won deal”.

F-35 deal

May 11/14: Diehl & Saab’s Taurus Systems joint venture is opening an office in South Korea, its first outside of Germany. The Seoul office will support South Korea’s November 2013 contract, while overseeing technology transfer and joint development of the next version. Sources: Korea Times, “Taurus Systems to open Seoul office this week”.

March 27/14: Oy! of the Tiger. The F-15K fleet’s Tiger Eye pods combine advanced all-weather and terrain-following navigation with an electro-optical day/night sensor suite that includes Infrared Search and Track (IRST). Yonhap places the number bought at just 10, and adds that the ROKAF has had trouble maintaining them. Perhaps that’s what led to allegations of disassembly and industrial espionage (q.v. Nov 18/11)?

Now the pods are coming home to bite a second time, via a 6x hike in support costs. Yonhap reports that the ROKAF is the system’s only customer, and quotes American sources as saying that the rarity of parts is driving the problem, though Singapore’s F-15SGs were were displayed with Tiger Eyes on rollout. The Koreans are responding by trying to buy key components for lifetime support, before those components disappear.

The ROKAF has 40 Sniper Advanced Targeting Pods with good optics, but they’re often deployed along with Tiger Eyes. If Sniper ATPs are used alone, the ROKAF would have to add LANTIRN pods to gain the same radar-evading low-level flight advantages, and they’d lose the IRST. Sources: Yonhap, “U.S. demands sharp rise in price of F-15K’s sensor parts”.

March 24/14: South Korea’s government officially ratifies its decision (q.v. Nov 22/13) to sole-source 40 F-35As as their next fighter jet, instead of accepting 60 F-15SEs from Boeing’s $7.2 billion bid. Sources quoted by Reuters place South Korea’s revised budget at WON 7.34 trillion (about $6.79 billion), but negotiations on the actual price aren’t expected to finish until late 2014.

Lockheed VP Gary North says that the planes will have “fully operable” Block 3F software when they’re delivered, and other sources give a 2018 – 2022 delivery period. Lockheed Martin is breezily confident that it can meet those requirements, but official GAO and DOT&E reports cast grave doubt on software development and testing in particular. Block 3F seems very unlikely to finish by its target date in 2017, and a lot of things would have to change very soon in order to make even 2018 a likely bet. Contract language around “fully operable” could become very important.

Lockheed’s Randy Howard, the VP who directs the F-35 Korea sale, touted the program’s recent assessment that “the F-35 is on a downward path that will lead to a Unit Recurring Flyaway (URF) cost for an F-35A of between $80-85 million,” as his firm seeks an up-front contract for all 40 planes. On the other hand, ROK DAPA sources point to the fact that the program’s estimate based on doubtful sales estimates, and note previous gaps between touted costs and actual prices.

Lockheed Martin’s desire to avoid smaller annual contracts that minimize customer commitment makes sense. With American orders facing cuts, and projected orders from key program members like Canada and the Netherlands coming in at about half of initial estimates, they need to add guaranteed orders. Otherwise, early buyer prices will stay very high and hurt sales. On the other hand, Japan’s recent experiences suggest that the smart money bet lies with DAPA’s dubiousness. South Korea has already locked itself in the negotiating room, and Lockheed could benefit from a smaller Political Cross-Section by not leading with its chin in this way, but it seems to be a persistent pattern. The Sources: Lockheed Martin, “Republic of Korea Selects Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II” | Yonhap, “S. Korea confirms US$6.8 mln deal for 40 F-35s in Q3″ and “Lockheed Martin says F-35 will get cheaper in next five years” | Reuters, “South Korea boosts air defenses with about $6.8 billion budget for F-35s”.

F-35A sole-source is official


ROK removes DAPA from the equation and picks the F-35 without competition; Export cases for F-35A, F-15SE, and accompanying weapons; EADS offers to support KF-X if Eurofighter is picked for F-X-3; ROKAF picks KEPD 350 as its long-range cruise missile; F100 engine support deal. F-15K: engines lit
(click to view full)

November 2013: Cruise Missiles. South Korea’s DAPA reportedly signs the contract for KEPD 350 cruise missiles with Taurus Systems, a joint venture between LFK (MBDA Deutschland) and Saab. Previous reports indicated that the contract would involve about 170 missiles, at a cost of about $360 million equivalent (q.v. April 25/08, May 18/11, April 4/13, June 19/13, July 5/13). Sources: Korea Times, “Taurus Systems to open Seoul office this week”.

KEPD-350 cruise missiles

Nov 27/13: Dissension. Ruling Saenuri Party members are demanding that South Korea’s government renegotiate the proposed buy of 40 F-35As. Influential Rep. Rhee In-je echoes the Chosun Ilbo newspaper:

“The government made the right decision in choosing the F-35A for its stealth capabilities, but compared to Japan, the conditions (for the purchase) are strikingly unfair…. This isn’t an issue that can be glossed over. We have to try to (buy the jets) on the condition of technology transfer and with the same terms as Japan [q.v.: local assembly for most and some local parts production], even if that means more negotiations…”

Other senior party members want “an open bid for core technology transfer,” and the opposition is blasting the government for weakening its negotiating position by abandoning the competition. On that score, it’s simply too late. There is no competition now, and everyone knows there’s no real competition. Which means it isn’t possible to get the benefits of competition. Even as China’s recent aggressive moves in the East China Sea/ Mer de Coree are turning the fighter buy into a high priority for the ROKAF.

The deal on the table has technology transfer provisions that focus on South Korea’s KF-X fighter, and other projects. If the entire deal revolves around the F-35, it takes these items off of the table. Does the ROK want that? Rep. Rhee In-je is right that the ROK has painted itself into a bit of a corner, but he’s wrong to believe it can just walk out of that corner without paying a steep price. Sources: The Korea Observer, “Ruling party members urge better conditions in fighter jet contract” | Chosun Ilbo op-ed, “Korea Must Keep Edge in Fighter Jet Negotiations”.

Nov 22/13: F-35 Only. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announce that there will be no competition for F-X Phase III. They’ve set the stealth requirements so that only the F-35 can meet them, and DAPA plans to sign a 2014 contract for 40 F-35A block 3 jets, to be delivered from 2018 – 2022. That’s a drop from the original requirement for 60 planes, though the ROK JCS will consider a later buy of another 20 jets, type unspecified, for deployment in 2023 – 2024. JCS spokesman Eom Hyo-sik:

“The F-35A will be used as a strategic weapon to gain a competitive edge and defeat the enemy in the early stage of war…. The South Korean military will also use the aircraft to effectively deal with provocations.”

He’s referring to the ROK’s counterstrike doctrine, which intends to actively seek out artillery and missile launchers in early stages of a full war, and strike heavily-defended North Korean targets in response to lesser armed provocations. DAPA’s immediate challenge will be setting a budget for its purchase. Senior DAPA official Oh Tae-shik says that “We expect to firm up the total budget size after discussions with the related ministry.” The ROKAF’s intermediate-term challenge is the fact that American GAO auditors don’t have a lot of confidence in the 2018 deadline for Block 3 jets, given how far behind the fighter’s software development has fallen.

As a side effect, the JCS has moved proposed development of the local KF-X fighter as an intermediate-term project for development by 2020, rather than a long-term project. Lockheed Martin is expected to lend its expertise to KAI, as part of an F-35 industrial offsets program that will also include a new military communications satellite and a cyber-warfare training center. ROK’s Yonhap, “(LEAD) S. Korea decides to buy 40 Lockheed F-35s from 2018″ | E&T, “South Korea confirms F-35 fighter jet deal” | China’s Xinhua, “S. Korea picks Lockheed Martin’s F-35 as main fighter jet”.

Oct 11/13: Boeing. Boeing is reportedly shifting its strategy in Korea to promotion of a split-buy. South Korea will take over primary command responsibility for forces on the Korean peninsula in 2015, and wants fighters by 2016, but the F-35B isn’t going to be ready for combat by then. Experiences with other F-35 buyers are also demonstrating much higher purchase costs, resulting in order cuts of 50% or more in partner nations.

Boeing is hoping this will lead to a situation like Australia’s, where the government ended up buying F/A-18F and EA-18G fighters as an interim bridge, and a way to improve fighter force size. The bad news is that South Korea’s perceived need for in-country infrastructure to handle most maintenance operations means that a notable chunk of their F-35 costs won’t change if they switch from 40 F-35s to 24 F-35s + 30 F-15SEs.

Boeing’s F-15SE technologies remain available as upgrades for South Korea and for other customers. Sources: Aviation Week, “Boeing Sees Possible Split Fighter Buy For Korea”.

Sept 24/13: F-15SE out. DAPA yields to pressure from the air force to pursue a 5th generation acquisition. Defense minister Kim Min-seok:

“A majority of the committee members agreed to reject (F-15 SE) and restart the project, taking into consideration the recent security situation including North Korea’s third nuclear test and latest aerospace technology development. They agreed that South Korean Air Force needs fifth-generation combat jets to keep pace with the latest trend and to deter provocations by North Korea.”

This puts Lockheed Martin in a strong position, if the money is there and stealth ends up being the defining “5th gen” requirement. Note that the money will have to encompass more than just the planes, as the nearest major maintenance hub for the F-35s will be in Japan. South Korea already has that infrastructure for its F-15s, but it would have to build and stock a new system for the F-35. Sources: Yonhap, “S. Korea decides against picking Boeing’s F-15 SE as next fighter jet” | CS Monitor, “F-15 Silent Eagle: Why South Korea rejected this jet” | The Diplomat, “South Korea Rejects Boeing’s F-15SE Fighter, Will Restart FX-III”.

F-X-III called off

Aug 28/13: F-15SE radar. Aviation Week reports that Boeing offered South Korea the APG-82(V)1 AESA radar for its F-15SEs, which is a step up from the APG-63(V)3 AESA in Singapore’s F-15SGs and Saudi Arabia’s forthcoming F-15SAs. The APG-82v1 will be the USAF’s Strike Eagle radar under a refit program. Compared to the APG-63(V)3, the APG-82 offers a new wideband radome, an improved cooling system, new Radio Frequency Tunable Filters (RFTF) that let the radar and Electronic Warfare System function at the same time, and an architecture of LRM “blades” that can be swapped out in the field based on internal diagnostics. That improves readiness compared with the APG-63’s large LRU “black box” units, which must be sent to a maintenance depot for diagnosis and service. Sources: Aviation Week, “Boeing Mulling F-15 Plans Beyond Silent Eagle”.

Aug 19-20/13: Contradictory reports. Conflicting messaging from DAPA and contractors give a somewhat muddled picture, apparently leaving the F-15SE as the de facto winner.

DAPA announced that Eurofighter was out because of procedural flaws, which EADS reportedly denies. The core problem is that the ROKAF wanted 45 single-seat and 15 2-seat aircraft, for whatever reason. All F-15SEs are 2-seat, and all F-35s are single-seat, so it was an arbitrary figure for EADS. The 2-seat planes cost a bit more, and EADS says that operational experience shows a need for fewer trainer-capable planes due to advanced simulators, etc. So they proposed a 54/ 6 split, to stay within the budget. EADS Chief Sales Officer Christian Scherer offers a way forward, if politicians want to pressure DAPA into reconsidering:

“I would like to stress that Eurofighter’s intention has been to provide DAPA, to consider within its discretion, fully within the boundaries of the Request for Proposal (RFP), a bid package that would meet the declared essential budget…. We do not see any promises made but only different scenarios with preferences which have been discussed respectfully by the parties all along the negotiation process…. We are open for any constructive discussion with DAPA. We have shown different paths, and we are ready to discuss the applicability of any or parts thereof to help DAPA come to the most cost-effective choice for the F-X Program.”

Meanwhile Lockheed Martin is not admitting defeat just yet, though that’s standard procedure in jet competitions, where it’s not over till it’s over. The truth is, their best hope is for DAPA to reject the F-15SE, or have the competition derailed some other way, giving them time to be able to offer more cost certainty and meet the budget – if they can. Sources: Yonhap, “Interview – EADS denies procedural breach to Korean fighter jet project” | The Hankyoreh, “Eurofighter eliminated from next-generation fighter project” | Reuters, “Lockheed says S. Korea jet fighter contest not over” | Korea Times op-ed, ” Fighter project in limbo” Government needs to reexamine plan from square one”.

Aug 16/13: F-35 Out. South Korea’s new negotiating strategy pays off, as the F-15 Silent Eagle and EADS Eurofighter reportedly meet the bid limit and become the 2 finalists. The DAPA procurement agency will only confirm that at least 1 bidder was within the budget, but Yonhap News Agency confirms that the F-35 disqualified itself by bidding over budget. The Korea Times cites an unnamed “industry source” who says that Eurofighter and Boeing both bid within the limits, which sets up an interesting duel.

DAPA could run the evaluation and decide not to buy any fighters right now, but that’s a good way to simply lose your budget. Reports say that a request to raise the budget has already been refused, in order to increase voter entitlement payouts. The Eurofighter is a better air superiority fighter, but the F-15s have a much wider array of weapons they can use. That versatility, coupled with the prospect of eventually upgrading the F-15 fleet to a mostly-common F-15SE configuration (albeit without fly-by-wire or canted vertical tails on older F-15Ks), is expected to give Boeing an edge. Sources: Yonhap, “S. Korea’s fighter jet project becomes two-way race” | Korea Times, “F-15, Eurofighter vie for F-X project.”

July 29/13: New bids. A Korea Times article makes DAPA’s near-term negotiating strategy crystal-clear. DAPA Spokesman Baek Youn-hyeong says that once any of the bidders meet the KRW 8.3 trillion/ $7.45 billion budget, all candidates will be evaluated, and any not meeting the budget will be disqualified regardless of their evaluations.

The paper reports that Boeing’s bid was within 3% of DAPA’s budget, which means we could have a winner very soon. Sources: Korea Times, “F-35 to be first to bow out”.

July 25/13: New bids. DAPA spokesman Baek Youn-hyeong says that DAPA will begin a 3rd round of F-X-3 bidding in the 3rd week of August. Then he says that:

“If there is no entry with price within the project budget after the resumption of bidding, we will pursue the project again through reviews or increase in overall budget…”

It’s hard to say what this means. Telling companies that “if you don’t bid within our budget, we’ll increase it and try again” is a poor negotiating strategy. Unless the reviews and budget increase are simply applied to the already-submitted bids, and a winner is picked with no further bidding. This would be a reasonable strategy if technical compromise is seen as out of the question, but the people controlling the budget need to be assured that the winning offer is the best possible deal. Sources: Reuters, “South Korea reopens bidding for stalled fighter jet competition”.

July 11/13: Say what? South Korea’s government needs to decide what do do about its fighter competition. One DAPA official tells Reuters that:

“If the auction falls apart, we will consider all possible options, possibly including splitting the purchase…”

If all 3 bidders are over slot, we fail to see how splitting the purchase will help. The only way it would help is if DAPA changed the buy to include lower and higher performance fighter tiers, which would add less expensive competitors to the mix. That would leave EADS in a bind, however, and increase the pressure for fleet compatibility in at least one of the tiers. The F-16V would be a very strong contender in that scenario, as it would fit with the ROKAF’s planned F-16 upgrades. Sources: Reuters, “South Korea to review bids on $7.3 billion fighter jet deal”.

July 5/13: Suspended. The new round of bidding extended until July 5th, but it didn’t help. None of the entries could meet South Korea’s industrial demands, and performance specifications, and budget limits. DAPA responded by suspending further bidding on the competition.

Something clearly has to be rethought, if South Korea wants those fighters. If they don’t drop the number bought, then either the budget must be increased, or cost-adding elements like industrial offsets need to be revised, or the performance specifications need to be relaxed and new competitors contemplated. Sources: Yonhap, “S. Korea temporarily suspends bidding for next-generation fighter jet program” | Yonhap, “S. Korean fighter jet project stuck over pricing”.

F-X-3 suspended

July 5/13: Cruise missiles. A budget analysis report by the National Assembly’s Budget Office notes potential budget problems with the proposed buy of Taurus long-range cruise missiles. South Korea began with a KRW 221.3 billion/ $194 million budget, and has since raised it to 411.9 billion won/ $360 million.

The bad news? The bid for the Taurus missile package was KRW 568.8 billion/ $496.4 billion in 2011. The Budget Office report wants DAPA to report the results of their negotiations with Taurus/MBDA, before the office conducts budget deliberations for 2014. Sources: Yonhap, “Parliament advises review of Taurus, Global Hawk acquisition plan”.

June 28/13: Try again. DAPA official Baek Youn-hyeong said another round of bidding would start on Tuesday July 2, since the 2nd round of bidding ended with none of the bidders meeting the 8.3 trillion won ($7.3 billion) budget set for 60 aircraft. Sources: AP, “S. Korea extends $7.3 billion fighter jet bidding” | Yonhap, “Second round of bidding for Korean jet project fails over price”.

June 19/13: Cruise Missiles. DAPA has approved a plan to purchase Taurus Missiles (q.v. April 4/13 entry) in the absence of American clearance for JASSM. Yonhap reports that the deal will be over $300 million, for about 170 missiles. Note that approval isn’t a contract yet, but at least we’re zeroing in on prices and quantities. Sources: Agence France Presse, “S.Korea to buy European missiles”.

May 23/13: Eurofighter. EADS Cassidian reportedly announces that they would invest $2 billion in the K-FX fighter development project, and help market the plane internationally, if the Eurofighter is chosen for F-X-3. Investments would include a maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) facility that could extend to the KF-X, and an aerospace software center.

It isn’t a bad idea for EADS. Barring multiple orders from new sources, it’s very unlikely that the Eurofighter will still be in production by 2022. Upgrades and maintenance will continue for some time, but the C-203 KF-X design could offer EADS a new option to sell, with a fundamental design that can improve toward stealth fighter status. The question is whether South Korea wants to go forward. Sources: Yonhap News, “EADS offers US$2 bln investment on Korean fighter jet project”.

May 22/13: Weapons. The US DSCA forwards South Korea’s official weapons export request for up to $823 million worth of weapons to equip F-15SE Silent Eagles [PDF], or up to $793 million in weapons for F-35As [PDF], if either plane is picked as the F-X-3 winner. There’s a lot of commonality, with some differences. The commonalities:

  • 274 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM). This is the most advanced export version, and the ROK already uses AMRAAMs on its F-15s and F-16s.
  • 6 AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM Guidance Sections.
  • 154 AIM-9X Block II Tactical Missiles w/DSU-41. This is the most advanced Sidewinder short-range air-to-air missile. The F-35A and F-15SE The ROKAF would need to do additional work, if they wanted to add it to their KF-16s as well.
  • 14 AIM-9X Block II Tactical Guidance Unit. Spares are good.
  • 33 AIM-9X Block II CATM (Captive Air Training Missiles). Used for exercises.
  • 7 AIM-9X Block II CATM Guidance Units
  • 1,312 FMU-152A/B Fuzes (FZU-63 Initiator)
  • 6 MK-82 Filled, Inert Bombs. Operational Mk-82s weigh about 500 pounds.
  • 4 BLU-109 Inert Bombs. The BLU-109 is a penetrator section for 2,000 pound bombs.
  • 542 GBU-39/B Small Diameter Bombs. These 250 pound GPS-guided glide bombs replace existing bombs on a 4 to 1 basis, and pack the same penetration punch as a 2,000 pound weapon against some hardened targets.

Plus containers, missile support and test equipment, provisioning, spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, and other US government and contractor support.

The F-15SE and F-35A requests have different distributions and types of bombs. The $823 million F-15SE request includes 1,312 bombs:

  • 780 JDAM Tail Kits, MK-82/BLU-111 KMU572C/B (GBU-38) w/SAASM/AJ. In English: 500 pound version with jam-resistant GPS guidance.
  • 170 BLU-117 2,000 pound General Purpose Bombs.
  • 170 JDAM Tail Kits, MK-84/BLU-117 KMU-556C/B (GBU-31) w/SAASM/AJ. 2,000 pound version with jam-resistant GPS guidance.
  • 362 BLU-109 2,000 pound Penetrator bombs, for use against hardened targets. It adds up to 532 2,000 pound bombs in this request.
  • 362 Joint Directed Attack Munition (JDAM) Tail Kits, BLU-109/KMU-557C/B (GBU-31) w/SAASM/AJ. 2,000 pound penetrator version with jam-resistant GPS guidance.

The $793 million F-35A request includes 1,310 bombs:

  • 780 GBU-12 Paveway II 500 pound laser-guided bombs. Instead of the GPS-guided JDAMs.
  • 4 GBU-12 Dummy Trainers.
  • 530 BLU-109 2,000 pound Penetrator bombs, for use against hardened targets. The F-35A can carry a 2,000 pound bomb and an AMRAAM missile in each of its 2 weapon bays. Maximum impact is best against the kind of tough targets they’d attack.
  • 530 Joint Directed Attack Munition (JDAM) Tail Kits, BLU-109/KMU-557C/B (GBU-31) w/SAASM/AJ. 2,000 pound penetrator version with jam-resistant GPS guidance. The F-35A request orders more of these JDAM kits, but none of the other types.
  • 4 JDAM BLU-109 Load Build Trainers.

The principal contractors are listed as Raytheon Missile Systems Company in Tucson, AZ (AIM-9X, AIM-120); The Boeing Corporation in St Louis, MO (all JDAM kits); Lockheed Martin Missile and Space in Bethesda, MD (GBU-12); and Kaman Precision Products in Middletown, CT (fuzes). General Dynamics OTS makes the base bombs, but aren’t mentioned. If permission leads to negotiated contracts, implementation will require multiple trips to Korea involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, program management, and training over a period of 8 years.

US DSCA: Weapon export requests for F-15SE, F-35A

April 5/13: Eurofighter. With initial F-X-3 negotiations underway, and price negotiations expected to begin on April 18/13, an un-named military official tells the government’s Yonhap News Agency that EADS has changed their industrial offer. Instead of having the first 10 made in Europe, the next 24 made using Korean components, and the last 26 assembled in Korea, EADS has offered to build just 12 in Europe, and the other 48 Tranche 3 planes at KAI in South Korea.

The news report is imprecise, leaving the question of structural manufacturing vs. kit assembly unaddressed. It also fails to address how EADS can promote the idea of 20,000 South Korean aerospace jobs for a 5-year period, when the company also says that building the Typhoon for the much larger orders of the core country participants created just 10,000 jobs in Europe. On its face, the statement seems less than plausible, but it does point to the likelihood of significant structural manufacturing in Korea. Sources: Yonhap, “EADS offers to manufacture 48 Eurofighters in S. Korea” | Fly To Barcelona, “Cassidian Spain presents the Eurofighter offer for South Korea” | New Pacific Institute, “EADS’s ‘Eurofighter Typhoon’ Localized Production Deal with South Korea in Jeopardy”.

F-15/KEPD 350 concept
(click to view full)

April 4/13: Cruise missiles. The ROKAF has taken about 5 years (q.v. May 18/11, April 25/08 entries), but they appear to have picked their long-range cruise missile: Taurus’ KEPD 350, with an expected order of 200 weapons. Negotiations are expected to begin quickly. A ROKAF officer is quoted as saying that they “urgently need more long-range air-to-surface missiles due to the mounting nuclear threat and the increasing possibility of provocations from North Korea.”

It was clear from the outset that the ROKAF was looking beyond the 40 or so Boeing AGM-84K SDLAM-ER missiles in its arsenal, with particular interest in Lockheed Martin’s AGM-158 JASSM/JASSM-ER. Unfortunately, the current administration has made it difficult for South Korea to join Australia as a JASSM export customer, and hew to the past pattern of buying American. Parliamentary defence committee member Kim Kwan-jin is quoted as saying that:

“U.S. missiles were one of the options we were considering, but because it is difficult for them to be sold to Korea, the only option we have is the Taurus.”

Chalk up another “own goal” for American weapons export processes and administration – though JASSM reportedly had some carriage issues with the F-15SE and F-15K (vid. Nov 5/12 entry). The KEPD 350 uses a combination of terrain matching, GPS, and Imaging Infrared guidance. It’s currently integrated with the Tornado and F/A-18 Hornet, is partially integrated with Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, and is expected to be integrated with the Eurofighter by 2015 or so. The ROKAF will have to fund additional integration and testing on its own, in order to use the new missile with its F-15Ks and F-16s.

