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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 7 min 1 sec ago

Thanksgiving 2014

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 22:08

It’s that time of year again. For those of you celebrating American Thanksgiving: if you’re deep-frying your turkey (otherwise known as “doing it right”), be safe. Hundreds of years ago, boiling oil was a weapon we would have covered. Treat it accordingly. Common tips include making 100% sure that adding the turkey to the oil will not cause an overflow or near-overflow. The turkey has displacement, and on top of that, oil will boil up a bit when the moisture of the turkey skin hits it. So test displacement first to figure out the fill line, then make sure the bird is fully thawed, and pat that bird dry inside and out. Fire Marshals also advise people to set up the fryer away from one’s house, on a flat, non-wooden surface, and have oil-rated fire extinguishers handy as you monitor the frying. Keep your home safe, and don’t forget to take precautions for yourself and your family, too.

Yummly offers some options for your leftovers.

DID offers thanks to all of our readers, and to all American and allied soldiers in uniform. We’ve added a few stories and updates for our international readers today, but won’t be publishing again until Monday.

Categories: News

Leaked FAA Draft Rules Would Curtail Commercial UAV Potential

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 15:18

  • According to the WSJ the FAA plans to introduce rules that will drastically limit practical use of commercial UAVs in the US. For one, drone operators would have to be certified pilots of manned aircraft.

  • Chuck Hagel may not have been the most decisive or effective US defense secretary in history, but there seems to be a broad consensus that he was operating under the the White House thumb: WaPo | NYT | WSJ/Brookings | National Interest/AEI | UT San Diego.

  • Gregory J. Hayes, so far CFO at UTC, has replaced Louis R. Chenevert as the company’s CEO. Bloomberg points to growth challenges ahead.


  • Vietnam and the Philippines are “trying to hold joint patrols and operations in the Spratlys, including search-and-rescue operations”, reports Reuters. Just don’t say out loud that they want to counter China in the South China Sea!

  • Another high profile military officer may be in the sights [SCMP] of Xi Jinping’s ongoing anti-corruption purge. But China is finding that along with its corrupt “tigers”, it is also plagued with “flies”, lower level officials with incredible amounts of wealth [Straits Times] relative to their position.


  • Ukraine is facing the risk of a potential financial meltdown. Anders Aslund at the Peterson Institute for International Economics ponders what that might look like.

US Naval Warfare

  • The US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations recently released his latest Position Report [PDF], another document that shows the Navy’s increasing concern with cyber threats.

  • Today’s video features Bryan Clark, until recently a director at the CNO’s Strategic Actions Group, discussing his recent report at the CSBA think tank on surface warfare:

Categories: News

Procurement Nadir: India’s Murky, Messed-Up Howitzer Competitions

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 20:50
FH-77Bs, Kargil War
(click to view full)

India has marked over $4 billion worth of artillery projects to purchase several hundred new 155mm howitzers. They are intended to supplement India’s dwindling artillery stocks, while out-ranging and out-shooting Pakistan’s self-propelled M109 155mm guns. It seemed simple enough, and in the main towed artillery competition, BAE Systems Bofors had been competing against systems from Israel’s Soltam and Denel of South Africa.

Unfortunately, India’s 2 towed howitzer competitions, and its 2 self-propelled artillery procurements, have mostly served as cautionary tales. If the stakes weren’t so high, they’d qualify as farce. The simple process of buying off-the-shelf artillery guns has become a decades-long affair filled with legal drama, accusations of corruption, and multiple re-starts – but not one new gun. Competitions are declared, and canceled, again and again. One is on its 5th iteration. Another is on its 3rd. Meanwhile, India’s stock of operational 155mm FH77 howitzers has dwindled to around 200, and their last successful artillery buy was over 2 decades ago. Is there an end in sight to any of these competitions? Or a potential winner?

Towed Artillery Competition Saga Soltam Rascal
(click to view full)

US-India Defense and Strategic Affairs reported on the competition in 2004, and noted that this was expected to be one of the first large defense procurement decisions made by India’s new United Progressive Alliance government. The question became whether a decision could be made within that government’s term(s) of office. The answer: no.

The saga is illustrative of the problems India’s defense bureaucracy is creating across all of its artillery competitions, as it attempts to field working products before its existing artillery systems expire.

After multiple firing trials and several years, India’s towed artillery competition managed to end up without any competitors left standing. All 3 competitors (Bofors FH-77 B05, Soltam TIG 2002, Denel G5/2000) failed to meet India’s accuracy specifications in 2003 trials. Which might lead one to question the specifications, but all 3 improved their guns to compete again in 2004. There are reports that Soltam fell out of the race entirely, after a barrel burst during field trials. Then South Africa’s Denel was sidelined in 2004 and eliminated in 2005, after the Indian government accused the manufacturer of corruption in another defense deal.

That created problems on 2 fronts. One front involved a key competitor. Denel’s financial situation was deteriorating, and The Times of India reported that the contract may have been critical to the firm’s financial survival. In hindsight, that concern was valid, but Denel managed to survive the loss. A win certainly would have made a significant difference, and might have allowed Denel to delay its major corporate restructuring and associated strategic rethinking for several years.

Bofors’ FH-77B05:
Winner by default?
(click to view full)

The other problem involved India’s Ministry of Defence. India’s defense procurement establishment has shown an extreme risk-averse behavior and Defense India observes that when a competition devolves to a single-vendor solution, the practice is often to re-tender. Soltam and Denel’s exit left just BAE Bofors, until they, too were eliminated by allegations that Bofors had paid INR 640 million (about $16 million) in bribes, trying to secure the order.

The net effect of corporate blacklists, plus single-vendor prohibitions, is a process that can’t field equipment to India’s military when it’s needed – and sometimes ever. Unfortunately for India’s front-line soldiers, their need for working artillery hasn’t changed.

Indian history suggests that this is a long-standing problem. Bofors Defence AB had been blacklisted by India before, after allegations of kickbacks in a 1987 deal during Rajiv Gandhi’s regime. That scandal had derailed a planned 1,500 gun buy, reducing it to 410 FH-77 B02 howitzers. Fortunately for India, those guns arrived in time to become an iconic feature of the 1999 Kargil War with Pakistan. On the civil front, meanwhile, those accused in the Bofors case eventually had their day in court, and won. Leaving behind a number of questions that India’s political class would rather leave unasked.

In April 2007, India re-opened its towed howitzer competition again, and the passage of time had created a number of changes in its requirements and options. By November 2009, however, it was the same old dynamic. The mere allegation of bribery had frozen the competition again, by leaving just 1 eligible contender. Would the January 2011 re-start fare any better?

Meanwhile, the support contract with Bofors for India’s in-service howitzers expired in 2001. As of January 2009, India’s stock was believed to sit at just 200 operational 155/39 caliber guns. They are accompanied by existing stocks of Soviet-era 130mm artillery, and 105mm light guns. A contract with Soltam (now Elbit) of Israel has converted some of those 130mm howitzers to 155mm/45 caliber weapons, raising the guns’ range from 26 km to 39 km/ 24 miles.

India’s Howitzer Competitions Zuzana SPH
(click to view larger)

The competition for Indian artillery is actually several competitions.

Towed Howitzers

The competition covered in the previous section involves about $1.8 billion for 400 towed 155/52 artillery guns, to be followed by production of up to 1,180 in India.

Current Status: 5th RFP is now out. Winter and summer trials planned in 2010, now in limbo. BAE Bofors’ FH77 was competing against ST Engineering’s FH-2000, but BAE pulled out, and ST Kinetics is barred by a 10-year blacklist. France’s Nexter is now partnered with India’s Larsen & Toubro to offer the purpose built Trajan gun, while Israel’s Elbit Systems is partnered with The Kalyani Group to offer its ATHOS 2052.

On the sidelines, India’s DRDO has used the blockage to start a design project of its own. It also turned out that India’s incompetent Ordnance Factory Board has been sitting on the plans it was given for the 155/39 caliber Bofors FH77B02, as the tech transfer piece of the 1990s buy that allowed licensed production in India. An October 2011 decision directed the OFB to begin manufacturing 155/39 and 155/45 caliber “Dhanush” versions of these guns for trials, for delivery beginning in December 2012, but there have been issues with the guns, and they’re still tied up in testing. India’s government has approved a potential contract for 114, but plans could add another 400.

Farther into the future, some private Indian firms are collaborating with the DRDO’s Armament Research and Development Establishment in Pune to design a 155 mm/52-caliber Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) with a 50 km strike range by 2016. Maybe they can field a gun with substantially longer range than existing global offerings. Maybe they can’t. Maybe the unfulfilled chase will end up derailing the purchase of actual working weapons, which is the usual pattern in India.

Ultra-Light Howitzers

A 2nd competition involves about $700 million for the ultra-light 155/39 howitzer competition, covering about 145 pieces. These would be portable, towed guns.

Current status: India’s government may be doing a government-to-government deal, as an emergency end-run to buy BAE’s M777, and bolster its dwindling artillery.

Singapore’s Pegasus was picked in 2009, but ST Kinetics’ 10-year blacklisting has derailed them, pending a legal fight. The reasons for the M777’s holdup are a combination of the Indian bureaucracy’s inability to conduct the required trials in over 2 years since the DSCA request, reports that legal advisors were worried about a decision in the ST Kinetics’ legal case entangling any M777 buy, and unwillingness to pay the $4.48 million per gun cost for a unique product with lots of titanium in it.

In May 2012, India’s MoD was reportedly cleared to negotiation an M777 contract worth around $550 million. As of November 2014, they haven’t managed to get anything done. Meanwhile, India has been pushed off high-altitude territory on the Chinese border, where air-transportable M777 guns would have strengthened its position considerably.

Self-Propelled Tracked Howitzers

A 3rd competition would spend about $800 million for about 100 155mm self-propelled tracked guns. The BHIM (Denel G-6 gun on Arjun tank chassis) winner was terminated in 2006, when Denel was barred following a corruption case. Partner Bharat Earth Movers was the big loser. Another RFP in 2007 failed, as all of the firms with products to offer were barred from India.

Current contenders include Samsung-Techwin’s K-9 Thunder, in partnership with India’s Larsen & Toubro. A Russian tie-up with India’s state-run Ordnance Factory Board offers a modified 155mm/52 caliber MSTA-S system on a T72 main battle tank chassis.

Current status: After a period of limbo, India gave indications that some kind of process was underway in 2013, with 3 Indian firms participating. In the mean time, India has ordered 40 locally-designed Catapault Mk.IIs, which mount a Russian 130mm gun on an Arjun tank chassis. They’ll replace aging Catapult Mk.Is, which mount the same gun on license-built Vijayanta (T-72) chassis, but neither system can match the range of a 155mm gun.

As a point of comparison, India’s rival Pakistan began its own process in 2005, and bought 115 tracked M109A5 155mm self-propelled howitzers from the USA at a very cheap price. The M109s have greater range than the Catapults, and the last one was delivered to Pakistan in 2010.

Self-Propelled Wheeled Howitzers (Mobile Gun System)

A 4th competition involves about $900 million – $1 billion for 180 self-propelled wheeled guns.

Current status: Canceled November 2011. RFP responses were reported to pit Slovakia’s 155/45 Zuzana system against Germany’s Rheinmetall and their RWG-52 155/52 system, which uses the PzH-2000 turret. Samsung Technwin’s entry, which is no longer listed in their product line, was eliminated from competition in 2009.

Indian firm Ashok Leyland has partnered with France’s Nexter, and will offer the Caesar 155/52 caliber artillery system mounted on their Super Stallion 6×6 truck.

Contracts and Key Events 2013 – 2014

FARP modernization plan overview; Conditional order for 114 guns from the geniuses at OFB; 40 Catapult Mk.II SPHs; DAC clears mounted gun program; Major shortages in artillery charges & fuses; Denel & IMI Blacklistings rolled back for lack of evidence; Elbit signs Indian joint venture; JV for Nexter. M777: Chinook pick-up
(click to view full)

Nov 23/14: India’s Defence Acquisition Council, with new defense minister Manohar Parrikar, clears the INR 157 billion (about $2.56 billion) proposal to buy 814 mounted 155mm artillery guns. A fresh RFP will be issued, with “Buy and Make India” terms that allow foreign partnerships, but force the systems to be manufactured in India. Larsen & Toubro, TATA, and Bharat Forge are expected to bid.

At the same time, the DAC approved an INR 71.6 billion integrated Air Command and Control System, but left programs for 56 light aerial transports and 106 basic-intermediate trainer turboprops in limbo. Note that programs approved by the DAC still need top-level approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security, which includes the Prime Minister. Sources: NDTV, “A Hurdle for ‘Make in India’ Push in Defence: Why Air Force Plane Deal Was Put on Hold” | dna India, “Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar clears proposal to acquire 814 artillery guns for Rs 15,750 crore” | Times of India, “Govt clears proposal to acquire 814 artillery guns for Rs 15,570 crore”.

Nov 18/14: IMI. India quietly lifts a ban on Israel Military Industries (q.v. Nov 12/09, July 7/10, March 5/12), in the face of a situation where its state-owned Ordnance Factory Board is manifestly failing to deliver key fuses, precision-guided shells, and artillery firing charges. The result is a critical set of shortages (q.v. Sept 15/14). IMI offers a full line of shells and charges, plus the GMM 120 laser/GPS-guided 120mm mortar shell, and tank design and manufacturing experience from its Merkava family.

The ban is actually lifted on the grounds that India’s CBI hasn’t substantiated its charges that IMI bribed OFB officials, which may touch off some interesting conversations with other blacklisted firms like Singapore’s ST Kinetics (q.v. March 5/12). Sources: Defense News, “India Removes IMI From Blacklist”.

Sept 15/14: Update. After a 5th set of towed howitzer trials, featuring Nexter’s Trajan and Elbit’s ATHOS 2052, India’s MoD is readying its report. That report will supposedly arrive in the Ministry of Defence by the end of 2014. Domestically, license-built “Dhanush” variants of Bofors’ FH77B (q.v. April 29/13) are conducting their own final round of trials, following a burst barrel in summer 2013. Meanwhile:

“The [Army’s Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan] envisages inducting a perplexing mix of 1,580 TGS, 814 mounted platforms and the outright purchase of 145 BAE Systems M777 155 mm/39-caliber ultra-light howitzers; that too is mired in unnecessary red tape and confusion. Also included is the outright purchase of 100 SPT howitzers and 180 self-propelled wheeled howitzers with another 120 to be built locally under a technology transfer agreement. The critical howitzer shortage and obsolescence of existing platforms is possibly the worst of the Army’s innumerable deficiencies…. Proposals are also afoot to privatise ordnance manufacture to meet shortages. The Army faces a shortfall of some 50,000 155 mm precision-guided munitions rounds, more than 21,200 bi-modular charge systems, and around one million electronic fuses which the OFB is incapable of fulfilling.”

Lovely. Sources: The Hindu, “Feeble fire in the big guns”.

Aug 29/14: SPH. India’s high-level Defence Acquisition Council clears an INR 8.2 billion (about $137 million) purchase of 40 Catapult Mk.II tracked artillery systems from DRDO’s Combat Vehicle Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) in Avadhi. The new system uses the same aging, short-range Russian D-30 130mm guns as the 1980s-era Catapult Mk.I, but it substitutes an indigenous Arjun tank chassis for a license-built “Vijayanta” (modified Vickers Mk.1) chassis. The result is a tracked, self-propelled system with good mobility and much improved access to spares and maintenance, but a firing range of just 24 km.

Clearance must still come from the CCS, but this purchase is effectively done. An Indian officer points out that this works out to $3.75 million per system for a small handful of units, which can’t reach critical high-altitude contested areas like Kashmir or the Chinese border. Meanwhile, helicopter-transportable M777 155mm guns that can fire GPS-guided shells 40km remain in limbo, because India is balking at a price of $4.48 million per gun. That works out to about $650 million for the desired 145, or $179 million as an equivalent emergency buy of 40.

As an even more invidious comparison, neighboring Pakistan bought 115 used M109A5 self-propelled 155mm howitzers from the USA in 2005 – and paid just $56 million. They outrange the Catapults, of course, and all of them were fielded by 2010. To add injury to insult, Pakistan is also working with China’s North Industries Corp. to upgrade 400 of its own D-30 towed guns to 155mm caliber. Sources: Defense News, “Indian Analysts Rap Plan To Buy Homemade 130mm Artillery Gun”.

SPH: 40 Catapult Mk.II

Aug 19/14: Denel. The new BJP government quietly lifts its 9-year ban on Denel in an Aug 12/14 letter, judging that India’s CBI had failed to substantiate corruption charges stemming from the NTW-20 anti-material rifle competition. Those charges cancelled the NTW-20 contract, led to Indian design of the suspiciously similar Vidhwansak anti-materiel rifle, and sank the 155mm BHIM (G-6 gun on Arjun chassis) self-propelled howitzer contract in 2005.

The G-6 is an outstanding 155mm gun, and fielded options could become strong competitors in the towed competition (if that is re-opened), or the wheeled Mobile Gun System requirement. The Catapult Mk.II’s small production run could also insert the G-6 back into the self-propelled howitzer competition, re-launching BHIM as as Catapult Mk.III. Sources: South Africa’s defenseWeb, “Huge Indian market to become available to Denel as blacklisting resolves” | South Africa’s Engineering News, “India ends ban on Denel” | Defense World, “India Clears Denel Of Corruption Charges, De-Blacklists Company”.

Feb 25/14: M777. With elections looming, India’s Ministry of Defence clears a whole series of defense projects: upgrades for 37 airbases, modernization of 5 ordnance depots, 4,000 hand-held thermal imagers for soldiers, 5,000 thermal imaging sights for tanks and infantry combat vehicles, 44,000 light-machine guns, 702 light armoured multi-purpose vehicles, and 250 RAFAEL Spice IIR/GPS guided smart bombs. The M777 isn’t among them:

“The M-777 howitzer contract, which is a direct government-to-government deal under the US foreign military sales programme, has been hanging fire since January 2010. Due to the long delay, the American Defence Security Cooperation Agency has hiked the cost of the M-777 deal from the earlier $ 647 million to $885 million now. The Army wants these 155mm/39-calibre howitzers since they can be swiftly deployed in high-altitude areas in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh by helicopters and aircraft to counter China.”

China has been seizing Indian territory again in this high-altitude region, but apparently that isn’t urgent enough to prompt action. Thermal imagers and light machine guns are useful, but they aren’t going to change the situation anywhere. Sources: Times of India, “Decision on four key defence deals put off”.

February 2014: MGS. Indian truck firm Ashok Leyland, whose trucks have a huge presence in the Indian military, announces a number of new vehicles for their product line. these include a brand-new 2.5t “Garuda” 4×4, a new Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV), and variants of the new Super Stallion heavy truck. The latter include a 10×10 configuration, an 8×8 configuration that will be integrated with Saab’s BAMSE missile system for India’s SR-SAM air defense competition, and a partnership with France’s Nexter to mount the Caesar 155mm artillery system on its 6×6 Super Stallion truck.

Larsen & Toubro is Nexter’s other Indian partner, and an example of their offering is later unveiled at DefExpo 2014 in June. Sources: Ahok Leyland, “Ashok Leyland unveils a two-pronged strategy for Defence” | The Hindu Business Line, “Nexter Systems, L&T and Ashok Leyland to develop artillery system”.

Feb 12/14: Towed. Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) of India displays its 155/45mm Dhanush towed howitzer at India’s Defexpo 2014. They’ve manufactured 6 prototypes so far, and the most recent prototype includes several changes.

OFB is aiming to improve range over the base FH77 from 27 km – 38 km, and the added a modern computerized fire control system. Mechanical redesigns have had to include the gun cradle, muzzle brake, and of course the higher-caliber gun. According to the presenter, they’re hoping to reach the approval stage in India within 6-8 months, and to triple manufacturing capacity to 3 guns/ month. Cold weather and desert testing has been conducted (+45C to -15C), and Dhanush will be sent to Sikkim firing range for another round of trial tests to check its accuracy and range. Sources: Army Recognition, “OFP Dhanush 155mm howitzer at Defexpo 2014″.

Aug 7/13: M777. The US DSCA publishes [PDF] an official follow-on export request from India for 145 M777 guns, under modified terms compared to the Jan 26/10 request, which is superseded by this one.

The Indian guns will use the same Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems (LINAPS) equipment as Canada’s M777s, and the estimated cost for the guns plus warranty, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, training, and other US government and contractor support has risen from $647 – $885 million.

The other item that has changed is the acknowledgement of a 30% industrial offsets contract, in conformance to India’s official Defense Procurement Procedure (DPP). That has to be part of a negotiated contract, which can be signed within 30 days of this notice.

The principal contractors haven’t changed: BAE of Hattiesburg, MS; Watervliet Arsenal of Watervliet, NY; Seiler Instrument Company of St Louis, MO; Triumph Actuation Systems of Bloomfield, CT; Taylor Devices of North Tonawanda, NY; Hutchinson Industries of Trenton, NJ; and Selex in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. Likewise, implementation of this proposed sale will still require annual trips to India involving up to 8 U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, training, and in-country trials, over a period of approximately 2 years.

DSCA: M777 Request, Revised

Aug 3/13: M777. Negotiations are still underway in India. So what’s new? According to the Business Standard, the expected price is now INR 40 billion due to the falling rupee, and the industrial offsets issue is almost resolved. If India can manage to finalize the sale, the Mountain Strike Corps that they announced in July 2013 would receive the 145 guns.

The key seems to be offsets. The initial DSCA announcement (q.v. Jan 26/10) didn’t include offsets, but BAE sees the potential to equip artillery regiments in up to 7 more Indian corps, given deployment patterns and India’s mountainous borders. As such, they’ve accepted a standard 30% offset liability of about $195 million. About $58.5 million can be discharged by transferring technology, as India badly needs to field bi-modular charge systems (BMCS) for artillery. If they hadn’t blacklisted Denel and Israel Military Industries, they’d have it already. The rest will reportedly be discharged by manufacturing some components in India, including work for its “future artillery gun” and “future naval gun” programs.

India’s challenge is to break with its general practice and place a timely order. BAE’s Mississippi plant is being kept active in anticipation of an Indian order, but if India dithers much, the price will rise sharply to pay production line restart costs. On the other hand, early execution could see India field the new gun by early 2014. India’s Business Standard.

June 25/13: SPH. A draft document [PDF] available on the Indian Army’s website confirms renewed activity to procure vehicle-mounted 155mm / 52 calibre systems. The Request for Information is still labeled as a draft, though it stipulates answers by September 1st, which leaves little time for both the Army to finalize it then vendors to send their replies. The RFI is explicitly addressed exclusively to Indian firms. However, joint ventures with foreign partners seem acceptable. Among the technical questions, the Army inquires whether the vendors’ sighting system will use a GPS-based inertial navigation system.

May 6/13: SPH. A Parliamentary reply indicates that India is pursuing another avenue for new self-propelled guns, in the wake of the 2007 RFP’s failure:

“A case for procurement of Qty.100 x 155mm/52 Calibre Tracked (self-propelled) Guns is in progress wherein three Indian vendors, including two private sector companies, have been selected for trials of their equipment. The recent amendments to the DPP-2011 which have been accepted by the Defence Acquisition Council aim to give higher preference to indigenous capacity in the Defence Sector.”

It will be interesting to see which companies are involved, and what they’re offering. Bharat Forge’s partnership with Elbit (q.v. Feb 7/13 entry) would allow them to offer the Rascal system, for instance.

April 29/13: 114 from OFB. Minister of state for Defence Shri Jitendra Singh confirms the contract details with India’s Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), who discovered that they had been sitting on blueprints to license-produce the 155/39 FH77 howitzer for over 20 years (vid. Oct 15/11), even as OFB personnel destroyed previous competitions by soliciting bribes.

OFB have carried out several firings of their derivative 155mm x 45 calibre gun, but it hasn’t been submitted for user testing yet, and hasn’t received production clearance. Once they get that clearance, there’s a contract for 114 towed guns. The first 6 will be delivered within 8 months of clearance, and another 6 over the next 4 months. Year 2 will produce 36 guns, and the last 60 will be manufactured in year 3. Indian government.

OFB contract for 114 license-built FH77/45s

April 29/13: What, me worry? Defense Minister AK Antony offers the usual non-response to a Parliamentary question that asks about the delays in getting India’s Army new artillery. We’ll save you the verbiage. Summary: “Nothing’s happening, and we’re not doing much about it, either.”

Feb 7/13: Elbit/Bharat JV. Israel’s Elbit Systems is forming a joint venture with the Kalyani Group’s Bharat Forge, to market advanced artillery and mortar systems in India.

Elbit products in this field include their Athos towed and Atmos wheeled self-propelled artillery, and their 120mm vehicle-mounted Cardom mortar. They also upgrade Soviet caliber artillery systems. Defense Update | Economic Times.

Feb 6/13: M777, FH-77. India Strategic quotes Chief of the Army Staff Gen Bikram Singh as saying that “whatever the reasons earlier [for delaying the M777 purchase], there would be no delay now.” India has held its firing trials, asked for some changes, and verified that BAE has made them. The Maintainability Evaluation is done, and negotiations are now focused on the price of 145 of the 155mm/ 39 caliber guns, plus a support package.

India’s 2004 buy of counter-fire artillery radars in 2004 reportedly omitted support considerations, and they don’t want to have to go through that problem again.

On another front, trials of the state-run OFB’s license-built Bofors FH-77Bs are now slated for the summer of 2013. The original guns and plans are 155 mm/ 39 caliber, but OFB’s version will be 155/45 caliber instead. Many standard towed 155mm guns these days are 155/52 caliber or more, and if India’s towed guns solicitation ever goes ahead, it will probably be to that specification. India Strategic writes:

“Senior officers of the Army are confident that the acquisition of M-777 will not go beyond 2013, and if there is a delay, it would not be beyond the coming fiscal year April 2013-March 2014. That is, a delay of not more than three months beyond 2013.”

2011 – 2012

M777 buy cleared; Wheeled tender canceled; 5th towed RFP – but not for BAE; DRDO launches indigenous 155mm development; OFB had India’s solution the whole time!?! US M777A2
fires Excalibur
(click to view full)

May 16/12: License-build. A written reply by Minister of State for Defence Dr MM Pallam Rajuin sets out India’s initial plans to license-build FH-77B02 155mm guns for initial trials, and confirms that India has a standing license agreement with M/s AB Bofors to produce the FH-77B02 155/39 caliber gun and its ammunition. If trials go well, full-scale production may begin.

Meanwhile, India’s state-owned Ordnance Factory Board will produce 2 FH77 155mm /39 caliber prototypes by December 2012. This is the same gun India is currently using. By June 2013, the OFB will also produce 2 upgraded FH77 155/45 caliber guns, with electronic and mechanical upgrades, and apply the same upgrades to 1 existing 155/39 gun. India’s MoD says that the Technology Transfer Agreement allows those changes. India MoD.

May 11/12: M777 approved. CNN-IBN reports that India’s MoD has cleared a Rs 3000 crore deal to buy 145 of BAE’s M777 ultra-light 155mm howitzers, as a government-to-government deal through US Foreign Military Sale channels.

They’re careful to note that this isn’t a contract yet, which may explain the absence of any announcement from BAE. At current conversion rates, the deal would be worth around $557 million, but exchange rates may change when and if negotiations produce an actual contract. CNN-IBN | India Defence.

March 5/12: 10-Year Blacklist. India’s MoD debars Singapore’s ST Kinetics, Israel Military Industries Ltd., Rheinmetall Air Defence, Corporation Defence Russia (CDR), and Indian firms TS Kisan & Co. Pvt. Ltd. and RK Machine Tools Ltd. The firms are prohibited “from further business dealings with the Ordnance Factory Board, Department of Defence Production, MoD, for a period of ten years.”

India’s MoD says that the debarments took place based on CBI evidence re: former Director General of Ordnance Factories Shri Sudipto Ghosh’s bribery case, and after the firms were issued notice to show cause. IMI and Rheinmetall have made no public comment yet, but ST Kinetics is angry, and says more or less that India’s MoD is lying:

“Since 2009, we have offered the authorities full cooperation and assistance as appropriate to clear our name. We had even offered on several occasions to open our account books for inspection by the Indian authorities but these offers were never taken up by them… To seek clarification on the alleged blacklisting and to protest against the arbitrary suspension of ST Kinetics’ defence business activities, we have filed three petitions with the Delhi High Court. The petitions were accepted by the Delhi High Court in March 2011. In all the court hearings and its affidavits filed, the MoD repeatedly stated that ST Kinetics is not blacklisted, and that the “putting on hold” of ST Kinetics’ defence business activities is but an interim arrangement only.

With this latest ruling by the MoD, we will seek legal advice and we intend to vigorously take appropriate actions to clear our name and defend our reputation… As a responsible public listed company, we abide by all laws and regulations stipulated by the local government and we engage fully in good corporate governance practices.”

MoD blacklists – but on what grounds?

January 2012: India Strategic sums things up, by quoting Chief of Army Staff Gen VK Singh:

“The procurement game is a version of snakes and ladders where there is no ladder but only snakes, and if the snakes bite you somewhere, the whole thing comes back to zero,” he said adding that he was hopeful of some guns to be cleared for acquisition shortly. It was 25 years ago that the Indian Army had acquired Bofors guns from Sweden… The gun had come with designs for production in India, with the much-needed Transfer of Technology, but its production was never undertaken by the designated public sector body, the Ordnance Factory Board… Bofors has since been sold several times to US and British companies. There has also been a proposal to acquire 145 ultra light howitzers M777 from the BAE Systems’s US arm. But it is also stuck somewhere.”

As the Hindustan Times notes, at least 3 of the few foreign vendors that make artillery systems are on the MoD’s blacklist, over allegations that don’t seem to get resolved in any timely way. This is true, but Israel’s IMI makes rocket artillery and shell charges. Only Singapore’s ST Kinetics and Germany’s Rheinmetall would matter for these competitions, though it’s worth noting that their absence has already derailed 2 artillery programs. The newspaper also cites Brig. Gurmeet Kanwal (ret.) of The Centre for Land Warfare Studies think tank, as one voice beginning to make the argument that blacklisting is a failure, and arguing that other approaches are needed.

Dec 12/11: Why so late? A Parliamentary question about India’s howitzer plans gets an answer from the defence minister, which is informative but not encouraging. Basically, India’s bureaucracy has had almost 2 years to get its act together on trials, and has not:

“Ultra Light Howitzer is amongst the equipment that is included in the Artillery Profile 2027 prepared by the Artillery Directorate of Army, The procurement on Single Vendor basis from M/s ST Kinetics, Singapore is sub-judice [DID: a legal case]. The option of procuring the equipment through US Government (FMS route) is also being pursued.

The field evaluation of Ultra Light Howitzer comprises three parts viz. user trials, DGQA trials and Maintainability trials. Out of these, only user trials of the gun proposed to be procured through US Government have been completed. The performance of the gun can be ascertained only after evaluation of all three trial reports.

The field evaluation trial report of the guns was a confidential document. Four pages of draft field trial report were received in an anonymous envelope by the Army Hqrs. An enquiry in the matter is underway. Detailed instructions exist about security of classified documents. Aberrations, if any, are dealt with as per the relevant rules.”

One wonders what the over/under odds would be in Vegas, on the subject of India actually having some new artillery pieces by 2027.

Nov 1/11: Wheeled cancellation. India’s MoD cancels the tender to purchase 180 wheeled 155/52mm howitzers, after complaints were made to Defence Minister A.K. Antony that a Zusana gun burst during 2010 trials last year. While Rheinmetall and Konstrukta were shortlisted after technical evaluations (Samsung was not), an MoD committee later concluded that the guns on offer were not in service anywhere, and as such were only prototypes. Which can happen, if your requirements force that. Indian Defence | Defense News.

Wheeled SPH canceled

Oct 15/11: You had WHAT all this time? The Times of India reports that India’s Ordnance Factory Board, whose leadership has been involved in bribery scandals that have derailed some of India’s attempted artillery buys (vid. July 7/10 entry), has been sitting on licensed design documents for India’s Bofors FH77 155mm gun. In other words, they had the full plans thanks to technology transfer and licensing agreements, but didn’t mention this, and didn’t produce the guns. Incompetent is the nicest adjective that can be used for this conduct.

“A senior official, not very amused at the turn of events, told TOI that they have now asked OFB to manufacture six prototypes of the Bofors artillery guns within the next 18 months. “If we had indigenous capability, then all these years of effort to buy foreign guns and such crippling shortage in capabilities wouldn’t have been there,” he said. A senior military source said the OFB has now been asked to manufacture two guns of the 155/39 mm caliber, the original make of the Bofors gun bought in the 80s. Two others would be of the same caliber but upgraded with new capabilities. The OFB has also been asked to make two guns of 155/45 mm caliber. All the six guns would be towed guns, sources said. Once they are ready, the Army would put them through extensive field trials and once cleared, OFB could then resort to mass production, one of the officials said.”

India OFB wins incompetence prize

June 29/11: DRDO DIY. India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has started developing an indigenous 155mm 52 caliber howitzer for the armed forces, with its Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE) in Pune as the lead agency. DNA India.

May 18/11: M777. In “India’s consolation prize to US,” The Times of India reports that India is close to an M777 buy, pursued as government-to-government Foreign Military Sale. The Times of India reports that:

“…the Army has dispatched a team to the US to carry out quality assurance assessments of maintenance and other technical specifications of M777… Once the team returns, “it wouldn’t take much time to conclude the deal”, sources said, adding that a June-end deadline was being looked at. He also hinted that this order too could go up, now that the government is expected to approve Army’s recommendation to raise a dedicated mountain strike corps for China border.”

April 29/11: BAE out. BAE Systems opts out of India’s Jan 23/11 tender for 1,580 towed artillery guns. They seem to have tired of the headaches, and will settle for the limited M777 ultralight howitzer procurement conducted outside of India’s normal processes. Guy Douglas:

“While we are certain that the FH-77B05 is the most capable 52 calibre towed gun available, and it was specifically designed for and demonstrated to meet the Indian Army… the company will not submit a proposal… We found that the new RFP includes technical and performance relaxations that allow less capable weapon systems to enter the competition. This significantly reduces the competitive advantage FH-77B05 derives from its greater capability… the decision not to bid is a commercial one based on the high investment costs required to participate in a complex artillery competition of this nature, where the win probability has been reduced…”

The question is whether this will leave India facing a single-vendor situation again, which will force them to cancel a 5th time. The RFP was not sent to Singapore’s ST Kinetics, but it did go to firms in France, the US, Israel and the Czech Republic. The question is who will respond. See StratPost.

Jan 23/11: (5th) Towed RFP. After 4 failed attempts in the last 25 years, and no new gun inducted since the mid-1980s, the Army has issued a fresh global tender for over 400 towed artillery howitzers. PTI reports that the latest RFP was issued in the 3rd week of January, for over 400 guns from foreign vendors, and local production of over 1,000 guns in India.

The last tender was canceled after Singapore Technologies was blacklisted by the Defence Ministry, and BAE Systems was the only company left. PTI adds that “it is not yet clear as which firms other than BAE Systems have received the RFP this time,” especially given that key competitors like Denel are also on Indian blacklists. Meanwhile, a government-to-government effort to circumvent these roadblocks and buy 145 M777 ultra-lightweight howitzers “for use in mountainous regions” is “in an advanced stage of negotiations.” India Defence (PTI) | Deccan Herald | Silicon India || defpro on the Denel G6’s woes | Hindustan Times on the Bofors scandal’s long echo.

5th Towed Howitzer RFP

2009 – 2010

3rd time for wheeled howitzer RFP; Towed competition canceled for 4th time; Pegasus wins ultralight competition – then blacklisted; US DSCA request for BAE’s M777. Bofors Archer System
(click to view full)

Sept 10/10: SPH. The Indian defense ministry is expected to issue its 3rd wheeled howitzer RFP, for 140 wheeled guns, by the end of September. BAE’s Archer apparently doesn’t fit the RFP criteria, which implies requirements that aren’t in line with global norms for the class. France’s Caesar is also unmentioned in this competition, leaving just Rheinmetall’s RWG-52 and Slovakia’s Zuzana as known contenders. Aviation Week.

July 27/10: Canceled again. India cancels towed artillery field trials, as it suspends its artillery competition yet again. The Bofors FH77B05, now owned by BAE Land Systems, and STK of Singapore’s IFH 2000 were the only 2 guns in the competition for the 155mm/52calibre howitzers. STK has been blacklisted due to its involvement in the state-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) scandal, leaving just one competitor. India’s government, burned by the Bofors allegations, then canceled the competition.

The Defence Ministry must now decide what to do next. A government-to-government Foreign Military Sale from the USa is one of the possibilities, in lieu of re-bidding the contract yet again. An Indian Army delegation reportedly visited the USA in January 2010, and the US government reportedly proposed 2 units for field trials and requested 84 rounds of Indian ammunition for that purpose. A draft Letter of Request is reportedly winding its way through India’s the Ministry of Defense to that end. AGE | India Defence Online | StratPost.

Towed cancellation #4

July 7/10: Blacklists, again. India’s CBI has asked the Defence Ministry to blacklist 6 firms for their alleged involvement in the Ordnance Factory Board graft scandal: Cooperation Defence in Russia, Singapore Technologies Kinetics (ST Kinetics), Israel Military Industries Ltd (IMI), Rheinmetall Air Defence (RAD) in Zurich, T S Kisan and companies Pvt Ltd in New Delhi, and R K Machines Tools Ltd in Ludhiana. If the Defence Ministry agrees, it would likely derail the self-propelled howitzer competition, where a different division of Rheinmetall is one of 2 finalists.

The move follows a 2,700-page chargesheet in a special CBI court against former Director General of Ordnance factory Board, Sudipta Ghosh and 11 others. The CBI alleges that Ghosh had entered into criminal conspiracy with other accused personnel, with the object of demanding and obtaining huge bribes in return for supply orders placed by the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). Indian Express.

March 15/10: Still stalled. Indian Defence Minister Shri AK Antony responds to Shri Asaduddin Owaisi and others in Parliament:

“In March, 2008, the Government had issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for procurement of towed guns. The name of one of the firms participating in the said procurement case figured among the names of seven firms in the FIR filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in May, 2009 in respect of various supply orders placed by Ordnance Factory Board. The procurement / acquisition cases in pipeline with any of the firms figuring in the said FIR were put on hold until further orders. Later, it was decided that multi-vendor procurement cases, presently held up at various stages of technical evaluation / trials, may be progressed further as per Defence Procurement Procedure – 2008. However, no tender will be awarded to the companies mentioned in the FIR unless CBI investigation clears them totally.

No towed guns / howitzers have been procured during the last three years. The proposals presently being processed include production of towed guns by Ordnance Factory Board under transfer of technology from the selected vendor. The procurement proceeds as per the provisions of the Defence Procurement Procedure 2008. The induction of the equipment, as and when it takes place, will enhance the firepower of the Indian Artillery.”

Feb 15/10: Towed. The Wall Street Journal reports that BAE Systems Ltd. expects to start trials in India for its FH77 B05 towed howitzer by early March. That’s a month or so behind the original February 2010 expectation for winter trials. The FH77 B05 would be manufactured and marketed in India by BAE’s joint venture with Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.

BAE also reportedly expects to start trials for the M777 ultra-light howitzer in India by the end of 2010. Speaking at DefExpo 2010 in New Delhi, BAE Systems India (Services) Pvt. Ltd. VP and General Manager Mark Simpkins reportedly said that the initial M77 order “is likely to be for 145 units, which could increase to 1,000 units in the future.”

Feb 15/10: SPH. As part of its DefExpo 2010 push, Rheinmetall Defence discusses its RWG-52 and RTG-52 candidates for India’s self-propelled programs.

Jan 28/10: M777. Indian sources tell DID that that the M777 request could also become an attempt to sidestep India’s paralyzing procurement bureaucracy. Single-vendor competitions are problematic when following India’s Defence Procurement Procedures (DPP), but can reportedly be used for government-to-government foreign military sales deals, per Section 71 of the DPP 2008:

“There may be occasions when procurements would have to be done from friendly foreign countries which may be necessitated due to geo-strategic advantages that are likely to accrue to our country. Such procurements would not classically follow the Standard Procurement Procedure and the Standard Contract Document but would be based on mutually agreed provisions by the Governments of both the countries.”

While ST Engineering’s Pegasus is still an ultra-light howitzer contender, the question is whether the legal steps required to make that deal would take too long – even though nothing has been proven concerning the firm’s conduct in India.

Jan 26/10: M777 request. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] India’s formal request to buy 145 M777 155mm Light-Weight Towed Howitzers with Laser Inertial Artillery Pointing Systems (LINAPS), warranties, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, publications and technical documentation, maintenance, personnel training and training equipment, and U.S. Government and contractor technical assistance and support.

The estimated cost is $647 million, but a DSCA announcement is not a contract. In this case, it may not even be an intended sale. DSCA requests can be issued as a way of ensuring that the way is clear for a contract, if a competition continues, and if that vendor requiring American arms export approvals turns out to be the winner.

If the 9,700 pound/ 4,400 kg, part-titanium M777 should bypass the competition altogether, or win a re-started competition against the likes of ST Kinetics’ Pegasus semi-mobile lightweight howitzer, the principal contractors will be BAE of Hattiesburg, MS; Watervliet Arsenal of Watervliet, NY; Seiler Instrument Company of St Louis, MO; Triumph Actuation Systems of Bloomfield, CT; Taylor Devices of North Tonawanda, NY; Hutchinson Industries of Trenton, NJ; and Selex in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.

Uncharacteristically for India, the DSCA says that there are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale – another sign that India’s DPP may be side-stepped. Implementation of this proposed sale will require annual trips to India involving up to 8 U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, training, and in-country trials, over a period of approximately 2 years.

US DSCA: M777 request

Jan 22/10: ST Kinetics. Singapore’s ST Kinetics announces that it is keen to set up a manufacturing base in India, if it wins some of the 5 contracts it has bid for. The tenders comprise 2 artillery gun projects (ultra-light and towed howitzers), a light strike vehicle for the army, and 2 carbine rifle projects for internal security forces.

Jan 15/10: ST Kinetics speaks. Singapore’s ST Kinetics issues a release touting “the longest in-service 155 mm 52 Calibre towed Howitzer, the FH 2000,” which is expected to enter field trials in February 2010. It also says that:

“The company is hopeful that the stalled [Indian] trial of the 155 mm calibre 39 Pegasus Lightweight Howitzer (LWH) will also recommence very shortly… ST Kinetics plans to address India’s strategic needs and is fielding tailored solutions to meet the requirements of the modernisation programmes of the armed forces. These include the iFH2000 155mm 52 Calibre Howitzer for the Towed Gun requirement and the Pegasus 155mm 39 Calibre Lightweight Howitzer for the Ultra Lightweight Howitzer program. ST Kinetics has also offered the SAR 21 Carbine with its proven reliability and performance.

Speaking at the Press Conference, Brig Gen Patrick Choy, Chief Marketing Officer, said “…The company is respected for its integrity, transparency and high standards of corporate governance. [The Pegasus 155mm / 39 howitzer]… is already in India in Gwalior and is awaiting a call to trials.”

SLWH Pegasus

Nov 23/09: Blacklistings. India’s MoD publicly confirms the blacklisting and terms for all 7 firms mentioned in the Nov 12/09 Defense News report:

“In regard to the tender cases of procurement/execution, where the tender process has already been started and where the companies mentioned in the FIR are figuring, each case should be dealt as per the tender conditions, keeping in view of the FIR in question. No tender should be awarded to the companies mentioned in the FIR unless the CBI investigation clears them totally.”

Nov 12/09: Frozen again. Defense News reports that India’s artillery competition is frozen yet again. Singapore Technologies has been disqualified, and under India’s rules, competitions can’t proceed with just one qualified vendor.

In June 2009, corruption charges filed against the former director-general of India’s Ordnance Factory Board placed 7 firms on the “tainted” list, blacklisting them from defense contracts: Singapore Technologies, Israel’s IMI, Poland’s BVT, Singapore’s Media Architects, and India’s HYT Engg, T.S. Kishan and R.K. Machine Tools. The latest Indian MoD advisory will not allow them to participate in defense procurements, pending a full Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) report.

Towed competition frozen, 7 firms blacklisted

Oct 7/09: Bofors. Indian Express reports that:

“The government may have decided to let Ottavio Quattrocchi off the hook, but the Bofors ghost continues to haunt the armed forces, with several key artillery modernisation programmes put in the limbo due to wrongdoing charges levelled against three major international manufacturers.”

March 12/09: Pegasus picked. The Singapore Straits Times reports that India has picked ST Kinetics’ “Pegasus” semi-mobile light howitzer for its $1 billion, 145-gun ultralight howitzer competition. At 5,000 kg/ 11,000 pounds, the 155mm/39 caliber Pegasus SLWH is not quite as light as BAE Systems’ M777. What it does have, is an unusual feature that allows the towed gun to be moved limited distances, at up to 12 km/h, under its own power. This is a very useful feature when trying to sidestep return fire cued by artillery tracking radars.

Unlike the 155/52 caliber competition for larger and heavier howitzers, the “ultralight” competition reportedly contains no clauses requiring manufacture in India.

Singapore was also sent an RFP for the 155/52 caliber competition, which the Straits-Times reports could involve up to 400 foreign-made and 1,180 domestically-produced howitzers. ST Kinetics’s other products include the 155/52 FH2000 towed field howitzer, and the Primus 155/39 caliber 28.5-ton tracked self-propelled howitzer. Singapore Straits-Times.

Towed guns: Singapore’s Pegasus picked

Jan 14/09: An anonymous Army official tells Indian reporters that:

“The procurement process for the towed and light howitzer is proceeding as planned. Bids have been received from all the vendors and trials of the guns are planned in February or March [of 2009]… The trials for self-propelled howitzers are planned in May-June [2009].”

According to the IANS report, the initial contract involves 180 guns, but the eventual contract is to include up to 400 guns, thanks to transfer of technology to build the howitzers in India. Of these, 140 will be light howitzers that will be spread over 7 regiments. They will still be 155/52 caliber, just lighter thanks to advances in metallurgy and design. The remaining 260 guns will be towed and self-propelled variants. IANS via India Defence | Hindustan Times.

2007 and Earlier

Denel’s blacklisting kills tracked Bhim SPH; 2nd wheeled & tracked howitzer RFPs issued. G6 Base, Bleeding?

April 4/07: SPH Re-tender. The Calcutta Telegraph reports that India has reopened its artillery competitions entirely, refloating 2 global RFPs to 12 makers of 155mm/52 calibre self-propelled guns. The Indian Army reportedly proposes to buy 400 systems at the outset: 180 tracked and 220 wheeled.

The first new tender was for wheeled guns, with an RFP floated in early March 2007. The second tender for tracked guns was floated at the end of the month. Expected competitors include BAE Land Systems USA (M109A6 Paladin possible for tracked), BAE Bofors (FH77B towed, Archer wheeled), France’s Nexter (Caesar wheeled), Rheinmetall (Zuzana wheeled from Kerametal in Slovakia, possibly PzH-2000 for tracked), Korea’s Samsung Techwin (K9 for tracked), and Israel’s Soltam (Atmos 2000 for wheeled, Rascal for tracked).

In making its decision to re-float the RFP, the cabinet committee on security reportedly concluded that:

  • A single-vendor situation must be avoided;
  • South Africa’s Denel had emerged as the single vendor for the tracked version, but they were blacklisted in 2005 on another deal;
  • The process delays of 5 years since the first tender have been so great that the field as a whole has advanced since then;
  • The standards for the selection of the guns need to be revised; and
  • India’s defence procurement policy has been revised in the interim, and the RFP should reflect that.

Self-propelled howitzers RFP v2.0

Jan 16/06: A new scandal is swirling around re-opened allegations of kick-backs involving Bofors, and complicity by the current government in covering them up.

Jan 13/06: New trials. The Press Trust of India (PTI) reports that Army Chief General J J Singh has ordered a 4th round of extensive trials for the guns, in which only the Bofors and Soltam guns will be taking part. He said the two contending 155mm/52 caliber guns would be evaluated through summer and winter trials, with the winner inducted by 2007.

DID thought that was a bit optimistic

Jan 12/06: BMCS RFP. The Times of India reports that India’s UPA government has floated new global tenders for collaboration in the Nalanda ordnance factory project to manufacture 155mm Bi-Modular Charge Systems (BMCS) for India’s artillery. See this link from BAE’s SWS Defence for a more in-depth look at a particular BMCS solution.

South Africa’s Denel had been picked, but the blacklisting stemming from the anti-material rifles’ deal is having further ripple effects. The winner of this competition will be well positioned for any follow-on orders involving India’s new howitzers.

July 28/05: Denel blacklisted. South African competitor Denel is blacklisted from Indian defense contracts by the Ministry of Defence, as a result of the CBI’s bribery investigation.

Denel blacklisted

June 15/04: Madison Government Affairs, summarizing Defense News:

“The Indian Army will choose among three foreign contenders for a $2 billion purchase of about 400 155mm self-propelled howitzers after field trials in the Rajasthan desert later this month, an Indian Defence Ministry official said. The candidates are the Swedish SWS Defense AB FH77B05 L52, the Israeli Soltam TIG 2002 and the South African Denel G5/2000 gun. All three failed to meet India’s accuracy specifications in last year’s trials; all three improved their guns to compete again this year, said an Indian Army official from the artillery directorate”

Additional Readings

Towed Guns

Self-Propelled Guns

News & Views

Categories: News

JDAM: A GPS-INS Add-on Adds Accuracy to Airstrikes

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 18:45
B-2 drops JDAM
(click to view full)

Precision bombing has been a significant military goal since the invention of the Norden bomb sight in the 1920s, but its application remained elusive. Over 30 years later, in Vietnam, the destruction of a single target could require 300 bombs, which meant sending an appropriate number of fighters or bombers into harm’s way to deliver them. Even the 1991 Desert Storm war with Iraq featured unguided munitions for the most part. The USAF some laser and TV-guided weapons like Paveway bombs and Maverick missiles, but they were very expensive, and only effective in good weather. If precision bombing was finally to become a reality throughout the Air Force, a new approach would be needed. The Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) became that alternative, an engine of military transformation that was also a model of procurement transformation.

DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This DID FOCUS Article looks at the transformational history of the JDAM GPS-guided bomb program, the ongoing efforts to bring its capabilities up to and beyond the level of dual-mode guidance kits like Israel’s Spice and Raytheon’s Enhanced Paveway, and the contracts issued under the JDAM program since its inception.[updated]

JDAM: A Timely History of Transformation JDAM family
(click to view full)

JDAM’s core concept goes back several decades. A group of researchers and engineers at Eglin AFB in Florida had been looking at a new way to guide a bomb to its target since the 1980s. This group came up with the idea of using inertial navigation systems (INS), which measure acceleration to compute distance and direction traveled from a known point, in order to guide a device to another pre-plotted point.

After the USAF’s review of the 1991 Desert Storm conflict and its subsequent findings, the technology was ready to be taken off the shelf. By that time, the USA had also built a robust Global Positioning System, with capabilities reserved only for military users. The GPS system itself was capable of unaided accuracy to within about 3 feet, no matter what the weather was like. The reaction times involved in guiding a bomb wouldn’t achieve 3-foot accuracy, and even 3 feet wasn’t quite as accurate as laser-guided weapons. Nor would the initial JDAMs be able to hit moving targets, as laser-guided weapons did. On the other hand, lasers could be blocked by fog, sand, etc., while JDAM’s INS/GPS guidance modes were impervious to weather.

MK80 Bomb Structure

Initial development work showed promise. Unfortunately, that only solved part of the problem. Laser and TV guided precision weapons were expensive. JDAM already had promise as one thing they weren’t: an all-weather weapon. To become more than a niche player, however, it would have to be something else its competition wasn’t: cheap.

A bit of luck helped the program along that path. The stepped up urgency around the JDAM program coincided with some of the 1990s military acquisition reform initiatives, which aimed to reduce the system’s immense bureaucratic weight. JDAM was one of just 7 pilot programs to receive special waivers that sidestepped a number of expensive and time-consuming regulations. The program took full and proper advantage. Roy Handsel, a project manager with the JDAM Squadron:

“Previously, companies dealing with the government were required to provide extensive cost data to justify prices. This complicated and labor intensive information gathering put many small manufacturing shops out of the running for government contracts. But with waivers … small businesses across America could be subcontracted … to produce the subassemblies that make up a JDAM.”

JDAM strike
(click to view full)

By the time they were done, JDAM was a tail kit that could be attached to existing Mk 80 family ‘dumb’ bombs, turning them into affordable precision weapons with a range of up to 15 miles, depending on their altitude and speed at the release point.

The JDAM program was accelerated in 1995, as low-rate initial production was moved up 9 months, to the latter half of FY 1997. All 22 weapons tested during this interval performed successfully, including overall Circular Error Probable (CEP) of 10.3 meters, significantly better than the program’s 13 meter requirement. JDAM was certified as operational capable on the B-2 in July 1997. Limited Initial Operational Capability was achieved on the B-52 in December 1998.

Then came Kosovo, aka. Operation Allied Force in 1999. JDAMs were used from B-2 bombers at rate that nearly equaled manufacturing capacity. Approximately 650 JDAMs, containing approximately 1.4 million pounds of high explosive, were dropped on military and infrastructure targets. The Joint Chiefs of Staff directed rapid acceleration of production, and soon F/A-18 Hornets were also formally authorized as JDAM-capable, with other aircraft certifications following as the program ramped up. The DoD eventually picked McDonnell Douglas to develop 87,000 of these tail kits over the program’s lifetime for the USAF and Navy – at just $18,000 apiece in then-year dollars, instead of the original $40,000 estimate.

(click to view full)

Two years later, as the ruins of the World Trade Center were still smoking, the USAF was ready.

By mid-December 2001, the first 9 weeks of intense air strikes over Afghanistan had consumed about half of the 10,000 or so JDAM kits in inventory. Among the 18,000 munitions expended, half were precision-guided. Fully half of those were JDAMs, and they were put to very creative uses by Special Forces teams on the ground. From Bob Woodward’s book “Bush At War“:

“The Northern Alliance was trying to induce defections from the Taliban itself, but the CIA could come in and offer cash. The agency’s hand would often be hidden as the negotiations began — $10,000 for this sub-commander and his dozens of fighters, $50,000 for this bigger commander and his hundreds of fighters. In one case, $50,000 was offered to a commander to defect. Let me think about it, the commander said. So the Special Forces A-team directed a J-DAM precision bomb right outside the commander’s headquarters. The next day, they called the commander back. How about $40,000? He accepted.”

The JDAM kits’ price rose slightly with inflation etc. to about $30,000 each, but FY 2010 figures indicate a drop back to about $25,000. Their bargain basement price and proven performance have made JDAM a standout on both the battlefield and the procurement field. Pentagon documents give an official figure of less than 5 meters CEP (50% of bombs fall within 5m of target) when GPS is available, and less than 20 meters CEP using inertial navigation if GPS is absent or jammed.

As JDAM’s success gathers steam, the transformation it brought has spread beyond its associated programs. American weapons like the AGM-154 JSOW long-range glide bomb/cruise missile have incorporated aspects of JDAM technology, and the JDAM concept – whether implemented via Navstar GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, or other systems – can be expected to be a standard feature of future weapons around the world. China’s Lei Shi 6 glide bomb, France’s rocket-boosted AASM, Russia’s KAB-500S-E, South Africa’s Umbani/ Al-Tariq, and other foreign products are already competing directly with JDAM. In the dual-guidance LJDAM’s market segments, Sagem’s AASM, RAFAEL’s GPS/IIR Spice, and Raytheon/Lockheed enhanced Paveway variants have created an even more competitive environment.

JDAM: Program & Variants

According to Boeing, by 2012 over 230,000 JDAM kits had been bought by the USA and “more than 26″ allied countries. Conversations with Boeing, and DID research, indicate that the following platforms have been integrated to use JDAMs:

(click to view full)

Boeing would not confirm integrations beyond US military platforms, except to state that JDAMs have also been integrated with “earlier” F-16 and F/A-18 variants, and that that all F-15E Strike Eagle family variants are JDAM compatible. This includes the new stealth-enhanced F-15SE.


By early 2002, the Boeing JDAM production facility in St. Charles, MO was working 3 shifts around the clock; Boeing ramped up deliveries from 750 a month during winter 2001, to 2,000 per month in October 2002, and 2,800 per month by August 2003. Production was expected to increase to 5,000 per month with the addition of a new assembly line, and the need to replenish stocks drawn down by war on the Afghan and Iraqi fronts kept demand high. US orders have tailed off sharply, but JDAM’s popularity around the world ensures that the line won’t be closing any time soon. US budgetary requests have included both regular buys, and supplemental/”OCO” purchases to replenish wartime use:

In addition to Boeing, the core JDAM production team includes:

DID doesn’t cover the GFE items as part of this article; obviously, both items have applications that reach far beyond JDAM. The Joint Programmable Fuze System has a variable delay setting that may be programmed manually or from the cockpit, giving their attached bombs good versatility against a range of targets.

JDAM: Variants (click to view full)

The tail kit + a Mk.80 family weapon creates a JDAM. If a nose kit is added, other targeting modes like laser guidance can be added. To extend range, a wing kit can be attached to the main bomb body. Mixing and matching Mk.80 bomb bodies with the tail kit, plus some combination of optional nose or wing kits creates the full range of JDAM models. Completed JDAM weapons have designations that primarily reflect the size of the base bomb.

Sub-designations exist to distinguish USAF from USMC/USN weapons, but DID has left those out for simplicity. The big difference? Naval variants are “thermally protected,” which means they use explosives that are less likely to detonate if the ship they’re on is hit.

with JDAM-ERs
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As the chart above shows, JDAM’s spreading popularity means is creating demands for new variants and add-ons, official or otherwise. While there’s no co-marketing agreement in place, European firm MBDA is already touting its own “Diamondback” kit as a potential add-on; Diamondback equips the Small Diameter Bomb, and was originally tested in 2000 with full JDAM versions.

In an odd turn of fate, JDAM’s popularity is even causing it to lose its “alternative” status, and emulate the very laser-guided weapons it was intended to supplant.

The LJDAM (Laser JDAM) kit adds a DSU-38 or DSU-40 laser guidance module to the standard JDAM INS/GPS kit. The combination improves accuracy to 1m CEP or less. It also allows the weapon to target moving objects, using GPS/INS to get the weapon into the vicinity, and laser guidance for the final strike. This combination creates a more versatile and standardized weapon set, and gives aircraft on station an option that lets them hit transient “pop up” targets of opportunity, without having to be within laser sighting range themselves. In exchange, of course, LJDAM costs more. LJDAM’s 1st combat use came in Iraq, in August 2008.

The closely related US Navy Direct Attack Moving Target Capability (DAMTC) weapon was first delivered in October 2008. It’s very similar to LJDAM, with some maneuvering enhancements, explosive materials optimized for naval use, and a few minor configuration changes.

SDB, in attack mode
(click to view full)

The 250 pound GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb program is a direct outgrowth of JDAM technology. It incorporates a more streamlined bomb shape and pop-out wings. These modifications give it a longer glide range, as well as performance against hardened targets equivalent to a 2,000 pound conventional bomb. The difference is an aircraft that can carry 8 GBU-39s in place of a single 2,000 pound GBU-31 bomb, dramatically expanding its capabilities.

JDAM: Contracts and Key Events JDAMs into B-1B:
Libya 2011
(click to view full)

Unless otherwise specified, contracts are awarded by The Headquarters 308th Armament Systems Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. Unless otherwise specified, contracts are issued to Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St Louis, MO.

DID doesn’t cover Joint Programmable Fuze contracts here. They are used in JDAM variants, offering variable detonation delay settings that may be programmed manually or from the cockpit, but they’re also used in other weapons.

FY 2014 – 2015

(click to view full)

Nov 24/14: Israel. Israel is buying 3,000 JDAM tail kits with “the ultra-tightly coupled capability,” using a maximum $82.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification. This isn’t Israel’s first buy (q.v. Dec 12/10 request, April 12/13).

Work will be performed at St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete by Nov 30/16. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center at Hill AFB, UT (FA8213-15-D-0002, DO 0001, MOD 02).

Israel: 3,000

July 7/14: Singapore. The US DSCA officially announces Singapore’s export request for JDAM and LJDAM kits, “to sustain its air-to-ground weapons stockpiles and to accommodate training expenditures.” The DSCA explains that beyond building their stocks on Singapore:

“Singapore maintains a large CONUS F-15SG training presence at Mountain Home AFB. A portion of these munitions are anticipated for use at this CONUS training facility, and will enable RSAF pilots to practice using GPS-guided munitions that will further refine their combat capability.”

The JDAMs could also be used by Singapore’s F-16C/Ds. Boeing in St. Louis is the prime contractor, and the estimated cost is $63 million for:

  • 913 KMU-556B/B JDAM kits for Mk-84 2000 lb bombs
  • 100 FMU-152A/B fuzes
  • 300 DSU-40 Precision Laser Guidance Sets
  • Containers, munition trailers, support equipment, spare and repair parts, test equipment, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other forms of support.

Sources: DSCA #14-18, “Singapore – Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) Kits”.

DSCA: Singapore request for JDAM/LJDAM

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report. For JDAM, program cost is going up because they’re ordering more:

“Program costs increased $788.0 million (+12.2%) from $6,441.8 million to $7,229.8 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of 30,758 tailkits from 181,830 to 212,588 (+$712.6 million) and associated schedule and estimating allocations

  • (+$68.0 million).”

Orders up

April 1/14: R&D. A maximum $80 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract covers JDAM technical support for studies and analysis, product improvement, upgrades, integration (including, but not limited to, software integration, aircraft integration, and associated hardware) and testing. Work will be performed in Missouri with an expected completion date of March 31/19.

$4.3 million is committed immediately, using FY14 USAF and USN funding. This is a sole source acquisition by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/EBDK at Eglin AFB, FL (FA8681-14-D-0028).

Feb 27/14: A $49.8 million contract modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract for the full rate production of 3,500 Precision Laser Guidance Set (PLGS) units and 5,000 kits to convert the PLGS units from the DSU-38/B configuration to the DSU-38A/B for the USAF. These are the front ends used in LJDAMs (q.v. April 19/13), and it’s our guess that the key change involves retrofitting tougher sapphire lenses (q.v. Jan 17/13).

All funds are committed, using FY 2014 USAF ammunition budgets. Work will be performed in Fort Worth, TX (57%); St. Charles, MO (17%); Cincinnati, OH (12%); Greenville, SC (5%); Minneapolis, MN (4%); Glen Riddle, PA (3%); Danville, VA (1%); and Georgetown, TX (1%), and is expected to be complete in February 2016. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-10-C-0030).

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). The JDAM is included, but only under systems like the F-35 that have been testing it. The MQ-9 continues to have issues:

“DOT&E rescinded the 2009 GBU-38 500-pound JDAM FDE plan in February 2013 due to lack of progress in maturing software capabilities to support an operational evaluation with the current MQ-9 OFPs. AFOTEC will test JDAM during FOT&E of the MQ-9 Increment One system.”

FY 2013

Lot 17 buys; Request and purchase from Israel; Foreign sales; Laser SDB-I; JDAM-ER production partner picked; South Korea competes with their KGGB. F-35A drops JDAM
(click to view full)

June 27/13: Lot 17. A $39.5 million contract option adds 1,601 JDAM tailkits to Lot 17 (q.v. Dec 21/12), split $14.9 million baseline funds plus $24.6 million supplementary (OCO) funds. This brings the total contract to $141.9 million. Pro-rating this cost per tailkit would give us 5,751 for FY 2013, though the American budget for that year is 4,678.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 Ammunition budgets. Work will be performed at Saint Charles, MO, and is expected to be complete by March 31/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/EBDK at Eglin AFB, FL manages the contract (FA8681-13-C-0063, PO 0006).

April 19/13: A $17.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for full rate production of Laser JDAM front ends. The total contract involves 1,496 DSU-38/B precision laser guidance sets and appropriate shipping containers for the US Navy (509/ $5.6M/ 31%), USAF (463/ $5.1M/ 29%) and the governments of Saudi Arabia (496/ $6.7M/ 38%) and Japan (28/ $375,970/ 2%). The buy will use Foreign Military Sale funds, as well as FY 2013 USAF and USN ammunition budgets.

Work will be performed in St. Charles, MO, and is expected to be complete in February 2015. US Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-10-C-0030).

LJDAM: USA, Saudi Arabia, Japan

April 12/13: Israel. A $65.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for 2,701 JDAM tail kits, which would only represent a part of Dec 10/12 DSCA request.

Work will be performed at St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be completed by March 31/15. The contract involves foreign military sales (FMS) to Israel, with the AFLCMC/EBDKI at Eglin AFB, FL acting as Israel’s FMS agent (FA8681-13-C-0093).


March 15/13: FMS. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $99.9 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee and indefinite-quantity/ indefinite-delivery contract for production assets (JDAM kits), spares, repairs and sustainment. The contract involves foreign military sales, but they won’t say to whom.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, until Jan 31/16, using foreign military sales funding. USAF Life Cycle Management Command’s EBDK at Eglin AFB, FL manages this contract, as an agent for its foreign customer (FA8681-13-D-0102).

Purchase – but by whom?

March 13/13: JDAM-ER. The Royal Australian Air Force became Boeing’s first JDAM-ER customer in 2011. Now, Boeing announces that they’ve picked Ferra Engineering in Australia to build the wing kits, after partnering with Hawker de Havilland to create them. The kit is reported to give this 500-pound laser/GPS dual-guidance weapon a range of up to 55 nm/ 102 km, when launched at high speed and altitude. By now, however, this is no longer a unique offering. In September 2012, South Africa’s Denel and the UAE’s Tawazun signed a partnership to take their similar but larger Umbani (“Al-Tariq”) GPS glide bomb concept to market around the globe.

Ferra was Boeing’s 2011 International Supplier of the Year, who also does work for the Boeing P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter, and for Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Services group. Boeing.

Jan 17/13: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The F-22A Raptor’s radar and sensors let it drop JDAMs and SDB-I bombs accurately and reliably, but the MQ-9 Reaper drone remains in limbo with JDAM, and hasn’t resolved and tested the fuzing and weapons envelope discrepancies identified in 2010. Meanwhile, the Laser JDAM’s glass lens covering took a real beating in Afghanistan, to the point that Boeing had to develop a sapphire lens instead.

The Navy’s DAMTC LJDAM gets the most coverage. It benefited from the sapphire lens switch, and reliability was 98%, but 3 operator errors and an unexplained miss knocked it down to 77%. Demonstrated accuracy was 5.8m CEP in self-lasing mode, but buddy lasing tests went poorly. DOT&E think test range and target limitations may be the difference, and isn’t overly concerned. They also cite the high cockpit workload of using LJDAM, but that’s the same problem faced by all laser-guided weapons. Apparently, targeting pod limitations are the common cause.

DOT&E is very critical of the dense wiring inside the DAMTC tail kit, which makes verifying fuze arming and function settings extremely difficult, especially at night. Workarounds are worse than the problem, and they’d like this issue fixed. Since DOT&E declared DAMTC operationally effective and suitable, however, their recommendation doesn’t have a lot of push behind it. It will be up to the US Navy.

Jan 14/13: KGGB competitor. South Korea’s Agency for Defense Development (ADD) and 20 defense firms, including LIG Nex1, have jointly developed the extended range, 500 pound Korea GPS-Guided Bomb (KGGB) with a 5-year, KRW 40 billion ($378 million) budget. The bombs include GPS/INS guidance and a wing kit, with a claimed range of 100 km at maximum launch altitude and speed. Cost is reportedly KRW 100 million each (about $97,600).

