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Military Purchasing News for Defense Procurement Managers and Contractors
Updated: 1 hour 8 min ago

LM Successfully Launches Vector Hawk UAV from Marlin AUV | US Mil Building $100M Facility for MQ-9’s in Africa | Boeing Rolls Out 1st of 12 P-8As for Royal Australian AF

Thu, 09/29/2016 - 23:59

  • Lockheed Martin has revealed that they successfully launched a Vector Hawk canister-launched small UAV from their Marlin MK2 autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The disclosure was made during the Annual Navy Technology Exercise (ANTX) in August. To transmit the launch command to the Marlin, Lockheed engineers relied on the Submaran, an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) developed by Ocean Aero, as a relay.

Middle East & North Africa

  • It’s been reported that the US State Department has finally cleared the multi-billion sale of fighters to Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. Sources told media outlets that US officials have begun to notify lawmakers informally about the sale of 36 Boeing F-15 fighter jets to Qatar valued at around $4 billion, 28 F/A- 18E/F Super Hornets (plus options for 12 more), to Kuwait for around $3 billion, and 17 Lockheed F-16 fighter jets to Bahrain, plus upgrades of up to 20 additional aircraft. The deals will be formally announced once the 40-day informal notification process has ended.

  • Eurofighters purchased by Kuwait will come equipped with Lockheed Martin’s Sniper targeting pod, with 14 more already requested for its F/A-18 legacy Hornets. Deliveries will commence in 2017 for integration. Once fitted, the Eurofighter will become the 9th platform to use Sniper, joining variants of the F-15, F-16, F-18, A-10, B-1, B-52, F-2 and Harrier.


  • Building is underway by the US military of a $100 million facility for the use of MQ-9 Reaper operations in the region. The news comes less than a year after the announcement was made that Reaper and Predator bases in Ethiopia and Djibouti would be closed. MQ-9s operated from East African bases are used primarily for missions against Islamic insurgents such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and AQAP in Yemen.


  • Romania has become the latest operator of the F-16 following delivery of the first six from a total of twelve from Portugal. The $203 million deal includes nine F-16AM single-seaters and three F-16BM two-seaters as well as an overhaul of engines; initial logistics support; training of up to nine pilots, 75 technicians, and four mission planers; two years of on-site support; and updating the fleet to operational flight program (OFP) development software M5.2R standard, with support from Lockheed Martin. More F-16s from another NATO member are being sought by Romania who currently operate a fleet of MiG- 21 LanceR aircraft.

Asia Pacific

  • Saab is to pursue Gripen figter sales to the Philippine Air Force, with plans to open an office in Manila by the end of the year. Speaking on the opening day of the Asian Defence and Security 2016 (ADAS 2016) exhibition in Manila, Carl-Erik Leek, Saab’s executive vice-president in the Asia Pacific, said the new office would be the centre of the company’s marketing activities in the country. Current efforts in the country have been coordinated from the company’s regional offices in Thailand.

  • Delivery of the Malaysian Air Force’s fourth and final A400M transport aircraft will happen early next year. The first aircraft was delivered in March 2015, the second came early this year while the third was received in the middle of this year. Gen Tan Sri Roslan Saad told reporters that the latest A400M will come with a software upgrade.

  • Boeing rolled out the first of its 12 P-8A Poseidon aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force during a ceremony in Seattle. The maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft, based on the design of Boeing’s 737-800 fuselage, will fly to Australia in November. Featuring a weapons bay as well as under-wing and under-fuselage hard points for weapons, the aircraft will be used for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and shipping interdiction as Australia looks to assert itself as a regional security player in the region.

Today’s Video

Taiwan’s future air warfare DDG shoots down attacking F-14s:

Categories: News

Nothing but Netz: Used F-16s for Romania

Thu, 09/29/2016 - 23:55
MiG-21 ‘Lancer’
(click to view full)

The MiG-21 is reaching the end of its service life, but it can still be effective for a little while. India’s refurbished MiG-21 ‘Bisons’ combined Russian, Indian and Israeli technology to excellent effect in the COPE India 2004 and 2005 exercises with the USAF, and there’s even a Russian-Israeli MiG-21 2000 variant that exists for general sale. Israeli companies have made something of a specialty of refurbishing both Western and Soviet fighters with modern radars, avionics, and Israeli weapons like the Python air-air missile, giving the systems new life. An all-Israeli effort was undertaken for Romania, in order to create Romania’s MiG-21 ‘Lancers’ via upgrade.

The question is what comes next. In 2005, rumor had it that the success of those efforts had led to a more ambitious fighter deal between Israel and Romania for upgraded Cheyl Ha’Avir F-16A/Bs – but that deal appears to have fizzled for unknown reasons. Other firms entered the mix, including Saab with its JAS-39 Gripen and, surprisingly, EADS’ Eurofighter. Then the USA appeared to have flown away with the fighter replacement deal – but, not so fast.

Romania, Romania, Romania: Drivers and Options Slovakian MiG-29,
“Digital Thunder” camo
(click to view full)

Romania faced 3 big questions in deciding on its fighter purchase. They involved capability, finances, and foreign approvals. To those 3, add a pair of elements that are almost always present in fighter purchases: politics, and vanity.

Capability is always a concern, and Russia’s 2008 invasion of Georgia has only heightened regional concerns. While the Russian Air force is a shadow of its former self, so are the air forces of its former Warsaw Pact satraps. Unfortunately, modern NATO-compatible fighters are very costly, and East Bloc countries in particular feel the lack of any fielded low-budget options to fill the niche once occupied by planes like the MiG-21 and F-5. The natural response is to adopt NATO’s classic approach, and attempt to compete on quality.

Given the presence of upgraded SU-27 family fighters in the Russian fleet, competing on quality isn’t easy. Purchases from Russia itself, such as modern MiG-29/35 aircraft, offer another option. If the most likely future threat is seen as coming from Russia, however, that isn’t a viable option.

The Czech Republic and Hungary’s choice of 10-year leases for 14 fourth-generation JAS-39 Gripen aircraft illustrate one possible solution.

In 2005, reports in the Israeli press indicated that Romania might go another route, and spend $150 million to purchase “dozens” of used F-16A Netz (Hebrew for “Falcon”) aircraft from Israel. Israeli contractor Elbit Systems would be the lead contractor for an Israeli deal, overseeing their refurbishment and upgrade with newer Israeli electronics.

The one potential downside to the F-16 was the necessity of US approval for technology transfer or sale. Israel would be transferring the weapons themselves, not just maintaining them with Israeli technology. Formal American approval has always been required for any transfer of US equipment to 3rd countries. Fortunately, sales to a new NATO member like Romania were unlikely to attract any vetoes from the USA. Indeed, rumors in 2005 said that Romania had been given a provisional green light by the American government and by Lockheed Martin.

That approach seemed to be a good deal for both parties, and became a template for Romania’s search: buy a used version of the most widely-adopted fighter in NATO, with electronics that would be interoperable with NATO standards.

Evaluation & Options F-16I Soufa
(click to view full)

In 2005, the talk centered on an Israeli deal. The reports noted that the Israeli Air force (“Cheyl Ha’Avir”) planned to phase out at least some of its 75 older F-16A/B planes as it introduces 102 new F-16I Soufa (Storm) jets, which incorporate all of the F-16 Block 52 advancements plus Israeli electronics and weapons. Reports claimed that a special committee had been set up to coordinate the various stages of what seemed to be a complicated deal.

So, what did the Romanians have to say?

The Romanian Ministry of Defense admitted that they were undertaking “an evaluation of the feasible alternatives for the replacement of the MIG-21 Lancer aircraft,” with a decision scheduled for 2006-2007 and a target date of 2010-2012 for initial operational capability. Thy also noted, however, that they were evaluating more than one type of plane. Defense Minister Atanasiu said that Romania needed at least 24 new aircraft, and added that a leasing system, auctions, or even participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program were all under consideration.

JAS-39 Gripen
(click to view full)

Suggestions concerning the F-35 were probably just vanity talking. Romania has a proud cultural history, but its economy hasn’t yet caught up to the $70-100 million per plane cost of the F-35 JSF. The truth has always been that leases or used aircraft from other countries were Romania’s only realistic options. Its possible choices also tend to narrow down to the lightweight medium fighter segment, in order to achieve even the 24 modern fighters desired, in return for the kind of money the country had chosen to spend.

That left a small set of options:

  • Used F-16 Falcons, from Israel or from other NATO countries, including the USA (chosen).

  • Mirage 2000s, possibly used, from France.

  • Leased JAS-39 Gripens from Sweden. These may be more expensive than used aircraft, but they are far more capable, may offer maintenance cost improvements, and come with industrial offsets and leasing options.

  • Russian aircraft with upgraded Western avionics etc., much as Israel did for their Lancers. The MiG-29 is the only modern Russian fighter in Romania’s likely cost profile. Downsides include less NATO interoperability during operations outside of Romania, and extra costs per plane due to the required refits.

Within this group, the F-16 was always the most probable choice, barring a really excellent deal from Saab. After canvassing the Israelis, the Dutch, and even the Americans for offers, Romania finally settled on F-16s from Portugal in September 2012. The delays in getting to that point meant that the planes wouldn’t enter service until 2016.

Contracts & Key Events 2011 – 2016

Slow deal with Portugal. PoAF F-16A OCU
(click to view full)

September 30/16: Romania has become the latest operator of the F-16 following delivery of the first six from a total of twelve from Portugal. The $203 million deal includes nine F-16AM single-seaters and three F-16BM two-seaters as well as an overhaul of engines; initial logistics support; training of up to nine pilots, 75 technicians, and four mission planers; two years of on-site support; and updating the fleet to operational flight program (OFP) development software M5.2R standard, with support from Lockheed Martin. More F-16s from another NATO member are being sought by Romania who currently operate a fleet of MiG- 21 LanceR aircraft.

February 24/16: The Romanian Ministry of Defense has announced plans to purchase 12 more second-hand F-16 fighters in 2017. The procurement will the follow the delivery of F-16s from Portugal in September, which cost the government $695 million and included training and upgrades of systems from Lockheed Martin. The ministry has requested information from NATO allies (including the US and five European members) of available supplies with plans to purchase the fleet by auction.

Nov 8/13: Ancillaries. The US DSCA announces Romania’s official request to clear an initial transfer of key weapons and electronics that “will be procured through a third party transfer from Portugal,” as part of their F-16 MLU re-sale. Articles and services would include:

  • 30 AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM). Variant not mentioned, most current export variant is the C7.
  • 5 AIM-120C Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs)
  • 60 AIM-9M Sidewinder Missiles. The most widely-fielded version, but less advanced than the AIM-9X, which would have required digital upgrades to the F-16s.
  • 4 AIM-9M CATMs
  • 48 LAU-129 Launchers
  • 10 GBU-12 Enhanced Guided Bomb Units
  • 18 AGM-65H/KB Maverick Missiles
  • 4 AGM-65 CATMs
  • 15 MIDS-LVT boxes for Link 16 connectivity
  • 2 MIDS Ground Support Systems
  • 13 Embedded Global Positioning Systems/Inertial Navigation Systems (EGPS/INS) with GPS Security Devices, Airborne
  • 3 AN/ALQ-131 Electronic Countermeasure Pods
  • Plus spare and repair parts, support equipment, tanker support, ferry services, repair and return services, software development/integration, test and equipment, supply support, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, and other forms of support. The estimated cost is up to $457 million.

That’s more than a bit thin on associated weapons. Romania won’t have any existing stocks of these items from its upgraded, NATO-compatible Lancer fleet, either, but they may be able to transfer some of their existing RAFAEL Python 3 missiles and LITENING pods. Within the DSCA’s set, implementation won’t require any additional US government or contractor representatives in Romania. The principal contractors will be:

  • Elbit Systems of America in Fort Worth, TX
  • Pratt and Whitney in East Hartford, CT (Engine support)
  • BAE Systems Inc. in Arlington, VA
  • Lockheed Martin Corp. in Fort Worth, TX (F-16 OEM)
  • Northrup Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, CA (ALQ-131)
  • ViaSat Inc. in Carlsbad, CA (MIDS/ Link-16)
  • Data Link Solutions LLC in Cedar Rapids, IA (MIDS/ Link-16)
  • Snap-On Inc. in Kenosha, WI (Support equipment)
  • Booz Allen Hamilton Engineering Services, LLC in McLean, VA (Support)

Raytheon, who makes the AIM-9, AIM-120, and AGM-65 missiles, wasn’t mentioned. Source: US DSCA #13-59.

DSCA: F-16 ancillaries and weapons

Oct 11/13: Contract. Romania’s government announces a signed contract with Portugal, and an initial EUR 100 million payment of of the EUR 600 million total. According to Defense Minister Mircea Dusa, the first modernized F-16s will reach Romania in 2015, and the full squadron will be on hand for full MiG-21 Lancer replacement by 2017. Meanwhile, Romania will send 80 people to Portugal for flight and maintenance training. Source: actmedia, “Defense Ministry signs contract for F-16 aircraft purchase”.


June 19/13: OK. The Romanian government approves the bill for the F-16 purchase. Source: actmedia, “Defense Ministry signs contract for F-16 aircraft purchase”.

April 22/13: Slooow. Reports indicate that negotiations with Portugal will take until May 2013 (the deadline is June), but that dealing with the American bureaucracy will take until September 2013 – a year after Romania accepted Portugal’s bid.

Romania may also be interested in another 9 planes, which would bring their replacement fighters to 21. They currently operate 40 MiG-21 Lancers. China MoD News Channel.

Sept 24/12: From Portugal. Romania apparently outbids Bulgaria for 12 PoAF F-16s, offering EUR 600 million over 5 years for the jets (EUR 125 million) and associated training and maintenance (EUR 475 million). The planes will arrive in 2016, by which time Romania’s pilots will also be fully trained.

The fighters are described as “multirole,” but this is a bit of a stretch for the F-16 Block 15 OCUs. They can use AIM-120 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, but their previous-generation AN/APG-66 radars have limited ground capabilities, and the fighters’ main precision strike weapon is the short-range AGM-65 Maverick missile. On the other hand, the price for 12 was pretty good. Other offers had been tabled by Saab and by the USAF for 24 fighters at about double the cost, but as the weighting of this deal shows, shrinking the fighters by half does not halve the total cost.

Meanwhile, an actmedia report quotes National Defence Minister Corneliu Dobritoiu, who spends his time touting the fact that Romania observed all of the EU’s bureaucratic requirements to the letter. The EU had wanted an open competition, instead of a government-to-government deal, and sent a warning letter in early September. Dobritoiu points out that government-to-government deals are allowed. Romania’s actmedia | | Bloomberg | Bulgaria’s Focus news agency | Romania’s Stirile Pro TV [in Romanian, with video].

Deal with Portugal for 12 F-16s

Aug 23/12: Portugal? actmedia reports that the Romanian defense ministry has sent experts to inspect some of Portugal’s 45 F-16s, which were found to be in excellent condition. The PoAF is likely to be selling some of 201 Squadron’s Block 15OCU models, not 301 Squadron’s 20 upgraded F-16MLUs. On paper, that sounds an attractive solution for both parties, given Portugal’s dire fiscal position, and the fact the Dutch option is apparently no longer available.

This news item does not seem to have been confirmed in the Portuguese press yet, and online rumors that up to 12 Portuguese F-16s were available for sale have floated for years without substantiation. That latest statement is not available on Agerpres’ website – the national news agency cited by actmedia – though an earlier article from June does mention the Netherlands and Portugal as 2 potential sources for used F-16s. Romania’s actmedia re: rumors and inspections | Agerpres [in Romanian] | re: Portugal.

June 21/12: Dutch deal? Radio Netherlands reports that:

“Romania is interested in buying 15 surplus F-16s from the Dutch airforce… On Thursday, the Defence Ministry confirmed reports that it is looking to sell equipment in order to raise funds… [as it] must shave a billion euros from its budget. The ministry is also in preliminary discussions with an undisclosed number of potential buyers, including Chile, which are interested in eight Cougar helicopters. Today, parliament will discuss the potential sale of 80 Leopard tanks to Indonesia. The ministries of defence and foreign affairs are in favour of the sale but a majority in parliament is against the transaction.”

Sept 19/11: All we can afford. Romanian President Traian Basescu tells Pro TV that Romania cannot afford to buy F16 fighters without a long-term financing solution, as they can only pay up to $300 million per year for the next 5-6 years. From Romania’s actmedia:

“As a NATO member, Romania must have 48 fighters compatible with the North Atlantic Alliance’s equipment. Whether they are F16 planes, Rafale or SAAB, what matter is to find a financing solution,” said Basescu.He added the United States proposed a regional project whereby several NATO members, such as Bulgaria, Croatia, possibly Hungary, would create a pool to support the purchase of F16 planes.”

Bulgaria has reportedly been offered US financing for a buy of 8-12 F-16 fighters, though terms were not revealed or confirmed. U.S. Ambassador Mark Gitenstein added that the regional pool option would involve new planes, extending Lockheed Martin’s production line. That’s certainly in America’s interest, as it would extend the F-16 production line, but it’s also likely to make the planes more expensive.

2009 – 2010

Italian Eurofighters
(click to view full)

May 11/10: Eurofighter. The Eurofighter consortium and member firm Alenia Aeronautica chime in with an offer of their own: 24 used Italian Tranche 1 Eurofighters, plus up to 5,000 skilled jobs created by 100% industrial offsets and local technology transfer. The price, including logistics support and training, would be EUR 1 billion (about $1.3 billion), matching the price tag for used F-16s. Deliveries would take place between 2011-2012.

Italian Tranche 1 Eurofighters differ sharply from the other competitors in one crucial respect. Barring additional upgrades and equipment, they lack precision attack capabilities. In contrast, both the F-16 Block 25+ and the JAS-39 Gripen are full multirole fighters, able to target invading land forces, support Romanian troops on the ground, or conduct precision strikes against key enemy targets.

That same day, the Romanian Senate’s Defense Commission calls in representatives of rivals Eurofighter and Sweden’s Saab, stating that it wished to hear from Lockheed’s competitors. The decision to buy any fighter requires Parliamentary approval. Defense News.

April 15/10: Gripen. Agence France Presse quotes Jerry Lindbergh, a Swedish government official in charge of defense exports, who says that Sweden could provide 24 new “fully NATO interoperable Gripen C/D fighters, including training, support, logistics and 100 percent offset for the amount of one billion euros ($1.3 billion),” paid off over 15 years with low interest rates.

In essence, they’re offering newer and better fighters for the same price as very-used F-16s. The following quote from the Defense News report is difficult to take seriously in terms of future orders, but it does illustrate one of the political factors in play:

“Bucharest is also considering buying 24 new F-16 jets and later 24 F-35 jets, the defense ministry said, stressing this was part of the Romanian-U.S. “strategic partnership.”

March 23/10: Nothing new. At a Supreme Council of National Defense meeting, Minister of National Defense Gabriel Oprea presents a report, saying that Romania does not have the financial resources necessary for the acquisition of multirole aircraft. As such, the ministry proposes to buy 24 used F-16s, in order to replace Romania’s upgraded MiG-21 Lancers and their rising operations and maintenance costs.

Lockheed Martin personnel in Romania have reportedly confirmed that the aircraft with be F-16 C/D fighters, without mentioning the production year or their number of flight hours. The US DSCA request noted AN/APG-69v1 radars and PW F100-220 IPE engines as expected equipment, however. This strongly suggests F-16 C/D Block 25 aircraft, delivered between 1984-1986, and currently operational with American Air National Guard units.

Romanian sources say that the planes will be free, but there will still be costs of about $400 million for personnel training in the USA, $500 million for refurbishment and infrastructure improvements, and money to equip the planes with weapons. The total sum is estimated to be about $1.2 billion. The final draft of the agreement will reportedly be signed by the Romanian and American governments. Romanian Presidency release | Google translation of same || Mediafax Romania [in Romanian] | Hotnews.RO | Radio Free Europe | Reuters.

2005 – 2008

Israeli F-16B
(click to view larger)

Sept 24/08: No decision. A Curierul National interview quotes Romania’s Defence Minister Teodor Melescanu as saying that no decision has been made yet regarding Romania’s fighter replacement. Key quotes include:

“…we do not have this money… ready to spend it when necessary. However, the executive has given us the possibility, by Emergency Ordinance no. 111/2006, which allows ministries to contract loans on the international banking market, we can employ such loans up to the limit of 2.38% of GDP… in a predictable financing line for the period 2009-2013. We also consider achieving these acquisitions with the participation of internationally prestigious companies, which we would attract in the modernisation and privatisation process of the defence industry.”

Indeed, the MiG 21s will deplete their flight resource by 2010-2011 and therefore we must absolutely start the programme of purchasing a multi-role plane… The issue is the purchase of 48 planes, the budget effort exceeding 3.5 billion lei… financed by foreign loans, using the mechanisms of Emergency Ordinance no. 111/2006… As there appeared some information about the purchase of second-hand planes, too, I want to emphasize that, personally, I think we are too poor to buy cheap, used things. I do not think that the solution of second hand devices is the best option and therefore I feel inclined to the purchase of new aircraft. And I insist on the human resource. We have valuable pilots and we cannot waste this value we have… As I have said, there are five models of multirole planes that meet the technical-operational requirements set up by the specialists of the Romanian Air Force. We are considering the F-16 plane… the JAS-39 Gripen… the Eurofighter Typhoon… the F18… and the Rafale [The F-35 was eliminated, since only operational aircraft were considered].

…To take a decision based on real and as complete as possible data, the Ministry of Defense has conducted information activities during the recent years… As a result of these activities the 5 types of airplanes I mentioned above were identified. But no decision has been taken yet.”

over Iraq
(click to view full)

May 19/08: USA The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency announces [PDF] Romania’s formal request for 48 F-16C/D Block 50/52 Aircraft, in a surprisingly rich deal that could run as high as $4.5 billion if all options are exercised. There are no known industrial offset agreements in connection with this proposed sale, and implementation will require multiple trips to Romania involving U.S. Government and contractor representatives for technical reviews/support, program management, and training over a period of 15 years.

The full request involves a number of contractors, and a few contracts whose equipment choices are still competitive. Note that even this announcement is not necessarily determinative. A March 19/02 DSCA announcement [PDF] covered a $1.7 billion offer to Austria of 30 updated and refurbished F-16s, but that country ended up buying EADS’ Eurofighter instead. These competitions are never truly over until a contract is signed.

  • The first component of the proposed Romanian deal involves 24 refurbished and upgraded USAF F-16C/D Block 25 aircraft, with Pratt & Whitney’s F100-PW-220 Increased Performance Engines (IPE) and Northrop Grumman APG-68v1 radars.

  • The second component of the deal involves 24 new-build F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft. Romania can choose either the Pratt & Whitney F100-PW-229 engine, or General Electric’s F110-GE-129 Increased Performance Engine (IPE). These F-16s will all be equipped with Northrop Grumman’s APG-68v9 radar – a much more advanced radar than the APG-68v1, especially with respect to its ground surveillance and ground attack capabilities.

The proposed order would also include up to:

  • 24 Conformal Fuel Tanks (pairs) for the Block 50/52s
  • 5 F100-PW-220 IPE spare engines for the Block 25s
  • 4 F100-PW-229 or F110-GE-129 IPE spare engines for the Block 50/52s
  • 4 APG-68v9 spare radar sets;
  • 6 Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System helmet-mounted displays
  • 4 Link-16 Multifunctional Information Distribution System-Low Volume Terminals;
  • 2 Link-16 Ground Stations;
  • 60 LAU-129/A launchers, which can fire both AIM-9 Sidewinder and AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles;
  • 30 LAU-117 launchers;
  • 4 AN/ARC-238 Single Channel Ground and Airbo
e Radio Systems (SINCGARS) with HAVE QUICK I/II;
  • 4 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Embedded GPS/ Inertial Navigation Systems (INS);
  • 12 AN/AAQ-33 Sniper or AN/AAQ-28 Litening Targeting Pods;
  • 4 Tactical Air Reconnaissance Systems or DB-110 Reconnaissance Pods (RECCE);
  • 4 AN/APX-113 Advanced Identification Friend or Foe (AIFF) Systems;
  • 28 AN/ALQ-213 Electronic Warfare Management Systems;
  • 28 of ITT’s AN/ALQ- 211 Advanced Integrated Defensive Electronic Warfare Suite (AIDEWS); or Raytheon’s AN/ALQ-187 Advanced Countermeasures Electronic Systems (ACES), or BAE’s AN/ALQ-178 Self-Protection Electronic Warfare Suites (SPEWS).

The principal contractors, and some of the items they are responsible for, include:

  • BAE Advanced Systems in Greenlawn, NY (APX-113 AIFF, ALQ-178)
  • Boeing Corporation in Seattle, WA
  • Boeing Integrated Defense Systems: St Louis, MO; Long Beach, CA; San Diego, CA (JHMCS)
  • Raytheon Company: Lexington, MA; Goleta, CA (ALQ-187)
  • Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, AZ
  • Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company in Fort Worth, TX (F-16s)
  • Lockheed Martin Missile and Fire Control in Dallas, TX (Sniper pods)
  • Northrop-Grumman Electro-Optical Systems in Garland, TX (LITENING pods)
  • Northrop-Grumman Electronic Systems in Baltimore, MD (APG-68 radars, ALQ-213 with Terma)
  • Pratt & Whitney United Technology Company in East Hartford, CT (engines)
  • General Electric Aircraft Engines in Cincinnati, OH (engines)
  • Goodrich ISR Systems in Danbury, CT (DB-110 REECE pods)
  • L3 Communications in Arlington, TX.

The deal would also include support equipment, software development/integration, tanker support, ferry services, CAD/PAD, repair and return, modification kits, spares and repair parts, publications and technical documentation, personnel training and training equipment, U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering, and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. This list suggests an extensive range of support that is unique to the USAF.

DSCA: used & new F-16s requested

Oct 19/07: Eurofighter. China’s government-controlled Xinhua agency quotes Eurofighter’s program director for Romania Giuseppe Paoletti as saying that that Eurofighter is making Romania an offer of 24 Typhoon aircraft, with the first operational squadron provided for 2010 and the rest delivered in the 2010-2014 period. He also reportedly said that Finnmecanica of Italy was interested in buying the local Craiova-based Aircraft Factory, which may offer technical support and maintenance for the Typhoon warplane. The statements reportedly came at a press conference organized within the EXPOMIL 2007 show in Bucharest. Xinhua story.

At over $100 million per aircraft, the Eurofighter was not expected to be a major contender given its cost.

Oct 19/07: Gripen. Gripen International is also attending the EXPOMIL 2007 show in Bucharest, and meeting with senior government officials [release is in Romana].

2006: Gripen. Gripen International (Saab & BAE) introduces a Romanian language web site promoting the JAS-39 Gripen as Romania’s best choice.

Nov 25/05: Israel. DID’s article covering an Israeli RFI for new trainer aircraft notes another area of significant Israeli-Romanian cooperation: Romanian IAR-99C trainer aircraft with Israeli avionics that include embedded training capability. This could create an interesting barter angle to any potential F-16 Netz deal.

Oct 31/05: Nothing but Netz. Reports surface that Romania is discussing a $150 million buy of F-16A/B Netz (Heb. “falcon”) aircraft with Israel for “dozens” of aircraft. The Israelis could conceivably sell the used F-16s quite cheap, knowing that the refurbishment contracts would be lucrative. F-16.NET | Avianews.

Feb 4/05: Belgium? Romania is reportedly asking about used Belgian F-16s. F-16.NET report.

Categories: News

P-8 Poseidon MMA: Long-Range Maritime Patrol, and More

Thu, 09/29/2016 - 23:40
P-8A Poseidon
(click to view full)

Maritime surveillance and patrol is becoming more and more important, but the USA’s P-3 Orion turboprop fleet is falling apart. The P-7 Long Range Air ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) Capable Aircraft program to create an improved P-3 began in 1988, but cost overruns, slow progress, and interest in opening the competition to commercial designs led to the P-7’s cancellation for default in 1990. The successor MMA program was begun in March 2000, and Boeing beat Lockheed’s “Orion 21” with a P-8 design based on their ubiquitous 737 passenger jet. US Navy squadrons finally began taking P-8A Poseidon deliveries in 2012, but the long delays haven’t done their existing P-3 fleet any favors.