Technically, the ROKAF could have ordered MBDA’s Storm Shadow and paid for its integration instead. The thing is, it’s more expensive to buy, thanks to an added level of stealth that isn’t really helpful against North Korea. Storm Shadow also lacks the KEPD 350’s void sensing fuze, which is especially useful against the multi-level bunkers so beloved of North Korea’s tyranny. The KEPD 350’s 500 km/ 310 mile range matches or exceeds the Storm Shadow’s, and almost doubles the existing SLAM-ER’s 278 km reach. Sources: Chosun Ilbo, “S.Korea to Buy Bunker-Buster Missiles from Europe” | Reuters, “S.Korea to buy bunker busting missiles from Europe” (different article).

Cruise missile picked: Taurus’ KEPD 350

April 2/13: The South Korean government has a pair of DSCA export requests tabled. If they aren’t actively blocked – and they won’t be – then either Boeing or Lockheed Martin will be able to negotiate a contract IF either fighter wins the ROKAF’s F-XIII competition. If the Eurofighter Typhoon wins, of course, they’re both out of luck. As the winning F-XIII fighter enters service, the ROKAF is expected to retire its F-4 Phantoms.

The respective requests make comparison very difficult, because the F-35A is a full Foreign Military Sale, whereas the F-15SEs involve a Direct Commercial Sale of the core F-15SE fighter that doesn’t appear in the offered totals. Implementation of either sale would require multiple unspecified trips to Korea involving US Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews and support, program management, and training over a period of 15 years. If either proposal is accepted, industrial offset agreements will also be part of the negotiations.

F-35A. The US DSCA announces a full FMS case for 60 fully-equipped F-35A fighters, and another 9 spare Pratt & Whitney F-135 engines. The order would also come with Autonomic Logistics Global Support System (ALGS); the Autonomic Logistics Information System (ALIS); Full Mission Trainer; “Weapons Employment Capability,” and other Subsystems, Features, and Capabilities; F-35 unique infrared flares; Reprogramming center services and software development/integration; Aircraft ferry and tanker support; Spares and repair parts; Personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of US Government and contractor support.

Lockheed Martin and Pratt & Whitney will be the prime contractors if the F-35A wins. The estimated cost is up to $10.8 billion, which is $180 million per fighter, but all of those “the order would also come with” items do add up. Sources: US DSCA [PDF].

F-15SE. The US DSCA announces a possible hybrid case in support of 60 F-15 Silent Eagle aircraft and their engines being procured via Direct Commercial Sales (DCS), and other items that must be sold under the FMS procedure. Boeing in St. Louis, MO would be the prime contractor. FMS items are estimated to cost up to $2.408 billion, and include:

  • 60 Active Electronically Scanned Array Radar sets (type undisclosed – APG-63v3 or APG-82v1)
  • 60 AN/AAQ-33 Sniper surveillance and targeting pods
  • 60 AN/AAS-42 Infrared Search and Track (IRST) pods
  • 69 Link-16 Terminals and spares
  • Advanced Display Core Processor II
  • Joint Mission Planning System
  • 132 Ultra High Frequency/Very High Frequency (UHF/VHF) secure radios with HAVE QUICK II
  • GEM-V GPS airborne receiver module
  • 60 Digital Electronic Warfare Systems (DEWS)
  • Plus various support equipment items, and communication security; software development/integration, spares and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documents, and US Government and contractor support.

The F-15SE’s new stealth-enhancing features, fly-by-wire, etc. make estimation difficult. Based on sales of less advanced F-15K/SG Strike Eagles to South Korea and Singapore, however, those 60 planes can be expected to add around $6.6 – 7.8 billion. That’s still below the F-35A, and the question is how far below. Another advantage the F-15 has is that most of the training, spares, engine spares, and support infrastructure is already present from F-15K sales. Source: US DSCA [PDF].

F-15SE & F-35A export requests

Jan 8/13: United Technologies Corp. subsidiary Pratt & Whitney announces a 5-year, $300 million Performance Based Logistics (PBL) contract to support over 230 ROKAF F100 turbofans in intermediate engine shops, and at the depot level.

All of South Korea’s 180 or so F-16C/D fighters, and some of its F-15K Strike Eagles, use the F100 engine. With the exception of the earliest F-16 Block 32s, the vast majority use variants of the F100-PW-229. The other exception involves 39 / 60 F-15Ks, which fly with GE’s F110-GE-129. That way, problems with the F100 engine can’t ground the ROKAF’s entire top-end fighter fleet.

Multiyear F100 engine support


F-X-3 stealth criteria lowered, but other criteria adjusted to keep F-35A viable; F-X-3 bids make it F-15SE vs. F-35 vs. Eurofighter; Are JASSM missiles a problem for F-15K/SE? F-15K, Kunsan AB
(click to view full)

Nov 5/12: Cruise missiles. South Korea’s Yonhap News Service reports that a design inconsistency involving the F-15K Slam Eagle will make it impossible to load 2 JASSM medium-range stealthy cruise missiles on the aircraft, without modifying either the pylons or the plane’s upper wing:

“…JASSM) with a 370-kilometer range has been considered a favorite, as the U.S. firm offered a cheaper price than its German competitor Taurus… recent test showed, however, that Lockheed’s JASSM doesn’t fit the F-15K, as the missile’s upper wing folds only to the left side. The Defense Acquisition and Procurement Administration (DAPA) has asked Boeing, the F-15K maker, and Lockheed Martin about ways to install the missile on the F-15K, but both have not responded… “To install the JASSMs in both wings of the F-15K, either F-15K’s pylon or the JASSM’s upper wing should be modified, but it would cost a lot,” the official said.”

That’s odd, because the AGM-158 JASSM lists as already integrated on US F-15E Strike Eagles. If Yonhap is correct, Taurus has a price problem, and JASSM an integration problem. By extension, MBDA’s high end Storm Shadow would also create price issues for South Korea. Time will tell. Meanwhile, the F-15Ks remain capable of firing Boeing’s AGM-84K SLAM-ER cruise missiles. Yonhap.

Sept 14/13: Downgraded F-15SE. Defense Update reports that Boeing is turning canted tail fins into an option for Korea’s F-15SE bid, rather than a core feature. The canted tail fins were supposed to improve side stealth while improving lift, and reducing weight. Wind tunnel tests appear to have shown less flight performance improvement than Boeing was hoping for, and the redesign would have added to the fighter’s cost. Sources: Defense Update, “Boeing Cuts F-15SE Design Feature in Korean Fighter Bid”.

July 3/12: All 3 competitors have re-submitted their bids. DAPA says that flight tests will begin in late July 2012, but some will be based on simulators “because core parts of all three jets are still under development.” Note that if the final decision is put off until 2013, it may well fall under a new government. Korea Herald.

June 20/12: F-X-3 Re-submit. South Korea’s DAPA reopens bidding, “citing what it called errors in the relevant documents.” The re-submission date is July 5/12, which means the same 3 candidates are the only realistic possibility.

DAPA commissioner Noh Dae-Rae also told Yonhap News Agency that an October 2012 decision was their goal, not their deadline, and could delay that decision if they felt it was in “the national interest.” A delay could wind up being important to the F-35, and Lockheed Martin will respond to South Korean demands for more involvement in F-35 testing by June 22nd. Otherwise, Noh says that the F-35 could deal itself out of the competition:

“If the U.S. side rejects our request, we will have no choice but to give [the F-35] a zero point in the criteria of flight-testing.”

That’s a good initial negotiating position, anyway. Defense News | Yonhap.

F-X-3 RFP re-do

June 18/12: F-X-3 Responses. A DAPA official confirms the 3 bidders for the Phase 3 buy: Boeing’s F-15SE, EADS’ Eurofighter, and Lockheed Martin’s F-35. They’ve submitted their boxes of documentation, and DAPA plans to announce a winner by October 2012, then sign a contract by the end of 2012.

The main opposition Democratic United Party is opposed to the fighter buy, and is demanding that the next government deal with it. They won’t get their way, but technical developments have added weight to their case.

Of the 3 jets, only EADS’ Eurofighter will be fully available for flight tests. The F-35 is single-seat only, and has fielded only a handful of test aircraft so far. Training a ROKAF pilot to the required level would be both time-consuming, and damaging to the F-35 development program. South Korea will have to rely on simulator flights, which are questionably useful for a plane that’s still in its development & testing phase. Boeing’s F-15SE is available as a 2-seat test aircraft, and has 80% commonality with existing F-15Ks. On the other hand, the test aircraft lacks important features like fly-by-wire, which will be present in the final F-15SE, and in Saudi Arabia’s more conventional F-15SAs. Korea Times | Yonhap | Bloomberg | Flight International.

April 2/12: F-X-2. Boeing delivers the final 2 F-15K Slam Eagles to the Republic of Korea Air Force at Daegu Air Base, ROK. All ROKAF F-15Ks were delivered on cost and on schedule. Boeing.

F-X-2 all delivered

Feb 23/12: F-15K support, 2012-2017. Boeing announces a 5-year, $300 million Performance Based Logistics (PBL) contract to support the ROKAF’s F-15K fleets. The PBL model offers agreed-upon bonuses and penalties around specific outcomes, like mission readiness rates. In some cases, the contract will simply require the outcome and offer a fixed-fee payment.

The exact terms of such deals are everything, but Boeing isn’t discussing them. They do note that their responsibilities under the new contract will involve chain forecasting; coordinated procurement of production and spare parts to benefit from economies of scale; rigorous supplier contracting, quality and risk-management practices; and more efficient delivery processes, as well as collaboration with customer maintenance depots and local industry. Their partner Hyundai Glovis will provide in-country logistics handling, and supply chain distribution activities.

“Boeing is pleased to continue supporting the ROKAF F-15 fleet, which already has achieved some of the best mission-capability rates of any air force operating the F-15, and those rates have continuously improved since the aircraft’s introduction to the ROKAF,” said Jim O’Neill, vice president and general manager, Boeing Integrated Logistics.”

F-15K support

Feb 7/12: F-35 finagling. An exclusive Korea Times report notes that the F-35A will likely fail to meet 2 of the ROKAF’s key requirements. it also explains how this failure will be circumvented, to keep the F-35A in the competition.

The problem is that F-35A is designed for a maximum speed of Mach 1.6, and almost certainly cannot achieve that speed while carrying drag-inducing external weapons. Which is a ROKAF requirement. Indeed, by the time the ROKAF wants the planes, the F-35A won’t even be certified to carry and use external pylons, because that isn’t a priority for the USAF.

The way to keep the F-35A in the competition anyway is for the US government to essentially lie, and say that these attributes will be present by the time it’s delivered to South Korea. They won’t, and everyone knows it, but DAPA has already made compromises to widen the competition (vid. Jan 12/12), and is expected to play along. If the F-35A wins, they’ll be able to assess comparatively minor contract penalties at the end, for non-compliance.

Jan 30/12: South Korea releases its FX-III RFP, for 60 aircraft. Source.

Jan 29/12: No PAK-FA. The Korea Times quotes a DAPA spokesman, who confirms the potential F-X-III competitors:

“No Russian firm submitted an application to attend the program’s explanatory session, which was a prerequisite to participate, by the Friday registration deadline,” a spokesman of DAPA said. He noted that a representative from Swedish company Saab, which has been searching for additional export orders for its Gripen multirole fighters, successfully filed an application for the mandatory session along with Boeing, Lockheed Martine [sic] and EADS.”

This means that the Indo-Russian PAK-FA will not be part of the competition, just as Russian disinterest kept the SU-35 out of F-X-2, despite reports (vid. July 20/11) that Sukhoi was intending to participate this time. The report adds that DAPA doesn’t see the Gripen as likely to meet its competition’s requirements. Then again, that’s what explanatory sessions are for. Saab itself told the newspaper that it hadn’t decided whether or not it would bid.

Jan 12/12: F-X-3. South Korea will change some of its F-X-3 fighter requirements, in order to ensure that interested bidders can submit for its competition. The Korea Times reports that:

“Kim Dae-sik, the head of DAPA’s contract management agency, confirmed that… “DAPA plans to issue the RFP by the end of the month without the requirement of the conformal weapons bay… Oh Tae-shik, head of DAPA’s program management agency, confirmed that any major players in the market will be able to enter the FX-race without having to fulfill a specific RCS (Radar Cross Section, i.e. stealth) value previously set by the Air Force… “Non-stealth fighters will be able to enter the bid as we will lift the two early requirements,” he said. “However, DAPA will evaluate stealth capability as one of the key aspects, giving an advantage to an aircraft with a lower observability.”


ROKAF still wants long-range cruise missiles; DAPA tries to solicit Sukhoi’s PAK-FA stealth fighter for F-X-3; How much does stealth matter for F-X-3? Korea tries industrial espionage on F-15K pods. F-15K F-X-II
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Nov 18/11: Industrial espionage? South Korea’s left-wing Hankyoreh newspaper reports that a combination of unauthorized examination of an F-15K’s “Tiger Eyes” IRST (InfraRed Search and Track) sensor, and concerns that a number of South Korean products contain copied technologies, has halted “strategic weapons exports” from the USA to South Korea. That reportedly includes the proposed RQ-4B Global Hawk deal.

The allegations are single-source, and written by Hankyoreh, but they are also quite detailed – and further investigation by DID indicates that they may have some substance. If the problem expands, or the current rift is not repaired, it could certainly change the F-X-3 competition. Read “US-South Korea Rift? Of Tiger Eyes & Industrial Spies” for more.

F-15K espionage

Oct 21/11: JHMCS-II. VSI unveils the upgraded JHMCS-II helmet mounted display, which would equip the stealth-enhanced F-15SE they’re offering in South Korea’s FX-III fighter competition. HMDs are tactical game-changers in aerial combat, and JHMCS-II is later revealed to be based on Elbit systems’ new Targo helmet, though it uses existing JHMCS systems inside the F-15 to ease integration. It offers a lighter and simpler, night-vision capable, all-digital HMD, with color LCD for the daytime display. Flight International | Aviation Week

Aug 20/11: #51-53. Boeing delivers 3 more F-15K-2 Slam Eagles to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) at Daegu Air Base: aircraft 51, 52 and 53. The remaining 8 aircraft on the contract will be delivered through April 2012.

July 20/11: PAK-FA in F-X-3? As South Korea’s DAPA eases the criteria to try and foster more competition, DAPA’s Col. Wi Jong-seong says that “Russian aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi expressed its intent to compete in the fighter jet procurement project early this year.” The report quotes him as saying that Sukhoi’s T-50 PAK-FA will be up against Boeing’s stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II, and EADS’ Eurofighter Typhoon. Assuming we don’t have an F-X-2 repeat, where all competitors but one drop out.

At this point, FX-III is being touted as a 60 jet buy of high-end fighters, with a budget of 8.29 trillion won ($7.86 billion). Eurofighter reportedly offered a better deal than the F-15K in F-X-2, but lost. The firm recently proposed to phase in Korean assembly for Phase III, with the 1st 10 made in Europe, the next 24 using Korean components, and the last 26 assembled in Korea. Korean Herald | Korea Times.

June 2/11: #49-50. F-15K-2s number 49 & 50 land at Daegu AB, ROK. Note that the ROKAF has fewer aircraft than that, due to an accident (vid. Jan 2/08 entry). After F-X-2 is finished, they’ll have 39 F110-powered F-15Ks from F-X-1, and 21 F100-powered F-15Ks from F-X-2. Boeing.

May 18/11: Cruise missile (still) wanted. South Korea is looking for advanced cruise missiles to equip its aircraft. They have been thinking about this for some time (vid. April 25/08 entry), but are now preparing an RFP.

South Korea’s F-15K Slam Eagles are so known because they can carry the AGM-84K Standoff Land Attack Missile – Expanded Response (SLAM-ER), a Harpoon derivative with extra range and dual GPS/IIR guidance. South Korea has previously expressed interest in Lockheed Martin’s stealthy AGM-158 JASSM cruise missile for its fleet of F-15Ks, and presumably for its KF-16s as well. That would give them a way of striking even North Korea’s most heavily defended targets if necessary, while remaining out of range of the North’s air defenses. Indeed, the ROK recently prosecuted an ex-ROKAF Colonel who leaked information about its JASSM plans.

JASSM’s long history of technical difficulties have reportedly given South Korea’s DAPA procurement agency pause, however, and an anonymous DAPA official now says that a broader RFP will go out in June 2011. Likely contenders include Lockheed Martin’s JASSM and JASSM-ER, Boeing’s SLAM-ER, MBDA’s Storm Shadow, the MBDA/Saab Taurus KEPD-350, and Raytheon’s JSOW-ER. Of these contenders, Boeing, Lockheed, and Raytheon have the advantage of owning platforms that have already been integrated for use on the F-16 and the F-15 Strike Eagle. MBDA’s products would incur integration costs, but it’s possible that their Storm Shadow’s combat-proven high-end capabilities, or KEPD-350’s combination of reliable capability and lower cost, could still make them attractive buys. Yonhap News | Flight International.

April 18/11: Eagle Snipers. Lockheed Martin announces that the ROKAF has received their AN/AAQ-33 Sniper surveillance and targeting at Daegu Air Base, South Korea, and immediately deployed them into full flight operations with the ROKAF’s F-15K fleet.

Subsequent inquiries with Lockheed Martin and Boeing reveal that South Korea ordered 17 Sniper pods in the FX Phase 2 contract, which included aircraft, radars, pods, etc. While the contract received formal government approval in April 2008, the actual signing date was in December 2007. In 2009, Lockheed Martin demonstrated the benefits of Sniper pod’s capability for ROKAF by successfully flying Sniper on Korean F-15K and the KF-16s, using a common Sniper pod software load. That common load allows operators to deploy the pod on various aircraft types, extending the pods’ flexibility and significantly reducing life cycle costs for mixed fleets.

March 15/11: #47-48. Boeing delivers F-15Ks 47 and 48 to the ROKAF at Daegu Air Base. The remaining 13 aircraft will be delivered through April 2012, but some will remain stateside for a brief interlude: 6 of the new F-15Ks are scheduled to participate in a 2012 international Red Flag exercise, held at Nellis Air Force Base, NV. Boeing April 5/11 release.

March 9/11: F-X-3. Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin tells reporters that the ministry will push for a stealth fighter in F-X-3. The ROKAF s still pushing to get the program started in 2011, despite political delays. Recent announcements by China (J-20 unveiling) and Japan (F-35 negotiations) are adding urgency to the process, and may tip the scales in the ROKAF’s favor.

These trends seem to be pushing away from the Eurofighter, and may even handicap Boeing’s F-15SE Silent Eagle against Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II. The F-35’s biggest issue is likely to be its delivery dates, though cuts by other customers could open production slots. Chosun Ilbo | Korea Times.


1st F-X-2 F-15K flies, and deliveries begin; ROKAF retired all F-4Ds, but still has other F-4s; KAI gets F-15SE sub-contract. F-15SE CWB
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Nov 8/10: +3 delivered. Boeing delivers 3 F-15K “Slam Eagles” from the 2nd contract to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) at Daegu Air Base, South Korea. Aircraft deliveries under that contract will continue through 2012. Boeing.

Nov 3/10: F-15SE sub-contract. Boeing announces a Memorandum of Agreement with Korea Aerospace Industries Ltd. (KAI) for KAI to design, develop and manufacture the Conformal Weapons Bay (CWB). The agreement is an important step toward a broader F-15SE partnership that would make the ROKAF the type’s launch customer, and it also has implications for KAI beyond any F-X-3 program. These combination fuel tanks and weapon bays can be installed on either new-build or existing F-15 series aircraft, making it a potential upgrade for any existing F-15 customer.

KAI has experience working with Boeing. The firm builds the F-15K’s wings and forward fuselage, and works with Boeing on programs including the ROKAF’s pending E-737 AWACS planes, the A-10 Wing Replacement Program, and all Boeing commercial airplane programs.

April 28/10: F100 engine. Pratt & Whitney announces that:

“Last week, two Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 Engine Enhancement Package (EEP) engines powered the first flight of a F-15K aircraft planned for delivery to the Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) later this year.”

Phase 1 F-15Ks are powered by GE’s F110 engines instead. The split buy leaves South Korea with flyable F-16 and F-15 fleets, even if problems with one engine type or the other ground equipped aircraft.

April 22/10: F-15K-2. Boeing conducts the first flight of F-15K41, the first of 21 F-15K Slam Eagles produced under F-X Phase 2. Boeing.

July 8/10: F-15SE. Boeing flies its stealth-enhanced F-15SE “Silent Eagle,” for the first time, demonstrating the weapon bay’s operation in flight. The next stage will involve firing an AIM-120 air to air missile from the recessed weapon bay, which is part of the plane’s conformal fuel tank.

Boeing executives are also quoted as saying that they expect export approval for the F-15SE, and have received interest for Korea. A Jerusalem Post report adds Israel to this list, citing several conversations between Israeli defense officials and Boeing about F-15SE capabilities, and possible interest in a cheaper Silent Eagle bridge buy that allows full Israeli customization, while the F-35A achieves greater cost certainty and lower production costs. The F-15SE could also fit South Korea’s interest in a KFX-3 development program, which would involve both Korean research and equipment, but use a foreign fighter as the base. Both South Korea (F-15K) and Israel (F-15I) already fly Strike Eagle variants, and the 2 countries have begun to cooperate in a number of advanced defense programs. This raises interesting speculation about the possibility of tripartite cooperation on the F-15SE. Boeing | Defense News | Jerusalem Post.

June 16/10: F-4Ds retired. The ROKAF flies the F-4D Phantom II for the last time. It still has F-4E/F fighters in inventory. ROK’s Ariang TV.

F-4Ds retired


Stealth-enhanced F-15SE Silent Eagle unveiled; Issues with F-15K readiness rates; DAPA still dreaming of a local 5th generation fighter. F-15SE unveiled
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Oct 19/09: F-15K. The Chosun Ilbo reports that the F-15K’s “concurrent spare parts” availability rate was just 16% in 2008, compared to 70-80% for other ROKAF fighters. As a result, cannibalization of flying planes for spare parts skyrocketed from 39 cases in 2006 to 203 in 2007, and 350 in 2008. While the ROKAF has maintained the target 80% availability rate for the fighters, it means that 5-6 of the aircraft are unavailable at any given time. The figures come from documents the ROKAF submitted to Grand National Party lawmaker Kim Jang-soo, who heads the National Assembly’s Defense Committee. Chosen Ibo:

“Cannibalization is prohibited, but authorization can be given by the top echelon when there is no other option… The Air Force cites a lack of forecasts of “components needs” because it claims to be in the early stages of deploying F-15Ks, and blames manufacturer Boeing for failing to hand over the relevant information.”

F-15K availability issues

July 9/10: F-15SE. Daily Tech reports that South Korea has formally asked for information on Boeing’s F-15SE, and the company is in the process of getting an export license so it can talk to them about the jet. Brad Jones, Boeing F-15SE program manager, said South Korea:

“…has asked for information on Silent Eagle so now we’ve applied for the [license] and we hope to get that before the end of the month… As soon as the export license is provided, then I can provide [marketing] information to a country.”

July 23/09: KF-X. Defense News reports that “South Korea Drops 5th-Generation Fighter Plan.” That title is actually misleading. The Weapon Systems Concept Development and Application Research Center of Konkuk University is leading the study, and the center asked Boeing, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab about their views on the per-plane cost estimate of $50 million, as well as budget-sharing ideas and technology transfer.

Their specifications, however, most closely mirror the ($150-180 million) F-22 Raptor, indicating that some reconciliation with reality is still necessary. The center will wrap up the feasibility study by October 2009, and DAPA is supposed to issue a decision on the KF-X initiative by year’s end. That will determine whether KF-X competes with/ supplants F-X-3, or proceeds as a separate program.

DID: In the end, it became a separate program with far more reasonable requirements, and a joint venture with Indonesia. Read “KF-X Fighter: Pushing Paper, or Peer Program?” for full coverage.

March 17/09: F-15 Silent Eagle. Boeing unveils the F-15SE “Silent Eagle” variant. The aircraft has slightly canted vertical tails to improve aerodynamics and reduce weight, some minor radar shaping work, the addition of coatings to improve radar signature further, and a pair of conformal fuel tanks with cut-in chambers for 2 air-to-air missiles each, or air-to-ground weapons like the 500 pound JDAM and 250 pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb. The tanks would be swappable for traditional conformal tanks if desired, and weapons could also be carried externally. BAE’s DEWS electronic self-protection system would be fitted, along with Raytheon’s AN/APG-63v3 AESA radar.