The KGGB is “designed to take out North Korean artillery positions concealed behind mountains.” The weapon’s big question is accuracy, depending on its allowed level of GPS M-code signal access. Then again, if the core problem is the artillery and rockets near Seoul, ground stations could be used to create fantastic GPS precision on top of a civilian signal.

This isn’t a JDAM modification – it’s a JDAM competitor. South Korea’s ADD is talking about using these bombs on old F-5 and F-4 fighters, which implies an integration method that doesn’t require rewiring the planes, or adding MIL-STD-1760 databus technology. That could make the KGGB attractive on the export market. The standard alternatives in the industry are to either rely on pre-programmed targets that are set before takeoff, or use a wireless link and a separate control pad for the pilot. Yonhap News | Chosun Ilbo | Korea Times.

Dec 21/12: Lot 17. A $118 million firm-fixed-price contract to procure JDAM Production Lot 17 Guided Vehicle kits. Work will be performed in St. Charles, MO until March 31/15 (FA8681-13-C-0063)

Dec 19/12: Laser SDB. An $8.9 million firm-fixed price and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for Laser Small Diameter Bombs (LSDB) retrofits, LSDB guided test vehicles, storage/shipping containers; and production, engineering, integration and test support. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/13 (FA8656-13-C-0053).

The AFLCMC/PZJ at Eglin Air Force Base, FL is listed as the managing agency, but inquiries are directed to US SOCOM, who do not respond to questions. The is a GBU-53 SDB-II program underway top field a tri-mode GPS/laser/MW radar guided weapon, but a near-term laser retrofit would allow SDB-I capable aircraft and UAVs to begin attacking moving targets. SOCOM’s MQ-9 MALET/Reaper UAVs would be an obvious candidate, since the SDB’s all-weather versatility and precision strike design fit extremely well with SOCOM’s needs. Beyond US SOCOM, the USAF’s high-end F-22A Raptor would probably be the most immediate beneficiary of a Laser SDB.

Laser SDB-I

Dec 10/12: Israel. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Israel’s formal request to buy a variety of JDAM-related items, at an estimated cost of up to $647 million. The request includes 6,900 JDAM tail kits and their associated bombs, whose numbers match exactly. That’s significant, because IMI makes its own JDAM-certified MPR-500 bomb for hardened targets. The exact requests break down as:

  • 1,725 MK-82 500 pound bombs
  • 1,725 KMU-572 tail kits for MK-82s, creating GBU-38s
  • 3,450 MK-84 2,000 pound bombs
  • 3,450 JDAM Anti-Jam KMU-556 tail kits for MK-84s, creating GBU-31s
  • 1,725 BLU-109 2,000 pound “bunker buster” forged casing bombs
  • 1,725 KMU-557 tail kits for BLU-109s, creating the GBU-31v3/B
  • 3,450 GBU-39s: 250 pound Small Diameter Bombs
  • 11,500 FMU-139 Fuses
  • 11,500 FMU-143 Fuses
  • 11,500 FMU-152 Fuses

Plus spare and repair parts, support equipment, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical documentation, and other forms of US Government and contractor support. The principal contractors will be:

  • The Boeing Company in St. Charles, MO (JDAMs, SDB-I)
  • General Dynamics in Garland, TX (Bombs)
  • Kaman Dayron in Orlando, FL (Fuzes)
  • ATK in Edina, MI
  • Elwood National Forge Co. in Irvine, PA
  • KDI Precision Products in Cincinnati, OH
  • Lockheed-Martin Missile and Fire Control in Archibald, TN
  • Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ

Israel already has these weapons in inventory, and implementation of this proposed sale won’t require any additional personnel from the USA.

Israel request

FY 2012

VFMA-122, Kandahar
(click for full picture)

July 16/12: DAMTC/LJDAM. A $22.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification exercises an option for 2,384 US Navy Direct Attack Moving Target (DAMTC, Laser JDAM variant) weapons, including shipping containers.

Work will be performed in St. Charles, MO, and is expected to be complete in February 2014. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract (N00019-10-C-0030)

July 10/12: Australia’s JDAM-ER. Australia’s government announces that their Enhanced JDAM has completed its 1st round of testing, and provides details regarding this variant.

Australia’s JDAM-ER will have the Extended Range wing kit that boost range to over 40 miles, developed as part of a Capability and Technology Demonstrator (CTD) program by Australia’s DSTO and Boeing. That kit is likely to be available for international sale through the newly established Australian Military Sales Office.

Australia’s final bombs will actually be more like LJDAM-ERs, with dual-mode laser/GPS guidance, and a warhead designed for low collateral damage. The program began on Oct 19/05, with a contract for Australia’s “AIR 5409 Bomb Improvement Program.” Australian DoD | Boeing.

May 14-16/12: LJDAMs from B-1B. B-1 Lancer aircrews from Ellsworth AFB, SD employ GBU-54 Laser JDAMs against moving targets during the Combat Hammer exercise, from May 14 – 16. It’s the 1st operational release from this type of aircraft. USAF.


May 10/12: A $24 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract for indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity for JDAM technical support, to include non-warranty induction and repair, annual software updates, mission planning support, studies, and analysis.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO by Dec 31/13. The AAC/EBDK at Eglin AFB, FL is the contracting activity (FA8681-05-D-0277, PO 0025).

March 12/12: DAMTC/ LJDAM. A $12.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising an option for 1,116 DAMTC laser/GPS guidance kits and appropriate shipping containers, plus 640 hours of production engineering and logistics support services. This is NAVAIR’s 3rd Low Rate Initial Production order for its Direct Attack Moving Target Capability (DAMTC).

Work will be performed in St. Charles, MO, and deliveries are expected to be complete in February 2013. This contract is managed by US Naval Air Systems Command, in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-10-C-0030). See also Boeing release.

Feb 14/12: Lot 16. Boeing receives an $111.4 million “predominantly firm-fixed-price contract” for 4,844 JDAMs. Work will be performed in St. Charles, MO, and is expected to be complete by May 2014 (FA8681-12-C-0160, PO 0002). When asked, Boeing said that:

“In 2011, the U.S. Air Force announced contract awards totaling $180 million for nearly 7,500 Lot 15 JDAM tail kits. Boeing received a $126 million contract from the U.S. Air Force on Nov. 30, 2011, and [this contract, too], for approximately 10,000 JDAM tail kits for Lot 16. Deliveries for these [Lot 16] tail kits will begin in May 2013 and continue through May 2014.”

Feb 12/12: MPR-500 JDAM. Israel Military Industries announces [PDF] that their Multi-Purpose Rigid 500-pound bomb has been certified with Boeing for use with the JDAM kit. It has more penetrating power and less fragmentation than the conventional Mk.82.

Israeli variant

Feb 3/12: Polish request. The US DSCA announces Poland’s official request for F-16 weapons, as well as a 5 year fleet support contract that includes associated equipment, parts, and training. The entire contract set could be worth up to $447 million, and includes up to “200 GBU-54 (2000 lb) Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) Bombs”. Which doesn’t make sense, because the GBU-54 is a 500 pound weapon. What Boeing could say, was that:

“The GBU-56 Laser JDAM [DID: q.v. Sept 28/10 entry] includes the 2,000-pound MK-84 warhead and has been developed by Boeing. Final certification flight testing is planned by the USAF on behalf of our international customers and is expected to be completed within the next 12-18 months… you’ll need to contact the Dept. of Defense or DCMA for clarification on whether they meant GBU-54 or GBU-56.”

See “2012-02: Poland Requests F-16 Weapons, Support” for full coverage.

Poland & the GBU-56

Jan 30/12: An $8.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for another 700 precision laser guidance set kits. The US Air Force will receive them, and subsequent releases reveal that they’ll be used to maintain GBU-54 Laser JDAM inventory levels.

Work will be performed in Haifa, Israel (37%); Fort Worth, TX (32%); and St. Charles, MO (31%), and is expected to be complete in August 2012. $1.3 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-10-C-0030).

Dec 2/11: Lot 16. A $125.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for Production Lot 16: 4,977 JDAM Guided Vehicle tail kits of various types. This is actually a contract option, but it’s exercised as a separate contract. Work will be performed at St. Charles, MO, and is expected to be completed May 31/14 (FA8681-12-C-0160).

See also Boeing release, which states that a full-rate production decision on the Laser JDAM sensors is expected in “early 2012.”

Nov 30/11: UAE request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] the UAE’s official request to buy 4,900 JDAM kits for up to $304 million, which breaks out as:

  • 304 GBU-54 Laser JDAM kits for 500 pound bombs, with 304 DSU-40 Laser Sensors
  • 3,000 GBU-38v1 JDAM GPS/INS kits and BLU-111 500 pound bombs
  • 1,000 GBU-31v1 JDAM GPS/INS kits and BLU-117 2,000 pound bombs
  • 600 GBU-31v3 JDAM GPS/INS kits and BLU-109 2,000 pound Hard Target Penetrator bombs
  • 4 BDU-50C inert bombs
  • Plus fuzes, weapons integration, munitions trainers, personnel training and training equipment, spare and repair parts, support equipment, and other US government and contractor support.

The weapons are explicitly slated for the UAE’s F-16E/F Block 60 fleet, which may be slated to grow soon, and are designed to “help the UAE AF&AD become one of the most capable air forces in the region, thereby serving U.S. interests by deterring regional aggression. These munitions will be used to complement the normal war-readiness reserve stockpile of munitions and provide munitions for routine training requirements.”

UAE request

FY 2011

LJDAM production. Poland, UAE. Tornado ASSTA 3 test
(click to view full)

Aug 31/11: A $14.4 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 602 JDAMs, type unspecified (FA8681-11-C-0111, PO 0004).

May 16/11: Lot 15. Boeing in St. Louis, MO received a $9.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 389 MK-82 SAASM/AJ JDAMs under production Lot 15. In English, those are 500 pound JDAM bomb kits, with improved jamming resistance (FA8681-11-C-0111, PO 0003).

May 2/11: Lot 15. A Boeing release refers to:

“The U.S. Air Force announced a $92 million contract for more than 4,000 Lot 15 JDAM kits on March 14. This follows an $88 million contract awarded Jan. 14 for the first 3,500 tail kits in the same lot.”

The award does not list on DefenseLINK for March 14/11 or surrounding days, though the Jan 14/11 award is present and listed below.

May 2/11: LJDAM/DAMTC. US NAVAIR announces that the Navy’s Direct Attack Moving Target Capability (Laser JDAM) has successfully completed the 18th integrated test.

That was supposed to be the final test, but during the testing process, DAMTC made a configuration change to replace the current glass window with one made of sapphire, in order to improve resistance to weather and the elements. To ensure the change doesn’t create problems, 3 additional regression tests were added in July 2011. Operational testing is expected to begin in late summer 2011, with DAMTC slated to reach formal Initial Operating Capability on all F/A-18 family and AV-8B Harrier fighters by late winter 2012. Meanwhile, the weapons are already being used on the front lines.

March 16/11: LJDAM. An $8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification covers first article testing and 700 Low Rate Initial Production laser JDAM retrofit kits, as well as accompanying technical data. The Pentagon’s wording was very unclear, but a Boeing representative said:

“This contract is for the laser sensor kits that can be added to a conventional Mk 82 500-lb JDAM, which turns it into a [GBU-54] Laser JDAM. The sensor allows a conventional JDAM to have the flexibility to prosecute moving targets, relocatable targets and even maritime targets.”

This is LJDAM’s 1st major production order. Work will be performed in St. Charles, MO, and is expected to be complete in March 2012 (N00019-10-C-0030). See also Boeing release.

1st LJDAM production order

Feb 8/11: F-15K integration. The Chosun Ilbo quotes the South Korean ROKAF, who says it has integrated the 2,000 pound GBU-31 JDAM with its KF-16 fighters, as well as its F-15K “Slam Eagles.” After developing the software, the ROKAF successfully carried out 3 tests, and finished pilot training at the end of January 2011.

The report also mentions wing kits, which are absent from normal JDAMs – but not from the 2,000 pound JDAM Extended Range kit, which was being developed by Boeing and South Korea.

KF-16, F-15K… and JDAM-ER?

Feb 7/11: Tornado integration. EADS Cassidian discusses ongoing upgrades of German Luftwaffe Tornado strike/wild weasel aircraft to the ASSTA 3 (Avionics Software System Tornado Ada) standard. Adding Link-16 shared battlespace awareness via MIDS Low Volume Terminals are a key part of that upgrade, which also includes the latest generation radios, a digital video and voice recorder (DVDR), and the dual-guidance Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM).

LJDAM integration and launch behavior was verified during test flights in Vidsel, Sweden, in September 2010. In January 2011, Cassidian in Manching, Germany began the flight testing of a Tornado with an ASSTA 3 hardware and software configuration approximating that of series production. As of early February 2011, EADS Cassidian has already started to upgrade the first series aircraft in Manching, and deliveries are scheduled to start in mid-2012.

LJDAM on Tornado

Jan 14/11: Lot 15. An $88 million contract for 3,500 JDAM “Guided Vehicle kits”, or about $25,000 per kit. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8681-11-C-0111).

FY 2010

Lot 14. Singapore. LJDAM vs. Truck
(click for full picture)

Sept 28/10: LJDAM GBU-56. Boeing announces successful tests of the 2,000 pound MK-84 bomb with a Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (Laser JDAM) kit. The tests took place in July 2010 at Eglin Air Force Base, FL. The first 2 of 7 planned tests were dropped from a USAF F-16 test aircraft, flying sub-sonic at 30,000 feet.

An existing JDAM becomes a Laser JDAM with the installation of the Precision Laser Guidance Set (PLGS). The MK-84 PLGS uses the same laser sensor as the 500-pound MK-82’s Laser JDAM kit, which has already been fielded as the GBU-54 with the USAF, US Navy, and internationally.

March 8/10: Lot 14. A $148.7 million contract for 6,565 JDAM guided vehicle kits, under production Lot 14. At this time, all funds have been committed (FA8681-10-C-0072, P00003).

This is the 3rd procurement of a 6-year contract that Boeing received in January 2008. The modification increases the overall value of this phase from $72 million to $229 million, and the overall agreement now has a potential total value of $1.3 billion with deliveries extending through 2015, if all options are exercised. See also Boeing release.

March 2/10: LJDAM/ DAMTC. Boeing announces an $11.4 million contract to supply Laser JDAMs for the U.S. Navy’s Direct Attack Moving Target Capability (DAMTC) initiative. The initial contract calls for the delivery of 23 smart bombs for testing and evaluation, and is expected to lead to a production contract in 2011. With follow-on options, total DAMTC deliveries could reach 11,000 units, and the total contract value could exceed $91 million.

The Navy already operates Laser JDAMs, as well as Lockheed Martin’s similar DMLGB kit, and Raytheon’s Paveway offerings which can include the dual-mode Paveway Plus. Boeing Weapons VP Debbie Rub says that their winning DAMTC offering will improve the Laser JDAM’s moving and maneuvering capability, in order to make it more useful against fast and/or maneuvering targets.

Nov 16/09: Singapore request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Singapore’s official request for JDAM and LJDAM kits, plus support equipment, repair and return, tools and test equipment, spare and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, and other related support. The estimated cost is $40 million, and the request includes:

  • 670 KMU-572B/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) Guidance Kits. These fit on 500 pound Mk82 bombs to create GBU-32 JDAMs, and the “B/B” means they include pin-lock actuators and SAASM (Selective Availability/Anti-Spoofing Module) capability.

  • 670 DSU-38/B Precision Laser Guidance kits, to turn GBU-32 JDAMs into GBU-54v1/B LJDAMs. The Precision Laser Guidance Set consists of the LDSU-38 laser Seeker itself, and a wire harness fixed under the bomb body to connect the DSU-38/B with the JDAM guidance tailkit. For some reason, the DSCA announced this element twice.

  • 670 KMU-572B/B Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) Guidance Kits for 500 pound GBU-28Bv1/B Paveway-II laser-guided bombs.

Singapore already has JDAM guidance kits in its inventory, and will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government and contractor representatives to Singapore.

Singapore request

Oct 28/09: Lot 14. A $72 million contract for Lot XIV JDAM production: 2,925 JDAM Guided Vehicle kits that are attached to the tails of ordinary 500 – 2,000 pound bombs, giving them inertial navigation system and GPS-based guidance (FA8681-10-C-0072).

Oct 8/09: LJDAM exports. Boeing announces Foreign Military Sales (FMS) contracts to provide Laser Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) to 2 unnamed international customers, as part of Aug 17/09’s $98 million contract. The weapons are scheduled for delivery in 2010. Dan Jaspering, Boeing director of Direct Attack Programs, adds that “There are more than 20 countries that have JDAM, and we expect many of them will adopt Laser JDAM within the next few years.”

Other recent developments include a recent Block 08 update to the weapon system’s software, to improve Laser JDAM’s effectiveness against targets that are turning, accelerating or decelerating. Boeing has completed 2 successful maneuvering target missions with the Block 08 software, which is expected to be fielded in 2010.

LJDAM orders

FY 2009

Lot 14. JDAM-ER. LJDAM test from A-10C
(click for full picture)

Aug 17/09: LJDAM. A $98 million cost plus fixed-fee contract to provide production of the Laser JDAM, and integration onto “various Foreign Military Sales aircraft platforms” throughout the life of the contract. At this time no funds have been obligated, which means funds will be spent as orders and tasks come in. The 680th ARSSG/PK at Eglin AFB, FL manages the contract (FA8681-09-D-0065).

Feb 27/09: GBU-31 JDAM-ER. Boeing signs an agreement with Times Aerospace Korea, LLC (TAK) to jointly develop a wing assembly that will create an 2,000 pound JDAM Extended Range (JDAM-ER) variant.

Under the teaming arrangement for this 40-month development program, Boeing and TAK will co-develop, test, and field a JDAM-ER wing kit to convert the 2,000-pound GBU-31 JDAM into a JDAM-ER. Boeing will provide support to help TAK improve its aerospace capabilities, including preparations for production of the JDAM ER wing assembly. Once development and flight tests are successful, TAK would become Boeing’s primary supplier of wing assemblies for all 2,000 pound JDAM-ERs sold around the world. Boeing’s release adds that as of March 31/09, “the baseline JDAM has been sold to the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, as well as to 22 international customers.”

POSTSCRIPT: Boeing later tells DID that: “TAK management changes resulted in funding challenges and the co-development contract was mutually terminated. However, in March 2012, Boeing selected a development partner to complete the design…”

Dev: 2000 lb. JDAM-ER

Dec 12/08: Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports that the Israeli Air Force is considering JDAM-ER kits, one version of which is under development by Boeing and the Royal Australian Air Force. Their 500 pound JDAM-ER collaboration is expected to enter Australian service in 2010.

Dec 5/08: Lot 13. A firm fixed price, $106.9 million contract for Lot XIII JDAM production: 4,372 Joint Direct Attack Munition Guided Vehicle kits, for delivery in 2010 and 2011. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8681-09-C-0057). See also Boeing release.

This appears to be a higher number of JDAMs than the official FY 2009 budget request.

Nov 25/08: JDAM-ER. Boeing announces that its Joint Direct Attack Munition Extended Range (JDAM ER) successfully completed testing with HUG-upgraded Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) F/A-18s in August 2008, exceeding the RAAF’s range and accuracy requirements. Work at the Woomera Test Facility in South Australia was led by the Australian DoD, with support from Boeing. In addition to the firm’s prime integrator role, Boeing subsidiary Hawker de Havilland is the developer of the 500-pound JDAM ER’s wing kits.

Boeing’s JDAM-ER program manager Kevin Holt says that he expects JDAM-ER to move from the flight demonstration phase into Low Rate Initial Production beginning in calendar year 2010. That would turn out to be premature, with testing still ongoing in 2012.

Nov 14/08: LJDAM & A-10C. The USAF announces that an upgraded USAF A-10C has dropped the GBU-54 LJDAM in a successful test. The next step is operational testing to develop tactics and techniques for employing the weapon. If those tests continue to go well, Eglin AFB’s test team may have their feedback as early as January. The goal is to have the LJDAM/A-10C combination deployed on the front lines by early 2009.


Nov 7/08: LJDAM to USN. NAVAIR delivers the first GBU-54 Laser JDAM to the fleet. (See May 18/07 entry). Additional flight tests and clearance activities on the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet are expected to begin later in 2008.

The USN also has the DMLGB program underway, in which Lockheed Martin is converting about 7,000 stockpiled laser-only Paveway guidance kits to dual laser/GPS-INS guidance.NAVAIR | Boeing release.

FY 2008

Germany, South Korea, UAE. F-22A drops JDAM
(click to view full)

Sept 17/08: #200,000. Boeing delivers the 200,000th JDAM tailkit to the USAF, just 10 years after JDAM guidance tailkit deliveries to the United States and allied countries began.

Boeing’s release adds that it is currently under contract to build an additional 11,670 JDAM tailkits for the United States and its allies in the coming years, with additional quantities in the planning stages.


Sept 15/08: LJDAM & B-52H. Airmen at Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB), LA, load a Boeing Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM) onto a B-52H aircraft for a demonstration flight. It was the first time the LJDAM had been carried and delivered from a B-52H. Boeing photo release.


July 24/08: Germany orders LJDAM. Boeing announces that it has signed a contract with Germany for 500 lb. Laser JDAM kits, plus integration support to add them to that country’s Tornado aircraft. This is the first international sale of the LJDAM weapon system. Oddly, it was completed as a mere commercial contract, rather than a foreign military sale of weapons; as such, there is no disclosure requirement regarding costs or numbers.

Delivery of the kits is expected to begin in mid-2009, and the unknown order includes options for unspecified additional kits in 2009.

1st L-JDAM export

June 20/08: South Korean request. South Korea is requesting additional air-air missiles and precision attack weapons for its F-15Ks: 280 JDAM tail kits, 2 load/build trainers; plus AIM-120-C7 AMRAAMs, AGM-54G Mavericks, Paveway II/IIIs, and chaff. Read “South Korea Buying Weapons for its new F-15Ks.”

South Korea request

May 30/08: An $8.6 million contract modification for 300 JDAM High Data Rate Compact Telemetry Units, which are used to gather real-time JDAM weapon data during testing. This procurement also includes 100 HCTM Adapter Kits in support of Test and Integration activities. At this time all funds have been obligated (FA8681-07-C-0002 P00004).

Jan 10/08: Lot 12. A firm-fixed price contract for $115.6 million for 4,907 JDAM Lot 12 Guided Vehicle kits for existing 500, 1000, 2000 pound bombs. At this time all funds have been obligated. The 678 ARSS/PK at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contract (FA8681-08-C-0001).

Jan 3/08: UAE request. The US DSCA announces the United Arab Emirates’ formal request for 200 GBU-31 JDAM tail kits, as part of a larger weapons request that also includes 224 of the Mk84 2,000 pound bombs they fit to. See full DID coverage.

UAE request

FY 2007

Lot 11. Israel. F-16I “Soufa”
(click to view full)

Aug 3/07: Israel request. The US DSCA announces [PDF] a formal weapons request from Israel that includes 10,000 JDAM kits. The request does not specify which bomb body sizes the tail kits are for, and the rest of the request involves bomb bodies and Paveway laser or laser/GPS kits.

See “Israel Looks to Replenish Bomb Stocks” for full coverage.

Israel request

May 29/07: IGAS anti-jam. Successful completion of developmental flight testing for the JDAM’s forthcoming Integrated GPS Anti-Jam System (IGAS) at the U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, CA. IGAS uses digital signal processing to significantly reduce the impact of GPS jamming.

During the program, testers released five weapons from a U.S. Navy F/A-18 under various mission and GPS jamming scenarios. All five weapons acquired and maintained their GPS coordinates while flying to their targets. Boeing will complete IGAS development in 2007, with deliveries planned to begin in 2008. Boeing release.

May 18/07: LJDAM. A $28.8 million firm-fixed-price contract to provide for Laser Joint Direct Attack Munition (LJDAM) Precision Laser Guidance Set (PLGS), quantity of 600 (400 USAF, 200 USN) “In response to a compelling and urgent operational need…”

This effort also involves the management, engineering and logistics support necessary for production qualification and performance verification of the non-development PLGS. At this time, $2.8 million have been obligated. Work will be complete June 2009. The Headquarters Air to Ground Munitions Systems Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contract (FA8681-07-C-0209). Boeing June 9/07 release.

March 19/07: JDAM-ER. Flying at 20,000 feet over the Woomera Prohibited Area in South Australia, a RAAF F/A-18B released a pair of 500-pound Mk82 JDAM Extended Range (JDAM-ER) weapons and scored a direct hit on their respective targets. The JDAM-ER uses Australian-designed and built modular wing kit developed by Hawker de Havilland, based on technology licensed by Australia Defence Science & Technology Organization. The ER wing kit provides more than three times the range of a baseline JDAM (i.e. over 45 miles) and is designed to be installed in the field as an addition to existing JDAM weapons.

The AIR 5425 JDAM ER test program is a joint effort with the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation, Hawker de Havilland Aerospace Pty. Ltd., and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems. The test team conducted the technology demonstration under the Australian Capability Technology Demonstrator Program, managed by the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), but the design will be exportable to Boeing’s 16 international JDAM customers, some of whom have shown interest in this variant. MBDA’s Diamond Back wing kit is also designed to extend the range of JDAM weapons, and is used on the 250 pound Small Diameter Bomb variant. Boeing release.

Feb 6/07: Lot 11. A $20.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for another 784 JDAM production lot 11 Guided Vehicle kits. At this time, total funds have been obligated; work will be complete March 2009 (FA8681-07-C-0002/P00001).

Nov 14/06: Lot 11. A $296 million firm-fixed-price with cost reimbursement contract for 12,889 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) Lot 11 Guided Vehicle (GV) kits. At this time, total funds have been obligated. Solicitations began July 2006, negotiations were complete November 2006, and work will be complete March 2009 (FA8681-07-C-0002).

FY 2006

Lot 10. Pakistan, Norway.

JDAM: loading
(click to view full)

Sept 8/06: An $8.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 287 JDAM High Data Rate Compact Telemetry Units (HCTMs). The JDAM HCTMs are flight test instrumentation hardware, which is used to gather real-time JDAM weapon data during testing. Work will be complete September 2008 (FA8681-06-C-0058/P00004).

June 30/06: LJDAM. A 500 pound Joint Direct Attack Munition with a laser guidance add-on (LJDAM) bomb scores a direct hit from 4 miles away, when dropped by a U.S. Air Force F-16 flying at 20,000 feet over Eglin AFB, FL. Just to make things interesting, the target Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) was moving at 25 mph.

Boeing will complete its development of the 500-pound LJDAM in 2006. Initial production deliveries are planned to begin as early as 2007, giving it a weapon with capabilities similar to Israel’s existing Spice. A previous May 2005 test had also been successful. Boeing release.

June 30/06: Lot 10. A $28 million firm-fixed-price with a cost-reimbursement contract modification for an additional 1,288 lot 10 JDAM guided vehicle kits. At this time, total funds have been obligated. Negotiations were complete in June 2006, and work will be complete March 2008 (FA8681-06-C-0058/P00002).

June 28/06: Pakistan request. Pakistan requests 500 JDAM kits as part of a proposed $5.1 billion deal for F-16 C/Ds (Block 50/52), F-16 fleet upgrades, and weapons. Pakistan eventually buys all of those F-16s and upgrades. Read “$5.1B Proposed in Sales, Upgrades, Weapons for Pakistan’s F-16s” for full coverage.

Pakistan request

June 12/06: JDAM & F-22. The F-22 Combined Test Force team of The Boeing Company, Lockheed Martin, and the US Air Force successfully tested the F-22’s precision strike capabilities at White Sands Missile Range, NM. The F-22 flew at a speed of Mach 1.5 at 50,000 feet, released a 1,000 pound JDAM from a range of 24 nautical miles to destroy a ground target.

Note the extended range. The drop tested the Raptor’s Launch Acceptability Region (LAR) supersonic algorithm, developed by a Boeing collaboration of F-22, Phantom Works and JDAM engineers. It defines the area in the sky from which the pilot can release a weapon to successfully attack the desired target, factoring in navigation, weather, target and weapon information. Not to mention that range-boosting supersonic speed. See Boeing release.

F-22 supersonic drop

June 1/06: Integration. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St Louis, MO received a $70 million cost-plus fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract. This indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity basic contract is for aircraft integration with the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon system. The Air Force can issue delivery orders totaling up to the maximum amount indicated above. Solicitations began January 2006, negotiations were complete in May 2006, and work will be complete April 2011. The Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contract. (FA8681-06-D-0021). As a reminder, the current US Air Force JDAM Fact Sheet notes that:

“JDAM is currently compatible with B-1B, B-2A, B-52H, F-15E, F-14A/B/D, F/A-18E/F, F-16C/D, F/A-22 and F/A-18C/D aircraft. Follow-on integration efforts are currently underway or planned to evaluate compatibility with the A-10, F-117, AV-8B, S-3, Joint Strike Fighter, and unmanned aerial vehicles.”

April 18/06: Super Hornet Hand-off. Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet Demonstrates Network Capability in Multiple JDAM Drop. Boeing has successfully demonstrated the capability of an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet to provide targeting coordinates to other aircraft using the Raytheon APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar system.

During the test at the Naval Air Weapons Center at China Lake, Calif., an AESA-equipped F/A-18F created a long-range, high resolution synthetic aperture radar map and designated 4 closely-spaced stationary targets. The aircraft then data-linked 2 target designations to non-AESA equipped Super Hornets, which successfully delivered 4 JDAMs (2,000 lb.) “within lethal distance.” The targeting Super Hornet then used the AESA to provide highly detailed bomb damage assessments to confirm the hits. Boeing release.

March 3/06: Lot 10. A $240.6 million firm fixed price with cost reimbursement type for alternate disputes resolution contract for 10,000 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) Lot 10 Guided Vehicle (GV) kits. At this time, total funds have been obligated. Solicitations began in November 2005, negotiations were complete in March 2006, and work will be complete March 2008. The Headquarters Air to Ground Munitions Systems Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contract (FA8681-06-C-0058).

Feb 20/06: Norway order. Boeing reaches an agreement with Norway to provide the JDAM system to the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) F-16s. The contract includes JDAM guidance kits, F-16 weapon system integration and operational support.

Boeing says that Norway is the 5th member of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) to select JDAM, and the 14th international customer. Boeing has produced more than 140,000 JDAM guidance kits from 1998 to February 2006, for the USA and for 14 international customers. Boeing release.


Feb 13/06: Support. A $45 million time and material, firm-fixed-price and cost-plus fixed-fee contract for technical support for the Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) weapon system until the end of 2010. This includes non-warranty inductions and repair, annual software updates, mission planning support and studies/analysis. The Air Force can issue delivery orders totaling up to the maximum amount indicated above, but doesn’t have to spend the full amount. Solicitations began October 2005, negotiations were complete December 2005, and work will be complete by December 2010. The Headquarters Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, FL issued the contract (FA8681-05-D-0277)

Nov 1/05: GPS. Harris Corporation, best known for its success in the tactical radio market, announced that it has been awarded an $18.2 million follow-on contract by Boeing Integrated Defense Systems to provide Anti-Jam Global Positioning System (AJ GPS) modules for Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) program that turns conventional bombs into smart bombs.

The initial development contract was valued at approximately $3.9 million, bringing the total value of the program for Harris to more than $21 million since 2003. Full production and future options could increase the program’s value for Harris to more than $50 million by 2008.

Oct 25/05: Greece request. Greece requests 6 JDAMs as part of its F-16 C/D (Block 50/52) sale and weapons package. Greece would go on to buy those F-16s.

Greece request

Oct 19/05: JDAM-ER. Australia picks Boeing to provide the JDAM for the AIR 5409 Bomb Improvement Program. The contract covers Australia’s upgraded F/A-18A aircraft, and includes JDAM guidance kits, F/A-18 weapon system integration, and operational support. Numbers and figures were not disclosed. Boeing release.

Dev: Australia’s JDAM-ER

FY 2002 – 2005

Lot 8. HART. Singapore. F-15E: 5 targets
(click to view full)

Sept 20/05: HART Test. A low-cost, UHF network-capable weapon data link from Harris Corporation provided target updates in the successful demonstration of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s ability to engage moving land targets with Boeing’s JDAM at the Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California. The inert weapon was delivered within two meters of the moving target, a radio-controlled panel-side truck. The 2-way link also demonstrated the ability of the weapon data link to transmit real-time weapon status back to the host F/A-18 aircraft during the JDAM’s free fall.

Harris’ Falcon II radio from its RF Communications Division and Improved Data Modem technology from Innovative Concepts, Inc. were used to create the two ends of the data linkage from aircraft to JDAM. See the Oct 21/03 entry for more background. Harris release.

Aug 23/05: Singapore. Singapore notifies the USA that it wants 150 JDAM kits as part of a $741 million complementary weapons order to go with its F-15SG Strike Eagles. The F-15SG order is finalized with a contract on Dec 13/06, clearing the way for the complementary weapon purchases.

Read “F-15E Strike Eagle Taking Off With Singapore Contract?” for full coverage.

Singapore request

Dec 2/04: #100,000. Boeing delivers the 100,000th JDAM Tail Kit. The original production estimate had been 87,000 JDAMs for the entire program.


March 01/04: Lot 8 & integration. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems announces 2 key JDAM contracts worth $857 million total.

The first contract, worth $642 million, is for more than 32,000 JDAM Lot 8 guidance kits for the U.S. Air Force and Navy. The kits will convert existing 500, 1000 and 2000-pound unguided free-fall bombs into cost-effective and capable air-to-surface “smart” weapons. The JDAM kits will be delivered by February 2006.

The second contract, worth $215 million, is a 5-year Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for future integration of JDAM (and JDAM derivative weapons) on various foreign military sales aircraft. The first order issued on the contract was valued at $1 million. At the time, Boeing had 7 active international customers; integration is scheduled for completion by December 2008. Boeing release.

Oct 21/03: HART. Boeing announces a $121 million undefinitized contract for system development and demonstration of the Hornet Autonomous Real-time Targeting (HART) system. HART adds a precision guidance capability to Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) that enables aircrews to designate targets and deploy JDAM based on aircraft sensors, rather than depending on pre-planned coordinates or uploads.

HART builds on a previous DAMASK effort, and also aims to provide a production imaging seeker for the JDAM, which incorporates the capability to download an image from the aircraft’s targeting pod. It can also work with other sensors, as Boeing advertises that the aircraft’s AN/APG-79 AESA radar can be used to acquire and designate a target, and transfer a reference SAR radar image of the target to the JDAM. After release, the weapon compares the reference image to that in its sensor’s field of view, guiding it to the point designated in the target scene. The HART guidance kit includes an infrared sensor, a processor, and image-matching software.

Plans call for a low rate initial production decision on HART in late 2006, with initial operational capability expected in December 2007. Boeing would expect to produce approximately 600 units during Long Range Initial Production (LRIP) 1. Follow on production contracts would bring the total kits produced to 6000 through 2011. Boeing release.


Sept 13/02: Boeing announces a $378 million contract for an additional 18,840 JDAM kits by the JDAM Joint Program Office. The new contract is for a mix of GBU-31 (2,000 lb. warhead) kits and GBU-32 (1,000 lb. warhead) kits for both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy to be delivered between October 2002 and March 2004.

The new contract will require Boeing to deliver kits to both the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy at a production rate of 2,800 kits per month by August 2003. In response, Boeing is expanding its production facility in St. Charles, MO. Boeing release.

May 14/02: An F-15E Strike Eagle releases 5 JDAMs at 5 different targets in a single drop. Boeing.

FY 1996 – 2001

Full rate production. 1st export: Israel. JDAM drawing

July 18/01: Alenia team-up. Boeing Company and Alenia Marconi Systems announce a teaming agreement under which Alenia will market JDAM throughout much of Europe and the Middle East. It may also assemble JDAMs and derivative weapons that its customers purchase commercially, rather than through the U.S. foreign military sales program.

Alenia eventually became MBDA as a result of Europe’s government-driven mergers. By 2012, the partnership was no longer operational. Boeing release.

April 04/01: Boeing announces a $235 million contract for the production of 11,054 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) kits. Boeing will deliver 10,382 JDAM kits to the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. Navy will receive 672 kits and has an option for an additional 1,150. The contract includes a $25 million option for an additional 1,150 kits. The U.S. Air Force Air Armament Center at Eglin Air Force Base, FL is the contracting agency.

The award follows the Milestone III decision by the Pentagon’s Defense Acquisition Board earlier in April 2001, allowing the program to enter full-rate production.

Milestone III/ FRP

Sept 29/2000: 500 pound JDAM. Boeing announces a $45 million award to engineer, manufacture and develop (EMD) a version of the JDAM for 500 pound Mk80 bombs. The weapon will be integrated in to the F-16, F/A-18, and B-2 bombers during the EMD period. Work is scheduled to be completed by the Boeing weapons facility in St. Charles, MO by December 2002.

500 lb. JDAM

June 1/2000: Israeli integration. First International JDAM Sale: Boeing to Integrate Weapon on Israeli F-16 Aircraft. Boeing release.

1st export

April 28/2000: McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Berkeley, MO received a $5.65 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract to provide for incorporation of Pin-Lock Tail Actuator System technology into the production effort for 8,163 Joint Direct Attack Munition kits. The Pin-Lock Tail Actuator System provides a more durable and accurate method of maneuvering the tail fins of the JDAM than the existing Friction Brake technology. Contract completion date was 31 March 2001.

Feb 24/2000: LRIP-4. A $162 million award for production of 7,247 JDAMs for the USAF, and 916 for the U.S. Navy. LRIP began in the spring of 1997; this is the 4th lot of low-rate initial production JDAM kits, and a decision on full-rate production is expected later in 2000. To this point, Boeing has received orders for approximately 16,000 kits of the 87,000 that the U.S. government has plans to procure.

Production of Lot 4 will begin in March 2001, and ramp up to a rate of 700 kits per month in the Boeing weapons facility in St. Charles, MO. Production is scheduled to run through February 2002. Boeing release.

April 2/99: LRIP-3. A $50.5 million face value increase to a firm-fixed-price contract to provide for low rate initial production of 2,527 Joint Direct Attack Munition kits. The work was complete by January 2001.

June 24/98: 1st JDAM delivered. Boeing Delivers First JDAM.


April 30/97: LRIP-1. The USAF announced the decision to initiate low-rate initial production (LRIP) of JDAM, with the first production lot of 937 JDAM kits. MDC release.

Production begins

Oct 24/96: JDAM Guided Flight Tests Begin.

Additional Readings & Sources JDAM Family


  • DID – France’s AASM Precision-Guided Bombs. Uses a rocket booster to extend range, and comes in GPS, GPS/IIR, and GPS/laser variants.

  • Mectron – Armamentos Intelligentes. The Brazilian firm’s products include ACAUAN GPS/INS guidance kits.

  • DID – The US Navy’s DMLGB Program. Lockheed Martin product, separate from Boeing’s DAMTC naval Laser JDAM.

  • LIG Nex1 – KGGB. The South Korean firm’s strap-on glide-bomb kit creates an extended range GPS/INS weapon.

  • RAF – Enhanced Paveway (II/III). Raytheon’s Laser/GPS in 1,000 and 2,000 pound weapons.

  • DID – Paveway IV: British Dual-Guidance Bomb. A Raytheon UK Laser/GPS, just 500 pounds. The USA tried to block its exports to the Middle East in favor of American options, but eventually had to give in.

News & Views

Categories: News

Korean Air Refueling: Competition In Flight

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 17:17
KAL A330-200
(click to view full)

South Korea is moving to buy 4 long-range aerial refueling tankers with secondary transport capabilities, with a budget of WON 2 billion (about $1.8 billion). That capability isn’t a huge priority on the Korean peninsula itself, but it’s very useful for international operations. It’s useful as a way of projecting regional power, as territorial disputes flare with China.

As Asian economies grow and militaries modernize, these factors have made long-range aerial refueling a growing regional priority. China, India, Pakistan and China deploy the Russian IL-78. Japan fields 4 Boeing KC-767As, and may raise that to 8 under recent plans. Similar American KC-46As will join them in the region after 2017. Elsewhere in the region, Australia (5) and Singapore (4) picked Airbus Defense & Space’s larger A330 MRTT instead, and India looks set to buy 6 at some point. What will the ROKAF do?

Contracts & Key Events JASDF KC-767 & F-15J
(click to view full)

Nov 23/14: The Korea Herald confirms that Boeing (KC-46A 767), Airbus (A330 MRTT), and IAI (B767 MMTT) are all competing in Korea, but there’s a hitch, as an unnamed DAPA official explains:

“We are nearing the tail end of our price negotiations. But the competitors’ proposals regarding the [industrial economic] offset agreements are yet to satisfy our targets. Thus, there may be a delay in choosing the winner…. we are trying our best now in consideration of our best national interests. We may need at least one or two more months to finish negotiations.”

Either plane type will have widespread support infrastructure, with about 1,000 planes of each type in global service. Boeing is touting the KC-46A’s NBC hardening, interoperability with the USAF, and lower operating costs for a country that doesn’t need the extra size and range. Airbus touts a more capable A330/ KC-30B platform that will actually be ready by 2017 at the stated price, unlike the KC-46A, and is already proven in regional service. IAI touts the 767’s infrastructure and operating benefits at about half the cost of its rivals, freeing up funds for other military projects. On the flip side, they lack their rivals’ easy resort to passenger airline production work for industrial offsets. Sources: Korea Herald, “Competition heats up for tanker procurement deal”.

June 30/14: Boeing. Boeing confirms that they’ve formally offered South Korea the KC-46A tanker being developed for the USAF, rather than the KC-767 model that’s already in service with Japan and Italy. They tout the KC-46A’s quick-conversion main deck cargo floor, but make a point of mentioning this in the face of North Korea’s WMD arsenal, and ability to target ROKAF bases with missiles:

“Unique among tankers, the KC-46 can operate in chemical, biological and nuclear conditions, features cockpit armor for protection from small arms fire, and can also operate from a large variety of smaller airfields and forward-deployed austere bases.”

Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Offers Next-Generation KC-46 Tanker in Republic of Korea Competition”.

May 21/14: Proposals are due in June 2014, and briefing sessions in Korea lead to the standard statements from the 2 main competitors. Airbus is touting the A330 MRTT’s larger fuel reserves, while Boeing touts the KC-46A’s lower cost due to volume production and its smaller size. They’re also promising that they can deliver KC-46As to Korea beginning in 2017, which is their deadline to finish the USAF’s development phase.

Other governments in the region have employed national airlines as maintenance contractors for their new fleets. In KAL’s case, they operate A330-200s, but no 767s in their Boeing-tilted fleet of 737s, 747s, and 777s. Sources: Korean Times, “Boeing, Airbus compete for Seoul’s flight tanker project”.

May 20/14: Boeing. Eric John is the new President of Boeing Korea, after a 30-year career in the US Foreign Service that included 3 tours of Korea. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Announces New Leader for Korea”.

November 2013: South Korea finalizes its tanker program at a maximum cost of WON 2 trillion ($1.8 billion). Sources: Korean Times, “Boeing, Airbus compete for Seoul’s flight tanker project”.

Oct 22/13: Industrial. Boeing announces that assembly of the 3rd KC-46A aircraft and 2nd boom are underway. They sound confident that manufacturing of the initial batch of 4 aircraft remains on track to be completed by Q3 2014.

This would be good news for their USAF client, and would also help the company make its case in South Korea, where parliament is about to review whether to proceed with a competition for 4 tankers, to be delivered in 2017-19. Sources: Boeing, Oct 22/13 release.

Aug 7/13: Requirements. Yonhap reports that South Korea may acquire 4 aerial refueling tankers by 2019. It seems to be at the discussion level rather than a firm decision. If it proceeds, Boeing’s KC-46A and Airbus Military’s A330 MRTT are seen as the logical contenders, and the 2019 date makes the KC-767 a viable possibility.

The A330’s challenge is that, unlike Australia, South Korea’s zone of action doesn’t really need the A330’s range and size. That will make the extra expense problematic. It’s also worth noting that South Korea already has significant defense relationships with Israel’s IAI. That could create an opening for IAI’s much cheaper K-767 MMTT option, which is also on offer to Singapore. Sources: Yonhap News, “Air Force to acquire 4 aerial refueling tankers by 2019″.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

The Future of Chinese Missiles, Euro and Japanese Fighters

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 14:46

  • The latest annual report [PDF] to the US Congress by its US-China Economic and Security Review Commission notes that submarine-launched ballistic missiles give China its “first credible sea-based nuclear deterrent”:

“The JL–2’s range of approximately 4,598 miles gives China the ability to conduct nuclear strikes against Alaska if launched from waters near China; against Alaska and Hawaii if launched from waters south of Japan; against Alaska, Hawaii, and the western portion of the continental United States if launched from waters west of Hawaii; and against all 50 U.S. states if launched from waters east of Hawaii.”

  • China’s new CX-1 supersonic anti-ship and strike missile may look somewhat like the Russo-Indian BrahMos, but AIN explains why the experts don’t think it’s a copy.

  • Japan is looking at designing a “big, long-range fighter to defeat superior numbers”, reports AviationWeek.

Euro Players

  • Domingo Ureña Raso, EVP for military aircraft at Airbus Defense & Space, is open to a transatlantic partnership on fighter jets. This might be the only way for Boeing OR Airbus to remain fighter producers, long term. Defense News.

  • ThyssenKrupp will consider a sale of its submarine business at the right price, said CEO Heinrich Hiesinger. TKMS makes the U209, U212, U214, and U218SG boats. Germany is unlikely to give up submarine building to any firm outside the country. Sueddeutsche Zeitung via Reuters.

INS Vikrant No More

  • Work to dismantle INS Vikrant started [IBN] last Thursday and is expected to last 8 months. This is the British-build carrier first launched in 1945, not to be confused with a new carrier class of the same name that’s built in India.


  • President Obama decided to revert his policy of withdrawal and extend the US combat mission in Afghanistan. NYT.

  • The Afghan Parliament approved [Radio Free Europe] security agreements with the US and NATO that allow them to stay in the country past the end of the year.

  • NATO is tearing down temporary wooden structures at Bagram Airfield. Troops who used these huts will move to concrete buildings. Video below:

Categories: News

IL-476: Russia’s New Medium-Heavy Transport Jet

Sun, 11/23/2014 - 17:19
Civil IL-76TD-90VD
(click to view full)

Russia is reported to have just over 115 IL-76 medium-heavy strategic transport planes, but they’re leftovers from the Soviet era. On Oct 1/12 they unveiled the modernized “IL-476″ variant, and within days Russia’s Defense Ministry had signed a RUB 140 billion contract to begin recapitalizing the VVS fleet, alongside the 60 AN-70 medium tactical transports ordered in August 2012.

The order also launches the IL-476 as a competitor in the global medium-heavy transport market. Production of Ilyushin’s design will be undertaken by state-owned UAC’s Aviastar subsidiary in Ulyanovsk.

Russia’s IL-476 1st flight endorsement

UAC’s releases refer to IL-76MD-90A aircraft, and the 2 designations can be used interchangeably. The IL-476 has a number of similarities to the new civil IL-76TD-90VD, with quieter and more efficient Aviadvigatel (Perm) PS-90A-76 engines, modern digital avionics and navigation suites, plus a modernized wing design that includes a modified fuel system, reinforced landing gear, and a reinforced body for military missions. Payload has reportedly increased to around 52t/ 57.3 tons, with a range of about 5,000 km fully loaded.

Compared to previous IL-76 aircraft, the IL-476 reportedly offers an 18% boost to range, a 12% improvement in fuel consumption, better performance in hot temperatures and high altitudes, and a 10.6% improvement in cargo load. It also reportedly complies with international noise and emission standards, which affects the routes it can be certified to fly.

This level of performance places them well above competitors like the 35t+ capacity Airbus A400M turboprop, but below the more expensive Boeing C-17’s 77.5t capacity. On the other hand, the C-17’s production line is expected to shut down within a few years, leaving the global medium-heavy market to the IL-476, Airbus A400M, AN-70, and China’s new Y-20.

In August 2011, RIA Novosti reported that future buys are expected to bring the IL-476’s Russian orders to about 100 planes over time, with another 50 planes expected as exports.

In the past, Russian IL-76 prices have even allowed them to compete with medium airlifters like the C-130. Russia’s problem has been their reputation for poor reliability, and poor service. So far, Russian officials have acknowledged IL-476 talks with India and China. Both countries already use the IL-76 family, but India has just begun supplementing its fleet with Boeing’s C-17s, and China has just introduced its own Y-20.

Contracts & Key Events The IL-76MD-90A
click for video

Nov 21/14: A-100 AWACS. Russia’s fleet of about 20 A-50 Airborne Early Warning & Control (AWACS) jets is based on the IL-76, but they’re developing a new AWACS that will be based on the IL-476. The A-100 will feature a more advanced advanced active phased array radar, in place of the older Liana that equips the A-50.

The Beriyev Aviation Scientific-Technical Complex (TANTK) has now received its 1st IL-476/ IL-76MD-90A, and will begin the conversion process shortly. At present, there are 13 IL-76 family aircraft in various stages of production at Aviastar, whose projects include the new Sukhoi 100 passenger aircraft and modernization of Russia’s AN-124 fleet to AN-124-100 “Ruslan” status. Sources: ITAR-TASS, “Russia to develop new AWACS aircraft based on IL-76MD-90A plane”.

July 4/14: The 1st serial production IL-476 transport is painted, and given the name “Ulyanovsk” to mirror its factory’s location. Russia’s Scientific-Research Institute of Aviation Materials (VIAM) had to develop a couple of new paint types for the new plane. Sources: Aviastar-SP, “The Painting Of The First Serial IL-76MD-90A Transport Aircraft Is Finished”.

June 16/14: The 1st serial production IL-476 is rolled out for painting at Aviastar’s Ulyanovsk plant. Sources: Aviastar-SP, “The First IL-76MD-90A Production Airplane Was Delivered For Painting”.

Feb 21/14: Maidan. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is deposed and flees Kiev, shortly after signing an extensive economic cooperation agreement with Russia. The move was very unpopular in the Ukraine, and his ouster was preceded by mass demonstrations involving many thousands of people. By Feb 23/14, offsetting pro-Russian protests in the Crimea begin a domino effect of their own.

As of November 2014, Russia has annexed Crimea and its naval base in Sevastopol, and is waging and supporting undeclared war that is slowly pushing the Ukraine’s eastern border back. The eventual goal appears to be a land bridge to Crimea, and control over at least some of the Ukraine’s heavily industrialized eastern centers, which have substantial populations of ethnic Russians.

Russia was already leaning toward the IL-476 as its future transport, (q.v. Feb 11/13), but the invasions push the Ukraine to stop all defense cooperation with Russia, effectively placing the AN-70 in limbo and leaving the VVS with no alternative but the IL-476.

Oct 4/13: A year after the new type’s 1st flight and launch contract (q.v. Oct 4/12), Aviastar offers some updates:

“This year the aircraft has completed pre-schedule the first stage of demonstration flight-factory tests. After what the aircraft was delivered to the Ministry of Defense to carry out national united tests. To the mid of the year 2014 all of the planned testing program… will have been completed…. “Nowadays our assembly capacities allow production of 6-8 aircraft per year already. According to the tasks, that were given us by the United Aviation Corporation (???), we are supposed to produce 18 aircraft kit per year to the year 2018″, – noted [Aviastar] director… Sergey Dementiev.”

Sources: Aviastar-SP, “IL-76?D-90? : One Year In The Sky”.

Feb 11/13: Russia’s VVS may be about to recommend withdrawal from the AN-70 program, in favor of the new IL-476 jet transport:

“The Russian Air Force is preparing to brief against the country’s proposed acquisition of the An-70 transport aircraft, according to Russian media reports…. drew particular attention to production delays in the programme, with production models of the aircraft still not ready for static testing…. also cited criticisms about the aircraft’s wings, developed in the 1980s and built by the now-defunct Tashkent Aircraft Production Organization (TAPO) based in Uzbekistan; the electronic control systems; and avionics.

The first An-70 fuselage was completed in December 2012, but work at the Russian plant in the city of Kazan has yet to commence. The delays have caused concerns in Russia…”

If Russia’s political leadership terminates their 60-plane order, it would probably spell the end of the AN0-70 project, and remove a global competitor to the IL-476. See
IHS Jane’s
| Flight International.

Feb 5/13: +9 Russia? VVS MTA commander Col. Gen. Vladimir Benediktov says that the force will receive a total of 48 IL-476 heavy transport planes by 2020, rather than the 39 announced by all of the parties concerned.

RIA Novosti appears to be the only source for this report.

Jan 28/13: Testing. Aviastar SP announces that their IL-76MD-90A has performed its 1st major flight test from Ulyanovsk-Vostochny, after it had been painted and all its systems and equipment had been checked and tested. The flight lasted 4 hours 25 minutes, and future test flights will take place from Zhukovsky, near Moscow.

Competitor: Y-20
click for video

Nov 30/12: Competition. China orders 10 used IL-76s from Russia’s arms vendor Rosoboronexport as an interim measure. Sergei Kornev, head of Rosoboronexport’s aviation equipment department, tells AIN that the follow-on IL-476 is being offered to China, and also to India.

China would later go on to unveil its own Y-20 heavy jet transport, reportedly powered by the same D30K engines that equip the IL-76. The IL-476’s much-improved PS-90A-76 engines would certainly be helpful as templates for boosting China’s own “WS-20″ engine development efforts. A small order for IL-476s would secure them, but China could also ask for a direct engine sale. Or poach engineers as Russia moves to consolidate its aviation work. Or take a leaf from the Americans, and hope the civilian CJ-1000A engine being developed for China’s C919 passenger jet succeeds as a military crossover play. AIN | WSJ China RealTime Report re: Y-20 | Flight International re: Y-20.

Oct 4/12: Contract. Russia’s Defense Ministry signs a RUB 140 billion (about $4.5 billion) contract for 39 IL-476s, to begin recapitalizing the VVS MTA’s fleet. Deliveries are expected to run from 2014 through 2020.

This contract would equate to about $115 million per plane, but the VVS will also be paying for spares, training infrastructure and training for the new aircraft, and other initial fielding costs. The contract is signed on the same day as the new type’s 1st flight.

They IL-476s will serve in the future Russian air force alongside the 60 AN-70 medium tactical transports ordered in August 2012, and UAC expects about 59 more IL-476 orders from Russia over time. UAC | RIA Novosti | RIA Novosti follow-up.

1st flight & initial order: 39 for Russia

Oct 1/12: Rollout. The IL-476 is formally presented by Minister for Industry Denis Manturov, after performing 2 short test flights. Note that some of the statistics in this article, especially percentage improvements, are contradicted by official sources. The IL-476 does offer improvements, but the figures are different. Pravda.

IL-476 unveiled

Additional Readings

Categories: News

NSA Director Says US Infrastructure Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks

Fri, 11/21/2014 - 14:57

  • At a hearing held by the US House intelligence committee yesterday, NSA/USCYBERCOM director Adm. Michael Rogers said China and a couple other countries (whose name is classified) have the capabilities to possibly shut down critical/industrial systems in the United States such as part of the electric grid. AP | C-Span video (segment 29 minutes in).

US Biz Dev

  • NAVAIR is seeking information [FBO] about potential capabilities in the private sector to support Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) Performance Based Logistics (PBL) for the Navy, Marines, and FMS users of KC-130Js.

  • The US Air Force released a presolicitation [FBO] about C-130J Combined Block 7.0/Block 8.1 retrofits.


  • According to a report [PDF] by the United Nations’ Human Rights office, almost 1,000 people died in Eastern Ukraine in less than 3 months since a “cease fire” agreement was reached.

Middle East

  • The US Congress is hesitant to approve armament sales to Iraq given how ISIS was able to capture and use US equipment when it routed Iraqi forces in the spring. Of course there’s a Duffel Blog spoof thank you letter to BAE for that.


  • Japan’s Prime Minister Abe called a snap election to confirm support for his economic policies. If he loses, it may also make a big difference on defense matters. Japan News | CSIS | Economist.

  • Philippine President Benigno Aquino said [in Filipino] that the country was on track to meet a PHP91B ($2B) defense modernization plan by 2017, up from what his pronouncement last year.

DoD vs. White House

  • Former US defense secretaries Gates and Panetta spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum earlier this week, and both complained about micromanagement and empty threats coming from their former boss President Obama. Video below:

Categories: News

Jumped-up JSTARS: What Future for the USAF’s Ground Surveillance Planes?

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 17:05
E-8C JSTARS Connectivity
(click to view larger)

The USA’s 17-plane E-8C J-STARS (Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System) fleet’s ability to monitor enemy ground movements over very wide areas, while seeing through problematic weather conditions, has made it an invaluable contributor to every US military ground campaign over the last 15+ years. Other countries are finally introducing similar capabilities, but the JSTARS fleet size, maturity, and array of functions make it a unique class asset for America’s entire alliance structure. All Boeing 707 family E-8 Joint STARS aircraft are assigned to the Georgia Air National Guard’s 116th Air Control Wing at Robins Air Force Base, GA, a “total-force blended wing” with active-duty Air Force, Army and Air National Guard personnel.

An asset like that needs to be kept current, or replaced with something that is. E-8 planes have received both system upgrades and R&D work, in order to improve aircraft readiness and operating costs. A 3rd round of upgrades is beginning, but the USAF seems to be leaning toward a limited future for its battlefield surveillance and relay planes.

Improving JSTARS JT8D pod on E-8C
(click to view full)

Plans to improve JSTARS have focused on 3 main areas.

One is the planes’ aged Pratt & Whitney TF33-102C engines. By 2011, an R&D program had proved out a replacement concept involving PW’s JT8D-219 engines in a pod-based kit, but the USAF hasn’t funded fleet conversion.

The 2nd area involves the aircraft’s electronics, which age out at a faster pace than other components. The entire force was upgraded to Block 20 status in 2005, but the use of commercial hardware and software standards only solves part of the problem. The canceled E-10A had already made big investments in an updated Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) mission suite, but adding BMC2 to existing E-8 aircraft would involve substantial rewiring and other “deep maintenance” work. That’s time-consuming and expensive.

Proteus & MP-RTIP pod
(click to view full)

The 3rd area involves the planes’ radar and sensors. J-STARS operations have to contend with their AN/APY-7 radar’s limitations, which have been underscored by the challenges inherent in campaigns against stateless terrorists and counter-insurgency fights. One is that the radar has to “break track” with a target, in order to collect an image. Another is the radar’s resolution, which is adequate to find tanks and ground vehicles, but doesn’t reach the under 1 meter resolution of current technologies. It isn’t difficult to imagine that a J-STARS or Global Hawk would need to perform wide area scans, while focusing with higher resolution on one target of interest, and occasionally taking high-resolution synthetic aperture radar pictures for transmission to HQ or other platforms, all at the same time.

The E-8C J-STARS can’t do that at the moment, but the architecture of AESA radar arrays is making this sort of thing possible on platforms like advanced fighters. Understandably, the USAF wanted this capability for its reconnaissance aircraft. A new AESA radar called MP-RTIP was originally developed for the (canceled) E-10A JSTARS replacement, with a claimed 5x – 10x resolution improvement over the JSTARS’ APY-7. A smaller version will now be mounted on Global Hawk Block 40 UAVs, and one obvious approach would be to equip E-8s with a full-size MP-RTIP or a similar radar.

The cost of that conversion has pushed the USAF away from that idea, while looking at other methods to improve the platform. The JSTARS Radar Modernization (JSRM) replaced 2 radar receivers with 1 modern receiver, improving resolution and tracking. 2011 tests added a keel beam accessory bay (KAB) behind the APY-7 radar, and installed a high-resolution MS-177 multispectral camera for sub 1-meter resolution and target identification. The KAB could accommodate other sensors instead, which would add flexibility to the platform. A February 2013 test even added MP-RTIP, after a fashion. It showed that E-8s could stream MP-RTIP radar data from a RQ-4B Block 40 UAV for analysis on board, then use the E-8’s superior communications systems to distribute the results.

JSTARS Upgrades: Current Plans & Progress Re-engined JSTARS
(click to view full)

In April 2013, the USAF’s FY 2014 JSTARS budget entry explained some of the program’s remaining parameters. They break down into 2 main areas. One is Spiral Development, and accompanying efforts to keep training systems up to date. The other is the core electronics problem of parts that are going out of production, called “Diminishing Manufacturing Sources.” The submission also explained what happened to the re-engining program.

Re-engining. The USAF has terminated the re-engining program without completing System Design and Development, though they did develop a design and successfully fly an aircraft with it. What’s left? Completion of all logistics development tasks and operational tests.

Spiral Development. This involves various technology development/insertions to enhance target identification, data processing & transmittal, and weapon control capabilities, such as:

  • JSTARS Net Enabled Weapons (JNEW) and Joint Surface Warfare (JSuW). JSuW-JNEW activities include participation in the JSuW Joint Capability Technology Demonstration (JCTD) and Engineering and Manufacturing Development for Network Enabled Weapons (NEW) which includes, but is not limited to Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Air Surface Warfare-Anti-Surface Warfare (JASSM-ASuW).
  • JSTARS Radar Modernization (JSRM). The JSRM activities apply MP-RTIP receiver technology to JSTARS, replacing 2 current receivers with a single receiver based on modern technology.
  • Blue Force Tracker (BFT).
  • Battlefield Airborne Communication Node (BACN) compatibility, allowing the E-8 to work with the USAF’s airborne communications relay and translation fleet of EQ-11A Global Express jets, and EQ-4B Global Hawk drones.
  • Combat identification and future program planning for Analysis of Alternatives recommendations.

Future program planning activities include but are not limited to:

  • Modular equipment enclosure (MEE)
  • Automatic identification system (AIS)
  • Analyst support architecture (ASA) software
  • Common data link (CDL) integration

Spiral development also supports requirements that arise quickly under current and future Urgent Operational Needs (UON), quick reaction capabilities (QRCs), top-down directed efforts, requirements definition, capability gap analysis, pre-Milestone A (MS A) technical risk reduction activities, Blue Force Tracker, multi-agency communication capability (MACC) and the Air Force tactical receive system (AFTRS) radio replacement for the integrated broadcast service (IBS) data, other large airborne platform integration efforts including self-defense suite (SDS), and radar & aircraft performance improvements. Equipment developed under spiral development are procured under Kill Chain Enhancement-MN-38203.

Avionics Diminishing Manufacturing Sources. Av-DMS efforts deal with electronics that are either out of production or about to be. Fixing the problem could involve buying a lot of spares, but it often involves redesigning affected systems to use modern electronics. JSTARS has a long list, and its efforts include, but are not limited to:

  • Aircraft Information Program (AIP)
  • Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS)
  • Communications
  • Navigation
  • Surveillance and Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) upgrades
  • Control and Display Unit (CDU) Replacement
  • Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT)
  • Flight Data Recorder (FDR)
  • Electronic Flight Bag (EFB)
  • Mode 5 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF)
  • Embedded GPS Inertial (EGI) with Selective Availability Anti-Spoofing Module (SAASM)/M-Code GPS
  • Digital Multi-Function Flight Display (Attitude Direction Indicator
  • Horizontal Situation Indicator and Attitude Heading Reference System)
  • Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)
  • A new flight management system (FMS)
  • Flight director
  • Instrument Landing System (ILS) Marker Beacon multi-mode receiver (MMR)
  • Digital engine instruments.

Additional Modernization efforts include interoperability with manned and unmanned platforms (q.v. Feb 25/13 entry); space data links; advanced Battle-Management Command and Control (BMC2) concepts; 8.33/25 kHz VHF Radio with Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio System (SINCGARS) voice and data communication; ISR Constellation; Air Moving Target Indicator (AMTI – can detect low, slow-flying aircraft); Advanced Radar Modes (ARM); Aided Target Recognition (ATR); Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)/Enhanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ESAR); Network Centric Collaborative Targeting (NCCT); and Beyond-Line-of-Sight (BLOS) Network Architecture Upgrades (BNAU).

Pilot interview

Over the last couple of years, there has been some progress, but that’s winding down as the USAF prepares to implement its set of modifications:

FY 2011 Accomplishments: Completed JSuW Link 16 JCTD; continued JSRM radar receiver development; completed SYERS (MS-177 multispectral camera) demo in new keel bay extension; continued Avionics DMS development; completed Enhanced Land Maritime Mode (ELMM) SDD and began production; continued CNU-JTRS replacement development; continued 8.33/25 kHz Radio with SINCGARS retrofit; continued PME DMS RASP SDD; FVB mitigation; Analysis of Alternatives; QRC efforts; and Spiral Development. Supported non-recurring engineering activity including development; FAA Certification; Flight Testing; Flight Performance Manuals; Pneumatic SDD (bleed air); Maintenance Training.

FY 2012 Accomplishments: Completed JSRM radar receiver development and began flight demo; Continued Av-DMS [Diminishing Manufacturing Sources] development and studies; Completed BNAU [SATCOM upgrades] design, and began BNAU integration and test; Continued Flight Viability Board (FVB) mitigation, QRC efforts, and Spiral Development. MIDS-JTRS tests successful, and it’s approved for E-8C fielding. Completed CNU-JTRS SDD design, integrate, test and Link 16 Concurrent Multi-Netting (CMN)-4/2,Dynamic Net Management(DNM), and Link 16 Enhanced Throughput (LET) study.

FY 2013 Plans: Will complete JSRM radar receiver flight demo, will complete Av-DMS development and studies, will complete BNAU integration and test, and will continue FVB mitigation, QRC efforts, and Spiral Development. Completed manned-unmanned interoperability test with Global Hawk Block 40 UAV and its MP-RTIP radar.

FY 2014 Plans: Will continue FVB mitigation, QRC efforts, and Spiral Development. Upgrade contract awarded (q.v. Oct 22/13).

Competition, and the E-8’s Future P-8 AGS concept
(click to view full)

The envisioned JSTARS upgrade program has faced continued delays, and continued shrinkage. Its current $110 million estimate is just 4% of Northrop Grumman’s initial Plan B suggestion, which indicates a focus on keeping the fleet operational rather than enhancing it significantly.

Meanwhile, competitors are proposing alternatives, as advancing technology brings similar or better capabilities within reach of smaller aircraft.

Boeing began by proposing a $5.5 billion program to replace the E-8C fleet with a derivative of its 737-based P-8A Poseidon sea control jet, instead of paying that estimated amount to upgrade the E-8Cs with new cockpits, sensors, and engines. Boeing’s P-8 AGS would include the Raytheon-Boeing Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) or its AAS successor, Raytheon’s AN/APY-10 multi-mode radar in the nose, some of the E/A-18G Growler electronic attack plane’s ESM electronics for detection and geo-location of electro-magnetic emissions, and an electro-optical surveillance and targeting turret. Because they use current radar technologies, the P-8A’s surface-looking radars are reportedly already competitive with JSTARS. A P-8 derivative would also give the USAF space and integration for weapons or additional sensors, while keeping the P-8’s new civil-compliant avionics, new mission electronics, new airframe, and the lower operating and maintenance costs of a smaller, more advanced, and widely used jet.

Boeing’s unofficial proposal led Northrop Grumman to counter with a less expensive “Plan B” radar improvement option, using 1 foot x 8 foot cheek fairings derived from its top-end APG-77 and APG-81 fighter radars. This would be combined with a keel beam accessory bay (KAB), which can also include other sensors like long-range cameras for positive personal identification. Northrop Grumman contended that this would drop the E-8 fleet’s upgrade price to around $2.7 billion: $900 million for re-engining, $500 million for new APY-7 receivers and exciters, $1 billion for the cheek array, and $300 million for avionics upgrade and battle management improvements.