Filling the P-3 Orion’s shoes is no easy task. What missions will the new P-8A Poseidon face? What do we know about the platform, the project team, and ongoing developments? Will the P-3’s wide global adoption give its successor a comparable level of export opportunities? Australia and India have already signed on, but has the larger market shifted in the interim?

Program Summary A P-8 primer

The Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft program to replace the P-3 fleet began in earnest in 2000, and the 737-based P-8A was rolled out in July 2009. The US Navy has ordered 53 of 109 planned aircraft as of February 2014, and received 13.

Initial Operational Capability was declared in November 2013, but P-8A Increment 1 aircraft have a number of problems. Overall, the new plane remains roughly equal to its P-3 predecessor in most surveillance tasks, but it has a much smaller array of weapons, and has experienced ongoing integration and reliability problems. The biggest issues include surface radar scan stability and quality issues, cueing and auto-tracking shortfalls in the electro-optical system, and too many crashes in the mission software controlling everything.

The Navy is trying to fix these and other problems, while developing Increment 2 upgrades. Meanwhile, the P-3 fleet is aging out from under them. P-8A Increment 2 is slated to field in 2016, improving wide-area search and weapon capability. Increment 3, to be fielded around 2019, will improve sensor capabilities and mission system electronics.

India was the plane’s 1st export customer, with an initial order for 8 P-8i variants. They’ve received their 1st aircraft, and plan to increase their order to 12 soon. In February 2014, Australia committed to 8 P-8As plus an option for 4 more, but that contract hasn’t been signed yet.

P-8A Poseidon: Platform & Capabilities P-8A Poseidon: cutaway
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The P-8 will use the same 737 airframe as the U.S. Navy’s C-40 Clipper naval cargo aircraft, the E-737 Wedgetail AWACS aircraft on order by Australia, Turkey, and South Korea; and the U.S. Air Force’s T-43 Navigation trainer. The base model is Boeing’s 737-800 ERX, with “raked” wingtips that improve performance for low-level flight.

That airframe must accomplish a wide range of tasks. It will search for and destroy submarines, monitor sea traffic, launch missile attacks on naval or land targets as required, act as a flying communications relay for friendly forces, and possibly provide and electronic signal intercepts. Like its predecessor, its radar capabilities will make it well suited for land-surveillance missions, when the Navy decides to use it that way.

A plane with that many capabilities will play a role in a number of emerging military doctrines. It will be a key component in the U.S. Navy’s Sea Power 21 doctrine’s Sea Shield concept, by providing an anti-submarine, anti-ship and anti-smuggling platform that can sweep the area, launch sensors or weapons as needed, and remain aloft for many hours. The P-8A MMA will also play a key role in the U.S. Navy’s FORCEnet architecture, via development of the Common Undersea Picture (CUP). As a secondary role, it will support portions of Sea Power 21’s Sea Strike doctrine with its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities.

Unrefueled range is published as “over 4,000” nautical miles/ around 7,500 km. A more strenuous flight profile would involve 4 hours on station conducting low-level anti-submarine missions, at a range of more than 1,200 nautical miles/ 2,200 km. A dorsal receptacle allows in-flight refueling if necessary.

P-8: Weapons P-3 Orion, armed –
note Sidewinder
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The P-8A has 11 weapon hard points: 5 in the rotary weapon bay, 4 under the wings, and 2 under the fuselage. Weapon load can exceed 10t/ 22,000 pounds, and all hard points have digital weapon interfaces.

Given that P-3C Orions have been modified to carry sea-skimming attack missiles like the Harpoon, land attack missiles like the Maverick, and even AIM-9 Sidewinder air-air missiles, it seems reasonable to assume that the Poseidon MMA will be at least as capable. Reaching that plateau would involve carrying sonobuoys, torpedoes, depth charges, Harpoon anti-shipping missiles, SLAM or AGM-65 Maverick land attack missiles, and either AIM-9 Sidewinders or NCADE-derived AIM-120 AMRAAMs. Some Boeing illustrations even show them with JDAM or JSOW GPS-guided weapons attached to underbody hardpoints.

The P-8A’s initially-certified armament will be much more modest, however: Mk 54 lightweight torpedoes, depth charges, and some free-fall bombs, plus a built-in triple launcher and accompanying storage for up to 120 sonobuoys – or devices compatible with a sonobuoy launcher, such as Piasecki’s Turais UAV. American testing is currently underway with Boeing’s AGM-84 Block IC anti-ship missile, Australia is looking into the upgraded AGM-84 Block IG, and India has ordered the AGM-84L Harpoon Block II variant with land attack capability.

Mk 54 lightweight torpedoes equipped with Boeing’s GPS-guided High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability (HAAWC) glide bomb kit promise to extend the plane’s capabilities, by turning the torpedo into a weapon that can be launched from high altitude. That allows the P-8A to remain within its preferred aerodynamic envelope of high-altitude cruise, and reduces the fatigue and corrosion associated with low-level flight. Boeing received a development contract in April 2013, but this capability isn’t expected until P-8A Increment 2, with initial operating capability in 2016.

Beyond that, pilots have commented that P-8 suffers from the lack of a precision weapon that can safely be used in a crowded maritime environment. Smaller boats like FACs are more likely to be targets in that kind of crowded littoral environment, so the missiles can be smaller: the TV/infrared guided AGM-65 Maverick, laser/radar guided Brimstone, tri-mode GBU-53 Small Diamater Bomb II, etc. The lack is felt keenly; the earlier the fix can come, the better. By the mid-2020s, the adoption of more advanced anti-ship missiles under the OASuW program seems likely to fix this problem at the high end as well.

P-8: Sensors P-8 AGS concept
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Weapons don’t mean much unless an enemy can be found. The P-8 will rely on a combination of sonobuoys, radars, day/night surveillance equipment, and ESM (Electronic Support Measures) gear. The Magnetic Anomaly Detector that extends behind P-3s and other maritime patrol aircraft isn’t very useful at altitude, and the USA won’t field it on the P-8A, but India will do so on the P-8i.

A canoe-shaped fairing under the plane is expected to house a mission bay that will initially include the Raytheon-Boeing AN/APS-149 Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS), designed to provide targeting-grade tracking of moving targets on land and at sea. It reportedly emerged out of a “black” (classified) program, and details regarding the system remain sketchy. It’s known to be a Boeing-Raytheon AESA MTI (Active Electronically Scanned Array/ Moving Target Indicator) radar, and has already been deployed on some Navy P-3s (see pictures – scroll down to “NAWC-23 at Dallas Love Field”).

LSRS is slated for replacement by a modernized evolution called the Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) in Increment 3 or 4. It’s rumored to have performance standards that match or exceed the USA’s current 707-based E-8C JSTARS battlefield surveillance aircraft. The long profile of LSRS/AAS is probably why Boeing moved the P-8’s weapons bay to the back of the plane in 2003, and the radar’s capabilities would allow it the P-8 to serve as a targeting platform for its own or others’ weapons.

AN/APY-10 set
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The AN/APS-137Dv5 radar used on the USA’s most modern P-3Cs will also form a key part of the P-8A’s radar suite, after a number of upgrades and a new designation. This enhanced nose-mounted system has been referred to as AN/APS-197, but was formally given the AN/APY-10 designation in June 2006. It offers reduced weight, improved MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures), and a color weather display. In the P-8A, it will also feature improvements such as “joint technical architecture” compliance, better performance in track-while-scan and target detection modes, and full integration with the Boeing mission system.

India’s P-8i adds air-to-air surveillance capabilities to its APY-10 International radar, an enhancement that could filter back to the US fleet in future upgrades.

The AN/ALQ-240v1 Electronic Support Measures system will alert the plane to radar and communications emissions, and track the signals to geolocate their sources. It complements the Early Warning Self Protection System, and enables fast offensive counterattacks.

The P-8’s radars and ESM will be supplemented by L-3 Wescam’s MX-20HD long-range optical surveillance turret. This large surveillance turret houses up to 3 day/night imaging sensors, and 3 laser payloads (i.e. rangefinding, marking/pointing, target designation) that can be swapped in and out. L-3 Enhanced Local Area Processing (ELAP) improves imaging clarity on board, extending effective range and image clarity before the images are broadcast elsewhere.

The most important submarine-finding equipment remains the plane’s sonobuoys, which produce noise and then transmit their receiver data back to the plane. The SSQ-125 MAC will be a generational step forward, but the P-8’s onboard mission software has to be fully capable of interpreting it, and that won’t happen until at least Increment 2. The idea behind Multi-static Active Coherent sonobuoys combines electronically-generated, software-controlled pings, whose echoes can be detected and appropriately identified by multiple receiver sonobuoys in a dropped group. That nullifies a submarine’s standard profile-minimizing head-on maneuver, and the tone’s coherence allows doppler shift equations to reach beyond the contact’s current location and calculate its speed and heading. GPS receivers in source and receiver sonobuoys can sharpen targeting further, which is very useful in conjunction with high-altitude, GPS-guided torpedo kits like HAASW.

P-8: Upgrades & Variants Mk54 HAAWC
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Additional modifications and improvements can be expected over the program’s life, as is the case for any major weapon systems. The P-8A was designed to incorporate additional “spiral development” of new weapons and equipment, and it won’t really achieve the capabilities defined in the Pentagon’s official June 25/10 Capability Development Document until v3.0.

Spiral One/ Increment 2: Adds initial HAAWC high altitude torpedo capability, Multi-Static Active Coherent (MAC) for wide-area acoustic surveillance, improvements to sonobuoy drops, integration of Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) radar capability, Automatic Identification System ID for use with compliant civilian ships, updates to the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) mission system, and other acoustic and communications upgrades. Increment 2 planes should become operational around 2016, but integration and test of these capabilities will be done incrementally. It’s always possible for some items to slip to the next spiral.

Spiral Two/ Increment 3: Enhances MAC, early delivery of HAAWC Datalink, more updates to the TOC mission software, and other changes to the plane’s sensors and systems as time and money allow. Introduction of the Advanced Aerial Sensor (AAS) high-resolution AESA radar is expected in this phase. The goal is to bring the P-8A to full compliance with the 2010 JROC specifications, and give the plane a more open electronic architecture for faster integration of new components, and this increment will take a big step forward with interfaces the MQ-4C Triton UAV, which may include full “Level 4” control of its flight and sensors. The program plans a full and open competition for the Increment 3 system architecture contracts, and intends to buy the intellectual property rights as well.

At the moment, India is the P-8’s only export customer, though Australia has signed an MoU ad paid for joint development. India’s P-8i jets will share a number of systems with the American P-8As, including a version of the AN/APY-10 radar. Other key technologies will be specific to the P-8i, however, owing to technology transfer issues or local choices.

Overland Role? E-10 M2CA Concept
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With the cancellation of the USAF’s E-10 follow-on to its E-8 JSTARS battlefield surveillance planes, the Navy’s P-8A Poseidon may even be poised to inherit a dual land and sea surveillance role. USN P-3s have already found themselves pressed into overland service, and the much-greater capabilities of the P-8’s LSRS/AAS radars will only make that crossover more attractive.

Boeing has already proposed to replace the USAF’s 17-plane JSTARS fleet with an add-on “P-8 AGS” order, as an alternative to upgrading the 707-based E-8s with new engines, radars, and electronics. That proposal was denied, but the E-8Cs received only a minimal upgrade designed to keep them operational, and the USAF has decided that the 707-based platform is costly to operate and maintain over the long term. They do have a program that aims to field a JSTARS successor by 2022, and if that program survives, the P-8 AGS can expect to compete with the smaller Raytheon/Bombardier Sentinel R1 and a Gulfstream 550/650 derivative.

The USA’s default option is to cancel JSTARS RECAP, in order to fund its KC-46A aerial tanker, F-35 fighter, and new bomber programs. The E-8C JSTARS fleet would then become vulnerable to future USAF fleet-sized cuts. Meanwhile, the P-8As would field in the Navy with comparable or better radars. They would informally take over some of the JSTARS role, alongside USAF surveillance UAVs like RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 and its EQ-4 BACN connectivity counterpart.

Something needs to fill the role. NATO’s cancellation of its AGS program’s Airbus 321 MCAR battlefield surveillance jet leaves just 22 battlefield surveillance planes available for global use: the USA’s 707-based JSTARS fleet, and Britain’s newer 5-plane ASTOR Sentinel R1 fleet that’s based on Bombardier’s Global Express business jet.

NATO’s AGS is survived by a 5-UAV program based on the RQ-4B Block 40 Global Hawk, which was originally expected to work with the A321 MCAR as an adjunct. That same 2-tier model survives in the Poseidon program, however, and both tiers of the Navy program will offer land surveillance capabilities. The Poseidon’s Global Hawk UAV companion is called the MQ-4C Triton, developed under a program called BAMS (Broad Area Maritime Surveillance).

The P-8’s BAMS Companion: Kicking It Up a Notch BAMS/P-8 mission sets
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The P-3 fleet’s heavy use in both maritime surveillance and overland roles points up a potential problem with the P-8A. As an expensive but in-demand asset, a wider coverage scope could actually accelerate the problem of high flight hours building up in a small fleet. The problem is that airplane lives are measured in flight hours, and usage intensity. See the Strategic Review article “Brittle Swords: Low-Density, High-Demand Assets” [PDF] for more background on this phenomenon.

The logical response is to pair the P-8s with a lower cost counterpart. Hence the P-8’s companion Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) UAV program, run by NAVAIR’s PMA-263 program management office.

The BAMS competition was widely seen as a fight between Northrop Grumman’s high-flying, jet-powered RQ-4 Global Hawk and General Atomics’ turboprop-powered Mariner (a cousin of its MQ-9 Reaper); but other options were offered as well, including an “optionally manned” business jet.

Northrop Grumman’s RQ-4N Global Hawk eventually won, and will be known as the MQ-4C Triton. The US Navy plans to buy 61 of them + 5 test UAVs, and begin operations in 2015. Like the P-8, the MQ-4C is attracting export interest, which could grow the entire international fleet past 66 machines.

DID’s BAMS FOCUS Article covers MQ-4C requirements, international dimension, contracts, and developments. Given their expected numbers, the Tritons could easily find themselves joining their P-8 companions in overland surveillance roles.

P-8A Poseidon Program Program Goal & Competitors P-3C Orion
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Many people would contend that the P-3 Orion is the greatest maritime patrol aircraft ever flown. These aircraft entered service in 1959, and will continue to serve past 2015. Modifications to their equipment have sharpened their capabilities, and even given them a land-attack and surveillance role. In service with 15 countries, the Orion is a great success – but it’s a very old success.

After the abortive P-3G program, the US Navy began a 2-year requirement study in 1997, and the Defense Acquisition Board initiated a number of concept studies during the 2000 to 2002 period. During a 2-phase Component Advanced Development (CAD) program in 2002-2003, Boeing and Lockheed each received $27.5 million to develop their initial designs.

Lockheed’s Orion21 design was based on the P-3 airframe, with United Technologies subsidiaries Pratt & Whitney (7,000 shp PW150A turboprop engine) and Hamilton-Sundstrand (the same 8-bladed NP2000 propeller being refitted to carrier-based E-2 Hawkeye AWACS and C-2 Greyhound aircraft) as key partners.

As noted above, Boeing’s design was based on its 737, one of the most widely produced passenger jets in the world.

Program Timeline

In June 2004, Boeing IDS’ 737-based proposal was awarded the $3.9 billion cost-plus-award-fee contract to develop the Navy’s P-8 Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. The P-8’s system design and development (SDD) contract covers the full range of platform development including all of the on-board mission systems, the modifications to the airframe itself, all of the training systems, and all of the software laboratories required to produce almost 2 million lines of reliable code. It also covers all of the integrated logistics elements, including the trainers, simulators and courseware. Essentially, everything that’s required to get ready to build the production P-8 is part of the SDD contract.

The MMA Program was cleared by a US technical review board to proceed into the design phase, and passed a preliminary design review in September 2005. In January 2007, their entry received the formal US Navy designation of P-8A Poseidon; and in July 2007, Australia made the P-8 an international program by giving their participation “first pass approval.” In December 2008, India became the 1st export, with a customized P-8i design.

The P-8A achieved American Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in late November 2013. IOC is defined as 1 squadron of 6 aircraft, with personnel who are trained and certified to deploy.

US P-8A Program Budgets

Recent budgets for the P-8A program from FY 2008 to the present have included:


Note that annual budgets also include advance procurement for the next year’s buy, so that key items like engines and other long lead-time equipment are ready to go when it’s time to build the P-8s. For instance, the FY 2012 request included long-lead items for 13 FY 2013 aircraft. The Pentagon says that “aircraft procurements are tightly coupled to the [expected] P-3 retirement rates,” but budget cuts will begin to affect production after 2013.

US Numbers and Basing No?!?
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The U.S. program began as 108 planes, and formally stands at 109 production aircraft plus an additional 8 system design & development aircraft (6 flight-test, 2 ground-test). There will actually be 114 program aircraft. The 1st developmental test aircraft (“T1”) and the 2 ground-based static and fatigue test planes aren’t fully configured, and so they aren’t included in the official program total. The Dec 31/31 SAR lists the P-8’s development and production cost at FY10$ 30.33 billion, and the total life cycle cost for procurement plus 25 years of life cycle support will probably be a bit higher than initial estimates of about FY04$ 44 billion.

The current American basing plan is for:

  • 6 operational squadrons at NAS Jacksonville, FL (36)
  • 1 larger “Fleet Readiness” training squadron at NAS Jacksonville, FL (12)
  • 6 squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island, WA (36)

Instead of basing 3 squadrons at Hawaii Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, HI, it will only have a rotating squadron detachment. There will also be periodic squadron detachments to Corondo Naval Base, CA near San Diego. Japan has been promised stepped-up P-8A deployments, and that will probably be its own rotating squadron detachment once arrangements are finalized. Beyond operational aircraft, the fleet will have:

  • 2 “development squadrons” with 2 aircraft each (4). They will be used for testing and development of standard tactics and procedures, before moving on to operational service at locations to be determined.

  • “Pipeline attrition” aircraft that can temporarily replace aircraft that are taken out of action for maintenance, permanently replace crashed aircraft for a squadron, or be inserted as “rotation substitutes” to help keep the fleet’s flying hours more even (19).

P-8A Industrial Partners

The P-8i program in India has also attracted its own set of industrial partners, due to a combination of Indian insistence on local content, and security/technology transfer concerns from the USA. Industrial partners in India include well known players like Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), Dynamatic Technologies Ltd., HCL Technologies Ltd., Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), Larsen and Toubro Ltd. (L&T), Wipro Ltd., as well as a set of less familiar aerospace and electronics players. See full coverage at “P-8i: India’s Navy Picks Its Future High-End Maritime Patrol Aircraft“.

As things currently stand, key P-8A Poseidon partners, and some other sub-contractors, include:

One innovation within this group involves the way the base airframes are built. The traditional approach for military planes derived from passenger jets has been to either have a separate production line, or to take a normal airframe from the existing line and make structural changes to it on the military line, along with equipment installations. For the P-8A, the process is different.

The fuselages arrive from Spirit’s commercial 737 production line in Wichita, KS already strengthened, without windows, and with a weapons bay. No modifications are necessary.

Outfitting is completed in Renton, WA, where all or the P-8’s other unique structural features are added right on the main 737 production line. Aircraft quality and performance acceptance flight testing takes place right at Renton Field.

Final installation and checkout of the mission system and special flight test instrumentation happens at Boeing Field, near Seattle, WA.

P-8A Poseidon: Contracts & Key Events

Unlike many other military programs, Boeing appears to be handling the sub-contracts for most of the plane’s equipment itself, which leaves production order figures much closer to the plane’s true purchase cost.

Unless otherwise noted, US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD manages the contracts. Note that items unique to India’s P-8is will be covered in that article, and not here.

FY 2015 – 2016

September 30/16: Boeing rolled out the first of its 12 P-8A Poseidon aircraft for the Royal Australian Air Force during a ceremony in Seattle. The maritime patrol and surveillance aircraft, based on the design of Boeing’s 737-800 fuselage, will fly to Australia in November. Featuring a weapons bay as well as under-wing and under-fuselage hard points for weapons, the aircraft will be used for anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and shipping interdiction as Australia looks to assert itself as a regional security player in the region.

September 2/16: South Korea may join the US Navy, India, and Australia in operating the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft, according to defense ministry officials. If given the go ahead, Seoul may purchase four of the aircraft to help expand their surveillance and anti-submarine warfare capabilities following submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM) tests by North Korea. The aircraft can fly at altitudes up to 41,000 feet and are capable of striking enemy submarines immediately upon detecting them with weapons such as the MK 54 torpedo.

July 21/16: Boeing is to deliver four P-8 Poseidon aircraft to the Australian government. A US Navy contract modification awarded Boeing a $100 million order to produce and deliver the aircraft by June 2017. Once delivered, the P-8s will engage in long-range anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions.

July 13/16: Norway has expressed an interest in procuring five to six Boeing P-8A maritime patrol aircraft according to a senior US Navy official. Rear Admiral Dean Peters, program executive officer for anti-submarine warfare, assault, and special missions programs, said the Navy had asked potential P-8 buyers to express their interest by next summer. Production of the aircraft is to cease in the next three years.

July 12/16: While he may be soon out the door as UK Prime Minister, David Cameron has announced the completion of a number of deals for the P-8A maritime patrol aircraft and AH-64E attack helicopters during the Farnborough airshow this week. The UK announced its intention to buy the submarine-hunting P-8A planes in November to plug a gap in its defenses that has existed since 2010, when it ditched the Nimrod, built by the local BAE Systems. As a result of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, Cameron was to step down as leader in October, however this could be hastened as only one candidate, Theresa May, remains in the leadership race.

July 6/16: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cleared the Navy to purchase four more Boeing P-8Is during a recent meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). Delivery of the $1 billion order is expected over the next three to four years. This adds to eight others ordered in 2010 to enhance the Navy’s Anti-submarinewarfare (ASW) and maritime patrol capabilities.

May 27/16: Turkish defense procurement officials revealed that the Turkish Navy is keen to induct a long-range maritime patrol aircraft to complement its CN-235 and ATR72 fleet, with Boeing’s P-8A a favored choice. Requirements from Ankara include being able to fly 1,000 to 1,200 nautical miles away from their main base in Turkey, and fly 12 to 15 hours as well as being able to fulfill anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare roles. While a request for information is expected to be released soon, the parameters set may make the competition a very small one.

April 7/16: The US Navy has awarded Boeing a $235.2 million modification contract to obtain long-lead materials and parts required for the P-8A program. The deal will see the company produce and deliver 11 Lot 8 full-rate production IV of the multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft by January 2017. This follows up on a potential $2.5 billion order for the aircraft from January for building the aircraft for both the Navy and the government of Australia.

March 28/16: The UK’s planned purchase of 9 P-8A Poseidon aircraft has been approved by the US State Department. The $3.2 billion sale was a top priority for the British government with the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) saying the aircraft “will enhance Britain’s capabilities to provide national defense and contribute to NATO and coalition operations.” The UK’s intention to purchase the aircraft was made last November in order to help the UK protect its nuclear deterrent and fill a gap left by a much-criticized decision to scrap the Nimrod spy-plane program in 2010.

March 2/16: Boeing is to provide the US Navy with two addition P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft in a deal worth $276.2 million. Production and delivery is expected to be completed by February 2019. The February 29 contract follows the much larger order of 20 P-8A aircraft with 16 for the Navy and four going to Australia. It’s expected that the Navy will require 117 P-8As to take over operations as the P-3C Orion comes closer to the end of its operational life.

February 1/16: The US Navy has placed an order with Boeing for twenty P-8A Poseidon aircraft in a contract worth $2.5 billion. Sixteen will replace the P-3C Orion used by the Navy for long-range, anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare as well for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. Four will be sold to Australia under the US Foreign Military Sales program. Included in the contract, Boeing will also be tasked with providing obsolescence monitoring, change assessment, and integrated baseline and program management reviews.

July 30/15: Boeing has ended its contract with state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, citing shoddy production quality of HAL-manufactured components for India’s P-8I Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft under construction by Boeing, as well as components for the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The $4.7 million contract in question was signed in February 2010.

July 1/15: Also on Monday the Navy handed Boeing a $358.9 million contract to provide long-lead production materials for twenty-nine Full Rate Production P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and ASW aircraft. The twenty-nine aircraft are split between Lots II and III, with the Navy set to take nine of the former and sixteen of the latter, with the remaining four Lot III aircraft earmarked for the Royal Australian Air Force. Boeing received a $295.6 million advance acquisition contract in August 2014 for long-lead items for a dozen Full Rate Production Lot II P-8A aircraft, with funding for four of these similarly destined for the RAAF.

June 30/15: The Navy awarded Boeing a $14.1 million delivery order for development and definition of system requirements for the P-8A Poseidon Multi Mission Aircraft, to build towards the program’s Increment 3 Capabilities Integration System Requirements Review Systems Engineering Technical Review. The aim of Increment 3 is to enhance the Multi-Static Active Coherent system, provide early delivery of the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability datalink, improve the Tactical Operations Center mission software and introduce the Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) high-resolution AESA radar, as well as other changes to the plane’s sensors and systems as time and money allow.

May 27/15: Rockwell Collins was awarded a $24.8 million IDIQ contract to supply the Navy and Australia with aircraft direction finders, radio tuner panels and high frequency radio shipsets for the P-8A Poseidon, with the contract slated for completion in 2020.

May 5/15: On Monday Boeing was awarded a $118.1 million contract modification for training systems and services for the Navy and Australia, in support of the P-8A maritime multimission aircraft, including the procurement of Operational Flight Trainer and Weapon Tactics Trainer systems, as well as other training assets for the Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force.

Oct 14/15: Delivery #18. Boeing delivered the 18th P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the US Navy ahead of schedule, as it departs Boeing Field in Seattle, WA for the fleet readiness training squadron at NAS Jacksonville, FL. It was Boeing’s 5th delivery of 2014, and Boeing is under contract for 53 P-8As so far. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Delivers 18th P-8A Poseidon to U.S. Navy”.

FY 2014

Full Rate Production begins; Australia commits to 8 planes; Basing decisions made; 1st official deployment; Boeing introducing Challenger MSA as a lower-tier option; DOT&E report shows flaws in the Navy, as well as flaws within the aircraft; Watch those roofs, they bite; An ASW pilot’s viewpoint. Check-out line
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Sept 29/14: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives an $11.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for training-specific P-8A data storage architecture updates and upgrades, to include hardware, software, and integration. See also Sept 25/14, which covers data storage architecture changes to existing aircraft. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (35%); Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, FL (30%); NAS Whidbey Island, Washington (30%); and St. Louis, MO (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2015. The Naval Air Warfare Center’s Training Systems Division in Orlando, FL manages this contract (N00019-12-C-0112).

Sept 29/14: Support. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $43.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for P-8A integrated logistics and contractor services. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed in Seattle, Washington (58%); Jacksonville, FL (12%); Valencia, CA (6%); Linthicum, MD (5%); Greenlawn, NY (3%); and various locations within the United States (16%), and is expected to be complete in April 2017 (N00019-12-C-0112).

Sept 29/14: Infrastructure. RQ Construction, LLC in Carlsbad, CA, wins a $21 million firm-fixed-price contract to design and build the P-8A Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and Mobile Tactical Operations Center at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 and 2014 Navy construction budgets. The contract also contains 2 unexercised options, which could raise its value to $23.1 million.

The new low-rise TOC facility will include the commander, patrol and Reconnaissance Wing 10 headquarters. It will be accompanied by demolition of an existing building, and demolition with hazardous waste disposal may be required. For the mobile TOC, RQ will renovate and convert the current TOC B2771 to a new Mobile TOC. Both facilities will contain classified spaces.

Work will be performed in Oak Harbor, WA, and is expected to be complete by September 2017. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 19 proposals received by NAVFAC NW in Silverdale, WA (N44255-14-C-5006).