The intent appears to be to offer a “budget Raptor” in the $120 million range, with a basic radar signature that’s competitive with newer fighters like the similarly-priced Eurofighter Typhoon. Advantages over the F-15K would include better radar signature when internal carriage is used for long combat air patrols or limited precision strikes, a superior and proven AESA radar, longer range, and more total carriage capacity if necessary. On the flip side, it would not provide the same maneuverability options as canard equipped contenders like EADS’ Eurofighter or Dassault’s Rafale. The total package would come closer to parity with the SU-30MKI/M and subsequent versions of Sukhoi’s offerings, but may or may not measure up against longer-term opponents like Sukhoi’s PAK-FA or China’s J-XX. From Boeing’s release:

“Boeing has completed a conceptual prototype of the CFT internal-carriage concept, and plans to flight-test a prototype by the first quarter of 2010, including a live missile launch. The design, development, and test of this internal carriage system are available as a collaborative project with an international aerospace partner.”


F-X-2 contract for 21 F100-powered F-15Ks; Weapon request; All 40 F-X F110-powered F-15Ks delivered; ROKAF looking for long-range cruise missiles. F-15K, Red Flag 08-4
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Oct 8/08: F-X. The Korea Times reports that Boeing has delivered the 40th and last F110-powered F-15K from the F-X Phase 1 order.

All F-X planes delivered

July 28/08: F-15K ECM. Electronic warfare is an integral part of the modern combat environment, and aircraft that lack this protection can find themselves blind and defeated in very short order. Strike aircraft also need offensive jamming systems, in hopes of disabling enemy radars and missiles.

Which is why Northrop Grumman Corporation has received a $74.6 million contract to provide 21 ALQ-135M electronic combat systems for the Republic of Korea Air Force’s F-15Ks. This is not a surprise, since NGC’s AN/ALQ-135 is the default system for F-15 variants around the world. AN/ALQ-135 offers a set of fully automatic, internally-mounted electronic combat system that can prioritize, manage, and defeat several enemy electronic systems at once. The latest configuration improves on earlier versions by replacing multiple processors with a system that adds memory and faster PowerPC chips, while using microwave power module (MPM) transmitter technology to reduce weight and boost performance. Deliveries will start in February 2010 and be completed by October 2011. NGC release.

June 20/08: Weapons. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] South Korea’s official request to buy a variety of weapons to equip its air force, in conjunction with the planned Direct Commercial Sale 21 more F-15K Slam Eagle fighters. The total value is up to $200 million, but will depend on specific contracts. The proposed order includes:

  • 125 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM). This is the most advanced AMRAAM in large-scale production. A more advanced AIM-120D version is currently in testing.
  • 14 AIM-120C Captive Air Training Missiles, with seekers but no rocket motors.
  • 2 AIM-120C Dummy Air Training Missiles.

  • 35 AGM-65G MAVERICK Missiles. They are especially designed for use against hardened tactical targets, and use imaging infrared (IIR) guidance to make them fire-and-forget.
  • 6 TGM-65G MAVERICK Training Missiles.

  • 280 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits, which convert Mk80 family bombs to GPS/INS guided smart bombs.
  • 2 JDAM Load Build Trainers.

  • 2 GBU-24 Laser Guided Bomb Units (2,000 pound PAVEWAY III), offering dual laser-GPS guidance. An order of this size for a new weapon usually suggests testing.

  • 32 GBU-12 PAVEWAY II 500 pound laser-guided bombs.

  • 2 GBU-10 PAVEWAY II 2,000 pound laser-guided bombs. Comes in both general purpose and hardened target penetrating version.

  • 12,700 RR-170 Radar Jamming Chaff, used as a defensive system.

Plus containers, bomb components, spare/repair parts, publications, documentation, personnel training, training equipment, contractor technical and logistics personnel services, and other related support elements. The principal contractor is Raytheon in Tucson, AZ. South Korea should have no problem integrating these weapons, and there are currently 4 U.S. Air Force pilots and 5 maintenance Extended Training Service Specialists in the Republic of Korea. They are expected to remain for the next 5 years.

F-15K weapons request

April 25/08: F-X-2 contract. A South Korean government panel approves a 2.3 trillion won ($2.3 billion) contract to buy 21 F-15K fighter jets from Boeing for the country’s F-X-2 program. The new aircraft will be delivered between 2010 and 2012. See Jan 21/08 entry for more re: 21 aircraft instead of 20.

The 21 F-X-2 F-15Ks will feature one key difference from the ROKAF’s first 40: they will use the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229-EEP extended life engine, instead of GE’s F110. Compared to the F100-PW-229, the new EEP variant adds design improvements, HUMS prognostics and monitoring equipment, and a slight boost to 29,100 pounds of thrust. The selection of different engines for the same aircraft type is unusual, but Aviation Week reports that Pratt & Whitney offered better pricing, part production sharing, and warranty options. Korea’s Samsung Techwin and P&W will be partnered to produce the 46 engines, under a under a $220 million contract. F100s also equip the ROKAF’s F-16 force, and having similar engines in the F-15Ks offers both maintenance commonalities, and insurance that problems with either engine will not ground the entire F-15K fleet. On the flip side, maintenance arrangements will be more complex for the F-15 fleet, and certain F100 related problems could now ground a larger portion of the ROKAF’s tactical air power.

The other difference F-X-2 offers is a different approach to the contract. Negotiations reportedly reduced the required industrial offsets from 85% in F-X to 33%, in exchange for better pricing, more spare parts, and more responsibility to the contractor. Pratt & Whitney release | DAPA re: standard offsets practices | Korea Times | AFP report | St. Louis Today | Aviation Week | Armed Forces International | Flight International.

F-X Phase 2: 21 F-15Ks with F100 engines

April 25/08: New cruise missiles? Reports surface that Korea intends to arm its F-15Ks with new, longer-range cruise missiles. The ROKAF already uses Boeing’s Harpoon-derived SLAM missile, but is reportedly looking to buy another 400 missiles with a longer 400 km/ 250 mile range. Armed Forces International reports that no decision has been made, but The Korean Herald states that Korea has a very specific interest in Lockheed’s AGM-158 JASSM stealth missile. JASSM has been selected by the USA and Australia, and an even longer-range variant is under development. On the other hand, the program has been plagued with reliability issues; should the missile fail, other options in its class would include EADS’ KEPD 350 Taurus, Kongsberg and MBDA’s stealthy Storm Shadow.

Jan 28/08: KF-X reality check. The current program was scheduled to be followed by a KF-X program to develop and indigenous 5th generation/ stealth fighter to replace all F-5E Tiger IIs and F-4E Phantom IIs. After a feasibility study in 2008, the project would aim to produce the next-generation jets by 2020, with the goal of building 120 planes in a bid to secure proprietary technology and strengthen the country’s medium level fighter jet capacity. The goal is reportedly a single-seat, twin-engine plane with about 40,000 pounds of thrust from its engines, with more stealth than the Eurofighter Typhoon or Dassault Rafale, but less stealth than the F-35.

Now the Korea Development Institute has delivered a report concluding that the economic and industrial returns would be weak in proportion to its cost: about 3 trillion won/ $3 billion in returns, on a 10 trillion won investment. Papers quote foreign experts who estimate development costs of up to $12 billion. Korea’s DAPA said the KDI report was for reference only, and the project decision would include other factors such as export prospects and technological capacity.

Options like partnering with EADS on a stealthier version of the Eurofighter, for instance, might lower development costs and offer an additional option. Nevertheless, the comparable cost of buying, for example, 120 F-35 Lightning II fighters in 2020 is likely to be half this sum, and the difference would be very noticeable within South Korea’s defense budgets. With F-X-3 likely to select the F-35 as a platform, a merger with the K-FX program and negotiation of an industrial deal seems more likely. Especially given South Korea’s demographic crunch, which will begin to bite by 2020. Chosun Ilbo | Korea Times.

Jan 20/08: F-15K. The Korean Overseas Information Service reports word from a military source that Boeing may be moving the close the F-X2 deal by offering to deliver 21 F-15Ks for the contracted price, in order to replace the aircraft that crashed on Aug 6/06 due to pilot error. KOIS adds that:

“Korea has so far bought 30 F-15 fighters from Boeing under the contract for purchase of 40 F-15 fighter jets by the end of 2008. Seoul is currently negotiating with the U.S. airplane manufacturer to buy 20 more fighters.”Boeing might have made the proposal to express their thanks to the Korean government for its decision to purchase 20 more F-15 fighters,” a source said. “The Korean government may make a decision on the proposal late this month when the negotiations for the purchase of engines are to be concluded…The proposal by Boeing came as Korea revealed last year its plan to purchase from 2014 to 2019 about 60 fifth-generation stealth fighter jets such as the F-22 and F-35 of Lockheed Martin.”

At present, the F-35 Lightning II seems to be a far more likely future purchase than the F-22.

2007 and Earlier

F-X-2 approved, but Boeing is the only bidder… twice; F-15K maintenance deal; F-15K crash; F-22s – dream on. F-15K
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May 10/07: F-X-2. “Boeing is the only company that has submitted a bid proposal as of 3 p.m. today, the deadline for the re-invitation to the open bidding,” a spokesman for DAPA said. KOIS report.

April 30/07: F-X maintenance deal. KOIS reports that Korean Air Co. has clinched a preliminary deal with U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. to provide a wide range of maintenance and services, including training of military maintenance personnel, for Boeing-made F-15K fighters in the Republic Of Korean Air Force.

While this is the first time a private company has performed this kind of work for the ROKAF, they do have a solid base of experience. Over the last 25 years, the firm has overhauled about 500 USAF F-15s at its maintenance unit in Gimhae just south of Seoul.

April 27/07: Dreaming of F-22s. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency: “Seoul eyes advanced jets beyond F-15K.” In which ROK ministers discuss their ambition to procure fifth-generation fighter jets such as F-22 and F-35, made by Lockheed Martin of the United States, to keep up with Japan and China. An excerpt:

“The U.S. Congress has yet to make a decision on whether to lift the ban,” Defense Minister Kim Jang-soo told reporters here. “We will have to look at its decision.” He said South Korea needs to stop falling behind Japan and build up comparable air force firepower… In an interview with Yonhap News Agency earlier this week in Beijing, Kim admitted that the F-15 model is outdated in comparison with the F-22 and F-35. His comments were construed as hinting at the possibility that South Korea may delay the purchase of additional fighter jets.”

While F-35 procurement would be welcomed and might be a good timetable fit for a 3rd phase F-X around 2013-2015, F-22 exports would be a very different bowl of bulgogi. South Korea’s triangulation between North Korea and the USA has harmed ROK-US relations, and the country may now be considered a security risk in some quarters of the US defense establishment. Contrast this situation with Japan, whose larger sea lanes make a stronger prima facie case for a long-range, stealthy defensive interceptor force. Japan also worked to improve its diplomatic and military relations with the USA, stressing its reliability as an ally and collaborating on sensitive technologies like missile defense. Hence the current situation, in which F-22 or F-35 exports to Japan can be discussed with some expectation of success.

April 23/07: F-X-2 RFP re-issue. DAPA issues a public notice, once again inviting foreign bids again on its plan to procure 20 advanced combat aircraft by 2012. Boeing Co. of the United States turned out to be the only company that bid on the $2.4 billion contract, in response to the first request. The formal explanation session for the project will be held on April 30/07 at DAPA’s office in Seoul, ROK. Interested firms will have to submit bid proposals by 3 p.m. on May 10, 2007. KOIS report.

2nd F-X-2 RFP

April 20/07: Weapons. The US DSCA notifies Congress of South Korea’s request for 102 AIM-9X Sidewinder Missiles; Organizational and Intermediate-Level Maintenance AIM-9X spares; 26 Section-Level Shipping containers; Organizational and Intermediate-Level training; and AIM-9X missile and support equipment; and publications. The contract would be worth $55 million to Raytheon in Tucson, AZ. See DSCA release [PDF], which says that:

“The sale of the Sidewinder AIM-9X missile system is being addressed in conjunction with the planned sale of additional F-15K fighter aircraft.”

AIM-9X missile request

April 18/07: Eurofighter no-bid. A KOIS article quotes a defense ministry source to the effect that Eurofighter has informed the government that it will not participate in the project. “If Boeing submits a bid proposal by itself by today’s deadline, the Defense Acquisition Program Administration will invite bidders once again.” The source added that a second sole-source bid by Boeing would result in a contract award for 20 more F-15Ks.

March 11/07: F-X-2. KOIS reports that officials from the Boeing and Eurofighter attended a presentation meeting organized by DAPA on March 9th. It covered an outline of the second F-X project and operational requirements for candidate aircraft.

The 2 bidders who attended have said that they plan to submit their proposals to the agency by April 18/07, and the successful candidate will supposedly be chosen after test flights in February 2008. Dassault’s and Sukhoi’s non-attendance, on the other hand, may well be a sign that they will not be bidding. The KOIS report certainly treats the Phase 2 competition as a Boeing vs. Eurofighter competition from here on in.

Feb 9/07: F-15K. Korea Overseas Information Service (KOIS) confirms that Boeing will bid its F-15Ks again for F-X-2.

January 2007: F-X-2. Maj. Gen. Kim Deuk-hwan, director-general for aircraft acquisition programs at DAPA, offers a more detailed briefing on Phase 2 of the F-X program: 20 fighters, and DAPA aims to seal the deal by February 2008, after 6 months of evaluations and price negotiations between June and December 2007.

“We’ll draw up a detailed plan for the procurement program next month and open the bid in March [2007] by identifying the Air Force’s operational requirements to foreign competitors concerned…”

June 7/06: F-15K crash. A ROKAF F-15K crashes after its pilots black out. Flight International report:

“The South Korean air force, which plans to enhance its biological training structure and introduce G-LOC (g-force induced loss of consciousness) training equipment… A rash of G-LOC incidents which followed the US Air Force’s introduction of the F-15 and Lockheed Martin F-16 led to aeromedical studies that concluded the best prevention was training, particularly for pilots new to the aircraft… The air force says the F-15K left Daegu airbase at 19:42. The aircraft discharged simulated air-to-air weapons at 20:11 but, while manoeuvring to respond to an opponent’s attack, the crew sent a “knock it off” signal at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,350m) – the aircraft crashing 16s later, at 20:12:19.”

South Korea resumed flights with its Boeing F-15Ks on Aug 21/06, following the investigation. See also Chosun Ibo story | Dong-A-Ilbo story.


May 2006: F-X-2 approved. KOIS reports that the $2+ billion plan for F-X’s 2nd phase was approved during a defense ministry meeting as part of its mid-term arms acquisition project between 2007 and 2011. President Roh Moo-hyun endorsed the plan.

F-X-2 approved

March 27/06: F-15K SLAM test. An F-15K becomes the first F-15 to release a Standoff Land Attack Missile-Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) weapon, during certification testing at Point Mugu, CA, USA. For the test, the F-15K released the Boeing-built SLAM-ER at 25,000 feet at Mach 0.8 approximately 100 nautical miles from its target. The SLAM-ER maneuvered to its target and scored a direct hit.

Korea is the first international customer for the SLAM-ER, and the ROKAF has received the first 4 of 40 F-15Ks under the F-X program. The first 2 aircraft were delivered in October 2005, during the Seoul Air Show. The remainder will be delivered by August 2008. Boeing.

Appendix A: Original F-X-2 Candidates F-35A head-on
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Back in November 2006, “South Korea to Buy Another 20 F-15K Fighters?” offered an analysis of the F-35 option being bandied about in various newspapers, and came to this conclusion:

“These factors make a Phase 2 ROKAF buy of F-35A Lightning II aircraft almost inconceivable for the 2007-2011 time frame; rather than opening the issue up for consideration, Lt. Gen. Kim Eun-Ki appears to have been saying “no” in an innocuous way…”

Fast forward to a Jan 17/07 Korea Times article, which quoted Maj. Gen. Kim Deuk-hwan as saying:

“Possible candidate fighters for the latest F-X project are Boeing’s F-15K, the Rafale of France’s Dassault Aviation, the Eurofighter Typhoon built by a consortium of European aerospace manufactures and the SU-35 of the Russian Aviation.”

The article adds:

“Kim, however, said the F-35 Lightening II of the U.S. Lockheed Martin would not be a competitor because the fifth-generation fighter does not meet the basic requirements of the Air Force regarding the number of engines, weapons-carrying capacity and combat radius.”

Not to mention delivery time. The F-35‘s armament capacity and combat radius has been questioned in other strategic contexts, most notably by defense critics in Australia. Its single-engine status has also been raised as an issue in Australia; and may become an issue elsewhere as well.

Given North Korea’s close overland proximity, South Korea could justify a set of requirements that would remove the two-engine and extended range qualifications. It could also justify weapons load requirements that would match up to the F-35’s mid-range capacity. It chose not to do any of these things, and so F-X-2 proceeded without the F-35 Lightning II as a contender.

Dassault Rafale
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The F-15K won the original F-X competition, and remained the incumbent favorite for F-X-2. It’s capable of air-to-ground, air-to-air and air-to-sea missions in day or night, under any weather conditions. It can carry 23,000 pounds of payload and has a combat radius of 1,800 km. A single aircraft costs about $100 million. A follow-on F-15K win would extend the F-15’s production line until mid-2011, giving Singapore up to two more years to go ahead with its contract option for 8 more F-15SGs. The production extension would also keep the possibility of orders from other US allies alive.

Boeing was the only contender to submit a bid by the F-X-2 deadline. Whereupon DAPA once again called for international bids. Meanwhile, Korean Air received a contract to service the ROKAF’s F-15K fleet, deepening Boeing’s local partnerships and advantages. In the end, Boeing was the only qualified bidder, and won a contract for 21 planes.

There were other potential competitors.

Despite Boeing’s advantages, a Nov 1/06 KOIS article discusses a growing sentiment within Korea to diversify their defense sources. Dassault’s Rafale was the most obvious candidate – it reportedly beat the F-15K by narrow margins in the F-X’s Phase 1 technical evaluation, and a Korean export order would have been a major boon to the program as it looked for its 1st export order. The aircraft is a contender and known quantity, but Rafale’s narrow range of integrated weapons to date and complete lack of export orders (most recent loss: Norway) create an uncertain future for upgrades and additional investments. This is a major issue given the Korean F-X-2 fleet’s likely 20-30 year service life. Revealed corruption scandals, a CEO’s promise never to do business in South Korea again, and corporate legal action against the government haven’t removed the Rafale from consideration, but they did underline the dim nature of Dassault’s future prospects.

Dassault held to its promise, and did not attend the mandatory DAPA information session on March 9/07. Nor did they bid on Phase 2, when the competition was re-opened.


EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter is acquiring more multi-role capabilities, and despite export setbacks, its overall production and investment picture is good. Over 100 aircraft are now in service with various European air forces, and at the time of the F-X-2 competition, the plane was competing for additional orders in Norway, Denmark, and India.

Eurofighter offers a very strong air superiority choice that is widely believed to be superior to the F-15K or current SU-30 variants, along with growing secondary attack capabilities. According to KOIS, the Eurofighter lists its combat radius as 1,389 km/ 869 miles. It also offers a large and growing set of weapons options from American and European sources, and a crowded but proven national work-sharing structure.

Eurofighter GmbH was initially part of the F-X-2 bid process, but pulled out at a later date and did not submit a bid. Nor did they elect to incur further participation costs, after the ROK DAPA re-issued its solicitation.

COPE India 2004: SU-30K,
F-15C, Mirage 2000
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During F-X-2, the Russian SU-35 also got attention, as an aircraft the South Koreans expressed public interest in considering. These aircraft have good range, large weapon loads, and performance that exceeds the ROKAF’s F-15Ks in a number of areas. At the time, however, only 14 had been produced as testbeds. The Sukhoi’s avionics set will create significant difficulties for weapons integration with Korea’s overwhelmingly US weapons, but Sukhoi will choose its own entry if it participates, and may decide to go with a variant of India’s SU-30MKI instead. This is arguably a more advanced aircraft than the SU-35, with thrust-vectoring capabilities and a mix of French/Israeli/indigenous avionics that could make integration of non-Russian weapons easier.

The SU-30 family has other potential attraction as well. Russia’s production agreement with HAL already offers a proven model for partial industrial offsets, and India’s indigenous avionics work creates a parallel set of opportunities for South Korea to insert its own locally-developed equipment. Geopolitically, Siberia’s treasure-trove of resources need foreign investment; warmer relations with Russia could offer opportunities in this area, and also create another diplomatic lever to use against North Korea.

These selling points, and the SU-30 family’s growing presence in a number of Asian countries, might make a Sukhoi bid more competitive than one might at first believe. Sukhoi did not attend the DAPA’s mandatory March 9/07 F-X-2 information session, however, and didn’t change their mind after DAPA has re-issued its solicitation.

Appendix B: Which SU-35? SU-35?
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As one of our readers noted, DID’s articles seem to describe two different SU-35s. One is a mid-life modernized SU-27 Flanker, but we have also covered a much more re-engineered “SU-35″ variant with canards, thrust vectoring, etc. that has been confused with (and possibly redesignated between) the SU-37. So… what do we mean by “SU-35″? By SU-27M, did DID mean the canard-equipped, ultra-modernized version?

DID explains the natural confusion regarding this fighter, and offers clarity and program news in “Russia’s SU-35: Mystery Fighter No More

Additional Readings

Background: Chosen Fighters & Key Equipment

Background: F-X-3 Contenders

News & Views

  • East Asia Forum, via WayBack (Aug 3/13) – South Korean missile acquisition boosts strike capability. The MBDA/LFK KEPD 350 missile, and what it means in East Asia. Plus, why DID the USA stall the ROK on JASSM?

  • Aviation Week, via WayBack (June 3/13) – South Korea Nears F-X Phase 3 Decision. Explains some of the considerations at work, in their view.

  • The Korea Times (Jan 17/07) – South Korea to Buy 20 More Advanced Fighters by 2012

  • Korea Overseas Information Service (Nov 1/06) – Korea Mulls Purchasing F-35 Fighter Jets for Next-Generation Project

  • The Korea Times (Oct 31/06) – Seoul Mulls Buying F-35 Fighter Jets [dead link]

  • Flight International (Aug 6/06) – F-15K crashed after pilots blacked out South Korea resumed flights with its Boeing F-15Ks on August 21 following the investigation. “The South Korean air force, which plans to enhance its biological training structure and introduce G-LOC (g-force induced loss of consciousness) training equipment… A rash of G-LOC incidents which followed the US Air Force’s introduction of the F-15 and Lockheed Martin F-16 led to aeromedical studies that concluded the best prevention was training, particularly for pilots new to the aircraft… The air force says the F-15K left Daegu airbase at 19:42. The aircraft discharged simulated air-to-air weapons at 20:11 but, while manoeuvring to respond to an opponent’s attack, the crew sent a “knock it off” signal at an altitude of 11,000ft (3,350m) – the aircraft crashing 16s later, at 20:12:19.”

  • Flight International, via WayBack (March 18/05) – South Korea’s defence ministry approves 20 Boeing F-15K fighters to keep line alive until 2011

  • Flight International, via WayBack (April 13/04) – South Korea urged to join JSF team to meet next fighter requirement

  • Flight International, via WayBack (June 11/02) – Dassault slams South Korean ‘favouritism” “Dassault says it will boycott future South Korean defence competitions in protest at what it claims is Seoul’s predisposition towards buying US equipment…” It also launched legal action against south Korea’s government.

  • Flight International, via WayBack (March 19/02) – Dassault drops South Koreans over F-X scandal. “The French manufacturer says it has broken ties with local trading company Comet International, which had been one of its agents in the campaign. The move follows the arrest by military police of South Korean air force Col Cho Joo-hyong on suspicion of receiving an unauthorised 11 million won ($8,400) payment from Comet. A second air force officer, who worked with Cho on the F-X evaluation team, has also been arrested…”

  • Forums, via WayBack – F-15K/RoKAF Updates. An interesting and extensive collection of press releases (good) and republished articles (not good), covering F-15K program developments and Korean fighter program developments from March 2005 – end 2007.


Categories: News

KISS to Mars Kicks In ‘Make In India’ Campaign

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 14:45

  • India is justifiably touting the low $74M cost [BBC] of its successful mission to put a satellite in orbit around Mars [ISRO]. Prime Minister Modi couldn’t hope for a better springboard to launch a “Make in India” campaign [Business Standard]. India is often mired in red tape, so a successful project done cheaply by keeping things simple is even more of a rousing achievement.