UK: Sentinel R1
(click to view full)

After 2013, it appears that the USAF would rather spend that kind of money on new jets that offer modern capabilities from the outset, and cost much less to operate. 737s are cheaper to run than 707s, but several competitors are looking even smaller, to business and regional jets from Bombardier, Embraer, and Gulfstream. Initial solicitations are due soon, and the USAF is imagining a modern fleet beginning to enter service around 2022.

Raytheon has already created the ASTOR Sentinel R1 for Britain, using Bombardier’s Challenger 604. Brazil uses Embraer’s P-99B, based on their ERJ-145. Lockheed Martin’s Dragon Star/ Net Dragon MULTI-INT rental uses a Gulfstream III, and they’ve been working with Italy in Afghanistan. Boeing offers their P-8 as a base, and they’re also supplementing it with a smaller Bombardier Challenger 604 MSA offering, which borrows the P-8’s core mission systems. The P-8A’s mission system will soon be programmed to include overland radar surveillance, so the MSA’s only barrier will involve mounting an appropriate radar.

If the USAF can’t find any recapitalization money because of budget-swallowing programs like the F-35 fighter, their options will shrink. The Northrop Grumman Global Hawk UAV family’s continued momentum in the face of USAF opposition could leave the USAF dependent on USAF RQ-4B surveillance and EQ-4 BACN communications fleets to perform lesser slices of the E-8C’s roles, with the hope that improvements over time would allow flying over a wider range of conditions, and broaden each UAV’s capabilities. NATO’s pooled RQ-4B Block 40 AGS fleet would also be available for a set number of hours each year.

The US Navy could also take over a chunk of this role. USN P-3Cs have already been used for overland surveillance in CENTCOM, and their 737-based P-8A Poseidon replacements will gain an extremely capable surface-looking AAS radar by 2019 or so (P-8A Increment 3). Poseidon’s MQ-4C Triton UAV companion is a Global Hawk derivative with its own surveillance capabilities, including an advanced surface-scanning AN/ZPY-3 AESA radar that’s currently optimized for maritime surveillance.

Contracts and Key Events FY 2015

Replacement competition. Inside the E-8C
(click to view full)

Nov 17/14: What’s next? Northrop Grumman hasn’t made any commitments regarding the pending E-8 JSTARS replacement competition (q.v. June 17/14), except to say that they will participate. They have a solid base to build on from their E-8 JSTARS, their MP-RTIP radar now flying on RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40s, and their effort to develop the canceled E-10A’s command and battle management system. They’re even doing advance testing already:

“Since this whole thing began, we’ve been doing all of the required things you would expect in terms of risk reduction, requirements analysis, trying to understand the system architecture,” [Alan Metzger] said. Northrop has refined its battle management command-and-control software and integrated it with assorted computers, communications systems and sensors within a Gulfstream 550 testbed.”

Why the G550? It is flown by Israel in AEW&C and SIGINT/ELINT roles, but the real reason is that it’s basically the smallest aircraft under consideration for the role. If you know what’s possible there, you have a known lowest baseline to adjust from, depending on what the USAF’s RFP spits out. With that said, this course of action does convey a pretty clear sense in the industry that the USAF is looking for something a lot smaller than the E-8C. Sources: NDIA Magazine, “JSTARS Contractor Joins Modernization Competition”.

FY 2011 – 2014

JSSIP III restrained improvements contract; Demonstrations: Advanced camera sensor, Streaming for Global Hawk radar data; USAF leaning toward replacement not upgrades. E-8C JSTARS
(click to view full)

June 17/14: What’s next? The USAF is looking at options for recapitalizing JSTARS, with Initial Operating Capability of 4 planes by 2022, in order to counter escalating operations and maintenance costs. The planes need to accomodate about 13 crew and a 13? – 20? radar, stay on station for 8 hours with aerial refueling capability for more, and reach 38,000 feet. The USAF plans to ask for $2.4 billion over the next 5 years, but the dollars don’t really exist to launch another major USAF program. Hence USAF JSTARS recapitalization branch chief Lt. Col. Michael Harm:

“With the completion of the 2011 JSTARS mission area analysis of alternatives study and the onset of Budget Control Act-directed budget levels, it became clear that the future of the JSTARS weapons system lay in a more cost-effective platform as compared to extending the lifecycle of the current 707 airframes.” ….The Air Force is currently drafting requirements for the program, which will be finalized by early 2015, Harm said. In order to keep the system affordable, it plans on using commercial, off-the-shelf equipment and minimizing new technology development.”

Boeing is expected to enter its P-8, which is already configured for the mission and the above requirements once the LSR radar is added. Added costs would be limited to expansion of communications links and software development, and Navy commonality would be a big plus.

Raytheon’s Sentinel R1 already serves in the JSTARS role with Britain’s RAF, and the smaller Bombardier jet needs ongoing system and software development to reach its full potential. Operating costs would be lower, expanding the current USA-UK Airseeker RC-135V Rivet Joint ELINT/SIGINT partnership to encompass Sentinel R1s is a thinkable option, and Bombardier can lean on Raytheon and/or its Learjet subsidiary as the American lead. Aerial refueling might be the issue, given Sentinel’s configuration and the USAF’s insistence on dorsal boom refueling.

Gulfstream is looking to do something similar by partnering up and offer either the G550, which is already in use by Israel and its customers in AEW&C (CAEW) or ELINT/SIGINT (SEMA) variants, or the longer-range G650. They say that the’ve done the design work for aerial refueling, but haven’t had a customer take them up on it yet. E-8 JSTARS lead Northrop Grumman, who led the canceled E-10A program and retains key technologies, is a very logical partnering choice. With that said, Lockheed Martin has their own expertise to offer, and their Dragon Star ISR aircraft-for-lease is a Gulfstream.

The USA’s default option, of course, is to do nothing. The E-8C fleet would then become vulnerable to future fleet-sized USAF cuts. Meanwhile the P-8As would field in the Navy and informally take over some of the JSTARS role, alongside USAF UAVs like RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 and its EQ-4 BACN counterpart. Sources: NDIA National Defense, “Industry Ready to Compete for JSTARS Recapitalization Program”.

Oct 22/13: JSSIP III. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Melbourne, FL receives a sole-source $414.5 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity Joint STARS System Improvement Program III contract, with a combination of firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive-firm, and cost-plus-fixed-fee elements. the. JSSIP III aims to improve E-8C performance, capability, reliability and maintainability, but won’t touch the plane’s engines.

Sources in Washington suggest that the scope of this program has been squeezed repeatedly from all sides, as the contractor and USAF worked hard to find new solutions, and a common ground that can attract and keep funding. What emerged was a minimalist upgrade focused on replacing operator work stations (OWS) and radar signal processor computers, installs larger OWS displays, and migrates the OWS operating system to a LINUX-based, open-system architecture. Upgrades to the system’s on-board network infrastructure increase its bandwidth. Sources say that the initial $43 million contract will buy 7 conversion kits, with follow-ons for up to 9 more kits and for installation work. The entire set of actual awards would reportedly spend just $110 million of this contract.

Note that the JSTARS Total System Support Responsibility (TSSR) contract is due for renewal very soon. It’s instructive to compare the relative costs of the USAF’s sustainment contract vs. this upgrade contract, in order to fully understand the cost of this fleet.

Work will be performed at Melbourne FL, and is expected to be complete by Oct 20/20. USAF Material Command’s Air Force Life Cycle Management Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA will manage the contract (FA8730-14-D-0002). See also Northrop Grumman, Oct 30/13 release.

JSSIP III upgrades

Oct 21/13: At AUSA 2013, Northrop Grumman’s booth displays a small “Broadcast GMTI” kit, which would allow the E-8C to send its radar pictures directly to nearby ground forces. GMTI stands for “Ground Moving Target Indicator” software, which helps battlefield radars highlight and track moving targets. The aircraft is already being used as a communication relay, so bandwidth isn’t a problem.

Sept 23/13: Replace it. USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh tells AFA’s Air and Space Conference that the USAF prefers outright replacement of JSTARS. It’s Tier 2 behind the F-35, KC-46A, and new bomber, which means it probably isn’t affordable under actual budgets. Nevertheless, Walsh says the USAF is trying to build a plan for providing battlefield surveillance “at the best cost over time” using an analysis of alternatives.

There’s definitely a need. The 7th Expeditionary Airborne Command and Control Squadron has flown the overall JSTARS fleet an average of 19.4 hours each day since 9/11. Other USAF officials say that the E-8 fleet’s depot track record, the need to replace their electronics, and their size and old engines makes them less competitive than alternatives.

Technologies have advanced considerably. Boeing’s 737-based P-8 AGS is one option, offering the USAF the most room for specialized equipment, and a platform with many key systems already finished via US Navy development funds. Elsewhere around the world, even smaller platforms are flying this mission. Israel operates a SEMA variant of the G550 large business jet, Brazil offers the R-99B/ EMB 145 Multi-Intel based on its ERJ-145 regional jet, and Britain’s Sentinel R1 fleet uses a Bombardier Global Express long-range business jet airframe. Sources: USAF 116th ACW, “JSTARS Recapitalization” | AFA Air Force Magazine, “Replacing JSTARS”.

Feb 25/13: Global Hawk + E-8. A flight test involving the T-3 JSTARS test aircraft and an RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 drone streams data from the UAV’s superior radar to the E-8. Northrop Grumman program director Bryan Lima states that:

“Operators in the Joint STARS aircraft were able to use the Global Hawk as an adjunct sensor…. We were able to display and use the Global Hawk’s radar data on the Joint STARS platform to extend and improve the overall surveillance capabilities and utility of both platforms.”

Sources: Northrop Grumman, March 6/13 release.

Jan 17/13: MIDS JTRS. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). MIDS JTRS is included, and there’s some good news: FY 2012 testing showed that many of the 2010 IOT&E test’s deficiencies have been fixed.

MIDS JTRS on the E-8C JSTARS was declared operationally effective and suitable, but with limitations. The system worked, with no terminal failures in 114.3 hours of testing. The problem is that terminal operators had display problems, which needs to be fixed.

Within the same volume as the MIDS-LVT, the software-defined MIDS JTRS will be able to handle Link 16 with NSA certified encryption, Link-16 Enhanced Throughput (ET) and Link-16 Frequency Remapping (FR). It will also have TACAN (a tactical air navigation aid providing range and bearing from a beacon), UHF or VHF, and the Wideband Networking Waveform as communication options, and additional capabilities are implemented on 3 additional programmable channels from 2 MHz – 2 GHz. The US Navy is continuing development of 2 major MIDS JTRS increments: CMN-4 (Link 16 four-channel Concurrent Multi-Netting with Concurrent Retention Receive) and TTNT (Tactical Targeting Networking Technology). These new capabilities may require significant hardware and software design changes to the MIDS JTRS core terminal, as well as modifications to host platforms for TTNT. That adds considerable technical risk, and will require extensive testing.

April 4/12: MIDS-JTRS. The MIDS JTRS terminal is approved for Full Production and Fielding by Mr. Frank Kendall, Acting Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.

Despite earlier problems with ViaSat terminal, both MIDS-JTRS vendors have now been found Operationally Effective and Operationally Suitable by Commander, Operational Test & Evaluation Force (COTF) and Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), and will soon attain Initial Operational capability (IOC) on 3 different platforms: the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter family, the E-8C JSTARS battlefield surveillance & communication aircraft, and the RC-135 Rivet Joint electronic eavesdropping plane. JPEO JTRS [PDF]

March 14/11: Sensors. Northrop Grumman announces that they’ve completed Congress-mandated installation and testing of an MS-177 multispectral camera that adds visual imagery on top of the E-8C’s AN/APY-7 synthetic aperture radar pictures. Adding camera capability means permission to launch attacks in minutes, instead of hours, with no need to confirm using other platforms like UAVs.

The 500 pound Goodrich MS-177 sensor, derived from the U-2 spy plane’s Syers-2 camera, can keep focus on a target that’s head-on at the start of the plane’s pass and moves to the side as the plane flies, instead of being limited to side shots. It’s housed in a new keel beam accessory bay (KAB) behind the APY-7 radar, on JSTARS test aircraft T-3.

Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems director of Joint STARS’ architectures and concept demonstrations, Mike Mos, touts the key benefit as identification: “From long distances, the APY-7 radar combined with the MS-177 camera could identify very clearly people, buildings, automobiles and ships.” The APY-7 radar has been tweaked so it can spot moving individuals, a well as tanks, but attacks can’t be launched based on radar images alone. Some other form of positive identification is required, typically photos or video images. Cameras provide sharper images than the APY-7, and even the new MP-RTIP radar can’t tell you, for example, the registration number painted on a ship’s side. Or see a face.

The test has wider implications. The KAB could contain other sensors, creating other opportunities to expand the E-8’s payloads. Next steps for the team include more aerodynamic modeling and testing with the new fairing, and research into other sensor combinations. The team hopes this will pave the way for low percentage cost, high impact upgrades to the entire 17-plane fleet. See also Defense News re: initial September 2010 installation.

FY 2005 – 2010

$500+ million upgrade contract; E-8C Block 20 conversions finished; MP-RTIP radar progresses, slowly; Boeing submits a counter-proposal to the USAF. E-8 JSTARS
(click to view full)

Sept 24/10: MP-RTIP. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Western Region in El Segundo, CA receives a $12.3 million contract modification which will fund MP-RTIP radar system development and demonstration for integration with the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 40 program. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (F19628-00-C-0100; PO0220).

Sept 13/10: P-8 AGS. The battle over the E-8 JSTARS fleet’s future is heating up. Boeing is proposing a derivative of its P-8A Poseidon sea control aircraft as a proposed $5.5 billion, 1-for-1 replacement of the current E-8C fleet, instead of paying that estimated amount to upgrade the E-8Cs with new cockpits, sensors, and engines. The Boeing AGS version would include the Raytheon-Boeing Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS), Raytheon’s AN/APY-10 multi-mode radar in the nose, some the same Electronic Support Measures for emissions geo-location that are featured on the E/A-18G Growler electronic attack plane, and an electro-optical surveillance and targeting turret. A P-8 derivative would also give the USAF space and integration for weapons on board, or additional sensors in those spaces.

Northrop Grumman believes the Boeing figure may be a lowball price, and has its own proposal to add 1′ x 8′ array radars on the plane’s cheeks, derived from the firm’s APG-77 and APG-81 AESA radars that equip F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. Today, JSTARS operations have to “break track” with a target to collect an image. The cheek fairings would solve that problem, while keeping the existing AN/APY-7, in order to lower the upgrade price to around $2.7 billion: $900M re-engining, $500M for new APY-7 receiver and exciters, $1 billion for the cheek array, $300M for avionics upgrade and battle management improvements. This would replace the previous push to swap the APY-7 for their new MP-RTIP radar.

Northrop Grumman executives have expressed concern that USAF officials haven’t showed them the 2009 initial capabilities document, which could launch a competition to replace or upgrade the E-8C. That isn’t a required step, but it is common practice. This may be because the USAF is considering even wider options – like putting the focus on “persistent ground looking radar and optical surveillance with high resolution moving target capability,” instead of an E-8C vs. 737 AGS competition. If so, the firms could find themselves competing with other platforms, possibly including derivatives of airship projects like Northrop Grumman’s US Army’s LEMV etc. Aviation Week | Flight International.

Boeing’s alternative

July 13/10: Sub-contractors. Tactical Communications Group, LLC announces a contract from Northrop Grumman’s E-8 JSTARS team for multiple TCG BOSS systems, in order to conduct comprehensive testing for Link 16 standards compliance by the new mission system and MIDS-JTRS terminals.

March 24/10: Sub-contractors. Curtiss-Wright Corporation announces a $10.5 million contract from Northrop Grumman Corporation to provide an upgraded Radar Signal Processing (RSP) solution for use in the JSTARS program. The initial portion of the contract, for $5.1 million, was awarded to cover “Prime Mission Equipment (PME) Diminishing Material Source (DMS),” ensuring that the USAF will have enough on hand in future. An additional $5.4 million was awarded to enhance the RSP solution “so that it meets advanced radar processing capacity requirements necessary to support future radar performance needs.”

The contract is part of a larger upgrade to the RASP (Radar Airborne Signal Processor (RASP) system used in Joint STARS. Curtiss-Wright’s Motion Control segment will design and manufacture the Radar Signal Processing (RSP) solutions at its San Diego, CA facility.

March 13/09: Accident. A contractor leaves a plug an E-8 fuel tank relief valve – and it nearly costs the USAF a JSTARS plane and all aboard when the wing fuel tank blows out during an aerial refueling near Qatar:

“The PDM [Programmed Depot Maintenance] subcontractor failed to follow Technical Order (TO) mandated procedures when employing the fuel vent test plug during PDM. Due to the relatively short period of time between take-off and [aerial refueling], the [aircraft] did not have the opportunity to burn a substantial amount of fuel from the number two fuel tank which could have allowed the “dive flapper” valve to open after the tank’s excessive air pressure decreased to the point where the flapper valve would open. This explains why this mishap did not occur… between the time [the plane] left the PDM facility and the time of the mishap [on March 13/09].”

The damage is “only” $25 million, and the JSTARS may end up being retired from the fleet. Sources; USAF Accident Report [PDF] | Defense Tech, “A Basic Mistake That Trashed a JSTARS” (incl. pictures).

Major but non-fatal accident

Aug 7/09: MP-RTIP. Northrop Grumman Integrated Systems Western Region in El Segundo, CA received a $57.1 million modified contract to provide a demonstration unit of the initial parts of the MP-RTIP for the Joint Stars E-8 platform. At this time, $27.2 million has been committed by the Multi-Sensor Command and Control Aircraft Program Office at Hanscom Air Force Base, MA (F19628-00-C-0100 P00174).

Nov 4/08: MP-RTIP. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. of El Segundo, CA receives a $5.8 million cost reimbursement with award fee contract modification under the Joint STARS Radar Modernization program. They will perform a risk reduction study to examine the full extent of the effort required to integrate the (now-canceled) E-10’s planned MP-RTIP radar onto the E-8 JSTARS platform. All funds have already been committed by Hanscom AFB, MA (F19629-00-C-0100, Modification P00153).

Work on the study will be done at Northrop Grumman facilities in Norwalk, CT; Melbourne, FL; and El Segundo, CAl and Raytheon’s Space and Airborne Systems business unit. See also Northrop Grumman release.

April 8/09: In “Air Force Radar Plan Imperils Troops,” the center-libertarian Lexington Institute asks:

“What’s wrong with this picture? The Air Force plans to spend over a hundred billion dollars to buy 2,000 new fighters, but it can’t find the money to upgrade a handful of radar planes with better technology for tracking insurgents. Even though it has already spent a billion dollars to develop the new technology it now says it can’t afford to install. And even though warfighters in Iraq have identified an urgent operational need for the new capability.”

Nov 21/05: Upgrades. Northrop Grumman Corp. in Melbourne, FL receives a maximum $532 million cost-reimbursement fixed-price contract to procure improvements which will increase the E-8C fleet’s performance, reliability, and maintainability. The USAF can issue task orders totaling up to the maximum amount, but may issue less.

This contract will include a wide range of efforts, from studies to systems engineering and simulations, engineering change proposals, manufacturing, installation, test and demonstrations, production and retrofit, documentation, support, and training. The USAF is currently most interested in improvements to communications, navigation, surveillance, air traffic management, mobile target tracking, advanced radar systems, and airborne networking and communications improvements.

Work will be complete in December 2011. Solicitations began in August 2005, with 1 proposal received by the Headquarters Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom AFB, MA (FA8708-06-D-0001).

Contract for studies & upgrades

Aug 16/05: Northrop Grumman completes E-8C Block 20 upgrades to JSTARS planes delivered before 2002. Block 20 upgrades use integrated commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing and signal-processing hardware from Mercury Computer Systems and Compaq Computer Corporation. The full change creates more of an “open-systems” configuration for hardware and software, rather than relying on proprietary military electronics. Sources: Northrop Grumman, “Northrop Grumman Completes Joint STARS Computer Upgrade”.

Block 20 complete

Appendix A: Death of the E-10 E-10 M2CA Concept
(click to view full)

The E-10A aircraft concept sought to combine the functions of 707-based E-3 AWACS aerial surveillance and command aircraft, and E-8 J-STARS ground surveillance planes, all packaged in a single 767-400 jet. Advances in modern electronics made the project thinkable, but budgetary constraints killed it in early 2007, leaving the USA’s existing E-3 and E-8 fleets to soldier on.

The E-10A had 2 key technologies that continue to draw interest.

One was an updated Battle Management Command and Control (BMC2) mission suite that would be used as the aircraft’s nerve center. The bad news is that adding BMC2 to existing aircraft would involve substantial rewiring and other “deep maintenance” work.

The other was the MP-RTIP (Multi-Platform Radar Technology Insertion Program) wide-scan AESA radar, which will deploy a smaller-size version on NATO’s AGS (RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40) fleet. Northrop Grumman has been pressing for an E-8C radar upgrade that would leverage their billion dollars worth of work on MP-RTIP, and improve E-8 scan resolution by a factor of 5x-10x.

Since December 2000, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have been teamed for the design, development and production of MP-RTIP, and development of MP-RTIP continues under a $1.2 billion program. Its X-band Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar uses beam steering that can couple electronic and mechanical options. Specifics will depend on the platform and payload space, and antenna size can be tailored accordingly.

MP-RTIP’s Rocky Road RQ-4B Block 40 rollout
(click to view full)

As of the end of May 2009, MP-RTIP was behind its original schedule, and had not tested its most advanced variants. While the basic synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and ground moving target indications (GMTI) have finished testing, technical glitches took their toll. Due to issues with radar calibration, about 376 hours and 64 flights with Scaled Composites’ Proteus vehicle had been needed to iron out radar system level performance verification (RSLPV) on these basic modes, out of a total of 1,063 hours and 186 flights as of May 2009.

The MP-RTIP is reportedly having problems with “concurrent modes” when the radar is asked to do several things at once, which has cause high-level Pentagon officials to air their dissatisfaction in public.

Remaining modes in 2009 included ground high-range resolution (HRR) and concurrent moving-target indicator (MTI) modes. The HRR/c-MTI combination leverages the advantages of AESA technology and improved processing, in order to field a substantially improved SAR/GMTI ground radar scan. Ground HRR allows more precise measurement of a target’s length, while concurrent MTI does not force the radar to suspend collection in other modes while MTI is running. Some sources add that MP-RTIP will also have aerial MTI capability, which would give it the ability to find other UAVs and cruise missiles.

Additional Readings Background: E-8 JSTARS

Other E-8 related

News & Views

Lexington Institute (April 8/09) – Air Force Radar Plan Imperils Troops.

Categories: News

China Mixes Conciliatory Moves with Russian Coziness

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 16:38

  • The WSJ notes that it’s been a big diplomatic week for China, with deals with Australia, South Korea and the US.

  • But at the same time Russia and China agreed to conduct joint naval exercises not just in the Pacific, but also in the Mediterranean next yearm reports the International Business Times. CMC vice chairman Xu Qiliang said military cooperation with Russia was a priority.

  • The West Australian has some pictures of the 4 Russian ships which visited the Coral Sea (without entering Australian waters) during the G20 summit. There’s also a video below from the Royal Australian Air Force.

  • Indian Prime Minister Modi addressed a joint session of the Australian Parliament to urge the two countries to get closer, including on security matters in the Indian ocean. Anthony Bergin at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute thinks this makes a lot of sense, but the two nations are also pursuing other important bilateral ties, including with Japan. Is the distance between India, Japan, and Australia and liability or an asset for their trilateral relationship [The Diplomat]?

US Budget

  • Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey hinted [Defense News] that the Pentagon’s forthcoming FY16 budget request will be higher than sequestration budget caps.

Colombian Peace Process

  • FARC rebels have agreed to release [BBC] an an Army general whose capture had led to a freeze of peace talks with the Colombian government. As BN Americas points out, this may be an opportunity to accelerate and finalize a peace agreement.

Russian Ships

Categories: News

Australia Ordering CH-47F Chinooks

Thu, 11/20/2014 - 16:00
Australian CH-47D:
Afghanistan, 2006
(click to view full)

In December 2005, Australia decided to upgrade its CH-47D Chinook fleet, in preparation for use on the front lines. Afghanistan’s high altitudes and sometimes-scorching temperatures reduce rotor lift. That made the Chinooks a far better choice than upgrading the ADF’s S-70 Black Hawk helicopters, whose reduced carrying capacity would limit their tactical uses. Those CH-47D Chinooks have gone on to play an important role in Afghanistan, amidst a general shortage of useful helicopters. Now, Australia seems determined to supplement its older CH-47D fleet with new and improved CH-47F models, which feature more modern electronics, uprated engines, and numerous other improvements.

The question was when the DSCA request would become an actual contract. That question has just been answered.

Contracts and Key Events Kandahar pickup
(click to view full)

Nov 14/14: Infrastructure. Australia’s government announces announces an A$ 54.8 million contract with Lend Lease Pty Ltd, who will build new facilities to house and support the Army’s CH-47F Chinook Helicopters at RAAF Base Townsville. Construction is expected to begin before the end of 2014, and be complete by mid 2017. Sources: Australia DoD, “Defence awards contract for new Chinook helicopter facilities in Townsville”.

July 18/14: Infrastructure. Australia’s government announces Parliamentary approval of a $54.8 million project for facilities at RAAFB Townsville, which will support the introduction and sustainment of the incoming 7 CH-47F Chinooks, and corresponding replacement of 6 CH-47Ds there.

Construction is expected to begin in late 2014 and be complete by mid 2017, supporting about 50 full-time jobs over the life of the project. Sources: Australia DoD, “Parliamentry Secretary to the Minister for Defence – Multi-million dollar Defence investment in Townsville”.

Jan 5/12: Contract. Boeing Co. in Ridley Park, PA receives a $370 million firm-fixed-price contract to “provide for the services in support of the bridge requirement for new CH-47 F model aircraft to support foreign military sales.” The English translation, based on responses to our inquiries, is that Australia and the UAE are buying 14 CH-47Fs (7/7 RAAF, 7/16 UAE) under the US Army contract, in order to benefit from its volume pricing.

Other CH-47F customers like Britain and Canada, who ordered heavily customized versions, can’t take advantage of that. Neither can Italy, who will produce the machines in-country under an agreement between Boeing and AgustaWestland.

Work will be performed in Ridley Park, PA, with an estimated completion date of June 30/16. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by the US Army Contracting Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL, on behalf of its Foreign Military Sale clients (W58RGZ-12-C-0010).

Australia: 7

May 20/10: Agency contract. Australia’s Defence Materiel Organisation (DMO) signs a contract with the US Army Security Assistance Command, at the Australian Embassy in Washington. The AUD$ 513.5 million (about $470 million) contract will buy 7 CH-47F Chinook helicopters, 2 Simulators, and associated spares. The first 2 aircraft are planned to enter service in 2014, with all 7 in service by 2017.

With respect to standardization, the helicopters will be delivered in American configuration. Greg Combet, the Minister for Defence Personnel, Materiel and Science, says that:

“Australian industry will have the opportunity to incorporate the Australian specific enhancements and to support the new helicopters as part of through-life support arrangements.”

Feb 25/10: Approved. The Australian Government gives second pass approval to “Project AIR 9000 Phase 5C” for 7 CH-47Fs, at a budget of AUD $755 million. This approves the plan’s details, but is not itself a contract. Australia expects to field the first 2 helicopters in 2014, with all 7 expected by 2017. The ministerial statement makes it clear that the 7 CH-47Fs would replace 5th Aviation Regiment, C squadron’s existing 6 CH-47Ds, would also be based in Townsville, and would be expected to serve until 2040.

Per the recommendations of past commissions like Australia’s famous Kinnaird Review, Senator Faulkner said the new aircraft will be procured and maintained in the same broad configuration as the United States Army CH-47Fs. Australia also promised to consider joining the USA’s Chinook Product Improvement Program as a way to keep those configurations aligned, “when information on this program is of second pass quality.” Having said all that, however, “The new Australian Chinooks will also receive some additional ADF-specific equipment to meet certain operational and safety requirements.”

2nd pass approval

July 1/09: Delay. Shephard Group reports that Australia may not place a contract order for the new CH-47Fs until 2012, and doesn’t expect to field them before 2016-2018. In the interim, Australia hopes to issue maintenance support tenders for its 6 existing CH-47Ds.

The original acquisition plan, approved by the Liberal Party government, would have bought 3 new-build CH-47Fs, and remanufactured existing CH-47Ds to CH-47F configuration. The new Defence Capability Plan, issued this day, revises the timeline and is silent on the balance between new and remanufactured aircraft.

April 13/09: Request. The USA’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces Australia’s official request for 7 CH-47F CHINOOK Helicopters with 14 (2 per aircraft) T55-GA-714A Turbine engines, 7 Dillon Aero M134D 7.62mm Miniguns, 16 AN/ARC-201D Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radios (SINCGARS), 7 Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below Blue Force Trackers (FBCB2/BFT), 2 spare T-55-GA-714A Turbine engines, plus mission equipment, communication and navigation equipment, ground support equipment, spare and repair parts, special tools and test equipment, technical data and publications, personnel training and training equipment, and support. The estimated cost is $560 million, but a DSCA request is not a contract.

The prime contractors will be: Boeing Integrated Defense Systems in St. Louis, MO (helicopters); Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, IA (engines); and ITT in Fort Wayne, IN (radios). Implementation of this proposed sale will require the assignment of 2 contractor representatives to Australia for approximately 3 years, with about 6 U.S. Government personnel participating in program management and/or technical reviews in-country for 1-2 week intervals annually.

DSCA request: 7 CH-47Fs

Categories: News

Acquisition Reform Advocate to Head House Armed Services Committee

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 19:05

  • Mac Thornberry [R-TX] was selected [Breaking Defense] by the Republican steering committee to chair the House Armed Services Committee. He had been seen as the contender most likely to succeed retiring chairman Buck McKeon. Randy Forbes [R-VA] was also interested in the position. Thornberry volunteered to head an acquisition reform effort late last year.

  • According to Reuters RD Amross – a tiny joint venture between Russian engine maker NPO Energomash and United Technologies – has been making millions of dollars in markups by importing and reselling RD-180 engines to the US Air Force with little apparent added value.

Equal Opportunity Outrage

  • Canada’s National Post published a column denouncing conservatives for professing to love the military while under-funding it. They followed with another column arguing that “messing up military procurement [is] Canada’s glorious bipartisan tradition.”


  • Another violation of Sweden’s airspace was recently reported. Obviously another Russian aircraft? Wait, no, the plane was French?! Details are thin but several sources corroborate the story: The Local | AFP [in French].

Middle East & Africa

  • The WSJ reports that the Nigerian air force is interested in Textron Airland’s Scorpion multi-mission aircraft.


  • The fallout of South Korea’s decision to terminate its KF-16 deal with BAE is the termination of 191 jobs in Forth Worth, TX: Star-Telegram | Defense News.

  • Today’s video, from the Council of Foreign Relations, provides a quick overview of the state and stakes of Japan-China relations:

Categories: News

F-X2: Brazil Buys Saab’s JAS-39E/F Gripen over Rafale, Super Hornet

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 18:19
(click to view full)

As Brazil started boosting its defense budgets in past years, its Navy and Army received funds to replace broken-down equipment, while new fighters will be a critical centerpiece of the Forca Aerea Brasileira’s (FAB) efforts.

Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, France’s Dassault’s Rafale, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG were picked as finalists. But after repeated stalling, for years the question was whether Brazil would actually place an order, or fold up the competition like the ill-fated 2011 F-X process. At the end of 2013, Brazil unexpectedly picked the Swedish offer, thanks to its offsets, price, and lack of diplomatic baggage. An initial contract is now in place, and this Spotlight article takes you through the competition, choices, and ongoing developments in a country that seems likely to become the world’s largest Gripen fleet.

F-X2: The Competition Upgraded F-5EM
(click to view full)

The 36+ aircraft under consideration for F-X2 were mostly the same set of 4+ generation fighters that were considered for the canceled F-X competition: Boeing’s F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, Dassault’s Rafale, EADS’ Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 60, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG, and Sukhoi’s SU-35.

The FAB was also said to be interested in the Lockheed-Martin F-35, but the finalized nature of the Lighting’s industrial production partnership program was likely to keep the program from delivering the industrial offsets Brazil seeks. Meanwhile, a pair of competitors from earlier rounds faded out. Dassault’s Mirage 2000 production line was closing, and Brazil did not mention the F-16 as a contender – or advance Lockheed Martin’s F-16BR Block 70 offer to the finals.

Reporter Tania Monteiro of the Brazilian newspaper O Estado de Sao Paulo writes that technology transfer will be an essential part of any deal, and quotes influential Workers’ Party Deputy (PT is Lula’s party, Deputy = MP or Congressman) Jose Genoino as saying:

“France is always the better partner. Concerning Russia, everyone knows the difficulties and we don’t know what is going to happen in ten years so that we will be able to guarantee our spare parts. The USA, traditionally, does not transfer technology… We want to seek the lowest price with the most technology transfer.”

That offers France an opportunity to get some export momentum and success behind its Rafale, which has lost every competition it has entered thus far (Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, UAE, et. al.). According to reports, the indications are that technology transfer will be more important than cost in terms of the final choice. Defence minister Nelson Jobim:

“Whatever the final contract it must be closely linked to national development, to help advance in the creation of a strong defense industry and therefore the technological edge we are requesting.”

In December 2013, Brazil came to the conclusion that Sweden’s JAS-39E/F Gripen was their best choice. A contract for 36 aircraft was signed in October 2014, and Brazil’s air force (FAB) has confirmed that their eventual goal is 108 fighters in 3 tranches. Another 24 aircraft could end up serving in Brazil’s navy, as carrier-borne fighters.

Analysis: F-X2 Competitors

The F-X2 finalists were Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen, France’s Rafale, and Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Beyond the air force, the Marinha do Brazil eventually intends to buy 24 fighters of its own, to operate from the carrier that replaces NAe Sao Paulo beginning in 2025. They watched the competition closely, and would prefer to buy the same aircraft.

Saab JAS-39 Gripen NG (Winner) Gripen features

Pros: The JAS-39 Gripen Next Generation program offered key industrial opportunities, along with a high-performance fighter whose price and operating costs are both low. Gripen is likely to be Brazil’s cheapest option over its service life; indeed, it could save its full contracted cost of acquisition and maintenance, relative to a Rafale offer that was reportedly twice as expensive.

Saab offers strong industrial partnerships, and has a record of successful technology transfer agreements. For starters, Brazilian industry would be involved in fighter design stage, not just construction. Beyond late-stage development of the JAS-39F, Brazil is the likely launch customer for a naval Sea Gripen, which could add considerable local design work under a future contract. On a very concrete level, the JAS-39BR’s avionics suite will be sourced entirely from Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL, giving it commonalities with the FAB’s other fighters.

A 2nd factor involves shared integration source codes, allowing Brazil’s growing arms industry to quickly add the weapons they’re developing for use by the FAB – or indeed, for any Gripen customer. Brazilian Gripens offered immediate integration with the cooperative A-Darter air-air missile that Brazil is developing with fellow Gripen customer South Africa, and deploying on its own modernized A-1M AMX fighters. Mectron’s MAR-1 anti-radiation missile is another example that will debut with Brazil’s Gripen NGs.

Grey Areas: The developmental nature of the JAS-39E/F, which won’t be ready before 2018, was both a plus and a minus for Saab. It’s a minus from the standpoint of technical and delivery risk, especially with the FAB expecting delivery by December 2018. On the other hand, as noted above, it’s a strength from an industrial perspective.

The plane’s radar offers the same kind of duality. The JAS-39 NG includes the Raven AESA radar developed with Selex Galileo, whose long history with Brazil’s FAB includes the F-5BR (Grifo-F) and AMX (Scipio) fighter programs. The Raven is an unusual combination of an AESA radar that can be mechanically pivoted, offering more points of failure, but widening the radar’s scanning cone versus other competitors. That’s a strong plus, but the Raven is less mature than the AESA radars equipping the Super Hornet and Rafale.

The last gray area was the twin-engine issue. The F414 engine that Gripen shares with the Super Hornet offers the advantage of well-tested performance and a long-term customer base. The bad news is that if it fails, you will lose that plane. Brazil combines vast over-water areas and even vaster wilderness areas to patrol, a combination that often translates into a focus on range and 2-engine safety. The other 2 Brazilian finalists were both 2-engine planes, but it’s worth noting that most of Brazil’s other fighters (A-29 Super Tucano, AMX, Mirage 2000) have just one engine.

Gripen NG Demo
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Weaknesses: Saab’s biggest handicap was the industrial and geopolitical weight of its rivals from France & the USA. As the competition unfolded, the NSA’s all-encompassing spying turned the USA’s strength into a weakness, destroying the Super Hornet’s prospects. That created some blowback for Saab as well, however, since their fighter relies on GE F414 engine. That means the Gripen NG partnership of Sweden, Switzerland, and Brazil will be forced to abide by American ITAR rules for export sales, and must live with the understanding that American sanctions could cripple their fighter fleets. Brazil already lives with this for its front-line F-5 fighters, and they decided they could live with it here, too.

Another handicap involves Gripen’s lack of a naval variant, or even a flying prototype of same, in a competition where both of its competitors are naval fighters, and the customer operates a carrier. Conversion of land-based aircraft for naval aviation is often unrealistic, but Sweden’s insistence on short take-off and landing performance from surfaces like highways gives Gripen a strong base to work from. Saab began serious work on a “Sea Gripen” in March 2011, and can offer Brazilian industry the unique opportunity to be involved in developing the modified aircraft in time for 2025. It’s still a weakness, but it’s a weakness with a hook that may have been attractive.

JAS-39BR industrial
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Offer: The JAS-39NG reportedly ranked 1st in the FAB’s technical trials, had strong support from Brazilian aerospace firms, and offered a complete package worth about $6 billion (about 10 billion Reals), of which $1.5 billion was for maintenance. Saab even began working with a number of Brazilian firms in advance of any contracts, discussing sub-contracting possibilities, and working to improve their industrial proficiency with key technologies like advanced composite materials. That finally paid off in a 36-plane order that secured the Griipen NG’s future.


Dassault’s Rafale F3R FAB Rafale-B concept
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Pros: The Rafale had a lot of advantages in this competition. It’s a twin-engine fighter with good range and ordnance capacity, advanced weapons and add-ons, and much better aerial performance than the F/A-18 Super Hornet. It can play the carrier-compatible card very well, since the NAe Sao Paulo was once FS Foch, and Brazil’s next carrier may well be a variant of DCNS’ PA2 design.

It also comes from a trusted supplier. France is seen as a good supplier who avoids political interference and makes good on technology transfers, and the FAb’s experience with the Mirage 2000 offers a common technological and training base. Brazil was already embarked upon a broad set of major defense projects with French firms, and President Lula’s administration clearly favored the Rafale as part of that relationship.

Dassault Rafale:
Takeoff at last?
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Grey Areas: The Rafale would have confined Brazil to French weapons and sensors, unless Brazil spent its own money to add some locally-developed ordnance. On the other hand, Brazil has bought multiple versions of French Mirage aircraft during the FAB’s history, and seems unfazed by that requirement. Offers to partner in expanding the Rafale’s options might serve to hit 2 targets at once, by allaying concerns and playing the tech transfer card more strongly.

The Rafale’s January 2012 pick as India’s preferred fighter softened the type’s biggest negative, but India hadn’t signed a contract yet, and still hadn’t by the time Brazil signed its Gripen deal in October 2014. The Rafale was the only plane in this competition without an existing export customer, and it has lost a lot of international competitions.

Finally, Thales new RBE2-AA AESA radar was a bit of a greay area. It has been installed in French Air Force fighters, so it’s mature by the barest of margins. Unlike the Super Hornet’s APG-79, however, it hadn’t been used much in operations, and had no combat record.

Weaknesses: The Rafale’s biggest performance weakness is its lack of a Helmet Mounted Display, which keeps it from reaching its full potential in close-range air combat. Its biggest contest weakness was its price.

Offer: Subsequent events would bear out both the Rafale’s strengths, and its weaknesses. Folha de Sao Paolo reports that it was the most expensive of the 3 finalists, with a price tag of about $8.2 billion US dollars (13.3 billion Reals), plus $4 billion in maintenance contracts over the next 30 years. Dassault reportedly offered the best technology transfer package, and Defence Minister Jobim claims a subsequent $2 billion price reduction, but details remain unclear. The plane remained a strong contender, but a deteriorating economy and a binary choice involving Saab’s Gripen created the perfect storm that crashed the Rafale’s chances.

F/A-18E/F Super Hornet F/A-18E, Parked
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Pros: The carrier-compatible Super Hornet’s biggest advantage was a huge user base and wide array of ordnance, with guaranteed future funding for upgrades that Brazil won’t have to invest in. The Advanced Super Hornet, with conformal tanks, internal IRST, and improved electronics, is an early example of that dynamic at work. The Block II’s combat-proven AN/APG-79 AESA radar offers Brazil an attractive technology, volume production lets Boeing start at a price that’s comparable to the single-engine JAS-39’s, a weaker American dollar makes American exports even more affordable, and the potential to turn these planes into EA-18 electronic jamming fighters is a unique selling point for the type.

On the industrial front, Boeing’s passenger aircraft division gives them an attractive magnet for industrial offsets, and in April and June 2012, Boeing strengthened its position by signing a broad cooperation deal with Embraer. Their offering will use wide-screen displays and some other avionics from Elbit’s Brazilian subsidiary AEL.

Grey Areas: The Super Hornet is an American jet, and the vast majority of its equipment and weapons are also American. The USA’s influence in Latin America can help their lobbying, but their image in Latin America can hurt them at the same time. It was always true that a great deal would depend on what kind of relationship Brazil has with Washington around the time the decision is made, and where Brazil wanted that relationship to go. That dynamic began as a positive inducement to buy from Boeing, but ultimately became a fatal weakness.

Concerns about America’s propensity to use arms export bans as a political lever adds another complication to the Super Hornet’s odds, and take away some of the advantage created by its broad arsenal of American weapons and sensors. Sen. McCain reportedly pledged to get a Congressional commitment that the US Congress would not block the sale or transfer of technologies, but that cannot be binding, which left the issue of future spare parts interference etc. as an open question.

A related grey area for the Super Hornet is technology transfer and customization. Exactly how much technology Boeing and the US government were willing to transfer wasn’t clear, though they promised that their offer was competitive. Source code transfer is a related point, and it affects the ease with which Brazil will be able to add its own equipment if the Super Hornet is chosen. Traditionally, the USA doesn’t offer that.

F/A-18E International
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Weaknesses: The Super Hornet offers poorer aerodynamic performance than other competitors, falling behind in areas like maneuverability, acceleration, sustained Gs, etc.

What really hammered the Super Hornet, however, was the public revelation that the American NSA had been spying on Brazil’s government and Presidential Office. A 2013 negotiation that was supposedly tipping toward the Super Hornet died, and almost took the entire F-X2 competition with it. Instead, the Super Hornet was the only casualty, creating a binary decision between Saab and Dassault.

Offer: After being the long-shot finalist for most of this competition, heavy lobbying by the US government and Boeing put the Super Hornet back in the running – for a while. Folha de Sao Paolo reports that Boeing’s package was worth $7.7 billion dollars (about 12.9 billion reals), of which $1.9 billion was for maintenance. Rousseff reportedly pressed Boeing to improve its industrial participation offer, and Boeing’s subsequent deals with Embraer were significant. The firm just couldn’t fight its competitors and its own government at the same time.

Non-finalists RAF Typhoon & ASRAAM
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Eurofighter Typhoon (EADS/European): Technology transfer may have been an issue, but price was always the biggest stumbling block. Eurofighters consistently sell for $110-130+ million, which doesn’t fit a goal of $2.2 billion for 36 planes. The most capable air-air choice in the group would provide unquestioned regional air superiority, but ground surveillance and strike performance was still provisional (Tranche 1 v6), or unproven (Tranche 2+). This has been fatal in competitions like Singapore’s, and may have been a handicap here.

On the plus side, EADS Airbus offered a potent option for industrial offsets, and other EADS subsidiaries had footholds of their own. EADS Eurocopter’s Cougar had just become the medium-lift mainstay of Brazil’s future helicopter fleet, for instance. It wasn’t enough.

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F-35 Lightning II/ F-16BR (Lockheed Martin) The F-35 would have offered a clear set of performance benefits over competing aircraft. No aircraft in this group could have matched the Lightning’s advanced surveillance capabilities, and surveillance is a big need in Brazil. The F-35B STOVL variant also offered Brazil the ability to operate from small, dispersed runways, and it would have been perfect for aircraft carriers like the Sao Paulo. Unfortunately, technology transfer issues weren’t the F-35’s only problem. Other barriers to an F-35 win included limited opportunities in its industrial structure, questions surrounding air superiority performance, the low likelihood of deliveries before 2016 (a concern that was more than vindicated by events), a single engine design – and the potential cancellation of the F-35B variant, which would be most useful to Brazil.

Instead, Lockheed Martin offered Brazil an F-16BR. It was expected to resemble the F-16E/F “Block 70″ variant offered to India, with an AESA radar and built-in IRST/targeting sensors, an uprated engine, etc. Both India and Brazil are fond of Israeli avionics and weapons, and Lockheed Martin also has a long history of including those items for Israel and for other customers.

The F-16BR offer shared many of the Super Hornet’s perceived benefits and drawbacks: AESA radar and sensors, a weaker American dollar, and wide compatibility with other regional and global air forceson the plus side. On the minus side, it offers poorer aerodynamic performance, distrust of America is a barrier, the F-16 cannot play the carrier-compatible card like the Super Hornet, and it offers only a single-engine design.

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SU-35 (Sukhoi/ Rosoboronexport) This was the aircraft Russia offered in Brazil’s initial F-X competition, and the design has matured into a production aircraft since then. Russian tech transfer is trusted. Lack of political interference is trusted absolutely. The aircraft itself would offer an option that’s better than Venezuela’s SU-30MKs, while still presenting itself to the region as an equivalency move. The price would be good. Unsurprisingly, Sukhoi had some support in the FAB.

On the other hand, service and parts delivery were almost guaranteed to be bad. That gave the FAB real pause. One way around that might be to offer licensed local production. In order to solve the Russian service problem[1], that production would also have to extend to the aircraft’s NPO Saturn engines and fitted avionics. That’s a tall but achievable order, but in the end, it didn’t matter. The SU-35S wasn’t a finalist. Sukhoi reportedly made an unsolicited offer anyway, but it didn’t go anywhere.

Contracts and Key Events 2014

Preliminary agreements followed by a contract for 36; Final FAB goal is 108; Lease discussions for 10 planes; Argentina may want 24, but Britain blocks that. Gripen NG

Nov 18/14: 108. Flightglobal quotes “a leading Brazilian air force figure” who confirms that the FAB’s stated requirement from their 2007 feasibility study is 108 JAS-39E/F fighters, to be bought in 3 tranches – presumably, 36 planes per tranche.

The initial F-X2 order for 36 will reportedly see 15 jets (likely all 8 JAS-39Fs, and 7 JAS-39Es) assembled in Brazil. The next 2 tranches after this one will feature even more Brazilian involvement, and would replace Brazil’s newly-upgraded F-5M/FM and AMX-1M fighters. Meanwhile, weapon integration plans are underway. Their source confirmed that the jointly-developed A-Darter short range air-to-air missile is about to receive its final qualification, clearing it for immediate use on Brazil’s JAS-39C/D interim force in 2016 (q.v. March 3/14) as well as its JAS-39E/Fs. Mectron’s MAR-1 radar-killer missile will also be integrated on Brazil’s JAS-39E/Fs when they enter service in 2019.

What hasn’t been finalized yet is the model mix between JAS-39Es and the 2-seat JAS-39Fs over all 3 tranches. It’s interesting to hear that they’re talking to the US Navy about this, but the USN is a very accessible partner who has the same issue in their F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fleet. The South African Air Force has also been chatted up on the topic, though they probably aren’t a great example. Sources: Flightglobal, “Brazilian air force confirms Gripen acquisition numbers”.

Nov 9/14: Argentina. Argentina may want to do a deal with Brazil (q.v. Oct 22/14), but Britain has now publicly said “no.” To be more precise, they reiterate the continued existence of a ban. A spokesperson for the UK Department of Business, Innovation and Skills:

“We are determined to ensure that no British-licensable exports or trade have the potential to be used by Argentina to impose an economic blockade on the Falkland Islanders or inhibit their legitimate rights to develop their own economy…”

About 30% of the JAS-39E/F will be British, from the ejection seats to the radar, landing gear, and a number of electronic systems. Embraer could try to downgrade and substitute, but Argentina lacks the money to finance such an ambitious effort. Now add the fact that a newly-Republican US Senate and House would block export’s of GE’s F414 engines. As knowledgeable observers expected, Argentina will have to look elsewhere. C4ISR & Networks, “Argentina Buying Gripens? Brits Say ‘No Way'”.

Oct 24/14: Brazil. Saab signs a SEK 39.3 billion / BRL 13.363 billion / $5.475 billion contract with Brazil’s COMAER for 28 JAS-39E and 8 JAS-39F fighters, alongside provisions for training, initial spares, and a 10-year Industrial Co-operation contract to transfer technologies to Brazilian industry. Embraer will have a leading role as Saab’s strategic partner, with a JAS-39F co-development role and full responsibility for production.

This contract winds up having wider implications as well, by securing Sweden’s order for 60 JAS-39Es. As signed, it required at least 1 other customer, which was going to be Switzerland until a weak effort from that government destroyed the deal in a referendum. Brazil has now become that additional customer, and Saab expects that this commitment will keep the JAS-39 in service to 2050.

What’s left? Brazil’s FAB confirms that the interim lease agreement for 10-12 JAS-39C/Ds will be a separate deal with the Swedish government. Meanwhile, the JAS-39NG contracts still require certain conditions before they become final, such as required export control-related authorizations from the USA et. al. All of these conditions are expected to be fulfilled during the first half of 2015, with deliveries to take place from 2019 – 2024. Sources: Saab, “Saab and Brazil sign contract for Gripen NG” | Brazil FAB, “Brasil assina contrato para aquisicao de 36 cacas Gripen NG”.

Contract for 36 Gripen NG

Oct 22/14: Gripen NG. During the Embraer KC-390 medium jet transport’s rollout, Argentina and Brazil sign a formal “Alianca Estrategica em Industria Aeronautica.” Argentina is already making parts for the KC-390, and they need a larger partner for a number of other reasons. The FAB’s releases add that Argentina is also thinking of buying JAS-39E/F Gripens from Embraer, whose Brazilian factory will assemble at least 36 of the advanced Swedish fighters under the pending F-X2 program:

“El Gobierno nacional decidio iniciar una negociacion con la administracion de Dilma Rousseff para la adquisicion de 24 aviones Saab Gripen dentro del programa denominado FX 2…”

Regional export rights are also expected to be part of the deal. That could get interesting, because the Gripen has systems from the USA and Britain in it. You might be able to replace electronics, but it’s expensive – and ejection seats and engines are a lot tougher. Sources: FAB NOTIMP, “Argentina quiere comprar 24 cazas supersonicos”.

July 11/14: Industrial. There’s no agreement yet for the Gripen lease, but Saab and Embraer have signed the expected Memorandum of Understanding around JAS-39E/F production. Embraer will be the Brazilian industrial lead, performing its own assigned work while managing all local sub-contractors in the program. They’ll also work with Saab on systems development, integration, flight tests, final assembly and deliveries, with full joint responsibility for the 2-seat JAS-39F Gripen NG. Sources: Embraer and Saab, “Embraer to partner with Saab in joint programme management for Brazil´s F-X2 Project”.

March 3/14: Gripen lease. Brazil will lease 10 JAS-39C/D Gripens as interim fighters from 2016 – 2018, with the 1st batch of 6 arriving in time to fly over the Rio Olympics. The agreement also includes training, and a pair of Brazilian pilots will begins conversion training in May 2015. The JAS-39E/F fighters that follow will have some important differences, but they’ll also have many important similarities, so the lease will serve double duty as an early familiarization period.

The contract is still being negotiated, but the basic premise is that Sweden will loan the fighters, and Brazil will pay operating costs. Defining what that means will still be a bit of work, of course. Does that cover depreciation during flying hours? What maintenance is required? What happens if things break? Et cetera. They’re hoping for a full agreement by May 2014. Spurces: Politica, “Brasil e Suecia discutem emprestimo de cacas Gripen”.

March 3/14: Agreements. Brazil and Saab sign advance agreements on defense cooperation, which lay the foundation for the future Gripen contract. This includes a defense cooperation framework agreement, whose scope is already wider than just fighters, and a corollary agreement that commits to appropriate levels of secrecy and security procedures within that cooperation framework. The new agreements build on documents signed in 1997 and 2000, and both will be forwarded to Brazil’s National Congress for approval.

The industrial goal is to be able to produce 80% of the plane in Brazil, which has future implications given that final Brazilian orders over time are estimated at 60 – 104 fighters. Equally significant, the accompanying security agreements include access to the Gripen’s source code. That will allow Brazil to add its own weapons to the new fighters, increasing the global attractiveness of both Saab’s Gripens and of Brazil’s weapons. A current wave of Latin American upgrades could create timing issues for wider regional sales, but export partnership arrangements are under discussion, and currently revolve around Latin America and developing nations with close Brazilian ties (“das nacoes em desenvolvimento com as quais o Brasil possui estreita relacao bilateral”). Sources: Brazil FAB, “Brasil assina acordos de cooperacao e da prosseguimento a compra dos cacas suecos” | See also Defense News, “Fleet Modernization Drives Requirements Across South America”.

Framework and Confidentiality agreements

February 2014: Interview. Saab CEO is interviewed by Brazil’s Veja, and offers some thoughts regarding F-X2. It provides some behind the scenes clarity, but all words are chosen as carefully as one would expect for a process that Bushke himself admits is highly political. The questions are more interesting in some ways, focusing on Brazil’s educational deficit and implicitly asking about corruption. Bushke flatly says that there were never any improper solicitations, and reminds the interviewer that Brazil’s Embraer was good enough to push Saab out of the civil aircraft market. He does say that Lula’s initial Rafale preference was a shock:

“Saab executives and employees felt that the announcement by Brazil’s former president came like a bolt of lightning out of a clear blue sky. It was totally unexpected, given their strong relationship with the Brazilian military staff responsible for making the decision.”

His answer explains its own implicit question: they weren’t the ones making the decision. Finally, Hakan finds that being from Sweden is useful for at least one purpose: being able to slip inside your opponents’ premises when you’re asked to justify military spending. Sources: Veja Magazine, translated by Saab, “Sweden is a model: Interview with Hakan Bushke, CEO of Saab”.

Feb 4/14: JAS-39F. IHS Janes reports that Brazil wants both single-seat and two-seat variants, unlike Sweden or Switzerland:

“Saab has confirmed to IHS Jane’s that Brazil’s aerospace industry will be given the opportunity to develop a two-seater version of the Gripen NG as part of the USD4.5 million consignment of 36 fighter aircraft…. Out of the 36 fighter jets under the FAB F-X2 programme, eight of the aircraft will be twin-seat Gripen Fs and the rest [DID: 28] will be in the single-seat Gripen Es.”

That would increase Brazil’s workshare, and give them a solid design role, but it also increases costs. Negotiations will be interesting. The other question involves weapons. The JAS-39D eliminates the 27mm cannon found in the JAS-39C, and it remains to be seen whether the JAS-39F will follow the same pattern. Sources: IHS Jane’s 360, “Saab confirms twin-seat Gripen F development for Brazil”.


NSA spying sinks US chances, costs sink Rafale, Gripen wins!; Gripen would use AEL avionics suite; Sukhoi’s unsolicited offer; Boeing deepens Embraer ties. Sea Gripen Concept
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Dec 18/13: Tack sa mycket, Herr Snowden! Earlier press reports that the competition was stalled for another 2 years are proven wrong by a somewhat unexpected announcement from the Ministerio da Defesa: Brazil has picked Saab’s Gripen-NG as their preferred bidder, and expects to buy 36 planes for $4.5 billion. That’s currently just an estimate, as negotiations need to sort themselves out. A final contract and financial arrangements are expected in December 2014, and deliveries are expected to begin 4 years later. That’s a challenge for Saab, as any schedule slippage in the JAS-39E/F development program would create a late delivery. Late fees can be expected to be a negotiating point, and Brazil’s MdD says that leasing JAS-39C/D Gripens as an interim force may be addressed as a separate contract.

The Gripen NG contract figure tracks exactly with previous reports by Folha de Sao Paolo, which means an additional $1.5 billion contract can be expected for long-term maintenance and support. Saab was the cheapest of the reported offers, beating Boeing ($5.8 billion) and Dassault ($8.2 billion, reportedly reduced) by significant margins. Once Edward Snowden’s revelations of NSA spying on Brazil’s government killed Boeing’s chances, there was no middle ground. The Rafale’s reported $10.2 billion purchase + maintenance total made it 70% more expensive than Saab’s Gripen. Brazil’s economic slowdown, and the Rousseff government’s focus on entitlement spending, made that cost chasm a big factor.

It wasn’t the only factor. The Gripen has Ministry statements indicate that industry’s long-standing preference for Saab’s industrial terms played a role, as Gripen-NG offers the prospect of participating in a new fighter’s design. So, too, did the unique prospect of full access to weapon integration source code, which the Ministry cited in its Q&A. That will allow Brazil to leverage its revived arms industry, and easily add weapons like Mectron’s MAR-1 radar-killer missile. Throw in the option to participate in the future design of a carrier-based Sea Gripen variant to replace ancient A-4 Skyhawks on Brazil’s carrier, and Saab’s industrial combination overcame the Gripen’s reliance on an American engine and other equipment.

The Brazilian Air Force has a dedicated website to explain its choice. Dassault issued a terse statement pointing out the presence of US parts on Gripens, and positioning the Rafale in a different league. Which may or may not be true, but it’s indisputably true that global fighter buys have historically been heavily weighted toward a less-expensive league. Gripen is within that low to mid price range, and Rafale isn’t. Sources: Brazil MdD, “FX-2: Amorim anuncia vencedor de programa para compra de novos cacas” | MdD, “Perguntas & Respostas sobre a definição do Programa F-X2″ (Q&A) | Dassault, “FX2 contest – 2013/12/18″ | Defense Aerospace, “Brazil’s Gamble on Gripen Offsets” Folha de Sao Paulo, “Dilma agradece Hollande por apoio contra espionagem dos EUA”.

Brazil picks Gripen

Sept 26/13: Airpower Brazil (Poder Aero) magazine cites Presidential aides to report that President Dilma Rousseff is about to “defer” the F-X2 decision to 2015, after next year’s general election. Negotiations had reportedly almost resulted in a deal for 36 of Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, but NSA spying on the Presidential Office, which Rousseff decried in the UN, is cited as the motivating force behind this reversal. The decision would be a two-stage problem for Boeing. It’s a problem because the bad feelings may not die down, which hurts their political position. It’s also an industrial problem, because all Super Hornet family production is due to end by mid-2016. Australia’s interest in buying 12 EA-18Gs will probably stretch that to late 2016, but a number of key suppliers will end production much earlier without further export wins, and restarts add costs.

Brazil could have simply picked another contender, but Poder Aero’s report says that technology transfer issues around the Scorpene submarine, and problems transferring production to India, have hurt the Rafale’s chances. Frankly, that doesn’t make a lot of sense. The statements regarding the PROSUB program are difficult to verify, but there are counter-examples likes like the EC725 helicopter project that have gone quite well. As for India’s M-MRCA competition, that’s a poor model. Brazil’s aerospace production capabilities are far more advanced than HAL’s, and many of India’s negotiating problems are self-inflicted policy wounds – like wanting to place financial penalties on Dassault for delays, while giving Dassault no management authority with key suppliers. It all depends on what Rousseff’s briefings are telling her.

As for Saab’s JAS-39E/F Gripen, it’s a legitimate candidate, but Brazil reportedly sees its developmental nature as more of a problem than an opportunity.

With all that said, the real question here may no longer revolve around fighters. It’s whether F-X2 is dead. Brazil is hosting the Olympics in 2016, which will create multiple kinds of interference, and excuses for further delay. Slowdowns in China and elsewhere have to send shivers through a commodity economy like Brazil’s, and it has other defense priorities like naval ships that will require budget space. This in a context of massive social protests against corruption, poor public services, and crumbling infrastructure. Given those kinds of headwinds, one might well ask why a political system that has been unable to buy new fighters for over a decade, and has introduced delay after delay for the last 3 years, will suddenly turn that around in 2015. Source: Poder Aero / Valor Econômico, “Governo deve adiar decisao sobre caças da FAB para 2015″.

Aug 12/13: Brazil – NSA fallout. Reuters reports that revelations of NSA spying may have damaged the Boeing Super Hornet’s chances in Brazil. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s October meeting with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff won’t discuss the deal, and the unnamed political source was blunt: “We cannot talk about the fighters now… You cannot give such a contract to a country that you do not trust.”

In July, the O Globo newspaper published documents leaked by Edward Snowden that revealed U.S. surveillance of Internet communications in Brazil and other Latin American countries. Nobody who has been paying attention can possibly be surprised, given concerns regarding transnational drug cartels, Brazil’s close relationship with Iran, and the growth of Islamist activities in the “triple border” junction area of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay. Brazilian senators may not have been paying attention, or may just have been playing their expected role when they questioned President Rousseff’s visit to Washington in toto.

Brazil could just go ahead and pick another plane, but fighters seem to be dropping down the government’s priority list. Huge protests against corruption and misuse of public money have left the government skittish about big outlays, and another government source tells Reuters that they no longer expect a decision in 2013. With 2014 as an election year, that means 2015 for any fighter decision. The Brazilian government isn’t exactly responding with denials following the Reuters report, and for Boeing, later is better than sooner. Reuters, “Spying scandal sets back U.S. chances for fighter jet sale to Brazil”.


Aug 5/13: Tchau, Mirage. Brazil will retire the FAB’s 12-plane Mirage 2000B/C fleet in December, without a replacement. The people in Brazilia’s glass Supreme Court building will be relieved.

There are conflicting reports as to why they’re being retired. Some cite the Dassault support agreement, which was extended for another 2 years from 2011 – 2013, but ran up against manufacturer recommended service life limits. The cost of the in-depth overhauls would far exceed the $80 million Brazil paid for the used jets, and if Brazil wanted to add modern weapons to keep the planes competitive, the radar and electronics would also need replacement.

Finally, in a tight budget environment, it’s worth noting that other customers have complained about high maintenance costs for this type. Taiwan, for instance, is planning to retire more advanced Mirage 2000-5s by 2020, instead of upgrading or swapping their jets to the 2000-9 configuration. This is so even as they upgrade less advanced F-16A/Bs, and worry about a growing cross-strait imbalance in front-line fighters.

Brazil’s 2005 purchase of the used French fighters didn’t include resale rights, so the fighters will return to France. Due to their age, however, they won’t be resold again. Brazilian reports cite a likely “replacement” of 6-12 F-5Ms at the Anapolis AB near Brazilia, but those are refurbished fighters that were already in FAB stocks. Only F-X2 fighters will act as replacements, if indeed the FAB buys any. Estado de S. Paulo [in Portuguese] | Defense Update.

Mirage 2000s to retire

July 6/13: Delays. Brazil won’t be making their F-X2 decision until the end of the year. They have, of course, asked the contenders to extend their bids yet again. Brazil Defence [unofficial].

June 18/13: Boeing & Embraer. Embraer and Boeing sign an agreement to market Embraer’s KC-390 medium airlifter in limited international venues, building on the June 26/12 MoU. Boeing will be the lead for KC-390 sales, sustainment and training opportunities in the USA, UK and “select Middle East markets.”

Outside the Middle East, that doesn’t actually encompass a lot of meaningful opportunities, but it’s one more factor bolstering Boeing’s F-X-2 bid. Boeing | Embraer.

May 20/13: SU-35, unsolicited. RIA Novosti quotes Rosoboronexport’s SITDEF exhibition lead Sergey Ladigin, who says they’ve offered to deliver Su-35 fighters and Pantsir S1 air defense systems to Brazil outside the framework of a tender, and says the offer is being considered.

Brazil wants the Pantsir short-range air defense gun/missile systems, but the SU-35 failed to make the shortlist in 2009. On the other hand, if you don’t ask, you’ll never get. So Russia’s is throwing in the Su-35 offer, and Ladigin said in Lima that they were “ready to transfer 100% of manufacturing technologies,” as well as some technologies from their T50 (future SU-50?) stealth fighter. Russian Aviation.

MdB test pilot

May 15/13: Sea Gripen. Saab remains serious about its “Sea Gripen NG,” and has been working on the idea since their May 2011 announcement. Brazil’s Navy is expected to buy its own fighters to equip a new aircraft carrier, which is expected to replace NAe Sao Paulo around 2025. They expect their 24 new fighters to be the same type as the FAB’s F-X-2 winner, which leaves Saab competing against 2 proven naval fighters: Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornets and Dassault’s Rafale-M.

To help build their case, former Brazilian naval aviator Comte. Romulo “Leftover” Sobral is invited to flight test a JAS-39D, in order to verify the design’s basic suitability for naval conversion. Sobral liked the aircraft’s intuitive flight controls, ground handling, stability at low airspeeds, acceleration response, handling at the high angles of attack used in carrier landings, and good visibility. He even liked the flight suit. The plane landed in 800m, and Comte Sobral believes that the plane does have the basic requirements to become an effective naval fighter. The Sea Gripen’s lack of proven status, and absence of even a flying prototype, will still hurt the JAs-39. On the other hand, the time lag from F-X2 to a naval buy gives Brazilian industry a unique opportunity to participate in designing the Sea Gripen. Saab Gripen Blog | Full article at Defesa Aerea & Naval [in Portuguese].

April 15/13: Rafale. Defense World reports from LAAD 2013 that Dassault’s F-X2 offer will be the Rafale F3R, which includes a major software upgrade that allows the aircraft to take fuller advantage of the new Thales RBE2-AA AESA radar, improves their Thales SPECTRA self-defence systems, adds Mode-5/Mode-S capable Identification Friend or Foe, and allows the Rafale to deploy MBDA’s Meteor long range air-to-air missile.

Given Brazil’s insistence on an AESA radar, Dassault could hardly avoid offering the F3R.

April 10/13: Gripen. Saab executive Eddy de la Motta is quoted as saying that Brazilian JAS-39 Gripen NGs would use AEL’s avionics, creating a forked version under the wider development effort. This will help Saab meet industrial offset obligations, and also create commonality for Brazil’s fighter fleet, but integrating all of those components with the plane’s mission computers, OFP core software, weapons, etc. is not a trivial task. Elbit subsidiary AEL’s avionics are used in many Brazilian aircraft, with the exception of the Mirage 2000s that will retire as F-X2 fighters enter the FAB.

A less comprehensive suite of AEL avionics will also be used in Boeing’s F/A-18 International, which offers AEL’s wide-screen display and some other components to all potential customers. Defense News.