Sept 25/14: Upgrades. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $26.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to conduct retrofit services on the Data Storage Architecture in P-8A Low Rate Initial Production Lots 1-3. $9.8 million in FY 2012 Navy aircraft budgets is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be complete in September 2016 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Aug 18/14: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $30.4 million firm-fixed-price contract modification “for the development of a structural repair manual in support of the P-8A Poseidon Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft.” Even as an interactive electronic product, that isn’t cheap. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA and is expected to be complete in November 2018 (N00019-12-C-0112).

Aug 14/14: FRP-2 long lead. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $295.6 million advance acquisition contract, which buys long-lead time items for 12 Full Rate Production Lot II (FY 2015) P-8As: 8 US Navy ($152 million / 51%), and 4 for Australia ($143.6 million/ 49%). This is Australia’s 1st order, and is likely to contain customization funds as well. $207.8 million is committed immediately, including $55.8 million from Australia.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (82.6%); Baltimore, MD (6.2%); Greenlawn, NY (4.2%); the United Kingdom (3.5%); and North Amityville, NY (3.5%), and is expected to be complete in April 2018. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-1 (N00019-14-C-0067).

July 31/14: Delivery #15. The US Navy’s 15th P-8A Poseidon arrives at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL, shortly after the VP-16 “War Eagles” finish the type’s 1st deployment abroad at Kadena AB in Okinawa, Japan. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Delivers 15th Production P-8A Poseidon to U.S. Navy”.

July 29/14: Australia. Flight Global reports that Australia is looking to incorporate the AGM-84G Harpoon Block I anti-ship missile into its P-8As. It’s also known as the AGM-84 Block IG, and reportedly adds seeker improvements and re-attack mode. It could be created by upgrading existing Australian AGM-84 missiles, which serve on the AP-3C fleet.

There seems to be a bit of a divergence on the P-8, but no matter which missile is picked, it needs to be fully integrated with the plane’s mission software. The USA has been testing the AGM-84 Block IC, while India’s P-8i seems set to host the GPS/radar guided AGM-84L Block II with land attack capability. Australia has requested Harpoon Block IIs for other platforms, but appears to be satisfied with smaller-scale air-launched upgrades. Sources: Flight Global, “Australia pushes for Harpoon integration on P-8As”.

July 21/14: Infrastructure. Korte Construction Co., DBA The Korte Co. in St. Louis, MO wins a $36.2 million firm-fixed-price contract to build the P-8A Multi-Missioned Maritime Aircraft Training Facility at NAS Whidbey Island, WA. The 2-story operational training facility will include space for 8 OFTs (operational flight trainers) and 6 WTTS (weapons tactical trainers), with associated support network and communications equipment, classrooms, and administrative spaces. The facility will also contain bridge cranes, special access program facility spaces, and extensive networking equipment. All funds are committed immediately using FY 2014 US Navy construction budgets, but a pair of unexercised options could increase the cumulative contract value to $36.3 million.

Work will be performed in Oak Harbor, WA, and is expected to be complete by January 2016. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 23 proposals received by NAVFAC Northwest in Silverdale, WA (N44255-14-C-5002).

July 4/14: Foxtrot Alpha’s “Confessions Of A US Navy P-3 Orion Maritime Patrol Pilot” interviews a US Navy P-3C pilot who now flies P-8As. He sees the P-8A as a safer aircraft that’s easier to fly, and the ability to perform any tactical job from any workstation magnifies the aircraft’s flexibility. It’s implied that the new plane will change the standard career zenith from being a Fleet Replacement Instructor, to being a Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Weapons School Instructor.

With that said, “the lack of a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD) aboard the P-8A is a drawback,” and the Harpoon missile’s lack of precision in crowded shipping environments makes the current absence of weapons like the AGM-65 Maverick “a major step back”. The growth of long-range anti-aircraft missiles like the HQ-9, S-400, etc. also presents a radar-guided threat to maritime patrol planes in the littoral environment, and so the lack of rasdar-centric defensive systems is a concern in the community. A key excerpt:

“ASW is all about the time from the last known position of the sub in question. Geometry rules everything…. [speed increases] the chance of catching a submarine by minimizing the time from its last point of detection…. There are currently two schools of thought in the Maritime Patrol Community right now when it comes to how the P-8 should be used. One where it works closely along the lines of its predecessor, and follows the P-3’s traditional mission sets of ASuW, ASW and limited ISR, and another where the P-8 can be adapted more dramatically for a litany of missions, including direct attack on ground targets. Personally, I believe the P-8A should also be equipped with a more robust set of weapons and sensors for the fight against smaller vessels in constrained littoral environments.”

Finally, the pilot bemoans the removal of aerial tanker roles from the P-8 MMA’s original vision, which could have tied each squadron to a carrier air wing during deployment phases:

“When a carrier would go into flight ops, the P-8A would launch, tank aircraft using drogue and hose buddy stores, conduct a surveillance flight around the carrier, tank during recovery, and then return to base…. A great idea withered on the vine because of shortsighted petty inter-service politics [from the USAF]”.

A pilot’s view

July 2/14: Delivery #14. Boeing announces delivery of their 14th P-8A Poseidon aircraft on schedule, to NAS Jacksonville, FL. So far, the US Navy has ordered 53, and Boeing will deliver 7 more this year. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing, U.S. Navy Expand P-8A Maritime Patrol Fleet with 14th Delivery”.

June 25/14: Increment 3. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $14.9 million delivery order for P-8A Poseidon Increment 3 Interface Development. $3.3 million is committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy R&D budgets.

They’re referring to technical interfaces here, not display screens, and the order involves test beds which can be used to verify that new additions are compatible: 2 Mission Systems Emulation Environment (MSEE) units with all required hardware, Tactical Open Mission software with P-8 baseline architecture interface data exposure modifications, interface adapter computer software configuration items, and P-8A real-time simulator with interactive warfare simulator. In addition, this order includes the development, documentation, and delivery of hardware and software updates for 4 existing MSEE units.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA, and is expected to be complete in September 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD, is the contracting activity (N00019-11-G-0001, DO 3051).

June 17/14: JSTARS Recap. 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 but 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 USAF fleet-sized 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”.

June 5/14: Testing. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $28.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for the design, development, fabrication, installation and testing of airworthiness flight test equipment. The challenge is to correctly predict that something might go wrong in future.

Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD (58%); Seattle, WA (34%); and Huntsville, AL (8%), and is expected to be complete in December 2016 (N00019-04-C-3146).

June 4/14: Basing. At the close of the Environmental Impact Study, the US Navy has decided to consolidate P-8A basing. NAS Jacksonville, FL will have 6 squadrons plus the “fleet replacement” training squadron, while NAS Whidbey Island, WA will have the other 6 squadrons. There will be a permanent rotating squadron detachment at Hawaii Marine Corps Base, and periodic squadron detachments to Corondo Naval Base, CA near San Diego.

This effectively means that Jacksonville won, getting 7 squadrons instead of 5, and is less than the 8 Whidbey squadrons being touted earlier (q.v. May 3/13). That doesn’t stop House Armed Services Committee and Electronic Warfare Working group member Rick Larsen [D-WA-2] from claiming credit, though. In full fairness to the Congressman, it’s a better than the initial plan for 4 squadrons, just a climbdown from expectations since the Pentagon decided to concentrate on 2 operating bases. Sources: Rick Larsen’s office, “Larsen: Navy P-8A Decision Great for NASWI, National Security”.

May 12/14: FRP-1. Raytheon in McKinney, TX receives a $50.1 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, exercising an option for 16 APY-10 radar kits that will be installed in FY 2014’s Full Rate Production Lot I P-8As. It also covers installation and checkout technical support, configuration management, reliability and maintainability failure reporting and corrective actions, engineering change orders/proposals, integrated logistics support, technical data, and repairs.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in McKinney, TX (53.38%), Reston, VA (8.35%); Little Falls, NJ (7.78%); Spring Valley, CA (6.51%); Black Mountain, NC (4.24%); Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada (2.73%); Poway, CA (2.50%); Simsbury, CT (2.43%); Leesburg, VA (2.33%), and various locations throughout the United States (9.75%), and is expected to be complete in November 2016 (N00019-13-C-0161).

April 24/14: Software. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives an $8.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for P-8A software updates. Mission Software has been a problem for the plane so far (q.v. Jan 23/14 etc.).

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy aircraft and maintenance budgets. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (27.6%); Huntington Beach, CA (18.9%); McKinney, TX (18.4%); Grand Rapids, MI (13.4%); Baltimore, MD (7.8%); Rolling Meadows, IL (4.2%); El Segundo, CA (3.9%); Farmingdale, NY (3%); St. Louis, MO (1.5%); and Amityville, NY (1.3%), and is expected to be complete in August 2015 (N00019-11-G-0001, DO 3008).

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF]. The P-8A’s costs have dropped, mostly because they’re ordering 8 fewer planes:

“Program costs decreased $1,865.8 million (-5.4%) from 34,395.0 million to $33,069.2 million, due primarily to a decrease of 8 [production] aircraft from 117 to 109 (-$1,560.4 million) and a revised estimating methodology for labor hours and rates and adjustments to commercial aircraft pricing (-$548.0 million). There were additional decreases for revised escalation indices (-$255.8 million) and reduced estimates for business base benefits created by the Royal Australian Air Force aircraft procurement (-$184.8 million). These decreases were partially offset by increases in other support due to updated actuals and a revised interim support strategy (+$289.1 million), revised estimates to reflect the application of outyear escalation indices (+$136.0 million), and a net stretch-out of the procurement buy profile (+$121.7 million).”

Fewer planes

April 14/14: LSRS/AAS. Aviation photographer Russell Hill takes pictures of a P-8A at Boeing Field in Seattle, with the canoe-shaped LSRS double-sided ground-looking AESA radar beneath. This bit from Foxtrot Alpha was interesting:

“With this in mind, compartmentalizing [and classifying] the program deep within the Navy may have saved it from being shot down via the [USAF] who would protect their existing, even if potentially inferior, ground moving target indicator mission at all costs. Although some of this is speculative, this same story has come up again and again, both in the press and in my own discussions with people associated with the communities that deployed and developed the LSRS.”

Foxtrot Alpha elaborates on the uses of this system, from tracking targets down to human size, to targeting weapons from its own stores or other platforms via datalink updates, to damage assessments. Can these capabilities be extended to add cruise missile detection and electronic warfare? Even if not, the author is correct in pointing to the E-8C JSTARS overlap. With the JSTARS fleet set to receive only minimal upgrades, we would be equally unsurprised if the P-8 ends up taking over this role. Sources: Foxtrot Alpha, “Exclusive: P-8 Poseidon Flies With Shadowy Radar System Attached”.

April 8/14: MSA. Boeing is targeting P-3 operators for their Challenger MSA, which means they’ll be competing with themselves to some extent. Their Canadian partner Field Aviation adds weight to that by touting future options including SATCOM, side looking airborne radar, and even weapons on wing hardpoints. That last change would sharply narrow the difference between the P-8A and Challenger MSA.

Base MSA equipment will include Selex ES Seaspray 7300 maritime surveillance radar, and FLIR Systems Star Safire 380 day/night surveillance turret. That creates a high-end product for Coast Guards as well as a mid-range product for militaries. The question comes down to customers, and Boeing is reportedly targeting “20 to 30” within a total market space of around $10 billion. As one looks at the list, however, one sees a number of countries within the P-3 customer base who won’t become customers soon, if ever: Australia (P-8 & UAV), Japan (home-built P-1), Brazil (will pick Embraer’s), Canada (P-3 LEX), Chile (C295 MPAs), New Zealand (P-3 LEX), Norway (P-3 LEX), Pakistan (P-3 LEX), Portugal (P-3 LEX & C295 MPAs), Spain (C295 MPA home), and Taiwan (P-3 LEX). As a quick sort, that leaves Argentina, Germany, and South Korea as likely targets before 2025 or so, with possibilities in Chile and Spain as unlikely.

Of course, the same sort reveals that the P-8A itself may have a bit of a long slog for exports, unless it can open markets that the P-3 didn’t reach. Sources: Flight Global, “Boeing to target current P-3 operators for MSA sales”.

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. Changes to the Program Dashboard are reflected in the article. Most of the rest isn’t anything new, though they note that the sonobuoy launcher has experienced testing problems and is still receiving fixes.

On the good news front, GAO cites Boeing’s use of more pre-acceptance flights, which helped resolve more issues before formal acceptance. With that said, the P-8 still seems to have plenty.

Over the longer term, Increment 3 plans to give the plane a more open electronic architecture for faster integration of new components. The program plans a full and open competition for the Increment 3 system architecture contracts, and intends to buy the intellectual property rights as well.

March 5/14: MSA. Well, that was fast. Boeing’s Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) derivative based on the Challenger 605 business jet (q.v. Nov 19/13) recently completed its 1st flight, a 4-hour test that took off from Toronto, Canada’s Pearson International Airport. Boeing’s partner Field Aviation needed to establish that aerodynamic performance met predictions, and that it handled like a regular model even with the radome and other modifications.

Additional airworthiness flights are scheduled for the next 2 months, after which the MSA will fly to a Boeing facility in Seattle for mission system installation and testing. Here’s hoping they can work out some of the myriad bugs in the base P-8 mission system before that happens. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Maritime Surveillance Aircraft Demonstrator Completes 1st Flight”.

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The USN unveils their preliminary budget request briefings. They aren’t precise, but they do offer planned purchase numbers for key programs. Full numbers follow days later, and are plotted in the charts above. In the P-8A’s case, however, the numbers may mislead.

After buying 16 P-8As in FY 2014 to begin Full Rate Production, the FY 2015 request drops to just 8 (-8 from plan), before the long term plan bounces back to 15 (-1), 13 (-1), 13 (+3), and 7 (+7) planes from FY 2016 – 2019. Note the trick. While stating that the FY15 cut “was necessary to comply with affordability constraints,” the buys are shifted several years into the future, as if the same dilemmas won’t recur. But the same hard choices must be made, when the time comes.

The missing 8 aircraft are found in a separate $26B wish list that is far from certain to get traction in Congress, and the number of flaws in the P-8A could actually make a FY 2015 order cut attractive. It would reduce the number of retrofits required to correct problems with initial aircraft, and move more planes beyond the point at which Increment 2 is likely to be ready. The 737 production line isn’t going anywhere, which gives the Navy the luxury of industrial time. On the other hand, the Navy may not have the same luxury of budgetary time, as future buys must take place with F-35B/C fighter production ramped up, and programs like SSBN-X beginning to bite.

With fewer ships on hand, assets like the P-8 are becoming more important to sea control, playing roles once reserved for sailing frigates. The question is whether the US Navy values that enough, compared to other options like destroyers. They’ve seemed very ready to cut similar assets from even well-performing programs like the E-2D AWACS, and the P-8’s MQ-4 Triton UAV companion is seeing a medium-term procurement slowdown of its own. Sources: USN, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF].

Feb 25/14: FRP-1. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $2.07 billion firm-fixed-price contract modification, exercising options for Full Rate Production (q.v. Jan 3/14) Lot 1: 16 P-8As, and 16 Ancillary Mission Equipment kits for the US Navy. Subsequent orders under FRP-1 include:

  • $50.1 million APY-10 radars (May 12/14)
  • $26.9 million DMS re-design (Nov 20/13)

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 Navy aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (78.4%); Baltimore, MD (4.7%); Greenlawn, NY (2.4%); Cambridge, United Kingdom (1.6%); Rockford, IL (1.1%); North Amityville, NY (1%), and miscellaneous locations throughout the continental United States (10.8%), and is expected to be complete in April 2017 (N00019-12-C-0112).

FRP Lot 1

Feb 21/14: Australia commits. The Australian government gives 2nd pass approval for AIR 7000 Phase 2B, and sets A$ 4 billion as the budget for 8 P-8As and infrastructure. An option for 4 more could be exercised, depending on the forthcoming Defence White Paper review’s conclusions. This isn’t a contract, but one is expected to follow soon.

The planes will be based at RAAFB Edinburgh near Adelaide, in southern Australia, and the program’s A$ 4 billion cost includes new basing, infrastructure, and support facilities. Australia’s 1st P-8A is expected in 2017, with all 8 aircraft fully operational by 2021. The P-8s will perform their work “with high-altitude unmanned aerial vehicles,” which are expected to be Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Tritons, but Australia hasn’t formally made its UAV decision yet.

As has so often been the case in the region lately, China is the gift that keeps on giving for American defense contractors. In early February, China sent guided missile destroyers Wuhan and Haikou, the 20,000t landing ship Changbaishan, and a submarine escort through the Sunda Strait between Java and Sumatra. That forced an Australian AP-3C to scramble north to observe their combat simulations, and created pressure on Australia to offer a timely response. Which may help explain why this announcement was made by Prime Minister Abbott himself. Sources: Australian DoD, “P-8A Poseidon Aircraft to boost Australia’s maritime surveillance capabilities” | Australian Aviation, “Govt approves RAAF P-8 acquisition” | The Australian, “RAAF to get eight new Poseidon ocean patrol planes in $4bn deal” || The Lowy Interpreter, “China makes statement as it sends naval ships off Australia’s maritime approaches” | The Diplomat, “Australia Startled by Chinese Naval Excursion” | NZ Herald News, “China warships in Pacific raise alarm” | The Hindu, “New Indian Ocean exercise shows reach of China’s Navy” | China’s CCTV, “Combat vessels training for quick response in electronic war”.

Australian approval

Feb 18/14: Crunch! A 550-foot-long hangar near Naval Air Facility Atsugi collapses, following 21″ of snow in the past week and 35″ over the past month. Washington D.C. residents are nodding grimly in recognition, with visions of roof shoveling dancing in their heads.

The good news is that the recently arrived P-8s are fine, because the facility was an old Kawasaki Heavy Industries Group/ NPPI repair hangar for US and Japanese aircraft, and the P-8s don’t need much of that. The bad news is that at least 4 US Navy P-3C planes were in the hangar, and 3 of them ended up being damaged beyond repair. There’s no immediate word on Japanese aircraft casualties, and cleanup is still underway.

This will give the P-8As much more to do in the near term, while the US Navy figures out how to restore surveillance levels over the medium term. Sources: Stars and Stripes, “Navy Orions likely damaged in hangar collapse”.

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 P-8’s core issues have been covered via advance leaks, but this passage in the report is especially notable, and had not been reported:

“I provided a specific example of the former case to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I found that the P-8A Multi-Mission Maritime Patrol Aircraft could be fully compliant with all Key Performance Parameter (KPP) and Key System Attribute (KSA) threshold requirements, and nonetheless possess significant shortfalls in mission effectiveness. The P-8 requirements define supporting system characteristics or attributes that are necessary, but not nearly sufficient, to ensure mission effectiveness. In an extreme case, the contractor could deliver an aircraft that meets all the KPPs but has no mission capability whatsoever. Such an airplane would only have to be designed to be reliable, equipped with self-protection features and radios, and capable of transporting weapons and sonobuoys across the specified distances, but would not actually have to have the ability to successfully find and sink threat submarines in an Anti-Submarine Warfare mission (its primary mission). The lack of KPPs/KSAs related directly to mission effectiveness will inevitably create a disconnect…”

Other issues surfaced in the full report, but not in the news reports based on early leaks. SAR radar scans of the surface were a known problem, but DOT&E says they are outright ineffective, and that the problems include radar stability and image quality. These and other gaps give the P-8A Increment I limited effectiveness against “evasive targets attempting to limit exposure to detection by radar and other sensors,” and Mk 54 torpedo limitations add to the platform’s problems in those scenarios. Likewise, the ESM/ELINT system’s deficiencies were known before, but not the fact that “signal identification capabilities are limited [to a narrow level] by ESM signature library-size constraints.” There are problems with interoperability of the communications systems, including the International Maritime Satellite, Common Data Link, and voice satellite systems. Finally, the EWSP defensive system doesn’t offer protection or even warning against radar-guided threats, which include the most likely missiles an enemy fighter might launch at the aircraft.

The report did concede that the P-8A “unarmed ASuW maritime surface target search, classification, track, and cue-to-attack capabilities are equivalent to P-3C capabilities.” On the good news front, there’s the reliability numbers: an on-time take-off rate of 93.6%, and airborne mission abort rate of only 1.6%, both well above operational requirements. The catch is that the mission system has a lot of software faults, which get in the way during missions and need to be fixed.

Work on new capabilities continues. AGM-84 IC Harpoon anti-ship missile testing has begun, but full weapon tests won’t happen until FY 2014. Detection problems are expected to be addressed in Increment 2 with the fielding of the Multi-Static Active Coherent (MAC) system of sonobuoys, and HAASW GPS-guided kits in that increment may offer improved torpedo options against evasive targets, beginning around 2016. Increment 3, to be fielded around 2019, will improve sensor capabilities and the mission system architecture. That’s a good focus, and the level of problems in both areas will demand a lot of extra work before that increment even begins.

Jan 23/14: Testing. Bloomberg News reports that an unreleased copy of the Pentagon’s annual DOT&E report isn’t positive for the P-8A. DOT&E chief Michael Gilmore reports that the P-8 still exhibits “all of the major deficiencies” identified in last year’s report, and is “not effective [DID: does not meet stated criteria] for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance mission and is not effective for wide area anti-submarine search”.

To review, DOT&E’s FY 2012 annual report (q.v. Jan 17/13) focused on the P-8 sensors’ ability to work as advertised, and to work together. The main radar has track-while-scan deficiencies, problems with high-resolution image quality, radar pointing errors that were especially troublesome over land and in littoral regions, and cross-cue errors with the MX-20HD surveillance turret. The MX-20HD itself had issues with auto-track integration, and interference was making it hard for the AN/ALQ-240(V)1 ESM systems to accurately pinpoint radars and communications sources around the plane.

On the one hand, this is not an adequate standard for a platform that the US Navy has declared as an Initial Operational Capability. On the other hand, these problems don’t make deployment to Japan stupid. Current P-8As may not match up to modernized P-3C Orion SMIP capabilities, but they do offer better availability, and can cover a bigger area. USN Lt Caroline Hutcheson says the P-8s “fully met” the criteria for “effective” patrols, and real-world experience in Asia is a good way of both training the P-8 crews and clarifying the aircraft’s problems. You can bet that it will also train American and Japanese fighter crews, who are likely to be close at hand whenever and wherever the P-8s fly. Sources: Bloomberg, “Boeing Surveillance Plane Found Not Effective for Mission”.

Jan 17/14: Support. Northrop Grumman Systems Electronics Sector in Baltimore, MD receives a $33 million cost-plus-fixed-fee completion job order to design and build AN/ALQ 240 ESM operational test program sets, and stand up a repair depot at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN. ESM detects coherent electro-magnetic emissions and backtracks them to their point of origin, allowing it to pinpoint enemy communications, radars, etc.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in Linthicum, MD, and the contract will run until September 2019. The US Navy Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN manages the contract (N00164-13-G-WT15).

Jan 3/14: NAVAIR PMA-290 receives approval to enter P-8 Full Rate Production from the Milestone Decision Authority. Note that NAVAIR’s date for the release is Jan 17/14, but it didn’t appear on the site until Jan 24/14. Poor form, that. Sources: US NAVAIR, “P-8A aircraft gets green light to enter full rate production”.

FRP approved

Dec 23/13: LRIP-4. A $6.8 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification to buy initial spares for the 8 P-8A aircraft in LRIP Lot IV.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 aircraft budgets. Work will be performed in Grand Rapids, MI (24.9%); Torrance, CA (18.8%); Greenlawn, NY (15%); Irvine, CA (14.5%); Freeland, WA (8.5%); Avenel, NJ (5.2%); Rockford, IL (3.3%); Wilson, NC (3.1%); Manfield, OH (2.8%); Rochester, NY (1.8%); West Chester, OH (1.5%); Sarasota, FL (0.5%), and Wichita, KS (0.1%). Work is expected to be complete in April 2017. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00019-12-C-0112).

Dec 4/13: #13. Boeing delivers the 13th production P-8A ahead of schedule to NAS Jacksonville, FL, marking a perfect on-time record for the year. This is the last of the LRIP-2 aircraft, and LRIP Lot 3 planes will begin delivery in 2014. So far, Boeing has received 4 LRIP contracts for a total of 37 aircraft. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Delivers 13th P-8A Poseidon to US Navy”.

Nov 29/13: IOC & Deployment. The inaugural operational deployment of the P-8A Poseidon begins, as the VP-16 War Eagles squadron leaves NAS Jacksonville, FL, for Kadena AB in Okinawa, Japan. VP-16’s final P-3C Orion deployment ended in June 2012, and their transition to the new P-8A finished in January 2016.

As the first 2 P-8s took flight to Japan, the US Navy declared Initial Operational Capability for the P-8A. Squadron VP-5 has completed their P-8 transition, and VP-45 began the shift away from the P-3C this summer, after returning from deployment. Meanwhile, the VP-30 FRS and the Integrated Training Center continue to qualify crew members ad replacement personnel. Sources: USN, “P-8A Aircraft Program Achieves Initial Operational Capability” | US NAVAIR, “P-8A: Road to deployment” | Defense News, “Poseidon’s inaugural deployment starts Friday”.

IOC, 1st official deployment

Nov 20/13: Support. Boeing in Seattle WA receives a $10.2 million firm-fixed-price requirements contract to repair 559 different P-8A items on an as-needed basis.

Work will be performed in Dallas, TX and is expected to be complete by Sept 30/15. This sole source contract was not competitively procured, in accordance with FAR 6.302-1, by NAVSUP Weapon Systems Support in Philadelphia, PA (N00383-14-D-006F).

Nov 20/13: FRP-1. Boeing in Seattle WA receives a $26.9 million to a fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification, exercising an option for diminishing manufacturing sources re-design in support of P-8A Full Rate Production Lot I.

All funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA, and is expected to be complete in April 2017 (N00019-12-C-0112).

Challenger MSA
(click to view full)

Nov 19/13: Challenger MSA. Boeing knows that its 737-based P-8 Poseidon sea control jet may be a bit too much plane for some customers. While the P-8A preps its flight display at the 2013 Dubai airshow, Boeing confirms a long-standing rumor by teaming up with Canada’s Bombardier to offer a surveillance-only Challenger 605 MSA with equal or better endurance and range, a lower purchase price, and lower operating costs. It’s kind of amusing to do this at a venue where some of your booth visitors have larger and more expensive planes than the P-8 in their private hangars, but Dubai’s exhibition draws from a wide geographic area.

The Challenger 605 large business jet’s base range of 4,000 nmi/ 7,408 km is better than the 737-800’s, and its wide cabin is well suited to special mission crews and equipment. It’s believed that the plane will carry the same core mission system as the P-8A, as well as some common sensors, but space considerations are likely to force some sensor downgrades with respect to items like radars, magnetic anomaly detection, etc. Canada’s Field Aviation is currently modifying a Bombardier Challenger 604 jet, and expects to hand it over for initial testing and presentation to potential customers in 2014. Sources: Bombardier, Challenger 605 | Boeing, Nov 19/13 release | Pentagon DVIDS, “DOD supports 2013 Dubai Airshow [Image 1 of 15]”.

Oct 28/13: Increment 3 ABA TD RFP. NAVAIR released its finalized RFP for the P-8A Increment 3 Applications Based Architecture (ABA) development, which will lead to the delivery of 2 prototypes. 2 awards for these ABA TD contracts are expected to be worth about $20 million each. By the EMD phase there will be a single award, but this will be a full and open competition rather than a downselect from the winners of this RFP. The deadline for offers is January 9, 2014. N00019-13-R-0045.

Increment 3 Initial Operational Capability was scheduled to Q1 FY20 as of the March 2013 industry briefing [PDF], which also gives a sense of the requirements scope.

Oct 28/13: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $99.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to add a Maintenance Training Device Suite (MTDS, with 6 Virtual Maintenance Trainer Devices and 14 Hardware Type II devices) and an Ordnance Load Trainer into P-8A LRIP-2.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 procurement funds. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 procurement funds. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (45%); Orlando, FL (25%); Whidbey Island, WA (15%); Huntington Beach, CA (10%); and Jacksonville, FL (5%). Work is expected to be complete in June 2016 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Oct 25/13: Training. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $26.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to incorporate the recent Test Release 21.1 block software upgrade on 8 operational flight trainers, 6 weapons tactics trainers, 3 part task trainers, and 44 mission system desktop trainers. It’s listed as being “in support of the P-8A LRIP-2,” but it’s really a service to the entire fleet, based on upgrades to current configuration.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 procurement funds. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (81%); Huntington Beach, CA (8%); Tampa, FL (8%); Seattle, WA (2%); and Hauppauge, NY (1%), and is expected to be complete in October 2015 (N00019-09-C-0022).