US Budget, Politics

  • House Appropriations Defense sub committee chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen [R-NJ] sent a letter to the Pentagon last week denying the most expensive items in its FY14 reprogramming request, on the (legitimate) grounds that Overseas Contingency Operations are being subverted to fill gaps in the base budget without connection to actual operations in progress. Thus, hundreds of millions of dollars in increases for AH64 helos and F-35s are denied by the committee.

  • The NYT’s Upshot provides nifty charts and tables keeping track of the odds for the Republicans and Democrats fighting in the November 4 midterm election. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast sees slightly tighter odds for the Republicans to win a majority in the Senate (Republican control of the House is taken for granted this year). At most 10 Senate races seem competitive at this point.

Macro Environment

  • US defense firms with bullish export plans will have to take into account that they’re facing headwinds with the US dollar at a 4-year high [BusinessWeek] while commodity prices are receding. That’s a double whammy for the purchasing power of many emerging economies.

Middle East

  • Belgium’s government agreed yesterday to send 6 F-16s and some C-130s at the USA’s request to contribute to the fight against ISIS. Reuters | RTL [in French].

  • On Tuesday Israel shot down a Syrian Su-24 as it was entering their airspace. That’s a serious loss for the Syrians, given the swing-wing plane’s high bomb load and usefulness for strike missions.

  • Today’s video, from the Pentagon, describes the latest airstrikes in Syria launched against small oil refineries used by ISIS to fund itself:

Categories: News

The MQ-4C Triton: Poseidon’s Unmanned Herald

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 18:50
BAMS Operation Concept
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The world’s P-3 Orion fleets have served for a long time, and many are reaching the end of their lifespans. In the USA, and possibly beyond, the new P-8 Poseidon Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft will take up the P-3’s role. While the P-8’s base 737-based airframe offers strong service & maintenance arguments in its favor, the airframe is expensive enough that the P-3s cannot be replaced on a 1:1 basis.

In order to extend the P-8 fleet’s reach, and provide additional capabilities, the Poseidon was expected to work with at least one companion UAV platform. This DID FOCUS Article explains the winning BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance) concept, the program’s key requirements, and its international angle. We’ll also cover ongoing contracts and key events related to the program, which chose Northrop Grumman’s navalized MQ-4C Triton Global Hawk variant.

Next-Gen Maritime Patrol Systems: Issues and Options USN ERJ-145 ACS concept

The P-3 fleet’s heavy use in both maritime surveillance and overland roles points up a potential problem with its successor the P-8A Poseidon. The 737-based aircraft will be bought in fewer numbers than the aircraft it replaces, but its high end Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) capabilities could quickly turn it into a sort of “mini-JSTARS,” making it a platform with strong maritime and land surveillance capabilities like NATO’s similar sized Airbus 321-based AGS battlefield surveillance aircraft.

As an expensive but in-demand asset, the P-8’s coverage scope could easily translate into a fleet run ragged by high flight hours per airframe, and forced into early retirement. See the Strategic Review article “Brittle Swords: Low-Density, High-Demand Assets” [PDF] for more background on this phenomenon.

The logical response is to pair the P-8s with a lower cost counterpart.

Hence the P-8 Poseidon’s companion Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV program, run by NAVAIR’s PMA-263 program management office.

BAMS: Requirements and Missions NGC on BAMS
click to play video

The BAMS UAV is formally designated MQ-4C Triton: “M” as a multi-mission aircraft, even though all of its missions are ISR/reconnaissance missions.

The name fits. In mythology, Triton was Poseidon’s son, and the messenger of the sea. Tritons will work with the P-8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft on missions that will include maritime surveillance, collection of enemy order of battle information, battle damage assessment, port surveillance, communication relay; plus support for maritime interdiction, surface warfare, battlespace management, and targeting for maritime and strike missions. MQ-4C Increment 3 UAVs and beyond are slated to add SIGINT capabilities, to capture enemy communication and radar transmissions. They would begin replacing the current EP-3 fleet in that role.

The MQ-4C UAV’s required capabilities definitely placed it at the high end of today’s UAV spectrum. BAMS had to be capable of a completely pre-programmed mission track, communication plan, and sensor employment plan, with manual override possible to support real-time control and/or re-tasking. The baseline requirement for operation with the P-8A is currently Level II control (receipt of sensor data to/from), with a proposal to quickly increase to Level IV (full control except landings) in the P-8A’s first improvement cycle. It also needed the ability to land on its own if necessary, however, using pre-surveyed and pre-programmed air fields.

Many of those capabilities are already present in existing medium UAVs. The requirements that follow are not.

BAMS: expected ‘orbits’
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BAMS had to have a minimum mission radius of 3,000 nautical miles, with a 10 hour time to on-station at 2,000 nmi mission radius, and autonomous flight through moderate icing or turbulence. More to the point, the requirements were expressly crafted for persistence. They included an 80% Estimated Time On Station (ETOS) for a group of BAMS platforms, over a period of 1 week (168 hours). That means UAVs in the air, within their assigned patrol zones at an estimated 900 nmi distance from launch, for 134 hours out of 168. That’s the minimum – the goal is 95% ETOS, or almost 160/168 hours.

The Navy saw BAMS UAVs employed within 5 “orbits” around the globe, with no more than 3 UAVs operating at the same time within each orbit. While this may make BAMS seem like a tiny program, consider the fact that all aircraft have fatigue lifespans measured in flight hours. Many fighters have lifespans of 10,000-12,000 hours. Transport aircraft can reach 30,000-40,000 hours, with major rebuilds along the way. Now consider the number of UAVs required to support flight profiles within those orbits, which are estimated to sum to 43,800 on-station flight hours/year, plus flight times to and from station for each mission. Over an expected program operational lifetime of about 20 years.

BAMS also has an unlisted, but critically important, program requirement. As UAVs proliferate in this role and begin undertaking long-range missions, they’ll require enough secure bandwidth to transmit large first-pass processed data sets to accompanying aircraft or ground stations. That cannot be provided from within the BAMS program, though communications relay packages on high-altitude BAMS UAVs will help military commanders on the surface. BAMS is in turn reliant on the USA’s Global Information Grid’s future security and capacity, in order to reach its full potential.

BAMS Options BAMS/P-8 mission sets
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Some nations use smaller business jet derivatives for maritime surveillance, and this option was closely considered by the Navy. The joint ACS (Aerial Common Sensor) program had potential dual-use features that could have made it a maritime surveillance supplement, as well as a SIGINT/ELINT (Signals & Electronic Intelligence & intercepts) platform to replace the Navy’s aging EP-3 Aries II fleet. The ACS program’s demise has taken that option off of the table for now. As it happens, however, the Navy had already chosen a different kind of companion for its P-8.

While business jets offered economy and numbers, the US Navy believed that unmanned UAVs could bring more to the long and oft-times tedious job of maritime surveillance. They can undertake very long-endurance flights of 30 hours or more, in part because they don’t have to carry processing stations and crew, or worry about aircrew endurance.

Northrop Grumman was always the favorite to win the BAMS competition. Its unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk UAV had already proven itself in battlefield surveillance roles around the globe, and had been used as the Navy’s GHMD/BAMS-D maritime surveillance UAV testing and concepts research.

In contrast, the General Atomics MQ-9N Mariner’s main offered efficiency at much lower flight ceilings, up to 3,000 pounds of integrated weapons, and commonality with the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper strike UAV.

Boeing’s manned/unmanned G550 business jet was the 3rd major entry, offering the largest payloads, twin-engine redundancy, and compatibility with a civilian fleet.

BAMS: The MQ-4C Triton MQ-4C Triton rollout
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The “RQ-4N” system chosen by the US Navy was based on the USAF’s RQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawks, but it incorporated a wide range of changes on the way to its unveiling as the MQ-4C Triton.

Sensors received the biggest overhaul. MQ-4Cs will have a more rounded belly housing for Northrop Grumman’s own 360-degree coverage AN/ZPY-3 AESA radar, as part of their Advanced Integrated Sensor Suite (AISS). Unlike conventional mechanically-scanned radars, AESA radars offer the ability to zoom in on several targets of interest, and they can do this without stopping the broader scan. That shift from Raytheon’s side-looking AESA radar used in the RQ-4B could have become a major risk factor, which was a big reason behind Northrop Grumman’s decision to field their new radar on a Gulfstream II BAMS test bed during the competition.

Beyond the radar, “Electronic Support Measures” systems that can pick-up, map, and identify radar emissions initially relied on Northrop Grumman’s LR-100, but Sierra Nevada’s Merlin ESM system was substituted in order to meet the program’s requirement for 360-degree, 300 nm/ 555 km coverage. In the visual spectrum, AISS includes an optical day/night surveillance and targeting turret.

Other sensors expected for the MQ-4C include a “due regard” radar and other systems that let them descend safely into potential air traffic over international waters (currently facing development difficulties), Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) in various modes, and of course sensor packages with additional SIGINT/ELINT equipment and other specialty mission packages. The UAV must be able to perform “first pass” processing of any data it receives, before sending it on to other ships, aircraft, and/or ground stations.

RQ-4N concept
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Communications. A Ka-band Wideband Gapfiller satellite link will replace the commercial Ku-band link used by the USAF, in order to ensure 100% accessibility over long stretches of water. In addition, a pair of Ku-band and X-band datalinks have been added to the fuselage sides, to act as communications relays. Those relays, plus the addition of dual Common Data Links instead of single-CDL, and Link 16 capability UHF/VHF radios with HAVE QUICK and SINCGARS capability, will allow real-time data feeds to other Navy ships and aircraft. The US Air Force is reportedly considering this upgraded set for its own Global Hawks.

On the MQ-4C, an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver will allow the detection, identification, geo-location, and tracking of cooperative ships equipped with AIS transponders.

Mechanical. The need to have Navy UAVs descend and rise from altitude during over-water missions requires de-icing systems on the MQ-4C’s engine inlet, wings and tail. Strengthened wing structures were also deemed to be necessary.

One final mechanical issue concerns the Global Hawk design’s single turbofan engine. To cope with possible engine outages without losing these ultra-expensive UAVs, the USAF reportedly uses a combination of modified control software and alternate “glide-to” landing bases. When flying over vast ocean expanses, high altitude flight will be required, in order to keep the “glide-to” option alive.

BAMS: The Program

In April 2008, NAVAIR’s PMA-263 selected Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4N Global Hawk, which has since been re-designated MQ-4C. The FY 2014 budget cut the program from 70 (5 test + 65 operational UAVs) to a total of 66: 5 test + 61 operational UAVs.

BAMS Budgets from FY 2009 include:

Industrial team members include:

NGC performs Global Hawk sub-assembly work at its Unmanned Systems Center in Moss Point, MS, and anticipates performing final assembly at its St. Augustine, FL manufacturing center.

Triton’s Tactical Support Centers for command and control will be focused around the P-8A’s main bases: NAS Jacksonville, FL and NAS Whidbey Island, WA. Initial MQ-4C basing will include Ventura County Naval Base, at the Point Mugu, CA facility. Beyond that, NAVAIR has been tight-lipped, but reports have highlighted a few likely locations.

Andersen AFB on the island of Guam, which already supports some RQ-4 Global Hawks, is expected to become an important forward Pacific base, along with Hawaii and Diego Garcia. A fall 2013 agreement with Japan will provide for some Global Hawk basing in Japan itself, as a forward deployment from Andersen. It would be logical to expect MQ-4Cs as part of any eventual arrangement there. Australia’s Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean have also been discussed as a way of relieving congestion at Diego Garcia, while keeping RQ-4 and possibly MQ-4 UAVs closer to sea lanes and countries of interest. The required infrastructure upgrade is an issue for Australia, however, and much may depend on Australia’s own purchasing decisions regarding the MQ-4C.

Sigonella AB in Sicily, Italy is already a key Global Hawk base, and it will also house NATO’s RQ-4B Block 40 AGS fleet. It’s likely to serve as the Triton’s hub to help cover Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, but other bases in that region would make the fleet much more effective. Advanced spy planes have already flown out of the UAE, which would be very convenient for covering the Middle East and western Indian Ocean. Portugal’s Azores was a key naval air waystation for decades until NAF Lajes was inactivated in the late 1990s, and would be well positioned for operations to cover Africa’s oil-rich and piracy rich western coast. It’s worth keeping an especial eye on developments in those 2 locations.

BAMS: The International Angle Mariner UAV
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The US Navy has been using the RQ-4 Global Hawk as a demonstration and proving platform to refine requirements and concepts of operations for BAMS, under the GHMD(Global Hawk Maritime Demonstrator) program. Even so, UAVs aren’t widely used for maritime surveillance just yet.

Beyond America’s shores, India has successfully used Israel’s Heron and Searcher II UAVs for coastal patrol as well and overland surveillance; UAVs from their 2005 follow-on Heron order have also been pressed into service along the coasts. To the southeast, Australia has undertaken successful trials with the General Atomics’ Mariner UAV for Coast Guard duties along its resource-rich Northwest Shelf. In the Great White North, Canada is evaluating UAVs for a maritime surveillance role under its JUSTAS program; Phase 2 could even include arctic surveillance out of Goose Bay, Labrador. IAI/EADS’ Eagle UAV, and General Atomics’ Altair high-altitude UAV derived from the MQ-9 Reaper, have already been tested as part of requirements definition.

Every one of these countries could eventually end up involved in the BAMS program.

P-8i test flight
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India’s MPA competition chose the “P-8I” as their next maritime patrol aircraft. With BAMS integration already scheduled for their chosen platform, a nation that sees its responsibilities stretching across the Indian Ocean from the Straits of Malacca near Singapore, to the Persian Gulf, and down to Madagascar, has obvious uses for the compatible Triton long-range, long-endurance UAV platform.

India seems to agree with this logic, but a treaty that it hasn’t signed is in the way. MTCR was originally aimed at limiting cruise missile exports, but a jet-powered UAV shares enough characteristics to create problems. Discussions are ongoing.

The Canadians have also been approached as possible partners in the P-8A Poseidon program, as a future replacement for their P-3/CP-140 Auroras. Thus far, they have made no commitments. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is offering them an RQ-4 variant called “Polar Hawk” for Arctic patrol, incorporating some MQ-4C features like de-icing. The vast expanses of Canada’s north make the speed of a jet-powered UAV very attractive, Northrop Grumman will have to beat General Atomics, which is offering its jet-powered Predator C as well as its slower MQ-9 UAV. If NGC can win, adding more Global Hawks for other missions would become easier.

AP-3C: who’s next?
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Australia went even further, and made itself a partner in BAMS via its AIR 7000 program. First Pass Approval was given in September 2006, and a Project Agreement was signed on Jan 13/07. Australian Embassy personnel have attended NAVAIR PMA-263 industry days, Australian technical experts are part of the BAMS integrated project teams, and NAVAIR’s BAMS RFP now includes an “Australian Unique Option” section. BAMS had passed its Milestone B “go/no-go” decision, and was analyzing unique Australian requirements before an expected Australian second-pass approval decision that could begin Australian BAMS production in 2012, and achieve Initial Operating Capability in 2015.

In 2009, however, Australia chose to drop out of the BAMS program, with sources citing both operational stress over the P-8A’s similarly-timed introduction, and fiscal pressures. They could still choose to drop back in, and their May 2013 Letter of Request for technical information is a step in that direction. The trade-off is that they’ll be looking at more of a finished product, with less scope for free-of-charge changes.

BAMS: Contracts & Key Events BAMS cutaway
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Unless otherwise noted, all contracts originate with the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD.

FY 2014

MQ-4Cs at Palmdale
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Sept 23/14: Cuts? Reuters reports that reliability improvements in the MQ-4C may be a double-edged sword. The target had been 68 UAVs, in order to maintain 5 “orbits” of 4 UAVs on call for continuous surveillance. Better reliability could tempt the Navy to cut the number bought. The USAF’s RQ-4B Block 40s will also have some maritime surveillance capability (April 28/14), which adds to the pressure.

FY 2015 is expected to see the first production purchases of long-lead items, but budget cuts to date have already slowed program delivery to initial use in 2017, and IOC in mid-2018 with a full orbit of 4. Sources: Reuters, “UPDATE 1-Navy says may trim Northrop drone order due to better reliability”.

Sept 18/14: Testing. After an 11-hour, 3,290 nmi cross-country flight at 50,000 feet along the Mexican border, across Florida, and then up the Eastern Seaboard, Patuxent River, MD gets its 1st MQ-4C. PMA-262’s Pax River tests will include flight envelope expansion, sensor and communications testing, and interoperability testing. Sources: “Navy’s Triton unmanned aircraft completes first cross-country flight” | NGC, “MQ-4C Triton UAS Arrives at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Enters Next Phase of Testing.”

July 4/14: Front-line thoughts. Foxtrot Alpha’s “Confessions Of A US Navy P-3 Orion Maritime Patrol Pilot” interviews a US Navy P-3C pilot who now flies P-8As. He also has some thoughts regarding the MQ-4C, and its performance compared to the current EP-3E electronic eavesdropping plane. His 3 areas of concern are bandwidth limitations, jamming, and real-time strike support:

“It is worth considering what the MQ-4C Triton can and cannot do. Any Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) operations by Triton will likely be limited by satellite bandwidth. I’m speaking from my own knowledge and assumptions here, but consider the task at hand. If you want real-time data off a UAV you have to transmit it via a satellite uplink to a ground monitoring station…. Is it more cost-effective to simply wait till the MQ-4C lands and accept that the downloaded intel will then be hours old? Maybe or maybe not.

Now let’s consider a wartime scenario. Other nations have demonstrated anti-satellite capabilities, including kinetic hard-kill capabilities against low Earth orbit satellites. While this isn’t a concern for geo-synchronous communications satellites, the ability to jam or spoof UAV satellite uplinks was possibly demonstrated during the loss of the RQ-170 [stealth UAV] over Iran. How secure exactly are our satellite uplinks? Are they safe from cyber attack? Will this bandwidth be available to the Navy during wartime or will more pressing communications take precedence? This is all above my pay-grade but realize that UAV endurance doesn’t come without a price.

There’s another factor to consider and that’s the nature of the EP-3E’s mission. EP-3s are capable of supporting a Carrier Strike Group’s air wing by providing communications and signals intelligence support. This is a distinctly ‘real-time’ function as enemy air defense operators may only speak for a few moments or activate SAM radars for several seconds. The latency (time delay) inherent in satellite communications and control systems could possibly mean the difference between life and death for strike pilots in F/A-18 Hornets heading into the target area. If you take away EP-3E, you may lose that real-time SIGINT and COMINT capability.”

April 28/14: Friendly competition? The USAF is touting success in an 11.5 hour RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 flight over the Point Mugu sea range in California.

This Maritime Modes program risk reduction work involves testing software that lets the Block 40’s MP-RTIP AESA radar use a Maritime Moving Target Indicator and a Maritime Inverse Synthetic Aperture Radar (MISAR) to track surface vessels. The MQ-4C has other naval capabilities beyond these, but then, MP-RTIP is well-tuned for land surveillance. As budgets decline, Global Hawk variants that can do similar jobs may find themselves competing for budget dollars. Sources: USAF, “Air Force tests new surveillance capability”.

April 9/14: Sense-and-Avoid. The US Navy still wants to place this technology on the MQ-4C, not least because it will be required for low-altitude flying in many areas of interest. The problem is that miniaturizing the Exelis AESA radar turned out to be much harder than they thought, to the point where they had to pause and look at other options (q.v. Aug 13/13).

Above 18,000′, standard ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast) and TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) “due regard” systems can keep the UAV from getting too close to civilian aircraft, and to many military airplanes as well. Below that altitude, ground and ship-based radars can be used, and something might be doable using aerial radars like AWACS plus datalinks. On the other hand, the whole point of the MQ-4C is to survey areas where those assets aren’t already on patrol.

This is a serious issue for UAVs generally, so it may be worth biting the bullet and investing the funds required to solve the problem. It may even be a hard and significant enough problem to justify DARPA’s involvement. Sources: USNI, “Navy Expanding Search for ‘Sense and Avoid’ Technologies for Triton”.

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. The program dashboard and timeline have been updated accordingly, though the Navy’s program office has authorized NGC to develop a new target baseline and schedule with increased costs and schedule delays. That isn’t represented in the charts yet. The program has 3 big technical risks left.

One is software, thanks to about 1.6 million lines of new code in an 8 million line system. There are another 2 software phases left before operational evaluation begins in January 2016.

Another is navigation. In September 2013, the Global Hawk program experienced an anomaly with a navigation system, suspending the derivative Triton’s test flights until a workaround was identified. The problem remains unfixed.

Finally, the air-to-air “sense and avoid” radar subsystem (q.v. Aug 13/13) for operating in civil airspace has hit a wall, and delayed the program by about 1 year.

March 28/14: Infrastructure. The Guam MACC Builders joint venture in Honolulu, HI wins a $45.5 million firm-fixed-price task order under a multiple-award construction contract. they’ll design and build a high bay maintenance hangar to support MQ-4C forward operations and maintenance at Andersen AFB, Guam. That involves scheduled inspections, airframe repairs, pre- and post-flight operations, as well as technical order compliance and aircraft modifications. A pair of unexercised options could raise the total to $46.7 million.

All funds are committed immediately, using a combination of FY 2010 and FY 2014 budgets. Work will be performed in Yigo, Guam, and is expected to be complete by April 2016. Six proposals were received for this task order by NAVFAC Pacific at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, HI (N62742-10-D-1309, #0003).

March 24/14: Testing. The Mq-4C has completed the envelope expansion portion of its test flights (q.v. Jan 6/14). Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman, U.S. Navy Complete Initial Flight Testing of the Triton Unmanned Aircraft System”.

March 4/14: FY15 Budget. The USN unveils their preliminary budget request briefings. Precise figures are only offered later, but the Navy does offer planned purchase numbers for key programs between FY 2014 – 2019.

MQ-4C Triton production was supposed to start with 3 UAVs in FY15, but that isn’t happening because the program is behind. In addition to the late start, the Navy’s mid-term budgets will also slow the production ramp-up. Production begins in FY16 instead with 4 (unchanged), and continues with 4 in FY17, 4 in FY18 (-2), and 4 in FY19 (no previous comparable). Subsequent documents show that the program’s overall budget doesn’t change all that much, but around $400 million is added to R&D, and costs per UAV rise a bit. Those costs may drop a bit in future, if Australia buys in as expected.

The immediate pause makes sense, but the vastness of the Pacific and supposed importance of the “Pacific Pivot” don’t seem to be getting a lot of weight in the Navy’s 5-year plan – which also cuts P-8 sea control aircraft, and E-2D Advanced Hawkeye AWACS. Sources: USN, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF].

Jan 6/14: Testing. Northrop Grumman announces that the MQ-4C is half-way through the envelope expansion portion of flight testing. It’s still early days, with the longest mission being just 9.4 hours at up to 50,000 feet. Sources: NGC, “Multimedia Release — Northrop Grumman, Navy Complete Nine Flights of Triton Unmanned Aircraft System”.

Nov 4/13: Northrop Grumman Corp. and Triumph Aerostructures’ Vought Aircraft Division have finished initial MQ-4C structural strength testing at Vought’s Dallas, TX facility. Which means torturing the wings and bending them 22% beyond US Navy structural requirements, in hopes they don’t break or permanently deform. This isn’t just a life-span issue. It’s a very immediate requirement whenever a Triton UAV has to drop down for a closer look at something, possibly through inclement weather.

Vought was involved in these tests because they produce Global Hawk family wings. A fatigue test of the entire airframe will begin in 2017. Sources: NGC, Nov 4/13 release.

Oct 7/13: The Whidbey News-Times reports that the MQ-4C’s Tactical Support Centers for command and control will be placed at the 2 main P-8A support centers: NAS Jacksonville, FL and NAS Whidbey Island, WA. It seems like a fairly obvious operational conclusion, but it was also the consensus of environmental assessments.

“Four of the MQ-4C Tritons will be based out of Ventura County Naval Base in California [by 2016], but the existing P3 tactical support center at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will be expanded to support both the P8-A and the Triton…”

Sources: Whidbey News-Times, “New drone supports P-8A Poseidon”.