April 3/13: Embraer. Embraer’s CEO Luiz Carlos Aguiar talks to Defense News about F-X2 and other subjects. Regarding the fighters:

“I think [the decision is] going to be in the next months, this year, I would say. Our role in that depends… on who is going to win. We have a memorandum of understanding with all three of the contenders. Each of them offers an offset program, but we prefer not declaring publicly our preference…. Whatever they choose, we’re going to be in the process. They need to make this decision because Brazil needs that…. With the F-X, we can even go further in terms of technology, and even some new products could come up with one of these three contenders. That’s what I can tell you, I can’t go further than that.”

Given Embraer’s dominant position in the Brazilian aerospace industry, it would be shocking if any of the contenders had chosen not to sign industrial partnership MoUs with Embraer. In light of the April and August 2012 agreements, the “new products” comment suggests that Boeing may have replaced Saab (q.v. Sept 28-29/09 entries) as Embraer’s preferred choice. That isn’t at all certain, however – as Aguliar surely intended. Defense News.

March 8/13: More delays. Brazil has asked the 3 F-X2 finalists to extend their bids for another 6 months from the March 30/13 deadline, as the Brazilian commodity economy remains mired in a 2-year slump. Boeing, Dassault, and Saab has hoped for a decision in time for Brazil’s April 2013 LAAD defense expo.

The length of the cumulative delays could create changes for the bids, and it effectively squashes any faint hopes that the new jets would be able to fly in time for the 2014 World Cup. Given required production and training times, those hopes started to become awfully faint by around mid-2012. Reuters.


Rafale wins in India; Boeing trying hard. Rafale
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Dec 11/12: Still no deadline. In a joint press conference with French President Hollande, Brazil’s President Rousseff remains very non-committal regarding F-X2. On the one hand, the timing will depend on Brazil’s economy, which is commodity based and so subject to the effects of global slowdowns. On the other hand, she says that the government expects enough growth in the coming months to resume the selection process. French President [in French] | YouTube press conference video | Les Echos [in French].

Dec 7/12: Super Hornet. The Brazilian news weekly Istoe publishes an article claiming that the FAB’s formal analysis had preferred Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornets. The report was shelved by the government, which favored France’s Rafale. The air force’s preference is reportedly due in part to the fact that the Super Hornet has the widest variety of integrated weapons and equipment, and partly because it’s available immediately and could be delivered very quickly. The FAB is reported to be concerned about both the age of its fleet, and its regional competitiveness.

The Super Hornet’s cost was in the middle, at $5.4 billion rather than the Gripen’s $4.3 billion, or Rafale’s $8.2 billion. So, too, were estimated operating costs, at about $10,000 per flight hour vs. $7,000 for Gripen, or $20,000 for the Rafale.

The government’s thinking is still opaque, though Boeing’s technical cooperation agreements with Embraer (vid. April 3-9/12 and June 26/12 entries) add a bit more weight to the industrial side of the equation. Istoe [in Portuguese, and note that their picture is an F-15] | Defense World.

Aug 9/12: Delayed, again. Brazil may need a 5th consecutive extension. Defence Minister Celso Amorim tells Dow Jones that:

“The project is not being abandoned. There will be a decision in the right time. But, today, I would prefer not to give a date… The economic situation has taken a less favorable turn than expected and it naturally requires caution.”

With China’s economy appearing to slow, and the EU debt crisis as an ongoing drag on their economy, a commodity-based economy like Brazil could find itself in tight straits for a while unless something changes. Fox News.

July 7/12: Extension. The FAB has asked the 3 bidders to renew their fighter offers. It’s the 4th consecutive 6-month extension, while Brazil dithers over its choice and the timing of the buy. France24.

June 26/12: Boeing & Embraer. Boeing and Embraer announce an agreement to share some specific technical knowledge regarding the KC-390, and to evaluate markets where they may join their sales efforts for medium-lift military transports. It’s part of a broader agreement signed in April 2012 (vid.), and its immediate significance is limited.

On the other hand, it has the potential to turn Boeing into a medium transport rival to C-130 maker Lockheed Martin, while extending Embraer’s marketing reach to match Lockheed Martin and Airbus. That’s the sort of thing that could change the KC-390’s global prospects, but it’s still too early to tell. Boeing | Embraer.

June 14/12: Boeing & AEL. Boeing picks Elbit Systems and its AEL Sistemas subsidiary to provide a low-profile head-up display (LPHUD), as part of the Advanced Cockpit System for Boeing fighter jets. This follows the March 5/12 pick to supply the ACS’ Large Area Display (LAD) offered as an option for new F/A-18 Super Hornets and F-15s, including the F-15SE Silent Eagle. Boeing.

May 19/12: 2012 decision? Mercopress reports that Rousseff’s government intends to make its F-X2 decision by the end of 2012. That’s a good way to reduce those tiring lobbying meetings.

April 3-9/12: Boeing & Embraer. Boeing announces its new Sao Paulo facility, Boeing Research & Technology-Brazil. It is the firm’s 6th global advanced research center, after Europe, Australia, India, China and Russia. Areas of research focus for the new center will include sustainable aviation biofuels (Brazil is a leading biofuel producer), advanced air traffic management, advanced metals and bio-materials, and support and services technologies.

That announcement is followed by a broad business agreement with Embraer to cooperate in these areas, as well as in commercial aircraft. The broader announcement by Embraer and Boeing was made on the same day as the signing by the Brazilian and United States Governments of a Memorandum of Understanding on the Aviation Partnership, to expand and deepen cooperation between the 2 countries on civil aviation. Boeing re: facility | Boeing re: cooperation.

March 5/12: Boeing & AEL. Boeing Company and Elbit Systems announce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to cooperate in Brazil. As part of the MoU, Elbit has committed to investing in its AEL Sistemas S.A. subsidiary. Elbit’s 11″ x 19″ Large Area Display has already been picked for next-generation F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-15 Eagle variants & upgrades, and the implication is that AEL would help develop and integrate this capability in any Brazilian F/A-18 Super Hornets.

Per Elbit’s investments, AEL will participate in LAD software & hardware development, and establish an Advanced Cockpit Technology Center of Excellence in Brazil. They’re already the Brazilian military’s top avionics supplier, and the firm hopes to expand its cockpit avionics market reach to other fixed-wing and helicopter platforms. Boeing.

Feb 10/12: Reuters reports that Boeing has frozen its 2009 bid price, as the same price for any new tender. In effect, it’s a price reduction of the cost of inflation over that time; the Reuters article offers estimates of a 12% real discount.

Jan 31/12: Rafale in India. Dassault’s Rafale is picked as India’s preferred plane for its 126+ plane M-MRCA fighter contract. A subsequent article in India’s newspaper The Hindu, by Brazilian Prof. Oliver Stuenkel, notes that Brazilian defense minister Amorim’s recent trip to India, immediately after the Rafale had been picked, included an agreement “to share with Brazil some of its experiences of carrying out the open tender evaluation to select the best aircraft… The big question now is how the decision to have Brazil study documents about India’s selection process will affect the tender process in Brazil.”


F-X2 put in limbo, but maneuvering continues; Minister Jobim resigns; Sea Gripen started. Training for what?
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Dec 21/11: Boeing announces Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with MSM Powertrain Ltda. (logistics services, ground support equipment, engineering support) and Pan Metal Industria Metalurgica Ltda. (assembly, subsystem installation, machined parts, processing, heat treatment) to explore work opportunities with Boeing and its industry partners if Boeing wins F-X2. MSM and Pan Metal join more than 25 other companies throughout Brazil that Boeing and its industry partners have already identified.

Sept 30/11: Brazil’s new Defense Minister Celso Amorim says that:

“By the end of 2013, none of the 12 Mirage (aircraft) at the Anapolis air base will be in full flying condition. This [fighter buy] is something that is really urgent, very important… The need to defend the Amazon, the borders – We need to have adequate combat aircraft…”

He reiterated Brazil’s position that the “transfer of technology” is the key sticking point, but earlier comments from Brazil’s government indicate that a larger sticking point may involve the parlous and unstable state of the global economy. If the EU’s inability to enforce its membership terms triggers a global economic crisis, Brazil may find it difficult to field the fighters it needs. AFP | (note that Saab the carmaker is not Saab aerospace).

Sept 22/11: MercoPress reports that Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota has given French President Sarkozy a possible 2012 date to resume F-X2 – but that comes with a large caveat:

“Depending on the evolution of the global economic situation, if the crisis turns out to be less severe than some imagine, then those plans can resume next year.”

Aug 5/11: Personnel is policy. Brazilian defense minister Nelson Jobim is forced to resign, after public reports of critical comments concerning fellow ministers. He’s the 3rd minister to resign since President Rousseff took office in January 2011, which is creating strains in her governing coalition.

Mr. Jobim will be replaced by the former Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim. Amorim is a high profile figure. Some have called him anti-American, but Wikileaks cables suggest that this may have been a reaction to the activities of other figures in his department. It remains to be seen if, and how, his selection may affect the fighter competition. Mercopress | BBC | Amorim July 2011 interview, incl. video.

July 20/11: Boeing holds an industry forum in Brazil to outline opportunities available as part of the company’s F/A-18 Super Hornet offering.

May 24/11: Sea Gripen starts development. A Saab Group release states that Saab AB will open new UK headquarters and a new Saab Design Centre in London. The engineering center:

“…will capitalise on the UK’s maritime jet engineering expertise and is scheduled to open in the late Summer. Initially staffed by approximately 10 British employees, its first project will be to design the carrier-based version of the Gripen new generation multi-role fighter aircraft based on studies completed by Saab in Sweden.”

Sea Gripen was initially pushed for India (q.v. Dec 28/09 entry), but with Gripen out of M-MRCA unless something changes, the likely target would appear to be Brazil’s suspended F-X2 program.

May 18/11: Saab. Official opening of the Swedish – Brazilian centre of research and innovation (Centro de Inovacao e Pesquisa Sueco-Brasileiro, CISB) in Sao Bernardo de Campo, Brazil, which grew out of the Saab CEO’s September 2010 visit to Brazil. So far, the centre has attracted over 40 partners from academia and industry, who will be active partners in the specific projects. Areas of focus will be in Transport and Logistics, Defence and Security, and Urban development with a focus on energy and the environment.

Saab President & CEO Hakan Buskhe cites a coastal surveillance radar project with Atmos and a datalink development project with ION as examples, and the firm sees many opportunities in Brazil beyond the Gripen project. Civil security will get special attention, as Brazil is hosting both the FIFA World Cup and Olympic Games within the next few years. Saab Group.

Feb 22/11: U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, Frank Mora, stands by the technology transfer offer made to Brazil in the event of an F/A-18 Super Hornet buy, calling it “a significant technology transfer” that “would put Brazil at par with our close partners.” The question is whether the Brazilians will consider that enough, if an when they make a decision. UPI.

Feb 20/11: Agence France Presse:

“Major daily O Estado de Sao Paulo cited four unnamed government ministers as saying new President Dilma Rousseff saw no “climate” for the acquisition in 2011, and that such a move in the midst of a $30-billion slash in the year’s budget would be an “inconsistency.”

Jan 17/11: President Rousseff leaves the F-X2 competition in limbo, in light of concerns about the financing of the purchase, how much to borrow for the initial fighter purchase, and inter-agency disagreements. The exact commitment is a decision later in 2011, but no contract until 2012. In practice, however, there is no firm timeline or deadline for a decision, and domestic spending priorities loom large in Rousseff’s agenda. Which makes this a de facto suspension.

If it is a suspension, it leaves the situation of every contender in play. Rousseff has said she wishes to re-open the arguments between the air force (Gripen preferred) and the ministry (Rafale preferred), via an inter-ministerial group, and also wishes to open a dialogue with industry. Both of those moves would have the effect of adding weight to Saab’s bid. She has also reportedly pressed Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] to secure a clear written commitment that the U.S. Congress would not veto the transfer of technology and fighter components, and has reportedly pressed Boeing to improve its industrial participation offer. There have been reports that Rousseff is interested in moving Brazil closer to the USA in the international arena. If they are true, that could make a big difference to the Super Hornet’s chances. Folha de Sao Paolo [in Portuguese] | Defense News | Defense Update | Flight International || Americas Society (AS-COA) | Bloomberg | BusinessWeek re: Rafale program overall | Le Figaro [in French] | Reuters | UPI.


FAB’s (revised?) evaluation in; Controversy in Brazil; Lula won’t sign a contract before he leaves office. Rafale: Takeoff?
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Dec 6/10: End of F-X2? Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva confirms that he won’t sign a fighter deal before he leaves office. An excerpt published by state news agency Agencia Brasil said:

“It’s a very big debt, it’s a long-term debt for Brazil. I could sign off on it and do a deal with France, but I’m not going to do that…”

A number of analysts expect his successor, former Marxist guerilla Dilma Rousseff, to cancel the program altogether. With inflation beginning to rear its head in Brazil, Brazil’s Finance Minister Guido Mantega is promising a program of government spending cuts, in order to help deal with it. Unfortunately, the used Mirage 2000s that Brazil bought are unlikely to last much beyond 2014, and French officials remain confident – in public, at least. Agence France Presse | Bloomberg | DefenseWorld | Sweden’s The Local | Reuters || Folha de Sao Paolo [Portuguese, subscription].

Dec 1/10: Saab inaugurates a new Swedish-Brazilian research and innovation center in São Bernardo do Campo, Brazil, with a 2-day workshop. The center’s main foci include aerospace, defence and urban innovation/ civil security. Saab will work in close co-operation with local industry and universities including UFABC (Universidade Federal do ABC) and FEI (Centro Universitário da FEI), per a 2009 bilateral Government agreement to extend innovative high technological industrial co-operation between Brazil and Sweden.

Nov 3/10: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva says that:

“We are going to talk over the issue of the fighters – me, [his successor and lieutenant Dilma Rousseff] and [Defense Minister Nelson] Jobim.”

The clear implication is that Rousseff’s win will lead to Brazil confirming Lula’s pre-evaluation choice, and picking the Rafale. Agence France Presse.

April 7/10: AFP reports that Brazilian prosecutors have agreed to open an inquiry into the F-X2 competition, with prosecutor Jose Alfredo de Paulo Silva approving the request from an opponent of Lula’s, who complained that:

“The Brazilian government, because of external political factors, has decided to choose the Rafale, ruling out the Gripen and Super Hornet which were put forward at a lower price. That is against economic principles…”

A spokesman for Brazil’s interior ministry reportedly told AFP the prosecutor would now gather information, and decide if a civil case was possible, and said the inquiry could take up to a year. President Lula’s term ends in January 2011, however, and the election is set for October 2010, so even a 6-month delay would leave the fighter decision for Lula’s successor. See Jan 11/10 entry for the implications of that change.

Other reports quote Defense Minister Nelson Jobim, who says that Brazil’s air force prefers France’s Rafale jet despite the plane’s higher price tag, on industrial grounds. They also indicate that Lula intends to take his proposal to the defense council in the first half of May 2010, with an official decision expected soon after. A competition that is already very political, is becoming even more so. AFP | Avio News | Expatica | Usine Nouvelle [in French].

March 19-25/10: O Estado de Sao Paolo reports that the Brazilian air force certified all 3 fighter jet finalists as meeting Brazil’s technical specifications, and says that relevant reports have been delivered to the defense ministry. Brazil’s defense ministry said it would release final details during the week of April 5/10.

During a subsequent meeting with Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf on March 25th, President Lula is quoted as saying that he’s waiting for the “definitive” technical report on the contenders. Saab CEO Aake Svensson reportedly told the Swedish news agency TT that the Gripen had come out on top in the Brazilian air force’s price and technical evaluation, but previous reports in this competition have been left “unfinalized” and then changed for political reasons. Agence France Presse | UPI | China’s People’s Daily.

March 9/10: Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva claims in his weekly column that his government hasn’t made a decision yet on Brazil’s next fighter aircraft. That’s unlikely to be believed. Associated Press.

Feb 24/10: Agence France Presse says that Brazil’s government has officially denied a Folha de Sao Paulo report re: revised bids from the 3 competitors.

If that unsourced report is accurate, the Rafale’s price dropped from $8.2 billion to $6.2 billion, plus another $4 billion dollars in maintenance over the next 3 decades. The JAS-39NG Gripens were reportedly priced at $4.5 billion dollars plus $1.5 billion dollars in maintenance, while the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets would reportedly cost $5.7 billion plus $1.9 billion in maintenance.

Jan 11/10: An unidentified Brazilian cabinet member tells Reuters that President Lula will choose the French-made Rafale jet as Brazil’s next-generation fighter plane, but wants to negotiate a lower price.

In the background, the political clock is ticking. Lula is constitutionally required to step down after 2 terms in office, and the election to succeed him is set for October 2010. If a deal cannot be done before then, Lula’s successor may have less invested in extending Brazil’s defense partnership with France. Given the apparent preferences within industry and the air force, that could change the likely favorite in an unfinished F-X2 competition.

Jan 8/10: Brazil’s Estadao de Sao Paulo says that the official Air Force report has been modified. It reportedly no longer ranks the 3 finalists, treats the strengths of the Rafale and F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters as established, treats the Gripen NG’s strengths as developmental, and emphasizes the advantages of a twin-engine fighter. With the F/A-18 E/F apparently a political non-starter, it’s expected that these changes will lower the barriers to selecting France’s Rafale. As President Lula intends. Estadao de Sao Paulo | defense-aerospace translation.

Jan 5/10: The Brazilian air force’s Comissao Coordenadora do Programa Aeronaves de Combate (FAB COPAC) has produced its technical evaluation, based on aircraft performance, purchase and lifetime costs, and industrial benefits. The report was ratified by FAB command on December 18th, and media reports from the Folha de Sao Paulo claim that FAB’s executive summary had Saab’s Gripen as the preferred choice, with Boeing’s Super Hornet in 2nd place, and the Rafale last.

The final decision will be President Lula’s, but despite a MdD statement that the report has not been formally delivered, it’s likely to raise the political cost of going ahead with the Rafale deal. The dates involved also shed new light on the government’s mid-December 2009 decision to postpone their final decision, as FAB commander Brigadier Juniti Saito was with Defense Minister Jobim on end-of-year trips to China, Ukraine, and Paris, and COPAC Brigadier Dirceu Tondolo Noro was reportedly called to join them in Paris at the last minute.

Lifetime cost is a very significant issue for the FAB, which understands the inevitable swings that accompany military budgeting in a commodity-driven economy. Saab claims a price of around $70 million (currently around EUR 50 million), which would be 60-70% of the Rafale’s offer price, depending on which sources one believes. Dassault has sort of denied that the Rafale would be 40-50% more expensive (q.v. Nov 12/09 entry), and also contests Saab’s claim that the Gripen NG’s operating and maintenance cost per flight-hour would be just 25% of the twin-engine Rafale’s, but the French firm has not publicly offered any detailed figures. In terms of the politicians’ most important benchmark, the FAB also reportedly gave Gripen NG the edge in industrial benefits, siding with Brazilian industry in believing that a project in development offers greater opportunities to expand Brazilian technologies and skills than a finished product like the Rafale. FAB release [Portuguese] | Folha de Sao Paulo [Portuguese] | Poder Aero [Portuguese or Google's amusing auto-translation] | Reuters.


Lula picks Rafale before tests are in; F-X2 decision postponed; Bids & revised offers submitted; Gripen’s AESA radar partnership; Super Hornet DSCA request; Does Brazilian industry favor the Gripen? Gripen Demo rollout
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Dec 28/09: Sea Gripen. Reports confirm that co-development of a carrier-capable “Sea Gripen” design was part of Saab’s response to India’s M-MRCA fighter competition RFI, adding that Brazil’s future fighter requirements were also targeted. Key changes are outlined, and Gripen VP of Operational Capabilities Peter Nilsson tells StratPost that the Sea Gripen is intended for both CATOBAR (Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery) as well as STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery – “ski jump”) operations:

“There will obviously be differences in the MTOW (Maximum Take-Off Weight). In a CATOBAR concept, the Sea Gripen will have a MTOW of 16,500 kilograms and a maximum landing weight of 11,500 kilograms. In a STOBAR concept it depends on the physics of the carrier. Roughly, the payload of fuel and weapons in STOBAR operations will be one-third less than the payload in CATOBAR operations. There will be no differences in ‘bring-back’ capability,” he says.”

See: StratPost | Gripen India

Dec 15/09: FX-2 Postponed. Brazilian President Lula da Silva elects to postpone the F-X2 decision until the spring. MercoPress | UPI.

Nov 18/09: A small political kerfuffle erupts as 9 ex-Assistant Secretaries of State for the Western Hemisphere send a letter to Sen. George LeMieux [R-FL] and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, asking LeMieux to join Sen. Jim DeMint [R-SC] in lifting his hold on career diplomat Thomas Shannon’s nomination as Ambassador to Brazil. This is a fairly common practice by both parties, and it takes only 1 senator to place a hold on key nominations. This often leaves key posts unfulfilled for long periods of time.

The letter says that Boeing’s efforts to sell its F/A-18F to Brazil will be placed at risk by the continuing lack of an accredited ambassador. That probably won’t help, but a long history of restrictive American arms export policies, and the fact that the fix appears to be in at top levels to expand defense industrial cooperation with France, are both far more consequential. Bloomberg News.

Nov 12/09: France’s Dassault hits back at its competitors, sort of. Dassault’s Brazilian subsidiary of the French company held a hastily called news conference in Brasilia to defend the aircraft, and sort of deny reports of a 40% higher price than the lowest bid.

Dassault executive Jean-Marc Merialdo would not offer figures, or even deny the reports directly. He did say that claims the Rafale was more expensive by such a margin were “unfounded” and asserted that it was “comparable to other aircraft of the same class.” Defense News.

Oct 4/09: Bids in. Brazil’s FAB confirms that revised bids are in from all 3 short-listed contenders, and Saab’s offer clearly has significant support from the Swedish government.

Gripen International’s revised bid offers a wide range of elements, including: Full involvement in the Gripen NG development program; Complete technology transfer and national autonomy through joint development; Independence in choice of weapons and systems integration; Production in Brazil of up to 80% Gripen NG airframes, via a full Gripen NG assembly line; and Full maintenance capability in Brazil for the Gripen NG’s F414 engine. That last offer would largely remove the threat of future American interference, and it would be interesting to see how Gripen International proposes to achieve it. Gripen International touts “significantly lower acquisition, support and operating costs” for its plane, and all this would be backed by a firm proposal for full long-term financing from the government’s Swedish Export Credit Corporation.

The additional offers are equally significant. Brazil will have the sales lead for Gripen NG in Latin America, with joint opportunities elsewhere. Saab would join the KC-390 program as a development and marketing partner, and Sweden will evaluate the KC-390 for its long term tactical air transport needs, as a future replacement for its recently-upgraded but aging C-130 Hercules aircraft. Saab also proposes to replace Sweden’s aged fleet of about 42 SK60/ Saab 105 jet trainers with Embraer’s Super Tucano, but it received a SKr 130 million ($18.8 million) deal in September 2009 to upgrade the planes’ cockpit systems, and current Swedish plans would see the SK60s continue in service until mid-2017. FAB release [in Portuguese] | Gripen International release.

Sept 29/09: Who, us? Embraer release [PDF format]:

“Regarding the article published in the Valor Econômico newspaper, dated September 28, 2009, Embraer clarifies that it is not directly participating in the selection process of the new F-X2 fighter for the Brazilian Air Force and, contrary to what was stated, it has no preference among the proposals presented. Embraer reaffirms its unconditional support of this process, always in close alignment with Brazil’s Aeronautics Command and the Ministry of Defense.”

Sept 28/09: Embraer drops a political bombshell, when Embraer’s Deputy Chief Executive for the defense market, Orlando Jose Ferreira Neto, tells Valor Economico that the firm was asked to advise the Air Force re: industrial proposals, and concluded that participating in the JAS-39NG Gripen’s development offers Brazil’s aerospace industry the best long-term benefits. Embraer reportedly saw the JAS-39NG as offering the opportunity to participate in the design process, rather than just producing parts. The opinion is a shock, as France’s interest in buying Embraer’s KC-390 transports was expected to leave Brazil’s top aerospace firm solidly on-side for the Rafale bid. T-1 Holdings executives (see Sept 17/09 entry) were also quoted in the article.

In response, Defence Minister Jobim fires back to say that the government will make these decisions, not Embraer. Dow Jones | Defense Aerospace translations (note: links will not last) | Valor Online, via Noticias Militares [in Portuguese] | Defesa Brazil [in Portuguese] | O Globo [in Portuguese].

Sept 17/09: Saab announces that over 20 engineers from the Brazilian firms Akaer, Friuli, Imbra Aerospace, Minoica, and Winnstal are already working on the Gripen NG project in Linkoping, Sweden, with the Swedish government’s authorization. The 5 firms will participate as the T1 holding, and would be responsible for projecting and manufacturing the JAS-39BR’s central and rear fuselages and wings. If all goes well, Akaer predicts that as of 2010 a team of at least 150 engineers and technicians from the T1 holding will start working in Brazil, alongside 20 Swedish specialists.

Beyond Gripen production, the holding’s goal is to form a new Brazilian aeronautical center in Brazil, and some technology transfer in the area of composite materials is reportedly underway already. Shaping the wing of a supersonic craft requires higher quality levels than civil applications, as well as manufacturing challenges owing to thicker and more resistant parts. Management and integration training within a holding structure of this type will also be required.

Sept 15/09: Boeing kicks off a 2-day conference in Sao Paulo with 140 potential partner and supplier companies, as it reaffirms its Super Hornet offer in advance of the Sept 21/09 submission date. Bob Gower, vice president of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Program stated openly that the Super Hornet’s price “is considerably lower than that of the Rafale.” Boeing’s release also addresses reports of incomplete technology transfer for its product:

“Boeing delivered an offer to the Brazilian Air Force in August that included full technology transfer… [defined as] the option of Super Hornet co-production in Brazil and the sharing of technology that would allow Brazil to integrate its own weapons.”

Sept 14/09: MercoPress reports remarks by CGT union leader Dominique Richard at Dassault, who is concerned about the extent of technology transfer that may be offered. Dassault, meanwhile, denies that there will be any effect on French jobs. Richard:

“There’s something which troubles us in this contract and is the fact that Brazil wants to have its own military air industry and that the agreement with Dassault, the French government and the Brazilian government includes the transfer of technology.”

See also AnsaLatina [in Spanish].

Sept 13/09: Flight International’s “Closer political ties raise prospects for renewed alliance between Dassault and Embraer” covers the market possibilities.

The 2 firms have very little overlap. Dassault is strong in the high-end executive jet market, but Embraer brackets those offerings with bigger regional jets and lower-end Phenom light and very light jets. Some form of consolidation could make sense. Embraer is also looking to field competition with the Boeing 737 and Airbus A319/320 series, and could benefit from Dassault’s engineering expertise. On the flip side, the KC-390 tactical transport would add a new product category for Dassault, improving and eventually replacing the Rafale could take a wider set of resources than France and Dassault are willing to supply, and the closure of the Mirage 2000 line leaves a hole in Dassault’s offerings at the light end of the spectrum.

Sept 11/09: Brazil’s MdD announces a Sept 21/09 deadline for Dassault to submit its Rafale business proposal, adding that the other 2 firms can also choose to submit. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim is quoted as saying [translated]:

“Now we have to evaluate the proposals. The commitments that President Sarkozy made will have to be confirmed by Dassault’s offer… there has been a political decision of the President to expand the strategic alliance with France… for this policy decision to come into effect, it depends on Dassault and also the others, because there needs to be a comparative evaluation.”

The Brazilian air force (FAB) still expects to complete the technical review process by the end of October 2009, for delivery to the Minister of Defense and the President. The final decision will be the President’s – and Lula has already expressed his clear preference, unless Dassault does something to change it via adverse pricing and financing terms or issues with technology transfer. “>MdD release & defence aerospace translation | Folha de Sao Paolo re: tech transfer [in Portguese].

Sept 9/09: …or not. Aftermath, and clarifications. Brazil’s President and MDD reaffirm their intended defense partnership with France, while the US Embassy correctly notes – and Brazil’s MdD confirms – that no formal decision has been taken yet. This is technically true, but there is no question that the Rafale has been given preferred bidder status. Negotiations would have to fail badly before any other contender had a chance. The Brazilian newspaper Folha de Sao Paolo:

“The expectation is that the deal will be concluded with France, but only if it offers a lower price for the Rafale, the most expensive of the competitors, and a more favorable interest rate. According to [reporting by] Folha de Sao Paulo, Lula rushed into dinner with Sarkozy on Sunday night and skipped several steps of the selection process, which angered the Air Force Command and left Jobim in the crossfire.”

There are also widespread reports that Brazil’s unwillingness to be subject to the USA’s potential ITAR restrictions and technology transfer limits was a key factor in their rejection of the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, and of Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG (whose F414 engine is American). Brazilian President’s Office | MDD clarification | US Embassy in Brazil | Folha de Sao Paolo & translation via defense aerospace | Gripen International confirms its continued participation.

Sept 7/09: Winner!? Brazil’s Ministerio Da Defesa announces that Dassault Aviation is now the F-X2 competition’s preferred bidder, and the country will order 36 Rafales subject to further negotiations. The announcement also says that Brazil has secured French cooperation to develop Embraer’s KC-390 medium transport, and possibly buy 10-12 of the aircraft when they’re introduced.

This sale would be France’s 1st export order for its Rafale fighter, after numerous attempts spanning more than a decade. French technology transfer across a broad range of projects was reportedly the critical factor in the deal, and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim reportedly said that the decision to begin talks with Dassault “was not adopted in relation to the other two” competing companies. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, meanwhile, described the move as “definitively consolidating a strategic partnership we started in 2005.” Brazil will now produce helicopters (EC725), submarines (nuclear-powered and diesel-electric), transport aircraft (KC-390) and possibly fighters (Rafale) in cooperation with France, under a broad strategic partnership in the defense arena. MDD announcement [Portuguese] | Agence France Presse | France24 | CS Monitor | L.A. Times | Reuters.

Sept 5/09: Brazil’s Defesa@NET explains the expected way forward:

“A Brazilian military expert who runs a specialist magazine titled Defesanet, Nelson During, told AFP that Brazil’s decision should be known in October. “The air force should send its evaluation of the three aircraft to the government on October 23 — Day of the Aviator — indicating its choice. Then, the National Defense Council should ratify that choice pretty quickly,” he said.”

Sept 3/09: Brazil’s Defesa@NET refers to an exclusive interview that Agence France Presse conducted with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and offers key quotes:

“A country of Brazil’s importance cannot buy a product from another country without technology transfer… France has shown itself to be the most flexible country in terms of transferring technology, and evidently, this is an exceptional comparative advantage… France is the only important country ready to discuss with us technology transfers in all these domains [helicopters, submarines, and fighter jets]… Brazil has drawn up a strategic defense plan. We are convinced … that because of the Amazon, our deep-water offshore oil deposits, Brazil should have a defense industry in keeping with its size and import.”

Aug 21/09: The Brisbane Times covers stepped up lobbying in Brazil, as the decision date is reportedly pushed from September to October 2009.

Aug 6/09: F/A-18 filing. Per US laws, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announces [PDF] Brazil’s formal request to buy up to 36 F/A-18E/F Super hornets and related equipment. The DSCA release is careful to stress that Brazil has yet to select its future fighter; the notice simply gives Brazil full assurance that all aspects of the sale can proceed smoothly if the Super Hornet is selected. This may be why no estimated cost has been given – a departure from DSCA norms.

Industrial offset agreements associated with this proposed sale are expected, but would be defined during negotiations between the purchaser and contractor. The equipment would include:

  • 28 F/A-18E Super Hornet Aircraft,
  • 8 F/A-18F Super Hornet Aircraft
  • 76 F414-GE-400 installed engines: 72 installed, 4 spares
  • 36 AN/APG-79 AESA Radar Systems
  • 36 M61A2 installed 20mm Gun Systems
  • 44 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing Systems (JHMCS)
  • 144 LAU-127 Launchers
  • 28 AIM-120C-7 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM)
  • 28 AIM-9M Sidewinder short range air-air missiles. AIM-9M is the most common current version in US service, but not the most advanced; that distinction belongs to the AIM-9X. Brazil is collaborating with South Africa on the A-Darter SRAAM, which is intended to be an AIM-9X peer.
  • 60 GBU-31/32 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM)
  • 36 AGM-154 Joint Standoff Weapon (JSOW) precision glide bombs
  • 10 AGM-88B HARM anti-radar missiles. Brazil produces its own missile, but the HARM is already integrated with the Super hornet and Brazil’s weapon is not.
  • 36 AN/ASQ-228v2 Advanced Targeting Forward-Looking Infrared (ATFLIR) surveillance and targeting pods.
  • 36 AN/ALR-67v3 Radar Warning Receivers
  • 36 of BAE’s AN/ALQ-214 Radio Frequency Countermeasures systems
  • 40 of BAE’s AN/ALE-47 Electronic Warfare Countermeasures systems
  • 112 AN/ALE-50 Towed Decoys
  • Plus the Joint Mission Planning System, support equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, ferry and tanker support, flight test, software support, publications and technical documents, and other support.

The principal contractors were listed as:

  • The Boeing Company St. Louis, MO (Super Hornets, JDAM)
  • General Electric Aircraft Engines in Lynn, MA (F414-400)
  • Northrup Grumman Corporation El Segundo, CA (Super Hornets)
  • Raytheon Corporation El Segundo, CA (ATFLIR pods, APG-79 radar, AGM-88, JSOW, AIM-120, AIM-9, ALE-50 towed decoys)
  • Lockheed Martin in Bethesda, MD

Implementation of this sale will require approximately 8 contractor representatives to provide technical and logistics support in Brazil for 2 years. U.S. Government and contractor representatives will also participate in program management and technical reviews for 1-week intervals twice semi-annually.

July 13/09: MercoPress reports that deals are in the works between F-X2 contenders and Brazilian companies.

According to MercoPress, Boeing IDS President & CEO Jim Albaugh said agreements have been signed with 27 Brazilian companies that are capable of producing parts for the F/A-18, including Embraer. The move could reportedly translate into 5,000 jobs throughout the entire supply chain.

Saab Gripen’s marketing chief Bob Kemp was reportedly quoted as saying that Gripen International was prepared to shift up to 50% of future production to Brazil.

The report adds that Brazilian President Lula da Silva has invited French President Sarkozy to its independence day celebrations on September 7th, as a guest of honor. Da Silva reportedly said that he hopes to sign new defence accords at that time. This is taken by some as an indication that Dassault’s Rafale is currently the favored candidate. France is Brazil’s most significant defense supplier on a broad range of fronts, however, and so the promise of new accords is not definitive.

May 4/09: Revised offers. Brazil’s FAB(Forca Aerea Brazileira) issues a release, announcing that revised offers from the participating companies were submitted to F-X2 Project Management (GPF-X2). The companies are listed, and it’s the same list as the finalists and original submissions listed on Feb 2/09: Boeing, Dassault, and Saab. No Russian firms listed.

GPF-X2 has held clarification meetings held since March 2/09. On March 30/09, it began verification visits to see the firms’ facilities, maintenance, R&D labs, and active squadrons; and will make evaluation flights. FAB release [in Portuguese]

April 6/09: Russia’s RIA Novosti quotes Alexander Fomin, deputy director of Russia’s Federal Service on Military-Technical Cooperation:

“We are actively participating in the Brazilian tender, which has been reopened. It involves over 100 fighter planes. Russia has made a bid in the tender with its Su-35 multirole fighter. The tender has stiff requirements, involving not only the sale, but also the transfer of technology. It is a key condition of the deal and Russia is ready to satisfy it… We are discussing with the well-known Brazilian company Embraer the transfer of technology and the construction of facilities for the future licensed production of the aircraft…”

Fomin reportedly added that such a facility could also produce the 5th generation PAK-FA fighter being developed in conjunction with India. Experiences with the American F-22 and F-35 suggest that this would depend on the sophistication of the facilities. Stealth fighters require new equipment and techniques that go beyond normal aircraft construction standards, and a facility set up to produce even 4+ generation fighters may not be adequate.

March 30/09: The Brazilian Air force announces [in Portuguese] that it is beginning visits and technical evaluation of the 3 finalists. This evaluation will include test flights, and evaluation of the bids’ technical, industrial and maintenance offerings.

March 24/09: Gripen AESA. Dassault’s acquisition of a large stake in Thales led to Thales’ refusal to sell Saab the RBE2-AA AESA radar beyond the Gripen Demo stage. In response, Saab and SELEX Galileo sign an agreement to develop an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar for the JAS-39NG. The arrangement is initially aimed at Brazil’s fighter competition, where it leverages Selex Galileo’s strong pedigree equipping Brazil’s F-5BR fighters (Grifo-F radar) and AMX light attack jets (Scipio radar). Once integrated and proven, however, the AESA upgrade would be available to any Gripen customer.

Per Aviation Week’s March 10/09 report from Aero India, the radar will use a Vixen 500 AESA front end, with “back end” modules from the existing PS-05/A. Using those back end modules simplifies integration, and also avoids the control issues inherent in American alternatives. As it happens, the 2 firms have a long history of radar partnerships. Ericsson (now Saab’s) partner on the original PS-05/A was Ferranti, which became GEC-Marconi, then BAE Systems, and now Selex Galileo. Selex was also Saab’s partner in the recent M-AESA R&D project.

The Vixen 500 AESA radar is currently used in the USA by border surveillance aircraft, but it has yet to see service on a fighter. Korea’s F/A-50 was recently barred from using the Vixen 500E, under an agreement with co-developer Lockheed Martin that did not allow the F/A-50’s capabilities to surpass the ROKAF’s F-16s. Saab | Gripen International.

Feb 2/09: Bids are in. Boeing confirms that it has submitted a bid involving 36 F/A-18 Super Hornet Block IIs, with the APG-79 AESA radar.

Gripen International confirms a bid involving 36 JAS-39NG aircraft, with longer range, AESA radars, and other enhancements. Their release adds that Brazil will have “direct involvement in the development, production and maintenance of the platform but it will also generate transfer of key technology including access to Gripen source codes.”

It is presumed that Dassault also submitted a 36-plane bid for its Rafale fighter. Boeing release | Gripen International release.

2007 – 2008

F-X2 program revived; RFP out; 3 finalists picked. FAB Mirage 2000s
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November 2008: Russia and Brazil sign a series of agreements on military technology cooperation. As is customary, the agreements set out protocols for the protection of intellectual property rights and technology secrets, which make joint ventures and local production easier to manage. Source.

Oct 30/08: RFP. Brazil’s FAB formally issues the RFP to the short-listed competitors. The 3 firms will have until Feb 2/09 to present their proposals, which must include operational, logistic, industrial, commercial, technical, commercial compensation (offset) and technology transfer details. FAB release [Portuguese].

Oct 1/08: Finalists picked. Brazil has decided on its 3 finalists: Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, and Saab/BAE’s JAS-39 Gripen.

EADS Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin’s F-16BR, and Sukhoi’s SU-35 all failed to make the cut. Brazilian FAB release [Portuguese] | Reuters | Boeing release | Gripen International release.

Aug 27/08: Defesanet reports that Lockheed Martin will be offering an F-16BR for Brazil’s F-X2, rather than the F-35. The report adds that barriers to technology transfer of some F-35 systems played a role in this decision. Defesanet [Portuguese] | Forecast International.

July 30/08: Boeing delivers a detailed proposal July 30 offering its advanced F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornet to the Brazilian Air Force. The aircraft would be similar to the F/A-18Fs ordered by the Royal Australian Air Force, and would include Raytheon’s APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar. Boeing release.

June 12/08: Boeing (and presumably other manufacturers) receive the Brazilian RFP. The stated initial requirement is for 36 aircraft, with the potential for up to 120 aircraft. Boeing release | FAB statment (Brazilian air force).

January 2008: Brazil’s President Lula formally authorizes Brazilian Air Force Commander Juniti Saito to restart the F-X program.

November 2007: Brazil’s decision to hold an “F-X2″ competition is announced by the Brazilian press.


(1) Russian firms tend to partner due to local political necessity, or to gain technologies/ quality level they do not have, rather than as a strategic option for penetrating new markets. In Brazil’s case, one logical option would have been a partnership with India to offer the thrust-vectoring, canard-winged SU-30MKI, which is arguably superior to the SU-35. The aircraft are partly produced in India, and already have obvious slots for tech transfer because that was built into the Indian program.

A 3-way deal leveraging India’s HAL, and setting up an NPO Saturn engine plant in Brazil, would have offered several benefits. It would offer India and other SU-30 customers a welcome 2nd engine source, offer Brazilian aerospace a critical additional puzzle piece in engine construction, offer the FAB removal the biggest historical problem with Russian planes, and offer Russia a substantially strengthened lobbying effort.

On the avionics and electronics front, Elbit Systems avionics could be sourced from the Brazilian subsidiary AEL to offer fleet commonality, and some can be found in the SU-30MKI already. Indian electronics used in the SU-30MKI would offer additional options for international cooperation and license production, alongside Israeli options that already equip Brazilian aircraft.

The question is whether the Russians were ever good enough at partnering to pull something like that off, or were even willing to try.

Appendix A: F-X2 and Brazil’s FAB Brazil
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Brazil can depend on its sheer size, and the barrier created by its geography, to shield its population centers from many threats. The same isn’t necessarily true of its military installations or economic interests, which require either air superiority, or air denial from mobile and effective defensive missiles. Airpower’s flexibility also makes it a uniquely useful as a deterrent and response to threats and coercion, and is uniquely suited to the job of patrolling vast areas.

Much of that patrol work falls to the mid-tier of Brazil’s its air force, and its specialty fleets. Those are in good shape, which makes sense in a region where most threats are internal. Brazil’s 43 or so upgraded Brazilian-Italian AMX subsonic light attack jets, and 99 indigenous Super Tucano COIN/surveillance turboprops, are quality offerings within their respective niches. Their performance is very well suited to basic policing duties, especially when backed by a small but advanced set of airborne, ground looking and maritime R-99/ P-99 radar derivatives of Embraer’s ERJ-145 business jets. The ERJ derivatives will be augmented by 12 refurbished P-3 Orions, bought to patrol Brazil’s huge coastlines and maritime economic zone.

Unfortunately, the high end of the FAB’s fighter fleet is inferior even when judged by regional standards.

After its existing Mirage IIIs simply wore out and had to be retired at the end of 2005, FAB Command worked out a plan to find an emergency interim replacement. The final choice was 12 second-hand French Mirage 2000Cs. The airframes selected by Brazil were produced for France between 1984 -1987, and began arriving in Brazil in 2006.

A parallel F-5 upgrade program is underway to keep those 1960s-era lightweight fighters in service for another 15 years, while modernizing them to a level of effectiveness that’s slightly below the Mirages.

(click to view full)

Inducting 20 year old aircraft was not a long-term solution. Especially for a country that reportedly had about 37% of its 719-plane air force grounded, due to a combination of age and the toll of Brazil’s environments. Upgrading the F-5s is useful, but can’t even be described as a short-term solution to the gap at the high end of their force. Meanwhile, Venezuela’s large military buys, and especially its FAV’s recent purchase of long-range, 4+ generation SU-30MK2 fighters, appear to have had the effect of triggering counter moves around Latin America. So, too, have Venezuela’s actions around Latin America, as the line between external and internal threats blurs. In Brazil’s case, interference within key Brazilian natural gas provider Bolivia was not seen as a friendly act.

Publicly, Brazil has been careful to stress that this is not about an arms race. Defense Minister Nelson Jobim said in a 2007 public speech that:

“Brazil has well established, peaceful relations with all South American nations … one of our political priorities is economic and structural integration of the region … (and in 2008) we’ll also be strengthening our military links… [Brazil cannot] neglect its defense. Therefore, we will increase our budget outlays and investment in the army, navy and air force by more than 50 percent… [Brazil] is elaborating a national strategy defense plan that will determine each military branch’s mission and the equipment it needs for its activities”.

The reassurances are meant to be sincere. So, too, are the plans referred to in the second half of the quote. Brazil has shaken off its sloth, and taken wide-ranging steps to revive its military. Including its fighters.

In January 2008, Brazil’s President Lula authorized Brazilian Air Force Commander Juniti Saito to restart the long-delayed F-X fighter replacement program. “F-X2″ aimed to acquire 36 next generation fighters for the Brazilian Air Force. A previous 2001 F-X competition was put on hold in 2003, and then canceled in February 2004 due to budget difficulties and political issues. The initial budget for the current iteration is said to be $2.2 billion, but is likely to end up being 2x-3x that figure. The RFP leaves the door open for future buys, which could raise that total to 120 aircraft.

Appendix B: F-X2 – The Industrial Angle AMX light fighter
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President Lula da Silva’s administration had larger plans than just equipment recapitalization when restarted F-X2, saying that “we must overcome the lack of strategic planning and the technological dismantling of the last two decades.” The new National Defence Strategy group is designed to plan and execute the recovery of the “capability of our armed forces and the technological edge we once had in certain fields.”

Brazil maintained an impressive niche capability during the 1970s and 1980s in areas like tank and armored vehicle design, rockets, missiles, and of course aircraft. Unfortunately, in a world divided by cold war allegiances, there was often little room for a non-aligned 3rd party exporter. While some projects like the Tucano succeeded, and others like the AMX enjoyed qualified success, many promising projects saw limited exports or failed.

The world is no longer divided into cold war camps, which may offer the Brazilian defense industry a second chance if it partners well and executes smartly. According to the main guidelines of the da Silva’s long term strategy, Brazilian defense industry should look to become a player again in the export of missiles, aircraft and other equipment. UAVs, with their long endurance surveillance capabilities and natural connection to Brazil’s aviation industry, are likely to also become a priority. The overall thrust of Brazil’s policies is certainly clear: “We must convince ourselves that we can become a world power this century,” said President Lula da Silva.

Military Review, 1999
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On the one hand, these statements remind one of the old joke that goes: “Brazil is the nation of the future – and always will be.”

On the other hand, anteing up with a major hike to the defense budget certainly displays seriousness, and Brazil has already set up a key partnership to develop the 5th generation A-Darter short range air-air missile with South Africa. A similar deal with Israel for its Derby/Alto radar guided missile is also expected at some point, and RFPs went out for a handful of medium transport helicopters (AW EH101, Russian Mi-171V, EADS EC725 won) and some attack helicopters (AW-TAI A129, EADS Tiger, Russian Mi-35M won).

The giant may be stirring again. A handful of fighters and helicopters, plus ships to patrol its coasts, won’t exactly make anyone a world power. Budgetary resources will also have to address an urgent need for transport aircraft, which is pushing resources toward Embraer’s KC-390. Still, these buys may go a long way toward ensuring the nation’s ability to patrol and enforce its long borders. The Gripen deal will complete that program in the air.

The defense spending surge is also helping Brazil to re-establish its faded indigenous defense industry on the world stage. In the air, Embraer’s KC-390 medium transport has become a serious contender for global orders, even as the EC725 partnership with Eurocopter is giving Brazil much-improved helicopter manufacturing and servicing. The A-Darter missile program is ongoing with South Africa, and on the ground, a major partnership with Iveco will produce hundreds of VBTP 6×6 wheeled armored personnel carriers. Cooperation with France will produce 5 submarines, including 1 nuclear attack sub; and a major naval tender to buy frigates, patrol vessels, and supply ships has attracted bids from Britain, Korea, France, and elsewhere. A clever buy of 3 Scarborough Class 90m patrol boats from BAE, with options to build 5 more in Brazil, has begun that process.

Additional Readings Background: FAB & Programs

Background: Fighter Contenders Losing Finalists


News & Views

Categories: News

LCA Tejas: An Indian Fighter – With Foreign Help

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 16:55
Tejas LCA
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India’s Light Combat Aircraft program is meant to boost its aviation industry, but it must also solve a pressing military problem. The IAF’s fighter strength has been declining as the MiG-21s that form the bulk of its fleet are lost in crashes, or retired due to age and wear. Most of India’s other Cold War vintage aircraft face similar problems.

In response, some MiG-21s have been modernized to MiG-21 ‘Bison’ configuration, and other current fighter types are undergoing modernization programs of their own. The IAF’s hope is that they can maintain an adequate force until the multi-billion dollar 126+ plane MMRCA competition delivers replacements, and more SU-30MKIs arrive from HAL. Which still leaves India without an affordable fighter solution. MMRCA can replace some of India’s mid-range fighters, but what about the MiG-21s? The MiG-21 Bison program adds years of life to those airframes, but even so, they’re likely to be gone by 2020.

That’s why India’s own Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project is so important to the IAF’s future prospects. It’s also why India’s rigid domestic-only policies are gradually being relaxed, in order to field an operational and competitive aircraft. Even with that help, the program’s delays are a growing problem for the IAF. Meanwhile, the west’s near-abandonment of the global lightweight fighter market opens a global opportunity, if India can seize it with a compelling and timely product.

LCA Tejas: India’s Lightweight Fighter Tejas, side view
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Within India’s force structure, the LCA is largely expected to replace its 400 or so MiG-21 aircraft with a more versatile and capable performer. The MiGs are being retired as age claims them, and even India’s 125 or so upgraded MiG-21 ‘Bisons’ are only scheduled to remain in service until 2018. The LCA’s overall performance is expected to be somewhat similar to India’s Mirage 2000s, with lower top speed but more modern electronics.

The Tejas LCA design uses a tailless compound delta plan that’s designed to be unstable, but controllable over an 8g / -3.5g flight range thanks to advanced flight software and quadruplex fly-by-wire technology. Composites are used heavily in order to to save weight, and proper placement can also lower the plane’s radar profile. Japan’s F-16-derived F-2 fighters also made heavy use of composite technologies, but Japanese issues with delamination and cracking required repairs and changes. ADA has conducted Static and fatigue strength studies on finite element models, and aeroservoelastic studies have been performed on the Tejas design; nevertheless, only full testing and actual service will reveal how it fares. So far, composites haven’t become a public problem for the aircraft.

Unfortunately, reports indicate that the lack of early pilot input has compromised several aspects of the design, while a failure to consider maintenance up front has made key components difficult to reach. Barring published comparisons from experienced pilots or evaluating countries, it’s very difficult to pin down the extent or seriousness of these issues, but Tejas has certainly spent a very long time in testing.

The following sub-sections go into more detail about the fighter’s equipment rationales, and that equipment’s specific capabilities. The above list seems straightforward, but getting there has been anything but.


The plane’s avionics architecture is configured around a 3 bus, distributed MIL-STD-1553B system, using a 32-bit Mission Computer (MC) and software written in Ada. A “glass cockpit” of colour Active Matrix Liquid Crystal Displays (AMLCDs) provides the pilot with information, and is supplemented by Elbit’s DASH helmet-mounted display for commonality with other IAF aircraft.

The Mk.II is slated to use a more advanced glass cockpit with better computing and graphics processors behind it, full-duplex cross-Switched Ethernet (AFDX) based back up avionics, and digital maps. Elsewhere on the plane, a Universal Pylon Interface Computer (UPIC) will replace the Pylon Interface Boxes.

Radar Love: Weapons & Fire Control Radar Failure & Replacement EL/M-2032
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The Tejas project’s original radar, like its original engine choice, very nearly sank the project. The state-run Aeronautical Development Agency had originally intended to use Ericsson Microwave Systems’ PS-05/A radar, until they changed their mind and decided to develop their own. India’s Multi Mode Radar (MMR) program was started in June 1991, with a “Probable Date of Completion” of 6.5 years. More than 15 years later, development was still plodding away as a joint effort between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in Hyderabad, India’s Electronics and Radar Development Laboratory in Bangalore, and the Centre for Airborne Studies. Even worse, test results for the radar were poor.

By August 2007, over 16 years into the project, even India’s MoD finally had to admit that the MMR faced serious problems. Radar co-development has now been initiated with Israel’s IAI Elta, with the EL/M-2032 as the radar base and interim solution. The EL/M-2032 multi-mode radar was originally developed for Israel’s Lavi fighter, and already equips India’s Sea Harrier fleet and Jaguar IM strike aircraft, and is popular around the world. M-2032s can be found on some F-16s in Israel and elsewhere, Kfir C10s flown by some Latin American customers, Chile’s upgraded F-5s, Romania’s MiG-21 Lancer upgrades, and South Korea’s FA-50 lightweight fighter. The radar features modular hardware design, with software control and flexible avionic interfaces, and a TWT coherent transmitter with a low-sidelobe planar antenna. The M-2032 functions in several air-to-air modes, as well as the air-to-ground, air-to-sea, ground-mapping in RBS, DBM, SAR with moving target tracking, and terrain avoidance modes.

Detection and classification ranges will vary depending on the aperture size. A radar adapted to fit in an F-5’s narrow nose will have lower performance than one that fits into a larger F-16. The Tejas’ dimensions suggest that performance may be near the radar’s claimed 80 nautical mile maximums for detection of fighter-sized objects.

There have been reports that the Tejas Mk.II and operational LCA Naval will fly with IAI’s EL/M-2052 AESA radar instead. That change would roughly double performance, while drastically reducing radar maintenance costs. These reports are unconfirmed, however, and other accounts cite American pressure to prevent Israeli AESA radar exports.

Other Sensors & Defensive LITENING pod

RAFAEL’s LITENING advanced surveillance and targeting pod will give Tejas long-range looks at ground targets, independent laser designation capability, and (rumored) fleet commonality with India’s Jaguars, MiG-27s, Mirage 2000s, and SU-30MKIs. The Mk.II will reportedly be adapted for a more advanced variant of the LITENING pod, but that means the pods would have to be bought and given to the Tejas fleet, rather than the SU-30MKI fleet for example.

The defensive system will be designed in India. Late testing means that it won’t be fully effective in the Mk.I aircraft, which must depend on an external Israel Aerospace Elta ELL/8-2222 jamming pod. The Mk.II is supposed to have a fully effective system of warning receivers, automated decoy dispensing, etc. In advanced western aircraft, these systems can even feed geolocation data from pinpointed threats into the plane’s targeting computers. Time will tell whether the Mk.II also has those capabilities.

Weapons LCA Tejas, armed
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Unsurprisingly, RAFAEL’s Derby radar-guided fire-and-forget missile will serve as the Tejas’ initial medium range air-air armament. It lacks the range and datalink of Raytheon’s AMRAAM or Russia’s R-77/AA-12, but in practice, positive identification requirements have kept most aerial fights within Derby range. Derby reportedly has good seeker cone coverage, which improves performance. It has already been integrated with the EL/M-2032 on India’s own Sea Harriers, and equips the country’s new SPYDER mobile anti-aircraft missile systems. If India’s own Astra MRAAM continues to progress, it will be integrated later.

For shorter-range engagements, Derby will be complemented by TMC’s infrared-guided Vympel R-73/AA-11 “Archer,” giving Tejas partial weapon commonality with India’s large MiG fleets. The R-73 is known for its exceptional maneuverability and a “wide boresight” seeker cone, a combination that inaugurated the era of 4th generation missiles. There’s even a rear-facing version, which offers enemies a nasty surprise. The jets will also carry RAFAEL’s Python 4/5, which can face forward and still hit targets behind their fighter.

Tejas planes are expected to carry a range of ground attack weapons, from ordinary bombs and unguided Russian S-8 80mm rockets, to precision munitions. Tests for unspecified laser-guided bombs and cluster bombs are expected, though they’re expected to be Russian KAB-1500L and RBK-500 weapons, along with Russian Kh-31/35/59 anti-ship and precision strike missiles. Specifications don’t mention a MIL-STD-1760 electrical interface with carriage stores, which is very helpful when integrating GPS-guided munitions. Time will tell, but the Tejas Mk.I’s initial weapons don’t include GPS guidance.

Engines & Alternatives F414-GE-400 engine
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With its radar issue solved by a foreign partnership, the fighter’s indigenous Kaveri engine (vid. Appendix B) was left as the project’s biggest unresolved issue. That was resolved with a stopgap, followed by a competition to field a working engine; even so, India’s DRDO continues to pour dollars and time into Kaveri development.

The removal of American arms trade sanctions allowed smooth incorporation of a slightly modified F404-GE-IN20 turbofan in initial Tejas Mk.I production models. Over the longer term, an international competition for the Tejas Mk.II’s engines had 2 shortlisted competitors, 1 unofficial competitor, and 1 winner in GE’s F414.

The winner: F414. GE’s F414 is that company’s more advanced alternative to the F404 family that equips the Tejas Mk.I; it currently equips Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet family. India’s F414-GE-INS6 engines will include the same single-engine FADEC modifications as the Gripen’s F414Gs, and may include some components of the F414-EPE research program for enhanced thrust. Standard F414 engines can reportedly produce up to 22,000 pounds of thrust on afterburners.

GE has been remarkably coy about its thrust in normal operation, but the figures it supplied to India were obviously good enough to beat Eurojet’s EJ200, which reportedly revised its bid too close to the deadline to change its fortunes.

Slow fade: Kaveri. This was supposed to be the fighter’s main engine, but India couldn’t develop a world-leading jet engine from a base of no experience. Kaveri was sidelined in 2008 by GE’s F404, in order to allow flight testing to go forward. DRDO finally admitted defeat in 2013 and stopped advocating Kaveri for the Tejas, after around 6 fruitless years of negotiations with French engine maker Snecma. A global re-tender for assistance was proposed, but late 2014 saw DRDO finally admit the obvious and file the paperwork to end the program.

In the Navy… Naval LCA 2011 briefing
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Indian officials were interested in an improved engine for 2 reasons. One is simply better performance, thanks to an improved thrust:weight ratio. Another is the need for additional thrust, in order to operate the Tejas successfully as a naval aircraft.

India will induct the 40,000t INS Vikramaditya in 2013, after extensive modifications to Russia’s former Admiral Gorshkov carrier. The navy is also proceeding with construction of 2 more 35,000t “air defence ship” Vikrant Class carriers, designed in collaboration with Fincantieri and built in India. Orders have been signed for 46 Russian MiG-29Ks, but India also wants to operate navalized LCA fighters from their decks.

These fighters are actually being designed in a trainer variant first, which will then be converted into a naval fighter. Key changes to the Naval LCA include:

  • Dropped nose, for better visibility in high angle-of-attack (nose pointed up) landings.
  • Leading edge vortex controls that can extend from the edges of the main wing. They help the aircraft safely sink faster to land in smaller spaces, and can also improve takeoff response.
  • Arrester hook to catch landing wires.
  • Strengthened spine and related systems, to absorb the high impact of carrier landings (7.1 m/s descent vs. 3m/s for IAF).
  • Longer, strengthened undercarriage. That actually ended up being a bit overdesigned.
  • Powered nose wheel steering for better maneuverability on deck.
  • Fuel dump system that can shed 1,000 kg of fuel from the fighter’s wing tanks, in case of an emergency just after take-off. Fuel weighs a lot, and that added weight can imperil attempted emergency landings.

Naval LCA rollout
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The other change will be the engine. India’s military and designers believe that the naval Mk.I derivative, powered by the same F404-GE-IN20 engine in the IAF variant, can be used for training and testing. At the same time, they believe that only the a Tejas Mk.II derivative with its more powerful F414-GE-INS6 engine will be capable of loaded carrier operations from the Vikrant Class’ “ski jump” ramp, in just 200m of takeoff space.

The naval Tejas program began in 2003. Variant paper designs were produced, and an initial order placed in 2009 began turning those designs into prototypes. April 2012 saw the 1st flight of NP-1, and a 2012 decision gave the go-ahead for initial production of 8 planes. The naval variant is expected to receive a different designation than “Tejas.”

LCA Tejas: Program, Prospects, and Future The Program India’s LCA Programs
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The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft program began in 1983, and is currently in Full-Scale Engineering Development (FSED) Phase-II, under which India’s DRDO was trying to deliver production fighters to the IAF by December 2010. Initial Operational Clearance wasn’t granted until January 2011, and then only with significant waivers. Limited Series Production aircraft in final configuration have arrived, but IOC wasn’t declared until November 2013, and even that was done under pressure from the ministry. The plane’s core self-protection systems were only installed in October 2013, most weapons haven’t been tested yet, and neither has aerial refueling. The ministry is pushing for Final Operational Clearance as a day/night, all-weather platform, and the official induction of a Tejas squadron at Sulur Air Base in Tamil Nadu near Sri Lanka, by the end of 2014. It isn’t clear that the fighter can actually achieve those performance goals in time.

So far, 40 Tejas Mk.I fighters have been ordered. Current plans call for another 100 aircraft (mostly Mk.II) for the air force, and up to 60 naval variants for the Navy.

When it was originally approved in 1983, the Tejas program’s cost was set at Rs 560 crore (5.6 billion rupees). The cost had risen to over 3,300 crore by the late 1980s, and has continued to rise since. The Times of India places the 2011 program total at 17,269 crore/ $3.77 billion for all variants. As shown above, subsequent reports show continued cost increases.

LCA Tejas Mk.II: Delhi, we have a problem… MiG-21bis: Hanging on
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The first test-flight of the improved and re-engined Tejas Mark-II is currently scheduled for December 2014, with production beginning in June 2016. Unfortunately for the air force, those markers are looking less and less likely, and switching in a new engine adds design and testing changes that will complicate matters. Engineers must rebalance the aircraft’s weight, adjust fuel capacity for changed consumption rates, etc. It’s already known that the LCA will need to add 0.5m in length to fit the F414, and its air intakes offer inadequate airflow and will have to be redesigned.

One also expects that an LCA Mk.II will add newer technologies in some areas, and there are reports that India intends to upgrade from IAI’s ELM-2032 phased-array radar to the ELM-2052 AESA. India’s avionics industry also continues to advance, leading to potential component swaps and re-testing. Finally, Tejas Mk.I has placed many key components in inaccessible places. Unless significant redesigns are forthcoming in Mk.II, maintenance costs will be high, and readiness will be low.

Redesign processes usually takes several years, even in a best-case scenario. China’s shift to a Russian RD-33 engine for its J-10 fighter was the centerpiece of a redesign that took more than a decade. Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen made a similar shift from Volvo’s F404-derived RM12 in the JAS-39 A-D models, to GE’s F414 for its new JAS-39E/F, over a few years. There was a standing offer to have Saab adopt a significant role in Mk.2 development, with strong support from DRDO, but that offer remains in limbo.

Major delays to Tejas Mk.I production mean that activity probably won’t end until 2018. The delays will buy time for Mk.II testing, at the cost of IAF readiness and force strength. If the Mk.II also runs into testing problems, the LCA program will face a hard choice: produce more than 40 Tejas Mk.Is, or buy Mk.IIs before testing is done, with the accompanying risk of expensive rework and fielding delays.

Meanwhile, India’s MiG-21 fleet continues to age out.

Industrial Team

The Tejas industrial team is weighted toward government participation, which is one of the reasons for its long development cycle. Instead of buying finished and tested equipment from abroad, new designs had to be invented by government research agencies, then tested by themselves until they were ready, followed by integration testing with other elements. These choices were driven by India’s desire for long-term self-sufficiency in many aircraft sub-systems, in order to reduce their dependence of foreign suppliers.

There have also been a wide variety of sub-contracts to Indian firms for Tier 3 or Tier 4 participation to supply tooling, testing equipment, software development, or sub-assemblies. They are not covered in our list.

In late 2013, HAL told India’s Business Standard that it aimed to roll out the first 2 Tejas IOC fighters by March 2014, and deliver 8 more by the end of 2014. The next step after that will be to enhance to production line to 16 fighters per year, a task that might prove challenging without outside aid (q.v. Dec 9/12). That would leave 10 Tejas Mk.I IOC fighters to be built in 2015, whereupon HAL would be able to begin production of 20 Tejas Mk.I Full Operational Capability variants.

Required FOC upgrades to the IOC fleet, and initial naval production orders, will also compete for production space. An early 2013 interview with ADA director Shri PS Subramanyam saw 2018 as a realistic date for Mk.I production to end.

Tejas Prospects: Think Globally, Begin Locally Tejas: 2 views
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Exports are important to fighter programs. The added buys keep production lines open at no cost to the home country, and drop prices per plane. A combination of profits and paid-for modifications would help keep the design current, allowing the plane to add new technology and remain relevant. On the industrial front, if ADA can move the plane from the current 55% Indian content to around 80% without creating more problems, it would help to insulate prices from currency exchange swings.

The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft’s exact per-plane flyaway price point isn’t known yet, but the goal is an inexpensive fighter in the $20-25 million range, with performance that compares well to early model F-16s and Mirage 2000s. Historically, the low end of the market is where the largest volume of global fighter buys have taken place. In recent years, however, pressure from home-country buyers has pushed the West into a niche of high-end platforms like the F-15, F-35, Eurofighter, and Rafale. Some mid-tier options exist, like new F-16s, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, and JAS-39 Gripens, but even those are fairly pricey for emerging economies. As regional tensions rise, it remains to be seen whether the last decade has seen a permanent shift toward mid-level and high-end platforms, or whether traditional buying patterns will reassert themselves through emerging economies.

Long-term Tejas competitors in the $20 – 40 million range include the market for second-hand F-16s, the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17, and Korea’s T-50 Golden Eagle family of supersonic trainers and light fighters. RAC MiG has received enough work from India and others to retain the MiG-29M family as a viable platform in this bracket; Russia’s chosen pricing approach will determine whether the thrust-vectoring MiG-35 multi-role fighter also becomes a competitor.

click for video

India’s growing geopolitical influence, and the ability to price toward this bracket’s low end, offers the Tejas decent prospects, even in this crowded field. HAL’s problem is that the Tejas must first achieve success in India.

Delays have taken their toll. Bangalore-based Aeronautics Development Agency (MoD ADA) chief R K Ramanathan promised a 2010 in-service date, while touting a reduction from over 30,000 components to around 7,000. Even that was a late milestone, fully 27 years after the program began, but it didn’t come close to happening. Plans to field 40-48 interim aircraft in the first 2 operational air force squadrons won’t take place until 2015 (32 years), and the final “Tejas Mk.II” version will be very hard-pressed to become operational before 2018 (35 years).

A lot can change in 35 years. Official plans still call for 100+ fighters, but the IAF has embarked on a wide set of upgrade and purchase commitments for existing MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s, the new mid-tier MMRCA fighter, and a high-end FGFA stealth fighter joint venture with Russia.

Meanwhile, the IAF is now taking something of a “wait and see” approach to a longer term commitment, until the final aircraft is delivered with working systems and the “Tejas Mark II” design has shown what it can do. One the one hand, the project’s long development period, and DRDO’s past performance on defense projects, tend to justify that wait-and-see approach. On the other hand, the project can easily run into danger without adequate military and political backing. On Feb 6/06, The Telegraph in Calcutta reported that:

“Though air headquarters has not said so in public, it is weighing whether it should commit funds because it is anticipating a resource crunch for the big ticket purchases of multi-role combat aircraft – that could cost the exchequer more than $5 billion over 10 years – and other equipment that it has projected as an immediate need.”

The rumored growth of the MRCA foreign fighter program to 170-200 aircraft, naval plans for 32 more ships in the next 10-15 years, submarine construction imperatives, and other planned capital purchases do indeed have the potential to squeeze the Tejas. The reality of limited funds and budget cuts began to hit home in 2013, and another global economic slowdown will press India into harder choices still. Confidence in the Tejas, or the lack of it, will influence India’s choices.

So will other negotiations. India’s choices mean that the MMRCA program will deliver fewer aircraft at a flyaway price tag of $100+ million each. That makes $25-35 million Tejas LCA fighters look more attractive, in order to plus up numbers. Just as long as the LCA can in fact be produced to that cost level, be delivered in time to replace the MiG-21s, and perform at an adequate level.

Unfortunately, every one of those variables is currently in question.