FY 2013

Australia reaffirms commitment; Initial P-8i delivery; USN revising basing plans?; DOT&E highlights sensor issues; An all-737 US ISR fleet?; China’s hacks include the P-8A. P-8A in Japan
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Sept 30/13: APY-10. Raytheon in McKinney, TX, is being awarded a $29.5 million firm-fixed-price contract to stand up an APY-10 organic depot maintenance facility. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2011 and 2013 aircraft procurement budgets, and contract options could bring the aggregate total to $39.1 million.

Work will be performed at the Fleet Readiness Center South East, Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be completed by March 31/16. $22.1 million in FY 2011 funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, today. The buy was sole sourced in accordance 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1) by the US Naval Supply Systems Command Fleet Logistics Center in Jacksonville, FL (N68836-13-C-0071).

Sept 24/13: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $225 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification for 6 P-8A Poseidon OFT (operational flight trainers), 6 WTT (weapons tactics trainers), 2 part task trainers, 1 training systems support center, 3 10-seat electronic classrooms, and a 20-seat electronic classroom. All finds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (30.4%); Tampa, FL (21.3%); Whidbey Island, WA (15.2%); Huntington Beach, CA (5.9%); San Francisco, CA (4.2%); Long Island, NY (2%); Tulsa, OK (1.9%); Jacksonville, FL (0.9%); and various locations throughout the United States (18.2%); and is expected to be complete in March 2018 (N00019-12-C-0112).

Sept 24/13: LRIP-4. Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in McKinney, TX receives a $48.8 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for 14 APY-10 radar kits, as part of the P-8’s LRIP-4 aircraft buy: 13 production, plus 1 spare. Raytheon will also provide a number of services: installation and checkout, technical support, configuration management, reliability and maintainability failure reporting and corrective actions, engineering change orders/proposals, integrated logistics support, interim contractor support, technical data, and repair of repairables. All funds are committed immediately, and see July 31/13 entry for LRIP-4 totals.

Work will be performed in McKinney, TX (99%) and Seattle, WA (1%), and is expected to be complete in January 2016. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302.1, since Raytheon makes the radar (N00019-13-C-0161).

Sept 19/13: LRIP-4 Support. Small business qualifier XTRA Aerospace in Miramar, FL receives a $16 million firm-fixed-price contract for Boeing 737 commercial spare parts, to support LRIP-4’s P-8As (q.v. July 31/13 for totals). There’s certainly a large pool of 737s and associated spares flying all over the world. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Miramar, FL and is expected to be complete in December 2016. This contract was competitively procured via electronic request for proposals, with 3 offers received by US Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-13-C-0147).

Sept 18/13: LRIP-4. A $172.3 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification for product services in support of the 13 LRIP-4 P-8As. They’ll provide spares & logistics support; interim contractor support; support equipment; and change technical publications as the aircraft change. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2011 and 2013 procurement budgets, and $30.1 million will expire on Sept 30/13.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (58.79%); Jacksonville, FL (11.47%); Valencia, CA (5.59%); Linthicum, MD (5.4%); Greenlawn, NY (3.21%); Salt Lake City, UT (1.28%); St. Peters, MO (1.82%); Carson, CA (0.83%); Camden, NJ (0.75%); Mesa, AZ (0.75%); Middlesex, United Kingdom (0.74%); Torrance, CA (0.59%); Mississuaga, Ontario, Canada (0.59%); Rancho Santa Margarita, CA (0.52%); and other various inside the United States (7.63%) and outside the United States locations (0.04%) (N00019-12-C-0112).

Sept 6/13: Increment 3. Small business qualifier Progeny Systems Corp. in Manassas, VA receives a $8.3 million to begin developing a software architecture for P-8A Increment 3. Technically, this is a cost-plus-fixed-fee Small Business Innovation Research Phase III contract under Topic N121-045, “Maritime Airborne Service Oriented Architecture Integration.” Phase III contracts are the last stage before commercialization, and this project will finish a service oriented engineering development model for increment 3, along with source code and a Unified Modeling Language (UML) model. All funds are committed immediately, using the FY 2012 RDT&E budget.

Now, let’s unpack that into English.

Software has become a larger and more important component of advanced weapon systems – just as it has in your washing machine. The corollary is that technical and software architecture have a bigger and bigger influence on reliability, maintenance costs, and upgrade costs. The P-8 has a lot of sensors and software, and they need an architecture that lets them all work together even if the individual components change. “Service oriented” means that key capabilities are provided as unified infrastructure, which can be called by programs that may not have many other commonalities. Google Maps, which has been incorporated wholesale into a number of 1st responder applications, is a well-known example of a (web-based) service. At the tools level, UML is a way of modeling the flow and function of software without writing code. That makes quick, iterative changes a lot cheaper. Some UML tools can take the created model, and produce an initial code set that will follow those directions. It’s not an end point, because programmers still need to adjust the code for efficiency and other goals, but it’s a good start that can assist rapid prototyping.

Work will be performed in Manassas, VA, and is expected to be complete in September 2015. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR 6.302-5 by the US Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Lakehurst, NJ (N68335-13-G-0001).

July 31/13: LRIP-4. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $2.042 billion fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification for LRIP Lot 4: 13 P-8As, and 13 ancillary mission equipment kits. It also orders 1 lot of diminishing manufacturing sources parts and long-lead parts associated with next year’s order: 16 P-8As under Full-Rate Production Lot I.

Total spending on LRIP-4 is $2.279 billion, or $175.3 million per plane, and consists of the following awards:

  • $48.8 million APY-10 radars (Sept 24/13)
  • $16 million commercial 737 spares (Sept 19/13)
  • $172.3 million support (Sept 18/13)
  • $2.042 billion base

All funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (78.4%); Baltimore, MD (4.7%); Greenlawn, NY (2.4%); Cambridge, United Kingdom (1.6%); Rockford, IL (1.1%); North Amityville, NY (1%); and other various locations inside and outside of the United States (10.8%) (N00019-12-C-0112). See also: US NAVAIR | Boeing.

LRIP Lot 4

July 10/13: Australia. A DSCA request for Mk-54 torpedoes confirms the seriousness of Australia’s interest in the P-8A, as the DSCA says:

“Australia will use the MK 54 torpedo on its MH-60R helicopters and intends to use the torpedo on a planned purchase of the P-8A Increment 2 Maritime Patrol and Response aircraft.”

July 8/13: IOT&E done. NAVAIR announces that a July 1/13 Initial Operational Test and Evaluation report found the P-8A “operationally effective, operationally suitable, and ready for fleet introduction.” That keeps the program on track for Operational Evaluation and an initial deployment this winter, when the first P-8A squadron will deploy with P-3 and EP-3 squadrons.

Deliveries to date include 15 aircraft: 6 test aircraft for NAVAIR, and 9 initial production planes to the fleet.

IOT&E complete

June 24/13: Testing. One of NAVAIR’s P-8A test aircraft serving in VX-20 successfully fires an AGM-84D Block IC Harpoon anti-ship missile, which scores a direct hit on the Low Cost Modular Target’s fabric. The Point Mugu Sea Test Range firing is the 1st live Harpoon firing by a P-8. US NAVAIR.

May 31/13: Hacked. The P-8A program is listed as one of several programs that leaked design data to Chinese hackers. Given the P-8’s critical role in the Pacific, and with Pacific allies like Australia and India, this is not a good development.

The leaks are damaging. The question is “how damaging?” All parties are remaining close-lipped about that, though reports show that a number of key P-8 sensors and sensor integration functions aren’t fully effective yet. Even a massive P-8 breach may be closer in scope to the Silicon Valley practice of filing early patents, so they don’t have to reveal subsequently-refined elements of the final working product.

On the flip side, even marginal help in developing their next generation of maritime patrol planes is valuable to the Chinese. Existing maritime patrol planes are based on the old Y-8 four-engine turboprop, but Chinese firms are busy assembling similar A320 family passenger jets in country for Airbus, and intend to design their own narrowbody competitor. China also has direct military experience with the 737, after converting 3 to become military command post aircraft. Washington Post WorldViews | Washington Post.


May 30/13: LRIP-3. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $53.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for spares in support of the LRIP Lot 3 (q.v. Sept 21/12), which will build 11 P-8As. This brings total P-8A LRIP-3 contracts to $2.263 billion.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (60.80%); Linthicum, MD (14.89%); McKinney, TX (6.44%); Valencia, CA (4.85%); Huntington Beach, CA (3.47%); Mesa, Ariz. (2.22%); Salt Lake City, UT (1.10%); Johnson City, NY (0.95%); Huntington, NY (0.84%); Grand Rapids, MI (0.57%); Richmond, CA (0.50%) and various locations throughout the United States (3.37%), and is expected to be complete in June 2016. All funds are committed immediately (N00019-09-C-0022).

May 7/13: Support. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $14.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for interim P-8A support. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (56%) and Seattle, WA (44%); and is expected to be complete in November 2013 (N00019-09-C-0022, PO 0076).

May 3/13: Basing. Rep. Rick Larsen [D-WA-2] emerged from a meeting about the US Navy strategic plan for 2013 – 2030, and promptly told local media that NAS Whidbey Island would be getting 49 planes (8 squadrons), instead of the 24 aircraft (4 squadrons) based there under the original plan. The first 2 P-8A squadrons arrive at NAS Whidbey in 2015, a 3rd will follow in 2016, Squadrons #4-6 arrive in 2017, and the 7th and last squadron arrives in 2018.

The Navy had been considering new basing plans (vid. Nov 14/12), and Larsen’s disclosure indicates that they’ve chosen “Alternative 2”: 49 planes in Whidbey Island, WA; 47 in NAS Jacksonville, FL; and just 2 in MCB Hawaii Kaneohe Bay. The big loser is obviously Hawaii, which lost 16 of the 18 P-8s that were supposed to be based there for wide-ranging coverage of the Pacific.

Whidbey’s P-8s are deployable planes, but the crews’ families will be in Washington State, and so will more advanced maintenance and support. Whidbey News Times.

April 29/13: LRIP-3 Training. A $21.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to upgrade the Training System Support Center for P-8A LRIP Lot 3, including tooling and data for the Weapons Tactics Trainer. All funds are committed immediately, and $21.1 million will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/13.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in August 2016 (N00019-09-C-0022).

April 17/13: P-8i. India’s P-8i completes flight testing, which included dropping Mk.82 500 pound unguided bombs. Printed materials describe them as “depth bombs” (anti-submarine depth charges), but it’s also true that the addition of an inexpensive Boeing kit could convert Mk.82 bombs to GPS-guided JDAMs, or even JDAM-ER glide bombs with extended range. Time will tell whether the P-8 family capabilities expand in this direction. Boeing feature, incl. video | Boeing Frontiers magazine.

April 10/13: FY 2014 Budget. The President releases a proposed budget at last, the latest in modern memory. The Senate and House were already working on budgets in his absence, but the Pentagon’s submission is actually important to proceedings going forward. See ongoing DID coverage.

The US Navy is clearly focused on cash flow rather than total costs, and the P-8A joins other programs that will pay more long-term, in order to pay less per year in the near term. The FY 2014 budget subtracts 9 P-8As from FY 2014-2016, while adding 11 from FY 2017-2018. The procurement difference is around $1.3 billion, but the value of the 2 added planes means the Navy is paying about $800 million more on an even comparison. Assuming the Navy actually sticks to this new plan through 2018, rather than making further cuts.

April 3/13: HAAWC. Boeing in St. Charles, MO wins a $19.2 million combination cost-plus-fixed-fee, cost-plus-incentive-fee, cost-fixed-price-incentive, firm-fixed-price contract to design and build HAAWC (High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare Weapon Capability) kits for lightweight torpedoes. HAAWC is its own effort, but it’s also arguably the most important improvement slated for P-8A Increment 2 aircraft (q.v. Feb 18/13, for changes to the planes). Boeing will build on their experience with JDAM GPS guidance and GBU-39 SDB-I wing kits, in order to create a strap-on kit that adds precision guidance and long glide ranges to existing lightweight torpedoes.

$14.2 million is committed immediately, and $9.8 million of that will expire at the end of the fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. The contract includes options that could raise its value to $47 million.

Work is expected to be completed by April 2016. This contract was competitively procured with proposals solicited via FedBizOpps, and 3 offers were received by US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC (N00024-13-C-6402). See also Boeing.

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. The P-8A is generally proceeding well, and Boeing has come to an agreement over limited release of commercially-sensitive pricing information:

“According to program officials, the P-8A has reduced the unit cost of the aircraft on each of its first three production contracts. To help ensure the price is fair and reasonable, DOD negotiated an agreement with Boeing to provide the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA) access to data on select Boeing commercial aircraft procurements. The P-8A airframe has been designated a commercial item, so the contractor is not required to submit cost or pricing data. Officials indicated DCAA did not raise any concerns regarding the reasonableness of aircraft pricing prior to the award of the third production contract.”

March 29/13: #7 delivered. Boeing hands over P-8A #7 to the U.S. Navy on schedule, and it departs for NAS Jacksonville, FL. It’s the 1st delivery from the LRIP-2 order. Boeing.

March 25/13: AAS. Aviation Week reports that Boeing will soon get another fatigue testing contract, this time to test the effects of the canoe-shaped AAS long-range radar fairing. Adding it creates new fatigue stress points, so the S-2 full-scale fatigue-test platform at Boeing will conduct 2 complete AAS mission lifetimes, then a 3rd P-8A mission lifetime without the AAS, followed by a residual-strength test and a tear-down analysis.

This is expected to be a $138 million effort, running through 2017. Boeing has already started flight certification work involving AAS-equipped P-8s (vid. Feb 1/12), and this is a logical next step. The AAS is expected to become operational sometime shortly after P-8A Increment 2, which is expected to be in service around 2016.

March 14/13: Fatigue testing. A $128.4 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification covers engineering labor to perform extended lifetime fatigue testing, teardown, and post-teardown analysis of the P-8A airframe. These tests, and the changes that result, are necessary before the US Navy can set a safe flight hours limit for the airframe. They’re hoping for 150% of the airframe’s specified service life, but the testing will tell. Using a long-serving civilian jet as the base should give the Navy a pretty good starting point, but there are some structural changes in this version, and the usage patterns will be rather different.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (95%), and St. Louis, MO (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2018. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation, Navy contract funds. US NAVAIR in Patuxent River Md., is the contracting activity (N00019-04-C-3146).

March 8/13: Training. A $12.4 million firm-fixed-price contract modification aims to keep the P-8 simulators in sync with produced aircraft. They’ll update 3 systems to the TR-12 software version, and go through Aircraft Program Revision Records from Block 9.2 to TR-12 to see if they need to add anything else.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in December 2013. All contract funds are committed immediately, and expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/13 (N00019-09-C-0022).

March 4/13: Australia. Aviation Week reports that Australia may want more P-8As, at the possible expense of its MQ-4C companion UAVs:

“The RAAF is quietly making a case for 12 Poseidons, arguing that eight would not be enough to cover the vast oceans surrounding the continent. And the unmanned requirement is now described as “up to” seven high-altitude, long-endurance aircraft, potentially reducing Northrop Grumman’s opportunity. At the same time the air force sees an argument for a supplementary drone, possibly the Predator, to take on some of the electronic-intelligence missions that would otherwise fall to the Poseidons and Tritons.”

This is a bit of a head-scratcher. The stated purpose of sustained ocean coverage would be better served by adding another orbit of 3-4 MQ-4Cs (to 10-11), and using the P-8s as more of a fleet overwatch and contact response force. Likewise, it makes little sense to use a different UAV for ELINT/SIGINT collection, especially the slow and shorter-range MQ-9. Rather, one would use the MQ-9s in nearer-shore maritime and EEZ patrols, along the lines of the 2006 Northwest Shelf experiments, in order to free up MQ-4Cs for longer-range expeditions over strategic corridors, and the ELINT/SIGINT mission to which they are so well suited.

Feb 8/13: HAASW. ERAPSCO Inc. in Columbia City, IN receives a $7.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract modification for engineering and manufacturing development services in support of the High Altitude Anti-Submarine Warfare system. This is actually an Increment 2 upgrade to the new P-8A sea control aircraft. It makes drops more accurate by using a GPS-based algorithm; receives, processes, and stores in-buoy GPS data received from AN/SSQ-53, AN/SSQ-62, and AN/SSQ-101B sonobuoys; and will remotely send commands, and receive and process data from the AN/SSQ-101B’s digital datalink.

Work will be performed in DeLeon Springs, FL (52%) and Columbia City, IN (48%), and is expected to be complete in May 2014. $890,000 in FY 2013 Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation, Navy contract funds are committed immediately. The Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, MD manages this contract (N00421-11-D-0029). See also Military Aerospace.

Feb 4/13: #6 delivered. Boeing delivers the 6th production P-8A Poseidon aircraft to the US Navy, successfully completing the first group of LRIP aircraft from the January 2011 contract. Recall, too, that 6 ready-to deploy aircraft is the threshold for Initial Operational Capability. The Navy isn’t quite there yet.

P-8As #7-9 are undergoing mission systems installation and checkout at Boeing Field in Seattle, WA, and #7 will be delivered to the USN later this quarter. P-8As #10 and #11 are in final assembly on the 737 production line in Renton, WA. Boeing.

Jan 31/13: Support. Boeing receives a $19.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy additional P-8A equipment adaptors, support equipment, and technical publications.

Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (70.8%); Seattle, WA (15.7%); St. Peters, MO (10.7%); Falls Church, VA (1.2%); Chatsworth, CA (0.6%); Anaheim, CA (0.2%); El Dorado Hills, CA (0.2%); and Berwyn, PA (0.2%); Camden, NJ (0.2%); and New York, NY (0.2%); and is expected to be complete in April 2015. All contract funds are committed immediately from the FY 2011 “2011 Aircraft Procurement, Navy” budget line, and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Jan 17/13: US DOT&E report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The P-8 is included, and the P-8A’s participation in international exercises along regular testing is helping them find issues. The good news is that the plane is improving in many areas. The bad news is that the plane still has a lot of gaps and teething issues before it’s ready for serious service.

The P-8’s biggest problems lie with its sensors’ ability to work as advertised, and to work together. The main radar is suffering track-while-scan deficiencies, high-resolution SAR image quality problems, radar pointing errors that are especially troublesome over land and in littoral regions, and cross-cue errors with the MX-20HD surveillance turret. Then there’s the MX-20HD surveillance turret itself, whose auto-track integration isn’t working. The AN/ALQ-240(V)1 ESM systems for pinpointing radars and communications sources around the plane are also problematic, suffering from faulty identification and interference with anti-submarine displays.

Wide-area submarine searches using the twin-sonobuoy multi-static active acoustic capability (MAC) approach will be a big step up from current IEER advanced sonobuoys, but their delayed integration (FY 2014 or later) still leaves adequate sonobuoy capability on board.

The other P-8 problem worth mentioning is that the main fuel tank overheats in hot weather during grounding and low-level flight. This sharply limits anti-submarine flight patterns, especially over chokepoints and critical facilities in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Florida and the Caribbean, East Africa, Hawaii, San Diego, etc. Customers like India and Australia won’t be thrilled, either, unless this is fixed.

DOT&E testing report

Dec 20/12: Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $7.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for P-8A training system program and configuration management, engineering, and quality assurance. This modification will bring the hardware platforms of the Weapons Tactics Trainer (WTT) and Operational Flight Trainer (OFT) up to the LRIP Lot 1 Block 8 configuration, so it keeps up with the planes themselves.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be completed in June 2014. All contract funds are committed immediately, and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/13 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Dec 19/12: P-8i. Boeing “delivers” the first P-8I aircraft to the Indian Navy in Seattle, WA. 2013 will see India receive aircraft #1-3, with planes 4 and 5 under construction.

Indian personnel will conduct some training in the USA with the US Navy, while India builds up INS Rajali at Arakkonam Naval Air Station in Tamil Nadu (SE India). Those imperatives are underscored by the P-8i’s absence from Aero India 2013 in February, despite strong interest and anticipation within India. Boeing | IANS | Boeing re: Aero India 2013.

1st P-8i delivery

Dec 17/12: Upgrades. Boeing in Seattle, WA received a $16.1 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification, covering required engineering and labor to change the cooling medium in the existing P-8A Liquid Air Palletized System (LAPS) from polyalphaolefin, to ethylene glycol and water. They want to ensure compatibility between the LAPS and the Special Mission Cabin Equipment. Once development is done, Boeing will manufacture 3 P-8A conversion A-Kits, for use on the initial aircraft.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (81.6%); Huntsville, AL (8.8%); Mesa AZ (7.6%); and St. Louis, MO (2.0%) and is expected to be complete in December 2014. $14 million is committed immediately, and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/12 (N00019-04-C-3146).

Dec 11/12: R&D. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $175.5 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification for engineering, integration, and test work on P-8A changes and upgrades. The work will cover its weapons management, acoustics, and communication subsystems.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (43.3%); Huntington Beach, CA (22.4%); St. Louis, MO (24%); and Baltimore, MD (10.3%). $31.6 million are committed immediately, with the rest available until December 2015 (N00019-04-C-3146).

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 will deliver P-8A training systems to NAS Jacksonville in 2013, and other sites will follow with trainers and all support functions. Boeing.

Nov 26/12: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA received a $26.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to continue developing the P-8A’s maintenance training curriculum. Materials will include computer-aided instruction for use in a classroom setting, interactive courseware for self-paced in-service training, and practical exercises to be used on various maintenance training devices. This seems like minor stuff, but if it’s done poorly, a multi-billion dollar fleet will suffer from lower readiness rates. Which turns out to be very expensive.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in June 2015. All contract funds are committed immediately, and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Nov 14/12: Basing. US Fleet Forces Command announces that they’re considering a number of basing plans for the P-8A, under supplemental environmental impact analyses. Of the 4 plans under consideration, 2 would base just 2 P-8s in Hawaii, instead of having 18 aircraft in 3 squadrons to offer good coverage of the Pacific theater.

The main plan is listed above: 42 planes in NAS Jacksonville, FL; 24 in Whidbey Island, WA; 18 in MCB Hawaii Kaneohe Bay; and 8 unallocated.

“Alternative 2” would put 47 planes in NAS Jacksonville, FL; 49 in Whidbey Island, WA; and 2 in MCB Hawaii Kaneohe Bay.

“Alternative 5” would put 47 planes in NAS Jacksonville, FL; 28 in Whidbey Island, WA; and 18 in MCB Hawaii Kaneohe Bay.

“Alternative 7” would put 54 planes in NAS Jacksonville, FL; 42 in Whidbey Island, WA; and 2 in MCB Hawaii Kaneohe Bay.

Alternatives 2 and 7 would damage the US Navy’s much-hyped “Pacific Pivot,” by having fewer aircraft in good position to offer coverage. Forward basing in Guam and with allies like Japan and Australia may help, but it’s more effective to do that and to base planes in Hawaii. Given the importance of aerial surveillance to anti-submarine warfare, one may also legitimately wonder if just 2 P-8As in Hawaii leaves Pearl Harbor insufficiently defended. The US Navy has often had a problem backing up its proclamations with actual platforms, but this one offers particular cause for scrutiny. Navy EIS site | Pacific Business News.

Oct 18/12: ESM. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives an $8.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order issued under basic ordering agreement to update the P-8A’s ESM sensor’s digital measurement unit “to overcome obsolescence issues”.

Work will be performed in Linthicum, MD (86%), and Seattle, WA (14%), and is expected to be complete in April 2015. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-11-G-0001).

Oct 5/12: Australia. Australia’s government signs a A$ 73.9 million with the USA to help develop the P-8A Increment 3, marking Australia’s continued commitment to the A$ 5 billion project that will replace its 19 AP-3Cs. This marks A$ 323.9 million in project contributions so far.

The Increment 3 Project Arrangement falls under the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Memorandum of Understanding signed in March 2012, which provides the framework by which the P-8A will be acquired, sustained and developed thought it service life. No basing decisions have been made yet, but they’re expected to end up at the AP-3C’s current home, RAAFB Edinburgh in South Australia. Australian DoD | Perth Now || Defense Update | UPI.

P-8A Inc-3 development

Oct 4/12: ESM. Northrop Grumman’s P-8A Electronic Support Measures (ESM) system is officially designated AN/ALQ-240v1. ESM systems use adaptive tuning, precise direction finding and geolocation to detect, identify, and target radars and other electronic threats to the aircraft and Navy vessels.

Northrop Grumman also provides the P-8A platform’s EWSP (early warning self-protection system). ESM isn’t part of that system, but it is complementary. NGC.

Oct 3/12: P-8 AGS advocacy. The Lexington Institute releases a report that recommends replacing all 73 of the USAF’s C-135/ Boeing 707 derived special mission aircraft with 737 derivatives. The E-8C JSTARS fleet of 16 operational planes would be swapped out for a derivative of the P-8A – basically, Boeing’s P-8 AGS concept. Overall, 73 planes would be replaced with 60 aircraft with higher mission-readiness rates, lower operating costs, and the ability to use existing global maintenance networks. It’s a bit of a turnaround for Lexington, who had strongly supported JSTARS re-engining and refurbishment before. Excerpts:

“The Air Force is currently spending so much money to keep its recon planes operational that it may be feasible to develop and field replacements based on commercial derivatives at little additional cost if it can retire aging 707s and C-135s quickly… The cumulative savings of substituting 737s for existing planes would total $100 billion across the life-cycle of the fleet, with annual savings likely to exceed $3 billion once the new planes were fully fielded. Most importantly, the 737 replacement program can be implemented within projected budgets for the ISR fleet… In the process it can eliminate 4,000 support billets and save over 80 million gallons of jet fuel each year, freeing up funding for activities where it can be applied more productively.”

See release | report [PDF].

FY 2012

LRIP-2 & 3 orders; P-8A inducted into USN; Increment 2 R&D; P-8A launches torpedo; Boeing looking at smaller airframe as a budget alternative. P-8 drops Mk54
(click to view full)

Sept 27/12: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $13.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification buys spare parts in support of 10 P-8A operational flight trainers (OFTs), 7 weapons tactics trainers, 3 part task trainers, the training systems support center, and 15 electronic classrooms. Boeing will also buy Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 15 classified parts; manage spare parts and delivery; coordinate orders, quotes, and receive process; support inventory inspection processes; and deliver the spares. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete in June 2014 (N00019-09-C-0022)

Sept 26/12: Spares. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $34.6 million firm-fixed-price modification to a fixed-price-incentive-fee contract, buying additional spares for the 11 LRIP Lot 3 P-8A aircraft.

Work will be performed in Dallas, TX (59%); Greenlawn, N.Y. (13%); Amityville, N.Y. (8%); Seattle, Wash. (7%); Rancho Santa Margarita, CA (6%); Anaheim, CA (4%); Irvine, CA (2%); and El Paso, TX (1%); and is expected to be complete in September 2015 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Sept 26/12: Support. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives an $18.9 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification for equipment maintenance, site activation, and other support of Low Rate Initial Production P-8As. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (57%); Jacksonville, FL (38%); and Kadena, Japan (5%), and is expected to be complete in November 2013 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Sept 25/12: Part obsolescence. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $15.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order to fix obsolescence issues. They’ll need to replace and integrate suitable hardware and software components in the P-8A’s Multi-Purpose Control Display Unit and Tactical Control Panel that have gone obsolete because those parts aren’t manufactured any more, and the Navy doesn’t have enough inventory to ignore that.

Work will be performed in Grand Rapids, MI (84%), and Seattle, WA (16%); and is expected to be complete in September 2014. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-11-G-0001).

Sept 21/12: LRIP-3. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $1.905 billion fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification for 11 Low Rate Initial Production Lot 3 planes. This brings total P-8A LRIP-3 contracts to $2.209 billion.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (75.5%); Baltimore, MD (4%); Greenlawn, NY (2.5%); North Amityville, NY (2.3%); McKinney, TX (1.8%); Cambridge, United Kingdom (1.5%); and various location inside and outside of the continental United States (12.4%), and is expected to be complete in May 2015 (N00019-09-C-0022).