FY 2012 – 2013

Test plan approved and BAMS becomes “MQ-4C Triton”; NGC buying 1 for itself; Australia renews interest, but it’s lukewarm; India is interested; DOT&E testing report; RQ-4A BAMS-D crash; Sense and Avoid tech suspended. MQ-4C: 1st flight
click for video

Sept 9/13: Australia. Australia’s Liberal Party is back in power after a convincing electoral win over Labor. While the new government’s commitment to 2% of GDP for defense spending is a broad positive for industry, their level of commitment to the MQ-4C weakened:

“The acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles will be dependent on the advice of the chief of the Defence Force and service chiefs, as well as a clear cost-benefit assessment that demonstrates the value of these aircraft.”

Triton is likely to pass that test, but this is a step back from earlier statements to the effect that Triton was a high-priority buy. Sources: Australian Liberal Party, “The Coalition’s policy for Stronger Defence” | Defense News, “New Australian Leadership Pledges to Boost Defense Spending”.

Aug 14/13: Infrastructure. Small business qualifier Whitesell-Green, Inc. in Pensacola, FL wins a $15.9 million firm-fixed-price contract to build a BAMS Mission Control Complex at NAS Jacksonville, FL. It will be a freestanding 2-story structure with two Electromagnetic Interference Shielded Mission Control Systems, a Tactical Operations Center with sensitive compartmented information facility spaces, and numerous roof-top mounted antennas. This project will also renovate some interior spaces, including a reconfigured command suite, systems reconfiguration, and in some cases finish upgrades. Finally, additional antennas will be built at a remote site south of the new facility.

All funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be complete by December 2014. This contract was competitively procured via Navy Electronic Commerce Online, with 8 proposals received by NAVFAC Southeast in Jacksonville, FL (N69450-13-C-1258).

Aug 13/13: Sense-and-Avoid. BAMS Program manager Navy Capt. Jim Hoke says that ITT Exelis’ radar-based Airborne Sense And Avoid system (q.v. Aug 10/12) is “behind schedule,” so the Navy has “made a decision to pause on the capability right now” and has stopped work. Hoke says that he understands how important this capability is for operations in crowded airspace and allied countries (vid. May 29/13, May 14/13), especially given the MQ-4C’s operational need to descend to lower altitudes at times for a closer look, but “all options are on the table.” If the system really is seen as critical, that could mean a re-compete of the sub-program, or the Navy could decide to join the USAF’s ABSAA effort (q.v. July 30/12).

Re-competes can be problematic, but this may be a case where the circumstances are attractive. The natural scalability of AESA radars means that any successful implementation could be applied to other large UAVs, from NATO’s planned RQ-4 Block 40 AGS Global Hawk variant, to smaller MALE UAVs like the MQ-9 Reaper or MQ-1C Gray Eagle. That’s a significant and growing opportunity for the winning contractor, with follow-on “proven leader” opportunities around civil UAV use. This dynamic could attract firms willing to invest up front with low bids or substantial resources, and the base ABSAA field is a mature one thanks to civil aircraft. Breaking Defense.

Sense-And-Avoid radar on hold

June 25/13: Australia. With an election coming, the MQ-4C Triton seems secure, as both parties remain committed to it. Reuters:

“There’s not a lot of new money in our policy, (but) we are going into Broad Area Maritime Surveillance, the Triton,” said conservative defense spokesman David Johnston, who is likely to become defense minister following the September 14 elections…. “This is about maritime security and surveillance in the Indian Ocean,” a senior Labor insider with close knowledge of defense planning said. “This is a force multiplier. It’s better to think of Triton as a mobile satellite we can steer around the Indian Ocean,”

June 14/13: Sense-and-Avoid. BAE Systems’ AN/DPX-7 Reduced Size Transponder (RST) Indentification Friend-or-Foe system flies on the MQ-4C for the 1st time. IFF transponders broadcast coded location signals to friendly aircraft, and also receive signals from civil and military aircraft around them. They aren’t a complete solution to the problem of operating in crowded airspace, but with the right programming and UAV flight system connections, they can help. Unmanned Systems Technology.

May 29/13: Sense-and-Avoid. Answers from Northrop Grumman clarify the MQ-4C’s sense-and-avoid systems:

“Triton’s due regard radar is meant to provide safe separation of aircraft while the system is in flight at lower altitudes. The U.S. Navy’s mission requires that Triton be able to descend to lower altitudes to make closer identification of surface vessels. The radar is still in development and would be flight tested on Triton at a later date. This is a Navy requirement to ensure that the Triton UAs can safely operate over international waters.”

With respect to ICAO certification issues, Northrop Grumman would only say Global Hawk is the first unmanned aircraft system to achieve a military airworthiness certification. That can only be used to fly a pre-approved, monitored flight plan in American civil airspace, and then only if a specific supplemental FAA certificate of authorization (COA) is granted in advance. Whether this level of certification will work at NAS Sigonella, Italy is a question that the US Navy will need to answer. “Saigon” has already been a base of operations for RQ-4B Block 20 Global Hawks, which lack any form of collision avoidance system. The question is how restricted future MQ-4C flight options would be, absent further certifications.

May 22/12: Fly! The MQ-4C has its 1st flight. The flight was originally scheduled for March 2013, but all goes well, The Navy and Northrop Grumman flight test team conducts an 80 minute flight from Palmdale, CA, reaching up to 20,000 feet while remaining within restricted airspace.

Northrop Grumman says that additional flight tests will take place from Palmdale to mature the system, before it’s flown to the main flight test facility at NAS Patuxent River, MD, later this year. It will be interesting to see if it flies there under its own power, or is disassembled and carried in a heavy-lift aircraft. Even the carrier-based X-47B stealth UCAV had to travel to Pax River on a truck, because the FAA wouldn’t certify it for flight in civil airspace. The MQ-4C is designed with a sense-and-avoid system, so the FAA could conceivably grant it a waiver. US Navy Capt. Jim Hoke is the current Persistent Maritime UAS office (PMA-262) program manager, and it will be up to him to oversee transportation arrangements. US Navy | US NAVAIR | US Navy Live | NGC.

1st flight

May 22/13: XP – 7. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Bethpage, NY receives a $15.3 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to upgrade some MQ-4C Triton components from Windows XP to Windows 7. Microsoft is ending support for XP, hence the shift, which will happen in quite a few US military programs. We wonder about the security implications of using Windows at all in an incredibly expensive autonomous system, but that’s a separate discussion.

Work will be performed in Hollywood, MD (33.5%); Bethpage, NY (25.8%); Rancho Bernardo, CA (15.6%); San Diego, CA (12.7%); Salt Lake City, UT (9.8%); Stillwater, OK (1.10%); Melbourne, FL (1.0%) and Van Nuys, CA (.05%), and is expected to be complete in April 2014. Funds will be committed as needed by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-08-C-0023).

May 16/13: Australia. Australia’s government announces that they’re sending a formal Letter of Request to the USA for the MQ-4C Triton UAV. The letter will become a Foreign Military Sales Technical Services Case with the United States Navy to obtain detailed cost, capability and availability information. They emphasize that they haven’t picked the MQ-4C yet for AIR 7000 Phase 1B, but they didn’t announce letters of request for any other platforms that might compete with the Triton, like General Atomics’ MQ-9. Which may have separate opportunities of its own:

“As also outlined in the 2013 Defence White Paper, Defence will analyse the value of further investment in unmanned aircraft for focused area, overland intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, including for use in border security operations. This will include the potential expansion of the role of these assets in the ADF to include interdiction and close air support, subject to policy development and Government consideration.”

See: Australia DoD | US NAVAIR.

May 14/13: Euro Hawk falls. Germany has decided to end the Euro Hawk UAV project, after spending EUR 562 million on system development and test flights. Not only would it cost hundreds of millions more euros to attempt EASA/ICAO flight certification, but German authorities reportedly lacked confidence that they would receive a certification at the end of the process. Rather than pay another EUR 600 – 700 million for additional UAVs and equipment, and an equivalent amount to attempt EASA certification, Germany will attempt to find another path.

The remaining questions fall instead on Sigonella, Italy, where NATO and the USA plan to base MQ-4C Tritons, and RQ-4B AGS Global Hawk Block 40s. German lawmakers are raising those questions, and some are advocating pulling out of NATO’s AGS as well.

March 4/13: Australia. Aviation Week reports that Australia may want more P-8As, at the possible expense of its MQ-4C companion UAVs:

“The RAAF is quietly making a case for 12 Poseidons, arguing that eight would not be enough to cover the vast oceans surrounding the continent. And the unmanned requirement is now described as “up to” seven high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft, potentially reducing Northrop Grumman’s opportunity. At the same time the air force sees an argument for a supplementary drone, possibly the Predator, to take on some of the electronic-intelligence missions that would otherwise fall to the Poseidons and Tritons.”

This is a bit of a head-scratcher. The stated purpose of sustained ocean coverage would be better served by adding another orbit of 3-4 MQ-4Cs (to 10-11), using the P-8s as more of a fleet overwatch and contact response force. Likewise, it makes little sense to use a different UAV for ELINT/SIGINT collection, especially the slow and shorter-range MQ-9. Rather, one would use the MQ-9s in nearer-shore maritime and EEZ patrols, along the lines of the 2006 Northwest Shelf experiments, in order to free up MQ-4Cs for longer-range expeditions over strategic corridors, and the ELINT/SIGINT mission they will be equipped for as of Increment 3.

Feb 22/13: Australia. Australia may have officially dropped out of the BAMS development phase (vid. March 2/09 entry), but News Corp. reports that Defence Minister Stephen will sign a formal export letter of request for the MQ-4C at the 2013 Australian International Airshow. Australia has remained part of the P-8A program for a manned sea control jet, so the MQ-4C is a natural pairing.

The purchase budget is expected to be $A 2-3 billion, but it may be overshadowed by Australia’s expected announcement that they will buy another 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets. News Corp.

Feb 7/13: India. Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C business development lead Greg Miller tells Shephard’s UV Online that India’s RFI for a High Altitude, Long Endurance maritime surveillance platform holds promise:

“They want to follow the US model; P-8 and Triton…. The Indian Navy agrees with the US’ requirements, which exactly fits our sweet spot.”

Their problem is the same problem facing South Korea: the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which bans the export of cruise missiles or unmanned vehicles with certain range and payload limits. India hasn’t signed MTCR, but the issue needs to be resolved at a government-to-government level. UV Online.

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. With respect to BAMS, they say the design is stable, with 99% of drawings releasable to manufacturing. Software code is a challenge, as are the UAV’s new-design wings. Disruptions to the USAF’s Global Hawk programs aren’t expected to affect schedule, but fewer UAVs produced does drive up the cost per UAV. Excerpts:

“The second development aircraft, the first aircraft with a full sensor suite and the air-to-air radar subsystem, is nearing completion and is expected to begin testing in 2013…. However, the program poses a significant software development challenge, utilizing nearly 8 million lines of code, more than 20 percent of which will be new. Much of the remaining software is derived from Global Hawk; however, officials noted that integration and testing of this code is taking longer than expected. Officials also noted that delays in the manufacturing of the aircraft wing as well as corrections to software during integration of subsystems are the primary reasons for a delay in the program’s operational assessment and production decision….”

Jan 17/13: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The MQ-4C Triton is included, and the program is falling behind. The plan was to conduct an Operational Assessment in June 2013, leading to a Milestone C decision in October 2013.

Unfortunately, a combination of UAV mission computer software stability problems, and radar performance issues identified in tests with Northrop Grumman’s radar-equipped Gulfstream-II jet, delayed flight testing from May 2012 to “at least” January 2013. The program has also “deferred development and testing of [unspecified] air vehicle and sensor capabilities until after Milestone C in order to reduce current test schedule pressures.”

The plan to reach Milestone C by October seems less and less likely, especially given additional “ground test delays encountered in [fall 2012].” Northrop Grumman will also need to resolve issues with software stability for both the mission computer and ZPY-3 MFAS radar, radar detection and tracking consistency, and radar image quality.

Jan 8/13: Company bird. Northrop Grumman is spending its own money to build and equip its own MQ-4C UAV, complete with the same sensor set the Navy will get. The UAV is under construction, and just had its wings and fuselage joined.

It isn’t the first time Northrop Grumman has done this; indeed, in many ways it’s just a further extension of the company Gulfstream-III business jet test bed, which has been flying since before the development contract was awarded. Initial missions for the company’s UAV will involve supplementing Navy tests, in order to help the team reach their goal of operational UAVs by late 2015. Eventually it will become a platform for demonstrations, integration of different sensors that the US Navy or other customers are interested in, and system performance improvement testing.

1 MQ-4C for Northrop Grumman

September 2012: Testing. A 2nd MQ-4C is added to ground test efforts, with a focus on control software and subsystems. NGC.

Aug 10/12: Sense-And-Avoid. ITT Exelis exhibits their BAMS airborne sense-and-avoid (ABSAA) radar for the first time, at the Unmanned Systems North America conference in Las Vegas. It’s the 1st U.S. Department of Defense ABSAA/ ICAO “due regard” radar program of record, with flight testing expected to start in Q1 2013.

Aug 10/12: Sense-And-Avoid. ITT Exelis exhibits their BAMS airborne sense-and-avoid (ABSAA) radar for the first time, at the Unmanned Systems North America conference in Las Vegas, NV. It’s the 1st US Department of Defense ABSAA/ ICAO “due regard” UAV radar program of record, with flight testing expected to start in Q1 2013.

Their “SkySense 2020H” can be adapted for other UAVs, but the self-contained, 50 pound MQ-4C configuration involves 3 thin-tile AESA array panels mounted at the front of the UAV. It operates in the Ku-band with an 8-10 nmi range, and a 110 degree wide x 30 degree high field of view. AESA radars are flexible if the right software is installed, and Exelis is also looking at using SkySense for weather radar and communications functions. AIN Online.

July 2012: Testing. 1st MQ-4C Triton begins ground tests. NGC.

July 30/12: Sense-And-Avoid. The USAF Research Laboratory (AFRL) has been working on a sense-and-avoid system called Multiple Intruder Autonomous Avoidance (MIAA) since 2008, and is about to conduct the final test phases using a Calspan-operated Learjet as an RQ-4 surrogate. Co-operative commercial aircraft are dealt with using standard methods: a traffic collision avoidance system and ADS-B. Aviation Week says that for non-cooperative aircraft:

“The flights will evaluate collision-avoidance algorithms and a new electronically scanned sense-and-avoid radar, as well as a new technique to perform passive target ranging from the two-dimensional imagery provided by electro-optical sensors.”

Once they’re done, MIAA will become move to EMD system development as part of the USAF’s Global Hawk program. The Navy and Army are both interested, however, and are partners in this effort. A Global Hawk flight is planned in 2015, with Initial Operating Capability planned in 2017. Aviation Week, via NPS.EDU: “Sense-And-Avoid System To Transition To Global Hawk”.

June 14/12: Triton unveiled. Northrop Grumman and US NAVAIR unveil the 1st MQ-4C at Northrop Grumman’s Palmdale, CA plant, and announce its operational moniker: “Triton.” In mythology, Triton was Poseidon’s son, the messenger of the sea. US NAVAIR | Northrop Grumman.

MQ-4C “Triton”

BAMS-D Crash
click for video

June 11/12: BAMS-D Crash. An RQ-4A BAMS-Demonstrator Global Hawk crashes into a marshy tributary of Maryland’s Nanticoke River, during a routine training flight from Naval Air Station Patuxent River. There were no injuries to civilians and no property damage, but the crash site has been blocked to recreational boat traffic while the agency investigates. The crash leaves 4 UAVs in the program: 3 for testing, tactics, and doctrine development in the USA, and 1 deployed abroad with the 5th fleet. CNN | Wired Danger Room | WBOC.

May 30/12: Canada. Northrop Grumman Corporation and Canada’s L-3 MAS announce plans to offer Canada a “Polar Hawk” UAV for surveillance of Canada’s arctic land and seas.

As one might guess, it will need to share a number of structural features like strengthened wings and improved de-icing with the MQ-4C Triton. Improved satellite communications, with specialized receivers for polar-orbit satellites, will also be necessary. Sensors aren’t discussed, but the accompanying picture shows a conventional Global Hawk shape, without the AN/ZPY-3 MFAS. NGC.

May 29/12: More SDD. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Bethpage, NY receives a $32.8 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification, for BAMS system development and demonstration. This modification funds a maintenance concept change that will develop a logistics management I.T. system, and improve the transition from contractor logistics support to organic military maintenance by the Navy. Funding will be committed as needs arise.

Work will be performed in Bethpage, NY, (74.54%), Rancho Bernardo, CA (20.82%), Melbourne, FL (4.59%), and Palmdale, CA (0.05%); and is expected to be complete in September 2015 (N00019-08-C-0023).

January 2012: Testing. The Pentagon approves the MQ-4C Triton Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP), which will guide efforts to bring the UAV to a successful Milestone C decision, and into low-rate initial production. DOT&E.

Test plan approved

FY 2010 – 2011

Designation shifting to MQ-4C; Sub-systems in development. Global Hawk
(click to view full)

April 25/11: ZPY-3. Northrop Grumman announces the start of system tests for the BAMS UAV’s Multi-Function Active Sensor (MFAS) maritime surveillance radar. MFAS will use a 2-dimensional radar with both electronic and mechanical scanning.

Northrop Grumman’s Aerospace Systems sector facility in San Diego, CA is expected to take delivery of the 1st MFAS in June 2011, following ongoing radar software mode development and hardware synchronization and integration activities. A 2nd radar is slated for delivery in September 2011, and risk reduction flight tests on board the company’s Gulfstream II test-bed expected before year end.

March 16/11: Northrop Grumman Corporation completes the 1st of 3 BAMS fuselages under the SDD phase. The MQ-4C fuselage will undergo final assembly and system checkout at the company’s Palmdale, CA facility, ahead of its first flight in 2012. NGC.

March 7/11: CDR. Northrop Grumman announces that the BAMS program completed its system-level Critical Design Review (CDR) with the U.S. Navy in February 2011 – but it is not fully closed yet. The government and Northrop Grumman teams will be working to close out issues raised during the CDR, before it can be officially over.

The system-level full CDR sets the initial product baseline for the MQ-4C system, and was preceded by 10 subsystem and segment CDRs. Northrop Grumman VP and BAMS program manager Steve Enewold says that the SDD phase’s first 2 UAV fuselages are being built at Moss Point, MS, and the first will ship in April 2011 to Palmdale, CA for final assembly. The next major milestone is Test Readiness Review, planned for fall 2011. First flight is expected in 2012, and Enewold says the program continues to meet its acquisition baseline cost, schedule and performance requirements.

Feb 18/11: Sense & Avoid. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Sector’s Battle Management & Engagement Systems Division in Bethpage, NY receives a $25.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order to develop an “airborne sense and avoid capability for the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) unmanned aircraft system in support of the Navy and Air Force.” The goal is a TRL 7 system, i.e. a prototype tested in operationally-relevant conditions.

The wording is interesting, as it implies that USAF RQ-4A/B Global Hawks will also be fitted with this capability. As they should be. Sense and avoid technologies are used in commercial aircraft, in order to prevent mid-air collisions. While flying at 60,000 feet will go a long way toward zero collisions, the UAVs do not begin at that altitude, and BAMS in particular will not spend all of its mission time at that level. Throw in funded experiments like aerial refueling between 2 Global Hawk UAVs, and expectations that the stratosphere is likely to be more crowded in future, and the necessity of sense & avoid technologies becomes clearer. To this point, however, the US Navy and USAF have pursued different technology approaches: an ITT-supplied air-to-air radar and ADS-B cooperative surveillance for the Navy, and a multi-sensor “multi-intruder autonomous avoidance (MIAA)” USAF project that uses 3 electro-optical cameras, a low-power radar, and the civil TCAS traffic collision avoidance system.

Work to reconcile those approaches into a common prototype will be performed in Bethpage, NY (50%) and San Diego, CA (50%), and is expected to be complete in November 2012. $7,368,022 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11 (N00019-10-G-0004). See also: Aviation Week.

Feb 9/11: Northrop Grumman announces a $3.3 million contract to participate in the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Control Segment (UCS) Architecture Working Group (UCSWG), sponsored by the Office Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Unmanned Warfare Office.

The UCSWG is an open technical standards committee consisting of industry and government representatives from each UAS program of record, several emerging UAS programs and small businesses. The objective of the UCSWG effort is to define a common UAS control station architecture based on standard data models and service interface definitions to enable interoperability, scalability and adaptability of UAS ground stations.

Sept 1/10: New designation. A ceremony at Northrop Grumman’s Moss Point, MS manufacturing facility marks the beginning of RQ-4N BAMS UAV construction.

It is also the first official mention of the platform’s MQ-4C designation. Northrop Grumman spokesman Jim Stratford explains that “M” stands for “Multi-mission,” referring to planned expansion to communications relay and SIGINT missions. The “C” is because there are significant differences from the USAF’s RQ-4B Block 20/30/40, such as anti-icing and sense/avoid capabilities. The “RQ-4N” was Northrop Grumman’s designation during the BAMS competition, but it was never official. Northrop Grumman.

March 3/10: Sub-contractors. Curtiss-Wright Corporation announces a $25 million contract from Northrop Grumman Corporation to provide BAMS’ Advanced Mission Management System (AMMS). Curtiss-Wright will design, develop and manufacture BAMS UAV AMMS units at the company’s Motion Control facility in Santa Clarita, CA Hardware deliveries will start at the end of 2010 and continue through 2011.

FY 2008 – 2009

BAMS System Development & Demonstration contract; Australia steps back from BAMS program. Australian RQ-4N? No.
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Aug 13/09: USAF getting ideas? The Shepard Group reports that The United States Air Force is exploring a potential communications suite re-architecture for its RQ-4 Global Hawk fleet, based on the Navy’s RQ-4 BAMS set. The BAMS de-icing system has also attracted interest.

April 27/09: Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems in Bethpage, NY received a $22.4 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus award fee BAMS System Development and Demonstration (SDD) contract (N00019-08-C-0023). This modification will add wing static and load testing for the BAMS RQ-4N UAS.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (90%) and Bethpage, NY (10%), and is expected to be complete in December 2012.

March 2/09: Australia out. Defense minister Joel Fitzgibbon announces that Australia will not be exercising its option to continue as a member of the BAMS program. The country is shelving the “AIR 7000 Phase 1B” project, in order to concentrate on the introduction of the 737-based P-8A Poseidon instead. Despite the minister’s focus on operational difficulties and schedule slips, Northrop Grumman’s statements cite fiscal pressures as one of the key reasons behind the decision.

Australia will probably want and need maritime patrol UAVs at some point, and its public-private CoastWatch program already has a provision for introducing some to the mix over the next decade. The question around BAMS is what price Australia might pay in penalty fees, if any, should the country decide to rejoin the BAMS program at a later date. Australian DoD | The Australian | Canberra Times.

Australia out

Feb 4/09: Delays. Aviation Week reports that the BAMS schedule has slipped, owing in part to delays created by Lockheed Martin’s protest. The first RQ-4N BAMS will begin testing in FY 2012 instead of FY 2011, with low-rate production beginning in FY 2013, and initial operational capability declared by FY 2016 instead of 2015. Full delivery is now expected by FY 2019.

Feb 4/09: Reports indicate that one of the Gobal Hawk Maritime Demonstration UAVs has deployed to CENTCOM’s theater of operations by the US Navy. Information Dissemination believes that its future will include pirate tracking off of Africa’s eastern coast. GHMD is a limited program that is both a predecessor to BAMS, and a way to experiment and learn how an advanced maritime patrol UAV can be used in real world operations (CONOPS).

Dec 23/08: Northrop Grumman announces that U.S. Navy’s Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX-20) gave the RQ-4 Global Hawk Maritime Demonstration (GHMD) team its Q2 2008 Test Team of the Quarter award. To date, the 2 GHMD demonstrator aircraft have flown more than 1,350 hours.

The team’s accomplishments included performing more than 1,000 hours of flight operations over an 18-month period, troubleshooting issues with the communications system, integrating the automatic identification system into the aircraft so it can be used in civilian air space, conducting tests with the ocean surveillance initiative, and developing tactics and guidelines for unmanned patrol systems. From January to June 2008, the team also supported various operational activities, including the Southeastern Anti-Submarine Warfare Initiative 08-2, the USS Iwo Jima Group Sail, and the Commander Carrier Strike Group 8. The team’s successes during this period culminated with the Trident Warrior exercise in June 2008, when the team flew more than 113 hours over a 5-week period, including an unplanned 23-hour humanitarian mission in which a GHMD was re-tasked to assist in the Northern California wildfires. July saw the UAVs participate in the Rim of the Pacific 2008 fleet exercise, which saw the team finish 4 missions totaling more than 92 hours.