At present, the worst-case scenario for the Tejas program is truncated production at about 40 operational aircraft, which would doom exports. In that scenario, Tejas Mk.I is built, but other expenditures grab priority. The plane’s role is then divided among upgraded MiG-29UPGs, new naval MiG-29Ks, upgraded Mirage 2000s, and possibly even Hawk Mk.132 trainers that are armed in a backup role.

The generally accepted goal for Tejas is 5 IAF squadrons plus 2 Navy squadrons, or about 140-150 planes. Even that is a relatively short production run at full capacity, which is the rate India must use in order to field new lightweight fighters in time.

The best-case scenario would involve full production for the IAF that raises planned order totals beyond 120, a serving STOBAR (Short Take Off via ramps, But Assisted Recovery via arrester gear and wires) naval variant in service by 2020, and export successes that drive up production totals and help finance future upgrades.

Contracts and Key Events 2014

ADA Tejas video

Nov 18/14: Kaveri. The DRDO is doing something unusual: submitting documents to cancel a major research project, after INR 21.06 billion has been spent by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) in Bangalore. The request to end the GTX-35VS Kaveri program must now be approved by the Ministry of Finance, and receive clearance from the top-level Cabinet Committee on Security. Which also helps explain why so few projects are canceled, but the biggest change required still involves the DRDO’s mentality. Director-General (Aero) Dr. K. Tamilmani indicates that elections do have consequences:

“These are part of the bold stand being taken by DRDO. Whereever we have found bottlenecks for long time, with no realistic solutions, it’s better to move on. It is an honest stand we are taking…. If you are fit to run only for 50 km, why attempt 100 km? DRDO has realized its mistakes of the past and we have no hesitation in taking some bold steps.”

It is an honest stand, and DRDO can take it without giving up on India’s strategic industrial policy to become more self-sufficient in jet engine technologies. The project delays created by Kaveri remain a total waste, but the research itself can be harvested. DRDO intends to press on with jet engine research, and it’s possible to undertake projects that are militarily useful but much less ambitious. INR 3 billion has reportedly been earmarked for such work, and DRDO wants to make progress is 12 identified technical areas. Sources: OneIndia, “OneIndia Exclusive: DRDO to abandon indigenous fighter jet engine Kaveri project”.

All Kaveri research to end

Oct 4/14: Industrial. Defense News quotes an unnamed source, who says that the Indian government has been talking to major private sector industrial players about setting up a full production line for up to 250 Tejas Mk.2s. That would certainly justify the investment.

If carried out, that move would sidestep HAL’s production difficulties (q.v. Dec 9/12) by partly or wholly removing Tejas from HAL’s purview, create a full competitor to HAL in the aerospace sector, and turn the winner into India’s 1st major private sector defense firm. It would also double planned Tejas Mk.2/naval buys, based on past reports (q.v. Jan 11/14).

Since it seems apparent that the Indian government would have to fund a new production line for HAL anyway, funding the line elsewhere and reaping the benefits of diversification and competition is a logical policy option. Especially since the resulting competitor would also be a potential source for programs like India’s light transport competition, which stalled out because the private sector can’t afford to set up a full production facility for just 40 planes.

The challenge is that setting up a production line for modern combat jets isn’t simple, and major problems could really mess with already chancy schedules for Tejas Mk.2 and the planned naval variant. One obvious way to reduce this risk would be to bring in a foreign firm like Boeing, Saab, Dassault, et. al. to help set up the plant, and assist with management for the first few years. If done in conjunction with Mk.2 design assistance (q.v. June 17/14), the Tejas program as a whole could get a substantial boost.

Tata Group, Mahindra & Mahindra and Larsen and Toubro have been mentioned, and L&T Heavy Engineering President Madhukar Vinayak Kotwal has confirmed that discussions are taking place, but that’s all he is prepared to say. Watch this space. Sources: Defense News, “India Offers To Spend $12B To Break Monopoly”.

Aug 17/14: Industrial. HAL and DRDO’s ADA are trying to encourage more small and mid-size manufacturers to make parts for the aircraft:

“They aim to raise the LCA’s indigenous content to 80 per cent in three years, up from the present 50 to 55 per cent…. HAL Chairman R.K. Tyagi told them that starting 2015–16, “we aim to roll out 16 LCAs every year, [increasing] from the initial target of eight a year”.

Currently, 168 of the 344 LCA components are made in the country.

A key defence scientist involved in the programme said HAL and ADA would help manufacturers to pick up at least 10 more simple components and offer the use of government-owned manufacturing and test facilities.”

If they can do that while maintaining quality, and pick manufacturers who are capable of further innovation, they would make future upgrades easier. More local content would also reduce cost shifts based on currency exchange rates, and create a wider base for future programs like the Su-50/FGFA. The bad news? This policy falls into the “simple, but not easy” category. Sources: The Hindu, “A few small production pushes for LCA”.

June 17/14: Saab for Mk.2? As M-MRCA negotiations to buy advanced Rafale fighters stall, and projected costs rise sharply, Saab remains in position with a different offer. Instead of touting their superior JAS-39E/F Gripen, they’ve proposed to take a 51% share of a joint venture company, then leverage their expertise to create the LCA Mk.2. DRDO chief Dr V K Saraswat was enthusiastic, and they issued an RFI in 2012 and an RFP in 2013.

It isn’t a crazy idea. The Indo-Russian BrahMos missile has been very successful using a similar structure, and a 51% share plus freedom from Indian government strictures would remove many of the program’s decision-making and organizational issues. Saab is the only aircraft major with single-engine fighter conversion experience from the F404 to the F414 engine, so tasks like stretching the fuselage 0.5m, changing the air intakes, etc. have already been thought through in another context. Their Gripen has also achieved low operating costs, in part due to maintenance-friendly design. That’s another Tejas weakness, thanks to very maintenance-unfriendly placement of key components.

Since LCA Mk.2 is also expected as a carrier fighter, success already matters to India. they need to complete development successfully. From the IAF’s perspective, replacing M-MRCA with Tejas Mk.2 would simplify their future high-medium-low mix by avoiding a 2nd fighter in the same class as the SU-30MKI, while allowing them to field more squadrons. The flip side is that their high-end capability becomes irretrievably Russian-dependent: SU-30MKIs now, and FGFA/SU-50s later. For Saab, a JV would give them a major new niche in the global marketplace, providing a low-end fighter in a class below the Gripen and its Western competitors.

The catch? Incoming DRDO chief Dr Avinash Chander is more focused on developing the Mk.2 alone, and believed that any foreign partnership would require a global tender. In India, that would take years. Re-opening the opportunity would depend on a failure of M-MRCA negotiations, and continued failure to field Tejas, pushing the new BJP government to take a second look at all of its options. Sources: India’s Business Standard, “Rafale contract elusive, Eurofighter and Saab remain hopeful”.

Feb 12/14: Costs. India’s MoD releases another set of official cost figures for the program, leaving out the Kaveri engine but adding a “Phase-III” development period. LCA development costs have now risen from an original INR 71.16 billion to INR 140.33 billion (+97.2%), or INR 168.72 billion (+137.1%) if one properly counts the Kaveri engine. Expected production line investments would push those figures even higher. India’s MoD was savvy enough to compare development costs to Saab’s more advanced Gripen NG:

“Developmental cost of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas is Rs.7965.56 Crore ($1.09 Billion) including building of 15 aircraft and creation of infrastructure for production of 08 aircraft per annum. This compares with the developmental cost of JAS 39 NG Grippen is $1.80 Billion for developing 5 Proto Vehicles.”

That’s actually just the current predicted cost of the IAF’s MK.I/II development, minus the Kaveri engine, and arguably without creating infrastructure that could actually deliver 8 aircraft per year. The Gripen NG figure would need to be checked carefully, to see what it included and excluded. Even so, the simple act of making the comparison shows a greater sense of external awareness than we’re used to seeing from India’s MoD. Source: India MoD/ PIB, “Developmental Cost of LCA Project”.

Feb 10/14: A written reply from Minister of State for Defence Shri Jitendra Singh to Lok Sabha parliamentarians triggers stories about the IAF raising their planned LCA buys from 200 to 300. Unfortunately for the media reporting that story, it rests entirely on an error of logic. Here’s the exact quote, which can’t be linked anymore thanks to MoD web site changes:

“The MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircrafts of the IAF have already been upgraded and currently equip 14 combat squadrons. These aircraft, however, are planned for being phased out over the next few years and will be replaced by the LCA. Steps have been initiated for upgradation of other fighter aircrafts like MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage-2000; transport aircraft like AN-32 and Mi-17/Mi-17 IV helicopters.”

What this statement does not say is that the replacement will happen on an equal basis. It’s perfectly possible to replace existing squadrons with fewer squadrons and fewer planes, if one is so inclined. The Americans have been doing so for decades, and they’re hardly alone. So far, firm IAF commitments involve 126 LCA Tejas planes: 6 squadrons of 21 planes each, with only 96 (16 x 6) as front-line fighters. Each squadron also has 3 rotation aircraft to cover maintenance absences or loss replacement, and 2 twin-seat trainers, to make 21. Beyond those 2 Tejas Mk.I squadrons and 4 Tejas Mk.II squadrons, we’ll have to see. Sources: India MoD, “Modernisation of IAF” | India’s Business Standard, “IAF will buy 14 Tejas squadrons, lowering costs”

Jan 12/14: Budgets. India’s defense budget will drop by INR 78 billion in 2013-14, after a drop of INR 100 billion in 2012-13. A more sluggish economy, and a weakened ruling Congress Party that’s trying to shore up its electoral base, are the issues. At the same time, India is negotiating the MMRCA deal for 126 Rafales, the FGFA deal with Russia for their future high-end stealth fighter, the Project 75i submarine buy that’s becoming an emergency, and attack and heavy-lift helicopter buys with Boeing. They also want to add to their fleet of P-8i long-range maritime patrol planes, buy AWACS early warning jets as a priority, and improve their aerial tanker fleet as a priority. Among other priorities.

That explains why the MoD asked for INR 400 billion more, instead of 78 billion less. Unless this gap changes, future Tejas production will find itself caught in an environment where everything can’t be funded, but big air force commitments have already been made. Sources: Times of India, “Despite budget cut, defence ministry continues with modernization drive”.

Jan 11/14: Pricing. Sources tell India’s Business Standard that HAL has quoted the Ministry a price of INR 1.62 billion (about $26.5 million) per plane for the first 20 Tejas Mk.I fighters. The Ministry wants to know why its 40% higher than the INR 1.165 billion quoted in 2006, and HAL has a good answer. One, inflation over the past 8 years takes a toll. Two, 45% of the plane’s cost involves imported parts, and the Indian rupee is sinking. Three, Tejas is still about half the $45.8 million price of a Mirage 2000 upgrade ({EUR 1.4 billion is now INR 118.3 billion + INR 2.02 billion to HAL}/ 49 jets = INR 2.8 billion or $45.8 million per), and those upgrades are even more dependent on currency rates.

HAL sees eventual purchases of 40 Mk.Is, 84 Mk.IIs, 11 naval trainers, and 46 naval variants (TL: 181), and recent government declaration have used 200 aircraft as a possible figure. Now that Tejas is on surer ground, and the opportunity is clearer, HAL is trying to control costs using longer-term commitments of its own. Step one reportedly involves Long Time Business Agreements (LTBAs) of 3-5 years and 40-50 aircraft sets with key sub-contractors, including clauses that let it vary annual production rates to some extent, a feature also seen in many of the US military’s multi-year purchase agreements. Long lead time components have been identified, and industrial improvements are underway. Practices like having 5-axis CNC machines on hand, and using computerized drilling of 8,000 holes or so in the composite wing skin, are more or less assumed in North America. They’re a step forward for HAL, which needs that kind of long-term investment in its industrial capacity.

Will that investment, and higher production, improve costs enough? Pakistan’s JF-17, which has already delivered 50 planes, is reportedly priced around $23-24 million per plane. If the Tejas Mk.II comes in around $30 million in current dollars, pointing to composite construction and supposedly better avionics isn’t going to cut it in export competitions as a reason for the 25% price difference. An AESA radar might, depending on what Pakistan does for the coming JF-17 Block II, and how much it costs. Sources: Business Standard, “HAL pegs price of Tejas fighter at Rs 162 crore”.


GE F414 engine contract; No Kaveris for Tejas fleet; AESA radar?; Why the multi-year delay for self-protection EW?; IOC at last, but is the plane ready? LCA Naval
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Dec 20/13: IOC-2. the LCA program achieves Initial Operational Clearance II. This is closer to the F-35’s IOC than traditional American IOC designations: limited capabilities with some initial weapons, and more testing required, but regular air force pilots can now fly it. Sources: Economic Times of India, “Indigenous fighter aircraft LCA-Tejas gets Initial Operational Clearance”.

Dec 19/13: What’s next? Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification Director-General Dr K Tamil Mani explains what’s next for Tejas, whose remaining testing and certification needs show the IOC-2 designation’s limits. The fighter needs to pass 6 milestones in the next 15 months, on the way to G=Final Operational Clearance. They include:

  • Integrating the Russian GSH 23mm gun, which also requires certifying the surrounding LRU electronics boxes for much higher vibration levels.
  • Integration of additional weapons, incl. Python 4/5 short-range air-to-air missiles and Derby medium range air-to-air missiles.
  • Integrating Cobham’s air refueling probe.
  • Increasing sustained Angle of Attack parameters from 22 – 24 degrees.
  • Improved braking system with higher heat tolerance. They might even need to add fans, as they did for some of their MiGs.
  • Change the nosecone from composite materials to a quartz-based material, in order to remove the current 45-50 km limit on the radar and bring it to its design level of 80+ km.

Sources: Indian Express, “Tejas Needs to Cross 6 Milestones in 15 Months”.

Dec 18/13: IOC process. India’s Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) explains what IOC-2 certification involved to the Indian Express. The bureaucracy takes credit for the plane’s accident-free history, of course, and proudly notes their “concurrent participation in all development activities,” without discussing Tejas’ developmental delays.

The did have a lot to do between the incomplete Initial Operational Clearance on Dec 10/11, and IOC-2 about 2 years later. Full integration and testing of IAI’s ELM-2032 radar, testing of stores integration and release, flight envelope expansion from 17 degrees Angle of Attack to 22 degrees. Maximum flight parameters are now 6gs maneuvering, with a maximum speed of Mac 1.4 and a service ceiling to 50,000 feet. Safety-related work included safe emergency jettisoning of all stores, engine relight, wake penetration, night flying and all weather clearance. Sources: Indian Express, “Clearing Flight Test Parameters was a Challenge, Says Airworthiness Centre”.

Dec 17/13: Updates. India’s MoD summarizes the state of the LCA program. The key takeaways? As on Nov 30/13, they’ve conducted 2,415 flight tests using 15 Tejas Aircraft. A lot of reviews are riding herd on the program, which can add urgency or slow down actual work, depending on how that’s handled. Structurally, the Phased Development Approach has been changed to Concurrent Development Approach, which adds development risk but can cut time if it works, and Quick Reaction Teams have been formed to address design and production issues as they arise.

IOC-2 is still expected on Dec 20/13, but another release makes it clear that the Mk.II project continues to slip. The Probable Date of Completion for LCA Phase-II full-scale engineering design work is now December 2015: 9 months later than the previous March 2015 goal, and 7 years later than the original plan. Sources: India MoD, “LCA project” and DRDO projects“.

Dec 17/13: MiG-21 update. India’s MoD summarizes the state of the IAF’s MiG-21 fleet. The MiG-21FLs are retired now, but the answer shows that the remaining MiGs may have to serve longer than intended:

“254 MiG-21 aircraft are still in service with the Indian Air Force. During the last ten years (2003-2004 to 2012-2013) and the current year (upto 30.11.2013), a total of 38 MiG-21 aircraft have crashed.

Phasing out of aircraft and their replacement with new generation aircraft depends upon national security / strategic objectives and operational requirements of the defence forces and are reviewed by the Government from time to time. This is a continuous process.”

On Dec 12/13, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne confirmed that the LCA Tejas would replace the MiG-21 in the IAF fleet. That may appear to have been obvious, but official confirmation indicates a greater degree of confidence in the program. Sources: India MoD, “MIG-21 Aircraft” | Indian Express, “Tejas to Officially Replace MiG-21 FL”.

Dec 9/13: Defence Minister A K Antony is scheduled to give the Tejas its Initial Operational Certificate (IOC) on Dec 20/13, which would allow Tejas to be flown by regular IAF personnel outside of the test pilot community. Note that IOC doesn’t include key performance parameters like qualification with many of the fighter’s weapons, basic self-protection systems, air-to-air refueling, or finalization of the Tejas Mk.I’s design. Those will have to wait for Final Operation Clearance (FOC), and an increasingly-impatient defense minister has reportedly ordered DRDO to ensure that FOC takes place before 2014 ends.

The first Tejas squadron of 18-20 fighters will be built to IOC standard, and based at Sulur AB in Tamil Nadu, near Sri Lanka. They should be able to handle the minimal threats from that quarter, and one hopes that reported problems (q.v. April 21/13) were either untrue, or have been fixed.

On the industrial front, HAL has told India’s Business Standard that it aims to roll out the first 2 Tejas IOC fighters by March 2014, and deliver 8 more by the end of 2014. The next step after that will be to enhance to production line to 16 fighters per year, a task that might prove challenging without outside aid (q.v. Dec 9/12). That would leave 10 Tejas Mk.I IOC fighters to be built in 2015, whereupon HAL would be able to begin production of 20 Tejas Mk.I FOC variants. Required FOC upgrades to the IOC fleet, and initial naval production orders, could probably keep HAL at a minimum activity level through 2017; but an early 2013 interview with ADA director Shri PS Subramanyam saw 2018 as a more realistic date for Mk.I production to end. That might actually be helpful. If Tejas Mk.II isn’t ready to begin production by time Mk.I is done, India will have an industrial problem on its hands. Sources: Business Standard, “Tejas LCA sprints towards IAF’s frontline squadron” | AeroMag Asia, Jan-Feb 2013 issue.

Dec 7/13: Testing. The LCA’s 1st firing of an AA-11 short range air-to-air missile is successful, as the missile hits a target that was towed by a drone. The demonstration was conducted off the coast of Goa, in the Arabian Sea. Sources: The Hindu Business Line, “Light combat aircraft Tejas fires missile on target”.

Dec 7/13: MiG-21FL retires. After 50 years of service, the IAF is about to phase out its MiG-21FL variant, which is prepping to fly its last sortie on Dec 11/ 13 over Kalaikunda AFS in Bengal. Other MiG-21 variants will remain in service, and current expectations will extend the most modern MiG-21 Bison variants to at least 2018. Sources: The Calcutta Telegraph, “Supersonic jet set for last sortie”.

Aug 7/13: Costs. A Parliamentary reply to Shri S. Thangavelu in Rajya Sabha sets out the costs for each phase of the Tejas program in slightly more detail. Our chart above has been amended to reflect the current figures.

India is still in Full Scale Engineering Development Phase II, which aims to build 3 prototypes and 8 Limited Series Production (LSP) aircraft, and establish infrastructure for producing 8 aircraft per year. LSP-8 made its maiden flight on March 31/13, but reports to date suggest that meeting the infrastructure goal will require a significant increase in development costs (q.v. Dec 9/12). India MoD.

BEL on EW, 2011
click for video

Oct 16/13: Why no EW? The DRDO has finally fitted a Tejas fighter (PV-1) with electronic warfare/ self-protection systems, and intends to begin flight tests in November and December. Why has this key development been delayed for 5 years? Believe it or not, they thought it was more important to preserve the plane’s flight safety record:

“For almost eight years, a section of the aeronautical community has been resisting its fitment, anxious that the add-ons may cause a first crash…. They have been very keen on securing the operational clearance, initial as well as final from the Indian Air Force, even if the LCA did not have the electronic system…. no one wished to risk an add-on on the LCA that had not been tried. The idea was to defend the ‘zero crash’ record. This was made known sometimes explicitly to engineers and scientists working on the electronic systems, who, however, had been pressing for very long that the systems ought to be fitted and trials conducted to be able to fine-tune them.”

Unfortunately, PV-1 hasn’t been flying recently, so they may end up introducing risk that way. Tejas Mk.Is will have an Israeli IAI Elta jamming pod available as an external store, with the full RWJ system slated for the Mk.II. Sources: Deccan Herald, “Finally, Tejas gets electronic warfare systems”.

DRDO’s problems, in a nutshell

June 1/13: Excuses. DRDO chief V K Saraswat tries to deflect criticism of Tejas’ continuing delays, by citing the effects of sanctions that ended 13 years ago. Lack of cooperation and foreign help might explain why Tejas was slow to develop from the early 1980s to 2000. It doesn’t explain why DRDO didn’t follow professional practice by working with experienced pilots and the IAF, which created a multitude of poor design decisions that required years of delay to produce only partial fixes. Or the reason DRDO has wasted so much time with engine and radar choices that were obviously inadequate, all well after sanctions had ended. Or why, 13 years after sanctions had ended, Tejas isn’t ready for service yet, while Pakistan’s JF-17 equips 3 squadrons.

Weak excuses do not inspire future confidence. Brahmand Defence & Aerospace.

April 21/13: Tejas a lemon? The Sunday Standard reports that the Tejas is much farther away from viability than anyone is admitting, and says that DRDO’s notional stealth AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft) has been put on hold until the LCA project can be made to work. A stealth FGFA/SU-50 is already in co-development with Russia, so AMCA’s value is unclear anyway. With respect to the Tejas LCA, the Sunday Standard’s unnamed sources say:

“The plane cannot fly on its own. It needs a lifeline in the form of support and monitoring of its systems from the ground by technicians…. The common man thinks the plane is doing fine, its engine sounds great and the manoeuvres are perfect. But those flying and weapons firing displays are done with ground monitoring and support. The plane is still not ready to flying on its own”…. the sources noted that LCA was grounded for three months between September and December 2012 following problems with its landing gear. “Normally, a combat plane is ready for its next sortie following a 30-minute [servicing]. In the case of LCA, after a single sortie of about an hour or so, it needs three days of servicing before it can go for its next sortie,” they said.”

These revelations come against a backdrop of pressure from India’s defense minister Antony and India’s government to buy designed-in-India items unless there’s no other choice. He’s selling changes to India’s Defence Procurement Policy as an anti-corruption effort – but what do you call spending billions of dollars on politically-allied state organizations, who don’t deliver on the critical defense projects assigned to them, and never pay any serious penalties for it? Their competitors in China and Pakistan are consistently faster and often better – while doing a better job developing their industries. See also India PIB.

March 20/13: More delays. A Parliamentary reply confirms the obvious, formally extending the scheduled end of the LCA’s Phase 2 Full Scale Engineering Development from December 2012 to March 2015.

The IAF has ordered 20 fighters in “Initial Operational Clearance” (January 2011) status, and another 20 in “Full Operational Clearance” (i.e. combat-ready) configuration. Full Operational Clearance is now expected in December 2014. PTI, via Zee News | India MoD.

Feb 6/13: AESA Radar? At Aero India 2013, Defense Update files a report that adds the short-range Python 5 air-to-air missile to the Tejas’ list of integrated weapons, alongside the Russian R-73/AA-11. It adds:

“The LCA will also carry the EL/M-2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar developed by IAI Elta. Originally, the EL/M-2032 was selected but the new 2052 now available with a more compact antenna is best designed to fit the nose cones of LCA and Jaguar, offering enhanced capabilities for both fighters.”

If the Defense Update report is true, it would roughly double the Mk.II fighter’s radar performance, and sharply lower its maintenance costs. DID has been unable to confirm this report, and there have been previous reports (q.v. Jan 14/11 entry) that said M-2052 sales for the Tejas Mk.II had been barred by American pressure. Indeed, the Americans managed to pressure the Israelis not to install the M-2052 in their own F-16i fighters.

Feb 5/13: On the eve of Aero India 2013, Indian defense minister AK Antony tells DRDO that:

“I am happy for your achievements of DRDO but not fully happy. Delay in delivery is a real problem… Try to speed up your process and reduce time for research, development and production. [DRDO is getting ready for a 2nd initial clearance for Tejas, but] I am impatient for the Final Operational Clearance (FOC)….. Antony also expressed his disappointment over reported lack of cohesion between the aircraft development agencies under DRDO and aircraft maker HAL.”

In India, FOC means “ready for combat operations”, which is closer to the US military’s idea of “Initial Operational Capability.” The Pioneer.

Jan 20/13: F414 deal. India Strategic quotes DRDO Director General V.K. Saraswat, who says that India’s government has finalized the terms of GE’s F414 contract, including the difficult issues surrounding Indian production. That process took over 2 years, as the engine was picked in September 2010.

The deal is reportedly a Rs 3,000 crore (about $560 million) contract for 99 of the Tejas Mk.II’s F414-GE-INS6 engines, with an option to buy another 100 at fixed terms. IANS via Silicon India | Times of India.

F414 engine deal finalized

Jan 4/13: Kaveri. India’s Business Standard reports that India’s Ministry of Defence has failed in its 6 years of sole-source negotiations with Snecma, and will try a global tender to secure cooperation in developing the Kaveri engine. The engine’s development has hit a technical dead-end, and cannot incorporate key alloys, single-crystal blades, and other manufacturing and design technologies without foreign help. The DRDO’s GTRE department has also conceded defeat with respect to the LCA, according to its chief Dr. C.P. Ramnarayanan:

“We were planning to re-engine first 40 Tejas fighters with the Kaveri. But now they will continue to fly with the F-404 engine.”

DRDO swill use Kaveri for its UCAV, and still holds out hope that a redesigned Kaveri can power a locally designed AMCA twin-engined medium fighter. To power AMCA, the engine would need to improve afterburner performance of about 15,825 pounds thrust. That means foreign help, but DRDO has made global solicitations before, and had no takers beyond Snecma.


Cert & program delays; Naval prototype flies; Kaveri for UCAV; Shaping up HAL – which clearly needs it. IUSAV: News report
(click for video)

Dec 26/12: Kaveri. India wants to develop a long-range, jet-powered armed drone, powered by a modified Kaveri engine (vid. March 21/12 entry). These are commonly called UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles), but India refers to their project as IUSAV (Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle). Note that most of the video and pictures in the video are of other countries’ efforts, since India is at a very early stage.

Now DRDO’s GTRE has asked the Ministry for another Rs 595 crore (about $93 million), covering a 48-month program to develop 2 prototypes of a modified Kaveri engine with no afterburner. This includes removing the base design flaws detecting during 2010-11 testing in Russia, ground testing in Bangalore, and confirmatory tests in Russia at the Gromov Flight Research Institute. The program would be capped by flight testing of the 2 no-afterburner prototypes in LCA prototype PV-1.

This idea actually makes sense. The Missile Technology Control Regime makes it problematic for countries to sell India a USAV jet engine, since a cruise missile is also an armed unmanned aircraft. On the Indian side, the Kaveri engine has the most problems adding enough thrust in afterburner, but “dry” statistics of 11,060 pounds thrust are close to the project’s goal of 11,500. Dropping the afterburner sheds engine weight, which has been an issue for Kaveri, and UCAV engines to date don’t have afterburners anyway. Other countries’ UCAV designs have all been sub-sonic drones that rely on stealth or low-threat environments to survive. Business Standard.

UCAV: a good use for Kaveri

Dec 12/12: Naval LCA. India’s Navy is upset by the fact that only 1 naval LCA has been built, and need aircraft to train with. Media reports say they’re about to issue a an Rs 1,000 crore (about $185 million) RFP to produce the first 8 Limited Series Production Tejas naval fighters, which would include both single-seat test aircraft and 2-seat trainers. This would turn the Feb 27/12 approval into a contract after negotiations with HAL, and work is expected to begin in 2013. Whether HAL’s production capacity can handle it (vid. Dec 9/12) is another question.

Business Standard reports the Indian military’s current belief that the navalized Tejas Mk.I can be used for training, and the state-owned ADA is touting a 1st representative takeoff by mid-2013 and a 1st representative landing by the end of 2013. At the same time, they believe that only the Tejas Mk.II will be capable of loaded carrier operations, using just 200m of space and a “ski-jump” ramp. The design has also turned out to be harder than expected. Commodore CD Balaji, who directs the Naval LCA project at ADA told India’s Business Standard that:

“In the paper design it looked feasible [to convert the IAF's Tejas], similar to what Eurofighter proposed for a navalised Typhoon; or what Gripen proposed for the Sea Gripen [DID: both of which are higher end designs, with better base performance]. But when we started the detailed design and the actual build… we realised the benefits of what Dassault had done with the Rafale. They designed and built the naval variant first, the Rafale Marine. The air force Rafale is just a subset of Rafale Marine. That is the easiest path.”

Dec 9/12: Industrial fail, more $. India’s Business Standard offers a scathing portrait of incompetence at HAL, which has been unable to set up and operate a production line for the LCA, even though many of its projects involve assembling foreign designs on production lines in India. On the other hand, see the March 24/11 entry, where HAL executives point out that it doesn’t make much sense to establish a full modern production line for a program that has only featured limited production orders and an uncertain future.

As a result, Tejas fighters built to date have been custom-built limited-production and prototype aircraft. The immediate consequence is that the Ministry of Defence has to budget another Rs 1,500 crore (about $277 million) to try and set up a modern production line. Air Marshal (ret.) Pranab K Barbora:

“HAL’s assembly line expertise is outdated by at least three decades. They have done nothing to upgrade their technology. Setting up a modern assembly line for the Tejas is far beyond HAL’s capabilities.”

The paper points out that HAL’s new CEO RK Tyagi has “no experience in aeronautical development or manufacture,” and openly doubts the government ADA’s program manager, P. Subramanyam. He promises that HAL will build 20 Tejas Mk.I fighters in 2.5 – 3 years, with production of the next 20 in just over 2 more years, by 2018. That might be possible if an experienced foreign manufacturer is contracted quickly to help set up production, and the MoD is reportedly studying that idea. By itself, however, HAL hasn’t been able to build even 2 Tejas fighters per year over a prolonged reference period, and India has no operational squadrons. Meanwhile, Pakistan has already fielded almost 3 squadrons of their JF-17 Thunder fighter, which began its design cycle after Tejas.

Note that the Business Standard’s figure of INR 155.470 billion (Rs 14,047 + 1,500 crore) for the entire LCA Tejas program is almost exactly double the Indian government’s official March 2012 figures. The math indicates that they’re probably including the Kaveri engine. DID considers the 2 programs to be separate, and pegs unofficial total Tejas development costs at INR 131.015 billion (Rs 13,101.5 crore, currently about $2.15 billion), including current and forecast costs for the naval variant, and the expected Rs 1500 crore for production line help. With Kaveri included, our figures rise to INR 144.405 billion, and are probably slightly behind actual Kaveri spending. Business Standard.

HAL: Industrial fail

Dec 3/12: Kaveri. India’s state-owned Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) aims to integrate the Kaveri powerplant with a Tejas fighter operated by India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), with the aim of flying it by the end of 2013. Whether it can perform to standard won’t change DRDO’s advocacy, but it may matter to the IAF. As of May 14/12 (q.v.), India’s Minister of Defence said that it couldn’t meet India’s 90kN/ 20,200 pound thrust requirement.

A March 21/12 answer to Parliament (q.v.) pegged the Kaveri’s development cost at INR 28.39 billion ($520 million), nearly 10 times greater than the original INR 3.83 billion. Flight International.

Aug. – Nov. 2012: Testing halted. The Tejas encounters a DASH of trouble, as India discovers that the top of the pilot’s DASH-III integrated helmet display can end up above the top of the Martin-Baker ejection seat. That’s a serious problem, because it means the helmet could hit the canopy as the seat rockets out of the cockpit, killing the ejecting pilot. India had to halt testing for 3 1/2 months before the problem was fixed. Their response was to modify the seat, and to provide a backup mechanism that they calculate will blow the canopy off before the pilot’s head can hit it. They had better be right.

DRDO chief V. K. Saraswat has confirmed to India’s Business Standard that the fixes are done, adding that ADA used the down time to make other modifications as a result of flight test feedback. Even so, a string of setbacks has shifted Tejas’ Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) from a re-baselined end-2010 to mid-2013 – if nothing else goes seriously wrong. Final Operational Clearance (FOC) for combat operations was scheduled for end-2012, and now looks unlikely until 2014-2015.

To the west, Pakistan has already inducted 3 squadrons of its comparable JF-17 fighters, whose joint development with China began 16 years after Tejas. India’s Business Standard.

A DASH of trouble

Oct 18/12: Lessons Learned. Air Commodore Muthanna’s “Challenges In Design To Deployment: Critical Lessons From the D&D of LCA” [PDF] has some interesting bits in it. The Commodore believes that the fighter deserves to enter service. Unfortunately, Indian officials and firms didn’t involve aviators in the initial design process, either by teaming with the IAF or by the widespread practice of embedding aviators in the design teams. The IAF had to get involved after the 2006 contract, and a lot of the time and cost slippage from then until now has involved RFAs aimed at fixing deficiencies that should have been addressed in design. Beyond that, he cites serious issues in management, manufacturing, and training:

“A fundamental challenge has been the structure of the Indian higher defense management. Broadly speaking, there are three verticals within the Indian Ministry of Defense that steer this program…. In this totally State funded and State managed program, interdepartmental oversight has been lacking. It is necessary that a single political entity take charge….

….[Transitioning from design to manufacture,] the necessity to convert frozen design drawings into production drawings…. [is] an elaborate process…. Other shortcomings are; inability to meet manufacturing tolerances; non availability of correct jigs, fixtures and tooling to mee t DAL requirements; non availability of suitable calibrating equipment; and, lack of trained manpower.

….With the flight simulators, however, it was a strange story. While the ASR did envisage the requirement of a simulator before deployment, no such development was undertaken…. there would be no representative flight simulator available for use by the customer aircrew. The situation will be aggravated by the non availability of a trainer variant of the aircraft in the required time frame.”

Lessons learned report

May 14/12: Kaveri. Minister of Defence Shri A K Antony replies to Shri Bal Kumar Patel in Lok Sabha. No, DRDO still has no time frame to fully develop its Kaveri engine. Antony reiterates that the engine does not meet requirements for the Tejas, but will be used in UAVs and marine applications. A technology demonstrator may fly in a Tejas Mk.I fighter around 2015. The operative word here is “may”.

April 27/12: Naval LCA. NP-1, the 1st Tejas naval prototype, has its maiden flight. The plane is piloted by chief test pilot of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) national flight test centre (NFTC) Commodore TA Maolankar and co-piloted by the centre’s flight test engineer, Wing Commander Maltesh Prabhu. NP-2 will be the single-seat naval variant. Zee News.

Naval variant flies

March 21/12: Costs. Defence minister Antony answers a Parliamentary question, and provides cost and schedule slips for the LCA Tejas, LCA Naval, and Kaveri engine. Those are reproduced above along with other information. Antony also discusses what’s being done about these slips, which amounts to more oversight and monitoring. That won’t cure a system whose main problem is a lack of accountability or consequences for the state-run development agencies, and whose secondary problem is the system’s own red tape. On the other hand, the answer makes it sound like the government is doing something. Antony adds that:

“Tacit knowledge acquired by the DRDO scientists during this project will also be applied for further aerospace technology. Kaveri spin-off engine can be used as propulsion system for Indian Unmanned Strike Air Vehicle (USAV).”

Readers may note that he is not referring to the LCA Tejas program as a destination for Kaveri, despite DRDO’s wishes in the matter. See also Indian government PIB | Flight International.

March 14/12: Goal – 6 squadrons. Indian minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju tels the Rajya Sabha upper chamber that the IAF plans to induct 6 LCA squadrons over the next decade or so, including 4 squadrons of Tejas Mk.II fighters. Given current schedules, past performance, and the extent of the redesign and testing involved, India may be lucky to induct any Mk.II fighters by 2022. Deccan Herald.

March 11/12: Naval LCA. India’s Sunday Guardian reports that India’s Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC) has refused flight certification for the Naval LCA, until the new landing gear’s weight is reduced, and its wing leading-edge vortex controls are redesigned. The US Navy and EADS are reportedly being consulted to help fix the problems.

CEMILAC’s decision will add further delays to a program that is already late, and effectively ends hopes for a March 2012 flight. The naval variant’s initial flight was initially slated to happen by the end of 2010, following a July 2010 roll-out. As of Sept 26/11, it had managed only an Engine Ground Run.

March 10/12: Testing. While Tejas continues to make test flights, and has been granted initial certification, final certification and full production continues to face delays, and will not come until late 2013 or even 2014 now.

New test aircraft LSP-7 had a maiden flight, without a chase plane, “to test many indigenously-developed instruments,” as well as the M-2032 radar and DASH helmet. It’s close enough to the final standard that it will be one of the planes offered for IAF user-evaluation trials, but the final-configuration LSP-8 won’t be ready until later in 2012. LSP-8 will be the version presented to CEMILAC for full certification and flight clearance, a necessary step before full production can begin for the two 20-plane orders. The Hindu.

Feb 29/12: HAL, shape up. India’s MoD explains that changes are coming to HAL, and cites the Tejas program as one reason behind the push:

“The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony today asked the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to realign its business processes for strategic alliances and joint ventures, as also, to step up R&D efforts to remain globally competitive… Keeping in mind the mammoth role that the HAL would assume in the coming years in the aerospace industry and the challenges that it would face, the government has set up an expert group under the chairmanship of Shri BK Chaturvedi, Member, Planning Commission to suggest measures to strengthen and restructure HAL… the Group will suggest how best the spin offs from HAL order book can be earnest to ensure better involvement of the private industry in the defence sector. It will also suggest measures to enhance the synergies between HAL, the private defence sector and the civilian industry.

“Taking part in the discussion the Members of Parliament appreciated the role played by HAL in the defence arena of the country over the years. They, however, pointed out certain shortcomings such as the delay in the induction of the Light Combat Aircraft in the Indian Air Force, delay in the development of Kaveri Engine, delay in phasing out of Mig-21 aircraft and lack of an aggressive strategy to export HAL products.”

See also March 24/11 entry, The Pioneer | Flight International | IN FOCUS: India advances air force modernisation.

Feb 27/12: Naval LCA. The Indian Ministry of Defence’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has sanctioned the building of 8 Naval LCA aircraft by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), and reportedly allocated the necessary funds for a contract. That does not mean a contract has been signed yet.

The 8 planes will be built as a mix of single-seat test fighters and twin-seat trainers, and would begin to add production fighters on top of the ordered fleet of 6 test aircraft. The first flight is announced for sometime in March, though talks last year of a maiden flight in July did not pan out. Business Standard.


Tejas initial clearance; RAFAEL Derby picked as MRAAM; Kaveri engine still alive but in limbo; HAL pushed to outsource. IOC flight
(click to view video)

Dec 21/11: Kaveri. In response to Parliamentary questions, Defence Minister Antony explains the Kaveri engine’s current development status:

“So far 9 prototypes of Kaveri engines and 4 prototypes of Kabini (Core) engines have been developed. Total 2050 hours of testing have been conducted on various Kaveri and Kabini engines at ground and altitude conditions for various requirements including performance, operability, endurance, environmental, etc. Two major milestones viz. successful completion of Official Altitude Testing (OAT) and completion of first block of flights of Kaveri engine in Flying Test Bed (FTB) has demonstrated the technological capability and maturity of this indigenous effort. Kaveri engine prototype (K9) was integrated with IL-76 aircraft at Gromov Flight Research Institute (GFRI), Russia and flight tests have been successfully carried out up to 12 km maximum forward altitude and a maximum forward speed of 0.7 Mach No. Twenty seven flights for 55 hours duration have been completed on IL-76. Critical subsystems and its associated knowledge know-how and know-why has been acquired in association with Indian public & private sector industries, including certification methodologies.”

Nov 23/11: Kaveri. In response to Parliamentary questions, Defence Minister Antony says that nothing has changed with respect to the Kaveri engine’s successor. He doesn’t put it like that, but that’s the reality. India MoD.

Aug 8/11: Kaveri. In response to questions, the Indian MoD clarifies the status of the Kaveri engine project. There is no signed co-operation agreement with SNECMA, but the Air Force has reviewed the draft technical specification and approved it.

“The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has made no agreement with a French firm to develop the Kaveria aero engine to be used for the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas. However, DRDO is negotiating with M/s Snecma, France for co-development and co-production of Kaveri aero engine for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas MK-II. The project proposal will be put up for Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) approval after the completion of price negotiation… IAF has further suggested that the engine design should have minimal impact on the LCA Tejas airframe for future retrofitment.”

If it succeeds, India’s Tejas fleet would have an alternative engine option, much like the popular F-16. Several countries fly F-16s, and even F-15s, with 2 different types of engine (PW F100 or GE F101) in their fleet, as insurance that keeps their air force flying even if an engine type develops problems. First, however, an agreement must be signed. Then, the development project must succeed at a reasonable cost.

July 20/11: Naval LCA. The naval Tejas will probably get a different name. Meanwhile, an F404-IN20-powered naval variant is undergoing ground integration tests at HAL’s Bangalore facility, followed by engine runs and ground runs in the coming weeks. A 1st flight within 3 months is considered optimistic.

Meanwhile, India’s ADA has asked the US Navy to help it define carrier suitability plans, and the US Navy is assisting. Flight International.

May 23/11: Testing & Weapons. Aviation Week reports that the Tejas Mk.I is due to undergo a 2nd phase of night trials. Aircraft LSP-5 reportedly made 6 night flights in April 2011, which tested avionics, the instrument landing system, and integration involving the IAI ELTA multimode radar, Elbit’s DASH helmet-mounted display, and RAFAEL’s LITENING pod. The push to finish night operations clearance will also include items waived for the IAF’s initial clearance (vid. Jan 10/11 entry) – waivers that the service does not intend to grant again.

The next 16 months will see assessments of Tejas’ angle of attack, g-forces and sustained turn rate, with limited series production aircraft #6 arriving to help speed things along. It will also see a greater focus on weapons integratiopn tests – so far, only R-73/AA-11 Archer short-range air-to-air missiles and standard bombs have been tested. Still to go: Laser-guided bombs, cluster bombs, and Russian 80mm S-8 rocket pods. RAFAEL’s Derby medium-range air-to-air missile isn’t set to test until mid-2012, and the IAF also expects Russian Kh-31/35/39 anti-ship and precision strike missiles as part of the Tejas Mk.I’s intended configuration.

March 24/11: Industrial. India’s Business Standard reports that the Indian DRDO is pushing HAL to outsource some Tejas production or set up joint ventures, in order to meet required delivery schedules and keep the IAF’s fighter fleet at acceptable numbers. The current line can reportedly produce just 8 planes per year, and a high-level HAL team has reportedly toured Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Eurofighter GmbH facilities.

A request of this nature from the DRDO is nothing short of revolutionary. HAL has 2 serious problems, however, which make such a different approach thinkable for India’s bureaucrats. One is low real orders for Tejas. As one HAL executive put it: “…how much money could we have realistically invested in a production line?… So far, future Tejas orders of 100-120 more fighters are only plans.” The other problem is the load level on the state-owned firm’s Aircraft R&D Centre, which is is simultaneously trying to develop the Tejas Mark II; the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT); the Sukhoi-HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA); and the Irkut-HAL Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MRTA). The firm is also developing Dhruv helicopter variants, including a light attack helicopter. That’s a tremendous amount of competition for attention and resources, and HAL will face more strains if/when each project becomes a production demand.

Other likely candidates for partnerships wold have to include France’s Dassault Aviation, Sweden’s Saab, and Israel Aerospace Industries, as well as BAE and Northrop Grumman. The latter 3 firms have considerable experience as fighter program sub-contractors. Northrop Grumman is looking to sell its E-2D AWACS and Global Hawk UAVs to India; while IAI supplies a range of equipment to India already, and has industrial partnerships in place. So, too, does BAE, who is already working with HAL to produce its Hawk advanced trainer jets in India.

Feb 14/11: Tejas runs the Derby. Indian Aeronautical Development Agency director P.S. Subramanya says they have picked RAFAEL’s Derby as the Tejas’ initial beyond visual range air combat missile. He expects a contract by March 2011, with delivery expected in the second half of 2012, in time for the final phase of Tejas Mk.I testing.

Derby has range limitations, and was accepted on India’s Sea Harrier fleet despite not meeting the program’s original range goals. It also lacks a datalink. On the other hand, it offers a fire-and-forget weapon that’s already in India’s inventory, and integrated with Tejas’ EL/M-2032 radar, possessing what’s reported to be a wide boresight cone. It’s also true that given the need to avoid fratricide and positively identify targeted aircraft, most aerial engagements have taken place within Derby’s range, and future conflicts involving India are expected to feature that same limitation.

Long-term plans were to deploy the locally developed Astra missile as the Tejas BVRAAM, but in 2010 India decided to use a foreign missile and get Tejas into operational service. If Astra succeeds, it can always be integrated later. Meanwhile, Tejas gets ordnance commonality with India’s Sea Harriers, which also carry the EL/M-2032 radar, and with India’s SPYDER anti-aircraft systems. Defense Update | Livemint | RAFAEL on Derby | ACIG on Derby.

RAFAEL Derby BVRAAM picked

Feb 3/11: Kaveri. DRDO hasn’t given up trying to force the issue with its long-delayed Kaveri engine. After proposing it as a naval turbine, the newest gambit is to specify it for a proposed twin-engine Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (A-MCA), which would be developed by 2020 and operational by 2025. The proposal is an aircraft somewhat comparable to America’s F-35 – not an encouraging comparison, given that plane’s development costs.

Government acceptance of that plan would buy the engine project another decade, but the question is whether the A-MCA project is even realistic. India’s M-MRCA medium fighter competition hopes to field an advanced 4+ generation plane by 2015, but deliveries will take years, and real operational capability isn’t likely until 2016 or later. Meanwhile, the 2020-2025 time frame is also the expected window for India’s FGFA 5th generation collaboration with Sukhoi. Both are very big budget programs, even as India looks to field a much larger Navy to counter Chinese ambitions in the Indian Ocean basin, and faces a growing need for expensive ballistic and cruise missile defenses. In that environment, MCA could easily find itself fighting hard to avoid becoming yet another sidelined Indian technology demonstrator project.

DRDO also hopes to muscle the Kaveri v2 engine into the Tejas. They want the Indian government to swap the engines in when the initial 40 GE F404 equipped Tejas Mk.Is come in for their scheduled overhauls, during the 2015-2020 time period. Flight International | The Hindu | UPI.

Jan 31/11: Kaveri. Livemint reports that India’s DRDO expects to close price negotiations for a Kaveri joint venture (JV) with France’s Snecma by the end of February 2011, following over 2 decades and INR 28.8 billion spent on the project in India. DRDO declined to reveal the estimated cost of the Snecma-GTRE project, which reportedly aims to produce a viable competitor to the GE F414 that powers the F/A-18 Super Hornet family, Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen NG, and will almost certainly power the Tejas Mk.II.

Reports suggest that Snecma will bring in critical technology for the hot engine core, which is key to the 38% thrust gain sought over existing Kaveri models, while DRDO’s Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) will work on the “cold” sections around it. GTRE would be left with complete know-how and intellectual property rights for the engine,which will also need to become lighter.

Jan 10/11: Tejas IOC. The Tejas LCA is given Initial Operational Clearance by the Indian Air Force, marking their first induction of an Indian designed and built front line fighter. It has been a long road. The Hindustan Times reports that: “The government has so far pumped Rs 14,428 crore into the LCA programme which was pegged at Rs 560 crore when conceived in 1983.” The program cost was set at over 3,300 crore by the late 1980s, and has continued to rise. At today’s exchange rates, the INR 144.28 billion figure translates into about $3.15 billion. The Times of India places the program total even higher, at 17,269 crore/ $3.77 billion for all variants.

Note that India’s IOC designation is not the same as Initial Operational Capability for America’s military, which represents a combat-ready unit. India doesn’t have that yet, and Tejas receives this designation without all of its advertised capabilities, such as air-air engagements using radar-guided missiles. Indeed, subsequent reports reveal that key criteria for even minimal operations were waived, including wake penetration tests, lightning clearances, and some basic all-weather and day/night items. What India’s IOC does, is allow regular IAF pilots to begin flying it.

Indian Air Force chief P.V. Naik says that Final Operational Clearance for induction and formation of a Tejas squadron isn’t expected until 2013 or 2014, an event that will take place at Sulur Air Base in Tamil Nadu. The first test flight of the Tejas Mark-II version is currently scheduled for December 2014, with production beginning in June 2016. Indian Government | Economic Times of India | The Hindu | Hindustan Times | IBNLive | LiveMint | New Delhi TV | Sify | Times of India | Times of India op-ed || BBC.

Tejas IOC

Jan 14/11: Radar. domain-b reports that American pressure has forced Israel to bar exports of its EL/M-2052 AESA radar to India. The radar was reportedly intended to replace the EL/M-2032 on the Tejas Mk.II aircraft, where it would sharply improve radar performance and sharply lower maintenance costs (q.v. Oct 3/08, Dec 4/09 entries).

Israel wanted to install the radar in its own F-16s and F-15s, but the Americans moved to strangle a potential competitor by telling the Israelis that installing the M-2052 would cut off all manufacturer support for its fighters. On the export front, the USA can use ITAR restrictions to block technologies developed with American assistance, and forced Israel to implement a set of military export controls that add up to unofficial American review. Israel has reportedly sold a limited number of M-2052s to 1 undisclosed customer, but use in the Tejas Mk.II would represent the radar’s 1st major sale anywhere.


GE’s F414 engine for Tejas Mk.2/Naval; 1st Naval LCA prototype rolled out. EJ200s in Eurofighter
(click to view full)

Nov 21/10: Cost. The Times of India places the cost of India’s Tejas program at 17,269 crore, or over $3.7 billion. The report adds:

“Latest figures also show each of the first 40 Tejas fighters will cost around Rs 150 crore [DID: about $33 million], over and above the huge developmental cost… Tejas, incidentally, has clocked around 1,420 flights with 10 prototypes till date. Its FSED (full-scale engineering development) Phase-I till March 2004 cost Rs 2,188 crore [DID: 1 crore = 10 million rupees]. The Phase-II, to be completed by December 2012, will cost another Rs 5,778 crore. To add to that, there is fabrication of two Tejas Mark-II, with alternate engines, to be completed by Dec 2018 for Rs 2,432 crore, along with development of indigenous technologies for Rs 396 crore. Naval Tejas FSED Phase-I, in turn, is to be completed by Dec 2014 for Rs 1,715 crore, with Phase-II slated for completion by December 2018 for another Rs 1,921 crore.

Tejas will, of course, also be powered by American GE engines, with its indigenous Kaveri engine floundering despite Rs 2,839 crore being spent on its development since 1989. Towards this, India recently finalised a $822-million deal for 99 GE F-414 engines.”

These figures are later shown to fall short of government figures. India’s goal of a $20-25 million fighter at full rate production may still be achievable, but it will bear close watching. It is very normal for the first production sets of a fighter to cost far more than fighters at full-rate production, with figures of double or even triple the price common for aircraft with very long production runs.

Nov 6/10: F414. During President Obama’s visit, the White House provides further details regarding the F414 engine order, which it places at 107 engines:

“…Upon finalizing the contract, General Electric’s facility in Lynn, Massachusetts, and other sites across the United States will be positioned to export almost one billion dollars in high technology aerospace products. This transaction is tentatively valued at approximately $822 million, all of which is U.S. export content, supporting an estimated 4,440 jobs.”

This is strictly true, since any contract with GE would be 100% export content, but the deal itself may still contain provisos for technology transfer and related contracts in India. UK Financial Times Beyond BRICs blog | Hindu Business Line | Indo-Asian News Service (IANS) | NDTV | Sify | WSJ India Real Time blog.

Nov 3/10: At the end of the India-UK “Indra Dhanush 2010″ exercise, Indian Air Chief Marshal P V Naik tells the media that LCA Mark-I will be inducted into operational squadrons by the middle of 2011, while the LCA Tejas Mark-II should be operational in the next 2-3 years, as “the process of selection of engine for LCA Mark-II is nearing completion.” It doesn’t happen that way.Deccan Herald.

Nov 1/10: Testing. Aviation Week reports that LSP-5, the 11th test jet and 1st final configuration Tejas Mk I aircraft, is readying for flight trials as the ADA tries to meer a Dec 27/10 deadline for release-to-service certification. Changes include internal cockpit lighting for night flying, a revised internal communication set similar to HAL’s Druhv helicopter, and National Aerospace Laboratories’ auto-pilot mode. Aviation week adds that:

“If the delivery schedules are met, then the Indian Air Force will have LSP-7 and LSP-8 for user evaluation trials by March 2011. LSP-6 will be a test vehicle for high angle of attack. The Tejas squadron is expected to be in Bengaluru by mid-2011 and the first two series production aircraft (SP-1, SP-2) also should be ready by then.”

Oct 25-28/10: Engine II. Report, and denial. After NewsX’s Vishal Thapar broadcasts a reports that a Eurojet consultant has been expelled from India for illegally obtaining information on GE’s bid, trying to substitute a new Eurojet bid by offering a monetary inducement, and then planting media reports that Eurojet was ahead on price. Thapar also claims that this is why the Indian MoD took the unusual step of announcing GE as its low-cost bidder, before a contract was signed.

The follow-on effects could be very severe if true, making it very difficult for India to pick the Eurofighter as its M-MRCA medium fighter. Eurojet’s communication agency subsequently issues the following denial. See Milplex | India Defence:

“Eurojet Turbo GmbH categorically denies unfounded allegations made in the NewsX report titled ” India expels arms dealer”, authored by Vishal Thapar and released on 23 October 2010. The report lacks any factual base and is a work of fiction.”

Oct 1/10: Engine II – F414. India’s Business Standard may want a word with its sources. GE announces that its F414 engine has been picked to power the Tejas Mk.II fighter. India’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) will order 99 jet engines, with GE Aviation supplying the initial batch of F414-GE-INS6, engines and the rest manufactured in India under transfer of technology arrangements. When questioned by DID, GE sources confirmed that this is not a contract yet, merely preferred bidder status.

The selection of GE’s F414 deepens a relationship that has supplied 41 earlier model GE F404 engines so far, in order to power initial Tejas LCA Mk.I fighters and LCA Naval prototypes. GE describes the F414-GE-INS6 as “the highest-thrust F414 model,” without offering specifics, but is has been working on an F414 Enhanced Performance Engine. The INS6 will add single-engine safety features in its digital controls, something GE also installed in the F414 variant powering one M-MRCA candidate, the JAS-39 Gripen NG.

F414 engine picked for Tejas Mk.2

Sept 20/10: Engine II. India’s Business Standard reports that the European EJ200 engine may have the edge in the competition to supply the Tejas Mk.II fleet’s powerplants:

“Informed sources have told Business Standard that when the bids were opened last week, European consortium Eurojet bid $666 million for 99 EJ200 engines, against US rival General Electric, which quoted $822 million.”

Both engines have been ruled technically suitable, so the lower priced bid will win, but the bidding process isn’t 100% final yet. The paper also quotes Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak (ret.) of the Indian Air Force’s Centre for Air Power Studies, who draws the obvious conclusion:

“It is as clear as daylight. Selecting the EJ200 for the Tejas would boost the Eurofighter’s prospects in the MMRCA contest. Its engines, which form about 15-20 per cent of the cost of a modern fighter, would be already manufactured in India for the Tejas [after the 1st 10 were built abroad]. For the same reason, rejecting the GE F-414 would diminish the chances of the two fighters [F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and JAS-39NG/IN] that fly with that engine.”

Aug 25/10: Kaveri. Defence Minister Shri AK Antony updates progress in the Kaveri engine in a written reply to Shri N Balaganga of India’s Rajya Sabha (upper house of parliament). It’s phrased in terms of what DRDO is doing as development and testing continues, and gives various reasons why the engine is so late. It does not mention that the IAF isn’t interested, except to note at the end that “LCAs are, meanwhile, as decided by user, being fitted with imported engines.” Unlike some Indian programs, the Kaveri program has managed to spend most of its yearly budgets; over the last 3 years, these expenditures have been:

2007-2008: INR 1,525.1 million
2008-2009: INR 1,535.4 million
2009-2010: INR 1,220.6 million

As of Aug 25/10, INR 100 million = $2.15 million, so INR 1.2206 billion = $26.05 million.

July 6/10: Naval LCA. NP1, the first naval Tejas prototype, is rolled out. HAL will build NP1 and NP2 for testing, which will take place at a new facility in Goa. The naval variant adds a tailhook, strengthened undercarriage, leading-edge vortex controllers to slow down landings, auto-throttles, and a fuel dump system.

Naval LCA rollout

May 5/10: Engine II. GE describes 3 of the programs underway to improve its F414 engine. The most relevant is probably the F414 EPE (Enhanced Performance Engine), which has a new fan to increase airflow, and aims to increase thrust by 20%. It’s explicitly “targeted for potential international customers,” which includes India’s Tejas Mk.2.

The US Navy wants the F414 EDE (Enhanced Durability Engine), which uses an advanced high pressure turbine and 6-stage high pressure compressor (HPC) that offers a 2-3X hot-section durability gain, and reduced fuel consumption. F414 EDE forms the base of the EPE engine, but the gains will not be the same in both engines, owing to other design differences.

Crowded India may also appreciate the retrofittable F414 noise reduction kit project, with serrated edges where each “lobe” penetrates into or out of the primary airflow and generates a secondary flow, reducing jet noise by 2-3-decibels. The USN has identified funding for a program to mature the technology and prepare it for incorporation in the USN F414 engine fleet, with work scheduled to continue through 2011. GE Aviation.

Feb 3/10: Engine II. Eurojet says it will share single-crystal engine blade technologies with India if Eurofighter wins MMRCA, or the EJ200 engine is selected for the LCA Tejas Mk2.

Eurojet’s EJ200 equips the Eurofighter Typhoon. The EJ200 weighs about 2,200 pounds and produces 13,500 pounds of thrust in normal operation, or 20,000 pounds with afterburners. There were even rumors of a thrust-vectoring version, to improve Tejas maneuverability, but the engine lost the Tejas MK.II competition, then the Eurofighter was edged out by France’s Rafale in India’s M-MRCA finals.

Feb 2/10: Indian defence minister AK Antony watches flight demonstrations by twin-seat (PV-5), and single-seat (LCP-2) Tejas test aircraft, and declares: “Serious doubts were raised about Tejas… Now I can proudly say we will fly our own fighters.” He states Cabinet Committee of Security approval to add Rs 8,000 crore (about $1.73 billion) to the 27-year program for continued air force and naval development, and development of a new engine for the Mk.2, and expresses confidence in final operational clearance for the Mk.1 version by end of 2012. Antony also agreed that the government is in talks with parties abroad for the development of that Mk.2 engine, but would not be more specific.

The Indian Air Force has already ordered 20 LCAs, and has reportedly expressed interest in ordering another 20 aircraft. Meanwhile, the Navy is building 2-seat trainer (NP1) and a single-seat fighter (NP2) prototypes, with NP1 nearing completion of equipping after the structural assembly. NP1 is scheduled to roll out by April 2010, followed by a hoped-for first flight in June 2010. The single-seat NP2 is scheduled for its first flight by June 2011. India’s Business Standard | The Hindu | Indian Express | Times of India | Agence France Presse | The Asian Age.


First 6 LCA Naval ordered; Tejas Angle of Attack flight issues; US red tape trips Lockheed Martin; Engine competition to equip Tejas Mk.II. Tejas test
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Dec 31/09: Kaveri. The Hindu reports that India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has been given government permission to accept an offer from France’s Snecma to ‘partner’ with the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE) to jointly develop a new version of the Kaveri jet engine. Senior GTRE officials tell The Hindu that talks could begin early in 2010. When that might result in a signed contract is anyone’s guess.

This article’s Dec 26/08 entry covers the verdict of a senior Indian committee, which had recommended against the DRDO-Snecma collaboration. The Hindu highlights the Matheswaran team’s criticism that using Snecma’s fully developed ‘Eco’ engine core would not create sufficient transfer or control of technology, but reports:

“Snecma, which indicated that an engine run of at least 250 is required to make their offer economically viable, agrees that an existing core would be at the heart… will take at least five years before the first production engine comes out. Snecma chairman and chief executive officer Philippe Petitcolin told The Hindu: “Yes we first stated a 15-year period to hand over the design technology, but now we have indicated that the technology can be given as fast as the Indians can assimilate it.”

Note that the article does not indicate commitment to use the “Kaveri II” engine for any particular purpose, or offer a likely timeline. Rather, the emphasis seems to be on continuing to develop India’s industrial capabilities, rather than fielding an operational engine. StrategyPage places the cost of that collaboration at $200 million, but this must be an estimate, as no firm deal has been negotiated. See also Sri Lanka Guardian. See also Aug 20/08 entry.

Dec 14/09: Kaveri. In a written Parliamentary reply, Defence Minister Shri AK Antony responds to Shri Gajanan D Babar:

“The proposal on the Kaveri-Snecma engine joint venture for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas is under consideration of the Government. Request for Proposal (RFP) for procuring 99 engines have been sent to two short-listed engine manufacturers, namely GE F414 from General Electric Aviation, USA and EJ200 from Eurojet Germany. The engine houses have responded to the RFP. Both Commercial and technical responses have been received for procurement of 99 engines along with Transfer of Technology.”

Dec 7/09: A Parliamentary response from defense minister Antony offers details regarding the initial Tejas Mk.1 contract:

“A contract for procurement of 20 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) configuration, along with associated role equipment, reserve engines, engine support package, engine test bed and computer based training (CBT) package from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was signed in March 2006. The total contract cost is Rs. 2701.70 crores.” [currently about $580 million]

Dec 4/09: Radar – AESA? DRDO’s Bangalore-based Electronics & Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) reportedly invites global bids to become the development partner for a Tejas active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. This would presumably replace the IAI Elta EL/M-2032 derivative that will requip Tejas Mk.1 fighters.

The Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU) would be supplied by the development partner. Responsibilities would include “detailed design, development and realisation” of the antenna panel (main antenna, guard antenna and sidelobe cancellation antenna), transmit/receive modules/groups, the RF distribution network (RF manifold/combiners and RF interface), antenna/beam control chain (T/R control and T/R group control), and array calibration/BITE among other areas. Livefist.

Nov 26/09: Testing. Tejas PV-5, a 2-seat trainer version, makes its maiden flight. The Deccan Herald says that commonalities between the 2-seat trainer and Tejas naval version will help that sub-program as well, but it will take hundreds of flights over a year or more before the trainer version can be qualified for use by IAF, as a key step in pilot training and induction of the single-seat fighter into IAF operational service.

Sept 28/09: US red tape. India’s Business Standard reports that Lockheed Martin was selected in June 2009 as a consultant for developing the Naval version of the Tejas. Lockheed Martin has no serving carrier-borne fighters, but they’re developing the F-35B STOVL and F-35C Lightning II for use from carriers.

Unfortunately, delays in US government approval has led DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency to recommend that another consultant be chosen instead; Dassault (Rafale) and EADS (no carrier-borne aircraft) were recommended as alternatives,and EADS was eventually picked. Lockheed Martin is still fighting to get through the red tape and salvage the contract, and may continue trying until V K Saraswat, India’s Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister, makes a decision.

This has happened before, and recently. Boeing was the front-runner for a similar role with respect to the main (IAF) version, and would be a logical consultant for any naval version – but the Indian MoD awarded EADS that contract in early 2009, after the US government failed to grant Boeing a Technical Assistance Agreement clearance in time.

Sept 21/09: Naval LCA. India’s Business Standard reports that the Tejas Mk.II is attracting funding from India’s Navy, who believes that a modified, EJ-200/F414 equipped Tejas would have the power required to operate from its future aircraft carriers in STOBAR (Short TakeOff But Assisted Recovery) mode:

“Business Standard has learnt that the navy has okayed the placement of an order for six Naval LCAs. At an approximate cost of Rs 150 crore per aircraft, that will provide a Rs 900 crore infusion into the Naval LCA programme.”

At today’s rates, Rs 900 crore = $187.8 million. Naval LCA fighters would operate from India’s 30,000t-35000t Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), which is being built at Cochin Shipyard with assistance from Italy’s Fincantieri, and is expected to join the fleet by 2014. That creates a potential timing issue, as the Tejas Mk.II’s engine selection and ordering process isn’t supposed to produce new engines before 2013-14. Aeronautical Development Agency director P S Subramaniam told Business Standard that they would fly the modified Naval Tejas airframe with the current GE-404 engine, to test its flight characteristics and structural strength. The new INS Hansa in Goa, with its land-based carrier deck outline and equipment, will be extremely helpful in that regard. If those tests go well, a naval Tejas variant would not operate from a carrier until the new engines were delivered and installed. See also: India Defence

India: 6 Naval LCA.

Aug 4/09: Engine II. Flight International reports that the Eurojet consortium has done tests regarding the EJ200’s fit into the Tejas’ space, and believes itself to be in a strong position for the expected 99-engine order to equip the Tejas Mk.II. The RFP response date is Oct 12/09.

Aug 3/09: Kaveri. India’s DRDO is attempting to resurrect the Kaveri engine project, but the IAF’s lack of enthusiasm is pointed. MoD release:

“Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has offered to co-develop and co-produce 90 kN thrust class of upgraded Kaveri engine with M/s Snecma, France to meet the operational requirement of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas with 48 months from the date of project inception… The proposal for co-development was considered by Indian Air Force. Indian Air Force has suggested a proven engine that is already in production and flight worthy for meeting immediate requirement. Request for Proposal (RFP) has been issued to reputed engine manufacturers.”

A separate MoD release gives December 2012 as the target date for the LCA Tejas Mk.I’s “final Operational Clearance,” adding that project oversight currently involves a high level review by the Chief of Air Staff once per quarter, and by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff once per month.

March 4/09: Testing. India Defense reports that a multi-agency team is carrying out 2-weeks of Phase 2 weapon testing for the LCA Tejas. The focus is on safe separation, aerodynamic interference data, and complex weapon release algorithms in different modes of release. Note that the tests still involve aerodynamics, rather than full weapons system integration.

Feb 25/09: Government of India:

“A contract for 20 indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has been signed. One IAF squadron is expected to be equipped with this aircraft in 2010-11. Government is not planning to set up a hi-tech facility at Nagpur costing about Rs. 300 crores [3 billion rupees, or about $60 million] for indigenizing components of these aircrafts. Product support including spare parts will be supplied by the vendor as per the terms of the contract that will be concluded.”

Feb 17/09: Engine II. Flight International reports that the Eurojet engine consortium may be about to change the competitive field for the expected RFP to equip LCA Tejas MkII aircraft. The firm has been working on a thrust-vectoring model of its engine, and the magazine reports that it will be offered to meet India’s expected RFP for up to 150 engines.

The Eurofighter is also an MMRCA medium fighter competitor, and twin wins for Eurojet could offer India important commonality benefits, even as they justified an in-country production line. Thrust vectoring would also offer the Tejas a level of maneuverability and performance that could be a difference-maker in combat, and on the international market. The Eurofighter is considered a long shot to win the MMRCA competition, however, and timelines could become an issue. Flight tests of a thrust vectoring EJ200 engine are not expected to begin for another 2 years.

Feb 6/09: Engine II. The Press Trust of India quotes Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) Director P Subrahmanyam, who says that India’s state-run DRDO is still looking for partners to develop the indigenous Kaveri engine. That hasn’t stopped the Ministry of Defence’s ADA from preparing a competition to equip the LCA Mark II version from 2014 onward, after the initial aircraft are fielded with F404-IN-20 engines:

“We are looking to procure either the GE-414 from US or European consortium Eurojet’s EJ 200 to fly with the LCA Mk II version [after going through offers from various global manufacturers]. Request for Proposals (RFP) is just about to go out and very soon it would be floated.”