LRIP-3 main order

Aug 31/12: FRP-1 lead in. A $244.9 million advance acquisition contract to begin buying long-lead materials for 13 P-8As, with firm-fixed-price line items. That means it’s for the FY 2013 order (LRIP-4? FRP-1?).

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (63.8%); Greenlawn, NY (11.7%); Baltimore, MD (11.0%); North Amityville, NY (8.2%); and McKinney, TX (5.3%); and is expected to be complete in April 2016. This contract was not competitively procured, pursuant to FAR6.302-1 (N00019-12-C-0112).

Aug 28/12: Too big? Boeing is starting to look at options beyond its P-8A, because their customers are saying that they don’t need its full versatility, and find its $200 million price tag prohibitive. Bombardier’s Challenger 600 seems to be the target platform, and the resulting plane would probably sacrifice weapon carrying capability in order to be a specialty surveillance plane.

Boeing aren’t the only ones working on this, of course. Established competitors include EADS’ CN-235 Persuader, C-295 MPA, ATR-42 MP, and ATR-72 ASW turboprops; and Embraer’s P-99 MP jet. Saab has options are in development based on the Saab 2000 regional turboprop and Piaggio P-180 executive turboprop, and Russia has a unique offering in development based on its Beriev Be-200 amphibious aircraft. There is also some talk in Britain of adding maritime patrol capabilities to its Sentinel R1 ground surveillance jets, based on Bombardier’s Challenger.

Among American manufacturers, Lockheed Martin is working on an SC-130J Sea Hercules modification, and the firm says they expect to sign at least one contract “in North Africa.” It’s designed as a $150 million alternative, to be developed in 3 stages. Stage 1 will involve roll-on/ bolt-on radar and electro-optical sensors, and accompanying processing workstations. Stage 2 would add wing-mounted, anti-surface weapons, along with upgraded workstations and weapon control systems. Stage 3 would be a full anti-submarine conversion, including sonobuoys, a magnetic anomaly detector boom, extra fuel pods, and 2 added bays for 6 Harpoon missiles. Defense News.

July 24/12: LRIP-3 lead in. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $107.1 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract modification to provide additional funding for LRIP-3’s long-lead time materials That means items that need to be in the factory early, so that LRIP Lot 3’s 11 planes can be assembled and delivered on time. See also March 26/12 and Sept 8/11 entries – this brings LRIP-3 long-lead orders to $304 million.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (63.8%); Greenlawn, NY (11.7%); Baltimore, MD (11%); North Amityville, NY (8.2%); and McKinney, TX (5.3%). Work is expected to be complete in May 2015 (N00019-09-C-0022).

July 24/12: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $28.2 million fixed-price-incentive-firm contract for 22 flight management system trainers; 44 mission systems desktop trainers; 2 desktop training environments; updates to the P-8A Air Combat Training Continuum courseware; and all associated spares, support, and tools.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (48.2%); St. Louis, MO (35.8%); Jacksonville, FL (10.9%); Bloomington, IL (3.2%); Anaheim, CA (0.8%); Dallas, TX (0.8%); and Wichita, KS (0.3%). Work is expected to be completed in June 2014. $25.5 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-09-C-0022).

July 24/12: Australian sub-contractors. Boeing announces a very minor set of contracts ($1.85 million) to Australian companies Lovitt Technologies Australia and Ferra Engineering, to manufacture parts and assemblies for the P-8A.

Lovitt Technologies in Melbourne already supplies parts for the V-22 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and will add mission systems parts and assembly fabrications for the P-8. Ferra Engineering in Brisbane also supplies Super Hornet parts, as well as spares for Boeing’s commercial jets. They’ll add P-8 internal and external airframe parts and assemblies to their roster.

Boeing has a number of programs of interest in Australia, including F/A-18AM/BM Hornet upgrades, new F/A-18F Super Hornets, the E-737 Wedgetail airborne early warning plane, and an expected P-8 buy (vid. May 6/09 entry). Boeing’s Office of Australian Industry Capability (OAIC) works with the Australian Defence Materiel Organisation’s Global Supply Chain Program, to identify and train industrial partners. Over the past 4 years, Boeing says they’ve awarded US$ 230 million in contracts to Australian firms.

July 17/12: #2 delivered. Boeing delivers the 2nd production P-8A to US Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL for aircrew training.

Meanwhile, 3 more P-8As are undergoing mission systems installation and checkout in Seattle, WA, and 3 are in final assembly in Renton, WA. That covers 8 of the 13 low-rate initial production aircraft ordered so far. The 6 flight-test and 2 ground-test P-8As ordered under the development contract are already delivered, and they’ve completed more than 600 sorties and 2,800 flight hours, mostly at NAS Patuxent River, MD. Boeing.

July 18/12: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives an $11.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for the Block 9.2 software upgrade of the Operational Flight Trainer, the Weapons Tactics Trainer, and the Part Task Trainer in support LRIP Lot 1. This modification also includes the procurement of a Mission System Desktop Trainer. Bottom line: the trainers must have the same software and capabilities as the flying aircraft.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (85%), Seattle, WA (12%), and Anaheim, CA (3%), and is expected to be complete in May 2013. $9.9 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00019-09-C-0022).

July 7/12: P-8i. India’s first P-8i begins flight-testing in Seattle, and all test objectives are met in its initial flight. Boeing test pilots will continue the process at a US Navy test range west of Neah Bay, WA, and at a joint U.S./Canadian test range in the Strait of Georgia. They believe that they are on track to deliver the 1st P-8i to the Indian Navy in 2013. Boeing.

May 12/11: No P-8 JSTARS? Gannett’s Air Force Times reports that that the USAF will hang on to the battlefield surveillance mission, even though it won’t be upgrading its E-8C JSTARS planes. The real story is that the USAF’s F-35, Next-Generation Bomber, and KC-46A aerial tanker projects are sucking all of the budgetary oxygen out of the room. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz:

“I think that [Chief of Naval Operations Adm.] Jon Greenert would tell you that he can’t do both the maritime P-8 mission and the entire GMTI [Ground Moving Target Indicator] overland mission… Based on the analysis of alternatives, the more attractive option is a business-class aircraft with cheek sensors that operates at 40,000-foot plus and at much less of a flying-hour cost… That’s probably the right solution set, but we don’t have the [budgetary] space to pursue it right now.”

A Navy official emphasized that the P-8A’s primary focus is anti-submarine warfare, followed by surveillance in maritime areas. They see overland ISR as a tertiary mission, just as it has been for the P-3C. The long-term question is whether force structure trends will force a change in thinking, if the P-8A becomes the most capable option available. The performance and availability of the USAF’s RQ-4B Global Hawk Block 40 [PDF] fleet is likely to be the determining factor.

May 11/12: Increment II R&D. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $13.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order modification for P-8A Increment II risk reduction activities. This effort includes acoustic processor technology refresh work, multi-static active coherent Phase I capability, Automatic Identification System prototype development, and high altitude anti-submarine warfare sensor capability. As one might guess, Increment II is the next evolution of the design for the fleet, to be built into new aircraft and retrofitted into delivered planes.

Work will be performed in Anaheim, CA (70%), and Seattle, WA (30%), and is expected to be complete in January 2013 (N00019-05-G-0026).

March 28/12: Rollout & induction. The 1st P-8A from the LRIP-1 is inducted into USN Squadron VP-30 at Jacksonville, FL, for training. Following the ceremony, dignitaries cut a ribbon in front of the $40 million, 14-acre P-8A Poseidon Integrated Training Center facility. The first crew begins formal training in July, and the Navy eventually plans on having 42 total P-8As at Jacksonville NAS by 2019: 12 training planes plus 30 operational aircraft.

Boeing spokesman Chick Ramey said that P-8As are currently rolling off the Renton, WA assembly line at a rate of about 1 per month. US Navy photo release | Florida Times-Union | Puget Sound Business Journal.

P-8A induction

March 26/12: LRIP-3 long lead. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $30.1 million firm-fixed-price contract modification, buying additional long lead time materials for the FY 2012 Low Rate Initial Production III lot of 11 planes.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (63.8%); Greenlawn, NY (11.7%); Baltimore, MD (11.0%); North Amityville, NY (8.2%); and McKinney, TX (5.3%); and is expected to be complete in May 2015 (N00019-09-C-0022).

March 23/12: Boeing VP and P-8 program manager Chuck Dabundo says that the P-8A is expected to be ready for Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOTE) from June – August 2012. He adds that: “The P-8A full-flight envelope should be cleared to conduct… realistic missions and maneuvering flight profiles during the IOT&E,” addressing one of the concerns from the 2011 DOT&E report (vid. Jan 17/12).

Meanwhile, the 1st operational flight and weapons tactics trainers are completing their set-up in the P-8A Integrated Training Center at NAS Jacksonville, FL. The other LRIP-1 plane is undergoing mission systems installation, with a hand-over to the Navy expected in mid-year. Aviation Week.

March 19/12: Sub-contractors. ITT Exelis touts its compressed air weapon ejection release technology, which successfully launched an MK 54 torpedo from P-8A test aircraft T-3’s weapon bay (vid. Oct 31/11). Many launch systems still use electrically-triggered explosive cartridges for launch separation, which has higher purchase and maintenance costs over time.

ITT was awarded the initial system design and development contract in August 2005, and says that it has received follow-on contracts totaling more than $30 million to date. Work is being performed by the Exelis Electronic Systems division in Amityville, NY.

March 4/12: 1st production delivery. Boeing delivers the first LRIP-1 plane to the US Navy in Seattle, after having built 6 flight-test and 2 ground-test aircraft. The delivery paves the way for flight training to begin. Boeing | Jacksonville Business Journal.

1st production delivery

Feb 13/12: Budget Cuts. The Pentagon submits its FY 2013 funding request. P-8A production will continue to ramp up, to the expected 13 planes, but future buys will be lower than planned, removing 10 planes from the program over the next 4 years. It’s always possible to add them back at the end of the program, but the USA’s current fiscal straits, and long-term entitlements explosions, make that unlikely:

“Due to changing priorities within the Department and funding constraints, the Department deemed that it was a manageable risk to reduce P-8A procurement by 10 aircraft from FY 2013 – FY 2017. Savings total $5.2 billion from FY 2013 – FY 2017.”

Feb 13/12: APY-10 air-air. Raytheon announces that it has delivered the 1st AN/APY-10 International radar to Boeing, for installation in the nose of India’s 1st P-8i. They also confirm that, per rumors reported on Feb 3/10:

“To meet unique requirements for the Indian navy, Raytheon has added an air-to-air mode, which provides the detection and tracking of airborne targets, allowing customers to detect threats in the air as well as at sea. In addition, an interleaved weather and surface search capability has been added to provide the cockpit with up-to-date weather avoidance information while performing surveillance missions.”

Feb 1/12: AAS. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $227 million cost-plus-award-fee modification contract for “interim flight clearance for the P-8A aircraft in the special mission configuration,” using the T-1 and T-3 test aircraft. Later reports confirm that the special configuration involves the P-8’s AAS radar pod.

Boeing tells us that this is about military airworthiness certification, which enables operational use of an aircraft (like a 737) in a special configuration. It’s also the precursor step to full fleet flight clearance. The time and expense involved in such certifications is often overlooked by casual observers, but over the last few years, this step has held up deployment of several big-ticket defense items around the world.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (59%); Baltimore, MD (32%); and St. Louis, MO (9%), and is expected to be complete in August 2016. US Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity(N00019-04-C-3146).

Jan 17/12: DOT&E Report. The Pentagon releases the FY2011 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The P-8A is included, and currently suffers from 2 major sets of issues that need to be fixed. One is mechanical, and involves bank angle limits. The other is software defects:

“The P-8A currently has an operational flight envelope limit that precludes it from flying at a bank angle greater than 48 degrees when maneuvering. In order to fly operationally realistic tactics during anti-submarine warfare missions, the aircraft will have to fly maneuvers that require a bank angle of 53 degrees… Although 92 percent of the priority 1 [DID: can’t perform mission-essential capability] and [priority] 2 [DID: impairs mission-essential capability, no onboard workaround] software problems have been closed, the current closure rate is not sufficient to have all the priority 1 and 2 software problems resolved by the start of IOT&E [Initial Operational Test & Evaluation]… There are 369 priority 1 and 2 software problems as of September 21, 2011. Software problems discovered during the later stages of the integrated testing may not be fixed in the software version that is currently planned for IOT&E, and may require additional software upgrades prior to starting IOT&E to ensure the software is production-representative.”

Jan 12/12: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $9.2 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract modification for spares, repairables, trainers, and courseware in support of FY 2011 production of P-8As under LRIP Lot 2 (vid. Nov 3/11 entry). Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (60%), and St. Louis, MO (40%), and is expected to be complete in September 2012 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Dec 19/11: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $19.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to buy 1 P-8A weapons tactics trainer, 9 of its 10-seat e-classrooms, and 6 of its 20-seat e-classrooms, as part of the FY 2011 LRIP Lot 2 production (vid. Nov 3/11 entry).

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (75%), and Seattle, WA (25%), and is expected to be complete in March 2014 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Dec 16/11: Training. The 1st full-motion operational flight trainer (OFT) and weapons tactics trainer (WTT) are delivered and placed in NAS Jacksonville’s P-8A Integrated Training Center. The Navy’s VP-30 Sqn. fleet introduction team (FIT) instructors worked with Boeing on the courseware, and had input into the design of the simulators.

P-8As are expected to begin shipping to patrol squadrons beginning in July 2012. US NAVAIR.

Nov 4/11: Increment II. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $10 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order to help plan Increment 2 acoustic processor technology updates for the P-8A. P-8A increment 2 is scheduled for fielding in 2016.

Work will be performed in Anaheim, CA (75%), and Seattle, WA (25%), and is expected to be complete in January 2013. $2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year (N00019-05-G-0026).

Nov 3/11: LRIP-2. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $1.378 billion firm-fixed-price-incentive contract modification, to buy Low Rate Initial Production Lot 2’s set of 7 P-8A aircraft, plus US Navy aircrew and maintenance training beginning in 2012, logistics support, spares, support equipment and tools. The training system will include a full-motion, full-visual Operational Flight Trainer that simulates the flight crew stations, and a Weapons Tactics Trainer for the mission crew stations.

Unlike many other military programs, Boeing appears to be handling the sub-contracts for most of the plane’s equipment itself, which leaves these figures much closer to the plane’s true purchase cost.

Work will be performed in Chicago, IL (21.9%); Greenlawn, NY (12.3%); Puget Sound, WA (11.5%); Dallas, TX (6.6%); North Amityville, NY (5.8%); Cambridge, United Kingdom (4.8%); and various locations in and outside the continental United States (37.1%); and is expected to be complete in January 2013 (N00019-09-C-0022). See also Boeing.

LRIP-2 main order

Oct 13/11: Testing. P-8A aircraft T-3 successfully launches its first MK 54 torpedo in the Atlantic Test Range, from 500 feet above water. The test verifies safe separation, with further weapon testing to come. US NAVAIR.

FY 2011

LRIP-1 order; 1st production P-8A flight; P-8i 1st flight; Training arrangements; New production facility; 737 MAX complicates the choices for customers. P-8 T1 over Cascades
(click to view full)

Sept 28/11: P-8i 1st flight. Initial flight for the P-8i, which takes off from Renton Field, WA and lands 2:31 later at Boeing Field in Seattle, WA. During the flight, Boeing test pilots performed airborne systems checks including engine accelerations and decelerations and autopilot flight modes, and took the P-8i to a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet. Boeing.

P-8i 1st flight

Sept 26/11: Training. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $32.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 1 P-8A Operational Flight Trainer and 1 P-8A weapons tactics trainer, as part of LRIP Lot 2. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (75%), and Seattle, WA (25%), and is expected to be complete in April 2014 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Sept 23/11: LRIP-2 ancillaries. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $319.9 million fixed-price incentive-fee contract for P-8A LRIP-2 spare parts, support equipment and tools, logistics support, trainers, and courseware. LRP-2 involves 7 aircraft.

Work will be performed in McKinney, TX (35%); Hazelwood, Mo. (35%); Seattle, WA (14%); Jacksonville, FL (4%); Anaheim, CA (4%); Baltimore, MD (3%); Camden, NJ (3%); and Greenlawn, NY (2%). Work is expected to be complete in March 2014 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Sept 8/11: LRIP-3 lead-in. A $166.8 million fixed-price-incentive contract modification, funding for long lead time materials in support of LRIP Lot 3’s 11 planned P-8As.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (63.80%); Greenlawn, NY (11.69%); Baltimore, MD (10.98%); North Amityville, NY (8.24%) and McKinney, TX (5.29%); and is expected to be complete in May 2015 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Aug 31/11: Training. Jax Air News reports on the coming transition to the P-8A at the VP-30 Fleet Replacement training squadron. According to Commanding Officer (CO) Capt. Mark Stevens, VP-30 will teach both the P-3 and the P-8, until the Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Force community completes its transition to the Poseidon by 2017. Flight Instructor Trainers are completing commercial B-737 type rating school in Seattle, WA, then they train in VX-20’s 4 Poseidon test aircraft at Pax River, MD.

The first P-8A transition squadron to be trained at VP-30 will be the VP-16 ‘War Eagles’ beginning in July of 2012, as they return from deployment to face 6 months of training. VP-30 will also begin training replacement P-8 pilots, NFOs and aircrew in August of 2012, at the new P-8A Integrated Training Center (ITC), which includes classrooms, 10 full-motion operational flight trainers (OFT) for pilots, and 9 mission system trainers for aircrew – each with 5 operator stations.

Aug 19/11: Testing. P-8A T2 returns from Yuma, AZ, where hot environment ground and flight tests took place over 13 days from July 7-20/11. July temperatures at Yuma average 107F/ 42C. Now that T2 is back to Patuxent River, MD, it continues required mission systems testing to include the acoustic system, Sonobuoy Launching System, Sonobuoy Positioning System, and Electro-Optical/Infrared system. US NAVAIR | Maryland’s Bay Net.

July 25/11: LRIP-2 lead in. A $21 million fixed-price-incentive-fee contract modification adds more long lead materials funding for the 7 LRIP Lot 2 production aircraft.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (63.80%); Greenlawn, NY (11.69%); Baltimore, MD (10.98%); North Amityville, NY (8.24%); and McKinney, TX (5.29%). Work is expected to be complete in December 2013 (N00019-09-C-0022).

July 22/11: Testing. US NAVAIR announces that the P-8A completed the clean flutter program in June 2011, including open & closed bay doors, and began loads testing in preparation for Operational Assessment in 2012.

Flutter is described as a vibration that continuously builds in intensity; the team needed to demonstrate that the P-8A remains safe throughout its flight envelope, without weapons. Loads testing verifies that it’s safe with weapons carried.

July 21/11: 737 MAX. American Airlines, which has traditionally been a Boeing/McDonnell Douglas stronghold, splits its $40 billion fleet replacement order between Boeing and Airbus, ordering 460 planes between 2013-2022, with options for more. The new aircraft will replace older MD-80s, as well as larger Boeing 757s and 767s.

Airbus will deliver 260 A319/A320/A321s beginning in 2013, of which half will be A320neo family planes with new geared turbofan engines from Pratt & Whitney (PurePower) or GE/CFM (LEAP-X), beginning in 2017. They also have 365 options with Airbus for additional aircraft. Boeing will deliver 200 737s, beginning in 2013, with options for another 100. Half of those initial 737s, and 60/100 options, will involve 737 MAX planes with LEAP-X engines, but no delivery date is set.

Those re-engined 737 MAX planes will have to be developed and certified, of course, with estimates that place them 1-3 years behind Airbus’ planned 2015 A320neo introduction. The effect is to upset Boeing’s strategy to introduce an entirely new narrowbody jet. Airline interest in the re-engined 737 seems set to delay that planned switchover, and AA’s order alone will keep the 737 in production for at least a decade. This is not good news for Boeing, but it might be good news for military customers of 737 derivatives. The thing is, they now have a choice of their own to make about their future fleets (vid. June 8/11 entry). Using a 737 MAX offers important life-cycle cost reductions, but it also involves modifications to existing designs for 737 specialty aircraft like the P-8. Someone will have to pay for that. American Airlines | Airbus | Boeing | GE/CFM | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Seattle Times | Forbes.

July 7/11: 1st P-8A flight. The first P-8A Poseidon production aircraft completes its first flight, taking off from Renton Field, WA and landing 3 hours later at Boeing Field in Seattle, WA. This is an LRIP Lot 1 plane, which now leaves final assembly and enters mission system installation and checkout in Seattle. Boeing will deliver it to the Navy next year in 2012.

This production P-8A is the first to include an improved CFM56-7BE engine with high- and low-pressure turbine modifications, that is now standard on all new 737NGs. The design also incorporates drag reduction improvements that Boeing started phasing into 737 production earlier this year, but the expected fuel savings vs. older models are only 2% or so, compared to about 15% for geared turbofan models. Boeing | CFM | Boeing re: new design.

June 8/11: 737 dilemmas. Under pressure from planes like Airbus’ developmental A320 NEO and Bombardier’s C-Series, which carry ultra fuel-efficient geared turbofan engines, Boeing is reconsidering the future of its 737 platform. The company had been looking at developing a whole new narrow-body jet by 2020 or so, then discontinuing the 737 around mid-decade. Customer pressure is now leading them to consider a re-engined 737 as an interim step, which means fuselage and landing gear changes.

All of these dynamics affect current and future P-8 customers, as well as potential customers for programs like their E-737 AEW&C. Boeing is urging its customer to place orders for military 737 derivatives before 2020, rather than waiting beyond, and is considering whether it may wish to offer modified variants based on the re-engined 737. The net effect of these moves may actually be to delay, or shift, customer buys. While thousands of 737s will remain in service after the line closes, guaranteeing parts availability for some time, expensive assets like a P-8 or E-737 are expected to be in service for 40-50 years. The prospect of an engine-driven step change in operating costs, alongside a potential next step change via blended wing body designs, in a future world of expensive fuel, adds even more food for thought. Fleets must be renewed, but a potential customer envisioning its fleet in 2065 may hesitate at the prospect of ordering a high-end aircraft platform at the very end of its civil counterpart’s production run, with further step-change technologies on the way. Boeing’s push has the effect of focusing attention on those questions, and it remains to be seen whether the results are positive or negative. Bloomberg.

737 questions

March 9/11: Sub-contractors. BAE Systems announces a Low Rate Initial Production contract from Boeing to provide 6 ruggedized P-8A mission computer systems. No cost figures are released.

March 7/11: Sub-contractors. Spirit AeroSystems delivers the 1st LRIP production P-8A fuselage to Boeing via rail car, whereupon Boeing workers begin final assembly by loading it into a tooling fixture and installing systems, wires and other small parts.

The Poseidon team is using a first-in-industry in-line production process that draws on Boeing’s civilian Next-Generation 737 production system, by making all P-8A military modifications in sequence during fabrication and assembly. The pervasive approach to this point has involved producing a civilian plane, then flying it to another plant for “militarization” work. Boeing.

Feb 2/11: APY-10. Raytheon announces a low rate initial production contract from Boeing to deliver 6 AN/APY-10 radars plus spares as part of LRIP Lot 1 production.

Jan 21/11: LRIP-1 main order. Boeing receives a $1.53 billion contract modification, finalizing the Low Rate Initial Production Lot I (LRIP-1) contract for 6 P-8As to a fixed-price-incentive-firm contract, and launching production. Boeing will supply the 6 planes, plus associated spares, support equipment and tools, logistics support, trainers and courseware. This brings P-8A LRIP-1 contracts to a total of $1.64 billion, including the April 23/09 advance materials contract, or about $273 million per place. That per-plane cost will climb if key mission equipment is provided under separate contracts as “government furnished equipment,” which is usually the case.

It’s quite common for planes from the LRIP sets to be more expensive than full rate production aircraft, sometimes, by another 100-200%. The P-8’s initial production on the live 737 passenger jet line is likely to dampen that tendency, but installing the military equipment will have a learning cost curve of its own. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (76%); Hazelwood, MO (10%); Baltimore, MD (4%); Greenlawn, NY (2%); Tampa, FL (2%); McKinney, TX (1%); North Amityville, NY (1%); Hauppauge, NY (1%); Anaheim, CA (1%); Grand Rapids, MI (1%); and Rockford, IL (1%); and is expected to be complete in January 2013 (N00019-09-C-0022). See also US NAVAIR.

LRIP-1 main order

Jan 7/11: Testing. Boeing completes full-scale static testing of the P-8A Poseidon’s airframe, after ground test plane S1 undergoes 154 different tests, with no failure of the primary structure. During 74 of the tests, the airframe was subjected to 150% of the highest expected flight loads.

In September 2011, the Boeing P-8A team will begin refurbishing the S1 plane to prepare it for live-fire testing at Naval Air Warfare Center, China Lake, CA. Boeing will begin fatigue tests on its second ground-test vehicle, S2, later in 2011. Boeing.

Nov 11/10: Industrial. An official ceremony opens the new P-8 aircraft production facility near Boeing Field in Seattle, WA. It’s actually 2nd stage production. Boeing Commercial Airplanes employees assemble the P-8s on the 737 line in Renton, WA, including all structural modifications. That improves flow time, costs, and quality. The next step is a short flight to Boeing Field near Seattle, WA, where Boeing DSS employees install military mission systems and conduct aircraft tests. Boeing.

New facility

Oct 15/10: Testing. NAVAIR’s P-8A test aircraft launches sonobuoys for the first time, as part of P-8 weapons testing. A total of 6 sonobuoys were involved in 3 low altitude launches at the Atlantic Test Range, using the P-8’s rotary launch system.

That system uses 3 three launchers with the capacity to hold 10 sonobuoys each, and it can launch single or multiple shots. The aircraft’s overall sonobuoy storage capacity is 120, fully 50% percent greater than the P-3’s capacity of 80. US NAVAIR.

Oct 4/10: India. India’s navy wants to grow its P-8i fleet to 12 planes, by exercising a $1 billion option for 4 more. Indian sources are telling the media that the prices and offset agreements would be the same as the original $2.1 billion contract for 8 aircraft. The decision follows a recent visit by Indian defense minister Antony and Chief Admiral Nirmal Verma. The proposal will now be sent to India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval, and other steps also remain on the to do list. The Times of India:

“P-8Is are being customised to Indian naval requirements, with communication, electronic warfare and other systems being sourced from India. For instance, defence PSU Bharat Electronics is delivering Data Link-II, a communication system to enable rapid exchange of information among Indian warships, submarines aircraft and shore establishments, for the P-8Is to Boeing. There is, however, the question of India having not yet inked the Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum Agreement (CISMOA) being pushed by the US as ”a sensitive technology-enabler” for P-8I and other arms procurements.”

See: India Defence | Times of India | Zee News | China’s Xinhua.

FY 2010

SAR kicks program total up to 122; P-8i passes design review; Indian contract for APY-10 with air-air as well; Boeing proposes P-8 AGS to USAF; Saudi Arabian P-8A interest; Shoot ’em up with Southwest. E-8C JSTARS
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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 lane, 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 the F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. Today, J-Stars 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 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 replace the APY-7 with their MP-RTIP radar.

Northrop Grumman executives have expressed concern that USAF officials have not showed them the 2009 initial capabilities document that could launch a competition to replace or upgrade the E-8C, something that’s common practice, even though it isn’t a required step. That 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 the US Army’s LEMV and others. Aviation Week | Flight International.

Sept 8/10: LRIP-2 lead-in. A $136.6 million contract modification for long-lead materials in support of P-8A LRIP (low-rate initial production) Lot 2 aircraft.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (63.8%); Greenlawn, NY (11.7%); Baltimore, MD (10.9%); North Amityville, NY (8.3%); and McKinney, TX (5.3%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013 (N00019-09-C-0022).

Sept 8/10: Sub-contractors. India’s Economic Times reports that Maini Global Aerospace (MGA) has bagged an outsourcing contract worth up to $10 million to make structural components for the extended range fuel cells of the Boeing P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime (MMR) aircraft. These components would be common to the P-8A and P-8i.