Sept 29/08: Rolls Royce puts out a release confirming that Northrop Grumman has selected their AE 3700H engine to power the RQ-4N BAMS UAV. This is hardly a surprise, as Rolls Royce was part of the bid team and those same engines power non-naval Global Hawks. Rolls Royce release.

Aug 8/08: The Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) denies a protest from the Lockheed Martin MS2/ General Atomics team, which offered its MQ-9 Reaper derived Mariner UAV for BAMS. The grounds of that denial were interesting, and included improvement in Northrop Grumman’s contractor performance in comparable programs like the USAF’s MQ-9 systems. An improvement that was not matched by similar corrective successes at General Atomics.

The BAMS program had been frozen while the appeal went forward, but it is now free to begin in earnest. US Navy NAVAIR announced on Aug 11/08 that the program would resume. See: GAO decisions #400135.1/2.

GAO denies protest, contract continues

April 22/08: Northrop Grumman Corp. Integrated Systems in Bethpage, NY won a cost-plus-award-fee contract with an estimated value of $1.16 billion for the BAMS System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase. This phase includes the design, fabrication, and delivery, of 2 unmanned RQ-4N Global Hawk variant aircraft with mission payloads and communications suites; one Forward Operating Base Mission Control System; one Systems Integration Laboratory; and one Main Operating Base Mission Control System.

Work will be performed in Bethpage, NY (30%); San Diego, CA (25%); various locations throughout the United States (13%); W. Salt Lake City, UT (9%); Rolling Meadows, Ill., (7%); Falls Church, VA (6%); Baltimore, MD (5%); and Norwalk, CT (5%), and is expected to be complete in September 2014. This contract was competitively procured through a request for proposals; 3 firms were solicited and 3 proposals were received, as the RQ-4N beat out the General Atomics Mariner and Boeing’s “optionally manned” G550 for the contract (N00019-08-C-0023). See also US DoD release | Northrop Grumman release.


Jan 31/08: An 18-month, $15 million cooperative agreement between the United States and Australia becomes part of the pre-system development and demonstration processes for the US Navy’s Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System program. DC Military.

FY 2007 and Earlier

BAMS competition and contenders; Australia joins the program. NGC’s Gulfstream II
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Sept 4/07: General Atomics talks about their BAMS efforts, which they are undertaking in conjunction with Lockheed Martin. The firm announces successfully completion of wind tunnel testing at the San Diego Air & Space Technology Center on a 1/10 scale model of its Mariner, which “exceeded our expectations… Preliminary evaluations validated key competitive capabilities of the aircraft and suggest that Mariner’s design is even more efficient than originally assumed.”

Basically, the testing enabled a specific set of configuration changes to be evaluated at a lower cost and faster pace, while generating important data regarding performance and statistical sensitivities.

Aug 6/07: Northrop Grumman promotes its “sense and avoid” approach, which is intended to meet the BAMS requirement of safely operating alongside manned military and civilian aircraft.

Though they rely in part on high-end capabilities like the Global Hawk’s radar, UAV deconfliction is a major industry issue and the underlying algorithms used are likely to be significant beyond BAMS – in its X-47B UCAS-D unmanned naval fighters, for instance.

June 18/07: Boeing enters the fray. The BAMS 550 would create a manned/unmanned version of the Gulfstream G550 business jet (already in service with the Navy) with fully integrated sensor and communications suites and an advanced mission control system. The Boeing BAMS 550 industry team consists of Boeing, Gulfstream, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce and Honeywell, and touts “an offering that significantly improves upon the historically low reliability, limited payload and extensive support requirements of legacy unmanned aircraft systems.” The Register | Boeing handout [PDF]

May 24/07: Northrop Grumman Corporation discusses its BAMS offer and proposed approach. Their offer is based on an RQ-4N maritime-configured RQ-4B Global Hawk, that will meet “all of the threshold and more than 90% of the Navy’s objective requirements.” The RQ-4N will benefit from the GHMD contracts and efforts already undertaken with the US Navy.

Northrop Grumman’s approach is called Head Start, and is organized around step by step risk assessment that concentrates on system elements, sensor effectiveness, and demonstrating a ForceNet-compliant communications system. Head start will also use a specially modified Gulfstream II business jet as a flying test bed, equipped with the radar sensor that Northrop Grumman is offering as part of its BAMS system. Bill Beck, BAMS Head Start program manager, says: “The test-bed will be used to perform end-to-end communication functionality testing using the Advanced Mission Management System for network, bandwidth and sensor control. It will be tied to a company-built prototype of the Mission Control System (MCS), located at our Hollywood, Md., facility.” The prototype MCS contains off-the-shelf commercial software and hardware components, in keeping with the US Navy’s drive toward upgradeable open architecture approaches.

Carl Johnson, NGC’s vice president of the BAMS program, claims that. “This approach creates a significant program schedule margin which ensures an initial operation capability well ahead of threshold requirements.”

The Northrop Grumman RQ-4N BAMS team includes Northrop Grumman as prime contractor and team leader, unmanned aerial vehicle supplier and developer of the Multi-Function Active Sensor active electronically scanned array radar and the Night Hunter II electro-optical infrared sensor; L-3 Communications providing communications integration; Raytheon supporting the Mission Control System segment; and Rolls-Royce providing the jet engine.

May 8/07: Lockheed Martin discusses its BAMS proposal, which involves the modified Mariner version of General Atomics MQ-9/Predator B. The firm has partnered with EDO, FLIR Systems, Honeywell, LSI, and Sierra Nevada Corp., and its entry will offer an Electro Optical Infrared (EOIR) high definition camera, Automatic Identification System (AIS) to identify ships at sea, a communications relay capability, and Link 16 among its systems.

The Mariner shares its avionics, fuselage, flight controls, and engine (Honeywell TPE-331-1OT turboprop) with the MQ-9/Predator B, but adds enhanced wings (88 foot wingspan) and tails to support the increased takeoff weight, plus 2,000 pounds of additional fuel, 34 antennas for communications, anti-icing and deicing capability, and a retractable EO/IR surveillance turret as part of its 1,350 pound internal payload. The design has an extra 800 pounds of internal payload to offer, plus 4,000 pounds of external payload, which can be carried up to 50,000 feet. Maximum range would be 7,100 nautical miles, albeit at a rather slower speed than the jet-powered RQ-4. The flip side is that the Mariner would be able to cruise for long periods at low altitudes, and do so efficiently. Defense Daily.

May 3/07: The Broad Area Maritime Surveillance Unmanned Aircraft System source selection process formally begins, with receipt of proposals from aerospace manufacturers. A winner is expected to be announced this fall following BAMS Milestone B approval, with a System Design and Development (SDD) contract award following soon after.

Cdr. Bob Dishman, the BAMS Integrated Product team lead, is quoted in a NAVAIR release as saying that “This is a full and open competition and we are satisfied with the number, breadth and technical maturity of the proposals we have received.” See full NAVAIR release.

Jan 29/07: Flight International reports that the US NAVAIR is delaying the release of tenders for its broad area maritime surveillance (BAMS) unmanned air system requirement until mid-February, in order to enable modification of bid documents to meet unique Australian requirements for the system.

Jan 13/07: Aussies in. Australia formally signs a project agreement to participate in the BAMS system development and demonstration phase.

July 28/06: The Australian government has given first pass approval to AIR 7000 Phase 1, under which Australia will spend A$ 1.0-1.5 billion to develop a “multi-mission unmanned aerial system.” Formal negotiations can now begin with the USA on a cooperative development program linked to BAMS, and a final participation decision is expected by late 2007. Australian industry participation will be a key factor, especially with respect to the Integrated Ground Environment for UAV control and fusion of sensor information.


Additional Readings & Sources Background: BAMS/ Triton and Key Ancillaries

Export Opportunities

News & Views

Categories: News

Arming RQ-7 UAVs: The Shadow Knows…

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 17:30

RQ-7 Shadow
(click to view full)

By 2007, US Army RQ-7 Shadow battalion-level UAVs had seen their flight hours increase to up 8,000 per month in Iraq, a total that compared well to the famous MQ-1 Predator. Those trends have gained strength, as workarounds for the airspace management issues that hindered early deployments become more routine. Some RQ-7s are even being used to extend high-bandwidth communications on the front lines.

The difference between the Army’s RQ-7 Shadow UAVs and their brethren like the USAF’s MQ-1A Predator, or the Army’s new MQ-1C Sky Warriors, is that the Shadow has been too small and light to be armed. With ultra-small missiles still in development, and missions in Afghanistan occurring beyond artillery support range, arming the Army’s Shadow UAVs has become an even more important objective. It would take some new technology, but that seems to be on the way for the US Marine Corps RQ-7B Shadow UAV fleet.

Pieces of the Puzzle RQ-7 launch, Mosul
(click to view full)

SecDef Robert Gates’ has consistently offered strong support for more attention to the needs of the counterinsurgency fight. Surveillance is part of that, but it needs to be backed by action. Pending and emerging approaches tie UAVs, manned propeller planes, artillery, and helicopters into a cohesive, fast, and flexible solution for finding, identifying, and capturing or killing opponents.

Larger RQ-5 Hunters have been tested with Viper Strike mini-bombs, and MQ-1C Sky Warriors can carry up to 4 Hellfires – but both UAV types are far outnumbered by the Army’s smaller RQ-7 Shadows. Precision weapons can also be dropped by fighters or bombers, but the planes’ $10,000 – $25,000 cost per flight hour is prohibitive, they require extensive planning processes to use, and declining aircraft numbers affect their potential coverage and response times.

M270 firing M30 GMLRS
(click to view full)

Small UAVs can still pack a punch without weapons by providing GPS targeting data to M30 GPS-guided MLRS rockets, long-range ATACMS MLRS missiles, or 155mm Excalibur artillery shells – as long as those weapons are (a) appropriate and (b) within range.

Using an ATACMS missile to take out an enemy machine gun position seems a bit silly, but that’s exactly the sort of help that could really make a difference to troops on the ground – and has been used in urban fights, against building strongholds. With that said, maximum effectiveness comes when battalion-level “Tactical UAVs” like the RQ-7B Shadow can perform the full spectrum of missions: surveillance, laser or GPS target designation, or close support for infantry fights.

The U.S. Army’s Armament Research Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal, NJ has funded some R&D in order to provide “Tactical Class Unmanned Aircraft Systems (TCUAS)” with a low-cost weapon, US NAVAIR is busy developing a 5-pound missile called Spike, and global trends are pushing companies like Raytheon and Thales to invent designs of their own. The US Army ended up dragging its feet on arming its small tactical UAVs, but they are fielding GBU-44 Viper Strike weapons on MQ-5B Hunter UAVs, and have a small but growing fleet of Hellfire-armed, Cessna-sized MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs. The US Marines have no such option, and decided that arming their own growing fleet of RQ-7Bs was the way forward.

Step 1 requires a lightweight laser designator that would add the ability to actively mark targets for common helicopter and UAV weapons like Hellfire missiles, laser-guided 70mm rockets, or Paveway bombs. That way, the small and relatively cheap RQ-7s could mark targets for any component of Task Force ODIN, or its equivalent. That effort is already underway, across the board.

Step 2 involves arming even RQ-7 size UAVs, but their payload weight limits make that a very challenging task. Small missiles like the US Navy’s Spike are in development, in cooperation with Finmeccanica’s DRS, but parallel private developments

ATK: Hatchet. This 7-pound weapon is extremely small, and half its weight is warhead. GPS and GPS/laser guidance variants are both said to be possible.

GD: RCFC. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems makes the US Army’s mortar rounds, and had an interesting idea. What if their 81mm mortars could receive a small add-on GPS guidance kit, similar to the JDAM kits used on larger air force bombs? The Army’s 81mm mortars weigh just 9-10 pounds each, and GD-OTS’ clip-on Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) is an integrated fuze and guidance-and-flight control kit that uses GPS/INS navigation, replacing current fuze hardware in existing mortars. A standard M821 81mm Mortar with fuze weighs 9.1 pounds, and the same mortar with an RCFC Guidance system and fuze weighs just 10.8 pounds. US Army ARDEC funded their development testing.

The nose-mounted RCFC guidance has now been successfully demonstrated on multiple mortar calibers, in both air-drop and tube-launch applications. The tube-launched application has been successfully demonstrated at Yuma Proving Grounds, AZ in a tactical 120mm guided mortar configuration known as the Roll Controlled Guided Mortar (RCGM), which uses the existing 120mm warhead and the M934A1 fuze.

Lockheed Martin: Shadow Hawk. In 2012, Lockheed began discussing its “11 pound class”, semi-active laser-guided Shadow Hawk bomb.

Raytheon: Pyros. STM. Raytheon has a privately-developed effort called Pyros, a 22-inch, 13.5-pound bomb that uses dual GPS/INS and semi-active laser guidance. It also has also 3 warhead options: height-of-burst, point-of-impact or fuze-delay detonation.

Thales/ Textron: FF-LMM/Fury. Thales’ beam-riding Lightweight Modular Missile with its tri-mode (burst height, impact, delayed) warhead will equip Britain’s AW159 Wildcat helicopters, and single launchers are small enough to fit on tactical UAVs like Schiebel’s S1000 Camcopter. Removing the propulsion system lightens the missile even further as the Free-Fall LMM, which adds a dual-mode GPS-laser guidance system up front. A partnership with Textron is aimed at the US market, where the weapon is known as the Fury. It was tested from an RQ-7B in 2014.

These and other systems will offer the US Marines the options they need. In the end, however, they key change isn’t the individual weapons – it’s the concept. That concept’s influence will extend past small UAVs, in 2 ways.

MC-130W: next
(click to view full)

One is the growing trend away from sole USAF control of air support, and toward a much more responsive era of “federated airpower” that includes high-end aircraft and UAVs operated by the US Air Force, and lower-tier propeller planes and small UAVs operated by the US Army and Marines. Those lower-tier options use lower-cost platforms that are far more affordable to operate, which means they can be bought and operated in numbers that provide far wider battlefield coverage for small-unit engagements.

The USAF’s long-running and pervasive deprecation of relevant counter-insurgency capabilities, and strong institutional preference for high-end, expensive platforms, has left them vulnerable to lower-cost disruptive technologies that meet current battlefield needs. While the service still has a key role in maintaining American power, strategic control of the air, and high-end capabilities, the new reality involves a mix of high and low-end aerial capabilities, with a lot more aerial control nested closer to battlefield decision-making.

The other change is reaching beyond UAVs, and into USAF and USMC aircraft, which can carry larger weapons. Related tube-launched small precision weapons, which already include Raytheon’s Griffin missile, are finding their way to USMC KC-130J and Special Operations MC-130W Hercules, which are receiving roll-on/ roll-off weapon kits that can turn them into multi-role gunship support/ aerial tanker aircraft. Similar weapons, like Textron’s G-CLAW and many of the weapons discussed here for UAVs, will make it easier to equip more planes with more on-board weapons. As Airbus and Alenia both begin fielding smaller gunship aircraft of their own, and more countries begin arming other kinds of counterinsurgency aircraft, the market is expected to grow.

Contracts and Key Events Pyros strike
click for video

Sept 23/14: FF-LMM. Textron Systems touts a pair of successful live-fire demonstrations from an RQ-7 Shadow 200 UAV at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, using its new GPS/laser guided Fury (FF-LMM) collaboration with Thales. Textron’s AAI subsidiary makes the Shadow, and the demonstration to TRL 7 levels (prototype tested in representative environment) took 15 months of planning and work with Thales.

As noted above, Fury is derived from Thales’ beam-riding Lightweight Modular Missile, but it uses a different guidance system and removes the rocket motor. It’s properly a glide bomb, which is true for the vast majority of entrants in this market niche. Sources: Textron Systems, “Textron Systems Fury™ Lightweight Precision Weapon Engages Target During Live-Fire Demonstrations”

July 13/14: FF-LMM. Thales unveils an unpowered version of LMM at Farnborough 2014, as a smaller and lighter option for use on tactical UAVs, as well as larger platforms. It’s 70cm / 2’4? long and 6 kg / 13 pounds in weight, with a combined GPS and laser guidance system. The initial model won’t have an airburst fuze, though. Sources: IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “Farnborough 2014: Thales unveils new LMM variant” | Aviation Week, “Thales Reveals 6-Kg Glide Bomb For UAVs”.

Aug 7/12: STM-II Pyros. Raytheon announces a successful test for their 13.5 pound “Small Tactical Munition,” now redesigned and named “Pyros.” The end-to-end test from a Shadow-sized Cobra UAV validated the weapon’s dual laser/GPS guidance, its height-of-burst sensor, electronic safe and arm device, and multi-effects warhead.

May 2/12: Shadow Hawk test. Lockheed Martin announces successful tests of its privately-developed Shadow Hawk bomb from an RQ-7B. The “11 pound class,” 2.5 inch diameter weapon is laser-guided, and hit within 8 inches of the target at at Dugway Proving Grounds in Utah after being dropped from 5,100 feet.

April 4/12: Army update. The US Army discusses its plans for the RQ-7 Shadow. The army’s product manager, ground maneuver, UAS is Lt. Col. Scott Anderson. He says the Army is observing USMC efforts to add weapons to the Shadow, but is more interested in giving the UAV a new engine to improve reliability. That multi-phase competition got 14 responses, and could indirectly help weaponization efforts, especially if the new engine also provides more power.

Jan 12/12: Armed to Afghanistan? Flight International reports that the USMC plans to send 8 armed RQ-7Bs to Afghanistan as a combat demonstration program, after 94 “high-value targets” escaped during a recent Marine unit’s deployment, even though they were spotted by RQ-7s circling overhead. There isn’t always someone else on hand to fire.

The goal is to arm the Shadows with guided bombs weighing under 25 pounds, which was cleared for treaty compliance (?!?) by the US State Department in July 2011, and reportedly followed by a $10 million December 2011 contract. Installation and certification is expected to take a year, followed by a $7 million follow-on contract for deployment. The magazine reports that the weapon isn’t Raytheon’s STM, MBDA’s SABER, or ATK’s Hatchet, but is “another guided weapon that already has been developed and fielded in secrecy.”

Dec 30/11: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $54.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to supply RQ-7B laser designator retrofit kits.

Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of March 31/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by US Army Contracting Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).

FY 2011

STM-P2 on Cobra UAV
(click to view full)

Sept 16/11: STM-II test. Over at Yuma Proving Ground, AZ, Raytheon’s 12-pound, 22″/ 56cm Small Tactical Munition Phase II finishes captive carry tests on the company’s smaller Cobra test UAV, paving the way for full weapon tests.

STM Phase II is more than 2 inches shorter than the Phase I design, and has foldable fins and wings that allow it to be used from the U.S. military’s common launch tube. It uses both GPS and semi-active laser guidance. Raytheon is taking the production-ready mandate seriously, as well; STM Phase II is also easier to assemble than the Phase I design. Raytheon Nov 30/11 release.

Aug 17/11: Cleared to arm. Flight International, quotes US NAVAIR’s Small Tactical UAS program manager, Col. Jim Rector, who says that the Marines have received clearance from policymakers to arm the RQ-7 Shadow. The USMC made its intent to do so clear late last year (vid. Jan 18/11 entry). Field trials are to be performed on with unnamed munition selected by AAI, within the Marines’ request that it be a production-ready item. This evaluation process is scheduled to last 18 – 24 months.

Aug 15/11: Collision. When an RQ-7 flies into a C-130 Hercules, at least the latter gets to land in one piece. This time.

The incident underscores the role that “deconfliction” needs to play, when armed UAVs are used over the battlefield without “sense and avoid” technologies on board. Experiments are underway to give Shadow-sized UAVs those capabilities, but without that, expect sharp flight restrictions that emphasize long advance notice of flight plans, and narrow altitude bands. Those restrictions will reduce an armed “MQ-7C” Shadow’s potential value, which means the full impact of small tactical armed UAVs won’t be felt until that technical hurdle is cleared.

June 21/11: First test flight at Webster Field, MD of a RQ-7B Shadow UAS under the direction of NAWC Aircraft Division’s UAS Test Directorate. Col. Jim Rector, program manager for Navy and Marine Corps Small Tactical UAS program office (PMA-263), said:

“Having a RQ-7B at the UAS Test Directorate allows for the test and evaluation of system enhancements and ultimately provides the ability to quickly get new technologies into the hands of Marines”.

Rector was appointed in April after last serving in the V-22 program office (PMA-274).

May /11: Competition: T-20. Arcturus in Rohnert Park, CA has built the T-20 tactical UAV drone, whose wings can carry MBDA’s 10-pound Saber mini-missile.

The USMC has a few in testing now, and this wing-mounting capability may give Arcturus an opening to supplement, or even replace, AAI’s RQ-7 Shadow as the USMC’s armed tactical UAV.

Jan 18/11: USMC in. Flight Global reports that the US Marines have decided to arm Shadow UAVs as their own initiative, since the Army is dragging its feet, and the Marines don’t have a larger armed UAV like the Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle:

“Although the Army Aviaton [sic] and Missile Command issued a request for information in April seeking data on precision-guided weapons weighing 11.3kg (25lb) or less… and said as recently as October that it would take the lead on development of Shadow weaponisation with the USMC, the programme is no longer on the table for the army… says Col Robert Sova, capability manager for UAVs at the Army Training and Doctrine Command.”

The Marines reportedly want a solution fielded within 12-18 months. Beyond options like RCFC, NAVAIR’s Spike, etc., Raytheon has been pressing ahead with its 13 pound Small Tactical Munition (STM), with its dual-mode, laser/GPS guidance system.

Dec 3/10: R&D projects. Aviation Week reports that the US Navy is working on weapons that could give even the ScanEagle UAV hunter-killer capability – and implicitly, the Marines’ Shadow 200s as well.

The 2 pound next-generation weapon management system (WMS GEN2) is designed for use on small UAVs like the Shadow. It has been tested in the lab, and the development team is now looking at using the WMS GEN2 with the 5 pound NAWCAD Spike mini-missile, the Scan Eagle Guided Munition (SEGM), and a GPS-Guided Munition (G2M).

Oct 26/10: STM tests. Flight International reports that Raytheon has conducted tests of its 13 pound, unpowered Small Tactical Munition (STM) at the Yuma Proving Ground, AZ. The 2 successful tests used Raytheon’s Cobra UAV, which was picked because it’s close to the RQ-7 Shadow’s size. Raytheon estimates needing 12 to 18 months to get STM production lines running at quantity, and is readying the project in response to interest from the USMC and, they expect, from Special Forces.

FY 2008 – 2010

81mm RCFC test
(click to view full)

April 19/10: Army RFI. Looks like the US Army is getting more serious about fielding armed Shadow UAVs. US FedBizOpps solicitation #W31P4Q-10-R-0142 says that “Responses to this RFI will be used for information and planning purposes only and do not constitute a solicitation…,” but its issue does show a higher level of seriousness, and could well be a prelude to a real solicitation if an acceptable candidate emerges:

“The US Army Aviation and Missile Command (AMCOM) Program Executive Office (PEO) Missiles and Space (M&S), Program Management (PM) Joint Attack Munition Systems (JAMS), on behalf of the war fighter, seeks information from industry on weapons systems ready for production and suitable for integration on the RQ-7B with POP 300D laser designator payload Shadow Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs). Potential weapons systems must be ready to field within 12 months from the date of a potential contract award. The primary interest is in weapon systems approximately 25 lbs or less total system weight (to include munition, launcher, wiring, fire control interface, etc). The weapons system should be able to engage stationary and moving targets such as light vehicles and dismounted combatants in day and night conditions with low collateral damage when launched from a Shadow UAS flying at speeds of 60-70 knots and between 5,000 and 12,000 feet Above Ground Level (AGL). Terminal accuracy must be on the order of that demonstrated by currently fielded Semi Active Laser / Imaging Infrared / Millimeter Wave (SAL/IIR/MMW) weapons…”

That level of terminal accuracy may be an issue for RCFC mortars, depending on how the Army interprets it. SAL/IIR/MMW weapons are generally considered to be more accurate that GPS guidance, but if “on the order” means “approximately,” then a GPS guidance kit would qualify. It is intended that this RFI will be open for 21 calendar days from date of publication (to May 10/10).