Eurojet’s EJ200 equips the Eurofighter Typhoon, while GE’s F414 equips Saab’s JAS-39NG Gripen and Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet family. All 3 of these fighters are competitors in India’s MMRCA, which aims to buy at least 126 medium multi-role fighters to fill the gap between Tejas LCAs and India’s top-tier SU-30MKIs.

The article appears to indicate that India would be looking to switch production to the new engines, after low-rate initial production equips the first 2 IAF squadrons with 48 aircraft. In practice, required engineering changes and aircraft testing make such an early switch unlikely.

Jan 29/09: AoA issues. Indopia reports that India’s DRDO/ADA and HAL are proposing a $20 million collaboration with EADS to assist with flight trials, and help to increase the fighter’s flight envelope. Performance at high “angles of attack,” in which a fighter’s nose and wings are tilted at steep angles, will reportedly be the focus for EADS efforts.

At any aircraft’s critical angle of attack, the wing is no longer able to support the weight of the aircraft, causing a tail slide that generally worsens the problem and can lead to an aerodynamic stall. Different aircraft have different critical angles of attack, and design changes can lead to an expanded range for safe, sustained flight maneuvers. In some cases, such as India’s Sukhoi 30MKIs with their modern triplane configuration, the design’s flight envelope can become so large that maneuvers like the near 90 degree “Cobra” become safe and routine.

Jan 23/09: Testing. The Tejas LCA completes its 1,000th test flight since the first 18-minute flight by Technology Demonstrator-1 on 04 Jan 4/01. Frontier India | The Hindu | The Times of India.

Flight #1,000


Why Kaveri was a failure, demonstrated; Kaveri for naval ships? Inverted flypast
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Dec 26/08: Kaveri. The Hindu reports that a committee set up by the IAF in September 2008 has recommended against Snecma’s offer (see Aug 20/08 entry). The report says that the result would not be a co-designed, co-developed engine, but rather a license production arrangement. The group recommends continued development of the Kaveri engine and its core technologies instead, despite the failures to date.

These conclusions are less surprising when one examines the committee’s composition. Air Vice Marshal M. Matheswaran chaired the group, which included representatives from India’s state-run Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification, and IAF officers posted at ADA, the National Flight Test Centre and the Aircraft Systems and Testing Establishment. All are state-run groups that have been involved in the Kaveri’s ongoing development, and have strong incentives to protect that turf.

Dec 13/08: Testing. A Tejas fighter prototype lands at Leh air base in the high-altitude Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, at an altitude of 10,600 fee. Leh is one of the highest airfields in the world, with a temperature variation ranging from 5 to -20 C/ 41 to -4F. .

That was the whole point, of course: perform cold weather testing, while making an assessment of the aircraft’s performance in high-altitude conditions, without the confounding influence and additional challenge of high temperatures. India Defence

Oct 3/08: Radar. The Hindu newspaper relays news from ADA Programme Director P.S. Subramaniam that the Israeli Elta “EL/M-2052″ radar has already undergone tests on the flight test bed and ground rig in Israel, and “airworthy units” are expected to arrive early next week.

There had been some unconfirmed mentions of EL/M-2052s in connection with the Tejas, and it’s possible that ADA is beginning tests related to the Mk.II. It’s more likely that the radars are IAI Eltas M-2032, instead of Elta’s AESA option. The Elta M-2032 multi-mode radar already serves on India’s Sea Harriers and some Jaguars, and was picked as an “interim option” until India’s indigenous radar program performs to the required standard. Because the indigenous radar has failed to perform to standard, the ADA has reportedly been running weaponization tests on the Tejas using a weapon delivery pod, and has been forced to keep critical tests on hold. Past experience suggests that the Tejas’ radar will remain an import.

Aug 20/08: Kaveri & Snecma. The Wall Street Journal’s partner has an article that more or less sums up the Kaveri project in a nutshell, and also the DRDO: “In aircraft engine development, you cannot set a timeline.” The article interviews T. Mohana Rao, director of India’s state-run Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE). Rao explains why the Kaveri engine is effectively dead as a fighter aircraft engine, leaving GE’s popular F404-GE-IN20 variant to power the Tejas for at least the next 4 years.

Rao quotes the Kaveri’s performance at 11,000 lbs./ 5,000 kg dry thrust at sea level, and 16,500 lbs./ 7,500 kg thrust on afterburners. That’s about 1,000 lbs./ 400 kg short of specifications. The engine is also overweight by 330 lbs./ 150 kg, and has yet to perform long-endurance tests to assess its durability.

The GTRE cannot promise any date for successful delivery, and so political approval was granted to form a partnership with a foreign engine firm on a risk-sharing basis. Russia’s NPO Saturn and France’s Snecma responded, while GE, Rolls-Royce, and Pratt and Whitney declined. After almost 2 1/2 years, the GTRE chose France’s Snecma, but there’s no contract yet. industrial issues need to be settled, and the government requires consultation with the Indian Air Force before any contract and requirements are signed.

Snecma’s proposal involves an engine core (compressor, combustor and high-pressure turbine) called Eco. Snecma would have a workshare of 45%, and GTRE’s would be 55%, with nearly 85% of the manufacturing within India. Snecma says the aircraft could be certified for fitting in the Tejas within 4 years. Assuming that project remains on time, of course. The policy question is whether this outcome was predictable from the outset. As the Live Mint article notes:

“Nearly 20 years after it promised an indigenous engine to power India’s light combat aircraft Tejas, the… country’s sole aero engine design house, is now seeking outside help…”

Aug 13/08: Kaveri KMGT. The DRDO’s GTRE in Bangalore believes it may have found a use for the Kaveri engine, in naval vessels. Using the core of the Kaveri engine, plus a low-pressure compressor and turbine, the engine would become a gas-fired 12 MW propulsion unit in warships up the he Rajput Class, or find uses as on-shore electricity generators. A Kaveri Marine Gas Turbine (KMGT) has been transported to naval dock yard at Vishakapatnam, and installed on to the marine gas turbine test bed there. Yahoo! India | RF Design.

The Rajput Class “destroyers” are modified Russian Kashin-II Class ships, though their top weight of just under 5,000 tons would mark them as large frigates in many navies.

Aug 3/08: Kaveri – And Replacements? The Wall Street Journal’s partner reports that France’s Snecma will partner with India’s DRDO to develop a new engine, sidelining the Kaveri project.

“GTRE has spent nearly Rs1,900 crore of the Rs2,800 crore that was sanctioned since an engine project Kaveri, named after the river in southern India, began in 1989… Vincent Chappard, a Snecma spokesman in France, said he could not immediately confirm the development.”

While the IAF waits for Snecma’s efforts, reports also suggest that the DRDO’s Aeronautical Development Agency has invited both General Electric and Eurojet Turbo GmbH, a European engine consortium, to bid for higher-powered interim engines. GE offers the F414, and the Eurojet 2000 already has higher thrust, but the engines will have to fit the Tejas’ design – or vice-versa. These engines would be slated for Tejas aircraft produced beyond the initial 48 plane order, but before any indigenous engine is certified. WSJ partner Live Mint | domain-b

March 4/08: Radar. There are reports that Europe’s EADS has offered to co-develop an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with India, for installation on board the Tejas fighters. Work is currently underway on an AESA radar to equip EADS’ Eurofighter, which is a long shot in India’s 126-190 aircraft MMRCA fighter competition.

The nature of AESA radars makes it possible to scale them up or down while retaining high commonality with larger versions, the main difference being changes to radar power and hence overall performance. Northrop Grumman whose AN/APG-77 AESA radar equips America’s F-22, recently introduced its AESA Scalable Agile Beam Radar (SABR) at Singapore’s February 2007 air show. It’s designed to equip existing F-16 fighters with no modifications required, and is advertised as being scalable to other platforms.

A win for EADS in this area offers to solve a problem for India, while creating a commonality hook for the Eurofighter – or at worst, a supplier diversification option for India that adds external funding to help EADS catch up in this key technology area.

March 3/08: Indian Defence Minister Shri A K Antony responds to a Lok Sabha (lower house of Parliament) question by saying that the Tejas flight test program is:

“…progressing as per the schedule. So far, 829 flight tests have been completed. Efforts are being made to accelerate the flight tests… Presently, no need is felt for strategic partner. To complete the project at the earliest, a top level review is being conducted by the Chief of Air Staff once in every quarter and review by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff once in every month. So far, Rs. 4806.312 cr [DID: 48.063 billion rupees, or about $1.19 billion at current conversion] have been spent on development of various versions of Light Combat Aircraft.”

2006 – 2008

1st 20 production Tejas ordered; IAI to substitute for MMR radar failure; F404 engines ordered; AA-11 fired; Naval Tejas contemplated. AA-11/R-73 Archer
(click to view full)

Oct 25/07: Testing. The Tejas fires a missile for the first time: Vympel’s short-range, IR guided AA-11/R-73 Archer air-to-air missile. Test aircraft PV-1 fired the missile at 7 km altitude and 0.6 Mach within the naval air range off the coast of Goa, marking the beginning of weaponization as a prelude to initial operational clearance (IOC) phase of the Tejas program.

The main objectives of test firing were to validate safe separation of the missile, the effect of missile plume on the engine’s air-intake and on composite structures, the workings of the stores-management displays and software, and quality assessment. India DoD release | Times of India.

While the beginning of weaponization is a significant event, the state of the fighter’s indigenous radar development means that the critical weaponization event for the Tejas LCA will be its first successful test-firing of a radar-guided missile.

Aug 13/07: Radar – IAI. Defence Minister Shri AK Antony states the obvious in a written reply to Shri Sugrib Singh and others in Lok Sabha, but adds new information concerning foreign cooperation:

“There has been a time and cost overrun in the said project. The project to develop two MMR systems for ground testing was sanctioned at a cost of Rs.62.27 crore. This activity was completed in 2004 at a cost of Rs.105 crore.

Yes, but see poor testing results in the April 8/06 and May 1/06 entries, below. He does not mention them, but effectively concedes the point by adding that:

A co-development activity of MMR has been initiated for Limited Series Production and Series Production with M/s ELTA Systems Ltd, Israel, which has experience in developing similar types of radars. To expedite the project, close monitoring of activity at the highest level of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) management has been put in place.”

See also India Defence follow-on | Flight International.

IAI Elta radar agreement

April 26/07: Testing. The 1st of the Limited Series Production Tejas jets (LSP-1), makes its successful maiden flight at HAL airport in Bangalore, reaching an altitude of 11 km/ 6.6 miles and a speed of Mach 1.1 during the 47 minute flight.

According to the Indian government release, LSP-1 marks the beginning of series production of Tejas for induction into the Air Force.

1st production flight

March 1/07: India’s Defence Minister Shri AK Antony offers an update re: the Tejas LCA:

“Five Tejas are currently being flight tested for Initial Operational Clearance by the Indian Air Force pilots posted at National Test Centre of Aeronautical Development Agency, Ministry of Defence. So far 629 flights accumulating 334 hours have been completed. Twenty aircraft have been ordered by the Indian Air Force as the first lot.”

Feb 7/07: F404. HAL ordered an additional 24 F404-GE-IN20 afterburning engines in a $100+ million contract, in order to power the first operational squadron of Tejas fighters for the Indian Air Force.

This buy follows a 2004 purchase of 17 F404-GE-IN20 engines, in order to power a limited series of operational production aircraft and naval prototypes.

F404 engine order #2

Jan 25/07: India tries to throw a large monkey wrench into Pakistan’s rival JF-17 project. They almost succeed.

Nov 22/06: Reuters India: “Pakistan set to get eight JF-17 fighter jets next year.” Anxieties are becoming more acute as Pakistan readies its JF-17 fighter developed in conjunction with China and Russia, and prepares to induct them into service in 2007-2008. The JF-17 is a sub-$20 million fighter designed to replace F-7P (MiG-21+) and Mirage 3/5 aircraft in Pakistan’s fleet, and is a comparable peer for the LCA Tejas.

Sept 19/06: India set to induct 28 LCA Tejas aircraft by 2007. They would have GE F404 engines rather than the Kaveri, says former project director Dr. Kota Harinarayana. As it turns out, India has 0 inducted aircraft, 5 years after that stated date.

May 2/06: India Defence reports that the Indian Navy may be interested in a Tejas LCA version of its own.

May 1/06: Radar. More bad news for the radar project. The Vijay Times also notes that that the performance of several radar modes being tested still “fell short of expectations,” and may force acquisition of American or Israeli radars (likely APG-68 or Elta’s EL/M-2032) as an interim measure.

April 8/06: Radar. The Sunday Telegraph reports that the Tejas’ radar, which was also set up as an indigenous project after foreign options like the JAS-39 Gripen’s fine PS05 radar were refused, could only perform at the most basic levels, putting tests on hold:

“According to the IAF, which proposes to buy 220 of the planes when they are ready, the radar is now “marooned in uncertainty”… While two basic radar modes have been tested, the other modes have failed, throwing up serious questions about the system’s fundamentals.

In written replies to queries sent by The Indian Express, DRDO chief M Natarajan said: “Because of the complexity of technologies involved (in the radar project) and the extent of testing to be done, help of specialists in the field may be sought to complete the task… When Natarajan was asked why there was uncertainty over the radar so long after development began, he said: “The radar is under development by HAL and not at LRDE (the DRDO’s lab).” This, even when the signal processor built by the DRDO is the very heart of the radar.

Security analyst K Subrahmanyam has earlier called the dogged refusal to entertain foreign help by the DRDO as reflective of the organisation’s bad project management.”

March 2006: Order #1. India signs a contract with HAL for 20 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) in “Initial Operation Clearance (IOC) configuration,” along with associated role equipment, reserve engines, engine support package, engine test bed and computer based training (CBT) package.

The total contract cost is INR 27.017 billion. Source.

India: 20 LCA

February 2006: Kaveri. Jane’s claims that SNECMA won the contract to assist India in developing the Kaveri.

Appendix A: DID Analysis & Op/Ed (2006) More exportable Kaveri

The complexities inherent in designing a new fighter from scratch are formidable, even for a lightweight fighter like the Tejas. As Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd) notes, India’s industry had significant experience deficits going into this project, which have delayed the project significantly, and raised costs. The insistence on pushing the envelope with a new fighter design, a new engine, and a new radar all at once has had consequences. In the long run, those consequences will lead to a smaller IAF, and could be set to create major force gaps if MiG-21 lifespans can’t be extended long enough.

As experts like Richard D. Fisher have noted, Chinese projects tend to quickly hand off significant components to others and confine the kinds of domestic expertise required. The J-10 has been an example, and the massive changes required when Israeli and Western cooperation ended made the project incredibly challenging. Only a Chinese decision to outsource major components like the engines to the Russians kept the project from failing completely.

As the J-10 shows, delays remain possible, even with extensive foreign cooperation. It’s also true that every new jet engine type can expect teething issues when it is first installed. This may explain why even Sweden, with their long history of indigenous fighter development, chose the less risky approach of adopting the proven GE F404 & F414 engines for the JAS-39 Gripen. They made minor modifications as required in conjunction with the manufacturer, then concentrated their design efforts elsewhere.

All the more reason, then, to bring in foreign partners for components like the engine etc., and minimize the complexities faced by India’s indigenous teams in its state-run organizations.

Sainis and Joseph’s examination of the benefits to Indian industry from the LCA program demonstrate that most industrial benefits would have been retained had India taken this route. So, too, would the project’s timelines, which have suffered instead as India’s fighter fleet dwindles.

In India’s case, these added complexities can also spill over onto the export front. If potential Tejas export customers aren’t offered a common, fully tested international engine like the GE F404, with a broad network of support and leverage across multiple aircraft types, risk calculations will get in the way of some sales. When deciding on their buy, potential customers will have to evaluate the Kaveri engine’s prospects for future spares, upgrades and support, available contractors with relevant skills in maintaining them, etc. This tends to make potential buyers more cautious, and is likely to reduce Kaveri’s odds when competing against options like the Chinese/Pakistani JF-17, which uses a modified version of the engine that equips many MiG-29s around the world.

As the French have found with the Rafale, lack of exports for a limited production indigenous fighter equals rising maintenance and upgrade burdens that hit right in the home budget, and make it that much harder for the design to keep up with contemporary threats over its lifetime. Which in turn affect export prospects in a vicious circle.

Will India’s decision to proceed with the Kaveri engine offer short-term customization benefits, at the expense of long-term pain? Or can HAL maintain the Tejas airframe design, and field a lightweight fighter that offers its customers a choice of engines?

Appendix B: The Kaveri Saga – Keystone, or Killer? Kaveri prototype
(click to view full)

The GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri was envisioned as a variable cycle flat-rated engine, in which the thrust drop is compensated by increased turbine entry temperature at the spool. The variable cycle flat-rated engine would be controlled by a Kaveri full authority digital control unit (KADECU/ FADEC). The goal was a powerplant with slightly more thrust than GE’s F404 engines, whose characteristics were uniquely suited to India’s hot and humid environments.

India’s frequent goal of “100% made in India content” has derailed a number of its weapon projects over the last few decades, but foreign decisions also played an important role in the Kaveri project’s genesis. In 1998, India’s nuclear tests prompted the US to place sanctions on military exports, including GE’s F404 turbofans and Lockheed Martin’s assistance in developing the Tejas’ flight control system. In response, India began its program to develop an indigenous engine. As the Rediff’s Feb 5/06 report notes:

“DRDO scientists had kept the development of the Kaveri engine under wraps, exuding confidence that India had developed the technological edge to develop its own aircraft engine, so far confined to handful of developed countries.”

The prospect of ending that dependence is a powerful lure, but some of the reasons for that small club are technical. Modern jet engines are far more complex than even Vietnam-era engines like the GE J79 that equipped the F-4 Phantom. Producing a working, reliable engine that can operate at these high pressures and thrust ratings isn’t easy, and weaking and troubleshooting a new and unproven jet engine always involves a great deal of work and expense. The Kaveri engine’s climate performance targets added even more challenges to an already-full plate. That proved difficult for the program when the program’s entire context changed.

Eventually, the USA lifted its weapons export restrictions on India. In contrast, the natural barriers to developing an advanced engine from scratch, in a country with no past experience doing so, to technical specifications more challenging than current market mainstays, were not lifted so easily. The complexities inherent in this challenge belied DRDO’s apparent confidence, forcing India to bring in turbine experts from Snecma in France and from US firms like Pratt and Whitney.

In the end, the Indian DRDO was finally forced to look for a foreign technology partner, and issue an RFP. Even then, acceptance of program realities was slow in coming. In the initial stages, DRDO secretary M Natarajan referred to it as an effort to “add value and look for a partner to stand guarantee,” and stated that any partners would have to work to India’s terms. A committee in which IAF experts would be included would evaluate the bids to decide on:

“…how much to take and from whom… But Kaveri is and would remain an Indian project… We have gone this way to shorten time for making the engine airborne, as we don’t wont to delay the LCA induction schedule.”

GE F404

Those goals did not prove to be compatible.

US engine manufacturer General Electric, who supplies the F404 jet engines that power initial Tejas models, seemed unenthralled with those proposed terms. They declined to respond to the RFP for foreign assistance. Eventually, India’s state agencies were forced to concede that they could not develop an engine with the required specifications, and that seeking foreign help to improve the basic design was also unlikely to produce a design that met the required specifications.

With no engine in production as late-stage aircraft testing began, and none forthcoming in the forseeable future, India’s drive to develop an indigenous “Kaveri” jet engine had become a key roadblock for the Tejas program in India – and very possibly, beyond India as well.

In contrast to the Kaveri, F404 family engines are already proven in a number of aircraft around the world including Saab’s 4th generation JAS-39 Gripen lightweight fighter, the F-117A Nighthawk stealth fighter, models A-D of the F/A-18 Hornet fighter aircraft in service around the world, South Korea’s T/A-50 Golden Eagle supersonic trainer & light attack aircraft, and Singapore’s soon to be retired A-4SU Super Skyhawk attack jets. Kaveris equipped with F404/F414 engines would present a lower risk profile to potential export customers, due to the engines’ long-proven performance, GE’s global support network, and the number on engines in operation around the world.

Kaveri would offer none of these important benefits, in exchange for one offsetting feature: foreign sales would not require US military export approval for the engines.

India has not been a major weapons exporter, so export realities didn’t carry a lot of weight. On the other hand, the technical and timeline difficulties experienced by the main Tejas program created a potential natiional defense crisis that could not be ignored. By August 2008, the Kaveri program had effectively been sidelined, in order to get the Tejas into service within an acceptable time frame and preserve India’s operational fighter strength. While political changes may resurrect the Kaveri program as a political exercise, the Tejas program’s technical procurement path has been moving in the other direction.

This kind of vague drift away from an indigenous option is common in India’s procurement history. It usually ends with off-the-shelf “interim” buys becoming permanent; and an indigenous program that’s either shelved, or bought in very low numbers alongside a much larger foreign purchase of similar equipment.

GE’s F404-IN20 will be the Tejas’ initial powerplant, to be followed by the F414-GE-INS6, which beat the Eurojet EJ200 as the Tejas Mk.II’s planned engine.

Even so, DRDO continued to fund and back its long-delayed project. By January 2013, they had abandoned negotiations with France’s Snecma to create a Kaveri 2.0 version using key Snecma engine technologies, and resolved to try yet another global tender. A Kaveri without an afterburner would power a notional UCAV strike drone, and DRDO specified a pair of Kaveri engines for a proposed “Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft” project.

These pursuits would have kept the Kaveri development project consuming defense funds for another decade. In May 2014, however, Narendra Modi’s BJP Party scored a crushing landslide victory, and vowed to shake up the way government was run. DRDO felt the change, shifted their prioritization methods, and decided in November 2014 that the Kaveri program should be abandoned entirely.

\Additional Readings & Sources Background: LCA Tejas

Background: Ancillary Technologies & Weapons

Background: Tejas Mk.II Technologies

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: News

The USA’s C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 16:30
C-27J Spartan
(click to view full)

When the WALRUS super-heavy cargo airship was canceled, combat commanders complained that front-line airfields were often too short for the C-130 Hercules that make up the USAF’s tactical transport fleet. Delays in buying a small cargo aircraft to fill that role were making that problem worse. Starved of useful help due to USAF-sponsored delays, and the lack of appropriate aircraft in the USAF, the Army carried on with its aging C-23 Sherpas, and repurposed aircraft like the unprotected C-12 Hurons, in order to ferry troops, supplies, and/or very small vehicles within its theaters of operations.

The Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) could have been worth up to $6 billion before all was said and done, and the finalists were a familiar duo. After EADS-CASA’s CN-235 and a shortened version of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J were disqualified for failing to meet requirements, JCA became yet another international competition between EADS-CASA’s C-295M & Alenia’s C-27J. The C-27J team eventually won the delayed decision in June 2007, and prevailed in the subsequent contract protests from their rivals. What remained unclear was exactly what they had won. The joint-service decision and contract announcement didn’t end the inter-service and Congressional politicking, and the contractor side was equally fractious. This FOCUS article covers the JCA competition, and subsequent developments – including the Pentagon’s 2012 push to end the program, and sell its planes.

Canned Feud: The Transport of Seville vs. the Spartan Salesmen C-295 hits American chill
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EADS-CASA partnered with Raytheon for the JCA competition. Their finalist the C-295M has a longer fuselage that can carry more cargo pallets than the C-27J, comes with a nifty pallet loading system, and is cheaper to maintain and fly. On the other hand, it lacks the internal dimensions and/or floor strength required for tactical loads like Humvees, small helicopters, et. al. C295 transport wins have included Spain, Algeria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Egypt, Finland, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Poland, and Portugal; and special mission versions serve with other countries beyond that list.

Alenia partnered with L-3 Communications and Boeing to offer the C-27J Spartan, aka. “Baby Herc” due to its profile, engine, and avionics commonality with the C-130J Hercules. EADS-CASA claims the C-27J’s fuel and maintenance needs give it operational costs that are over 50% more expensive than the C-295’s; but C-130J commonality may bring those numbers down slightly, and the C-27J’s internal dimensions and floor strength give it the flexibility to carry light tactical loads. C-27J wins as of August 2011 include Italy (12), Bulgaria (now 3 + 2 options), Greece (12, had some issues but appears to have resolved them [PDF]), Lithuania (3), Mexico (4), Romania (7), Morocco (4), and Slovakia (selected, no contract yet).

Surprisingly, word was that the US Army originally wanted the C-295 despite its tactical limitations, and the USAF originally wanted the C-27J despite is operating and maintenance costs. If the rumors about service preferences were true, testing pointed to the USAF’s choice – and the Army got more tactical flexibility.

That would come in handy later.

Hello, My Baby, Hello, My Honey… C-27J Spartan
(click to view full)

The C-27J team is led by GMAS (Global Military Aircraft Systems), a company owned 51% by Alenia Aeronautica and 49% by L-3 Communications. L-3 is formally the prime contractor within the USA, and Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is also a partner. Rolls Royce will supply the same AE2100 engines, and Dowty propellers, used by the 4-engined C-130J. Honeywell will enhance that commonality by offering the same avionics suite.

The GMAS team’s C-27J “Baby Herc” was set to replace the U.S. Army’s 43 C-23 Sherpas, and fill some roles currently flown by a handful of C-12 (based on the Beechcraft King Air twin turboprop) and C-26 Metroliner (based on the Fairchild Metro 23 twin turboprop) aircraft. In practice, it will also augment the U.S. Air Forces’ aging and partly-grounded fleet of C-130E/H intratheater airlifters, and replace a number of missions that are using very expensive-to-operate CH-47 helicopters as in-theater supply aircraft. The USAF has been making extensive use of intra-theater transports, and even C-17s with their short-field landing capabilities, in order to reduce the number of road supply convoys in Iraq. The C-27J’s ability to use even shorter runways will expand the number of sites available for use in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other fronts of the war.

Maj. Gen. Marshall K. Sabol, Air Force deputy chief of staff for Air, Space and Information Operations, Plans and Requirements, adds that the under-utilization of the C-130 is another reason the JCA program makes sense:

“The Air Force flew C-130 Hercules aircraft many times in Iraq, carrying just a few passengers or a single pallet of medical goods, because that is what the warfighters needed at that moment, he said. This is not a very efficient use of an aircraft, but the warfighters’ needs come first.”

Despite these testimonials, the USAF did exactly what their detractors expected them to do: scrap the fleet as soon as possible, using cost justifications that many people didn’t find credible. US Special Operations Command got 7 of the 21 ordered planes, for training use. The US Coast Guard got the other 14, for use as medium range maritime patrol and rescue aircraft alongside their HC-144 (CN-235) fleet.

Room And Bird: The National Guard Angle C-27J cockpit
(click to view full)

Under the joint Memorandum of Understanding signed in June 2006, JCA could have grown into a $6 billion program. Initial plans contemplated 145 aircraft – 75 USAF and 70 Army, and Finmeccanica projected a possible total of 207 JCA aircraft over the next 10 years. By 2009, however, consolidation under the US Air Force, which greatly prefers the larger C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transports, came with a sharp cut in the total program, to just 38 planes, all of which would serve with the USAF Air National Guard.

Meanwhile, state National Guard forces have seen their air transport assets dwindle as C-130s are based elsewhere in realignments, or just not flyable. They clamored to host C-27Js, whose short-field landing capabilities will be very welcome in the at-home disaster relief role.

The Army National Guard originally expected to receive the C-27J in 12 states, with each state hosting 4 aircraft: California, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Alaska/Guam (shared), and Washington State. USAF Air National Guard deployments were also discussed for Connecticut, Michigan, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio and Mississippi. As things stand now, however, many of these states will not get any planes. The C-27Js were set to base with Air National Guard detachments in groups of 4 at:

  • Bradley International Airport AGS, Bradley, CT
  • Martin State AGS, Baltimore, MD
  • W.K. Kellogg Airport, Battle Creek, MI
  • Key Field AGS, Meridian, MS (6 planes, incl. 2 training)
  • Great Falls International Airport, MT
  • Hector Field AGS in Fargo, ND
  • Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport in Mansfield, OH

Plus 2 bases to be named later. The cancellation decision was not well received in these locales.

A Great Big Bunch of You: Contracts and Key Events FY 2013 – 2015

MC-27J tests; Fleet goes directly to storage; USCG stands up project office, begin receiving C-27Js. HC-27 concept
(click to view full)

Nov 13/14: USCG. The Coast Guard takes delivery of its first post-restoration C-27J Spartan, at the C-27J Asset Project Office (APO) in Elizabeth City, NC. It will be used to train and qualify Coast Guard aircrew and maintenance personnel, and to develop flight and maintenance procedures for Coast Guard-specific mission profiles.

While the aircraft was being restored by AMARG in Arizona, initial APO postings to Italy took place for training to be rated as C-27 pilots, and a hangar was prepped at the Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City. A second C-27J should complete regeneration before the end of 2014, and 2 others are expected to finish by mid-2015. At some point, these planes must go through modification to become HC-27A maritime patrol and transport aircraft. Sources: USCG, “Acquisition Update: First Coast Guard C-27J Arrives At Elizabeth City” | Seapower, “Coast Guard Receives First C-27J for Modification”.

July 18/14: USCG. The Coast Guard stands up its C-27J Asset Project Office in Elizabeth City, NC. The APO will eventually consist of 56 civilian and uniformed personnel, and will be responsible for working with both the USAF and the original manufacturer to ensure restoration and certification of the stored USAF C-27Js. They’ll also prepare a plan to bring the aircraft into the USCG and ensure that all training, spares, etc. are in place. The same process will take place for “missionization,” where sensors are added to make the aircraft useful for land and maritime surveillance and rescue roles. Sources: USCG, “Acquisition Update: C-27J Asset Project Office Commissioned”.

Dec 26/13: USCG. The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act is signed into law, locking in the transfer of the USAF’s 14 remaining C-27Js to the Coast Guard. Initial flight operations are scheduled to begin within 6-12 months, but a Jan 6/14 Alenia North America release shows that there’s more expense to come:

“The company also anticipates the USCG will immediately begin the process for expanding the C-27J’s capabilities with tailored mission kits to include surface-search radars, electro-optical sensors and mission suites installed on all 14 planes.”

The other good news for Alenia is that the conversions will give it another tested market offering for the C-27J line. Canada’s semi-serious Search & Rescue competition is the most obvious opportunity, as Canada reportedly values the C-27J’s speed advantage over the C295, and its tactical airlift convertibility. Alenia improves their odds of winning by having the USCG use their solution as a lead customer, giving them parity with the fully integrated C295 MPA. It’s also better to have the USCG pay to integrate all of the required equipment, instead of adding that cost to their bid in Canada. Sources: Govtrack, “H.R. 1960: National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014″ | Alenia NA, “14 Alenia Aermacchi C-27Js transferred to U.S. Coast Guard”.

Dec 11/13: 14 for USCG? USCG Vice-Commandant Vice Adm. John Currier testifies that the Coast Guard will halt its HC-144 Ocean Sentry (CN-235MP) buys at 18 planes. Instead of buying another 18 integrated HC-144s, they’ll integrate the equipment they want on a 2nd fleet of 14 C-27Js, which will be transferred free from the USAF.

This will save procurement costs for each base airframe, but the final savings could be a lot smaller than meets the eye. For starters, onboard sensors and equipment need to be bought, no matter which aircraft is used. Second, unless the MC-27J Praetorian gunship’s sensor fit-out and core architecture also meets the USCG’s needs, the USCG will also have to pay to integrate the new combination of plane and equipment. Once operational, the C-27J’s operating costs will be noticeably higher; it was designed for short take-off performance, tactical transport, and cruise speed, rather than for efficient flight and endurance. Finally, having a 2nd aircraft type adds costs for training infrastructure, spares, maintenance training, etc. Sources: US House Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, “Coast Guard Mission Execution: How is the Coast Guard Meeting Its Mission Goals?” | Examiner Science & Space, “Air Force to transfer aircraft to Coast Guard”.

Dec 9/13: Defense News conducts an interview with Finmeccanica North America CEO William Lynn. An excerpt:

“On the C-27 [cargo plane], I think most of the direct conversation is between the receiving entities in the Pentagon, the Coast Guard, the Forest Service and the special operations community. Right now, two-thirds of them will go to the Coast Guard and the other third will go to the special operations community. The Forest Service will get some Coast Guard C-130s. That is the way I understand. That seems to fit everyone, in that the C-27 is a very well positioned airplane for the Coast Guard mission. It is less well for the Forest Service, which could use a bigger airplane, hence the C-130.”

Sources: Defense News, “Finmeccanica Reworks To Strengthen US Presence” | Fire Aviation, “Legislation introduced to transfer 7 C-130Hs to US Forest Service”.

Nov 1/13: 7 to SOCOM. Defense News reports that SOCOM will receive 7 C-27Js for training purposes. None are being taken from “Type 1000″ near-ready storage; 3 will go to JFK Special Warfare Center as training aircraft, instead of the boneyeard, and another 4 are still under construction. That leaves 13 in storage right now, with 1 more set to join them. The C-27Js need to be declared “excess defense articles” before they can be assigned outside the military, and that hasn’t happened yet. The Coast Guard and Forestry Service will need to wait. Sources: Defense News, “US SOCOM To Get 7 C-27Js From USAF”.

Oct 14/13: What’s up? runs down the various American service branches and agencies interested in the USAF’s 21 discarded C-27Js. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Frank Kendall will make the final decision. Until then, they’re just being shipped from the factory to storage at the AMARG “boneyard” in Tucson, AZ.

The US Coast Guard wants all 21, to serve as medium range maritime surveillance planes alongside the existing CN235/HC-144 fleet. They estimate $1 billion in savings, which is more than the foregone airframe costs involved in buying more HC-144s. The C-27J is more expensive to operate than the CN235, so the math is a bit puzzling.

US special Operations Command wants 8, to replace aged C212 training aircraft at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School. SOCOM is a past operator of the C-27A.

The US Forestry Service wants 7 to serve as firefighting planes, and cites their excellent experiences with C-130s in this role. Then again, if the USAF gets its way, they may be able to pick up retired C-130s instead. Source: DoD Buzz, “Agencies Await Decision on C-27J’s Fate”.

Oct 7/13: Boneyard. Fox News:

“A dozen nearly new Italian-built C-27J Spartans have been shipped to an Air Force facility in Arizona dubbed “the boneyard,” and five more currently under construction are likely headed for the same fate, according to an investigation by the Dayton Daily News. The Air Force has spent $567 million on 21 of the planes since 2007, according to purchasing officials at Dayton’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Of those, 16 have been delivered – with almost all sent directly to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson…”

June 17/13: MC-27J. ATK and Alenia Aermacchi have made some progress on their armed variant, successfully completing Phase 1 with ground and flight tests of the GAU-23 Roll-On/Roll-Off 30mm Gun System pallet at Eglin AFB, FL. Interestingly, the test events were designed and certified by the USAF, and deemed successful by Air Force Special Operations Command.

SOCOM is the logical agency for this work, and had considered an AC-27J Stinger variant some time ago. One wonders if there’s any more to it than that, given the opportunity to pick up the airframes. Alenia.

May 10/13: The USAF issues a non-binding request to industry about buying more C-27Js, but it’s almost certainly an empty diversion. In response to a question from, USAF spokesperson Ann Stefanek writes that it’s:

“… in accordance with Congressional language that states “the Secretary of the Air Force shall obligate and expend funds previously appropriated for the procurement of C-27J Spartan aircraft for the purposes for which such funds were originally appropriated,”

The most likely outcome for the 21-plane fleet is conveyance to “The Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ for storage – unless some other service claims them. |

FY 2012

MC-27J armed variant. Clashing over costs, control, and doctrine. JCA to end? C-27J 3-view
(click to view full)

July 9/12: MC-27J. Alenia Aermacchi is going ahead with an armed MC-27J variant, creating a competition with EADS’ CN-235 gunship for countries that want a less expensive alternative to the C-130. The MC-27J is a collaboration with ATK, who was involved in Jordan’s CN-235 gunship conversion.

The MC-27J is designed to be a flexible special missions aircraft that can perform surveillance, gunship, command and control, or transport roles. Its RO-RO palletized system integrates enhanced electro-optical/infrared targeting sensors, a trainable 30mm cannon, precision guided munitions, advanced communications, and a networked mission management and fire control system. ATK will integrate precision weapons onto the platform, and developed a roll-on/ roll-off (RO-RO) GAU-23 30mm gun pallet that can be installed or removed in 4 hours.

Alenia has reportedly claimed interest from Australia (who is buying C-27Js) and Britain, and hopes this will add pressure to reverse the cancellation of American C-27J orders. Alenia Aermacchi | ATK | DoD Buzz.

March 13-17/12: Costs & Control Clash. Ohio Air National Guard Capt. Dave Lohrer publicly disputes the USAF’s operating cost figures for the C-27J. His brief argues that early analysis pegged the C-27J’s 25-year lifecycle costs at just $111 million, rather than the final $308 million figures used by the USAF in its justifications, and argues that the USAF both overstated flight-hour costs, and added 53 more airmen to staff and service the planes, pushing the cost up by over $100 million.

The USAF says the personnel numbers came from the Guard, and the Pentagon’s Cost Analysis and Program Evaluation (CAPE) group’s analysis suggests that the difference could stem from the basing of small 4-plane units at so many sites, instead of running much larger units from one base. The difference, if the C-27Js were based like C-130s? Just over $100 million, according to CAPE.

The more fundamental question is one of control. The USAF prefers to have pooled airlift assets, run from a central base, with scheduling several days in advance. That’s efficient from one perspective, but it loses both responsiveness, and the ability to substitute airlift for less efficient helicopter assets. The C-27J was based around a concept that gave control to the ground commander, a concept that was tried with both the C-130 test concept deployment, and the 2 C-27Js subsequently sent to Afghanistan. According to an Army briefing, 52% of planned C-27J sorties in Afghanistan changed within the 96-hour scheduling cycle. Naturally, the USAF doesn’t like this, and wants its go-forward understanding with the Army to give them the option of retaining control. Defense News | DoD Buzz | Gannett’s Air Force Times |

March 11/12: USCG? Gannett’s Navy Times reports that Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp maybe interested in the C-27Js, and has ordered a business case analysis for a mixed fleet of CN-235s (HC-144), HC-130Js, and C-27Js for maritime patrol. The Spartan’s C-130J commonality will help, but if it wants to mount the Coast Guard’s sensors, integration must be paid for. Still:

“[S]ometimes things fall in your laps and if we can get… basically free from the Air Force, we might be able to come up with the plan that would allow us a mix of the [CN-235s], a mix of the C-27s, and, oh by the way, that might put some extra money in our budget that we could devote to some of these other projects.”

Would the C-27J’s higher operating costs and shorter endurance than the HC-144 allow that happy financial outcome?

Feb 29/12: Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz are grilled at Congressional hearings over the C-27J and RQ-4B Block 30 Global Hawk cuts. While the Global Hawks are going into “recoverable storage”, the C-27J cancellation and potential sale receives criticism from both sides of the political aisle. The general thrust: the planes are new, they’re capable, why not just use them?

This is likely to become a familiar refrain, given pressures from state delegations to keep their National Guard airlift in state. That pressure would only intensify, if Alenia’s embargo makes it impossible for the USAF to recover costs by selling the planes abroad. A second possibility might involve reassignment to US Special Operations Command, as a free platform for conversion to AC-27J Stinger light gunships, or a combat transport role similar to the MC-130J. Aviation Week.

Feb 27/12: We’re not gonna take it. Alenia Aermacchi CEO Giuseppi Giordo gives an interview at Singapore’s air show, which throws a major wrench in American plans to re-sell the C-27J fleet. The contract itself reportedly has clauses that given Alenia discretion over resales, and if the USAF doesn’t reassign or store the Spartans:

“In fact, we will do our best – not only us, but the Italian government – not to support those planes. They can sell, but as the original equipment manufacturer, I will not give spares, not guarantee configuration control, and so on… First of all, the price that we have with the U.S. government is a very, very, low, low price because to win the competition we had to reduce the price. Second, the volume at the beginning was 145, then 78, then 38, now 21 with firm, fixed price. We are losing money. So, how can I allow the U.S. government to sell 21 airplanes they have in their inventory where I lose money and they also kill my international marketing?”

Alenia is perfectly within its rights here, on all points. It may be possible for a customer to get support anyway, via separate deal with Rolls Royce for the engines, a similar direct relationship approach for avionics, and a combination of locally-engineered and gray market parts. On the other hand, it would be expensive and risky. Giordo mentions South Africa, Nigeria, Ghana (bought C295s), Taiwan, Egypt, Oman, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia (makes CN-235s bought C-295s), Qatar and the UAE as potential markets for the C-27J. Of this list, only Taiwan seems plausible as a willing customer for a manufacturer-embargoed plane, and then only if a direct sale ran into political difficulties involving Italy and China.

The USAF’s delay of its T-X trainer competition to 2016 weakens its position further, and Giordo explicitly denies any concern about linkage between future M-346 sales and the C-27J dispute. Whether or not this is true, it clearly shows that Alenia has decided to proceed as if that linkage did not exist. Defense News | Lexington Institute.

Feb 23/12: USAF Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz discusses the C-27J cut, at an AFA conference:

“The C-27 decision was a particularly difficult one for me, because Gen. George Casey, when he was chief of staff of the Army, and I agreed that we would migrate the C-27 to the Air Force and I assured him that I wouldn’t back out… But that was $487 billion dollars ago… In the interim, we have demonstrated, I think convincingly, that the C-130 can do virtually all of the direct, time-sensitive mission critical support that the Army needs… We are committed to doing that or we will die trying… depend instead on the remarkable capability of 318 C-130s and an abundance of airdrop capability and other means to provide time-sensitive, mission-critical support…”

The issue for the Army has always been the USAF’s lower priority given to timely front-line support, which had made planes like the Caribou early targets for USAF budget cuts in the past. Whether the USAF wanted to cut the C-27J’s capability is one question. Faced with the same financial straitjacket, would the Army have made that same cut? DoD Buzz.

Jan 26/12: JCA to End? Preliminary FY 2013 budget materials discuss coming shifts in Pentagon priorities, as the US defense department moves to make future cuts. The USAF’s 38-plane C-27 fleet will now be eliminated entirely, and sold:

“The new strategic guidance emphasizes flexibility and adaptability. The C-­27J was developed and procured to provide a niche capability to directly support Army urgent needs in difficult environments such as Afghanistan where we thought the C­?130 might not be able to operate effectively. However, in practice, we did not experience the anticipated airfield constraints for C-­130 operations in Afghanistan and expect these constraints to be marginal in future scenarios. Since we have ample inventory of C-130s and the current cost to own and operate them is lower, we no longer need – nor can we afford – a niche capability like the C-­?27J aircraft. The Air Force and the Army will establish joint doctrine relating to direct support.”

The USAF will also retire 27 of its oldest C-5A Galaxy planes, and 65 old C-130 Hercules. As for the C-27Js, Australia has a formal sales request for 10 C-27Js, and had wanted to interoperate with the USAF’s JCA. A second-hand sale could guarantee that. Canada has also been touted as an export destination, for its search and rescue needs.

Then again, Congress could look at their states’ National Guards, and decide that they want the local airlift capabilities kept, come hell or high water. The final budget will tell the tale. Pentagon release | “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices” [PDF]

Jan 17/12: DOT&E The Pentagon releases the FY2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The C-27J is included. DOT&E deems the C-27J operationally effective, and it can operate from short (2,000 feet) unimproved or austere runways as promised. It isn’t “operationally suitable” yet, because required reliability and mission availability levels hadn’t been met yet. “Shortfalls in availability and in several subsystems adversely affect safety, situational awareness, or workload,” though correction had been implemented for the Heads-Up Display, and pallet jamming that was happening in the cargo handling system.

As of the report’s last collection date, which is a number of months ago, 10 C-27Js had been delivered, 20 crews had been trained, and 2 deployed to Afghanistan in August 2011.

Nov 8/11: At US Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on Counterfeit Electronic Parts in the DOD Supply Chain, it’s revealed that suspect electronic parts from China have been installed on a variety of military systems and subsystems, including C-27Js. This is, in part, a natural consequences of electronics life cycles vs. military life cycles, which forces the military to purchase parts from independent distributors or brokers. On the other hand, L-3 has a non-trivial problem:

“The Committee traced the counterfeit [display video memory] chips to Hong Dark Electronic Trade in Shenzhen, China, who sold the parts to Global IC Trading Group… which, in turn, sold them to L-3 Displays for use in display units. More than 500 display units containing suspect parts were sold to the Air Force, the Navy, and to defense contractors, intended for installation on the C-27J, C-130J, and C-17 aircraft, as well as on the CH-46… In total, the Committee identified nearly 30 shipments, totaling more than 28,000 electronic parts from Hong Dark to Global IC Trading Group that were subsequently sold to L-3. At least 14,000 of those parts have been identified as suspect counterfeit. Neither the Committee nor L-3 knows the status of the remaining 14,000 parts. L-3 has not yet identified what military systems they might be in.”

See: SASC hearing page | Testimony of L-3’s VP Corporate Procurement, Ralph L. DeNino | Sen. Levin Backgrounder | Boomberg.

FY 2011

Basing hot topic. C-27J, Monument Valley
(click to view full)

Sept 19/11: L-3 Integrated Systems notifies the USAF that 38 suspect counterfeit Samsung video memory chips were installed in the display units on 8 of the first 11 C-27J aircraft delivered. L-3 Display Systems had notified Alenia in November 2010, but L-3 IS didn’t get the memo until September 2011. The suspect part is a commercial-grade Samsung video memory chip, whose failure could cause a display unit to show a degraded image, lose data, or even go blank. L-3’s VP Corporate Procurement, Ralph L. DeNino later says:

“L-3 IS will take whatever corrective action its customer requests, and the current remedy is to replace the VRAM chips during normal scheduled depot maintenance unless a failure occurs for any reason that would necessitate immediate repairs… The C-27J program tracks avionics performance and failures by means of a Failure Reporting And Corrective Action System (FRACAS). After analyzing the FRACAS history through this past summer, there have been no abnormal failures attributed or noticed for the affected Mission Computers, CMDUs, BAUs or CMDS Test Sets. No degradation to performance has been observed due to these parts.”

August 15/11: Inauguration in Baltimore, MD of the 1st C-27J (of an expected 4, as per the above) in the 175th Wing. The Air National Guard in Maryland had lost its C-130Js in the BRAC process. 175th Wing.

August 5/11: Pending the results of an environmental review, the 120th Fighter Wing of the Montana Air National Guard (MANG) in Great Falls should be the location for a new Target Production Intelligence Group, where 4 C-27s are also scheduled to be transferred. See also Oct. 13/10 entry. Great Falls Tribune.

August 4/11: 2 C-27Js from the Ohio ANG’s 164th Airlift Squadron (part of 179th Airlift Wing) take off from Kandahar for their maiden combat flight. These planes operate within the new 702nd Expeditionary Airlift Squadron (EAS), a joint unit of the Air Force and Army. 451st Air Expeditionary Wing, Flight International | Mansfield News Journal.

July 20/11: L-3 Communications Integrated Systems in Greenville, TX receives a $16.9 million firm-fixed-price delivery order to “incorporate the purchase of deployment labor required to support the deployment of C-27J aircraft to Afghanistan.” The ASC/WLNJ at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (W58RGZ-07-D-0099).

June 27/11: Basing continues to be a hot topic, as Senators and state National Guard Adjutant Generals push to revise the Pentagon’s plans for buying and basing the C-27J.

The current plan is for 38 planes at 9 bases, with 4 planes at 8 Air National Guard bases, and 6 planes in the operational and training base in Meridian, MS. The argument is that 2 of the planes in each state are likely to be overseas, and 1 in maintenance assuming a pretty good 75% readiness rate. That would leave just 1 operational plane in each state to respond to state emergencies, or conduct training.

The Adjutants General in the 7 states named to host C-27Js so far want the USAF to change to 42 C-27Js, basing 5 each in 7 states, with 7 in Mississippi. That would leave one unassigned spare airframe, while 2 states that were to be named for C-27J bases would go without. Great Falls Tribune | Mansfield News Journal.

Dec 6/10: Aviation Week reports that some Italian C-27Js will be fitted with jamming equipment and ground-penetrating radar for the anti land-mine role. The USA’s larger EC-130H “Compass Call” Hercules aircraft can act in a similar jamming role, but lack the accompanying radar. Could a similar equipment set be in America’s future plans as well?

Oct 13/10: The USAF picks Great Falls International Airport, MT, as its preferred alternative to be the 7th operational location for C-27Js, holding 4 aircraft. This final basing decision for the 7th operational base is pending completion of environmental impact analysis, expected by May 2011. A final announcement is expected in June 2011, with aircraft delivery to the airport expected in mid-2014. USAF.

FY 2010

Effect of cutting units ordered. C-27J unloads HMMWV
(click to view full)

Aug 14-15/10: The 179th Airlift wing, based at Mansfield Lahm Airport in Ohio, becomes the first unit to formally convert to C-27J operations. The 179th previously flew C-130s. WMFD.

June 8-9/10: A group of airmen at Scott AB test C-27J aeromedical evacuation capabilities. The effort builds on a February 2010 exercise that tested several patient-carrying configurations, and standardized on 4. Work this time included electromagnetic interference evaluation of the aeromedical evacuation equipment, and timed evacuations of all patients and aircrew through all doors, including one of the emergency escape hatches, and other exercises. The goal was twofold: finishing C-27J MEDEVAC training regulations and operating instructions, and preparing for the C-27J’s Multi-Service Operational Test and Evaluation in summer 2010.

The C-27J’s short field capabilities mean that MEDEVAC shuttle roles may fall on it more heavily, since it can land on smaller strips and get closer to the front lines than a C-130 or C-17, while offering almost 3 times the speed of a helicopter. USAF.

June 7/10: Alenia North America announces a $319 million additional order for 8 C-27J JCAs. These aircraft are scheduled for delivery to Finmeccanica’s US partner L-3 Communications in 2012.

Finmeccanica marks US orders to date at $812 million for 21 C-27Js. The FY 2011 budget, as passed by the House, would include $351 million for another 8 planes. It must still be reconciled with any Senate bill, however, and then signed into law. Finmeccanica [PDF] | L-3 Communications

April 23/10: USAF officials release their C-27J basing choice criteria. After the release of the candidate bases, site surveys will be conducted and the formal environmental impact analysis process will begin. USAF officials expect to announce the candidate bases for C-27J formal training units in May 2010, and C-27J operations in June 2010. USAF | National Guard.

April 1/10: The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. It sketches out the effects of the sharp cut in the C-27J buy:

“JCA (Joint Cargo Aircraft) – Program costs decreased $2,077.3 million (-50.8%) from $4,087.8 million to $2,010.5 million, due primarily to a quantity decrease of 40 aircraft from 78 to 38 aircraft (-$1,370.0 million), and lower support costs associated with the quantity decrease (-$196.3 million). There were additional decreases due to a reduction in the estimate for maintenance training and depot standup costs (-$241.8 million), a reduction in estimated support costs based on a change to a firm-fixed price contract (-$155.1 million), and the application of revised escalation indices (-$89.6 million).”

Dec 9/09: The C-27J Joint Cargo Aircraft Schoolhouse formally opens at Warner Robbins AFB, GA. It will be used to train USAF and US Army pilots and loadmasters. The school actually transferred from Waco, TX and began operations here on Sept 9/10, when the first of 2 C-27J planes arrived, but the school will be under development through 2011. A mockup cockpit has already been installed, but not an operational flight trainer or a fuselage trainer.

Development of the school is a $1.8 million project, which includes $300,000 from the state of Georgia, $125,000 from the city of Warner Robins, GA and the Houston County Development Authority, and $50,000 from the Macon-Bibb Development Authority. At the ceremony, Army Col. Anthony Potts, the project manager for aviation systems, outlines the plane’s core rationale. In reality, the distinction is usually closer to 250 miles vs. 50 miles, but…

“This aircraft will provide the capability to fly in Afghanistan where they do not have the infrastructure to handle our larger aircraft… It will have the capability to get supplies not within 50 miles of our forces but within the last tactical mile.”

Nov 5/09: The front line “direct support” mission CONOP (CONcept of OPerations) test begins, using 2 USANG C-130s as C-27J surrogates since the C-27J won’t be operational until 2010. The concept gives the Senior Army Aviation Authority, or SAAA, tactical control of C-27J Air Force assets, which will be embedded with the SAAA.

According to Col. Gary McCue, the air liaison officer with the 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq, the direct support “squadron” flies 1 aircraft daily, with the 2nd aircraft on standby for immediate response, if necessary. Efforts will continue through December 2009. USAF.

Nov 2/09: A USAF article notes that the Air Force will fund the Army’s completion of the Multi-Service Operational Test and Evaluation, or MOT&E, since the Army lost its FY 2010 monies due to the RMD 802 memo. The MOT&E is scheduled for April 2010.

Air National Guard pilots and loadmasters from the 179th Airlift Wing in Mansfield, OH, and the 175th Wing in Baltimore, MD, will be the first operational C-27J crews to be trained and deployed. Another 2 Army National Guard units, Company H, 171st Aviation Regiment from Georgia and 1st Battalion, 245th Airfield Operations Battalion from Oklahoma, also will participate in the MOT&E.

Air Force officials expect to field 24 C-27Js at Air National Guard units in the following locations: Baltimore, MD; Mansfield, OH; Fargo, ND; Bradley Air Field, CT; Battle Creek, MI; and Meridian, MS.

Oct 26/09: A USAF article offers assurances that despite the program’s transfer to the USAF through the Pentagon’s April 2009 Resource Management Decision 802, work to get the aircraft ready for deployment continues, and expectations for the plane remain positive. Lt. Col. Gene Capone, AMC’s C-27J test manager at the Joint Program Office:

“The program is in transition from an Army-led joint program to a sole Air Force program… Making a switch like this is no small affair, especially at this phase in the acquisition process.”

Oct 19/09: Flight International has a video of 2 USAF Colonels who are answering questions regarding a number of C-130-related programs, including potential future gunships like the AC-27J, programs to add weapons to C-130s beyond the USMC’s KC-130Js, SOCOM programs, etc.

FY 2009

In budget crosshairs for no good reason? C-27J: takeoff begins…
(click to view full)

Sept 29/09: Flight International reports that 2 Ohio National Guard C-130s will deploy to Iraq in October to pose as surrogate platforms for the C-27J’s “direct support” mission. They will be assigned to a US Army brigade commander, rather than scheduled through a centrally planned transportation network, allowing them to move small amounts of cargo at will like the existing C-23B Sherpas.

Sept 16/09: Georgia’s adjutant general Maj. Gen. Terry Nesbitt isn’t happy with the JCA program cuts:

“If there has ever been a joint program that’s been done right, it’s this one. It went through several years of work. Now, somebody with the stroke of a pen decided to change all of that… [This kind of shift] has been tried a number of times, most notably in Vietnam. There they took the C-7 Caribous the Army was using and transferred them to the Air Force and it did not have a very good outcome. At least one division commander said he lost lives because he could not move troops, equipment and supplies around the battlefield the way he could when he managed that fixed-wing asset.”

Aug 11/09: Lt. Gen. Harry Wyatt III, director of the US Air National Guard, comments on the effects that the reduced C-27J buy will have on ANG units. Issues include more rotation of crews through overseas duties, 4 crews per plane rather than 2, heavier usage to keep al of those crews flight-ready, and higher maintenance and operating costs per plane:

“The concept of employment is that a rather large percentage of the 38 will be employed to theatre… (With 78 aircraft it) allows you to have a lower crew ratio because you have more aircraft to rotate through theatre and you have more crews… Because you’re going to be required to fly more hours, we’re probably going to have to look at increasing the amount of maintenance.”

May 15/09:. Gannett’s Air Force times reports that Air Force Special Operations Command’s plan to buy 16 C-27Js under the Joint Cargo Aircraft program, for conversion to AC-27J Stinger II gunships, has fallen apart with the removal of Army C-27J funding in the FY 2010 budget.

In response, they’re investigating a “Plan B” that would add roll-on, roll-off kits to its MC-130W Combat Spear fleet. The MC-130W program began in 2006 to replace combat losses of the MC-130E/H Combat Talon, but it is converted from older C-130H aircraft rather than the new “J” version of the Hercules. Read “The Right to Bear Arms: Gunship Kits for America’s C-130s” for the full report.

April 21/08: The Hill reports that the JCA program may become a quiet victim of the FY 2010 budget process:

“The Army, and in particular the Army National Guard, likely will no longer receive the C-27J Spartan, also known as the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA), under a new Pentagon plan, according to multiple sources at the Defense Department, in Congress and the defense industry… Instead of purchasing 78 or more C-27Js, the Pentagon could end up buying only 38 [and putting the USAF in charge of them], the sources told The Hill. Those who spoke asked for anonymity because details about the fate of the program have not been made public. Those details will be revealed when the Pentagon submits its budget request for fiscal 2010 in early May.”

Those rumors turn out to be true, via Resource Memorandum Decision 802. This is a somewhat puzzling move for a Secretary of Defense who has killed other programs by arguing that the Pentagon is shortchanging the current needs of troops on the ground. Those comments may be turned around and thrown back during a strong fight from affected state Congressional delegations – especially those whose state Air National Guard detachments have limited or no flying hours left in their C-130E/H aircraft.

April 20/09: L-3 Communications announces a $203 million order from the JCA Joint Program Office for 7 more C-27Js, bringing the current order total to 13. The original $2.04 billion contract included 3 Low-Rate Initial Production years; according to L-3 representatives, this would be the 3rd and final LRIP lot. After that, the 2007 contract for up to 78 planes is supposed to transition into 2 Full-Rate Production years before it ends in June 2012. L-3’s release adds that:

“With the first two C-27J aircraft delivered and crew training under way, the program continues to progress on schedule and on budget. Following the on-time delivery of the first aircraft in 2008, the first C-27J JCA training class commenced in November 2008, preparing pilots and loadmasters to perform multiple mission roles and serve as instructors.”

On the other hand, manufacturing is still taking place in Europe. Defense News reports that Alenia’s on-again, off-again talks with Boeing to run a final assembly line in Jacksonville, FL broke off again in February 2009. Alenia is reportedly prepared to go it alone if necessary, and now plans to have a Jacksonville final assembly plant operational in April 2010 – just in time for the full-rate production orders.

Whether this trans-Atlantic arrangement would immediately be able to handle full-rate production volumes that would have to produce 32 aircraft per year, in order to deliver all 78 C-27Js envisaged under the 2007 contract, is less clear.

Oct 16/08: Florida Governor Charlie Crist witnesses the official signing of an agreement between Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton and executives from Alenia North America. In it, Alenia commits to a C-27J final assembly and delivery center at Cecil Commerce Center in Jacksonville. Alenia plans to add 300 new jobs, and invest about $42 million in manufacturing equipment, technology, infrastructure and furniture, along with $65 million in construction costs.

The project received $1.9 million in state incentives, as well as economic incentives from the city and the Jacksonville Airport Authority (JAA). Local Congressman Ander Crenshaw [R-FL]:

“I worked hard with my colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee to ensure full funding for this vital national security program in the recent Department of Defense spending bill. It was a tough fight, but in the end the needs of our men and women in uniform prevailed… This announcement continues to solidify Jacksonville’s reputation as a military aviation center of excellence and I look forward to working with this team in Jacksonville and Washington.”

Oct 16/08: The first of 78 C-27Js Spartans ordered under the JCA program is delivered in a formal ceremony held in Waco, TX. The aircraft had been presented to the joint program office, on time and on budget, on Sept 25/08. L-3 presentation release | Finmeccanica ceremony release.

Oct 13/08: Gannett’s Air Force Times reports that:

“Two conflicting congressional estimates on the cost of the C-130J and hearty endorsements from the Air Force Chief of Staff are blunting the impact of a congressional recommendation that the Air Force stop buying the JCA…”

FY 2008

Milestone C. Not so joint in spirit. JCA C-27J: first flight
(click to view full)

Sept 9/08: DoD Buzz reports that Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command, reiterated his strong support for the C-27J “Stinger II” gunship at the US Air Force Association’s annual meeting. During his presentation, Wurster said AFSOC is looking to field about 16 of these aircraft.

Read “AC-XX Gunship Lite: A C-27J ‘Baby Spooky’ ” for more.

Aug 18/08: The US DoD releases its current Selected Acquisition Reports, and the JCA is included as a new program, adding that “The USD (AT&L) approved the Milestone C Decision in an Acquisition Program Baseline dated April 17, 2008.”

Baseline funding is set at $4.088 billion, which at least establishes the base program as a full joint endeavor for the initially contemplated 145 aircraft. The long-term question is whether that status will last.

July 25/08: Aviation Week’s aerospace daily and defense report notes that the Pentagon’s 2008 budget reprogramming request includes $32 million to turn a C-27J into a small prototype gunship, using “proven/known” weapons and systems. Aviation Week also asserts that negotiations with Boeing to build an American C-27J plant in Jacksonville, FL have restarted.

July 13/08: EADS North America COO John Young is quoted pre-Farnborough, and says that his firm has no plans to assemble the C-27J at the planned Mobile, AL factory. He also says that to his knowledge, no conversations have taken place with Alenia. A Defense News report adds that impromptu talks could still be held at Farnborough, but observes that internal politics and EADS-CASA’s likely objections would make this a difficult sell within EADS. Meanwhile, Finmecanica does need to arrive at a solution:

“The decision has to be made very soon, because if it’s Jacksonville, work must start on building the line by year end,” the Alenia spokesman said.”

July 7/08: Defense News floats rumors that Alenia may seek a partnership with EADS and Northrop Grumman, in order to begin building the C-27J at the Mobile, AL facility that is slated to assemble the A330F and the USA’s KC-45 aerial tanker. This would give the Mobile, AL facility a solid block of orders that would let it staff up and gain experience, while the USA’s tanker selection process is delayed in a renewed selection process and political infighting.

June 16/08: The first C-27J for the Army’s JCA program makes its maiden flight in “poor” weather conditions near turn, Italy. JCA #1 took off from Alenia’s Caselle plant, marking the beginning of a flight test campaign including approximately 70 hours of flight and 180 hours of ground tests. Alenia release [PDF]

June 5/08: Reports indicate that Boeing has pulled out of its partnership with Alenia, after failing to reach agreement on sub-contracting arrangements that would have created a new production facility in Jacksonville, FL. An Alenia official said the C-27J would still be assembled in Jacksonville, and reiterated their commitment to delivering the aircraft on time. The Hill | Forbes

Feb 14/08: Perhaps the forced conversion of the C-27J to a joint program was a serious mistake. Aviation Week reports that studies contend the USAF will have little use for the C-27J, though the US Army needs it. Key excerpts:

“…the reports – including a study by Rand Corp. and the separate Joint Intra-theater Airlift Fleet Analysis Mix – are complete… all the reports contend that the U.S. Air Force should not acquire the two-engine Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA)… “We operated C-27s in Panama for years and the [benefit] doesn’t justify the cost,” says a long-time airlift commander and acquisition official. “And we know that the Rand report pooh-poohs JCA for the Air Force. The Army needs it, but the Air Force has no business with a two-engine aircraft…

By comparison, the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, told JCA briefers that he cared far less about efficient airlift, according to a participant in the discussion. “Instead, he wanted effective airlift that is available when he needs it…”

Meanwhile, Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) wants to turn the C-27J into a light gunship that can get in and out of small landing strips, and has placed $74.8 million for 2 C-27Bs in its FY 2008 unfunded requirements list. Gunships can be huge difference-makers in counterinsurgency firefights, and the request would see AFSOC gain new light transports 2 years ahead of schedule. Aviation Week: “Pentagon Withholding Airlift Info.”

Oct 15/07: US Air Force Association’s Daily Report has a blurb about JCA:

JCA Face-off Coming: Apparently the Army vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, has made at least one call to further the Army’s push to retain control of its own fixed-wing tactical airlift capability, specifically the new Joint Cargo Aircraft. One call went to Sen. Carl Levin, who responded with some questions in a letter to Cody, a copy of which we obtained. The Army and Air Force jointly have pursued the JCA program, but lawmakers have been at odds over the role of the Army in tactical airlift. Some say the Army should continue to fly its own fixed wing airlifters, while others believe the issue is part of a larger roles and missions creep that has led to duplication of effort. The matter, writes Levin, will be subject of discussion in the conference over the 2008 defense authorization bill. He asked Cody to respond to eight questions by Oct. 12. Levin questions whether the Pentagon will gain greater effectiveness and efficiency from two services performing the same mission and why the Army believes the Air National Guard would provide “reduced support” compared to the Army National Guard if ANG flies the tactical airlift missions for homeland defense and disaster relief. (We’ve reproduced the letter here [PDF].)”

David Axe adds that:

“[The C-27J] a rugged, reliable airplane, and it’ll do wonders for short-range airlift. That is, if the services can stop fighting over the plane and focus on getting it into service. You see, no sooner had the so-called “Joint Cargo Aircraft” program picked up steam than the Air Force started calling into question the very notion of the Army having its own fixed-wing planes. Now Congress has entered the fray, slicing one of the first four C-27s from the budget and asking for more “roles and missions” studies…”

Oct 10/07: GAO decisions may not be released to the public until weeks after the decision date. Aviation Week’s Aerospace Daily & Defense Report says that the U.S. Army picked the C-27J for the Joint Cargo Aircraft (JCA) program, despite its higher cost, because of concerns about the C-295’s ability to meet certain performance requirements. Evaluators decided that the C-27J had a “superior military operational envelope,” and provided superior military utility, demonstrating an ability to exceed many of basic performance requirements by significant margins. The C-295 was able to demonstrate the required performance during the program’s Early User Survey (EUS), but only with caveats, the details of which were withheld by GAO.

One hint from the GAO decision is that the C-295 reportedly raised concerns about its ability to meet the “threshold” requirement to fly at 25,000 feet pressure altitude while carrying a crew of 4, a 12,000-pound payload, and enough fuel for a 1,200-nautical mile mission plus 45 minutes reserve. GAO did disclose that the C-295 could only meet that and certain other JCA requirements through the use of a “new operational mode,” which was not described but was confirmed as not yet certified by the FAA(Federal Aviation Administration). Aviation Week report | Full GAO decision [PDF]

FY 2007

GAO protest from losers dismissed.

Sept 27/07: The Congressional Government Accountability Office (GAO) dismisses the Raytheon/EADS protest (see June 22/07 item), and reconfirms the selection of the C-27J Spartan for the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force Joint Cargo Aircraft program. Alenia North America release [PDF format] | Finmeccanica release [PDF].

June 26/07: Stephen Trimble of Flight International Magazine says JCA should stand for “Just Confusing Aircraft”:

“The plot continues to thicken on the mystery of the Joint Cargo Aircraft contract. As I reported in Flight International magazine this week, I have received three different official estimates for cost and aircraft quantity, The joint programme office says the contract will cost $2 billion to buy 78 aircraft [DID: $26.15M each]. L-3 Communications, the selected prime contractor, claims the $2 billion will buy 55 aircraft [DID: $37.1M each]. The US Air Force, meanwhile, tells me that they’re both wrong and that the whole $2 billion figure is a “misprint”. According to the USAF, the actual cost is $1.5 billion and it’s going to buy 40 aircraft [DID: $37.5M each]. I have not seen a more confusing post-contract award scenario yet.”

June 22/07: The Team JCA partnership led by Raytheon Company and EADS CASA North America files an award protest with the US Congress’ Government Accountability Office.