July 29/10: Testing. Boeing’s T3 test aircraft successfully completes its first flight test, which is focused on aerodynamics and safety. T3 is the P-8A program’s mission-system and weapon-certification aircraft. T3 will soon fly to join the other 2 test aircraft at NAS Patuxent River, MD. Boeing.

July 18/10: AN/APY-10i. Raytheon announces a contract from Boeing to develop an international version of the AN/APY-10 surveillance radar for India’s P-8i. It’s a private arrangement, and Raytheon’s director of strategy and business development, Neil K Peterson, tells DNA India that details of the contract are still being worked out. He adds that “The radar we will be giving to the Indian Navy’s planes will have more features than those with The US Navy.”

This is the first sale of the APY-10 beyond the USA. The challenge is to provide excellent performance, without including some of the American radar’s protected features. Raytheon describes the APY-10 as a “long-range, multimission, maritime and overland surveillance radar.” So far, Raytheon is under contract with Boeing to provide 6 AN/APY-10 systems and spares for the US Navy’s P-8A program, and has delivered 4. The firm says that it remains on or ahead of the production schedule. Raytheon | DNA India.

Improved APY-10

July 16/10: India. Boeing successfully completes the P-8i’s 5-day final design review with the Indian Navy in Renton, WA, USA. That locks in the design for the aircraft, radar, communications, navigation, mission computing, acoustics and sensors, as well as the ground and test support equipment. It also paves the way for the program to begin assembling the first P-8I aircraft, which will include Indian-built sub-systems. Boeing P-8i program manager Leland Wight says that Boeing is on track to start building the P-8I’s empennage section before the end of 2010. Boeing.

P-8i design review

June 2010: BAE Systems completes the mission computer system qualification testing, and flies aboard the program’s 1st mission systems test flight in Seattle. Source.

April 10/10: US Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron VX-20’s first P-8A Poseidon test aircraft arrives at NAVAIR Patuxent River, MD facilities. Capt. Mike Moran, Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft program manager (PMA-290), said that the program continues to meet all performance criteria and is on track for initial operational capability in 2013.

The Poseidon Integrated Test Team includes Navy test squadrons VX-20 and VX-1, and Boeing; they will use this “T1” aircraft to evaluate the P-8A’s airworthiness and expand its flight envelope. When the production-configured T2 and T3 arrive later in 2010, they will be used for extensive mission systems and weapons system testing. US NAVAIR release | YouTube video.

April 1/10: SAR baseline. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisition Report. The P-8A program is on the reporting list, because of the aircraft added to the program plan:

“Program costs increased $1,288.0 million (+3.9%) from $32,852.9 million to $34,140.9 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of nine aircraft from 113 to 122 aircraft (+$1,620.6 million) and associated schedule and estimating allocations (+$50.0 million), and an increase in other support costs associated with the quantity increase (+130.5 million). Costs also increased in estimating due to commercial aircraft pricing, avionics maturation, and aircraft design changes (+$505.2 million); revised assumptions for labor rates, learning curves, new material escalation indices, and other minor estimating changes (+$70.1 million); additional effort for test and evaluation, resolution of aircraft weight growth, and changes in the electro-optical infrared subsystem (+$83.7 million); increased scope to correct deficiencies (+$210.8 million); and costs resulting from the Boeing machinists union strike and rate increases (+$73.0 million). These increases were partially offset by the application of revised escalation indices (-$863.3 million), a decrease in initial spares in accordance with the long-term support strategy (-$278.5 million), acceleration of the procurement buy profile eliminating fiscal 2018 and fiscal 2019 (-$187.8 million), and removal of the Increment 2 development (-$147.9 million).”

The 122 consists of 117 production P-8A aircraft, 3 production representative aircraft that will support operational testing, and 2 fully configured developmental test aircraft. Aircraft “T1” will fly but is not production representative, so it isn’t counted. Neither are the 2 ground-test partial-builds used for static and fatigue testing, or the es-Southwest LFTE plane.

The other confusing element in this report is the removal of “Increment 2” features. Increment 2, previously known as Spiral 1, adds acoustics and communications upgrades, as well as an initial high altitude weapons capability – the HAAWC torpedo/ Longshot kit.

NAVAIR explains that the P-8A is using an evolutionary acquisition strategy, that will continue to improve the capabilities of the system over the life of the program. So far, so normal. However, none of these forecast improvements are included in the program’s Acquisition Program Baseline (APB: cost, schedule and performance parameters), which is the basis for the SAR. Increments 2 & 3 have received budget funding, with Increment 2 expected to reach Initial Operating Capability around 2016. Since neither of these increments has held a formal milestone review, however, the associated costs don’t formally count yet.

SAR baseline

March 24/10: Just shoot me, redux. Need to speed up testing? Want to shoot a plane full of holes? Fly Southwest! Engineers at NAWCWD’s Weapons Survivability Laboratory (WSL) spent just $200,000 to add a cast-off 737 from Southwest Airlines to the P-8A Poseidon Live-Fire Test and Evaluation (LFTE) Program. NAWCAD WSL vulnerability engineer Paul Gorish found the plane while shopping for individual parts. It came complete with in-flight magazines; and after arriving at China Lake, CA, the engines, auxiliary power unit, avionics and windshield were the only things removed.

LFTE tests involve shooting various sections of the plane with different anti-aircraft rounds that it might encounter in theater, then assessing the damage and using that data to improve the aircraft’s survivability. The first LFTE test will look at how the hydraulics in the tail portion of the aircraft react when hit with a threat. Another test will evaluate how the oxygen bottles will react to a ballistic impact in a fully pressurized cabin.

The original plan called for the ground-test aircraft (S1) to arrive in 2012. Now they can offload some of the tests planned for S1 onto this 737, beginning in summer 2010, and complete all tests within the tight schedule. It’s also expected that Southwest’s former jet will become a source of parts to build-up the incomplete test-plane S1 into a more representative P-8A surrogate. US NAVAIR release.

Feb 4/10: Testing. Boeing successfully completes weapons ground vibration testing on P-8A Poseidon test aircraft T1, after loading 18 different weapons configurations onto the test aircraft over a 1 month period. For each set, external shakers induce vibration of the aircraft’s wings, stabilizer and stores to verify the plane’s structural integrity and reactions, using with more than 100 accelerometers and other external devices.

The effort comes before full flight testing at Pax River, MD, and follows May 2009 ground vibration tests without weapons. Boeing release.

Feb 3/10: India. Flight International reports that Boeing plans to put an additional Raytheon radar on the aft section of India’s P-8is, and is exploring an air-to-air mode for the APY-10. India wanted air-to-air capability and a 360 degree radar, and the AN/APY-10 provides only 240 degree coverage from the P-8’s nose section.

Feb 3/10: Self-inflicted delay. Flight International reports that the US Navy is facing a self-inflicted 6-month program delay. The ferry light to Patuxent River, MD was scheduled for September 2009, but the trip had been delayed to Q1 2010. The first 2 P-8As are in Seattle doing flight tests, and could perform all testing there, but the US Navy wants all testing done at NAVAIR’s east coast facility. Unfortunately, the Navy doesn’t have its designated facility ready to receive the P-8, hence the 6-month delay.

Feb 2/10: FY 2011 budget. The Pentagon releases its FY 2011 budget request, containing $2.92 billion for the P-8A program. That request includes $1.99 billion for 7 more P-8 aircraft, advance procurement for 9 FY 2012 aircraft, plus $929.2 million for Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation. The Pentagon adds that “aircraft procurements are tightly coupled to the P-3 retirement rates.”

Feb 2/10: Sub-contractors. Herley Industries, Inc. of in Lancaster, PA announces a $1.5 million sub-contract for integrated microwave assemblies, to be used in the U.S. Navy’s P-8A aircraft. This is Herley’s first production award under the P-8A program, as opposed to system design & development contracts.

Jan 29/10: Studies. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $16.5 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order against a previously issued Basic Ordering Agreement (N00019-05-G-0026). They will conduct studies and analyses for the acoustic processor technology refresh, and capability analysis planning for the P-8A. In an era where more and more countries are fielding quiet, advanced submarines, and electronics become obsolete every 4-5 years, this kind of ongoing work is necessary.

Work will be performed in Anaheim, CA (83%), and Seattle, WA (17%), and is expected to be complete in July 2011.

Dec 4/09: IOT&E. Boeing in Seattle, WA received a $12.5 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-3146) in support of the P-8A initial operation test and evaluation (IOT&E). Specific efforts include the modification of courseware and training devices and transition, and integration of organic maintenance.

Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO (60%), and Seattle, WA (40%), and is expected to be complete in January 2012. Contract funds in the amount of $1 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

November 2009: APY-10. A Boeing and Raytheon worker formally finish installation of the APY-10 radar in the nose of P-8A test plane T2. T2 is the P-8A program’s primary mission system testbed, and it will enter the U.S. Navy’s flight test program in early 2010, after a follow-on phase of radar installation and additional instrumentation. During flight tests, US Navy and Boeing pilots will verify the performance of all aircraft sensors, including the APY-10. Boeing release.

Oct 24/09: Saudi Arabia. Abu Dhabi newspaper The National reports that Saudi Arabia has expressed interest in buying 6 of Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, in a deal worth a reported $1.3 billion (about 4.8 billion riyals). The National says the lanes would be part of a larger $20 billion naval modernization:

“They took the steps to say to the US Navy that they are interested,” Ray Figueras, the director of strategic development for the P-8 Poseidon at Boeing Integrated Defense Systems (IDS), said of the Saudi Royal Navy. “We’ve been told there is a need for six.”…Details of the naval overhaul were announced last December when US defence officials said Saudi Arabia wanted to buy the P-8 along with the H-60R Seahawk multimission helicopter built by Sikorsky Aircraft, unmanned Fire Scout helicopters built by Northrop Grumman, and smaller combat ships… The [P-8] aircraft are said to cost $220 million each…”

Saudi Arabia has long coastlines of shallow seas, and a special interest in protecting the Strait of Hormuz and the Arabian/Persian Gulf. Its own topography lends itself well to larger fleets of smaller maritime patrol aircraft, but extending operations out to deal with threats like pirates near Yemen and Somalia would require a long-range aircraft. As always in the Gulf, corporate and political relationships also play a strong role in national choices.

Oct 15/09: Testing. The first US Navy test pilot flies a P-8A, alongside a Boeing test pilot. Initial test flights have centered around Boeing’s Seattle facilities, but the P-8A will move to Patuxent River, MD, in early 2010 for more advanced tests. The Integrated Test Team will include personnel from the Navy’s VX-1 and VX-20 squadrons, and from Boeing. They will spend the next 36 months flying and evaluating 3 aircraft, designated T1, T2 and T3. NAVAIR’s release quotes Lt. Roger Stanton:

“For the baseline P-8, it certainly flies like a 737… The interesting flying for the P-8 really will come when we have to emulate the P-3 mission – high bank angle, low altitude, autopilot integrated into our mission with missiles on the wings. It will get interesting.”

FY 2009

India becomes 1st export sale; P-8A rollout; 1st flight; USN wants 117 + 8 P-8s; MoU with Australia; AAS radar follow-on to LSRS; Initial basing plans announced. P-8A Rollout
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Sept 4/09: DCK cut off. The Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. in Baltimore, MD receives a $37.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to design and build a P-8A Operational Training Facility at Naval Air Station Jacksonville. The facility will include space for 10 operational flight trainers (OFT), bridge cranes over the OFT devices, 8 weapons tactics trainers, and 4 part task trainers; plus support equipment, computer based training stations, internal and external network communication equipment, training media storage, maintenance support shops, administrative offices, student study rooms, briefing areas, communications closets, and secure compartmented information facilities. The contract also contains an option, which would increase the contract’s value to $37.95 million if exercised. Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be complete by June 2011.

If this sounds familiar, it should. The July 2/09 entry describes a similar award to DCK North America. On July 13/09, however, Balfour Beatty Construction files a bid protest with the GAO protesting the US Navy’s award to DCK on multiple grounds. The government review of the protest led them to terminate DCK’s award, and re-evaluate the bids; that removed the basis of the protest, and led to its formal dismissal on Aug 5/09. The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company won the re-evaluation, and the contract previously awarded to DCK will be Terminated for Convenience.

This contract was competitively negotiated via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 21 proposals received in Phase One and, 7 Phase One offerors selected to proceed to Phase Two. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southeast in Jacksonville, FL will manage this new contract (N69450-09-C-1291).

Aug 27/09: AAS. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $25 million not-to-exceed modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-3146). Work will be performed in Seattle, WA and is expected to be complete in February 2010.

The award updates Annex B of the P-8A system specification to include additional requirements associated with the Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS)/P-8A interface requirement specification (IRS). The IRS refines requirements for the integration of the AAS maritime and littoral intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance radar, and the associated special mission cabin equipment on P-8 aircraft.

July 31/09: AAS/ LSRS. Raytheon announces a multi-year contract authorizing development of the Advanced Airborne Sensor, the follow-on to the canoe-shaped Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) that equips the most advanced P-3Cs.

As the sensor prime contractor, Raytheon will oversee development, production and installation of the AAS on the P-8A. Raytheon will work closely with its associate prime contractor, Boeing, for engineering, aircraft modifications, integration and flight test.

July 30/09: Final SDD order. A $334.7 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-3146) for a P-8A Stage II test aircraft with mission systems installed. This is the 3rd and final option aircraft under the original System Development & Demonstration contract. This contract also covers modifications and engineering work needed to turn these 3 additional test aircraft into “production representative” airplanes, and the spares needed to support them.

Contracts under the SDD and test acquisition phase have now grown to about $4.5 billion, and include 8 ordered planes: 6 flight test aircraft, a full-scale static loads test airframe, and a full-scale fatigue test airframe. Two of the flight test aircraft have already successfully flown as part of a Boeing relocation and system flight check process. Testing on the static loads airframe is underway, and the Navy will begin formal flight testing later in 2009.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (82.4%); Norwalk, CT (4.6%); Oklahoma City, OK (4.3%); McKinney, TX (3.4%); Greenlawn, NY (3%); and North Amityville, NY (2.3%), and is expected to be complete in April 2013.

SDD ends at $4.5 billion

July 30/09: P-8A Unveiled. Boeing and the U.S. Navy formally unveil the P-8A Poseidon, during a ceremony at the Boeing facility in Renton, WA. US Navy release | NAVAIR release | Boeing release.

P-8A unveiled

July 2/09: Infrastructure. DCK North America, LLC in Large, PA wins a $37.9 million firm-fixed-price contract to design and build an Operational Training Facility for P-8A aircraft at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL. The facility will include space for 10 Operational Flight Trainers (OFT), 8 Weapons Tactics Trainers, 4 Part Task Trainers, support equipment, bridge cranes over the OFTs, computer based training stations, internal and external network communication equipment, training media storage, maintenance support shops, administrative offices, student study rooms, briefing areas, communications closets, and Secure Compartmented Information Facilities.

Work will be performed in Jacksonville, FL, and is expected to be complete by June 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Navy Electronic Commerce Online website, with 21 proposals received in Phase I and 7 Phase I offerors selected to proceed to Phase II. The Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southeast in Jacksonville, FL manages this contract (N69450-09-C-1257).

The award is subsequently overturned, following a GAO protest and re-compete.

June-July 2009: The US Navy reviews its future needs and decides that the P-8A program needs to grow to 117 operational aircraft, instead of 108.

May 6/09: Australia MoU. Australia announces a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States Navy (USN) to cooperatively develop upgrades to the P-8A Poseidon aircraft and its support systems. Cooperation will begin on P-8A Spiral One. Australia’s DoD hopes the information will help them understand the aircraft better before the final purchase and timing decisions begin, influence the direction of P-8A improvements, and provide early opportunities for Australian industry to become part of the global program.

This ministerial release has raised the total value of Australia’s 8-plane “AIR 7000, Phase 2” program to A$ 5 billion (currently about $3.7 billion) from A$ 4 billion on July 20/07 (see entry), when Australia granted “first pass approval” to the P-8.

Australia MoU

May 5/09: Boeing rolls P-8 model T-2 out of the paint hangar at its Renton, WA, facility, displaying its U.S. Navy colors. T-2 is actually the 3rd of 5 test aircraft. Aircraft T-1 will be painted in the same gray paint scheme later this summer. Photo release.

May 2/09: Australia. Australia’s Defence White Paper reiterates its interest in 8 long-range maritime patrol aircraft, as part of an A$ 5 billion “AIR 7000, Phase 2” program. Boeing’s P-8A will be that aircraft, unless something goes very wrong on the path to a final contract.

P-8 #T-1
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April 25/09: 1st flight. Boeing’s P-8A Poseidon test aircraft #T-1 successfully completes its 1st flight, spending 3:31 in the air and reaching a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet. Prior to takeoff, the P-8A team completed a limited series of flight checks, including engine starts and shutdowns. During the flight, test pilots performed airborne systems checks including engine accelerations and decelerations, autopilot flight modes, and auxiliary power unit shutdowns and starts.

After Boeing paints the aircraft, installs more test instrumentation, and conducts further ground tests, the integrated Navy/Boeing team will begin formal flight testing of the P-8A during Q3 2009. Boeing release.

1st flight

April 13/09: LRIP-2 lead-in. Boeing in Seattle, WA received a $109.1 million advance acquisition contract to buy long lead-time materials in support of the P-8A’s low rate initial production (LRIP) Lot I orders, and reserve production line slots in support of P-8A LRIP Lot II.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (87%) and Baltimore, MD (13%), and is expected to be complete in December 2013. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to FAR(Federal Acquisition Regulations clause) 6.302-1 (N00019-09-C-0022).

March 12/09: India. In a notice to the US Congress, the State Department has said that it will license the direct commercial sale of P-8i aircraft to India, having factored in “political, military, economic, human rights and arms control considerations.” India’s domain-b.

A DCS buy doesn’t use a US military office as its agent, and is not subject to the same public notice provisions as a Foreign Military Sale buy. Even so, there are still some legal hurdles and agreements that must be present before a DCS item can be delivered to the customer.

Feb 11/09: India & EUMs. Reports surface that standard American provisions around “End Use Monitoring”, and information sharing restrictions that accompany American defense exports, are beginning to become a problem for the P-8i sale. Read “An EUM Bellwether? India/US Arms Deals Facing Crunch Over Conditions.”

Feb 2/09: Indian partners. The Wall Street Journal’s LiveMint reports that Boeing will buy aerospace structures and aviation electronics products worth at least INR 29.41 billion (about $600 million) from Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, HCL Technologies Ltd, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T), Wipro Ltd, and simulator-maker CAE’s subsidiary Macmet Technologies Ltd.

Wipro, HCL, L&T and HAL declined to comment, but a Dynamatics, executive confirmed that the firm had been chosen as a vendor. A BEL executive said the firm had entered into an agreement with Boeing for communication equipment, radars, electronic warfare systems and contract manufacturing, but a contract was yet to be signed. Swati Rangachari, a spokeswoman for Boeing in India:

“Our team is working on the offset strategy and will be in touch with industry partners in a while… We will concentrate in the areas of avionics (aviation electronics) and aerostructures.”

Meanwhile, Flight International takes a deeper look at India’s nascent private aerospace industry, and its challenges, in “Can India’s aerospace manufacturers step up?

Jan 2/09: Basing. The US Navy formally announces its basing plans. the plan involves 13 squadrons: 1 “fleet replacement” (training) squadron and 5 operational squadrons at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville, FL; 4 fleet squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island, WA; and 3 fleet squadrons at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, with periodic squadron detachment operations at NAS North Island. Introduction of the P-8A MMA squadrons is projected to begin no later than 2012, and is expected be complete by 2019.

This decision implements the preferred “alternative 5” identified in the final environmental impact statement (FEIS) for the Introduction of the P-8A Multi-Mission Aircraft into the U.S. Navy Fleet (q.v. Nov 20/08 entry). US Navy.

P-8i concept
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Dec 5/08: India contract. The Indian government announces that it has signed a $2.1 billion deal with Boeing for 8 maritime patrol aircraft in “P-8i” configuration. The $2.1 billion figure is the commonly reported total at the moment; DID cautions readers that exact dollar figures for Indian contracts often take some time to clarify. The contract reportedly includes lifetime maintenance support, and an option for another 8 aircraft. Indian Navy spokesman Commander Nirad Sinha:

“Though we have signed a deal, final clearance is still required from a U.S. authority… The first plane delivery is four years from the final contract signing, so I think it should come in 2013.”

Firm industrial agreements in India and decisions regarding indigenous Indian technologies for the P-8i are expected to follow, and Boeing’s release commits to delivering the 8th aircraft by 2015.

This order makes India the P-8 program’s lead export customer, and 2nd international participant. Australia has joined the program and given the P-8A what’s known as “first pass approval,” but any contract must wait for second pass approval from the government. See: Boeing | India Defence | CNN Money.

8 for India

Dec 29/08: India. The P-8I deal for India appears to be moving closer. India Defence reports that “virtually all the steps” required for the contract to be signed, including tabling of it in the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval, are complete. Reports place the deal at Rs 8,500 crore (about $1.7 billion) for 8 jets, with first delivery coming within 4 years and all deliveries by 2015. India currently flies 8 Tu-142s. India Defence | StrategyPage.

Dec 22/08: Bloomberg News reports that an Oct 31/08 budget memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England approved shifting away as much as $940 million from the P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft program, in order to complete payment for the 3rd DDG-1000 destroyer that Congress partially funded in FY 2009. The Navy proposed getting 2 aircraft instead of 6 in the initial production phases.

Meanwhile, the US Navy faces significant challenges keeping the existing fleet of P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft in the air. Almost 1/4 of this aging fleet has been grounded due to safety concerns, and the Navy is forced to retire some aircraft every year. Even though they are in greater demand than ever over key sea lanes, and in overland surveillance roles on the front lines. Early introduction of the P-8A has been touted as critical to maintaining these capabilities, and avoiding both near-term and long-term shortfalls.

Nov 20/08: Basing. The US Navy releases environmental impact statements (EIS), and prepares to go ahead with its initial basing plan for the P-8A fleet. Under a “preferred” basing plan, 84 Poseidons would replace 120 of the older P-3C Orions. Their deployment would involve: 5 squadrons of 6 planes each at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, FL (30); another 4 squadrons at NAS Whidbey Island, WA (24); and 3 squadrons in Marine Corps Base Hawaii at Kaneohe, Hawaii (18).

The goal would be to begin introducing the planes in 2012, and finish by 2019. The Navy still must issue a “record of decision” for the Poseidon plan.

NAS Brunswick was not considered as a potential home base because all P-3 aircraft and supporting functions are being transferred to NAS Jacksonville per the BRAC 2005 recommendations. The Navy did consider Hickam Air Force Base on Oahu as an alternative Hawaii site, but concluded there wasn’t enough land available at Hickam AFB to support them. US Navy P-8A EIS site | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Seattle Times | Seattle Times re: Hawaii | Honolulu Advertiser, incl. other Kaneohe changes.

Nov 6/08: Engine cert. CFM International’s announces that its CFM56-7B27A/3 engine model has been jointly certified by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Agency for the U.S. Navy’s P-8A Poseidon, paving the way for flight tests in 2009 and initial operational capability in 2013. Each engine is rated at 27,300 pounds (121 kN) takeoff thrust, and the type has been subjected to extreme heat and icing conditions over extended periods of time as part of its certification.

CFM International (CFM) is a 50/50 joint company between Snecma (SAFRAN Group) and General Electric Company. The CFM56-7B family is very widely used in commercial aviation and powers other 737 military derivatives like the Boeing 737 AEW&C “Wedgetail” and the US military’s C-40 transport aircraft. CFM release.

Nov 2/08: Strike over. Boeing’s strike formally ends, after an agreement is reached between Boeing and the IAM.

FY 2008

US orders 1st planes; Live-fire testing; Boeing strike creates disruption; Indian interest becomes serious. P-8A: oncoming
(click to view full)

Sept 11/08: India. The Times of India reports on the Harpoon missile sale as just one of several pending buys, and says that:

“…This [Harpoon sale] comes even as India’s biggest-ever defence deal with US – the one to buy eight Boeing P-8i long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft for Rs 8,500 crore – has been sent for final clearance to the Cabinet Committee on Security after finalisation of commercial negotiations.”

Sept 10/08: Test plane order. Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a $278 million modification to a previously awarded cost-plus-award-fee contract (N00019-04-C-3146), exercising an option for 2 P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) aircraft with mission systems, in support of the System Development and Demonstration Phase of the MMA. This order covers 2 of the 3 test aircraft options included in the original SDD agreement.

Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (90%), and Wichita, KS (10%) once the strike ends, and is expected to be complete in September 2011.

1st aircraft ordered

Sept 9/08: India’s Harpoons. India looks to buy 20 AGM-84L Harpoon Block II anti-ship missiles and other items from Boeing, as part of a $170 million official request announced by the US DSCA. See: “India Requests Harpoon II Missiles” for more details.

This is the air-launched version of the Harpoon, but that missile – and especially its GPS-capable version – is not currently integrated with any of the aircraft in India’s current inventory. India also has its Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, and an air-launched version is currently in development and testing. A Harpoon buy appears to make little sense, except that P-8A aircraft could carry them without requiring an expensive integration project. Something that is not true for India’s existing Russian or French missiles. Which adds fuel to the rumors that a P-8 deal is close.

As it happens, the eventual July 2010 contract will equip India’s 10 Jaguar IM fighters in No.6 Squadron. The P-8i’s missiles have yet to be determined, and will be a separate Foreign Military sale.

India request – missiles

Sept 6/08: Strike! A strike begins at Boeing, shutting down production for any P-8 aircraft that are still in factory assembly. The potential exists for a long and damaging strike at Boeing; DID’s “Boeing Strike Poised to Disrupt Deliveries” covers the key issues and potential impacts.

Aug 12/08: Industrial. Boeing announces that the first P-8A Poseidon for the U.S. Navy has moved from factory assembly to systems integration and pre-flight work. Boeing IDS will now focus on calibrating the flight-test instrumentation on board the aircraft, before moving it to Boeing Field in Seattle early in 2009 for systems integration and additional testing.

Aug 10/08: India. Sindh Today reports that India ‘s contract negotiating committee has completed its report on price negotiations with Boeing, after Boeing won the technical bid and the trials of the product. Negotiations were reportedly stuck due to the end-user agreement, under which Boeing can conduct physical inspections of the aircraft as and when it wants to check if the product is being used for the purpose it has been acquired. This is linked to requirements under American ITAR laws, which regulate sales of military equipment whether they are conducted as FMS or direct commercial sales. India’s defence ministry reportedly separated that set of negotiations from the deal itself, knowing that a signed deal will be significantly harder to cancel, on either side.

The contract will reportedly be a direct commercial agreement between Boeing and the Indian Navy, rather than an announced Foreign Military Sale. The cost is reportedly around $2.2 billion, and that deal will now go to the defence acquisition committee (DAC) and then to the cabinet committee on security (CCS) for approval.

Aug 4/08: LRIP intent. NAVAIR discloses in a FebBizOpps notice that it expects to order 10 P-8A aircraft in fiscal 2010, followed by 12 in FY 2011 and 14 in FY 2012. That would make up the entire set of 36 during Low Rate Initial Production. LRIP is traditionally more expensive than full-rate production, and almost $6.3 billion is budgeted for that phase.

Boeing had said in 2004 that it could accelerate production and move up the first in-service unit by up to a year, from FY 2013 to FY 2012. Now, Flight International reports that “An airframe fatigue crisis facing the Lockheed P-3 Orion fleet has recently forced NAVAIR to publicly consider accepting Boeing’s offer…”

The 10 aircraft projected for FY 2010 would need to receive advance funding for long-lead items in the FY 2009 budget, and should be deliverable by 2012 to stand up one squadron. At the moment, 5 developmental prototypes are in various stages of assembly, with first flight in Q4 2009. As one can see, the timeline for accelerated production hinges strongly on the avoidance of any major engineering or testing issues that delay the P-8A’s progress.

May 20/08: Industrial. P-8 production begins using moving assembly line techniques, which were pioneered with other aircraft. The P-8s will be positioned in a straight-line configuration on the factory floor and stay at a production station for a period of time before advancing to the next station. Standard processes, visual control systems and point-of-use staging are in place, allowing work to flow continuously and quickly. Boeing release.