April 1/10: RCFC test. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces successful 81mm Air-Dropped Mortar guide-to-target flight demonstrations at Ft. Sill, OK. The RCFC weapon was released from a TUAV (Shadow) using the GD-OTS’ newly developed “Smart Rack” carriage and release system.

Feb 12/09: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary Army Armaments Incorporated (AAI) in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $9.3 million cost plus fixed fee contract modification, exercising options for additional engineering hours related to these Shadow UAV modifications. These services are related to low-rate initial production of Laser Designators, Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) interoperability, and integration with the Army’s Universal Ground Control Station and Universal Ground Data Terminal.

Work will be performed in Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of April 30/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0033).

Jan 21/09: Laser designators. Textron subsidiary AAI Corp. in Hunt Valley, MD receives a $12.2 million firm-fixed-price finalization of Letter Contract Modification P00012. It will purchase 25 Laser Designator Retrofit Kits for its RQ-7 Shadow Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).

Work will be performed at Hunt Valley, MD, with an estimated completion date of Aug 31/09. One bid was solicited and one bid received by the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command in Redstone Arsenal, AL (W58RGZ-08-C-0023).

Dec 16/08: RCFC test. General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems announces that it has successfully demonstrated the ability to maneuver and guide 81mm air-dropped mortars to a stationary ground target after release from an aircraft. These test results in Kingman, AZ build on previous pre-programmed maneuver flight tests successfully conducted by General Dynamics in 2007, and use the company’s patented Roll Controlled Fixed Canard (RCFC) flight control and guidance system.

Additional Readings

  • DID thanks subscriber Trent Telenko for his research assistance with this article.

The Trends

The Weapons

Listed in alphabetical order of manufacturer.

MBDA – SABER. Their Small Air Bomb Extended Range (SABER), whose unpowered version is about 10 pounds. The powered version of this GPS/laser guided weapon is 30 pounds.

Categories: News

Swiftships Orders Build Iraqi Navy’s Coastal Patrol Capabilities

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 16:49
PB-301, Umm Qasr
(click to view full)

Swiftships’ 35-meter coastal patrol boat (CPB) contracts are part of a larger program that’s also delivering spare parts, guns, ammunition, training, naval simulators and infrastructure to the Umm Qasr Naval Base in southern Iraq. That total program for the Iraqi Navy was the country’s 3rd largest foreign military sale case, according to the Pensacola Council of the Navy League’s Bullhorn newsletter. That’s probably an appropriate priority level, as Iraq seeks to monitor and protect its southern oil export infrastructure.

Meanwhile, the US Army Corps of Engineers is partnering with Iraq by managing a $53 million pier and seawall project. This set of projects in southern Iraq will provide the Iraqi Navy with new port facilities as it continues to expand its military naval capabilities – but in the end, it all comes down to boats on the water, manned by well trained crews. The Swiftships are currently the medium tier of those capabilities.

Iraq’s Swiftships Swiftships’ 35-meter CPB
(click to view larger)

In terms of Iraq’s current capabilities, Iraq’s Swiftships will sit between in Fincantieri’s 53.4m/ 175 foot Fatah/Diciotti Class Ocean Patrol Vessels, and smaller boats used for confined coastal and riverine work.

The original Swiftship Interceptor design was a 40+ knot high-speed, waterjet-powered 35 meter patrol boat for a Central American county, but it’s still awaiting funding. The “gray hull” picture here is a slower version that was produced for another country Swiftships declined to name, and the green Fort Jefferson that headlines this article is a propeller-driven derivative of that variant.

The Iraqis specified that they wanted propellers, so their Swift Interceptor patrol boats are closer to the Fort Jefferson than to the “haze grey” picture. Other differences from the photographs here will include moving the upper bridge forward; armoring on the lower bridge, upper bridge, and bridge wings; and armaments. Armament will includes the 30mm MSI deck gun system forward, a .50 cal machine gun aft on the 01 level, and 7.62 machine guns on the bridge wings. Northrop Grumman’s Sperry Marine provides the integrated Bridge, CIC, and Radio Room equipment.

Swiftships Model 35PB1208 E-1455 specifications include:

Hull Length: 115′-0″ / 35.06 m
Beam: 23′ 9-1/2″ / 7.25 m
Max Draft (Navigational): 8′-6″ / 2.59 m
Depth (Midship): 11′-10″ / 3.61 m
Engine Package: 3 MTU 16V2000 Marine Diesels
Propulsors: 3 Propellers

ABS Classification: A1-HSNC-Coastal Naval Craft – AMS.

Water Capacity: 1000 Gallons / 3,785 Liters
Fuel Capacity: 7,000 Gallons / 26,495 Liters
Maximum Range: 1,500 Nautical Miles @ 12 knots
Endurance: 6 Days
Accommodations: 21 Crew, 4 Officers

Carries: RIB Willard aluminum hull high-speed 7 meter jet Rigid Inflatable Boat
Armament: MSI International DS30M-A2 30mm remotely-operated gun system, .50 cal/ 12.7mm machine gun, 2 x 7.62 machine guns.

MSI’s DS30M gun system
(click to view full)

MSI’s 30mm RWS system will be very consequential. As South Korea has proven several times, a patrol boat equipped with a main gun that integrates advanced sensors, ballistic computing, and RWS control will severely punish or sink enemy vessels that depend on hand-aimed guns of similar or greater calibers.

This triple-screw diesel-powered patrol boat can be refueled at sea using side by side procedures, and runs on #2 diesel fuel. The hull and superstructure are constructed of aluminum alloy, all welded, in accordance with approved codes. The hull includes 7 watertight bulkheads forming 8 watertight compartments. The superstructure has an enclosed upper bridge with open bridge wings for armament and navigation capability, with an enclosed pilothouse forward.

The boat can comfortably undertake at-sea missions for up to 6 days, with an expected operational time of about 1,500 hours of operation per year. Weather survivability includes Sea State 5 survival at the best heading, and full operational capability at Sea State 3, including 20 knot patrol speed and 10 knot sustained loitering speed for 12 hours. In calm water the boat is reasonably fast, 30 knots (about 34.5 mph/ 55.5 kmh) maximum speed at full load.

Egypt’s Swift Protector
(click to view larger)

Swiftships has built similar boats for other national security customers.

The comparable Fort Jefferson was built for the US National Park Service as a top end crew boat with both visitor berthing and cargo capacity, to operate out of Key West FL. It supports the Park on the Dry Tortugas. Shortly after Fort Jefferson’s delivery, however, the USCG encountered serious problems with its newly recondition and stretched Island Class Coast Guard Patrol Boats. Those ships would end up being scrapped, and to cover the gap, the USCG borrowed the Fort Jefferson and used her as a US Coast Guard patrol boat for some time.

Egypt operates a smaller coastal patrol type, the Swift Protectors. Swiftships describes these 6 boats as “the baby sisters of the 35 meter design,” as they were designed later than their larger brethren. Those 25 meter Egyptian craft use waterjets that push them to 40 knots, and have a crew of 12 rather than 25.

Contracts and Key Events 2011 – 2014

All boats delivered; Post-delivery support. On their own
(click to view full)

All contracts are managed by US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC, on behalf of their Foreign Military Sale clients in Iraq. The contractor is small business qualifier Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC in Morgan City, LA.

Sept 22/14: Support. A maximum $18 million contract to provide Iraq with provide technical expertise in preventative and planned maintenance, emergent repairs, and platform overhaul support services for Iraqi patrol boats, off-shore vessels, and defender boats. Half of the funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed on Umm Qasr Naval Base, Iraq, and is expected to be complete by October 2015. Since Iraq chose its builder and service provider, this contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(4), and FAR 6.302-4(a)(2). US Navy NAVSEA in Washington, DC acts as Iraq’s FMS agent (N00024-14-C-4217).

July 5/13: Final delivery. The US Navy delivers PB 312, Iraq’s final 35-meter Swiftship patrol boat, to the Umm Qasr naval facility, after successfully completing reactivation in Bahrain.

This seems to establish that the announced orders for 9 and then 3 more are the only orders placed to date.

NAVSEA is the listed agent, and their Program Executive Office (PEO) Ships Support Ships, Boats and Craft Program Office has managed the buy as a foreign military sales case. They also delivered 2 60-meter offshore support vessels to the Iraqi navy on Dec 20/12. US Navy.

Final delivery

Nov 3/11: #6 Delivery. The US Navy formally delivers the 6th 35-meter patrol boat [P-305] to the Iraqi navy at their Umm Qasr facility, a week ahead of schedule.

P-305 began its journey via barge from Amelia, LA, to Beaumont, TX. The boat was loaded aboard MV Ocean Charger for shipment to Bahrain, where she successfully completed reactivation on Oct 23/11. The next coastal patrol craft is scheduled to deliver to Iraq in December 2011. US Navy | US MSC.

Sept 29/11: Training. Small business qualifier VSD, LLC in Virginia Beach, VA receives a $6.9 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for security training and services in support of the Iraqi patrol boat and offshore support vessel training systems located in Umm Qasr, Iraq. Services to be provided include refurbishment, delivery, installation, testing, train the trainer course of instruction, and logistics support. the goal is to support the hand-over of security responsibilities from the maritime coalition forces to the Iraqi Navy.

Work will be performed in Virginia Beach, VA (49.5%); Houma, La. (29%); Umm Qasr, Iraq (19%); and Hitchcock, TX (2.5%), and is expected to be complete in June 2014. All contract funds will expire at the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL (N61340-11-C-0035).

June 9/11: US Navy:

“A crane loads two U.S.-built patrol boats [P-304 and P-306] onto the Maritime Administration Ready Reserve Force roll-on/roll-off ship MV Cape Trinity, which Military Sealift Command activated for a month-long voyage from Houston to Bahrain. The boats are intended for use by the Iraqi navy…”

March 21/11: A $42.2 million contract modification for 3 more 35m patrol boats, with an option for 3 more, plus associated technical services for the Iraqi navy. If all 6 boats and all services are ordered, the cumulative value of this contract modification rises to $83.5 million, and Iraqi Navy orders will stand at 21 boats.

Work will be performed in Morgan City, LA (60%); Detroit, MI (30%); Ocean Springs, MS (8%); and Charlottesville, VA (2%), and is expected to be complete by August 2012 (N00024-09-C-2256).

3-6 more ordered

Jan 26/11: #2 & 3 Delivery. P-302 and P-303 arrive in Iraq. A total of 12 more Swift-class Patrol Boats are being built under contract in Morgan City, LA, and all are still scheduled to arrive in Iraq by 2012. Pentagon DVIDS.

Jan 6-7/11: On Iraqi National Army Day, P-301 under “Lieutenant Abdul” performs an independent 24 hour patrol of the waters surrounding the Al Basrah Oil Terminal. The Iraqi Navy had planned the patrol on its own, and in advance of the first operational patrol the crew had to complete a final sea assessment conducted by a joint Iraqi and coalition team. They reportedly passed with flying colors, and proceeded on patrol immediately.

The British Royal Navy has been training the Iraqi Navy in Umm Qasr as part of a coalition training team since 2004. Most recently they have been supporting the Iraqi Navy by delivering Swift patrol boat training and mentoring the future Iraqi Navy training staff. USF-I says the remaining boats of this class will arrive over the next 18 months. UK MoD | United States Forces-Iraq.

2008 – 2010

From orders to initial deliveries. PB-302 delivery
(click to view full)

Dec 22/10: #2 Delivery. The US Military Sealift Command-chartered heavy lift crane ship MV Ocean Titan delivers Iraq’s 2nd Swift Ship to Manama, Bahrain. Because the boat was designed to operate within 200 miles from shore, it was not equipped to make the more than 11,000-mile, open-ocean voyage on its own power. MSC headquarters’ Sealift Program received the requirement to transport the Iraqi patrol boat on Oct 7/10, and awarded the contract for the lift to the 390-foot Ocean Titan on Oct 19/10.

While the patrol boat is in Bahrain, a team of personnel from the U.S. Navy’s Program Executive Office Ships and Swift Ships, Inc. will complete work on it, before sailing it to Iraq for turnover to the Iraqi navy. MSC will deliver the 3rd patrol boat in early 2011, which puts them slightly behind schedule. US MSC.

Sept 26/10: In a ceremony at Umm Qasr Naval Base, the first 35 meter Swiftship boat “PB 301″ is formally welcomed into the Iraqi Navy. It was deemed important enough that Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi, USF-Iraq Deputy Commanding General, Advising and Training Lt. Gen. Michael Barbero, and US NAVSEA Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy. As part of the ceremony, Iraqi Navy SEALs showed off “stop and search” skills aboard a demonstration vessel, and 177 naval cadets graduated from officer training to become lieutenants.

Another 3 boats are reportedly set to arrive in December 2010, with the remaining 11 due for delivery in 2011. The existing patrol vessel will join the rest of the Navy in its primary tasks: on-site and perimeter defense for the Khor al-Amiya oil terminal, and on-site defense of the Al-Basra oil terminal. Pentagon DVIDS | Agence France Presse, via Defense News.

1st delivery in Iraq

July 30/10: The first patrol boat is loaded for transit to Iraq. Source.

June 16/10: Training. Pentagon DVIDS publishes pictures of training in the USA:

“Rear Adm. Jeffery “Scott” Jones, director, Coalition Naval Advisory Transition Team Mission (left) and Commodore Muneer Saddam from the Iraqi navy, walk alongside the 35-meter patrol boat that Iraqi sailors are being trained to operate and maintain. The Iraqi navy will take possession of the boat in late summer 2010. The training is being coordinated through Naval Education and Training Security Assistance Field Activity, Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Naval Sea Systems Command, and Swiftships Shipbuilding.”

See also a later article in Gannett’s Navy Times.

May 31/10: Testing. Live-fire testing of the gun systems is complete. Source.

May 20/10: Delivery. The 1st of 15 Swiftship patrol boats is delivered in Morgan City, Louisiana. The P-301 will now be stationed at Swiftships’ Training Village, where it will remain until the first group of Iraqi sailors complete training in July 2010. The first 2 patrol boats will then be shipped to Iraq. MarineLog.

May 7/10: Testing. The first boat completes sea trials. Source

March 31/10: sub-contractors. Ceradyne, Inc., in conjunction with Turner Strategic Technologies LLC in Virginia Beach, VA announces an estimated $3.5-$6.0 million contract to supply and install of protective armor around the command station of 9 new 35-meter Swiftships patrol vessels. The exact amount will depend on which options are exercised.

Swiftships concept
(click to view full)

Dec 7/09: Sub-contractors. VSD, LLC announces a sub-contract from Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC to provide the Iraqi Navy with over 23 million in training and training systems. VSD, LLC will develop and deliver training, and manage the team of contractors in the development of the training systems. Those systems will include a Full Mission Bridge Trainer, a Small Arms Trainer, and a Fire Fighting Trainer. The firm will oversee the training of approximately 100 Iraqi sailors in Morgan City, LA over the next year.

Other team members involved in this effort include Q.E.D. Systems, Inc., based in Virginia Beach, and Northrop Grumman Electronics Systems Division in Ocean Springs, MS. VSD expects that more than 15 new full-time jobs will be created by this effort in its Virginia Beach area, and more than 30 new full-time positions overall. Managing Director Chuck Wythe does sound a note that’s both porud and cautionary, however, when he says that:

“This program is extraordinarily fast-paced and there is little room for error in execution. I am especially proud of all the work the team has put in to achieve the impossible in getting this program underway within the time constraints that were imposed.”

Oct 1/09: Training. Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC in Morgan City, LA receives a $23.6 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide 35-meter patrol boat training in support of the Iraqi Navy. Training will involve the use of simulators, the provision of spare parts, patrol boat training inclusive of course development, execution of the training curricula, and other incidentals such as berthing and messing for Iraqi sailors.

Work will be performed in Morgan City, LA, and is expected to be complete in September 2010. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL (N61339-09-C-0034).

35-meter Fort Jefferson
(click to view full)

Sept 25/09: Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC in Morgan City, LA receives a sole source $181 million fixed-price letter contract for the detail design and construction of 9 patrol boats, 6 30mm DS30M-A2 gun systems from MSI Defence Systems in Norfolk, UK; plus machine gun mounts and cradles, spare parts, and contractor engineering technical services.

This contract is in support of Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Case IQ -P-SAZ and U.S. Case E4-P-LBT. Funds for 6 of the boats comes from the Iraqi Security Force Funds (ISFF) appropriated in the FY 2007 war supplemental. The ISFF program manages the purchase of defense equipment for Iraq.

Swiftships will perform the work in Morgan City, LA (60%); Detroit, MI (30%); Ocean Springs, MS (8%); and Charlottesville, VA (2%) and expects to complete it by August 2012. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) manages the contract (N00024-09-C-2256).

9 boats ordered

July 2/09: US Navy Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) announces via FedBizOpps that it intends to issue solicitation N00024-09-R-2256 on a sole-source basis to Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC of Morgan City, LA to provide the Iraqi Navy a fully capable and sustainable maritime security patrol boat fleet of up to 15 Coastal Patrol Boats (CPBs).

Swiftships Shipbuilders will be responsible for the detail design, construction, outfitting and documentation for all CPBs. Swiftships Shipbuilders, LLC was deemed to be the only source that makes the CPBs with the Model 35PB1208 E-1455 and data rights, as directed by the Iraqi Government through a foreign military case. In NAVSEA’s opinion, this firm has the requisite background knowledge and experience required.

Dec 10/08: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Iraq’s formal request to buy up to 20 Coastal Patrol Boats in the 30-35meter range, and 3 Offshore Support Vessels in the 55-60 meter range. Boats would be equipped with the Seahawk MS1-DS30MA2 mount using a 30x173mm chain gun and short range Browning M2-HB .50 cal machine gun.

The contracts would also include spare and repair parts, weapon system software, support equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, and various forms of U.S. Government and contractor support. The estimated cost is up to $1.01 billion.

The principal contractor is unknown at this time of the release, however, acquisition is subject to FAR and DFARS domestic sourcing requirements. There are no known industrial offset agreements planned, but implementation of these sales will require the assignment of 2 contractor representatives in Iraq for a period of 8 years.

DSCA: Coastal patrol boats (20)

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Standing Up the IqAF: King Air 350s

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 16:24
IqAF King Air 350
(click to view full)

It has been a long road for the Iraqi Air Force. According to Iraqi figures, the IqAF boasted more than 1,000 aircraft before the 1991 Gulf war – and around 300 after it. More than 6 years after Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and 4 years after the first Iraqi Provisional government was formed, the once-mighty IqAF still operates just a handful of mostly-unarmed propeller aircraft and helicopters.

Unarmed aircraft can still offer value, of course. Surveillance is critically important to Iraq, especially surveillance of national infrastructure like telecommunications lines, pipelines, and other facilities. In addition to its Cessna “Bird Dogs” and handful of other light spotter planes, the IqAF is strengthening its fleet with an unlikely star of the Iraq War: Hawker Beechcraft’s propeller-driven King Air.

87 Squadron has begun all-Iraqi operations with the new equipment, but recent articles and announcements illustrate that there’s a lot more to fielding new equipment than just signing the contract.

King of the Air: From C-12 to 350ER-ISR IqAF 350-ISR,
Oct 22/08 flight
(click to view full)

Iraq has made King Air 350ERs the high end of its aerial surveillance capabilities, with 10 specialty 350ER-ISR variants ordered to date. Another 2 Iraqi King Air 350ERs have been ordered to date for type training, VIP transport, and light cargo duties.

Beechcraft’s smaller King Air 200 series already serves as the basis for the USAF’s C-12 Hurons, which are used to shuttle VIPs and small cargo items. An American variant called the C-12 Horned Owl has been outfitted with the AN/APY-8 Lynx ground-looking radar and electro-optical sensors for long range day and night viewing, and is used by the US Army as part of its highly successful Task Force ODIN effort that combines manned aircraft and UAVs. The King Air 350/350ER is a newer aircraft that has been ordered by the US Marines, and the specialized ISR version was subsequently ordered by the USAF and given the designation “RC-12W Liberty.”

The 350 family is slightly larger than its King Air 200 counterparts, with a longer cabin and a slightly larger wingspan. The 200’s Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A-52 engine and their 1,610 shp of thrust are replaced by PT6A-60As delivering 2,100 shp. As a result, operating weight and carrying capacity can rise from the 200 series 8,720 lb/ 3,955 kg with a useful load of 3,870 lb/ 1,755 kg, to the 350 series 9,526 lb with a useful load of 5,574 lb. Like other aircraft in their class, King Air 350s can operate on runways as short as 3,300 feet with a full load, and under 2,700 feet with a standard complement. This is very useful for businesses who buy these aircraft for fast, flexible transportation to a wide variety of locales and airfields. It is equally useful in Iraq.

King Air 350 vs. 200
(click to view full)

Aimed specifically at the special mission market, the Beechcraft King Air 350ER has extended endurance thanks to overwing engine nacelle fuel lockers and other modifications. They are able to fly out 100 nautical miles, perform a low altitude surveillance mission for up to 8 hours and fly back 100 nautical miles, and still land with over 45 minutes worth of fuel on board. Range for the 350ER version extends more than 33%, to 2,400 nautical miles.

Larger airframes and heavyweight landing gear allow them it to operate at a maximum gross takeoff weight of 16,500 pounds, vs. 15,000 pounds for a standard Beechcraft King Air 350. The King Air 350ER-ISR can accommodate up to 2 pilots and another 5 operators in its pressurized and heated cabin, with galley and lavatory facilities that can keep the crew alert and refreshed on those long surveillance missions.

The 350ER-ISRs (MC-12Ws, in USAF parlance) have a in-class conversion that gives them 360 degree radar surveillance capability, but the radar can also be removed without impairing the plane’s commercial value. The integrated sensor suite includes an MX-15 surveillance turret with long-range cameras and infrared to detect, track, classify and identify surface contacts. These capabilities can also be turned to limited maritime patrol, via long-range ship detection and imaging, and identification of small ocean targets in high sea states.

According to an article in the Long War Journal, Iraq’s King Airs will join their AC-208B Cessna Combat Caravans by adding 2 wing hardpoints for Hellfire laser-guided missiles or DAGR laser-guided rocket pods. This armament would be comparable to the USAF’s MQ-1 Predator UAVs.

RU-38B Twin Condor
(click to view full)

Alternatives to the IqAF’s choice did and do exist. Unlike the MQ-1/9 Predator family of UAVs, King Airs cannot stay aloft for over 20 hours. On the other hand, they offer a wider field of view, the ability to carry more electronic surveillance equipment than Predator family UAVs, crash far less often than UAVs, are exportable with fewer ITAR issues than an MQ-1 or MQ-9, can be used for light transport and resupply duties in an emergency, and offer pilots an easy step to flight certification once basic flying training is complete.

King Airs also lack some of the features present in dedicated reconnaissance aircraft like the Schweizer RU-38B Twin Condor. On the other hand, they offer more comfortable crew accommodations for long flights, service support that benefits from sizeable civilian and military fleets, and commonality with US military King Airs serving in theater for joint operations and support.

Contracts and Key Events VAPT trainer
(click to view full)

Sept 22/14: Support. Beechcraft in Wichita, KS receives a $16.6 million contract modification for the 2nd option year of contractor logistics support under Iraq’s Peace Dragon King Air 350 Program. The King Airs will be extremely useful assets to Iraq’s Shi’ite government, amidst their civil war. Not that it will matter much if Iraqi ground forces can’t or won’t fight.

Work will be performed in Iraq, and is expected to be complete by Sept 30/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract on behalf of their Iraqi client (FA8620-11-C-3000 P00034).

June 30/14: +1. Hawker Beechcraft Corp. (now Textron) in Wichita, KS receives a $7.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for 1 King Air 350 Extended Range (ER) Aircraft. All funds are committed immediately, using Foreign Military Sales dollars from Iraq.

Work will be performed at Wichita, KS, and is expected to be complete by March 30/15. The USAF’s Life Cycle Management Center at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, manages the FMS contract as Iraq’s agent (FA8620-14-C-4006).

1 more King Air

March 26/14: Support. Beechcraft in Wichita, KS receives a $24.5 million firm-fixed-price and cost-reimbursable, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for King Air 350 aircraft maintenance training, based on standard commercial-off-the shelf configured King Air 350 using Rockwell Collins’ Proline 21 avionics.

Work will be performed at New Al-Muthana Airbase, Iraq and Wichita, KS, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/15. This award is the result of a sole-source acquisition for Iraq, managed by the 338th Specialized Contracting Squadron at Joint Base San Antonio, Randolph AFB, TX (FA3002-14-D-0003).