The protest centers on 3 key claims: (1) That the JCA source selection board rated Team JCA equal to its competitor on all non-price factors in its criteria, including technical, logistics, management/production and past performance. (2) That they beat its competition’s price by more than 15% (3) That there were errors in the specific evaluation of data and the application of the evaluation criteria. Raytheon release.

C-23B Sherpa
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June 12/07: L-3 Communications Integrated Systems, LP of Greenville, TX received a firm-fixed price contract estimated at $2.04 billion for up to 78 Joint Cargo Aircraft (C-27J Spartan). This includes pilot and loadmaster training, and contractor logistics support for the United States Army and Air Force. A total of 4 bids were received under the full and open competition in response to the March 17/06, request for proposals (Team L-3/Alenia’s C-27J; Team Raytheon/EADS-CASA C-295M and C-235; Lockheed Martin’s shortened C-130J).

The contract consists of three 12-month ordering periods for Low-Rate Initial Production, plus two 12-month options for Full-Rate Production. Work in the United States will be performed at Waco, TX. Aircraft manufacture will occur in Pomigliano (near Naples) and Turin-Caselle in Italy; and in The Czech Republic). Work is to be complete by June 30/12. The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL issued the contract (W58RGZ-07-0099). GMAS release [PDF] | Finmeccanica release [PDF format] | L-3 release [PDF format]

March 7/07: In testimony before the House Armed Services Committee Air & Land Forces Subcommittee, Congressional Research Service defense specialist Christopher Bolkcom says, inter alia [PDF format]:

“The C-130 may be too big to adequately support these operations as it generally requires 3,500 – 5,000 feet of runway to operate. In South America and Central America, for instance, only 5% of all airstrips are 5,000 feet or longer. In Africa, only 15% of all airstrips meet this criterion. While the Air Force C-130 community is rightly proud of its ability to operate from unprepared surfaces such as roads or even fields, such operations are the exception, and not the norm.”

His testimony also looks into the issues involved in operating from unprepared runways, the difficulties that can be involved in supplying these remote air bases, UAVs’ potential for very light remote resupply (something SOCOM is already doing), and the tentative nature of the JCA program owing to the USAF’s lack of commitment.

Earlier developments… For an examination of the different levels of urgency and priority in the US Army and US Air Force and the resulting Congressional SNAFUs, and covered early-stage developments leading up to the award, see: “The JCA Program: Key West Sabotage?

Additional Readings Background: JCA

Background: Competitive Aircraft

News & Views

Categories: News

Astute Buy? Britain Spends Big on its Next Fast Submarines

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 16:00
Astute, pre-launch
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Britain retired its nuclear-powered 4,900t SSN Swiftsure Class fast attack boats in 2010, and has begun phasing out its follow-on 5,300t SSN Trafalgar Class, before the effects of the ocean’s constant squeezing and release start making them dangerous to use. The last Trafalgar Class boat is expected to retire by 2022, and replacements were required. Submarines are considered to be a strategic industry in Britain, which remains committed to nuclear-powered submarines for their entire fleet. As such, there was never any question of whether they’d design their own. The new SSN Astute Class were designed to be stealthier than the Trafalgars, despite having 39% more displacement at 7,400t submerged.

Britain’s 6 Swiftsure and 7 Trafalgar Class boats will eventually find themselves replaced by 7 of the new Astute Class. The new submarine class has had its share of delays and difficulties, but the program continues to move forward with GBP 2.75 billion in contracts over the past week.

The New Astute Class SSNs Astute Class concept
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Nuclear weapons are reserved for Britain’s 4 SSBN Vanguard Class boats, but the Royal Navy’s SSNs have a unique role of their own in their fleet. They’re the only platforms used to launch long-range UGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missiles, in order to deliver conventional strikes against land targets. Other navies also use surface ships for this role, but Britain chose not to.

The Astute Class will offer the novel feature of a bunk for each submariner, at the cost of more cramped layouts, and is the 1st British submarine to use an optronic day/night periscope that doesn’t pierce the hull. That periscope may allow the British to move the attack center control room in later boats of class from the top level Deck 1, to a roomier section in Deck 2 and a bit aft. In either case, they’ll be using a common base computing environment for critical systems. The attack center will have more to control, too. Torpedo tubes go from 5 to 6, and a larger weapons room roughly doubles capacity to 36-38 UGM-109 Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles and Spearfish heavyweight torpedoes. Another weapon will be launched from the large lockout chamber aft of the fin, which allows SBS commandos to exit the sub underwater into a dry deck shelter. A mini-submarine can be mated to the DDS for added mobility.

Astute Class boats have worked to add stealth enhancements via rafted sections throughout, plus new coatings, exterior tiles, and paints. On the listening end, a new 2076 Stage 5 sonar system combines arrays all over the submarine, and it reportedly surprised the US Navy during qualification exercises against a Viginia Class boat. As usual for modern submarines, the Astute Class will also carry advanced electronic eavesdropping gear for quiet above-water snooping. High-bandwidth communications round out key electronics improvements, and allow fast transmission of intercepted signals to Royal Navy vessels or agencies like GCHQ.

A new reactor design won’t require refueling during the submarine’s operating life, which saves hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s mated to a new control system that includes independent diving plane controls handled by a new, complex autopilot system. The control system has been praised by its commanders, but the submarine won’t be able to reach its advertised top speed.

Building the SSNs
click for video

The first 3 Astute Class boats cost about GBP 1.22 billion each (about $2.4 billion in 2008), a price tag that’s very similar to the USA’s new 7,300t Virginia Class.

After HMS Astute has come S120 Ambush, with S121 Artful, S122 Audacious, S123 Anson, S124 Agamemnon, and S125 Ajax in various stages of planning, construction, and testing. All Astute Class submarines will be based at HM Naval Base Clyde, where a GBP 150 million state-of-the-art jetty was built for them.

Contracts & Key Events, 2007 – Present 2014

Control room
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Nov 18/14: Sub-contractors. Cohort plc subsidiary SEA Communications receives a GBP 23 million (about $37.5 million) contract from BAE Systems to deliver their “Project Aurora” external communications systems (ECS) for integration into the UK Royal Navy’s submarine fleet, including the Astute Class. It builds on their Coherency for Submarines (CCSM) system, which already serves on upgraded Trafalgar Class SSNs.

ECS’ biggest selling feature is that it works to make the hardware an independent consideration, allowing a simpler and cheaper approach to upgrades. This is Phase 1 of a 2-phase program, and SEA expects another significant order in 2015. Sources: SEA, “Case Study: Submarine External Communication System (ECS) ‘Project Aurora'” [PDF] | SEA, “SEA secures £23m deal to enhance submarine communications”.

Oct 10/14: #2. HMS Ambush returns to HMNB Clyde after a successful maiden mission that lasted about 4 months. The boat left Falsane on July 4/14 to visit Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, before heading for the North Atlantic and the United States. Sources: Royal Navy, “HMS Ambush returns to Clyde after international deployment”.

Oct 7/14: #1: HMS Astute returns to HMNB Clyde after an 8-month deployment. The submarine’s Lady Sponsor, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Rothesay (The Duchess of Cornwall), joins senior naval officers and over 150 friends and family to welcome her return at a special ceremony at Faslane.

That’s the kind of sponsor you want for your vessel! Sources: Royal Navy, “Happy Homecoming for HMS Astute”.

May 19/14: #3. The 97m long Artful is launched into the water at Barrow-in-Furness. She is scheduled to begin sea trials in 2015. Sources: Royal Navy, “Artful enters the water as latest hunter killer submarine is launched”.

March 26/14: Recognition. Northrop Grumman announces that they’ve received the Customer Focus Award from BAE Systems Maritime-Submarines, in recognition of the role Sperry Marine has played in supplying the Astute Class platform management system (PMS) for the U.K. Ministry of Defence’s (MOD) Astute nuclear-powered submarine program. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman Wins Supplier Award for Role in Royal Navy’s Astute Submarine Programme”.

March 23/14: Mini-sub. British media spot HMS Astute moored off of Gibraltar with a new mini-sub attached to the dry-deck shelter (q.v. Dec 3/12). The mini-sub can reportedly carry 8 Special Boat Service Commandos in full assault gear:

“Before it was mounted to the top of the HMS Astute, the miniature submarine had to be airlifted by helicopter to seas near its destination…. The miniature submarine, codenamed ‘Project Chalfont’, has been tested since it was installed in 2012, but this is the first time it will reach active service…. The miniature submarine’s main duties are for counter intelligence, as it allows for incredibly covert ops from discreet locations, and will now be able to deploy while hidden underwater, rather than having to travel by helicopter, which runs the risk of revealing its position.”

The dry-deck shelter can also be used in simple swim-out mode, without a mini-submarine. Sources: Daily Mail, “Britain’s super-sub: Navy unveils James Bond-style mini submarine carried on board HMS Astute which can launch from under water”.


NAO Report; Failure at Devonport dockyard raises concern over nuclear responsibility; Radiation leak highlights aging submarines issue; Sub-contracts for boats #6-7. HMS Astute &
HMS Dauntless
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Oct 6/13: Not good. The Independent newspaper reports that a 90-minute breakdown of all reactor coolant supply at Devonport dockyard’s Tidal X-Berths in Plymouth, UK nearly led to a major nuclear incident. Based on a heavily redacted report from the Ministry of Defence’s Site Event Report Committee (SERC), both the electrical power for coolant supply to docked nuclear submarines, and the diesel back-up generators, failed at the dockyard on July 29/12. That failure followed a similar failure involving HMS Talent in 2009, and a partial failure involving HMS Trafalgar in 2011.

The newspaper adds that an internal Babcock investigation blamed the incident on the central nuclear switchboard, but added a note of concern about “inability to learn from previous incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports.” This will not help existing uneasiness over the next generation of nuclear submarines, and “Nuclear scare at Navy submarine base after ‘unbelievable’ failures” adds that:

“Its own “stress test” on Devonport safety, launched after the Fukushima disaster, said that in the event of the failure of both power supplies, heat levels in reactors could be controlled by emergency portable water pumps, and added that such a failure had occurred a “number of times” previously.”

Dockyard failure

Sept 20/13: #3 named. The 3rd Astute Class submarine is formally named “Artful” in a ceremony. The ship’s crew also picks a mascot, in keeping with the ship crest chosen in 1945 by the Admiralty Advisor on Heraldry. “Artful” is a ten-month-old baby ring-tailed lemur at South Lakes Wild Animal Park. While it isn’t a monkey, it is a prosimian primate, and lemurs are generally threatened or endangered throughout their homes in Madagascar. No word on whether the ship’s motto will change to the Latin translation of “We like to move it!” Sources: UK MoD release, Sept 20/13 | Royal Navy release, Sept 20/13.

Sept 10/13: Sub-contractors. DCNS signs their latest contract with BAE Systems for high-efficiency heat exchangers. This one covers 4 sets, for Astute Class boats 6 and 7. The last one will be delivered in mid-2016. Sources: DCNS, Sept 10/13 release.

Sept 10/13: Sub-contractors. Northrop Grumman’s Sperry subsidiary has supplied the final batch of Platform Management System hardware for the S123 Anson (#5), and remains under contract for submarines 4, 6, and 7. The systems do pretty much what you’d expect: control and monitor most of the submarine’s machinery and onboard systems. Sources: NGC, Sept 10/13 release.

July 18/13: #6. Keel laid for Agamemnon at BAE’s Barrow-in-Furness facility. Sources: Royal Navy, July 18/13 release.

May 28/13: SSOP. Thales UK signs a 10-year, GBP 600 million Sensor Support Optimisation Project (SSOP) with the Ministry of Defence. It extends the 2003 Contractor Logistics Support deal that covered electronic warfare/ ESM and sonar system support on an array of submarines and surface ships. Coverage on the Astute Class includes all electronic warfare and ESM sensors, the sonar, and the optronic mast. Read “SSOP: Britain Extends Contracting Innovations into Naval Sensors” for full coverage.

May 25/13: Sub-contractors. Applied Integration in Stokesley, North Yorkshire wins a “multi-million pound” deal to design “visual mechanisms allowing Royal Navy operators and sailors to manage conditions” on S124 Agamemnon and S125 Ajax. Sounds like they’re building touch displays that integrate with platform management and other systems.

This is the firm’s 3rd nuclear submarine contract, and the small firm has consistently delivered beyond its contracts while winning business against larger firms. Co-founder Lee Raywood says something we don’t see often enough in releases and reports: “Our senior engineers are truly exceptional and our staff deserve great credit for our success.” That attitude might have something to do with the fact that their teams win. Sources: The Northern Echo, “Applied Integration, in Stokesley, North Yorkshire, wins contract to supply control systems for HMS Agamemnon and HMS Ajax”.

May 20/13: Bernard Gray, the UK MoD’s Chief of Defence Materiel, talks about the Astute program experience during a Public Accounts Committee hearing concerning carrier strike. Excerpts:

“While I appreciate that the defence industry will quite often say that it wishes to be left alone, thank you very much, my experience is that that is not on the whole a good idea. It is fair to say that on most occasions when I have pushed on specific issues, they are not as well covered off as they should be. If I just let a contract and walked away and invited defence contractor A to get on with it and “Do just please drop by and deliver the equipment at the end of it and I’ll write you a cheque”, I am unlikely to get that equipment.

….If I can take you back to the most salient example of this, in the Astute programme we did what you suggested. It was a disaster. From 1996 to 2003 we let them get on with it. We had a contract and that is what we cared about. In 2003, it almost broke BAE Systems. It cost them hundreds of millions of pounds. We then had to step back in, reformulate the programme and effectively recuperate the whole of our submarine-building activity, which is something that is only beginning to come right some 10 years after that disaster…. My point is that the happy-go-lucky world of us writing out a contract and then allowing industry to get on with it is not one that I live in.”

Sources: HC 113 Public Accounts Committee Session 2013-14, “Public Accounts Committee – Minutes of Evidence.”

May 8/13: HMS Ambush. Without mentioning its April breakdown, the Royal Navy describes its “raft up” exercise to moor alongside RFA Diligence at sea, “assisted by a cluster of tugs”. RFA Diligence is the Royal Navy’s sole vessel for submarine support. They’re still talking about “early 2014″ as the submarine’s operational date. Sources: Royal Navy, May 8/13 release.

HMS Ambush sea trials

April 11/13: Schedule. Without ever mentioning HMS Ambush’s breakdown the previous day, the Royal Navy puts out a press release that says HMS Astute will be operational in 2013, after hot weather trials and operational sea training. S119 Astute was commissioned on Aug 27/10.

HMS Ambush [S120] will go through the same trials and training and “be ready to deploy in early 2014.” It remains to be seen what effect yesterday’s breakdown will have on that schedule. Royal Navy.

April 10/13: HMS Ambush. HMS Ambush is towed back to the Faslane naval base after coming to an unexpected halt in the middle of Gare Loch. Crew members are seen by local anti-nuclear protesters standing on top of the vessel, which was venting steam and surrounded by 3 tugs. The exact problem still isn’t clear, as the MoD would say only that:

“Following HMS Ambush’s maintenance period, undertaken at HM’s Naval Base Clyde, an issue with a non-nuclear system was identified. A decision was taken to return it to the base to allow remedial action to take place.”

See: Herald Scotland | The Scotsman.

HMS Ambush breaks down

March 10/13: Aging fleet. Britain’s Daily Express says that Britain’s submarine fleet is now finding it difficult to maintain patrols around the Falkland Islands, even as Argentina becomes more aggressive:

“THE Navy is finding it “increasingly difficult” to deploy a nuclear hunter-killer submarine to patrol British waters around the Falkland Islands. Senior sources made the warning last night, three weeks after the Sunday Express reported exclusively that the forced return of HMS Tireless [due to a reactor leak] means that just one of Britain’s five Trafalgar-class submarines is fully operational and even that is about to undergo a brief period of maintenance after duties in the Middle East…. HMS Torbay is undergoing maintenance, HMS Trenchant will need servicing after its deployment in the Middle East, HMS Talent is awaiting decommissioning and HMS Triumph, which should have been decommissioned last year, is being used for training.

HMS Astute, the first of our new £1.2billion Astute class submarines, is still not fully operational.”

Aging fleet

March 1/13: S120. A formal commissioning ceremony takes place at Naval Base Clyde for the 2nd boat in the class, though its sea trials aren’t finished yet. There ceremony comes fully 2 1/2 years after the commissioning of HMS Astute.

In January 2013, BAE Systems was granted a Certificate of Acceptance for Ambush, formalizing the transfer from the builder to the Ministry. UK MoD

HMS Ambush commissioned

Feb 25/13: Sub-contractors. Thales announces a contract from BAE for the last 2 Sonar 2076 systems in the Astute program, to equip Agammemnon and Ajax as long-lead buys. Those are the last submarines in the program.

A complete sonar system includes both inboard and outboard of the bow, fin, intercept and flank arrays, and the associated inboard processing. The cost of this contract isn’t announced, but based on past contracts, it’s more than GBP 60 million.

Feb 22/13: BAE’s overall results were down in 2012, but the submarine yard in Barrow is one of the bright spots, thanks to work on the Astute SSN program and the Successor Class next-generation SSBN. North-West Evening Mail.

Feb 17/13: Radiation Leak. The Trafalgar Class fast attack boat HMS Tireless experiences a small reactor coolant leak. It’s contained within the sealed reactor compartment, but the submarine will be out of action for 10 months in drydock. The boat was launched in 1984, had experienced a previous radiation leak off of Gibraltar in 2000, and was due for decommissioning in 2013. The only reason this wasn’t the end of her career is the Astute program’s delays, which led to Navy to extend her planned service to 2017.

The incident underscores the issues involved in operating submarines beyond their expected lifetimes. It also underscores issues with British force structure. Right now, the Royal Navy has 7 SSNs, but HMS Tireless is out of action, HMS Astute still isn’t fully operational after running aground in 2010, and a 3rd boat is in maintenance. That leaves just 4 operational submarines, instead of the recommended 7 + 1 spare. Scottish Express.

Feb 13/13: Reactors. The UK MoD signs a 10-year, GBP 800 million (then about $1.2 billion) contract with Rolls Royce, financing the Submarines Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP) envisioned in the 2010 SDSR. The goal is to consolidate costs under one contract with consistent incentives, and improve operational efficiency in the infrastructure that delivers and supports the UK’s naval nuclear propulsion systems. They’re hoping for a GBP 200 million saving over this 10 years. Time will tell.

SEPP isn’t technically part of any one program. Contracts for products and services to deliver and support the submarine programs themselves will continue in parallel. Royal Navy | Rolls Royce.

Feb 1/13: Sub-contractors. Babcock announces a contract to supply its weapon handling and launch system (WHLS) for the 6th and 7th Astute class submarines, with a total value around GBP 55 million.

The WHLS and its combat system interfaces were developed to handle the complicated task of loading, moving, and readying large weapons like heavy torpedoes, missiles, mines, etc. within the confined space of a submarine. Babcock’s Weapons Handling Equipment (WHE) sub-system uses a semi-automated and modular approach to maximize storage, and a “unique” method of shock mounting that offers adaptable protection according to the number of weapons stored on each stowage tier. Babcock’s programmable firing valve (PFV) technology allows the system to match the launch requirements precisely to a range of variables including weapon type, boat speed and depth, using less air and making less noise.

Babcock WHLS systems are used in Britain’s Astute Class, and a variant will also be featured in Spain’s diesel-electric S-80 boats.

Jan 13/13: NAO Report. Britain’s National Audit Office releases their 2012 Major Projects Report [PDF]. The Astute Class is featured, and the table of planned vs. actual cost, time, and performance for various milestones on pg. 39 is interesting, but most of the program’s major dislocations lie in the past. They do offer a quick update regarding the fleet’s progress.

The Astute Class Training Service (ACTS) has provided training for the ships companies of both HMS Astute and Ambush, and delivered its 1st Submariner Qualification course for the Royal Navy.

S120 Ambush, launched in January 2011, has finished fitting out and is in trials and testing, following her first test dive in the shipyard’s basin in early October 2011.

S121 Arful continues construction in the Devonshire Dock Hall at Barrow, and “is making good progress”. Diesel Generator Trials successfully completed in August 2011.

S122 Audacious has had all hull and casing units moved to the Devonshire Dock Hall.

S123 Anson recently got underway with manufacturing, following her October 2011 keel-laying.

2011 – 2012

Main contract for boat #4 Audacious; Grouped long-lead work for boats #5-7; Common Combat System coming for boats #3-7; Various sub-contracts; #2 Ambush goes to trials; #5 Ansom keel-laying. Ambush, pre-trials
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Dec 10/12: #5-7 lead ins. The UK Ministry of Defence awards BAE a GBP 1.5 billion contract to begin early build work on S123 Anson, and begin long-lead time buys of supplies like nuclear reactors for boats #6 Agamemnon & #7 Ajax. The Ministry of Defence touts these contracts as safeguarding 3,000 skilled jobs at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

Anson is named after after Admiral of the Fleet George Anson, who died in 1762 at the age of 65. Agamemnon & Ajax are 2 famous Greek heroes of the Trojan War. UK MoD.

Long-lead items and work on S123 – S125

Dec 10/12: #4. The UK Ministry of Defence awards BAE a GBP 1.2 billion contract to finish building S122 Audacious, the 4th of 7 planned Astute Class attack submarines. This brings total announced contracts to GBP 1.4 billion (q.v. May 21/07 entry), which is around $2.25 billion at current conversions. The boat is about half way through its build process, and subsequent NAO reports estimate her commissioning in January 2018. The Guardian is less than impressed, pointing out that:

“HMS Astute cannot reach the top speed the MoD boasted it could, sprang a leak that required it to perform an emergency surfacing, and was fitted with electrical circuit boards that failed the navy’s safety standards. A lead-lined water jacket, which surrounds the submarine’s nuclear reactor, was also constructed with metal of the wrong quality. And the living quarters for the 98-strong crew are also more cramped than those on submarines made more than 50 years ago… However, the navy is adamant the vessel can overcome the difficulties.”

Despite its launch in 2007 and commissioning in 2010, HMS Astute is still undergoing sea trials. These have included deep dive trials, and the successful firing of Tomahawk land attack missiles and Spearfish torpedoes. The 2nd submarine, Ambush, is also in sea trials that have tested diving, propulsion, and torpedoes. The 3rd boat, Artful, is reaching the final stages of her construction at Barrow shipyard. UK MoD | BAE Systems | The Guardian.

S122 Audacious main contract

Dec 6/12: Common Combat System. Britain’s Ministry of Defence issues BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines a GBP 46 million contract to create a common combat & navigation system baseline for use in all of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines.

“The Royal Navy operates three classes of submarine, totalling 10 vessels, which are used to safeguard the UK’s interests around the world. Currently, different combat systems are used across the fleet. This new contract will help drive adoption of a common combat system across all current and future Royal Navy submarines, with considerable benefits to training, maintenance and updating costs.”

S122 Audacious will introduce a shared computing environment for the combat, navigation, and sonar systems, mounted in common consoles and cabinets, and using “commercial off the shelf” computing electronics. These changes are due to be implemented on the remaining submarines in the class, and have been back-fitted to S121 Artful. The eventual aim is to back-fit the “Common Combat System” to HMS Astute and Ambush, and progressively to the remaining SSN Trafalgar Class and SSBN Vanguard Class boats. The CCS would also implicitly cover Britain’s SSBN Successor submarines, currently in the initial design stages at BAE. UK MoD | BAE.

Dec 3/12: Mini-Sub. HMS Astute has been fitted with an underwater dry-deck shelter (q.v. Dec 5/11) from which Special Boat Service (SBS) commandos could launch a midget submarine designed and built under Project Chalfont. From Strategic Defence Intelligence, “INSIGHT – Astute submarines fitted with Special Forces mini-sub dock”:

“According to a report in The Sunday Times, HMS Astute has sailed from Faslane naval base on the River Clyde with the dock, known as a Special Forces payload bay, fitted behind the conning tower to carry out trials…. the dock is a portable fixture that can be fitted to whichever of the Astute fleet is heading towards a crisis zone…. The SBS currently launch their midget submarines from surface warships or helicopters, risking discovery.”

Nov 15/12: Submarine problems. The Guardian publishes a report concerning issues with the Astute Class. A number can be described as teething problems, but a couple are potentially serious. The “teething problems” category includes a recent episode of leakage during a dive, computer circuit boards that didn’t meet safety standards, questions about the quality of installation of some equipment, and lack of trust in the boat’s new optronic periscope.

More serious problems include corrosion in a new boat, “…the instruments monitoring the nuclear reactor because the wrong type of lead was used [in the shielding]“, and an apparent mismatch between the nuclear reactor and the steam turbine sets:

“At the moment, the boat, heralded as the most sophisticated submarine ever built for the navy, cannot sprint to emergencies or away from an attack – an essential requirement for a hunter-killer boat. It would also be incapable of keeping pace with the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers, which will be able to travel at more than 30 knots and need the submarines to protect them.”

Sources: The Guardian, “Slow, leaky, rusty: Britain’s £10bn submarine beset by design flaws”.

Sept 14/12: #2 trials. The Royal Navy announces that S120 Ambush is ready to depart the shipyard and begin sea trials, 9 years after she was laid down and 18 months since she was launched.

June 18/12: Reactors. Britain’s Ministry of Defense signs a GBP 1.1 billion contract with Rolls Royce for submarine nuclear reactor cores, (GBP 600 million) and industrial investment in the Raynesway plant that manufactures them (GBP 500 million). The contracts will secure 300 jobs at Rolls-Royce.

The nuclear reactor cores will be used to power the 7th and final SSN Astute Class fast attack submarine, and the 1st of the Royal Navy’s next generation of SSBN nuclear deterrent submarines, currently known as the Successor Class.

Rolls Royce is the sole Technical Authority for the UK Nuclear Steam Raising Plant, whose reactors have powered British nuclear-powered submarines for the past 50 years. The GBP 500 million infrastructure contract aims extend the operating life of the Rayneway plant in Derby, UK, by more than 40 years. Rolls-Royce will continue to maintain and operate its existing reactor core manufacturing facility, while undertaking a parallel phased rebuild and modernization of buildings on site. UK MoD | Rolls Royce | The Telegraph.

Feb 6/12: Sub-contractors. Thales UK announces a GBP 30+ million sub-contract from BAE Systems Submarine Solutions, to supply S123 Anson’s full Sonar 2076 Phase 5 system. Deliverables will include arrays both inboard and outboard of the bow, plus fin, intercept and flank arrays, and the associated inboard processing.

Thales UK is a major sub-contractor for the program as a whole. Beyond the sonar system, they also supply each Astute Class submarine with its 2 non-hull penetrating CM010 optronic masts, the mast’s UAP4 electronic support measures (ESM) system for gathering, classifying, and locating communications and radar emissions, the ECB680 communications and SEEPIRB emergency beacon buoys, and the UHF satellite communications antenna. Thales.

Dec 5/11: An interview with HMS Astute’s commander highlights some of its features. Among other things:

[HMS Astute commanding officer Cmdr. Iain] Breckenridge ticked off a list of new features aboard the sub…. features a large lockout chamber aft of the fin, or sail, and can carry a drydeck shelter…. “That was a real design driver for the boat, and that’s why we’ve got a big sail,” he explained. “The shapes and curves [of the hull] help the dry deck shelter sit in the right place”…. The captain was especially proud of the sub’s maneuvering and hovering capabilities…. In my situation, I’ve got a much wider operating envelope because, if the stern plane does fail to dive, it’s probably only going to be one of them, and I can immediately correct it by slowing down and putting the noncasualty plane to rise. It gives us a much broader operating envelope.”

Sources: Defense News, “‘Trail-blazing’ U.K. Attack Sub Proves Itself in U.S.”

Oct 13/11: #5. S123 Anson’s keel is formally laid – vertically. The submarine’s “keel” is actually an 11m long x 7m diameter, 190t hull ring that will house the control center for Anson’s propulsion plants, and the diesel generator module. It’s also one of the most sophisticated and technically-challenging parts of the boat, and it’s laid vertically because that position makes the work easier. Royal Navy.

S123 Anson keel laying

Sept 15/11: #5. Astute submarine #5 will take the name HMS Anson when she is commissioned. The 2012 NAO report suggests that this will be in August 2020. BFBS.

Feb 16/11: #4. BAE Systems delivers S122 Audacious’ final hull segment by public road through the town of Barrow-in-Furness, to the huge the Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH). It’s the 270 tonne forward dome.

The boat is still a long way from done. The process of installing all of the machinery in these framework units, and then beginning to join hull pieces, is quite long and exacting. BAE Systems.

Jan 6/11: #2 launched. S120 Ambush is launched. The submarine will still have a fitting-out period before it can even start contractor trials. Royal Navy.

2007 – 2010

1st of class HMS Astute commissioned; Sonar upgrades for S119 – S121. S119 control room
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Aug 27/10: HMS Astute. The 1st-of-class submarine S119 Astute is commissioned into the Royal Navy, and becomes “Her Majesty’s Ship Astute.” UK MoD.

HMS Astute

Feb 12/10: Sonar 2076 upgrade. Thales UK announces the ‘Stage 5 Inboard Replacement’ (Stage 5 IR) contract from BAE Systems. They’ll upgrade 3 Trafalgar Class boats, and the first 3 Astute Class submarines, to Sonar 2076 Stage 5 system. Once all of the work is completed, 2076 Stage 5 will be fully deployed across the Royal Navy’s (RN’s) nuclear-powered attack (SSN) submarine fleet.

Thales’ Sonar 2076 is said to have 13,000 hydrophones spread between its inboard and outboard bow, flank, fin, and towed arrays. Stage 5 IR adds new hardware, new software functionality and new algorithms, while moving the sonar system to open architecture electronics. The UK MoD’s long term vision involves the evolution of a common sonar and combat system across their entire submarine flotilla, and an open architecture sonar system is an important milestone along that path. Thales | Aviation Week.

May 21/07: #4 lead-in. The UK MoD has announces a GBP 200 million contract (about $395 million) to begin preparing for construction of the 4th boat at the BAE Systems shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria.

This initial contract for S122 runs to March 2008, and covers initial build work only. The MoD aims to contract for the whole boat by late 2008, and detailed terms and conditions will be agreed over the intervening period.

Additional Readings The Astute Class


News & Views

Categories: News

Turkey & South Korea’s Altay Tank Project

Wed, 11/19/2014 - 15:36
South Korea’s XK2
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Turkey’s tank fleet is currently made up of American M-48s and M-60s, some of which have been modernized with Israeli cooperation into M-60 Sabra tanks, plus a large contingent of German Leopard 1s and Leopard 2s. That is hardy surprising. America and Germany are Turkey’s 2 most important geopolitical relationships, and this is reflected in Turkey’s choice of defense industry partners. The country’s industrial offset requirements ensure that these manufacturers have a long history of local partnerships to draw upon.

In recent years, however, a pair of new players have begun to make an impact on the Turkish defense scene. One was Israel, whose firms specialized in sub-systems, upgrades, and UAVs. The other is the Republic of [South] Korea, who has made inroads in the Turkish market with turboprop training aircraft, mobile howitzers… and now, main battle tanks.

The Altay Program Turkey’s Altay
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Turkey’s new tank is named after Gen. Fahrettin Altay, a cavalry commander in Turkey’s War of Independence. The tank will use a 120mm smoothbore gun, with the usual 7.62mm coaxial machine gun and a pintle-mounted 12.7mm machin gun up top. Compared to the ROK’s K2 Black Panther, the Altay is reportedly longer, with an added road wheel and a slightly modified turret. It may also carry heavier armor.

The 2008 System Development deal includes the production of 4 prototypes worth $70 million dollars, and technology transfer worth $330 million dollars.

click for video

Once development is complete, a second set of production contracts will be signed. The Turks’ official goal was to design, test, and build the first Altay tank in 6.5 years, which would place the event in early 2015. So far, 2015 remains the target date for production to begin.

Turkey reportedly plans to produce 200-250 of the tanks locally.


Under this $400 million development deal, The Republic of Turkey will own all design and intellectual property rights to the final vehicle. Turkey’s Otokar will build the tanks in cooperation with various sub-contractors, including:

  • South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem (XK2 Black Panther base design, expertise and parts as required, technical support system, C3I, help with modernization of Otokar’s factory in the northwestern province of Sakarya).
  • Aselsan (fire control and C3I systems, other sub-systems)
  • MTU Friedrichshafen (1,500 hp diesel engine. May be replaced by 1,800 hp Turkish engine if they can develop it)
  • SSM’s STM group (C3I co-development with Aselsan)
  • Turkish Mechanical and Chemical Industry Corporation, i.e. state-owned MKEK, (120mm/55 caliber main gun)
  • Roketsan (Modular Armor Package)

Foreign companies are reportedly under consideration for key items beyond the engine, including armor and complex systems integration.

Contracts and Key Events

ROK governments have been building a formidable local defense industry as a matter of policy, and those efforts are beginning to win export sales around the globe. The Altay project is just the latest payoff.

Relations with Turkey have been especially warm, owing in part to the Turks’ heroic combat record in the Korean War. In recent years, that combination of warm relations and solid products has led to Turkish orders worth hundreds of millions of dollars for KT-1 turboprop training aircraft, and K-9/K-10 derived “Firtina” mobile howitzers. In July 2007, South Korea’s inroads became undeniable, as discussions began concerning a deal to develop Turkey’s next generation tanks. That was a major upset, but it had yet to coalesce into a deal. By the end of July 2008, however, the ink was dry on a deal that made Korea’s new XK2 the basis of Turkey’s co-produced Altay tank.

2011 – 2014 Altay unveiled
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Nov 18/14: XK-2. South Korea’s WON 2+ trillion (about $1.84 billion) XK-2 tank project, which served as the basis for Altay, has experienced delays due to technical difficulties. Acceleration performance has been a particular issue, and the ROK plans to field it with a locally-made engine and transmission by 2017. So far, about 100 K-2 Black Panther tanks have been deployed in Korea. Sources: Yonhap, “S. Korea to put K-2 combat tank into full service by 2017″.

Feb 27/14: Engines. While talking to reporters about Airbus’ A400M contract, Undersecretary for Defense Murad Bayar mentions that:

“Turkey’s Altay tank’s engine must be made in the country. There are also proposals from two Turkish companies to produce the engine in Turkey.”

It’s a blow to initial engine provider MTU Friedrichshafen. Whether it ends up affecting the tank depends on whether Turkish firms produce an engine in time, with adequate performance, efficiency and reliability. Sources: Anatolia News Agency, “Airbus and Turkey Dispute Over A400M Military Aircraft”.

Nov 14/13: Industrial shift? SSM’s chief, Murad Bayar, tells Defense News that they’re looking at a different approach to Altay’s production contract. Koc-owned Otokar is very likely to remain the main manufacturer, but they’re reportedly considering a consortium/ cooperative approach composed of Turkish and even foreign firms. Politics is playing a strong role:

“Otokar is owned by Turkey’s biggest business conglomerate, Koc Holding, whose defense business may be a casualty of a row between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and one of its top executives after a month of civil unrest that battered the Turkish government. In one incident during June demonstrations, protesters tried to escape police tear gas and pepper spray by taking refuge in a posh Istanbul hotel, Divan, owned by Koc. Hotel management admitted the protesters to its lobby, but police fired more tear gas and pepper spray into the hotel lobby, although it is illegal to fire these chemicals into indoor spaces.”

The Erdogan government’s response was to relax the laws regarding police conduct, while calling the youthful protesters “terrorists” and promising to punish firms that helped them in any way. Koc has already lost a contract to build “Milgem” corvettes, so suspicions of a political motive over Altay are well founded. Defense News, “Turkey Mulling ‘Big Team’ for Tank Production” | Hurriyet Daily News, “Koc’s defense business a casualty of feud with government?” | Wikipedia, 2013 Protests in Turkey.

Nov 15/12: With about $500 million invested in development to date, Otokar officially rolls out its first 2 Altay tank prototypes at its Sakarya plant. Prototype #1 is already in use for mobility tests, with over 2,000km of mileage under its treads. Prototype #2 will be used for firing tests. Any changes will feed back into the design and construction of prototypes #3-4.

Kudret ONEN, Head of Koc Holding Defence Industry Group and Otokar’s Chairman of the Board, says that the project currently has 550 engineers (260 at Otokar), and nearly 100 subcontractors. Mass production is still promised for 2015. Otokar [in Turkish].


June 11/12: Update. While announcing its vehicle lineup for Eurosatory 2012, Otokar provides a project update:

“The first phase of the project, ‘Conceptual Design Process’, has been completed in 2010. And we presented the full-scale model, which reflects the concept design of ALTAY, at IDEF Exhibition, last year. In scope of the ‘Detailed Design Process’ which is the second and the most critical phase of the project, ‘Preliminary Design Phase’, has been successfully completed by the last quarter of 2011. During this phase, manufacturing of prototypes took start in line with this process. Following the completion of the Second Phase, we’re planning to start the ‘Prototype Development and Qualification Phase’ which is the third and the last phase. In scope of the project plan we continue investing in the first prototype of the ALTAY tank which will be ready for testing by the last quarter of this year. In addition to our existing facilities within Otokar plant, we have recently established a new Tank Test Center with an investment of USD 10 million.”

March 27/12: SSM’s plan. Turkey’s SSM procurement agency has unveiled their new 5-year strategic plan, with timetables for key acquisitions. The plan commits to begin deliveries of the Altay tank by 2015. Hurriyet Daily News

2005 – 2010 XK2, firing
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July 6/09: US Pressure on Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports that the USA had pressured Israel out of Turkey’s tank competition, in order to give American firms better odds. Israel would have entered the competition with a strong position to build on. Turkey’s existing M-60 tanks were heavily modernized by Israeli firms, based on the same “Sabra” modification set that Israel used on its own M60s. Beyond Sabra, Israel’s current Merkava family tanks are purpose-built for the needs of warfare in the Middle East, with unique features for urban warfare and counter-terrorism conflicts.

Within a couple of years, worsening relations between Turkey’s Islamist government and Israel made any such project unthinkable anyway.

July 30/08: Representatives of the Turkish and South Korean governments sign the $400 million System Design & Development Memorandum of Understanding, making the Altay tank project a reality. This contract does not include the mass production process. The South Korean Defense Ministry added that:

“The signing of the contract on the ROK-Turkey technology cooperation in tank development is expected to greatly help boost the cooperation between the two countries in the defense industry sector, while the Ministry of Defense and the DAPA plan to provide full support to ensure smooth technology cooperation throughout the entire process of tank development from designing to production and testing.

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Lee held ministerial talks with his Turkish counterpart in Ankara on July 28/08, in which the two agreed to continue building a cooperative relationship between their militaries…”

See: ROK Ministry of Defense | Otokar Aug 1/08 release | KOIS | Korea Times |Turkish Daily News (beforehand) | Turkish Daily News (post-deal) | Today’s Zaman (Turkey) | Aviation Week Ares | Agence France Presse.

Altay Development MoU

March 2007: According to a resolution adopted at the meeting of the National Defence Executive Committee, the Turkish government decides to begin contract negotiations with Otokar, as the nominee for prime contractor.

February 2007: Bid evaluation process, aiming to appoint the prime contractor, is completed in February 2007.

July 2006: RFP bids are submitted by Otokar’s team, and by the BMC-FNSS Consortium.

FNSS Savunma Sistemleri A.S. makes some of Turkey’s armored personnel carriers; it is a joint venture between BAE Systems and the Turkish Nurol Group. BMC Sanaye Ve Ticaret A.S. makes wheeled vehicles and trucks for the Turkish armed forces, and is part of the large Turkish conglomerate Cukurova Holding.

February 2006: SSM issues the project’s Request for Proposals.


April 2005: Feasibility study complete. The path forward is defined as “designing and development of the main battle tank inside Turkey by getting technical support and assistance from abroad whenever required.”

2005: The Turkish SSM defense procurement agency charges a 3-firm Turkish industrial consortium with a feasibility study to determine the production pattern for the Turkish National Main Battle Tank Project.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

New HATS: Boeing & Thales Win Aussie Heli Training

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 19:14
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Australia’s 25-year, A$ 600 million Project AIR 9000 Phase 7 – Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) will replace the Navy’s Airbus AS350BA Ecureuils, and the Army’s Bell 206-B1 Kiowa fleet, with 15 new Airbus EC135 T2+ helicopters. The new helicopters use twin 634shp Turbomeca Arrius 2B2 engines, and have improved maximum takeoff weight compared to earlier EC135 models. They will provide basic training before pilots graduate to Australia’s S-70, MH-60R, MRH-90, or CH-47 squadrons. The contract also includes flight simulators, and a training ship with a landing deck for Navy training. The team includes Boeing Australia, Thales Australia, Airbus, and Turbomeca.

Team Boeing/Thales beat Airbus’ own offering of the EC135, as well as a Raytheon/Bell Helicopter partnership built around the Bell 429. Boeing was already involved in Australian helicopter training before this win, and is also involved with training for Australia’s F/A-18 fighters, C-17 heavy-lift transports, and E-7A Wedgetail AWACS.

Australia’s current fleet of 13 AS350s are all used for training, and will be retired, but some of their 40 Kiowas are also used operationally by 6 Avn Regt. All Kiowas will also be retired when the EC135s enter service, leaving only S-70A Blackhawks in the active regiment. Even that will last only until 5 Avn Regt A and B squadrons are finished their transition to the MRH-90 in 2015, and 6 Avn Regt can begin their own transition. Sources: Boeing Australia, “Boeing to Train Australian Army and Navy Helicopter Pilots for Next 25 Years” | Airbus Helicopter, “Airbus Helicopters welcomes approval of new aircrew training system EC135 T2+ helicopter the “ideal training platform” for new Army, Navy pilots” | Flightglobal, “Australia confirms HATS win for Boeing/Thales EC135 bid”.

Categories: News

EA-18G Program: The USA’s Electronic Growler

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 16:10
EA-18G at Pax

The USA’s electronic attack fighters are a unique, overworked, and nearly obsolete capability. With the retirement of the US Air Force’s long-range EF-111 Raven “Spark ‘Vark,” the aging 4-seat EA-6B Prowlers became the USA’s only remaining fighter for radar jamming, communications jamming and information operations like signals interception [1]. Despite their age and performance limits, they’ve been predictably busy on the front lines, used for everything from escorting strike aircraft against heavily defended targets, to disrupting enemy IED land mine attacks by jamming all radio signals in an area.

EA-6B Prowler
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All airframes have lifespan limits, however, and the EA-6B is no exception. The USA’s new electronic warfare aircraft will be based on Boeing’s 2-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet multi-role fighter, and has 90% commonality with its counterpart. That will give it decent self-defense capabilities, as well as electronic attack potential. At present, however, the EA-18G is slated to be the only dedicated electronic warfare aircraft in the USA’s future force. Since the USA is currently the only western country with such aircraft, the US Navy’s EA-18G fleet would become the sole source of tactical jamming support for NATO and allied air forces as well.

DID’s FOCUS articles offer in-depth, updated looks at significant military programs of record. This article describes the EA-18G aircraft and its key systems, outlining the program, and keeping track of ongoing developments, contracts, etc. that affect the program.

Growler: The EA-18G Program EA-18G: The Platform EF-111 “Spark ‘Vark”
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While other electronic warfare platforms like the EC-130H Compass Call exist, their slow speed makes their use as tactical jamming aircraft during airstrikes problematic. The most common tactical option for electronic attack, therefore, takes an existing fighter such as the A-6 Intruder (EA-6B Prowler) or F-111 Aardvark (the recently-retired EF-111 Raven, aka. “Spark Vark”), then modifies it via new wiring, changes to the airframe, and additional pods. The price has typically been reduced performance, reduced weapons capability, and sometimes even a larger basic radar signature for the airframe.

The current EA-6B is an excellent example. The good news? Since it’s based on Grumman’s robust A-6 Intruder attack aircraft, it offers excellent range, ample carrying capacity, and efficient subsonic performance. The bad news? Poor self-defense against aerial opponents, a large radar signature, and difficulty keeping up with friendly aircraft traveling at high subsonic cruise speeds.

EA-18G primer

The EA-18G Growler/ Grizzly has avoided many, but not all, of these typical tradeoffs.

The EA-18 is more than 90% common with the standard F/A-18F Super Hornet, sharing its airframe, AN/APG-79 AESA radar, AN/AYK-22 stores management system, and weapons options. The exception is the Super Hornet’s 20mm Vulcan gatling gun, which has been removed from the nose in favor of electrical equipment.

EA-18G: key systems
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Additional electrical equipment is added throughout the airframe, and Raytheon’s internally-mounted AN/ALQ-227 communication countermeasures system uses a dedicated, omni-directional antenna for signals detection, analysis, and recording. That system works with the plane’s AN/ALQ-99 high and low-band jamming pods, in order to perform complex jamming tasks. Northrop Grumman’s ALQ-218v2 is a digital wideband radio frequency receiver, with selective jamming and geo-location capabilities. It currently equips the EA-18G’s wingtip pods.

The use of pods comes with certain penalties. The increased drag of the external pods, coupled with the shorter range of the F/A-18 E/F base platform vis-a-vis the A-6 it replaces, means that external fuel tanks will be needed. The presence of those fuel tanks on the aircraft’s “wet” pylons, and of the pods on its wingtips and underwing pylons, doesn’t leave much space for other weapons. Despite these limitations, Growlers will be more capable of aerial self-defense than their predecessors. EA-18Gs will typically be armed with a pair of AIM-120 AMRAAM medium range air-air missiles mounted under the engine intakes, and another pair of AGM-88 HARM (High Speed Anti-Radiation) or AGM-88E AARGM (Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided) missiles on underwing stations for destroying enemy radar sites.

EA-18: Looking Beyond NGJ early promo

Boeing has also surveyed future users of the EA-18G “Growlers” to find out what upgrades they might like to see after the US Navy starts fielding the EA-18G. While the AN/ALQ-99 radar jamming pod has received positive reviews, and will be a critical component of the EA-18G’s initial kit, reports consistently cite it as a maintenance and reliability problem. The US Navy’s EA-18G program manager has said that it might eventually have to be replaced, and the USA’s Next-Generation Jammer program is already in motion to do just that.

The EA-18 program would receive tremendous benefits from Advanced Super Hornet design improvements, from the large displays and upgraded computing to the nearly dragless conformal fuel tanks. The program is also exploring adding more weapon types and replacing the satellite communications receiver, as part of the budget planning process.

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Meanwhile, exports beckon. That would be something of a departure, as the USA has traditionally been the only country to field tactical electronic attack aircraft. As anti-aircraft missiles on the global market become more and more sophisticated, however, serious players are going to need this kind of capability.

Australia has already stepped up, becoming the 1st EA-18G export customer. Their F/A-18F contract specified that 12 of its 24 new planes would have all of the internal modifications required to become an EA-18, if the right equipment is added. August 2012 saw Australia take that next step, at a cost of about $1.56 billion (around $130 million more per plane).

A less expensive “EA-18 Lite” export version could reply on the ALQ-218 wingtip pods, and the internally-mounted ALQ-227 system. The APG-79 AESA radar that equips all EA-18Gs could also be used as a jammer, if future software development is forthcoming along those lines. The resulting “EA-18 Lite” combination would be a stronger SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) option than the F/A-18F, with more range and available weapons than a full EA-18G, but less jamming than the full EA-18G, and less stealth than the F-35A. EA-18 Lites would be able to identify and geo-locate enemy radars, for instance, and immediately target them with GPS-enabled anti-radar missiles like AARGM. Jamming in low-intensity environments, such as the use of EA-6B Prowlers in Iraq to jam enemy land mine detonation frequencies over key convoys, would also be possible. Even so, the removal of the expensive and fragile ALQ-99 pod would remove the plane’s most advanced jamming, unless ECM pods from other global sources could be integrated instead.

As the Super Hornet production line heads to a close around 2015, the availability of this unique conversion option is an important argument for Boeing, as it tries to sell prospective customers on the F/A-18 Super Hornet as their future fighter.

EA-18G: Industrial Program Rollout ceremony
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Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) PMA-265 is the U.S. Navy acquisition office for the EA-18G. Boeing is the prime contractor, building the forward fuselage and wings and conducting final assembly. Northrop Grumman, who designed the YF-17 lightweight fighter that became the F/A-18 family, is the principal subcontractor. They supply the center and aft fuselage and act as the airborne electronic attack subsystem integrator. The Hornet Industry Team will divide key EA-18G component production across Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Electric (F414 engine) and Raytheon (AN/APG-79 AESA radar) manufacturing facilities.

The EA-18G has faced its share of normal development challenges. A $7 million supplemental contract was required, in order to make its wingtip-mounted AN/ALQ-218 (V)2 radio-frequency receiver systems durable enough to withstand harsh weather. Managing the human interface complexities of going from 4 crew in the EA-6B to just 2 crew in the EA-18G is also an ongoing focus. The EA-18Gs were set to receive their production software and hardware build in July 2007, which is the last major challenge through the end of test and evaluation. Software build 2.0 will fix deficiencies discovered in the first software tape, add 36% more software functionality, and roll in capabilities for communications jamming and Multi-mission Advanced Tactical Terminal systems hardware. The pace of testing provided the team an extra 2 months to incorporate fixes into that software push.

The Growler’s level of commonality with its Super Hornet predecessor helps to keep development costs down, but complex integration is still required for the various electronic components, and testing is still necessary. At the moment, however, the program is slightly under expected cost, as it nears the end of a 5-year system design & development contract.

EA-18G flight testing and Operational Evaluation is taking place at the Navy’s Patuxent River, MD and China Lake, CA test sites, and on Navy carriers, through 2008 and 2009. Fielding is also beginning at NAS Whidbey Island, WA.

At present, industrial partners include:

  • Boeing (F/A-18, EA-18G prime contractor)
  • GE (F414 engines)
  • Northrop Grumman in Bethpage, NY; El Segundo, CA; St Augustine, FL, Baltimore, MD (F/A-18 structures, EW systems and software incl. ALQ-218 and wingtip pods, EW support)
  • ITT in Thousand Oaks, CA (ALQ-99 jamming pods, INCANS interference canceling)
  • Raytheon in El Segundo, CA; Ft. Wayne, IN; and Largo, FL (APG-79 AESA radar, ALQ-227 CCS)
  • Alion Science and Technology Inc. in Annapolis, MD (EM analysis)
  • Ball Aerospace, Westminster, CO (MATT antenna)
  • Cobham’s Sensor and Antenna Systems division in Landsdale, PA (low band antennas)
  • GKN Inc. in St. Louis, MO (complex parts fabrication)
  • Harris Corp in Melbourne, FL (data storage devices)
  • Nurad in Baltimore, MD (wingtip pod radome)
  • Times Microwave in Wallingford, CT (RF/IF coaxial cables)

EA-18G: Numbers & Budgets INCANS: RDT&E…
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The current plan for the EA-18G program is up to 114 planes, and the FY 2015 budget could push that to 137. The number has risen steadily from the original 90, after growing awareness of this mission’s importance reversed a slight decline to 88 earlier in the program.

The EA-18G received DoD approval to enter Full Rate Production on Nov 23/09. Initial early deliveries to Fleet Replacement Squadron VAQ-129 have begun, which allows the Navy to begin general aircrew training and develop standard operating procedures. Initial EA-18G Operational Capability was achieved in September 2009 with the US Navy electronic attack squadron VAQ-132 located at Whidbey Island, WA where the Navy’s current EA-6B squadrons are based. The US Navy expects a complete transition of all production Growlers to the fleet by 2015.


Budgetary figures below are based on Pentagon documents. All figures are in millions, and deliveries tend to occur 2 fiscal years after orders are placed:

As of November 2012, NAS Whidbey Island had 79 EA-18Gs: 41 in the VAQ-129 Fleet Replacement (training) squadron, plus 6 operational and 1 transitioning squadron of 5 planes each (35), and then 3 more planes. The desired total is 11 operational squadrons, and if 22 more planes are bought in FY 2015, each operational squadron will rise to 7 planes. The USN’s 6 EA-6B squadrons will all transition to EA-18Gs by 2016, but the USMC will keep its EA-6Bs in service until 2019, when F-35Bs are expected to replace USMC electronic warfare capabilities with stealth.

EA-18G: Contracts & Other Developments EA-18G and F/A-18F
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In general, this FOCUS article will only cover purchases that refer exclusively to the EA-18G, unless the EA-18G items are specifically broken out, or their inclusion helps make later EA-18 program buys more comprehensible.

As noted above, many procurement items will be shared between the EA-18G and the F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, on which the platform is based. DID’s Spotlights on the MYP-II (FY 2005-2009) and MYP-III (FY 2010-2014) multi-year Super Hornet contracts cover all airframes and integration from 2005-2014. Fleet support costs are also part of the F/A-18E/F contracts, due to aircraft commonality; while common “Government-Furnished Equipment” items like APG-79 radars, GE’s F414 engines, etc. are bought through separate contracts of their own.

“Airborne Electronic Attack” (AEA) Kits include the AN/ALQ-218 wingtip pods, and AN/ALQ-227 Communication Countermeasures Set/Electronic Attack Unit, as well as other unique internal electronics and gear that make the plane an EA-18G instead of an F/A-18F. What they do not include, is the AN/ALQ-99 pods carried underneath the Growlers. Those are simply moved over from retiring EA-6B Prowlers, following minor hardware and software compatibility modifications.

Unless otherwise specified, all awards are made to Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in St. Louis, MO, and/or are awarded by the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) in Patuxent River, MD.

FY 2015

Environmental Impact Statement for 36 more EA-18Gs, as Navy considers asking for some in FY 2016; Australia to get their own TOFT; US Navy’s EA-6Bs all retire. EA-6B
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Nov 16/14: The US Navy is reportedly looking at buying a few more EA-18Gs in 2016, to go with the 12 they’re likely to get as an “unfunded priority” item in FY 2015. Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert:

“Before we close the books and call it quits on Growlers, we want to make sure we’ve got the electronic attack right…”

Especially given recent realizations that F-35s will probably need EA-18G support of some kind (q.v. April 7/14, April 25/14). On the other hand, the USMC’s distributed EW approach (q.v. Nov 3/14) suggests a different path the Navy could pursue to supplement its force. Sources: MarineLink, “U.S. Navy Expects Further Orders of Boeing Jets” | St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Navy mulls over more EA-18G Growlers in 2016 budget”.

Nov 15/14: EA-6Bs. The VAQ-134 Garudas have returned from the US Navy’s last EA-6B deployment. the squadron will now begin its transition to the EA-18G, which is expected to finish early in 2015. Whidbey News-Times, “Saluting an old workhorse, the EA-6B Prowler” | Foxtrot Alpha, “The Navy’s EA-6B Prowler Completes Its Final Carrier Cruise”.

USN EA-6Bs retiring

Nov 3/14: USMC Plan. The USMC’s Aviation Plan to 2030 deals with jamming as well. Their 4 EA-6B squadrons will begin retiring in 2016, and leave service at the end of FY 2019. The F-35B has been discussed as a replacement plan, but the inability to put a 2nd crew member in makes a full EA-35B questionable.

Instead of turning toward EA-18Gs, the Marines are moving toward a more distributed, platform-agnostic approach that wouldn’t depend on any 1 aircraft type. The EW Services Architecture (EWSA) will serve as a common back end, while ALQ-231 Intrepid Tiger II EW payloads would deploy on AV-8B and F/A-18C/D fighters, and on future UAVs. F-35Bs will also receive software updates to use the AN/APG-81’s radar jamming capabilities at some point, and payload additions are also a possibility. If the Navy wants to buy more EA-18Gs in the meantime, of course, the Marines won’t object to having a few more on call. Sources: USMC, Marine Aviation Plan 2015 [PDF].

Oct 25/14: EA-6Bs. The USS Carl Vinson [CVN 70] strike group, which is conducting strikes in Syria and Iraq, will be the last deployment of the EA-6B by the US Navy. Navy VAQ-134 will transition to EA-18Gs upon its return, though the USMC will still be operating EA-6B squadrons. Sources: Whidbey News-Times, “NAS Whidbey Prowlers returning from final mission”.

Local objections

Oct 11/14: Politics. The Navy says it is revising its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the EA-18G Growlers to base up to 36 additional EA-18Gs at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. The EIS is looking at Growler operations at both Ault Field at NAS Whidbey and Outlying Field Coupeville, where most Growler touch-and-go training takes place. An additional scoping period through Nov 24/14, will push the completion of the draft EIS from 2015 to spring 2016, with a published decision planned for spring 2017.

The environmental impact process is now tied to the receipt of extra EA-18Gs in VAQ-143 and VAQ-144, with a local paper reporting that the request for additional Growlers has been “placed on hold pending the results of the EIS.” Note that even planes ordered in 2015 won’t be delivered before 2017, so the timing isn’t a problem yet. Nor is this a commitment from the Navy to 36 planes – but if you’re going to have extra planes tied up in red tape, you might as well ask for more than you expect, so you only have to run the process once. Sources: Whidbey News-Times, “Navy Environmental Impact Statement to include up to 36 Growlers at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station” | SeaPower Magazine, “Navy Delays Formation of Expeditionary EA-18G Squadron”.

Oct 9/14: Australia. L-3 Communications Corp. in Arlington, TX receives a $12.1 million firm-fixed-price delivery order for 2 EA-18G Tactical Operational Flight Trainers (TOFT), 1 brief/debrief Station, 2 F/A-18 retrofit kits, spares, and associated technical documentation for the government of Australia under the foreign military sales program.

Work will be performed in Arlington, Texas, and is expected to be completed in November 2015. Foreign military sales funds in the amount of $12,086,117 will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Orlando, FL, is the contracting activity (N61340-12-G-0001, PO 0004).

Oct 8/14: Australia. A $7.5 million delivery order for peculiar support equipment and spares, to outfit emerging squadron stand-ups for extended Australian deployment of F/A-18F and EA-18G aircraft. In addition, this order includes a support equipment integrated logistics support package. All funds are committed immediately.

Australian F/A-18Fs are currently based at Al Minhad AB in the UAE, where they are conducting strikes in Iraq against The Islamic State.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in October 2016. US Navy Naval Air Systems Command in Lakehurst, NJ acts as Australia’s FMS agent (N68335-10-G-0012, DO 0057).

FY 2014

Battle in Washington over Navy request for another 22 EA-18Gs; 100th EA-18G delivered; 100th jamming set delivered; Various contracts for EA-18G equipment beyond the core multi-year aircraft contract. EA-18G
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Aug 28/14: HARM computers. Raytheon in Tucson, AZ receives $24.6 million for a firm-fixed-price delivery order to provide 158 High Speed Anti-Radiation Command Launch Computers for the U.S. Navy (121) and the government of Australia (37) for F/A-18 E/F and EA-18G aircraft. These CLCs work with AGM-88 HARM and AARGM missiles, which are designed to destroy enemy air defense radars. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 – 2013 US Navy ($20.5M / 83.5%) and Australian ($4.1M / 16.5%) budgets.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete in February 2018. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-10-G-0006, DO 0060).

Aug 24/14: Infrastructure. Korte Construction Company in St. Louis, MO wins a $23.8 million firm-fixed-price contract to design and build EA-18G Facility Upgrades at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. The contract also contains 3 unexercised options, which could raise the contract’s value as high as $26.6 million. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy construction budgets.

Work will be performed in Oak Harbor, WA, and is expected to be complete by May 2017. This contract was competitively procured via Navy Electronic Commerce Online, with 12 proposals received by US NAVFAC Northwest in Silverdale, WA (N44255-14-C-5004).

Aug 18/14: EA-18s. General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in Minneapolis, MN receives a $16.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for the full-rate Lot 38 production of 60 Advanced Mission Computer Type 3s for EA-18Gs ordered by the US Navy (48 AMCs / $9.8 million / 60%) and the government of Australia (12 AMCs / $6.5 million / 40%). All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy aircraft budgets and Australian FMS funds.

Work will be performed in Bloomington, MN and is expected to be complete in August 2016. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 USC 2304 (c)(1) by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-14-C-0068).

Aug 11/14: Engines. General Electric Co. in Lynn, MA receives a $311.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 75 F414-GE-400 engines and associated devices: 48 production installs for the US Navy ($194.9 million / 63% / all production installs), and 27 for Australia ($116.6 million / 37% / 24 EA-18G production installs and 3 spares), under Production Lot 14. In addition, this modification provides for spare after burner modules, fan modules, high pressure combustor modules, combustor modules, and high and low pressure turbine modules for the US Navy and the government of Australia. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013-14 US Navy aircraft budgets, and Australian funds.

Work will be performed in Lynn, MA (59%); Hooksett, NH (18%); Rutland, VT (12%); and Madisonville, KY (11%), and is expected to be complete in September 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contracts (N00019-11-C-0045).

July 18/14: Testing. Commander Jeannie Groeneveld, who is the spokeswoman for the US Pacific Fleet’s naval air force, says that May and June tests with extra EA-18Gs on deck went well. It would be surprising if she had said anything else, under the circumstances. Sources: Reuters, “AIRSHOW-Carrier test with extra EA-18G jets went well U.S. Navy”.

July 17/14: Politics. The US Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense approves 12 additional E/A-18G Growler aircraft during the markup of the FY 2015 defense spending bill. The full House Appropriations Committee has also approved 12 EA-18Gs, so this move improves the odds that 12 planes will be the final buy after reconciliation. Sources: Bloomberg, “Senate Panel Rejects Pentagon Cuts in Spending Bill”.

July 16/14: Industrial. Super Hornet program manager Capt. Frank Morley says that the U.S. Navy might agree to accept slower deliveries than 2 planes per month to help extend the company’s production line by a year to the end of 2017. On the other hand, “my marching orders are not to do that at any additional cost to us.”

He adds that Boeing has already used some of its own funds to pay for early procurement for another 12 EA-18G jets, which does seem to be the way things are working out in Congress. Sources: Reuters, “AIRSHOW-U.S. open to slower Boeing deliveries, but no extra cost”.

July 11/14: AEA support. Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Bethpage, NY receives a 5-year, $198.9 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to provide Airborne Electronic Attack software configuration set upgrades and ancillary hardware. They’ll support EA-6B and EA-18G aircraft owned by the United States ($179.0 million / 90%) and the government of Australia ($19.9 million / 10%). $675,697 is committed immediately from FY 2014 US Navy O&M funds.

Work will be performed in Point Mugu, CA, and is expected to be complete in July 2019. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA (N68936-14-D-0018).

June 30/14: EA-18Gs. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $1.939 billion fixed-price-incentive-fee contract for full rate production of 11 FRP Lot 38 F/A-18E aircraft for the US Navy, and 33 EA-18G aircraft for the US Navy (21) and the government of Australia (12 for $533.4 million, which is 27.3% of the total). The USN’s total is $1.406 billion, using USN FY 2013 (F/A-18E) and 2014 (EA-18G) aircraft budgets (72.7%).

The extra F/A-18Es come from a $605 million Congressional markup in FY 2013. Which is why FY 2014 may not be the very last Super Hornet family order, if Congressional mark-ups of the 2015 National Defense Authorization bill or defense appropriations bill survive the budget process. The House Armed Services Committee has approved 5 Growlers, and the House Appropriations Committee has approved funds for 12 Growlers.

Work will be performed in El Segundo, CA (46%); St. Louis, MO (30%); Fort Worth, TX (2%); East Aurora, NY (1.5%); Irvine, CA (1percent); Ajax, Ontario, Canada (1%), and various locations within the United States (18.5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2016. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 USC. 2304(c)(1). US NAVAIR in Patuxent River, MD manages the contracts for the US Navy, and acts as Australia’s agent (N00019-14-C-0032). See also US NAVAIR, “Contract awarded to produce F/A-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers” | Seapower, “Boeing Awarded to $1.94 Billion Contract for F/A-18 Super Hornets, EA-18G Growlers”.

44 bought: 11 F/A-18Es, 33 EA-18Gs

June 27/14: ALQ-99. Exelis Inc. in Clifton, NJ receives a sole-source, $15.3 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the design, engineering analysis, program, manufacture and test of the AN/ALQ-99 tactical jamming system’s universal exciter upgrade’s shop replaceable assembly redesign. ALQ-99s are the EA-6B Prowler and EA-18G aircraft. This procurement is to design and manufacture three components of the universal exciter: the modulation direct digital synthesizer, the direct digital synthesizer and the oscillator switch to eliminate the use of obsolete parts. This contract combines purchases for the U.S. Navy (10%), and the government of Australia (90%), under the Foreign Military Sales program. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Amityville, New York (97%), and Clifton, New Jersey (3%), and is expected to be complete by June 2017. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to the authority of 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1), by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN (N00164-13-G-WM01).

May 6/14: Politics. House Armed Services Committee (HASC) chair Buck McKeon [R-CA] is proposing to add $450 million to fund 5 EA-18Gs and their equipment in the FY 2015 budget, instead of the 22 on the unfunded priorities list. The committee’s proposed changes would also preserve all F-35 funding, while cutting the Navy’s unmanned UCLASS R&D budget in half to $200 million.

Meanwhile, Missouri Lawmakers say that they’ve already gathered over 80 signatures from Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives, and the International Association of Machinists will be weighing in. The HASC markup will make their lobbying job more challenging, and they’ll need to more than triple that number of allies in order to get the full 22 planes. As the saying goes – show me. Sources: Flightglobal, “House bill promotes EA-18G and U-2S, but hits UCLASS” | Reuters, “Boeing, backers to fight for funding for 22 Boeing jets”.

May 5/14: #100. Boeing [NYSE: BA] delivers the 100th EA-18G Growler to the US Navy, and the ceremony was turned into one more element of Boeing’s push to increase the Navy’s buy from 114 to 136. Sources: US Navy, “Navy’s Newest Electronic Attack Aircraft Reaches Centennial Milestone” | Boeing, “Boeing Delivers 100th EA-18G Growler to US Navy” | Reuters, “Boeing, backers to fight for funding for 22 Boeing jets”.

100th EA-18G

April 25/14: The US Navy has decided to add 22 EA-18Gs to its FY 2015 unfunded priorities list, and its plan to cut FY 2015 – 2019 buys of the stealthy F-35C from 69 to 36 fighters has led to questions about its longer-term priorities. The truth is, the F-35C won’t be fully tested and ready until the end of this period anyway. Every deleted fighter is just 1 less plane to fix later. CNO Adm. Greenert has said to Congress that:

“[Stealth] is needed for what we have in the future for at least 10 years out there and there is nothing magic about that decade… But I think we need to look beyond that. So to me, I think it’s a combination of having aircraft that have stealth but also aircraft that can suppress other forms of radio frequency electromagnetic emissions so that we can get in.”

It’s unwise to pair a non-stealthy Growler with F-35s, because that just gives away everybody’s position. On the other hand, a strike package of EA-18Gs, F/A-18E/Fs, and F-35s could be an interesting “watch my right hand” option for future commanders. Ultimately, if the F-35s are deemed to need jamming of their own 15+ years down the road, they’re likely to get a rearranged version of the Next-Generation Jammer that’s designed to fit internally, with some possible external carriage in external structures that could fit like like Terma’s multi-role gun pod. Sources:, “Boeing Builds the Navy an F-35C Exit Strategy”.

April 24/14: The US Navy’s Carl Vinson [CVN 70] Carrier Strike Group will conduct a 3-day exercise in May, in order to test paper analysis that says raising the number of EA-18Gs Growlers on an aircraft carrier from 5 to 7-8 would be more effective overall. If the results confirm the paper analysis, an added buy in FY 2015 becomes a lot more likely. Sources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “New Growler construction may depend on upcoming Navy exercise”.