May 1/08: Industrial. Boeing joins the wing assembly and fuselage of the first P-8A Poseidon in Renton, WA. The next major P-8A assembly milestone will be engine installation this summer. Boeing’s release says that the team remains on track for delivery of the first test aircraft to the Navy in 2009.

April 20/08: India. India’s NDTV reports that:

“India is set to sign a $2.2 billion deal, its biggest with the US, for eight long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft, even as the Indian Navy chief opposed ”intrusiveness” in the use of military hardware the country purchases.

Negotiations for the purchase of the Boeing-P8I LRMR aircraft are in the final stages and are likely to be wrapped up during Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta’s visit to the US that began Sunday [DID: That did not happen]. The agreement for the purchase under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route will be signed between the two governments in New Delhi later this year, official sources said.”

March 18/08: MX-20 picked. Boeing picks L-3 Communications Wescam to supply its MX-20HD EO/IR multi-spectral sensor turrets as the P-8A’s digital electro-optical and infrared (EO/IR) imaging sensors. L-3 Wescam’s turrets use Enhanced Range Local Area Processing (ELAP) technology to produce real-time image enhancement for EO Day, EO Night & IR video that extends their surveillance range, clarifies the picture, and offers maximum haze penetration.

Deliveries are scheduled to begin in mid-2008. Wescam turrets also serve on Britain’s updated Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft. L-3 Wescam release.

Dec 11/07: Sub-contractors. Team Boeing and the US Navy celebrate the start of P-8A fuselage production at Spirit AeroSystems’ Wichita, KS facility, loading the first P-8A fuselage component into a holding fixture on the factory floor. The fuselage assemblies eventually will come together on Spirit’s existing Next-Generation 737 production line. In early 2008, Spirit will ship the first P-8A fuselage to Boeing Commercial Airplanes in Renton, WA for wing assemblies and systems integration. NAVAIR release | Boeing release.

Oct 22/07: Just shoot me. Boeing announces that its P-8A Poseidon team completed the program’s 200th live-fire shot in September 2007, at the U.S. Navy’s Weapons Survivability Laboratory in China Lake, CA. During testing, live ordnance is fired into simulated aircraft sections to replicate a potential threat environment. Dry bays are locations adjacent to fuel that also may contain electrical and hydraulic lines, as well as environmental control systems or engine bleed-air lines. The systems being designed and developed will ensure that dry bay fires are automatically detected and suppressed.

P-8A fire suppression testing began in April 2005, and will continue through 2009. Full-scale live-fire testing is slated for 2012 using the P-8A static test aircraft. Boeing release.

FY 2007

Nose radar becomes APY-10; Curtain lifted on larger LSRS radar; CDR goes well; Australian approval, and Indian interest. P-8 production
(click to view full)

Aug 9/07: Sub-contractors. Boeing announces that Spirit AeroSystems has joined its P-8A Poseidon industry team. Spirit will build the 737 aircraft’s fuselage and airframe tail sections and struts in Wichita, KS. After completion, Spirit will ship the components to Boeing facilities in Renton, WA for final assembly and introduction of mission-specific systems. Spirit is also part of Boeing’s KC-767 team, and works with Boeing as a partner to produce many of its civilian aircraft.

July 20/07: Australia. Australia grants first pass approval for Phase 2 of its AIR 7000 program, which is the manned aircraft portion. First pass approval allows Australia’s Department of Defence to commence formal negotiations with the United States Navy join the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program; Phase 2 is currently estimated at A$ 4 billion (currently about USD$ 3.52 billion). Australian DoD release.

AIR 7000, Phase 1 involves a Multi-mission Unmanned Aerial System to accompany/ supplement the manned Phase 2 aircraft. Australia gave First Pass Approval to that segment in May 2006, and a final decision and contract regarding participation in the USA’s BAMS program is expected by the end of 2007. These 2 components will replace Australia’s AP-3C Orion aircraft, which are scheduled for retirement in 2018 after over 30 years of service.

July 3/07: India. Defense News reports that Indian officials will be studying Boeing’s P-8A and Airbus A319 aircraft in France, Germany, Spain and the United States as they prepare for a decision re: their maritime patrol aircraft competition.

Don’t get too excited yet; bids were submitted back in April 2006, but that’s only the very beginning. Indian officials will be sending preliminary evaluations go to the MoD by September 2007, which will lead to a short list of bidders. A preliminary decision and price negotiations will begin “within two years,” i.e. by mid-2009. Past experience has demonstrated that such price negotiations can take years themselves – or even sink deals entirely, something that has happened repeatedly during India’s attempts to purchase second-hand Mirage 2000 fighters.

June 18/07: Sub-contractors. United Technologies subsidiary Hamilton Sundstrand, announces that its Kidde Aerospace & Defense unit has been selected to supply Dry Bay Fire Protection Systems for the Boeing P-8A. The non-halon Dry Bay Fire Protection System will detect and suppress fires and explosions in the aircraft’s compartments in case flammable fluids leak in due to ballistic damage or system faults. The potential program value could exceed $100 million for both domestic and international sales over the life of the program.

Hamilton Sundstrand had previously been selected to supply the electric power generating system, power distribution and cooling systems on the P-8A. Hamilton Sundstrand release.

June 15/07: Perfect CDR. The P-8A Poseidon successfully completes its Critical Design Review (CDR) at Boeing facilities in Seattle, WA, without a single request for action. A CDR without a single request for action is a fairly rare event, and the July 3/07 NAVAIR release explicitly complimented Boeing’s team on their achievement.

The program will seek approval in a summer 2007 program readiness review to build 2 test aircraft before the next milestone decision to enter full-rate production of the Poseidon. Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Dr. Delores Etter would be the approving executive. NAVAIR release.


May 17/07: LSRS. Ares blog at Aviation Week Reveals the Littoral Surveillance Radar System (LSRS) that equips a few P-3Cs, and will equip the P-8A.

Bill Sweetman discusses the radar, explains the likely link to a design modification made by Boeing early in the program, and notes the possible convergence of the Navy’s P-8A’s mission with the overland surveillance job done by the USAF’s E-8C JSTARS – though NATO’s Airbus 321-based AGS, with its own UAV companion, would appear to be an even closer comparison.

March 29/07: Infrastructure. Sauer, Inc. in Jacksonville, FL received $14.7 million for task #0001 under previously awarded firm-fixed-price contract (N62477-04-D-0036) for the Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) Test Facilities supporting the MMA Program at Patuxent River, MD. Work will be performed in Patuxent River, MD, and is expected to be complete March 2009. This contract was competitively procured, with 2 proposals received by The Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, DC.

Jan 9/07: P-8A MMA formally given the designation “Poseidon”.

June 28/06: Infrastructure. John C. Grimberg Co. Inc. in Rockville, MD won a $6.1 million for firm-fixed-price task order 0009 under a previously awarded indefinite-quantity, multiple-award construction contract. The funds cover design and construction of P-8 aircraft test facilities at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. It is the first of two projects that together will support the maintenance testing and instrumentation needs of the P-8 MMA program. This phase will build a new 2-story P-8 MMA test complex building on a wooded site adjacent to Building 1463 and across the street from Hangar 305. The building will include engineering offices, maintenance and telecommunications rooms. Work is expected to be completed by July 2007.

The basic contract was competitively procured via the NAVFAC e-solicitation website, with 17 proposals received and an award made on July 22, 2004. The total contract amount is not to exceed $500 million over the base period and 4 option years, and the 7 approved contractors may compete for task orders under the terms and conditions of the existing contract. Two proposals were received for this task order by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command in Washington, DC.

June 6/06:Raytheon P-8A MMA Radar Receives New AN/APY-10 Nomenclature.” As this August 24 release notes, key portions were also delivered to Boeing early for integration into the P-8A.


FY 2002 – 2006

Competition contracts, but Boeing’s 737 wins; Wing design changes; PDR; Milestone B. Weapon separation
wind tunnel tests
(click to view full)

Feb 23/06: Testing. Boeing announces the completion of P-8A weapons separation wind tunnel tests at the Arnold Air Force Base Engineering Development Center in Tullahoma, TN. These help to ensure that explosives-filled weapons won’t blow up the aircraft when dropped. See release.

Nov 21/05: See DID’s article “Boeing Wins $24M for P-8A & BAMS-Related Software Development

Nov 9/05: PDR. Boeing announces a successful P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program Preliminary Design Review. During the 5-day session, Navy representatives reviewed the P-8A’s system architecture and initial design to ensure the Boeing-led industry team is on target to meet program performance requirements and can proceed to detailed design. Boeing adds that the integrated team must complete 9 action items before the PDR can be considered officially “closed” or complete.

The next major program milestone will be a Critical Design Review, scheduled for 2007. See Boeing release.


June 2/05: Boeing announces an altered P-8A wing design to improve low-level performance, changing the wing extension from a blended winglet to a raked or backswept wingtip. See DID coverage.

Wing change

April 5-7/05: SFR. The U.S. Navy’s P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program successfully completes its System Functional Review (SFR), receiving approval from the technical review board (TRB) to proceed toward the design phase – effectively, Milestone B. The review board assessed system requirements and functional performance to determine that all requirements and performance allocations are defined and consistent with cost, schedule and risk constraints.

Stu Young, chairman of the SFR board and technical director for the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems division, said “Their progress since award is remarkable.” The next step, a Preliminary Design Review, is scheduled for September 2005. See Boeing release.


April 18/05: Boeing’s team announces a competition for fire-suppression systems in the P-8’s dry bays adjacent to fuel tanks containing electrical and hydraulic lines, environmental control systems, or engine bleed air lines.

The testing program involves two “iron bird” test fixtures. A gun will fire an explosive projectile to ignite a fire in the bay, while inflicting only moderate damage to the test fixture. Preliminary tests are scheduled for April-May 2005. Development and verification testing of the selected systems will continue through 2009. Full-scale live-fire testing is scheduled for 2012 using the P-8A static test aircraft. There’s more in the full Boeing release.

April 13/05: Boeing’s P-8 team announces the completion of 1,300 hours of high-speed wind-tunnel testing a full week ahead of schedule on March 18, 2005. The team conducted the tests at the NASA Ames Research Center at Moffet Field, CA, using a 6.2 percent scale model in the 11-ft. transonic wind tunnel. Previous low-speed wind tunnel tests in Boeing’s 20 x 20 ft. subsonic wind tunnel facility in Philadelphia, PA looked at a variety of unique features, in addition to the basic stability of the aircraft with weapons bay door open, or flaps down, or landing gear down to simulate takeoff and landing conditions.

Preliminary analysis of test data revealed no major surprises or obvious problems, and the team took measures to improve test productivity that saved 200 hours of the testing time. See Boeing high-speed release | low speed release.

Sept 30/04: The Boeing Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) program successfully passes an in-depth, 3-day System Requirements Review (SRR) by the U.S. Navy. See Boeing release.

June 14/04: Boeing! Boeing’s team receives a $3.89 billion contract to build the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA). The award goes to Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas in Long Beach, CA as a cost-plus-award-fee contract for the System Development and Demonstration of the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft. The team will produce 7 test aircraft during the program’s System Development and Demonstration (SDD) phase.

Work will be performed in Long Beach, CA (91%); Baltimore, MD (4%); McKinney, TX (2.5%); Grand Rapids, MI (1.25%); and Cincinnati, OH (1.25%), and is expected to be complete in June 2012. This contract was competitively procured under a request for proposals, with 2 proposals solicited [DID: Boeing & Lockheed) and 2 offers received by the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, MD (N00019-04-C-3146).

Boeing states that the P-8 MMA program will employ about 1,600 people at IDS facilities in St. Louis, MO; Seattle, WA; and Patuxent River, MD. See also Boeing release.

Boeing wins SDD

Nov 13/03: Boeing Announces Formation of MMA Industry Team.

Feb 20/03: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. in Marietta, GA receives a $20.5 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, multiple award contract (N00019-02-C-3253) to conduct phase II of the multi-mission maritime aircraft component advanced development effort. Work will be performed in Marietta and is to be completed in May 2004. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity. Lockheed Martin release.

Feb 6/03: Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, CA receives a $20.5 million modification to a previously awarded firm-fixed-price, multiple-award contract (N00019-02-C-3249) for Phase II of the Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft Program’s Component Advanced Development effort. During CAD Phase II, Boeing will develop and demonstrate key features of the mission system including systems architecture, software, displays and sensors, along with additional air vehicle performance analysis. The Navy plans to award a single contract for MMA System Development and Demonstration, or SDD, in early 2004.

Work will be performed in Puget Sound, WA (54%) and Long Beach, CA (46%), and is to be complete in May 2004. The Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, MD, is the contracting activity. Boeing.

Phase II development competition

Sept 12/02: Boeing announces that they have received one of two contracts for Component Advanced Development, or CAD, of the Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft, or MMA program. The contract is valued at almost $7 million.

During CAD Phase I, contractors are expected to validate risk mitigations for each concept via modeling and simulation; define and select system architecture; and refine system requirements, validate the operational requirements document, seek source selection for system development and demonstration, and develop milestone-B acquisition documentation. Once this five-month effort is complete, the Navy will choose two or three preferred concepts to be carried forward into CAD Phase II. These concepts will then be further refined and will form the basis of competitive proposals for a single contract award for MMA System Development and Demonstration (SDD), expected in early 2004. See Boeing release.

Sept 12/02: Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co. announces a $7 million contract for Phase I of the U.S. Navy’s Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) Component Advanced Development (CAD) program.

In its release, Lockheed touts a rigorous system engineering and program management processes and tools to quantify and reduce system risks and to develop detailed plans and schedules for future phases of the program; “these include the successful risk-management approach developed during the JSF concept demonstration program. “In addition, full-scale fatigue test data developed during the P-3 Service Life Assessment program will directly benefit the MMA platform, further reducing program risk… Lockheed Martin’s proposed integrated support system approach is a blend of commercial best practices and proven technologies leveraged from military programs, including the S-3 Prime Vendor Support (PVS) and the F-117 Total System Performance Responsibility programs. S-3 PVS has reduced overall depot-level scheduled maintenance costs by nearly 50 percent, increased aircraft availability by 25 percent and reduced scheduled maintenance tasks by 57 percent.”

Phase I development competition

Appendix A: India’s Interest & Broader Export Potential TU-142M “Bear”

The P-8 replaces the P-3 Orion aircraft currently in service with 15 countries. The question is, will that be enough to ensure market success?

The Indian Navy’s interest in joining the P-8 program was communicated in 2005, and some Indian Navy sources believed that a Air India’s decision to spend $6 billion on 50 Boeing civil jets would incline Boeing toward a favorable response. Whether or not that purchase was a factor, it’s a matter of record that Boeing submitted a bid involving 8 737-derived P-8 aircraft for India’s Maritime Patrol Aircraft competition – and won.

The P-8A matches the operational profile currently assigned to the Indian Navy’s Russian-made Tupolev-142 “Bear” and Ilyushin-38 “May” long-range reconnaissance, maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. It faced strong competition, and its 2015 delivery schedule was a potential issue the bid; but other factors were also at work, and the plane won.

Discussions concerning the P-8 came in the wake a 2005 visit to India by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, in which the USA expressed its desire to make improvements in their strategic relationship. Given the two nations’ shared interest in an arc that stretches from the Staits of Malacca to the coast of East Africa, many analysts see naval cooperation as the likely linchpin of their future military relationship. Washington’s initial offer of at least 12 P-3C Orions would have matched India’s requirements profile immediately, but participation in the P-8A offered an aircraft with superior performance in all respects, a much longer operational lifespan, plus accompanying strategic, industrial, and prestige benefits. Some analysts considered the request a sort of test by India of its long-term importance to the USA. If so, it appears that the relationship has passed the test.

What about sales beyond India?

P-3/ CP-140 Aurora
(click to view full)

By mid-2005, age had shrunk the global P-3 fleet to something on the order of 225 P-3 type aircraft flying on behalf of 15 countries. Even so, this represents a substantial market. The question is, who will claim it?

Some nations who fly the P-3 already have a natural interest in the P-8, while others like India recognize its obvious usefulness against both the diesel submarine threat and a variety of threats related to the war on terrorism, anti-drug efforts, et. al. As such, the market opportunity for the MMA could be quite substantial. A 2004 story in Aviation Week said that Boeing believes there are opportunities to sell 100 to 150 P-8s abroad.

Subsequent developments have cast doubt on that forecast.

At the end of 2004, Australia, Canada, and Italy were named by the U.S. government as being the most likely partners in the development of the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA). Each potential international partner would be expected to contribute approximately $300 million toward the development of the P-8A. The U.S. also approached other allies but according to eDefense they were “less responsive,” raising the prospect of a competing European system at some future date based on an Airbus airframe – or even a more complete bifurcation of the maritime surveillance market.

The US Navy entered formal talks with Australia, Canada, and Italy, but nobody opted in. Australia has since taken strong steps toward buying P-8As, but Canada has made no commitments of any kind, and Italy has since taken steps to purchase ATR twin-turboprop maritime patrol aircraft instead.

CN-235MP Persuader
(click to view full)

This lack of interest has to concern Boeing, because the P-3’s successor will not be the only game in town. The EU’s focus on developing a rival defense industry, and European states’ reduced need to patrol long sea lanes in the absence of a global Soviet threat, are creating a number of smaller competitors. These include aircraft like the French Falcon Surmar, and the EADS/CASA CN-235MP Persuader already ordered by Spain, Indonesia, Ireland, Turkey, UAE, and the US Coast Guard. Italy is exporting ATR-42MP turboprops and flying them in their Coast Guard, while building larger versions based on the popular ATR-72 for customers like Turkey. Then there are new entrants like Brazil, whose P-99 MPA is based on their successful ERJ-145 regional jet.

During the P-3’s era, long over-water patrols of the vital Atlantic sea lanes were an absolute necessity for all NATO members, lest Soviet submarines destroy all hope of reinforcements from America. With the demise of the Soviet Union, that need is gone. European maritime surveillance and attack requirements have shrunk sharply, and many countries see the P-8’s range and endurance parameters as unnecessary.

As a result, the global maritime patrol category appears to be bifurcating into a broad class of nations who buy smaller and less capable options based on passenger/utility turboprops, business jets, or even long-endurance UAVs, and an elite few with more extensive requirements who can and will buy aircraft in the P-8A’s class.

The USA still faces strategic naval competitors, and its aircraft must still cover long sea lanes. This geographic need is shared to varying degrees by a few other nations like Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, China, Chile, Denmark, France, India, Japan, Oman, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, and the UAE. France (ATL3, Falcon 50 Surmar bizjet derivative) and Japan (P-X jet) each have their own programs, and neither Russia nor China are eligible customers for American or European aircraft. Australia, India, and the USA are already on board with the P-8A. Which countries join them likely boils down to how many of the remaining countries (Brazil, Canada, Chile, Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, plus rich “prestige buyers” in the Middle East), eventually choose to include aircraft with the P-8’s range, equipment, and performance.

Boeing is looking to cover its bases via a Maritime Surveillance Aircraft (MSA) partnership with Canada’s Bombardier and Field Aviation. The Challenger 605 large business jet’s base range of 4,000 nmi/ 7,408 km is better than the P-8’s base 737-800 airframe’s, its operating costs will be lower than a 737’s, and its wide cabin is well suited to special mission crews and equipment. The MSA expected to use the P-8’s core mission system, but its size will preclude use of some P-8 sensors, and it won’t be armed. Field Aviation is modifying a Bombardier Challenger 604 jet, and expects to hand it over for initial testing and presentation to potential customers in 2014.

Additional Readings & Sources Background: P-8 Aircraft

Background: P-8 Components & Complementors

  • DID – Kicking it Up a Notch: Poseidon’s Unmanned MQ-4C BAMS Companion.

  • DID – Global Hawk UAV Prepares for Maritime Role (updated). These efforts are relevant to BAMS.

  • Raytheon – AN/APY-10. Redesignated, after significant modification from the P-3’s AN/APS-137 radar. India’s APY-10 variant adds air-to-air capability.

  • Flightglobal – US Navy surveillance system developed to rival Northrop Grumman’s JSTARS. They’re discussing the AN/APS-149 LSRS (Littoral Surveillance Radar System), which doesn’t get much public discussion otherwise. August 2007 article.

  • L-3 Wescam – MX-20. The P-8’s electro-optical surveillance and targeting turret.

  • DID – Listening Sticks: US Navy Sonobuoy Contracts. Explains the various types.

  • Linux Sys-Con (Aug 1/06) – Boeing Selects Wind River Carrier Grade Linux For P-8A MMA System.

  • Stork (Nov 18/05) – Stork Aerospace selected by Boeing for development and management of the P-8A Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) wiring [link offline]. Stork has a world-class specialty in this area, and are doing the wiring for the F-35 fighter as well. The package includes development of all P-8A Mission System wire bundles, fiber optics, coax and data bus wiring systems and delivery of systems for first 3 developmental test aircraft, development laboratories and four follow-on optional operational test aircraft. The contract is currently valued at approximately $12 million during a 4 year period.

  • Seapower (June 2005) – Boeing Eyes High Flying Torpedo.. The HAAWC Mk54 lightweight torpedo would be launched from the P-8A Multimission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) at an altitude of 30,000 feet and glide seven to 10 minutes to the water entry point, where it would shed its wings and activate a parachute to lower the torpedo into the water. This avoids the need to make a time-consuming descent from their surveillance altitudes of 30,000 feet to a release altitude of 300-1,000 feet, which saves wear on the wings. Is it also an implicit admission that the 737 is not particularly well suited to long stints at low altitudes?

  • Avionics Magazine (Sept 1/04) – B737 Joins the Navy. Excellent treatment of the P-8A’s electronics.

Background: Multimission Maritime Aircraft Program

As always, DID relies heavily on Pentagon budget documents for its charts, etc.

Market & Competitors

  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics [AIAA] Aerospace America Magazine, via WayBack (April 2002) – Maritime patrol market: Escaping the doldrums. By the Teal Group, an aerospace industry analyst firm. Very good at outlining the contours of the P-8’s market, as well as some of the turboprop vs. jet trade-offs.



  • CASR – Aurora Alternatives – EADS MPA320 / MPA319. The A319 MPA doesn’t have many other sources. This article explains why – it was originally an A320 MPA, but Spain and Italy chose cheaper alternatives. Changes were made, and India was the launch customer target for the “MPA319-CJ”, but Boeing’s P-8i won instead and that may be the end of the Airbus platform. See also Flight International’s “EADS proposes maritime variant of Airbus A319 with bomb bay doors for India.”

  • DID FOCUS Article – Nimrod Was Actually a Good Hunter: Upgrading Britain’s Fleet (updated). Provides an interesting basis of comparison to the P-8A program. Like the P-8 Poseidon, the Nimrod is also a converted passenger jet – albeit one of 1950s vintage design. That proved to be a problem, and the program and fleet were eventually scrapped, without replacement.

  • DID – Japan’s P-X Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Our readers supplied some answers re: Japan’s absence from the list of P-8 partners.

  • CASR – Bombardier Challenger 604 MMA. “Since 2003, Challenger 604 Multi-Mission Aircraft of the Royal Danish Air Force (Flyvevabnet) have been flying sovereignty/fisheries enforcement patrols around Greenland and the Faroe Islands. These Canadian-made aircraft are Bombardier Challenger 604 bizjets equipped with quick-change interiors for different roles including VIP transport, medevac, maritime surveillance (for which search radar is fitted), fisheries / EEZ protection, ice reconnaissance, SAR, and environmental protection…”

  • – Dassault Falcon 50. “The Surmar is a maritime patrol version of the [Falcon 50EX] ordered by the French navy (fitted with a FLIR and search radar).” See also Dassault’s Multi-Mission Falcon page.

Battlefield Surveillance

  • Britain’s RAF – Sentinel R1. A modified Bombardier Global Express long-range business jet.

News & Views

Categories: News

QF-16s Achieve IOC Milestone | Bell Heli Gets $86.9M FMS to Supply Huey IIs to Kenya & Uganda | MBDA Proposal to Offer MEADS to Germany Under Scrutiny

Wed, 09/28/2016 - 23:58

  • A MQ-8B Fire Scout was used to laser designate a moving target for an AGM-114N Hellfire missile fired from an MH-60S for the first time. Conducted on September 14, the test was part of a program to use the drone as a remote designater for the helicopter to shoot moving targets . The successful Hellfire shot marks a significant milestone in the integration between Navy-manned helicopters and unmanned assets.

  • The Canadian government is currently assessing data from defense manufacturers for this summer’s request for up-to-date information on options for the replacement of its CF-18 fighters. Specifics wanted by the government were on areas including fighter capabilities and potential economic benefits any sale would bring. In a bid to be selected, Boeing has been citing the work opportunities that would be available to Canadian firms across the country if the federal government were to purchase their F/A-18 Super Hornet, with other competitors coming in the form of France’s Dassault, Sweden’s Saab and the Eurofighter consortium. Data from Lockheed Martin is also being considered, even though Ottawa has vowed not to select its F-35.

  • Initial operational capability has been given by the USAF Air Combat Command for the QF-16 full-scale aerial target (FSAT). All 15 QF-16s located at the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida have been approved for target operations. Due to replace the legacy QF-4 aerial target, the QF-16 will introduce fourth-generation fighter capabilities in the aerial target mission, maintaining all inherent capabilities of the baseline F-16 Fighting Falcon, including supersonic flight and 9 G maneuverability.

  • Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Heron 1 could be produced in Brazil, if the platform is selected for a new requirement with the nation’s air force. Local firm Avionics Services have teamed with IAI to offer the UAV, having experience already servicing Heron’s operated by the Brazilian police force. A tender for the deal is expected to be released early next year.

Middle East &North Africa

  • 516 additional US troops will be sent to Iraq as Baghdad gears up for its offensive to take the city of Mosul, occupied by the Islamic State since June 2014. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi stated that the US is adding what he calls a “final increase” of American forces. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter confirmed the upcoming deployment and reiterated that the troops would not act as front-line combat troops, instead advising Iraqi security forces and militias as well as Kurdish Peshmerga fighters.


  • The US Army has awarded Bell Helicopters a total of $86.9 million in foreign military sales contracts to supply Huey II helicopters. Kenya and Uganda will receive five helicopters each in deals worth $52.1 and $34.5 million respectively. Work for both projects will be performed in Ozark, Ala., with an estimated completion date of Dec. 29, 2017. Both governments operate a mishmash of Russian, Chinese, and US-made helicopters.


  • A proposal by MBDA to offer its Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) to Germany will be “scrutinized” by the Defense Ministry prior to submission for parliament approval next Spring. The $ 4.5 billion missile defense system, developed in conjunction with US giant Lockheed Martin, won out against Raytheon’s Patriot system, but the companies have been tasked to meet tough performance milestones in order to retain the contract. Lockheed and MBDA had hoped to finish negotiations with Germany by the end of year, but those prospects dimmed after the companies missed their goal of submitting a proposal by the end of July.

  • The EU Commission has submitted a plan to invest some 90 million euro ($100 million) in a joint research project lasting between 2017-2019, in order to boost the bloc’s joint defense and security. The pilot scheme marks some what of a turning point for the EU, which has seen defense research spending drop by a third since 2006. When compared to the US, the EU Commission’s funding allocation into new defense technologies pales in comparison to the $18 billion set aside Washington. Meanwhile, the EU’s duplication of defense items outnumbers that of the US; they have 19 types of armored infantry fighting vehicle, compared with one in the US.


  • Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), an Indian defense electronics giant, aims to develop into a leading missile systems integrator within the next five years. An investment of more than $120 million is being pumped into the development of a Defence Systems Integration Complex at Palasamudram in Andhra Pradesh in southern India which, when completed, will be that country’s largest missile systems integration facility where missile systems such as navigation, seeker, radar, fire control and guidance will be manufactured. BEL won’t delve into missile development however, instead focusing on the development of electronics for missiles as well as building technical expertise and infrastructure for the integration of missile systems.

Today’s Video

Having just been awarded IOC, a look back at the QF-18’s first full flight:

Categories: News

QF-16s: Look Ma, No Hands!