Sept 12/13: Support. Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, KS receives a $15.9 million contract modification, exercising Option Year 1 for Iraqi King Air 350 contractor logistics support from Oct 1/13 through Sept 30/14. Work will be performed in Iraq, and is managed by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WINK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-11-C-3000, PO 0023).

Aug 14/13: Support. Hawker Beechcraft Corp. in Wichita, KS receives a maximum $18.6 million modification to an unfinalized contract to reimburse them for hiring basic life support (BLS) and security services in Iraq. That has to be paid for independently by the Iraqis as of Sept 1/13, now that the US military is no longer there in force to provide it as a side benefit. The total cumulative face value of the contract is $47.8 million.

The contract runs until Sept 30/14, and is managed by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WINK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-11-C-3000, PO 0020).

Oct 7/09: Training. Rockwell Collins announces delivery of the 1st Virtual Avionics Procedure Trainer (VAPT) to the USAF/US Navy team, who will use it to train Iraqi pilots flying King Air aircraft. The system is based on Rockwell Collins’ advanced CORE simulation architecture and features a modular, expandable and configurable combination of commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology, PC-based hardware and Rockwell Collins re-hosted avionics software. This unique combination allows the VAPT to support multiple aircraft platforms or software configurations.

Electronics have advanced so quickly, that converting Iraqi pilots’ previous knowledge of their MiG fighter cockpits to the state-of-the-art systems used in quasi-civilian planes like the King Air is a challenge. VAPT offers them an in-classroom alternative that can prepare them for simulator work. It also helps Iraqi pilots train each other. USN Captain Scott Seeberger – Commander, King Air 350 Military Training Team:

“During its first week of operation, the VAPT has been embraced by the pilots of Iraqi Air Force King Air Squadron 87. The squadron’s senior qualified pilots are already using the device to teach those junior to them on the complex operation of the aircraft flight management and autoflight system.”

Aug 24/09: Training. A USAF article describes some of the challenges involved in standing up Iraq’s 87 Squadron and its King Air 350-ISRs. One is that an 18-year old applying to be part of the unit in 2009 would have been 13 when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and he would also have had a less-than-ideal educational system before that. Training thus includes some remedial education, as well as basic computer proficiency.

“We will do two weeks’ worth of academics by going over all the systems in the aircraft including the ground equipment, such as the Spider laptops, and familiarization of the fixed ground station,” Sergeant Roden said. “After that, we give them a test and see where their competency levels are and how much they have retained.” Once the candidates have passed all the tests and are accepted into the program, they are given an orientation with the aircraft and the MSO equipment. They are then trained on a 19-ride syllabus followed by a flight evaluation to ensure that they are fully capable of performing the functions necessary to be an MSO.

“The people we are training and advising are very intelligent, but this technology is completely new to them, and our goal is to make the transition as easy as possible for the Iraqis,” Sergeant Roden said. “So, we developed a program that can take a person who has never seen a computer before and develop in them the ability to quickly learn the dynamics of a computer as well as the technology behind why the mission sensor equipment works.”

June 16/09: Trendsetter? Defense News reports that Iraq may be the forerunner of a much larger trend, in the USA (MC-12 Liberty project), and beyond:

“…in the coming decade [L-3 and HawkerBeechcraft] saw a potential domestic market for up to 75 of the [King Air 350 ISR] aircraft at a value of $1.3 billion. [L-3 VP Allison] Hartley said Africa, the Middle East and other regions were all potential markets. The international market could be worth double that in platform sales with a value of about $2.5 billion… She specifically named the United Kingdom as a potential sales opportunity. The British have already ordered a handful of King Airs for the ISR mission. One has been delivered.”

Oct 22/08: The Iraqi Air Force marshals out a King Air intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft at New Al-Muthana Air Base, for an historic flight. The flight marks the first all-Iraqi air force crew to fly an ISR mission since the fall of Saddam Hussein. Source.


Iraqi 350ISR sortie
click to play video

Sept 30/08: +6. Hawker Beechcraft Corp. of Wichita, KS receives a firm-fixed-price contract for $10.5 million, in exchange for 5 King Air 350 Extended Range (ER) Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft; 1 King Air 350 Light Transport Aircraft; plus spares and contractor logistics support. This is a foreign military sale to Iraq. At this time $2.9 million has been obligated (FA8620-07-C-4010).

The listed amount strongly suggests a long-lead parts contract, in preparation for the order that will pay for the rest of the aircraft and systems. In 2002, the average price of a civilian King Air 350 was about $6 million each.

6 King Air 350s

Sept 29/08: Iraq’s Defence Ministry announces that it has bought 12 new U.S.-built reconnaissance planes. This is true. March 2007’s 6 aircraft (5 350ER-ISR + 1 transport) order, plus the current 6 aircraft order (see above) equals 12 aircraft. AP, via USA Today.

Feb 27/08: Training. The USAF announces that IqAF pilots from its 3rd Squadron in Kirkuk recently took the controls of a IqAF King Air 350 for the first time. The aircraft will initially be used for training and VIP transport, but future aircraft will add ISR flights. In a recent mission featuring a different aircraft type, an all-Iraqi crew spotted several terrorists manufacturing improvised explosive devices land mines. The crewmembers alerted Iraqi police, who arrived on scene soon after.

Dec 28/07: Delivery. The IqAF receives its first King Air 350, in a ceremony. The initial aircraft is not fitted with sensors, and will be used for light cargo, VIP and training before the other 350s arrive. Deliveries of additional King Airs with ISR suites are scheduled to begin in about 4 months.

USAF Brig. Gen. Bob Allardice is the Coalition Air Force Transition Team commander. US DSCA release | MNF-I release (same).

1st delivery

350-ISR layout
(click to view full)

March 6/07: +6. Raytheon Aircraft company (now Hawker Beechcraft) announces a $132 million Foreign Military Sale to the Iraq Air Force. The USAF’s Aeronautical Systems Center will manage the contract for 5 Beechcraft King Air 350ER Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft and 1 Beechcraft King Air 350 light transport aircraft.

This contract will lay the foundations for the IqAF’s ability to field and use the King Air 350ER-ISR. It includes the integration of various electronic sensors, communications equipment, and defensive systems; along with fixed and portable ground station infrastructure, training, and spares and support. Deliveries will begin in late 2007 and, if all planned options for additional ISR and light transport aircraft are exercised, continue into 2010. RAC/Hawker Beechcraft release [PDF].

6 King Air 350s

September 27/06: The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Iraq’s formal request to buy 24 Beechcraft King Air 350ER surveillance aircraft, plus 24 more light transport aircraft which will either be King Air 350ERs or Polish PZL Skytruck STOL(Short Take Off and Landing) planes; as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $900 million, and items include:

  • 24 King Air 350ER for Intelligence/Surveillance/Reconnaissance role. Each aircraft will be equipped with an L-3 Wescam MX-15 Electro Optics/Infrared (EO/IR) system, plus 1 of the following Synthetic Aperture Radar(SAR/ISAR)/Inverse Synthetic ground scan radars: APS-134 Sea Vue or APS-143 Ocean Eye or RDR-1700 or Lynx II (APY-8) or APS144 or APY-12 Phoenix.

  • 24 Data Link Systems (T-Series Model-U or T-Series Model-N or ADL850 or TCDL or BMT-85). Their usefulness for a reconnaissance aircraft that must share its findings is obvious.

  • 24 King Air 350ER or “PZL M-18 Skytruck” [sic] Aircraft for light transport role. Actually, the Skytruck is the PZL M28. the M18 Dromander is an agricultural sprayer aircraft, which Saddam’s air force would have found very useful but the current IqAF would not.

  • 48 AAR-47 Missile Warning Systems; these are widely employed by coalition aircraft and helicopters, and represent the most modern system available.

  • 48 ALE-47 Countermeasures Dispensing Systems.

  • 6,000 M-206 Flare Cartridges. To keep the ALE-47s stocked.

  • 50 Global Positioning System (GPS) and Embedded GPS/Inertial Navigation Systems (INS). 48 plus 2 spares.

Also included: support equipment, management support, spare and repair parts, supply support, training, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, U.S. Government and contractor technical assistance and other related elements of logistics support.

DSCA: 24 King Air 350s

Additional Readings

Categories: News

US (Almost) Gives Up Anti-personnel Landmines

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 09:00

  • The White House announced the US will not use antipersonnel mines outside of those deployed to protect South Korea, as well as destroy their stockpiles not necessary to defend the peninsula. This aligns the country with most of the requirements of the Ottawa Convention without ratifying it. The WSJ had first reported that such a change was under consideration back in June.


  • The Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Japan intends to develop homegrown early-warning aircraft for production by the middle of next decade. They’re currently using E-767 AWACS as well as E-2Cs, which Northrop Grumman hoped would have naturally led to an upsell to the E-2D Hawkeye.

  • For the first time a Chinese naval taskforce is visiting Iran this week, where they’re conducting joint maritime exercises. Chinese military | FARS News | NYT | Reuters.

  • China and India are having another stand-off between troops in the Ladakh mountains, despite a recent meeting between Xi Jinping and Narendra Modi. This appears to follow last year’s pattern of Chinese intrusions followed by impotent Indian outrage and Chinese placid denial. The Indians object to Chinese road construction in the area, in violation of an agreement (for lack of a settled border) between the two countries. This one episode has now lasted 12 days, leading Indian Army Chief General Dalbir Suhag to postpone a visit to Bhutan. Indian media is hyping up Xi’s recent urging to the PLA to “sharpen their ability to win a regional war,” which China retorts is just a “wild guess.” NDTV | Business Standard | IDSA | Times of India.

  • We interrupt this programming with a friendly reminder [Xinhua] from Comrade in Chief Xi [The Economist]:

“Headquarters of PLA forces must have absolute loyalty and firm faith in the Communist Party of China, guarantee a smooth chain of command and make sure all decisions from the central leadership are fully implemented.”

  • India’s Enforcement Directorate arrested Gautam Khaitan, the board member of a company named by investigators in the ongoing AgustaWestland VVIP saga. Times of India | NDTV.

Middle East

  • 12 A-10s from the 122nd Fighter Wing will be deployed to the Mideast next month, reports the Journal Gazette from Fort Wayne, IN. Tony Carr, a former USAF officer, is bracing himself for a replay of the often disingenuous debate on close air support and the type of aircraft meant to fulfill that mission. Aaron Mehta at Defense News thinks people for or against keeping A-10s in the USAF fleet have already made up their mind.

  • 7 military advisers sent by Germany to train Kurdish peshmergas have been stuck [The Local] in Bulgaria for days for lack of permission from Iraqi authorities to enter the country.


  • Fighting continues [Kyiv Post] at the Donetsk airport despite the ceasefire in Ukraine.

Categories: News

Malaysia’s SGPV-LCS Gowind Frigates

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 22:27
Gowind Family
(click to view full)

In October 2010, Malaysia’s Boustead received a letter of intent from their government for 6 “second-generation patrol vessels.” In January 2012, South Africa’s DefenceWeb reported that DCNS and its local submarine & surface ship partner, Boustead Naval Shipyard, had been picked for a $2.8 billion program to supply 6 Gowind family ships to Malaysia, which would have been the type’s 1st paid order.

To win, DCNS reportedly beat Dutch firm Damen, whose scalable SIGMA ships have been purchased by neighboring Indonesia; as well as TKMS of Germany, who supplied Malaysia’s 6 existing MEKO 100 Kedah Class Offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) and its 2 Kasturi Class light frigates. Now these Gowind ships’ exact configuration, and equipment set is more certain – and they have grown into full frigates.

The Gowind Family & Malaysia’s Choices Gowind OPV L’Adroit
(click to view full)

The Gowind family isn’t a single design. It’s a family of ships with some common systems and design elements, designed to scale from inshore patrol needs to heavy corvette/ light frigate designs. DCNS has been exploring partnerships with lower-cost foreign shipyards as part of its overall export strategy, and had been negotiating with Bulgaria along those lines. Memoranda now give it footholds in South Africa as well as Malaysia.

All Gowind ships are shaped for stealth. The single central mast replaces several sensor masts in other ships, and provides both improved radar cross-section signature, and a 360-degree view for radars and other sensors. The ship’s propulsion system is based on Combined Diesel and Diesel (CODAD), but has no gas exhaust chimney to emit infrared plumes, channeling exhaust into the water-jets instead. Those water jets also create better maneuverability in shallow waters, and contribute to high-speed performance.

Gowind Control/120 Designs like FS L’Adroit, on loan to France for 3 years as a promotional exercise, are 1,100t OPVs, with minimal armament. L’Adroit carries only a light autocannon and non-lethal weapons, for instance. Gowind Presence inshore patrol vessels are even smaller.

On the other hand, Bulgaria’s interest in Gowind ships involved fully-armed 2,250t Gowind Combat/200 corvettes, carrying 57mm guns, vertical-launch cells, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, and a helicopter up to the 10-ton class.

Malaysia’s Gowinds

Subsequent reports from Navy Recognition indicated that Malaysia is interested in the Gowind Combat corvettes, and current plans involve launching the 1st Second Generation Patrol Vessel Littoral Combat Ship (SGPV-LCS) in 2018. Provisional specifications appear to make them the size of small frigates, only slightly smaller than the USA’s Littoral Combat Ship:

Length: 111 meters (up from 107)
Breadth: 16 meters
Full load displacement: about 3,000 tonnes (up from 2,730)
Max speed: 28 knots
Crew: Up to 138: 60 Junior sailors, 20 Petty Officers, 6 warrant Officers, 1 executive officer, 5 heads of departments, and the Captain.
Range: 5,000 nm
Endurance: 21 days

The ship models shown at a recent defense exhibition show a full helicopter hangar, and Boustead Heavy Industry Corporation has said that it will be capable of embarking helicopters up to the size the RMAF’s 12 ordered EC725 Caracal search and rescue/ special forces helicopters. Malaysia’s Navy could also choose to embark any of its 6 AgustaWestland Super Lynx 300 naval helicopters, or 6 Eurocopter AS 350 Fennec light utility helicopters.

Key Sensors

  • DCNS’ preference for its SETIS combat system won the day, over the Malaysian Navy’s reported preference for Thales’ Tacticos.
  • Thales SMART-S Mk2 3D multibeam radar
  • Rheinmetall’s TMEO Mk2 – TMX/EO Radar/ Electro-optical tracking and fire control system
  • Thales Captas family for hull sonar
  • ASW suite with towed array sonar

Weapons Array

Pictures from DSA 2012 Defense exhibition in Kuala Lumpur appear to show 12 vertical launch cells, mounted behind the main gun. These will be DCNS’ Sylver family. Sylver A35 cells are the most likely choice, given the ship’s size and expected weapon fit:

  • BAE’s 57mm Mk.3 naval gun will be provided in a stealth cupola, courtesy of the BHIC Bofors Asia Sdn Bhd joint venture. Confirmed in 2013.
  • MBDA VL-MICA air defense missiles and their ACL containers in the Sylver cells
  • 8 of MBDA’s MM40 Exocet Block III anti-ship missiles mounted topside
  • 2 of MSI’s remotely operated 30mm guns on top of the helicopter hanger

Contracts & Key Events 2014

Infrastructure and components. Gowind

Sept 17/14: Torpedo launchers. UK engineering firm J+S Ltd announces that they have been selected to provide their Torpedo Launcher System (TLS) to equip the SGPV-LCS. Deliveries are planned between 2017 and 2021. Andy Toms from J+S says they will source some products and services locally, since Malaysia is one of many countries fond of offsets. In June the firm had opened an office in Kuala Lumpur to serve the ASEAN region. Source: North Devon Journal: “Torpedo launchers to be supplied to Malaysian navy by Barnstaple company”.

April 25/14: Infrastructure. Navy Recognition reports from the 2014 Defence Services Asia Exhibition and Conference in Kuala Lumpur. The 1st ship won’t be floated out until December of 2018, because BHIC’s Lumut shipyard needs a lot of work first, with assistance from DCNS: ship lifts, 2 new block assembly halls, 3 new halls for panel assembly, and 3 keel lines. Three ships in parallel construction is quite a few for a 6-ship program; Malaysia appears to have wider ambitions for Lumut.

An accompanying shore integration facility for combat system work and training is being built at the government-planned city of Cyberjaya, south of Kuala Lumpur. The combat system will be assembled there and some of the training will also be provided at this location.

Kelvin Hughes of UK has been picked to deliver the SGPV’s navigation radar, and the decoy launcher has been picked but not announced. Sources: Navy Recognition, “DSA 2014 Naval News – RMN Gowind SGPV-LCS update with BHIC”.

Feb 18/14: Sensors. Thales announces that it has signed a Letter of Award with Contraves Advanced Devices Sdn. Bhd. to supply 6 SMART-S Mk2 naval surveillance radar systems, as well as 6 CAPTAS-2 towed sonar systems for the Royal Malaysian Navy’s SGPV-LCS ships. The 1st SMART-S Mk2 is expected to be delivered “within the next few years”. The first 2 will be built by Thales in Hengelo, The Netherlands, then the other 4 systems will be assembled and tested by Contraves in Malaysia.

The release refers to “the Malaysian Littoral Combat Ships that are currently being built by Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd in Malaysia,” which implies that there’s a contract in place despite the lack of publicity. On the other hand, there seem to be a lot of critical equipment choices that haven’t been made yet, and budget documents seem to suggest that the main build contract hash’t been issued. Sources: Thales, “Thales On Board The Littoral Combat Ships Of The Royal Malaysian Navy”.

2012 – 2013

LIMA 2013 report
click for video

Oct 25/13: Budgets. Malaysian Defence:

“When Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak unveiled the 2014 Budget – a total of RM264.2 billion (RM217.7 billion is for operating expenditure while RM46.5 billion is for development expenditure) he did just that – increased the management expenditure and reduced the development allocation!

For 2014, the Defence Ministry got RM16.1 billion – RM13.355 billion as operating expenditure (OE) and RM2.745 billion for development costs (DE)- some RM849 million higher compared to the budget in 2013 which was RM15.251 (RM11.970 billion for operating costs and RM3.281 billion for development.

This means the development expenditure for 2014 has been reduced by RM536 million. The OE which pays for everything from salaries to fuel, parts and maintenance got a whopping increase by RM1.385 billion.”

The budget is typically non-specific about equipment, though the minister did mention “the purchase of six offshore patrol vessels” as part of the plan. Sources: Malaysian Defence, “Malaysia’s 2014 Defence Budget”.

April 16/13: Weapons. Navy Recognition reports from Malaysia’s Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace (LIMA 2013) exhibition that BAE has signed a Letter of Award to equip Malaysia’s Gowind ships with their 57mm Mk.3 naval gun, including a stealth cupola housing. Sweden’s Visby Class corvettes already use this combination, but BAE will need to modify the Mk.3 housing slightly, in order to blend better with the Gowind’s exact shaping.

Meanwhile Boustead Heavy Industry Corporation (BHIC) Director of Defence & Security Division director Anuar Murad says that they’re still working on the Letter of Award with the Ministry of Defense for the overall ship, which he refers to as a full frigate that has grown to 3,000t. The ships will be built entirely in Malaysia, and even the combat system will be assembled in Cyberjaya. DCNS will act as Design Authority, and services have been bought for basic design work in France, with Malaysian engineers working alongside them in France to finalize the design. DCNS will also provide advisory services around project management and combat system integration.

Secondary suppliers are already receiving contracts from BHIC, and first-of-class delivery is estimated as 2018-2019, depending on how quickly they can get a contract signed.

Jan 21/13: Sensors. Malaysia buys 12 TMX/EO Mk2 fire control radars and 6 TMEO Mk2 long-range electro-optical surveillance systems for Malaysia’s 6 new “Second Generation Patrol Vessels Littoral Combat Ship” (SGPV LCS) frigates. The order includes spare parts, training, and a transfer of know-how to local industry. Deliveries will begin in in 2015 and continue through to 2020.

The TMX/EO Mk2 is a compact topside X-band or Ku-band radar, and a scalable electro-optical sensor fit (including IR camera, TV camera and laser rangefinder). The radar is able to track steeply attacking targets, even in very rough seas, using a “third axis” approach to rotation. Rheinmetall Defence | Navy Recognition.

Oct 25/12: A report from Euronaval says the contracts remain unfinalized, though DCNS CEO Patrick Boissier tells Lignes de defense that the existing Letters of Attribution have value even so. The project is expected to take place over 10 years or so, with a number of arrangements to finalize for production in Malaysia and in France. Lignes de defense [in French].

Oct 4/12: Weapons. Boustead Naval Shipyard Sdn Bhd (BNS) has reportedly issued a letter of award to BHIC subsidiary Contraves Advanced Devices Sdn Bhd (CAD) for DCNS’ SETIS Combat Management System. The LOA reportedly covers an implementation period of up to 10 years from Oct 2/12.

The contract is described as being “in relation to the RM203.79 million contract for RMN’s Second Generation Patrol Vessels (SGPV) or Littoral Combat Ships(LCS),” but that’s only $62 million, so it can’t be a main contract. The amount is more likely to represent to cost of the SETIS systems plus 10 years of support. Sources, Malaysian Flying Herald, “SETIS System for RMN’s SGPV/LCS”.

June 24/13: Sub-contractors. OSI Maritime Systems (OSI) announces a Letter of Award from Boustead Naval Shipyard (BNS), Mallaysia, to deliver 6 Integrated Navigation and Tactical Systemss (INTS), including the ECPINS-W and Warship-AIS, for the SGPV/LCS. Sources: OSI, “OSI Maritime Systems Signs Warshhip Integrated Bridge System Contract with Bousteaad Naval Shipyard for Royal Malaysian Navy LCS Program”.

April 20/12: Navy Recognition personnel at the DSA 2012 Defense exhibition in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia look at a Gowind model, and talk to an official from Boustead about the ships’ expected statistics and fit-out. See above for the ships’ expected fit-out, and see the article for pictures of the model.

The official added that, contra earlier reports, contract negotiations are still in progress. Navy Recognition | DCNS re: its exhibits.

Jan 17/12: DefenceWeb reports Malaysia’s selection of DCNS’ Gowind ships for a $2.8 billion contract. Deliveries are expected to run from 2017-2020, if all goes well.

Subsequent reports indicate that Gowind beat TKMS’ MEKO A100 and Damen’s SIGMA Class.

The DefenceWeb report is very unclear concerning the exact type and fit-out for these ships, except to state that the shipbuilders wanted DCNS’ SETIS combat management system, while the Royal Malaysian Navy wants the Thales Tacticos systems already on one of Malaysia’s Kasturi Class light frigates. It did not state how this conflict was resolved.

Malaysia picks Gowind

Categories: News

Pakistan Wants to Buy Excess MRAPs Ahead of Modi State Visit in the US

Tue, 09/23/2014 - 13:55

  • The US has been struggling to figure out what to do with its MRAPs in Afghanistan for about a year. The State Department is now confirming that Pakistan is requesting a Foreign Military Sale of 160 MaxxPros for about $198 million, an idea first floated back in April. It shows the US is holding no grudge for Pakistan’s significant contribution to high logistics costs out of Afghanistan, but the price tag makes this putative sale far from a gift. Most of these vehicles have likely been ridden hard.

  • If India’s Prime Minister Modi objects to Pakistan buying used MRAPs, the US will find out soon enough as he’ll visit President Obama later this week. US Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert hopes [Reuters] that “stalled” defense cooperation with India can resume. Foreign Policy lists many areas where the interests of the two countries can align, including in Afghanistan.

  • Soon after the Philippines and the US signed a military agreement establishing the return of American troops, activists challenged its legality [The Guardian] for lack of Senate approval. The WSJ reports that the case may be rejected eventually given precedents, but it may take years for the legal system to come to that conclusion.

Middle East


  • The Pentagon is considering changing defense regulations for large multi-year contracts by forcing their specific authorization in a law separate from an appropriations act, among changes that seem to put even more contract management power into Congressional hands. Comments can be sent until Nov. 18 before the rule is finalized.

AFA Air Conference 2014

  • The Air Force Association’s Air & Space Conference that took place last week is available as a series of video here. Among them, today’s video features Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello, the commander of the Air Force Research Laboratory, who explained what the AFLR is up to, from hypersonics to directed energy. 22 minutes in, there’s a nice jab at the Navy’s UCLASS winning an award he was coveting for the X-51 scramjet:

Categories: News