April 7/14: Boeing continues to lobby for inclusion of 22 EA-18Gs in the Pentagon’s final FY 2015 budget. They’re stressing the Growler’s effectiveness across the electro-magnetic spectrum, vs. the F-35’s stealth optimization in limited bands. They add that “Increasing computing power, advanced sensors and evolving aircraft detection methods are degrading the benefits of stealth.” Meanwhile, the USAF is planning to mothball half of its 14 quad-turboprop EC-130 electronic attack aircraft.

All of these points are valid, and it helps that Advanced Super Hornet tests hit their marks regarding radar signature reduction and flying quality. It’s also true that stealth aircraft work earlier in the detect – track – reach – kill chain, preventing coordinated responses rather than having to defeat them. Sources: Aviation Week, “Growler Advocates Outline Stealth Vulnerabilities” | Breaking Defense, “F-35?s Stealth, EW Not Enough, So JSF And Navy Need Growlers; Boeing Says 50-100 More” | Flight Global, “Navy pleased with “Advanced” Super Hornet tests, wants more Growlers” |, “Boeing: Growler Eclipses F-35’s Stealth Advantage”.

March 11/14: Budgets. CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert has confirmed that the Navy has placed 22 more EA-18Gs on their FY15 unfunded request submission. The Pentagon’s FY14 budget already contains a $75 million option for advance procurement, as a result of Congressional additions. If the Navy’s FY15 suggestion is approved for inclusion by the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff, the $2.14 billion request would receive more momentum toward a possible Congressional insert in FY15.

It’s important not to make too much of this yet. First of all, inclusion is a big “if.” Second, the unfunded requests list has a number of items on it. If Congress does decide to fund 22 EA-18Gs above and beyond the proposed budget, the US Navy would use it to raise some squadron rosters to 7 jets, while Boeing would extend the Super Hornet production line by a year or more. Sources: Reuters, “UPDATE 1-U.S. Navy confirms Boeing jets on ‘unfunded’ priority list”.

March 4/14: FY15 Budget. The Navy unveils a preliminary budget request briefing. It doesn’t break down individual programs into dollars, but it does offer planned purchase numbers for the Navy’s biggest programs from FY 2014 – 2019. Short answer: no plans to buy any more Super Hornets or EA-18Gs, but that doesn’t mean that Congress couldn’t add some later. Source: US Dept. of the Navy, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF].

Jan 24/14: NGJ. The US Navy reaffirms Raytheon’s Next-Generation Jammer contract award, after carrying out a new cost and technical analysis of all 3 original bids. Technology development efforts resume after a 6-month delay, but it moves the entire program back. A Milestone C/ Low-Rate Initial Production decision won’t happen until winter 2019 at the earliest. That means the 2020 fielding goal for the mid-band NGJ Increment 1, which would replace the EA-18G’s underwing AN/ALQ-99 pods, is already under strain. Read DID’s “The USA’s NGJ Strike Jammers” for full coverage.

Nov 26/13: AEA #100. Northrop Grumman delivers the 100th EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack kit to Boeing. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman Delivers 100th EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack Kit”.

FY 2013

Instead of ending production, FY 2014 USN budget orders 21; Australia import request for 12 more EA-18Gs; EA-18 mechanic shortage. EA-18G on
USS George Washington
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September 2013: Land Basing. The USNI’s Proceedings magazine has an article by VAQ-132 squadron Commander Dave Kurtz, whose EA-18Gs deployed widely across a series of Pacific land bases in 2012–13. The lessons from this experience, he says, argue for a dual carrier/ land-based role that more closely resembles past employment of the US Navy’s P-3 sea control aircraft, rather than its F/A-18 hornets.

Fleets would still have their designated carrier-borne squadrons, such as the Pacific theater designated squadron aboard USS George Washington [CVN 73]. The ability to fly new squadrons in or carry them on ship lets the Navy add planes to theater as needed, and gives airborne electronic attack a maneuvering element within the theater that has more options, and isn’t tied to the carrier’s primary missions. On the other hand, if the carrier needs to re-embark them, or add their it can. Sources: USNI Proceedings, Sept 2013 [subscription req'd].

Sept 25/13: Testing. A $41.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for 10 pre-production Operational Test Program Sets in support of the EA-18G. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in August 2018. The US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ manages this contract (N68335-10-G-0012, 0046).

Sept 23/13: ECP. A $38.2 million fixed-price, incentive-fee delivery order for F/A-18E/F and EA-18G trailing edge flap retrofit kits. The flaps were redesigned as part of an engineering change proposal, and the order includes 48 trailing edge flap kits, 48 left hand units, and 48 right hand units. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be completed in July 2017 (N00019-11-G-0001, 0073).

Sept 20/13: Testing. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Bethpage, NY receives a $10.9 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract related to work on the EA-18G’s core avionics program (known as the “Operational Flight Program”), avionics subsystem emulation, and some of its electronic attack units. The plane’s avionics and jammers need to work well together, or the plane will be in trouble. Northrop Grumman will provide up to 3 EA-18G systems emulation laboratory systems; up to 2 electronic attack unit/communication countermeasures sets/ALQ-99 integration test systems for the plane’s main jammer pods; 1 electronic attack unit/ALQ-99 integration test system; and one ALQ-218(V)2 integration test system for the plane’s signals interception and geo-location pods.

Just under $1 million is committed immediately, Work will be performed in Bethpage, NY (65%); Baltimore, MD (33%); and Camarillo, CA (2%), and is expected to be completed in January 2017. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, since Northrop Grumman makes the plane’s jamming equipment. The US Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at China Lake, CA manages the contract (N68936-13-D-0036).

Aug 8/13: TTNT. Boeing touts July 15-19/13 flights of an EA-18G Growler equipped with “sensor system upgrades and its newest data network.” Subsequent conversations with Boeing reveal that the network is Rockwell Collins’ TTNT (Tactical Targeting Network Technology), which has been in development since 2001.

TTNT creates high-bandwidth, on-the-fly networks by using an IP-based wireless waveform for mesh networking, with real-time bandwidth allocation and ad hoc security authentication. Latency is low enough that it can be used for safety-of-flight applications like positioning and controlling the carrier-based X-47B UCAS-D drone. Individual weapons like missiles can also join, mesh participants can be moving at up to Mach 8, and range is reportedly over 300 nmi. Slower Time Division Multiple Access waveforms like Link 16 will still be used, and will continue to receive improvements, but TTNT looks like the long-term future foundation.

EA-18G operational deployment of TTNT is expected in 2018, making it just the 2nd plane in the fleet to receive TTNT as a production capability, after the E-2D Hawkeye AWACS plane. TTNT will also be retrofitted into existing EA-18Gs, and will eventually become ubiquitous within the US military. Boeing and the Navy will work closely with supplier partners Northrop Grumman, Harris Corporation, L-3 Communications and Rockwell Collins to upgrade the EA-18G fleet. Sources: Boeing Aug 8/13 release & inquiries; see “Additional Readings and Sources” for more on TTNT.

July 17/13: EA-18G mods. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $17 million cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for phase I of the NGJ pod’s EA-18G hardware integration. $10 million is committed immediately. According to the July 10/12 RFP, the EA-18G will need a number of minor changes in order to work with the new pods. NAVAIR acknowledges possibilities that include improved fiber networks and switches on board; plus modifications to NGC’s ALQ-218 onboard tactical jamming receiver, mission computer and stores management system, digital memory devices, mission planning software, and specialized onboard jamming equipment including the EIBU, EAU, and Jammer Technique Library.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in October 2014. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-G-0001, #2049).

May 10/13: ALQ-99. L-3 Communications Corp. in San Carlos, CA receives an $8.4 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract, in order to establish a depot for repair of the AN/ALQ-99 (V) Band 4 pod’s L8003 output traveling wave tube. $1.9 million is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in San Carlos, CA, and is expected to be complete in April 2018. This contract was not competitively procured in accordance with FAR 6.302-1 by the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN (N00164-13-D-WS59).

May 9/13: F414. General Electric Co. in Lynn, MA receives a $22.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising an option for 6 F414-GE-400 engines, pre-installed in 3 EA-18Gs. Most F414 contracts are shared between EA-18s and F/A-18E/Fs.

Work will be performed in Lynn, MA (59%); Hooksett, NH (18%); Rutland, VT (12%); and Madisonville, KY (11%), and is expected to be complete by in March 2015. $22.2 million will be obligated at time of award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (N00019-11-C-0045).

April 10/13: FY 2014 budget. The Obama administration finally releases its budget proposals, including the Pentagon’s FY 2014 requests. One of the most notable changes in the Navy’s “Procurement by Weapon” file is the addition of 21 more EA-18Gs, with a $2 billion budget. At the same time, plans to buy 13 F/A-18E/F fighters for around $1.14 billion were canceled. The $274 million in FY 2014 involves spares, and shared costs related to the EA-18G. In effect, the Super Hornet order was transmuted into Growlers, raised pro rata by about $375 million total for that switch, then had 8 more planes added to it.

The shift into an all-Growler buy was helped by the Australian purchase of 12 Airborne Electronic Attack kits, which lowered costs for added US orders. Strike while the iron is hot, and all that. The other story associated with this shift involves the F-35B/C. The F-35 program is improving, but it has basically stood still or even gone backwards over the last 5 years. That means late introduction, and even later Initial Operating Capability. Especially given the poor progress of software development, and the additional progress required to create a combat-ready F-35. Not having stealth-enhanced F-35s is more than a fighter gap – it’s also a strike gap against improving air defenses. The most obvious way to close that gap is to add to the EA-18G fleet, in order to help existing naval fighters get through enemy defenses before F-35s start contributing some time in the early 2020s. Even after F-35s arrive, EA-18Gs will remain invaluable to coalition warfare for a long time, and have real utility in small wars that feature remotely-detonated bombs.

FY 2014 is expected to end Super Hornet family orders, barring exports outside the USA. That leaves the USN’s Super Hornet program finishing with 552 fighters bought (though DID’s records show 549), and the EA-18G program finishing with a higher-than-expected 135 planes. Recall that at one time, the planned buy of EA-18Gs was just 80.

Feb 28/13: Australia. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Australia’s official request to buy another 24 Super Hornet family planes and associated equipment, which could be worth up to USD $3.7 billion. The split includes 12 more EA-18Gs, but its special equipment is missing from the request: the AN/ALQ-99F-V jamming pods, ALQ-218 jamming pods, CN-1717/A INCANS to prevent the plane from jamming itself, and equipment associated with radar-killing HARMN/AARGM missiles.

Without those things, Australia would be left with another 12 pre-wired F/A-18Fs, though they can always share the items bought under the May 22/12 special equipment DSCA request throughout the fleet. Or place a follow-on order for the AEA kit and pods, just as they did with their first 12. Read “Australia’s 2nd Fighter Fleet: Super Hornets & Growlers” for full coverage.

Australia requests 12 more

Dec 28/12: F414. General Electric Co., Lynn, MA receives a $67.1 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising an option for 18 F414-GE-400 Production Lot 17 install engines, and 24 “devices”. They’ll be used in EA-18Gs.

Work will be performed in Lynn, MA (59%); Hooksett, NH (18%); Rutland, VT (12%); and Madisonville, KY (11%), and is expected to be complete in March 2015. Contract funds in the amount of $67,141,518 will be obligated on this award, none of which will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-11-C-0045).

Dec 20/12: Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $164 million firm-fixed-price contract, exercising an option to begin procurement of 12 Airborne Electronic Attack Group B-Kits and 4 Equivalent Ship-sets of spares for the Royal Australian Air Force.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (41.1%); St. Louis, MO (36.3%); Bethpage, NY (19%); and Fort Wayne, Ind. (3.6%), and is expected to be complete in March 2015. All contract funds are committed immediately. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manage the contract on behalf of its Foreign Military Sale client (N00019-09-C-0086). Note that the entire conversion of 12 aircraft is expected to cost about $1.5 billion (vid. Aug 23/12).

Australian orders begin

Dec 4/12: Training. Under a new 5-year, $56 million contract, Boeing will maintain U.S. Navy aircrew training devices for the P-8A, its P-3C predecessor, EP-3 Aries electronic eavesdropping planes, EA-6B Prowler and EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jets, and older SH-60B Seahawk helicopters.

Mark McGraw, Boeing’s VP for Training Systems and Government Services, says the firm is looking to offer these services internationally. It’s a somewhat natural extension for its own products, like the EA-18G. It’s less natural for Lockheed Martin’s P-3s, Northrop Grumman’s EA-6s, and Sikorsky’s SH-60s.

The training devices are located at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, FL; Marine Corps Air Station Kaneohe Bay, HI; NAS Whidbey Island, WA; and Kadena Air Base, Japan. Boeing.

Nov 15/12: AOL Defense reports that the US Navy’s buildup of EA-18G fighters reflects a distrust of stealth. Given ongoing advances in technologies like passive radars, mistrust might be justified, but we don’t see it. The Navy’s commitment to F-35 variants is huge, and efforts like UCAS-D and UCLASS require stealth in order to make much sense. Verbal hemming and hawing doesn’t mean much until it’s embodied in budgets, and Ockham’s Razor suggests that the urgency around more EA-18Gs and Super Hornets traces to F-35 delays rather than distrust.

With respect to the EA-18Gs, the fleet’s biggest shortage is mechanics and support technicians. They’re pulling them from EA-6B squadrons so quickly, that the Navy has had to hire over 200 contractors from L-3 to keep the 6 Prowler squadrons running. Why not just hire them for the EA-18G? Because you can find civilians who were former EA-6B techs, but none who were EA-18G techs.

FY 2012

Australia goes ahead with 12 Growler kits; GAO report says ALQ-99 pods have poor reliability, won’t be as effective beyond 2018; DOT&E says EA-18G reliability is improved; Structural changes continue. EA-18G refuels
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Aug 23/12: Australia. Minister for Defence Stephen Smith and Minister for Defence Materiel Jason Clare announce their decision to proceed with the conversion of 12 Super Hornets into Growlers for about A$ 1.5 billion (about $1.557 billion), with availability expected for 2018.

All 24 of Australia’s F/A-18F Block II Hornets have already been delivered. This conversion will take takes the 12 Australian F/A-18Fs that were pre-wired for EA-18G conversion (vid. Feb 27/09 entry), and adds the internal electronics and pods. Australia DoD.

Australia decides on EA-18G conversions

Aug 7/12: Australian costs. Australia’s Canberra Times gets some clarification on the difference between the Australian government’s A$ 300 million estimate to convert 12 F/A-18Fs into EA-18Gs, and the USD 1.7 billion mentioned in the May 22/12 DSCA request. Short answer: The difference is the $1.4 billion cost of the 34 AN/ALQ-99 jamming pods, if they are bought outright:

“Australia wasn’t planning to buy the ALQ-99 electronic warfare pods, just the systems and hardware to allow them to be fitted on an ”as required” basis… a Defence spokesman has explained. ”The initial proposal that underpinned the 2009 cost estimate would have provided a lesser capability than Defence now proposes to acquire”. The pods would have had to be obtained from the United States Navy whenever Australia wanted them, a source said.”

March 29/12: GAO Report. The US GAO releases “Airborne Electronic Attack: Achieving Mission Objectives Depends on Overcoming Acquisition Challenges. The EA-18G isn’t a problem, and the program gets high marks. GAO’s larger concerns involve an integrated electronic warfare plan that has had key planks removed at stand-off ranges (B-52 pod canceled), and in close against high end systems (no stealth UCAVs), even as plans to mount systems on UAVs are faltering because they’re too dangerous to the UAVs carrying them. The other problem is the AN/ALQ-99 pods that will be moved over from the EA-6Bs to the EA-18G, and accelerated wear among the EA-6Bs carrying them:

“By the end of fiscal year 2012, 32 EA-6Bs will be upgraded to the [most modern] ICAP III configuration. Navy officials told us that persistent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, have degraded the condition of EA-6B aircraft… The Navy’s Low Band Transmitter upgrade to the AN/ALQ-99 system is intended to replace three aging legacy transmitters that suffer from obsolescence and reliability problems. According to Navy officials, persistent use of these transmitters in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan has exacerbated system shortfalls… However, Navy officials project that even with [maintenance & operations] improvements, system capabilities will be insufficient to counter anticipated evolutions in threat radars and missiles beginning in 2018. This shortfall is expected to be addressed by the new Next Generation Jammer.”

Feb 23/12: ALQ-99. Sensor and Antenna Systems, Inc. in Lansdale, PA receives a $39 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising exercise an option for 48 low band transmitters, 13 vertical polarized antennas, and 28 horizontal polarized antennas associated with the AN/ALQ-99 low band transmitter. The ALQ-99 isn’t used exclusively on EA-18Gs, but they will all migrate to the Growler as the EA-6Bs are replaced.

Work will be performed in Lansdale, PA, and is expected to be complete in August 2014. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contract (N00019-10-C-0047).

Feb 22/12: Australia. Adelaide’s The Advertiser reports that March 2012 will feature Defence Minister Stephen Smith announcing an A$ 200-300 million decision to upgrade 12 of Australia’s Super Hornets to EA-18 electronic warfare planes.

“News Limited understands that the first [EA-18] aircraft will be converted at the Boeing factory in St Louis and the remainder at Amberley RAAF base near Brisbane.”

It also reports that the Minister favors a September 2012 decision to buy another 12 F/A-18Fs, in order to make up for the F-35A’s expected lateness. The RAAF is reportedly against this, given expected defense reductions this year, and worries that the cost will eventually be paid for by fewer future F-35s. Which may be true. On the other hand, Australia needs to keep its fleet combat-capable while it waits.

Feb 1/12: A $132.8 million contract modification, exercising an option for 12 sets of EA-18G airborne electronic attack kits and the associated non-recurring engineering, as part of Lot 36 Full Rate Production. This figure is very much in line with last year’s order, vid. June 29/11. Note, too, the use of “Lot 36 FRP”. The EA-18G hasn’t had time for nearly that many production lots, but the Hornet airframe has. EA kits comprise the various specialized technologies that distinguish the EA-18G from the F/A-18F.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (41.1%); St. Louis, MO (36.3%); Bethpage, NY (19%); and Fort Wayne, IN (3.6%). Work is expected to be complete in September 2014 (N00019-09-C-0086).

AEA kits

Jan 17/12: DOT&E mixed. The Pentagon releases the FY2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The EA-18G is included, and the news is pretty good:

“Emerging 2011… results suggest the EA-18G remains operationally effective, while operational suitability has notably improved… the EA-18G system met the threshold for operational availability. The point value for reliability met the 14-hour threshold, but the 80 percent confidence level (lower bound) fell below the threshold. Maintainability did not meet the threshold level but only by a small measure, and built-in test performance was largely improved since IOT&E. Maintenance documentation was improved from IOT&E, but Navy personnel still rated the system as difficult to use and incomplete in some areas. DOT&E analysis of test data is still ongoing and a complete assessment will be published in early FY12.”

Nov 1/11: Spares. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Bethpage, NY receives a sole source, firm-fixed-price, maximum $26 million contract from the US Navy for airborne electronic attack spares and radio frequency switches. Since much of this equipment is common to the EA-18G and EA-6B platforms, the Growler’s share isn’t entirely clear, but it will be growing over the performance period.

Work will be performed in Bethpage, NY and Linthicum, MD, running until July 31/14 and paid for by FY 2012-2014 Navy Working Capital funds. The US Defense Logistics Agency Aviation Strategic Acquisitions group in Philadelphia, PA manages the contract (SPM4AX-12-D-9401).

Oct 19/11: Australia. During an interview with Australia Broadcasting Corporation Radio, Labor government defense minister Stephen Smith discusses the possibility of turning 12 of Australia’s Super Hornets into EA-18G Growler electronic warfare fighters, whose conversion price tag is described by the interviewer as “upwards of A$ 300 million.” The EA-18G recently saw their its combat use over Libya, and:

“We’ve just started the process of making a judgment about whether acquiring [them] would be in our national interest or our national security interest… we took the sensible precaution of wiring up half of our Super Hornets for this potential. But it is a very expensive capability. We’re just going through the process… this possibility would come as no surprise to our friends and neighbours in the region. It’s been on the public record before and part of the [2009 Defence] White Paper.”

The minister does not contradict the price figure, and in a related ABC TV interview, he mentions costs of “hundreds of millions.” The minister also implied that further delays or issues with the F-35A could make an EA-18 conversion more likely, as a way to strengthen Australia’s air capability in the interim. ABC radio transcript | ABC24 TV news transcript.

Oct 3/11: Innovation. Boeing discusses recent changes to the Super Hornet family’s wing frame, which sharply reduced the number of parts, and the amount of assembly time. Modern manufacturing technologies let them replace a large number of components from different subcontractors, with a machined 1-piece component that makes up much of the wing frame. That reduces rework and labor assembly time, while improving the wing’s reliability. Boeing (incl. video).

FY 2011

1st combat deployments to Iraq & Libya; AARGM radar-killing missile test; DOT&E report says EA-18G is effective, but not reliable, esp. re: software; Next-generation jammers. VAQ-132 returns
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July 29/11: Support. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Bethpage, N.Y receives a $54.8 million, 3-year indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for engineering, technical and program support services for ongoing development & maintenance of EA-6B operational flight software, EA-6B “unique planning component,” and EA-18G operational flight software. Both aircraft types are handled by the Navy’s Airborne Electronic Attack Integrated Product Team.

Work will be performed in Point Mugu, CA (90%), and Bethpage, NY (10%), and is expected to be complete by July 2014. $200,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N68936-11-D-0028).

July 9/11: Deployment returns. VAQ-132’s EA-18G Growlers all return to their home base at NAS Whidbey Island, WA, after completing an 8-month land-based deployment to Iraq and Libya. Deployed EA-18Gs now include VAQ-141 aboard the USS George H.W. Bush [CVN 77], marking the Growler’s first sea-based deployment. They’re part of Carrier Air Wing 8, operating in the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. Boeing mentions that “a third electronic attack squadron, VAQ-138, recently deployed to a land-based location,” which could mean that they’ve replaced VAQ-132 over Libya.

By the end of 2015, 3 expeditionary squadrons and 10 carrier-based squadrons are scheduled to transition from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18G Growler. US NAVAIR | Boeing.

June 29/11: AEA FRP-2. A $130 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 12 airborne electronic attack kits and associated engineering, as part of EA-18G orders in Super Hornet family full rate production Lot 35. Note that this isn’t ordering airframes, or radars, or engines – just the electronic attack equipment. Some simple division should help readers get a better sense of how much “government furnished equipment” can add to the price of a fully functional fighter, especially a very specialized plane like the EA-16G.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (43.3%); St. Louis, MO (33.3%); Bethpage, NY (17.8%); and Fort Wayne, IN (5.6%), and is expected to be completed in July 2013 (N00019-09-C-0086).

AEA Kits

May 25/11: AARGM. The Navy’s new AGM-88E AARGM radar-killer missile successfully completes its 1st EA-18G Growler test, during a captive-carry flight at China Lake, CA. Growler work will continue, in parallel with the ongoing AARGM Integrated Test & Evaluation phase using FA-18C/D Hornets.

The test squadrons have also used Super Hornets, and Cmdr. Chad Reed, deputy program manager for Anti-Radiation Missiles within the Direct and Time Sensitive Strike program office (PMA-242), says that F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler testing since November 2010 totals 25 flight hours, compared to over 150 flight-hours on F/A-18C/D Hornets. US NAVAIR.

March 30/11: Support. A $40 million awarded fixed-price-incentive-fee contract modification for one-time engineering services in support of the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G’s next generation advanced mission computer system.

Work was performed in Bloomington, MN (53.7%), Baltimore, MD (33.3%), and St. Louis, MO (13%). This is a retroactive contract, with the Pentagon noting that “Work was completed in December 2010″ (N00019-09-C-0019).

March 30/11: Support. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Bethpage, NY receives an $8.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification to provide engineering and software services in support of EA-6B Prowler and EA-18G Growler aircraft. Services will include design, development, integration, test and distribution of the operational flight programs, flight test and aircraft integration support, and engineering support to transition the electronic attack mission from the EA-6B to the EA-18G.

Work will be performed at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in Point Mugu, CA, and is expected to be complete in December 2011. The Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division at Point Mugu, CA manages the contract (N68936-08-D-0026).

March 20/11: Combat debut. The EA-18G makes its combat debut during opening strikes against Libyan air defenses, using the 5-plane Scorpions squadron that had been deployed to Al-Asad in Iraq (vid. Feb 1/11). They’re currently operating out of NAS Sigonella and Aviano Air Base, in Italy. US Navy | CNN.

Combat debut

Feb 3/11: DOT&E. A January 2011 report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) rates the EA-18G as “operationally effective,” (can perform its mission), but not “operationally suitable” (supportable in a sustainable way). Software stability in particular is seen as an ongoing issue.

The US Navy disagrees. They say it’s both effective and suitable, and argue that the DOT&E included items outside the scope of the program for its 2010 report. “None of the anomalies were showstoppers,” says the Navy, and scheduled testing in early 2011 should tell them how many of the remaining issues are still a problem. Aviation Week | See also past DOT&E 2009 report (2010 release, PDF).

Feb 1/11: 1st deployment. DLA Aviation discusses the challenges it has faced working to support the EA-18G’s 1st expeditionary deployment, at Al-Asad AB, Iraq. VAQ-132’s deployment began in mid-November 2010, but a 2009 change placed them on land, instead of on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70).

The removal of the carrier’s inherent support infrastructure was just the first of many issues as DLA planned for the land-based deployment. Another was an expected increase in flight hours from 30 hours per month, to over 100 hours. Having about 30,000 parts in common with the F/A-18F helps, as DLA also supports Super Hornets in theater. Even so, a delay in receiving Navy requirements forced DLA to do a lot of expediting, finding lateral support, and asking for spot buys, in order to ensure 100% inclusion of the items they believed they’d need to keep the lanes running. In the end, the pack up kit of consumable parts for the 5 EA-18Gs included about 900 of the most needed items.

Nov 29/10: Support. A $6.7 million firm-fixed-price delivery order under the basic ordering agreement. Boeing will provide operational level (front line, not depot-level) support equipment that’s specific to the EA-18G, and not common to other Super Hornet aircraft. This will help new EA-18G aircraft squadrons stand up with everything they need.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in November 2012. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, N.J. manages this contract (N68335-10-G-0012).

Nov 19/10: EW Trends. Aviation Week, “Directed Energy Weapons Attack Electronics” :

“The lightning rod for rapid fielding of directed energy (DE) weapons and advanced sensors will be the military’s next-generation jammer programs that exploit technologies like active electronically scanned arrays (AESAs) antennas and high-power microwave (HPM) capabilities, say senior U.S. government and industry officials at the 13th Directed Energy Conference.

Radars on the Lockheed Martin F-22 and F-35, and Boeing F/A-18F and EA-18G, already have the potential to fire focused beams of energy as soon as funding is available to develop the necessary advanced algorithms.”

FY 2010

SAR costs go up because EA-18G numbers do, in light of F-35 delays; Full-Rate Production approved; 2nd squadron declared ready for action; New facilities at NAS Whidbey Island, WA to serve as key hub for the Growler fleet; 1st new crew graduates for EA-18G; EA-18G, carrier landing
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Aug 6/10: Spares. A $5.9 million ceiling priced delivery order for repairable support for advanced electronic attack components of the EA-18G aircraft.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (84%); Bethpage, NY (8%); Whidbey Island, WA (3%); Melbourne, FL (2%); St. Augustine, FL (2%); and Fort Wayne, IN (1%). Work is expected to be complete by January 2011. The Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, PA manages this contract (N00383-06-G-006B, #0012).

May 28/10: Support. Raytheon Network Centric Systems in Fort Wayne, IN received an $8.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide performance-based engineering services in support of the EA-18G’s AN/ALQ-227 communication countermeasure systems. Support services will include systems engineering, testing, product assurance, logistics, training, and production.

Work will be performed in Fort Wayne, IN, and is expected to be complete in May 2015. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR 6.302-1, by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division in China Lake, CA (N68936-10-D-0013).

May 24/10: Infrastructure. A ribbon-cutting ceremony marks Hangar 5’s recapitalization at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, WA. The $55.8 million design-build project began in January 2008. The improved facility will house 5 EA-18G Growler squadrons, the Electronic Attack Weapons School and Commander, Electronic Attack Wing, U.S. Pacific Fleet. US Navy photo release.

April 1/10: SAR. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. The USA wants more EA-18Gs:

“EA-18G – Program costs increased $2,901.0 million (+33.5%) from $8,649.1 million to $11,550.1 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of 29 aircraft from 85 to 114 aircraft (+$2,342.5 million) and associated schedule and estimating allocations (+$7.8 million), and an increase in support costs for 26 expeditionary aircraft associated with the quantity increase (+$547.6 million).”

SAR – more EA-18Gs

March 5/10: 1st graduates. The US Navy’s EA-18G Fleet Replacement Squadron trainers in VAQ-129 graduate Class 09-08, the first class of 5 “Category 1″ EA-18G aircrew that come straight from flight school. The squadron had previously trained veteran EA-6B pilots from VAQ-132 and VAQ-141, where the new “Cat 1s” will be assigned.

The 9-month course included a wide range of activities, from computer-based training, to lectures, simulators, and flights. Flights include day and night formation flying, basic radar mechanics, air-to-air fighter tactics, airborne electronic attack, in-flight refueling, and day and night carrier qualification. The Airborne Electronic Attack portion of the syllabus is new, and is being refined with each successive class.

Unlike the EA-6B, where student pilots carrier qualify with a veteran instructor in the right seat, the CAT 1’s must take the Growler to the boat as a “crew solo”: a student in the front, and a student in the back. US Navy.

Feb 12/10: 2nd squadron. The “Shadowhawks” of VAQ-141 are declared “Safe for Flight” in their new EA-18G Growlers at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whidbey Island, WA, following an 8-month training period under fleet replacment squadron VAQ-129. The Shadowhawks are the 2nd operational squadron to achieve this qualification, after the “Scorpions” of VAQ-132. Both squadrons had previously flown EA-6B Prowlers. US Navy.

Jan 12/09: Support. Wyle Laboratories, Inc. in Huntsville, AL received a $10.8 million cost-plus fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract to provide airborne electronic attack engineering support for the EA-6B, EA-18G, and other advanced electronic attack derivatives at the Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division (NAWCWD) in Point Mugu, CA.

Work will be performed at NAWCWD, Point Mugu, CA (85%); NAWCWD, China Lake, CA (5%); Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, MD (5%); and Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island, WA (5%). Work is expected to be complete in January 2015. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to Federal Acquisition Regulations by NAWCWD in China Lake, CA (N68936-10-D-0014).

Feb 3/10: F-35 vs. F/A-18. Ranking House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee Rep. Todd Akin [R-MO] publicly supports building more Super Hornet family aircraft, and advocates a multi-year buy approach for the F/A-18E/F and EA-18G, similar to the 2005-2009 contract. In Rep. Arkin’s release, he says that:

“I remain concerned that the Department of Defense is not taking the Navy’s strike fighter shortfall seriously… The Super Hornet is an active production line, and is dramatically cheaper than the JSF, which may not deliver anywhere close to on time… In this case, a multi-year procurement could save hundreds of millions of dollars, but the DoD seems to have their head in the sand. Secretary Gates mentioned that he thinks we need to have a 10% savings before we use a multi-year agreement. However, the Congress already gave DoD the authority to use a multiyear in this situation, even if the savings is less than 10%… A multiyear procurement could save nearly half a billion dollars over the next few years. To not pursue that savings is just irresponsible.”

Jan 7/10: F-35 delay. Media reports surface that Defense Secretary Robert Gates has ordered a delay in the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 program, cutting planned purchases from 2011 – 2015 in order to fund research, development, testing & evaluation (RDT&E). In FY 2011-12, the US Navy will reportedly compensate for the implicit F-35C delays, by buying another 24 Boeing Super Hornet family planes for $2.4 billion.

A Bloomberg report confusingly mentions “F/A-18E/F planes that are capable of jamming enemy radar,” which could indicate the addition of 24 EA-18Gs. The Growlers would help to fill immediate gaps in airborne jamming, which is in high demand. They would also help maintain long-term fighter numbers with aircraft that would remain operationally viable farther into the future than standard Super Hornets. Bloomberg | Business Week | Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Nov 30/09: AEA FRP-1. A $386 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-09-C-0086) for the procurement of 22 EA-18G Lot 33 Full Rate Production (FRP) airborne electronic attack (AEA) kits, 22 EA-18G Lot 34 FRP AEA kits, and the associated non-recurring engineering.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (46.5%); Bethpage, NY (22.7%); St. Louis, MO (13.5%); Melbourne, FL (5.5%); Fort Wayne, IN (3.7%); Thousand Oaks, CA (3.7%); Wallingford, CT (2.6%); Nashua, NH (1.1%); and Westminster, CO (0.7%), and is expected to be complete in December 2012.

AEA Kits

Nov 30/09: 22 conversions. A $9.4 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-04-C-0014) to incorporate engineering change proposals 6251 and 6251R1 and convert 22 Lot 33 F/A-18F aircraft to EA-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (62%); El Segundo, CA (36%); and Mesa, AZ (2%), and is expected to be complete in September 2011.

EA-18Gs start out as F/A-18F base airframes, then receive additional wiring and other changes, before the full airborne electronic attack set is integrated.

Nov 23/09: The US Department of Defense approves Full Rate Production (FRP) of the EA-18G Growler. The EA-18G program now can proceed from Low Rate Initial Production to quantities of 20+ aircraft per year, as budgeted in FY 2010.

The EA-18G achieved Initial Operational Capability in September 2009 with US Navy electronic attack squadron VAQ-132, based at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Washington State. Boeing release.

FRP approved

Oct 29/09: A maximum $51 million firm-fixed-price, sole source contract for 23 line items in support of the EA-18G’s FY 2010 program. There was originally 1 proposal solicited with 1 response, and the date of performance completion is Dec 31/12. The Defense Logistics Agency Philadelphia, in Philadelphia, PA manages this contract (N00383-06-D-001J-TH05).

Oct 28/09: FY 2010. President Obama signs the FY 2010 defense budget into law. That budget provides funding for 22 EA-18Gs, and Congress increased related F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet purchases from 9 to 18. White House | House-
Senate Conference Report summary [PDF] & tables [PDF].

FY 2009

OpEval has EA-18G declared operationally effective and suitable; Carrier moniker will be “Grizzly”; Australia pre-wires 12 F/A-18Fs for future conversion; EA-18 Growler Lite?; EA-35s?; F-22 Raptor killed by EA-18G. EA-18G from below
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July 28/09: IOT&E. The US Department of Defense releases the EA-18G Growler’s initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E) findings, which recommended it for use in the fleet and gave it the best rating of “operationally effective, operationally suitable.” Effectiveness refers to mission performance evaluations, while suitability focuses on maintainability and reliability.

The initial EA-18G combines 2 fielded systems, in the F/A-18F airframe and the same Improved Capability III (ICAP III) electronic warfare suite used on current EA-6B Prowlers. That lowers risk, but it’s still a new combination. As it happens, software anomalies were discovered during the IOT&E process. The EA-18G team is developing a software update release, to be implemented during the normal verification and correction of deficiencies (VCD) period later this year. US Navy NAVAIR.

July 1/09: A $27.9 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-09-C-0086) for additional time-critical parts in support of EA-18G Full Rate Production.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in September 2009. The EA-18G has a set manufacturer, so this contract was not competitively procured.

June 8/09: EA-18G Grizzly. Gannett’s Navy Times reports that the EA-18G’s “Growler” moniker sounded too close to the EA-6B’s “Prowler”, so the EA-18G will now be known as the “Grizzly” in operational situations, in order to avoid any confusion or mistakes. Presumably, the standard NATO “G” phonetic alphabet call of “Golf” was seen as somewhat lacking. “Growler” will remain the EA-18G’s primary moniker outside of carrier decks.

The Navy does something similar with the F/A-18F, which is colloquially called the “Rhino”. F/A-18Fs were the first Super Hornets to get new and improved AN/APG-79 AESA radars in their nose cones.

“Grizzly” moniker

April 29/09: Support. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Bethpage, NY received a $9.9 million cost plus fixed fee contract for various products, and 73,571 hours of engineering services, in support of the EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) Integrated Product Team. The firm will provide assistance with design, development, integration, test and distribution of Electronic Attack Unit software, technical evaluations, and testing of changes; and will support follow-on test and evaluation integration and test.

Work will be performed at Point Mugu, CA, (85%); Bethpage, NY, (10%); and China Lake, CA, (5%), and is expected to be completed in April 2012. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to the FAR 6.302-1. The Naval Air Warfare Center, Weapons Division in China Lake, CA manages this contract (N68936-09-D-0026).

Feb 27/09: Australia. Australia is pre-wiring 12 of its planned 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, in order to allow future conversions to EA-18 Lite status. The additional cost for the pre-wiring on the production line is A$ 35 million, out of an order now cited as A$ 6.6 billion. Completing that fit out to “Growler Lite” status is expected to involve an additional A$ 300 million, with the go/no-go decision set for 2012.

Characteristically, the new Labor Party government’s release ends with a shot at the procurement policies of the previous Liberal Party government:

“If the Howard Government had taken a more prudent approach in making the Super Hornet decision rather than rushing to fill their impending air combat capability gap, they may have realised that this was a more effective approach to take.”

Feb 25/09: EA-18L Growler Lite? Media reports indicate that an export variant will soon be offered. The ALQ-99 radar jamming pod is still considered top secret, even though some of its hardware is a generation or two behind, and the program to field its replacement Next Generation Jammer has already begun.

Instead, export versions would reply on 2 components. Northrop Grumman’s ALQ-218v2 is a digital wideband radio frequency receiver, with selective jamming and geo-location capabilities. It currently equips the EA-18G’s wingtip pods, and the US Navy’s EA-6B Prowlers. Raytheon’s internally-mounted ALQ-227 communication countermeasures system makes use of a dedicated, omni-directional antenna for signals detection, analysis, and recording; but the removal of the ALQ-99 pods would remove its complex jamming functions, unless a foreign-made pod could be integrated with it instead. The export EA-18 would also ship with Raytheon’s APG-79 AESA radar, which equips existing EA-18Gs and F/A-18E/F Block II aircraft, and could be used as a jammer with additional software development.

The combination would be a strong SEAD (suppression of enemy air defenses) option, albeit one with less stealth than the F-35A. It would allow EA-18 Lites to geo-locate identified radar emitters, for instance, then target them with GPS-enabled anti-radiation missiles like AARGM. These capabilities could also be supplemented by foreign radar jamming pods bought on the international market, in order to create an aircraft with capabilities comparable to the EA-18G. Flight
| StrategyPage.

Feb 25/09: Raptor Killer. Stephen Trimble photographs a kill decal on EA-1, the 1st of 2 Lot 27 F/A-18Fs converted into flying EA-18G prototypes. Turns out, the kill decal is a F-22A Raptor, making EA-1 one of the few aircraft to ever achieve this feat:

“I did learn the EA-18G kill was courtesy of a well-timed AIM-120 AMRAAM shot. And I learned the simulated combat exercise took place at Nellis AFB. How the EA-18G escort jammer got the shot, and whether its jamming system played a role in the incident were not questions the pilot was prepared to answer.”

F-22 kill

Dec 23/08: AEA FRP-1. An unfinalized contract with a ceiling price of $50.3 million, to buy time critical parts (TCP) for 22 Full Rate Production (FRP) Airborne Electronic Attack systems. They will be fitted into the FY 2009 buy of 22 EA-18Gs. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete in May 2009. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-09-C-0086).

Dec 23/08: Support. A $21.2 million firm-fixed-price, cost plus fixed fee modification to a previously awarded delivery order contract (N00383-06-D-001J) for integrated contractor engineering, logistics, and equipment to support the EA-18G.

Work will be performed in Bethpage, NY (60%) and St. Louis, MO (40%), and is expected to be complete in December 2010, but $7.2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Dec 1/08: Spares. A $95 million delivery order under a previously-awarded Performance Based Logistics contract for spares in support of the EA-18G Growler. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (40%), and El Segundo, CA (60%), and is expected to be complete by September 2011. The Naval Inventory Control Point manages this contract (N00383-06-D-001J-TH00).

Nov 30/08: EA-35s? Aviation Week reports that the USAF (F-35A) and US Marines (F-35B STOVL) are moving toward plans that would let them convert F-35s into electronic attack aircraft that would serve alongside the EA-18Gs. Plans aren’t yet firm, but officials apparently hope that the F-35’s extremely advanced electronics and sensors, combined with parallel efforts like the Next Generation Jammer program, will allow the planes to be used as “EA-35s” without requiring dedicated and modified airframes.

In a world where small pods that can clip onto any fighter in the fleet have completely replaced dedicated “RF-” reconaissance fighters, the idea of a parallel development for “EA-” fighters does not seem ridiculous. See DID’s October 2005 “Supersonic SIGINT…” for more. Nevertheless, any program to create a full EF-35 capability will face challenging technical questions. An EW specialist interviewed by Aviation Week explained some of them:

“…if it’s in an external pod, [the extra radar reflectivity] will give away the aircraft’s location. Yet, if you put the guts of an NGJ into the weapon bays of a single-engine single-generator aircraft in order to maintain all-aspect stealth, you are rapidly going to run out of available power to run it… [And] If the aircraft has to maintain all-aspect stealth, then how can you do the necessary jamming… [Plus,] electronic attack is one area where size does matter… an EB-52 carrying large-aperture, active electronically scanned array radar with the output of an electronic techniques generator routed through it can be a very long-range electronic weapon. [Large ilitary aircraft of many types] are also possible platforms for the Next-Generation Jammer. Finally, unmanned aircraft of the [RQ-4] Global Hawk and [MQ-9] Reaper size could have the necessary size, power and payload.”

Nov 21/08: Training. Boeing delivers its first EA-18G Growler maintenance trainer to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, WA, 2 weeks ahead of schedule. Boeing delivered the first fleet EA-18G and an EA-18G aircrew trainer to VAQ-129 in June 2008.

The EA-18G Maintenance Trainer (EAMT) is a set of 3 devices. One is a hardware mockup that represents the gun bay and pallet, and the second represents a wingtip pod. The mockups are used to support training on installation and removal procedures for the Growler’s unique equipment. The third device is the Visual Environment Maintenance Trainer, where student interacts with the trainer via a fully replicated cockpit and displays to test and troubleshoot, while an instructor/operator station controls the simulations and 2 touch-screen displays provide graphical representations of the aircraft and support equipment. Boeing release.

Nov 4/08: OpEval. NAVAIR announces that the EA-18G Growler has moved to Operational Evaluation (OpEval), following initial sea trials on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower [CVN-69] from July 31/08 through Aug 5/08.

Oct 30/08: Support. A $6.5 million modification/ delivery order under a previously awarded contract to purchase repair-of-repairables support for the E/A-18 G Growler. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and the contract will end when the fiscal year does on Sept 30/09. The Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, PA manages this contract (N00383-06-D-001J, #0004).

Oct 2/08: OpEval. The Kitsap Sun reports that Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 9 has been using the USS John C. Stennis [CVN 75] as part of the EA-18G’s Operation Evaluation (OpEval), which includes carrier night landings and tests of the new electronic components’ durability under the controlled crash conditions of carrier landings.

Cmdr. Al Bradford, the squadron’s electronic warfare branch head, described this effort as “the final exam for the aircraft.”

FY 2008

SAR cites rising costs due to more planes; 1st delivery to fleet training squadron; 1st HARM radar-killer missile test; Support center inaugurated. EA-18G sea trials
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Sept 25/08: AEA LRIP-2. A $206.7 million modification to a previously awarded firm fixed price contract (N00019-07-C-0035) for 21 Airborne Electronic Attack Kits: 18 EA-18G low-rate initial production II kits, 3 EA-18G FY 2008 supplemental funding Kits, and associated non-recurring engineering. These kits are installed during conversion of the F/A-18F airframe to an EA-18G aircraft; see also June 13/08 entry.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (45%); Bethpage, NY (22%); St. Louis, MO (13.5%); Melbourne, FL (5%); Fort Wayne, IN (4.7%); Thousand Oaks, CA (4.2%); Wallingford, CT (2.5%); Nashua, NH (2.4%); and Westminster, CO (0.7%), and is expected to be complete in November 2010.

AEA Kits

Sept 25/08: Trade studies. A $6.7 million modification to a previously awarded cost plus award fee contract for 13 EA-18G trade studies to delineate technical solutions for improved EA-18G functionality and/or correction of identified deficiencies.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (60%); Bethpage, NY (30%); and Baltimore, MD (10%), and is expected to be complete in September 2009 (N00019-04-C-0005).

Sept 18/08: Spares. A $14.6 million ceiling-priced delivery order contract for spares in support of the EA-18G Growler aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete by March 2011. The Naval Inventory Control Point manages this contract.

Sept 18/08: Support. A $13 million ceiling priced modification to delivery order under a previously awarded contract for support equipment and engineering support for the EA-18G Growler aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete by April 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by The Naval Inventory Control Point (N00383-06-D-001J, #0004).

Aug 5/08: +3. A $659.2 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-04-C-0014), exercising the option for 13 F/A-18Fs and 3 E/A-18G aircraft for the U.S. Navy. Note that these are just airframes, without key components like radar, engines, and other associated equipment. The full cost of the delivered aircraft is significantly higher.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (28.7%); El Segundo, CA (25%); Goleta, CA (8.6%); Clearwater, FL (2.3%); Greenlawn, NY (2.1%); Burnsville, MN (2.1%); Johnson City, NY (2.1%); Brooklyn Heights, OH (2%); Vandalia, OH (2%); Grand Rapids, MI (2%); South Bend, IN (2%); Mesa, AZ (1.8%); Fort Worth, TX (1.8%); and at various locations across the United States (17.5%), and is expected to be complete in January 2012.

Aug 5/08: HARM. The EA-18G Test Team at NAWCWD China Lake conducts its first AGM-88 High-Speed Anti-Radiation Missile (HARM) test. HARM is designed to seek and destroy enemy air defense radars; it will be replaced by the AGM-88E AARGM beginning in 2010. Source.

July 31/08 – Aug 5/08: Initial sea trials on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower [CVN-69] involve 319 approaches, 62 catapult shots and 62 arrested landings. They had originally been scheduled over 10 days, but that time was cut in half. VX-23 Sqn’s EA-18G department head, Cmdr. Jaime Engdahl describes some of their innovative responses in the NAVAIR release, and notes their combined use of developmental testers and operational testers in the cockpit at the same time. Engdahl:

“In OpEval, the operational testers already have hundreds of hours of flight testing, they know what the systems are like, they have input into design changes and potential problems. The real benefit is the Fleet gets a better product earlier.”

July 23/08: The EA-18G Test Team at NAWCWD China Lake conducts its first AIM-120 Advanced Medium Range Air-To-Air Missile (AMRAAM) live fire. While jamming threat systems located at Echo range, the Growler engaged and fired on the BQM-74E target drone. Airborne chase cameras as well as optical trackers on the target drone confirmed safe weapon separation, followed by a very close missile pass to the target drone. It was scored as a hit, since the AMRAAM warhead uses a proximity fuze.

This event marks the first release of any live weapons by an EA-18G. It also distinguishes the EA-18G by virtue of its air-air capability; other electronic warfare aircraft have traditionally relied on short range missiles like Sidewinders for self-protection. NAVAIR release.

June 24/08: Spares. Contract modification #0012 to a previously awarded contract for the purchase of initial spares in support of the E/A-18G Growler. Orders will be placed as needed, but this contract cannot exceed $45.7 million.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and will be complete July 2010. The Naval Inventory Control Point (NAVICP) in Philadelphia, PA manages the contract (N00383-06-D-001J, order number 0004).

June 13/08: 18 conversions. A $17.6 million modification to previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract N00019-04-C-0014 will incorporate engineering change Proposal 6251 and 6251R1. That proposal involves converting 18 of production Lot 32’s F/A-18F aircraft to EA-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (70%), El Segundo, CA (29%), and Mesa, AZ (1%), and is expected to be complete in September 2010.

Boeing representatives confirm that this contract involves the routine process of converting basic F/A-18F production airframes into EA-18Gs, as part of the joint multi-year contract (Super Hornet MYP-II). This particular contract will install all of the required fittings et. al. that are necessary for the Growler’s specialized equipment. The actual contract for that equipment (wingtip pods, electronics “black boxes” etc.) and its installation will follow later, as another modification.

June 3/08: Delivery. Boeing delivers the first fleet EA-18G Growler airborne electronic attack (AEA) aircraft to the U.S. Navy’s VAQ-129 Vikings Electronic Attack Squadron at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA ahead of schedule and within budget. The Vikings are a Fleet Readiness squadron, which means they’ll be the training squadron for all EA-18G pilots.

The delivery follows 5 test aircraft, and the Growler is scheduled to enter Operational Evaluation in September 2008. If OpEval goes well, the aircraft will be moved from Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) to full-rate production. Boeing release | US Navy.

1st delivery

May 14/08: Infrastructure. Boeing holds a grand opening for its new EA-18G Growler Support Center (GSC) at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA. The center will provide technical and logistics support for the EA-18s once the Navy accepts the first fleet Growler at the aircraft’s NAS Whidbey Island home base in early June of 2008.

The GSC will house approximately 24 representatives from the Navy and the Hornet/Growler industry team of Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Electric. The center, along with the base’s existing supply chain management facility, will ensure that logistics support for new Growlers is readily available, per the FIRST performance-based maintenance contract for the US Navy’s Super Hornet fleet. Boeing release.

March 14/08: AEA LRIP-2. A $28.2 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-07-C-0035) for time-critical parts in support of the EA-18G’s Low Rate Initial Production II (LRIP II) Airborne Electronic Attack kits. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in April 2008.

March 5/08: Infrastructure. Small business and native business qualifer Alutiiq International Solutions, LLC in Anchorage, AK received a $21.2 million firm-fixed-price design/build contract for facility improvements at the Naval Air Station, Whidbey Island. The firm will upgrade existing facilities, and undertake some new construction in order to support the EA-18G aircraft.

Work will be performed in Oak Harbor, WA, and is expected to be complete by April 2011. This contract was competitively procured via the Naval Facilities Engineering Command e-solicitation website, with 2 proposals received by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Northwest in Silverdale, WA (N44255-08-C-6009).

Nov 19/07: Re-baselined. The Pentagon releases their latest Selected Acquisition Report, and the EA-18G is on it:

“The SAR was submitted to rebaseline the report from a Development to a Production estimate following approval of Low Rate Initial Production (Milestone C) in July 2007. Program costs increased $321.5 million (+3.8%) from $8,368.0 million to $8,689.5 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of five aircraft from 80 to 85 aircraft.”


FY 2007

Low-rate production of EA-18G Airborne Electronic Attack kits begins; EA-18G system development tests done. EA-18G takeoff
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Aug 31/07: AEA LRIP-1. A $122.3 million cost-plus-incentive-fee modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract for 8 of the EA-18G’s Low-Rate Initial Production I (LRIP I) Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) Kits and associated non-recurring engineering. In addition, this modification includes an unfinalized contract action for one FY 2007 supplemental funding EA-18G LRIP I AEA Kit, which would bring the total to 9.

The AEA kits involve internal electronics that distinguish the EA-18G from an F/A-18F, plus the ALQ-218 wingtip jammer pods.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (51.2%); St. Louis, MO (11.1%); Bethpage, NY (10.2%); Melbourne, FL (8.5%); Fort Wayne, IN (8.5%); Thousand Oaks, CA (4.4%); Wallingford, CT (2.6%); Nashua, NH (2.6%); and Westminster, CO (0.9%), and is expected to be complete in December 2009 (N00019-07-C-0035).

AEA Kits begin LRIP

Aug 31/07: Industrial. A $13 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-0005) for the procurement of additional factory test equipment in support of the EA-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (78.3%); St. Louis, MO (11.6%) and Bethpage, NY (10.1%), and is expected to be complete in April 2009.

Aug 22/07: Spares. $40 million for delivery order #0002 under previously awarded contract, to purchase initial spares in support of the E/A-18 G Growler. Work will be performed at St. Louis, MO and is to be complete by May 2009. The Naval Inventory Control Point in Philadelphia, PA issued the contract.

August 6/07: Radomes. A $10 million ceiling-priced modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-0005) for the design, development, fabrication/assembly and qualification of up to 20 EA-18G Extended Low Band Radomes. Radomes are an interestingly tricky. They need to be tough enough to handle the buffeting at the front of the fighter, while being transparent to radar signals from the fighter. The EA-18G adds even more electro-magnetic challenges to that equation.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (55%) and Mesa, AZ (45%), and is expected to be complete in September 2009 (N00383-06-D-001J).

July 2007: Milestone C. The EA-18G receives Milestone C approval, clearing it to move ahead into Low-Rate Initial production.

Milestone C

April 21/07: Testing. NAVAIR announces that the EA-18G Growler has finished an ambitious regimen of flight tests, concurrently completing both system developmental testing and an independent fleet operational assessment within the first 90 days of flight test. Feedback from operational testers is being immediately incorporated into development of the platform and its systems.

The EA-18G mission systems test team and aircrew from Flight Test and Evaluation Squadrons VX-23 at Pax River, VX-31 and VX-9 at NAWS China Lake, CA and Boeing contractor crews used EA-18G prototypes EA-1 and EA-2, logging over 100 hours of flight tests plus additional range testing as of late March 2007.

As one example of its success, the program schedule required the Growler to radiate ALQ-99 pods in a Pax River chamber by the end of February. As a result of early software delivery and solid system performance, the EA-18G test team was able to demonstrate this jamming capability in December 2006, radiate jammers in-flight by the end of January 2007, and ensure that jamming functions did not interfere with safe operation of any on-board systems across the entire ALQ-99 radiation spectrum. See full NAVAIR release: “Growler zaps through initial testing.”

Feb 16/07: AEA LRIP-1. A $6.5 million firm-fixed-price contract for time-critical parts in support of the EA-18G Low Rate Initial Production I Airborne Electronic Attack kits. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete in April 2007. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-07-C-0035).

FY 2005 – 2006

Formal rollout ceremony; 1st test aircraft delivered; 1st test flight with all jamming pods; 1st AEA kits ordered; INCANS verified – and what’s that; EA-18G Growler
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Sept 22/06: Delivery. The first test aircraft EA-1 is delivered to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD. EA-2 is scheduled to follow it by the end of 2006.

Aug 3/06: Rollout. At the formal rollout ceremony for the EA-18G, Boeing presented the aircraft to a crowd of more than 750 U.S. Navy customers, industry partners and Boeing employees at its Integrated Defense Systems facilities in St. Louis, MO. U.S. Navy Adm. Michael G. Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations and guest speaker at the ceremony, said: “It is clear that the demand for electronic warfare is not only going to remain high, but is going to grow…”

Rollout & delivery

June 30/06: AEA kits. An $82.4 million cost-plus-award-fee modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract for the first production representative lot of airborne electronic attack (AEA) kits for the EA-18G aircraft. This modification provides for 4 AEA kits, spares, and support equipment.

Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (42.5%); Bethpage, NY (28.2%); St. Louis, MO (18%); Fort Wayne, IN (4.8%); Nashua, NH (2%); Melbourne, FL (1.6%); Wallingford, CT (1.6%); and Westminster, CO (1.3%), and is expected to be complete in September 2008.

June 29/06: SDD. A $19 million firm-fixed price modification to the previously awarded firm-fixed-price with economic price adjustment F/A-18E/F airframes Multi-Year II (MYP II) contract. This modification provides for incorporation of Engineering Change Proposal 6251 to convert 4 of the Lot 30 F/A-18F aircraft to EA-18G system development and demonstration aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (55%); El Segundo, CA (42%); and Mesa, AZ (3%), and is expected to be complete in September 2008.

May 30/06: Testing. The Boeing EA-18G program test team flew a modified F/A-18F equipped with wingtip antenna and high- and low-band jamming pods for the first time, as part of ongoing flying qualities and carrier suitability testing to validate the EA-18G’s shipboard effectiveness. See Boeing release.

Feb 17/06: Displays. Honeywell International, Inc., Defense and Space Electronic Systems in Albuquerque, NM receives a $7.9 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N00019-05-C-0033) to exercise an option for the full rate production of five-inch-by five-inch (5″ x 5″) forward and aft advance multi-purpose displays (AMPDs) for forward fit in Lot 30 F/A-18E/F and EA-18G aircraft, and retrofit into Lots 22-24. This option provides for the procurement of 96 forward AMPDs (84 for forward fit into F/A-18E/F, 8 for forward fit into EA-18G, 8 for retrofit, and 9 spares) and 40 aft 5 x 5 AMPDs (26 for forward fit into F/A-18E/F, 8 for forward fit into E/A-18G, 4 for retrofit, and 2 spares). Work will be performed in Albuquerque, NM, and is expected to be complete in February 2008.

EG-18 FAST lab
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Feb 06/06: Testing. Boeing announces that the U.S. Navy has approved their test plans and processes for integrating several key subsystems into the EA-18G Growler. Successful completion of its first two test readiness reviews (TRR) in January 2005 and November 2005 allows Boeing to begin developing and integrating the systems at Boeing labs in St. Louis. The reviews focused on several key areas of the aircraft’s software: mission computer, electronic attack unit, the stores management system, interference blanking unit, the ALE-47 countermeasures system, EA-18G instrumentation system, mission planning and integration of the digital memory device.

Engineers will now focus on integration of EA-18G Build 1, the first of two builds of the airborne electronic attack aircraft software. The aircraft’s initial flight is scheduled for fall 2006 or early 2007, and EA-18G lab features like high-speed links and the Facility Automated Set-up and Test, or FAST architecture are designed to help engineers to meet the integration schedule. See Boeing release for further details.

Jan 31/06: Training. A $19.7 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-0005) for modeling and simulation, design, and development of a training system for the EA-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in Arlington, TX (50%) and St. Louis, MO (50%), and is expected to be completed in June 2008.

Jan 24/06: Testing. The EA-18G completes Jammer Flight Testing at Naval Air Warfare Center (NAWC), Patuxent River, MD. EA-18G department head (VX-23) Cmdr. Jaime W. Engdahl notes that the tests exercised all available jamming types for Build 1.5 in Bands 7/8/9, with “no notable EMC issues” and “no surprises.”

Naval Surface Warfare Center, Crane, IN is the cognizant Technical Authority for the plane’s AN/ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) Pod, and is teamed with Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and NAWC Point Mugu, CA to integrate the pod onto the EA-18G.

The word “pod” implies a level of plug-and-play that isn’t there; this effort required major electrical and structural modifications to the ALQ-99, including the development of the Pod Interface Unit, followed by 2 years of extensive environmental, flight performance, and integration testing performed at Crane, IN; Boeing in St. Louis, MO; and at NAWC Point Mugu and NAWC Patuxent River. US Navy.

Nov 8/05: INCANS. Boeing completes the initial laboratory verification of the EA-18G tactical aircraft’s Interference Cancellation (INCANS) system, and demonstrates the system’s capabilities during aircraft ground testing at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, MD. The INCANS system will allow the EA-18G to conduct voice communications over UHF radio with friendly forces while simultaneously jamming enemy communications, a difficult trick. The current EA-6B Prowler, for example, can’t do this. See Boeing release.

INCANS verification

EA-18G Prototype
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Sept 1/05: Mission planning. An estimated value $6.4 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract to develop, integrate, test and deliver 13 mission planning interfaces for the EA-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in Melbourne, FL (79%) and St. Louis, MO (21%), and is expected to be complete in August 2008 (N00019-04-C-0005).

Aug 17/05: Training. An $8.3 million ceiling-priced modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract to provide modeling and simulation; design and development for a training system for the EA-18G aircraft. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (50%), and Arlington, TX (50%) and is expected to be completed in June 2008 (N00019-04-C-0005).

July 13/05: Training. A $500 million not-to-exceed indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for the procurement of new F/A-18 E/F and EA-18G Trainer and Training Systems, upgrading existing systems, and including a full range of analysis; modeling and simulation; design, development; production; modification; test and evaluation, delivery; refurbishment; relocation; and product support of all training systems for the U. S. Navy and U. S. Marine Corps’ aircraft platforms.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be completed in July 2010. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL (N61339-05-D-0003).

Oct 21/04: Boeing Begins Work on First EA-18G Test Aircraft.

FY 2002 – 2004

ALQ-218 wingtip pods have issues; Milestone B approval; Initial flight demonstration. EA-18G rollout
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Sept 27/04: ALQ-218 issues. A $7 million ceiling-priced modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract to provide additional fault isolation in the ALQ-218 (V)2 Tactical Jamming Receiver components in support of the EA-18G System Development and Demonstration. Work will be performed in Baltimore, MD (73%); St. Louis, MO (14%) and Bethpage, NY (13%); and is expected to be complete in September 2009 (N00019-04-C-0005).

Dec 29/03: A $979 million ceiling-priced cost-plus-award-fee contract for system development and demonstration (SDD) of the E/A-18G weapon system.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (55%); Bethpage, NY (25%); Baltimore, MD (15%); El Segundo, CA (2%); St. Augustine, FL (1%); Hollywood, MD (1%); and Camarillo, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete in December 2009. This contract was not competitively procured (N00019-04-C-0005). The 5-year SDD program for the EA-18G runs from FY 2004 until early FY 2009 and encompasses all laboratory, ground test, and flight tests from component level testing through full-up EA-18G weapons system performance flight-testing. See also Boeing corporate release.

EA-18G system development

Dec 18/03: The US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) receives Milestone B approval to proceed into EA-18G System Development and Demonstration (SD&D). Approval was granted by Michael Wynne, acting under secretary of defense, (Acquisition, Technology and Logistics).

The EA-18G contract team received its first pre-SD&D contract in September 2002 to support preparation efforts for the SD&D phase, and an SD&D contract is expected shortly. The 5-year SD&D program is expected to run from FY 2004 to mid FY 2009, and encompasses all laboratory, ground test, and flight tests from component level testing, through full-up EA-18G weapons system performance flight-testing. NAVAIR announcement.

Milestone B

Nov 15/01: Boeing Successfully Completes Initial EA-18 Flight Demonstration.

Appendix A: The EA-18G and the Future Force Mix F-22A & F/A-18E
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The question of exactly where and how the new Growlers will fit into the future force remains a live issue. There has been a serious absence of integrated direction and planning in the Pentagon over the last decade re: the future of airborne electronic warfare platforms, and a relatively low priority assigned to dedicated “Wild Weasel” (anti-SAM) or electronic attack capabilities. This has arguably taken place in an environment where current capabilities remained “good enough.” The result, however, may be a lack of a clear niche in terms of establishing the EA-18G’s mission breadth and concept of operations (CONOPS).

At the moment, the assumption must be that the EA-18G will do it all for the US military as a tactical strike jammer. Despite the existence of the turboprop-driven EC-130H Compass Call, wavering interest in EB-52 SOJ long-range bomber jammers for the USAF, and the potential to create USAF and US Marine electronic attack F-35 Lightning IIs and F-22A Raptors by leveraging their vast installed capabilities, the EA-18G Growler is currently slated to be the only dedicated aircraft in this niche.

While EA-18Gs will fit in very well with the USAF’s F-16s and F-15 Strike Eagles, and with their Super Hornet counterparts, operational challenges arise in pairing them with the stealthier F-35 Lightning II fighters slated for use by the USAF, Marines, and Navy; or with “Global Strike” teams of stealthy F-22As and B-2 bombers. Long-range aircraft like the B-52 or B-1 also present potential operational challenges, due to the EA-18G’s range.

As effective AWACS aerial surveillance aircraft and ever more sophisticated anti-aircraft missile systems being exported around the world, the answers to such challenges will matter. The Growlers aren’t scheduled to enter service until 2009, and the F-35 Lightning II may be delayed to 2015. The EA-18Gs will be invaluable during that 6 year interim and beyond, as a key accompaniment to the legacy force. By 2010, however, with the F-22 production line coasting to a close, Reagan-era aircraft beginning to retire, and a new set of partner aircraft and threat capabilities on the horizon, deeper thinking about the US military’s long-term airborne electronic attack capabilities and composition will be required.

The Growler squadrons will undoubtedly be necessary – but will they be enough?

Footnotes EC-130H Compass Call
(click to view full)

(1) This doesn’t make the EA-6Bs the USA’s only electronic warfare aicraft. The US also has 13 “Compass Call” EC-130H Hercules variants, and these 4-engine turboprops offer long-endurance coverage that extends over very wide areas. Unlike an EA-6B or EA-18G, they won’t accompany strike packages directly. They do train to support tactical aircraft as they cross behind the forward edge of the battlespace (FEBA), while remaining behind the FEBA line themselves and blanketing a wide area with bogus primary targets, secondary targets, and targets of opportunity for enemy missiles and aircraft. They are also very well suited to providing persistent coverage for key convoys and other missions in-theater during “small wars” campaigns, and monitoring cell phone frequencies over wide areas.

The pending growth in stealthy and/or supercruising opposing fighters, coupled with longer-range air-to-air and ground-launched anti-aircraft missiles, is going to push FEBAs back sharply during state-to-state conflicts. That’s likely to magnify the strategic EW fleet’s role, in order to provide a protective cloak of misdirection that lets key strategic assets like aerial tankers and AWACS planes remain close enough to support allied fighters. The future strategic EW fleet will involve a tension between follow-on EC-130Js or similar aircraft to replace the EC-130H fleet, vs. a more distributed capability based on the USA’s Next-Generation Jammer, or similar pods that might equip most strategic assets sent near harm’s way. [return to article]

Additional Readings and Sources

A quick note to readers. The aircraft’s official program name is the EA-18G Growler. On carrier decks, however, it’s called a “Grizzly,” just as its F/A-18F counterpart is a “Rhino” rather than a Super Hornet. This makes it impossible to confuse similar sounding names, amidst the thunderous cacophony of a carrier deck.

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Categories: News

Chancellor Merkel Denounces Russian Creeping Expansionism

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 15:35

  • Vladimir Putin is losing [Time] even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who pointed out [WSJ] during a speech in Sidney how Russian meddling is extending far beyond Ukraine:

“This is not just about Ukraine. This is about Moldova, this is about Georgia, and if this continues then one will have to ask about Serbia and one will have to ask about the countries of the Western Balkans [link to DW added by DID].”


  • Okinama voters chose [Japan News] on Sunday a governor opposed to the relocation of a US base on the island chain. Takeshi Onaga, a former mayor of the Naha prefecture capital, won handily against the incumbent.

  • Germany plans to keep [Deutche Welle] up to 850 soldiers in Afghanistan next year, slightly more than anticipated.

Middle East

  • Musings on Iraq notes that ISIS has dramatically increased its use of car bombs as it faces increased pressure from government forces.

Network Resilience

  • DARPA is organizing an industry day [FBO] to discuss the Edge-Directed Cyber Technologies for Reliable Mission Communication (EDICT) to make it easier to recover from network failures and cyber attacks such as denials of service.

Future Surface Ships

  • The CSBA think tank published a plan [PDF] to reinvigorate US Navy surface warfare. The US Navy is going to be both overstretched, and technically challenged to maintain sea control against modern navies. CSBA lays out a solution that would change the roles of many ships, reconfigure air defense to a whole different model, emphasize offensive long-range surface strike and anti-air weapons, and fill remaining gaps with lasers and railguns. Lots to read and think about, but low power generation capabilities among high-end US Navy ships are a critical and hard-to-fix weakness of the entire plan.

  • Saab and PT Lundin showcased their Bonefish Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) concept at the Indo Defence tradeshow earlier this month. One use case in their pitch is the protection of oil rigs. Video below:

Categories: News