Wed, 09/28/2016 - 23:50
QF-16: 1st flight
(click to view full)

QF-16s are former F-16 fighters that will be fitted with equipment for remote-controlled flight, and used as aerial targets and decoys for testing against air-air missiles, radars, surface-air missiles, etc. Could they be used for more than that?

The QF-16 is a follow-on to the QF-4 aerial target drone, which are converted by BAE Systems. The USAF is running out of F-4 family airframes to convert, and production is set to end in FY 2013. The QF-16s will be their replacements, but the conversion process must still be developed and tested. BAE Systems won’t be leading the QF-16 program, however; Boeing won that contract.

Contracts and Key Events click for video

The initial contract involves 126 jets, but the overall program involves 210-220 QF-16 aircraft. Most will be taken from dry storage at the AMARG “boneyard,” at Davis Monthan AFB, AZ. Note that QF-16s aren’t fully autonomous, as they have pilots who sit on the ground and direct the planes via remote control. Tying the F-16’s systems into the new set of remote control systems was apparently quite an involved and challenging project.

FY 2012 – 2016

1st unmanned flight
click for video

September 29/16: Initial operational capability has been given by the USAF Air Combat Command for the QF-16 full-scale aerial target (FSAT). All 15 QF-16s located at the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida have been approved for target operations. Due to replace the legacy QF-4 aerial target, the QF-16 will introduce fourth-generation fighter capabilities in the aerial target mission, maintaining all inherent capabilities of the baseline F-16 Fighting Falcon, including supersonic flight and 9 G maneuverability.

May 20/14: Lot 2. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $27.7 million contract modification for QF-16 Production Lot 2: 23 QF-16 conversions, with 4-year warranties for the onboard systems that turn them into remote control aircraft. This brings the contract’s total value so far to $158.7 million.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 procurement & 2014 R&D budgets. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and will be complete by May 20/16 as the warranties expire. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/EBYK (Aerial Targets) at Eglin AFB, FL manages the contract (FA8678-10-C-0100, PO 0058).

Lot 2

May 7/14: QF-16 UCAVs? With the USAF looking for just 210 QF-16s at most, and hundreds of F-16s in storage and headed for storage, Boeing is thinking bigger. Boeing’s QF-16 chief engineer Paul Cejas told IHS Jane’s that they’re thinking of using them as Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, for close-air support and deep strikes against the most dangerous targets.

Step 1 is giving the QF-16s control options that don’t require line of sight, which is currently the case at Tyndall AFB, FL and White Sands Missile Range, NM. Step 2 would involve thinking through mission performance very carefully. Contested airspace is the main reason to use a QF-16 over an MQ-9 Reaper, but UAV pilots have very limited fields of view. That’s a problem for contested strike missions, let alone aerial dogfights. Now add the inevitable delays of latency to magnify the problem, unless the QF-16s are given another level of autonomy for evasion and flight. Range will be limited without aerial refueling, though parallel R&D programs may be about to solve that issue.

On balance, this may be one of those ideas that needs to wait for another iteration or 2 of technology before it really makes sense. Sources: IHS Jane’s 360, “Boeing touts operational QF-16 UAV'”.

September 2013: 1st unmanned flight. The first unmanned F-16 flight takes place at Tyndall AFB, FL. The jet reaches Mach 1.47 and 40,000 feet, performing barrel rolls and other maneuvers before returning with a safe landing.

Boeing has modified 6 QF-16s so far, and this initial test plane had last flown 15 years ago. Conversions will continue, while the next step for converted planes is live fire testing at Holloman AFB, NM. Sources: Boeing feature, “On target: QF-16 flies with an empty cockpit”.

1st unmanned flight

Dec 11/12: More EMD. Boeing in St. Louis, MO receives a $17 million contract modification for Engineering, Manufacturing and Development Phase Option 1. Work will be performed in St. Louis, MO, and is expected to be complete by March 2014. The AFLCMC/EBYK at Eglin AFB, FL manages the contract (FA8678-10-C-0100, PO 0028).

Nov 19/12: Testing. The 1st QF-16 drone arrives for developmental testing at Tyndall AFB, FL. Boeing Global Services and Support will conduct testing on the QF-16, which will undergo approximately 6 months of testing to validate their capabilities and ensure compatibility with the Gulf Range Drone Control System. Next, the aircraft will deploy to Holloman AFB, NM, for 4 more months of integrated testing.

When all test milestones are complete, the aircraft will return permanently to the 53rd WEG, complete a transition period, and achieve initial operational capability at Tyndall AFB. The first production QF-16 is scheduled to be delivered in 2014. USAF | Boeing.

May 4/12: 1st flight. Boeing and the U.S. Air Force complete the 1st QF-16 Full Scale Aerial Target flight at Cecil Field in Jacksonville, FL. For safety reasons, initial flights take place with a pilot on board. Boeing.

1st flight

FY 2010 – 2011

1st “voluntold” F-16
(click to view full)

July 7/10: Sub-contractors. Herley Industries’ subsidiary Micro Systems, Inc. in Fort Walton Beach, FL announces a development and production contract from Boeing for a QF-16 command and control transponder and a ground systems module. This development contract has an initial award of $2.3 million, and a total potential value of $19 million.

April 22/10: F-16 arrives. The first retired F-16 Falcon arrives at Boeing’s Cecil Field facility near Jacksonville, FL to begin conversion into a QF-16 aerial drone. The team will receive 6 F-16s during the program’s development phase, which will be modified and serve as prototypes for engineering tests and evaluation prior to low-rate initial production. Boeing.

March 8/10: QF-16 EMD. Boeing in St. Louis, MO announces a $69.7 million contract to develop and provide QF-16 “optionally manned” full scale aerial targets. Phase I covers engineering, manufacturing and development. Under the terms of the remainder of the contract, expected to be awarded in coming years, up to 126 QF-16 drones will deliver beginning in 2014, and 2014 is also the expected year for full rate production. The USAF expects to buy 220 QF-16s over time.

QF-16 design and development will take place in St. Louis. MO. Ground and flight testing and production will be completed at the Boeing facility in Cecil Field, FL, near Jacksonville. The Boeing-led QF-16 team also includes BAE Systems in Johnson City, NY, who led the QF-4 program. For the Boeing QF-16 contract, $950,000 is committed at the outset by the 691st Armament Systems Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base, FL (FA8678-10-C-0100). See also Boeing release.

Development contract

QF-4: fading away
(click to view full)

October 2009: QF-4s. In a presentation to the NDIA, Deputy Director of the 691st Armament Systems Squadron Mike VandenBoom sketches out the remaining QF-4 program. As of October 2009, they had completed Lot 13 production and begun Lot 14 deliveries, with 256 QF-4s delivered to date. Production is now down to using RF-4C reconnaissance aircraft instead of F-4E fighters, which will provide another 3 years of full production capability until Lot 17, the final production lot.

QF-4 Lots 15-17 will comprise 36 aircraft, with deliveries lasting until July 2013, which is expected to provide enough inventory through FY 2015. Successor “QF-16” aircraft will need to pick up the job from there.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

USAF’s AETP May Improve F-35 Engines Over Next Decade | UK Gov to Prosecute Ejection Seat Mfr Martin Baker | Controversial THAAD Site to be Ditched

Tue, 09/27/2016 - 23:55

  • The F-35 could be getting new engines by the mid-2020s, with the potential for either an upgraded version of the Pratt & Whitney F135 design currently in use or a new engine from a competitor. Lt. Gen. Chris Bogdan, head of the Joint Program Office, made the announcement at last week’s Air Force Association conference. The USAF is currently in the early stages of funding their Adaptive Engine Transition Program (AETP) competition, with both P&W and General Electric Aviation securing contracts worth $1.01 billion to research if its possible to “demonstrate 25 percent improved fuel efficiency, 10 percent increased thrust, and significantly improved thermal management.”

  • E-8C JSTARS aircraft grounded due to maintenance concerns are back flying again. Issues surrounding a radar mishap had resulted in four E-8Cs undergoing a USAF launched independent investigation following their delivery from depot maintenance at Northrop Grumman’s facility in Lake Charles, Louisiana. One aircraft experienced water damage to the Northrop APY-7 radar after the glassfibre canoe did not properly drain water.

  • If you missed/managed to avoid what was a rather strange first US presidential debate, candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton sparred on national security, ISIS, supporting Gulf and Asian allies (should they pay more?), cyber warfare, and aging military hardware. Choice highlights include Clinton’s website handing out tips to ISIS, “B-52s old enough that your father or grandfather could be flying them,” and the suggestion that China should go into North Korea.

Middle East &North Africa

  • US officials have hinted that Gulf allies may arm Syrian anti-government militants with more shoulder-fired weapons following the collapse of the latest ceasefire and reports of bunker busting bombs being used by Russian warplanes on civilian and aid targets. Until now, Washington has so far prevented significant numbers of man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) being supplied to the militants, instead favoring training and sending infantry weapons. The supply of MANPADS could help negate Russian and Syrian air power in cities such as Aleppo, as seen by their use by the Mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.


  • Kenya and Jordan are to cooperate on counter-terrorism training with the Gulf state to help train Kenyan Air Force pilots. The announcement was made during King Abdallah II Ibn Hussein’s one-day visit to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, which focused largely on security and CT issues. Alongside the meetings, King Abdullah and Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta, both dressed in military fatigues, watched joint military exercises, with the president tweeting “Our cooperation is underpinned by our common interests. Together we must fight against emerging security threats.”


  • Hypersonic weapons being researched by Russia’s Tactical Missiles Corp. should be capable of hitting targets by the early 2020s. The group is collaborating with scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Advanced Research Foundation under the Military-Industrial Commission and hope to produce a missile capable of reaching Mach 5 (3,800 mph). Moscow’s hypersonic development lags behind that of the US, who are currently looking to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile.

  • The UK government is to prosecute ejection seat maker Martin Baker in relation to the death of a Red Arrows display team pilot in 2011. The pilot, Flt Lt Sean Cunningham, died after the MK10 ejector seat parachute failed to deploy. While the company has failed to comment on the legal action, it represents a second setback for the company following safety issues with the US-16E ejection seat it is supplying for the entire F-35 program. It was suggested during the summer that the USAF consider an alternative ejection seat supplier for the next-generation fighter.

Asia Pacific

  • Following a series of protests, head shavings, and eggings, South Korean and US military officials are to announce an alternative site for the controversial deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system this week. Originally destined for the southeastern county of Seongju, three alternative sites neighboring Seongju include a golf course owned by chaebol (conglomerate) Lotte Group in Chojeon-myeon, Mt. Yeomsok in Geumsu-myeon and Mt. Kkachi in Suryun-myeon. The decision to allow THAAD on the Korean peninsula comes amid North Korea’s steaming ahead with ballistic missile and nuclear tests over the last year.

Today’s Video

Pakistan Air Force jets landing and taking off from highways near Lahore:

Categories: News

DARPA Awards $171M to LM for HABWC | NG’s Triton Cleared for LRIP | Oshkosh to Provide $378M FMS in Tactical Vehicles to Somalia, Cameroon & Iraq

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 23:58

  • The US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has awarded a $171 million contract to Lockheed Martin as part of its Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HABWC) program. A joint effort between DARPA and the USAF, the program looks to develop and demonstrate critical technologies to enable an effective and affordable air-launched hypersonic cruise missile. Lockheed will undergo a research project for the program and follows a recent $147 million award for DARPA’s Boost Glide program.

  • Northrop Grumman’s MQ-4C Triton has been cleared for low-rate initial production, the first piece of the production and deployment phase of the UAV. 68 Tritons are expected to be fielded, with the first to be deployed in 2017. The Triton will operate as a forward-deployed, land-based, autonomously operated system that provides persistent ISR within a range of 2,000 nautical miles using a multi-sensor mission payload including maritime radar, Electro-Optical/Infrared (EO/IR), Electronic Support Measures (ESM), Automatic Identification System (AIS), and basic communications relay.

  • Contracts worth $43 million each have been doled out to Lockheed Martin and Boeing in order “to conduct risk reduction activities in support of the MQ-25 unmanned carrier aviation air system.” Both companies are expected to complete their work on the UAV by October 2017. Now known as the Stingray program, the UAV integrates the first operational, carrier-based, catapult-launched drone and will provide long-endurance ISR and organic refueling capabilities for the carrier air wing.

Middle East &North Africa

  • The UK government has blocked EU attempts to establish an independent international inquiry into the ongoing war in Yemen, sparking accusations that London is putting its multi-billion arms deals with Saudi Arabia first. A proposal by the Netherlands was submitted to the UN last Friday which, if successful, would have seen the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition and opposing Houthi militants. Brexiter and UK Foreign secretary Boris Johnson last week rejected the need for such an inquiry, arguing that the UK was “using a very, very wide variety of information sources about what is happening to acquaint ourselves with the details” about Yemen.

  • Oskosh will provide 1,543 medium tactical vehicles in a foreign military sales contract awarded by the US Army. Valued at $378 million, the vehicles will be delivered to the governments of Somalia, Cameroon, and Iraq. The deal also covers the provision of three 78-gallon armor B-Kit corrosion prevention compound for vehicles to ship outside of the continental United States.


  • Heckler & Koch’s 5.56mm 416 F assault rifle has won a Europe-wide competition run by France as part of its Future Individual Weapon program. The rifle will replace the domestically-produced FAMAS rifle, with deliveries to commence next year and continue over a ten-year period. Chambered for the NATO caliber 5.56mm cartridge, the rifle has the ability to fire rifle grenades and can be fitted with a 40mm grenade launcher to increase its firepower.

Asia Pacific

  • Nine types of missiles have been tested by the South Korean military this year, however, only five of the missiles actually hit their targets, indicating a drop in accuracy over previous years. As a result, opposition lawmakers have used the accuracy drop to hammer the government over concerns with the proficiency of the country’s aged computerized command and control system as well as guided missile systems. Some of the missiles that failed to make the grade include the indigenous SSM-700K anti-ship missile and Raytheon’s RIM-66 anti-air missile.

  • An upgraded Mirage 2000 fighter operated by the Indian Air Force has successfully test-fired the Mica air-to-air missile. The MBDA made missile system was recently acquired from France and follows a $2.4 billion deal to upgrade the IAF’s fleet of 51 Mirage fighters. Once completed all of the fighters will be of the Mirage 2000-5 Mark 2 variant, which boasts new radar systems, a new weapon suite, missiles, electronic warfare system and modern electronic warfare.

Today’s Video

Israeli and Hellenic Air Force helicopters train in Greece:

Categories: News

India’s Fighter Upgrades: Mirage 2000s Grounded for Parts, Waiting for Upgrades

Mon, 09/26/2016 - 23:48
IAF Mirage 2000TH takeoff
(click to view full)

In an effort to offset the growing number of age-related combat aircraft retirements, India is engaged in a round of fighter fleet upgrades. In December 2006, India Defence reported that the Indian Air Force was “close to finalizing” a EUR 1.5 billion (about $2 billion) deal to upgrade its fleet of 51 49 Mirage-2000 ‘Vajra’ fighter jets.

The aim was to give the aircraft, inaugurated into IAF service in 1985-1988, another 20-25 years of service life. Of course, “close to finalizing” means something very different in Indian defense circles than it does elsewhere. It took 4 years before there was even a preliminary agreement, and 5 years later, the negotiated agreement appears to be higher than original reports. So, what is India getting for its money?

The Vajra Upgrades MICA: Radar or IR
(click to view full)

The upgrade will bring India’s Mirages to the full Mirage 2000v5 Mk 2 standard, including a new RDY-3 radar with greater air-air and air-ground capability, a new night vision compatible all-digital cockpit, and improved electronic warfare systems. These will be tied into a joint tactical information data link system (JTIDS, usually Link 16 compatible but not always), plus helmet-mounted sights for wide-angle heat-seeking missiles. As part of the upgrade, the aircraft will also be equipped with MBDA’s Mica family of medium range missiles.

MBDA was probably unamused by India Defence’s December 2006 description of its wares as “an advanced medium-range missile that is the French counterpart to the more capable American AMRAAM missile [link added]”. MICA would actually replace both the radar-guided Super 350 MRAAM and Magic-II short-range infrared missiles on Indian Mirages, offering better performance and range. While the MICA-RF does have mediocre range compared to the AIM-120C AMRAAM, or even the Russian R-77 used by the IAF’s SU-30MKIs, it’s unique in offering a MICA-IR heat-seeking IR version for a potent medium range ‘no warning’ targeting option. French pilots who used the MICA-IR over Libya report that its sensor alone is a useful input to their systems, and its passive seeker with lock-on after launch means that it can be fired from beyond visual range at enemy aircraft, without creating any warning from the opposing fighter’s radar warning receivers. India will join France, Egypt, Greece, Taiwan and the UAE as operators of the Mirage 2000/MICA combo.

Work on the upgrades will be performed by a French-Indian consortium including Dassault (aircraft manufacturer), Thales (weapons systems integrator), MBDA (missiles) and India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Contracts and Key Events 2016

September 27/16: An upgraded Mirage 2000 fighter operated by the Indian Air Force has successfully test-fired the Mica air-to-air missile. The MBDA made missile system was recently acquired from France and follows a $2.4 billion deal to upgrade the IAF’s fleet of 51 Mirage fighters. Once completed all of the fighters will be of the Mirage 2000-5 Mark 2 variant, which boasts new radar systems, a new weapon suite, missiles, electronic warfare system and modern electronic warfare.


Aging fleet partly grounded.

September 2014: State of the fleet. AIN reports that a quarter of India’s Mirage 2000 fleet is grounded because a contract for spares has been stuck in the bureaucracy for years. This means some planes are scavenged for parts.

Meanwhile, the 2 aircraft upgraded in France are awaiting certification. Beyond that, the 7-year timeline to complete the upgrades seems optimistic in light of HAL’s habitual tardiness. At least their staff has reportedly already been trained in France. Source: AIN – Indian Air Force Mirage 2000 Upgrade Progresses Despite Groundings.

Feb 2014: designator pods. Rafael tells Air & Cosmos that the company won sometime in 2013 a tender from the IAF for 164 Litening 4 pods for its entire existing fleet of fighters/bombers. This doesn’t bode well for France’s PDL-NG, and Rafael says integration on Rafales is under discussion with Dassault.

2011 – 2013

Crashes. MICA and Upgrade deals. IAF Mirage 2000s
(click to view full)

Oct 5/13: 1st flight. Dassault Aviation performed the first flight with an upgraded Mirage 2000 at the Istres air base in southern France near Marseilles. It is one of 2 aircraft that will be upgraded in France, while work on the remaining 47 will be performed by HAL in Bangalore.

Aug 5/13: Support. A a written reply to Shri Kalikesh N. Singh Deo in Lok Sabha sets out the cost of maintaining India’s Mirage fleet over the 2012-13 budget period. The total is INR 4.8685 billion (about $80 million): INR 2.28 billion for spares, INR 1.91 billion for aggregated repairs and maintenance, INR 611.6 million for “capital procurement,” and INR 66.9 million for “capital repair.”

It would be very useful to know how many flight-hours those figures reflect, but the questioner didn’t ask. Maybe next time. India MoD.

March 4/13: Upgrade Costs. Defence Minister AK Antony’s written response to a Parliamentary question snaps the upgrade’s costs into perspective:

“The last contracted price for each Mirage-2000 aircraft in the year 2000 was Rs 133 crore. The contract for upgrade was signed in 2011 wherein the cost of upgrading one aircraft was Rs 167 crore…. Applying an escalation of 3.5 per cent per annum as per the Pricing Policy Review Committee, to the contacted cost of the year 2000, it works out to be Rs 195 crore at 2011 levels. Thus, the upgrade has been undertaken at 85 per cent of the escalated cost of the aircraft.”

See: The Hindu.

April 27/12: India’s Mirage 2000s are resuming operational flights, as each aircraft is checked and cleared. India’s PTI.

Flights resume

April 10/12: Engine issues? Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne says that IAF Mirages are expected to resume flying operations by the end of this month. He also says that “some issues were detected in the engine of the crashed aircraft which was taken to France by original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Snecma for investigations.”

If this turns out to be true, the scope of the fleet’s upgrades may expand to include engine fixes. Negotiations would determine who pays for that, and how much. Times of India | Zee News.

March 5/12: Crash. Another IAF Mirage 2000 crashes. The type has now had just 6 crashes in IAF service since the 1980s, but these last 2 lead to a fleet grounding. Note that some reports place the crash number at 10, but most say 6.

Crash – Fleet grounded

Feb 24/12: Crash. An IAF Mirage 2000 crashes shortly after takeoff from Gwailor. It is flown by Air Officer Personnel (AOP) Air Marshal Anil Chopra, who is injured.


Jan 30/12: A subsequent Parliamentary reply confirms that the MICA missile deal with MBDA was signed on this day, for 493 missiles. India PIB.

Jan 4/11: the Indian Cabinet Committee on Security clears an proposed EUR 950 million (about Rs. 6,600 crore/ $1.23 billion) deal to equip its 51 upgraded Mirage 2000s with 490-500 MBDA MICA air-to-air missiles, replacing the fleet’s Matra Super 530D medium-range and Magic-II short-range missiles in one stroke. The actual contract signing is expected in about a month.

Under the eventual deal, MBDA will also have to meet the standard Indian requirements of 30% industrial offsets, and integration of the MICAs with the improved Mirages will reportedly be handled by Thales. New Kerala | PTI | Defense News.

MICA Missile deal

Dec 19/11: A Parliamentary answer by defense minister Antony sheds more light on the Mirage 2000 upgrade deal, and places it in context with others:

“Contracts have been signed with M/s Thales, France, along with M/s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for upgrade of the Mirage 2000 aircraft of the Indian Air Force, with M/s HAL for upgrade of the Jaguar aircraft and with M/s RAC-MiG Russia for upgrade of the MiG-29 aircraft. These contracts are under implementation.

The cost of the contract for upgrade of the Mirage 2000 with the M/s Thales, France is Euro 1470 million while the cost of the contract with HAL is 2020 crores [about EUR 291 million; total for both is $2.04 billion, as of Dec 19/11]. The upgrade of the aircraft is expected to be completed by mid 2021. The cost of upgrade of the MiG-29 aircraft is USD 964 million and it is expected to be completed by 2016. The cost for upgrade of the Jaguar aircraft is Rs.3113.02 crores [about $585 million as of Dec 19/11] and the aircraft are expected to be upgraded by December 2017.”

July 29/11: India signs the Mirage 2000 fleet upgrade contract with Dassault and Thales. Dassault | Thales Group.

Mirage 2000 upgrade contract

July 12/11: A source in the Indian Air force tells Agence France Presse that:

“The defence secretary has agreed to the proposal put forward by French defence majors Dassault and Thales and (European group) MBDA for the Mirage-2000 retrofit…”

The source states that India’s cabinet committee on security cleared the deal on July 13/11, and added that it’s the 9-year, $2.3-2.4 billion deal discussed earlier. Only the 1st 2 jets will be refitted in France, with the next 2 done by HAL in India under French supervision, and the rest done by HAL. India’s standard 30% industrial offset obligation will apply, but HAL’s workshare is a very substantial percentage.

Some media sources cite India’s rapidly declining fighter fleet numbers as the key impetus for the deal. Of course, that fleet is declining in part because India’s fighter programs are behind schedule, and its procurement programs suffer from extreme slowness and delays. While bureaucrats ponder, entropy and use eats at the existing fleet. Calcutta Telegraph | Economic Times of India | Hindustan Times | Machinist India | AFP via France 24 | Flight International.

June 19/11: IANS reports that top decision-makers in India are split over the Mirage 2000 upgrade proposal, citing its overall cost (note that the report’s math doesn’t add, but see below).

There’s also some grumbling about the short service life that would be left in some airframes after the upgrades are done, based on the promises in the 1982 contract and the quoted 9-year time frame for the work. The more relevant figure, however, is expected flight hours after the upgrade, which may include airframe refurbishment. The general expectation in published reports is about 20-25 years, or about 6,000 – 7,500 more flying hours, but this has not been explicitly broken down in reports we’ve seen.

May 19/11: We’ve heard this before. This time, it may even be true. The Times of India reports that the deal is negotiated, and remains true to the pattern of the first 4-6 upgrades in France, with the rest performed in India by installing delivered kits:

“Defence ministry sources on Wednesday said the long-awaited deal with France for the upgrade of 52 Mirage-2000 multi-role fighters in IAF’s combat fleet is “finally ready” at a cost of almost Rs 11,000 crore… “This is also now going to CCS for approval. Another big contract, which was being progressed simultaneously, for around 450 MICA (interception and aerial combat missiles) systems to arm the upgraded Mirages is also in the final stages now,” said a source… This means the overall Mirage upgrade package, including the fire-and-forget MICA missiles and the infrastructure build-up at HAL, will eventually cross the Rs 15,000-crore mark.”

That’s about $3.32 billion / EUR 2.33 billion. Or, to put it another way, almost $65 million/ EUR 45.6 million to upgrade and arm each of the IAF’s 51 jets. That price rises further if required new facilities at HAL are added as a project cost. For that kind of money, the IAF could replace its Mirage 2000s with 25-35 more M-MRCA planes (Typhoon or Eurofighter), or about 50 similarly capable new SU-30MKIs. Or, it could bulk up its fleet by replacing the Mirages on a better than 1:1 basis with locally-built HAL Tejas LCA fighters, whose capabilities fall somewhere between existing Mirage 2000s and the proposed upgrade.

Feb 10/11: Still no deal. PTI reports that the Indian Air Force hopes to sign the long-stuck deal by March 2011. Air Chief Marshal P V Naik said that differences over price and legal issues had blocked progress, but “negotiations have been concluded and report has been submitted to the Defence Ministry.” Now the question is whether the contract will be authorized. Deccan Herald.

2008 – 2010

Maintenance contract deadlock resolved; No resolution for upgrade negotiations. IAF Mirage 2000H
(click to view full)

Dec 6/10: Agreement in principle? Media reports indicate that France and India have agreed on the basic structure of a EUR 2.1 to 2.2 billion upgrade deal, which reportedly includes EUR 700-900 million for MBDA’s Mica air-to-air missiles. That deal still has not been signed, however, and isn’t expected to be signed until March 2011. Time will tell.

The agreement was announced as part of French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s visit, which also included over $9 billion in nuclear power deals for 3rd-generation advanced European Pressurized Reactors (EPRs). India’s DDI government news | Bloomberg | India’s Business Standard | Economic Times of India | Press TV (video) | Sify | Times of India | Usine Nouvelle [in French] || Text of France-India partnership declaration.

March 1/10: Negotiations. Indian chief Air Chief Marshal P V Naik tells the Times of India that a final deal on the Mirage 2000 upgrades:

“…should happen shortly… A French team will be coming again in early-March to finalise the details. The CNC (contract negotiation committee) should conclude in another two months. The Cabinet Committee on Security’s approval will then be sought.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has proposed a visit to India later in 2010, which is usually a convenient time to sign deals like this. DID readers should be cautioned, however, that to India’s defense procurement bureaucracy, “soon” can just as easily mean “several years from now.”

Oct 16/09: Negotiations. India’s Business Standard reports that the Mirage 2000 upgrade deal may have fallen through. The beneficiary would be the MMRCA competition for 126+ medium fighters, but Dassault may have hurt its chances there, too:

“According to senior IAF sources, Dassault has refused to reduce its quota of Rs 10,000 crore ($2.1 billion) for extending the service life of the IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet by fitting new radars and avionics. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) considers this price – Rs 196 crore ($41 million) per aircraft – unacceptably high… [and] is veering around to the view that the Mirage-2000 fleet should continue service in its current form. After six squadrons (126 aircraft) of MMRCAs have entered IAF service, an additional two squadrons [DID: about 40-44 planes] of MMRCAs would be built to replace the 51 Mirage-2000 fighters. That amounts to a 40 per cent rise in the MMRCA’s numbers [DID: more like 32-35%; even 48 planes would be only 38%].

Israeli aerospace companies have reportedly entered the fray, offering to upgrade the Mirage-2000 for half the price being quoted by Dassault. The MoD, however, is not inclined to accept that offer [due to bureaucratic rules that require the OEM to perform upgrades].

…The IAF, traditionally a staunch supporter of Dassault and the Mirage-2000 fighter, is apparently changing its views. Dassault, say pilots, has badly damaged its credibility during the recent negotiations by arm-twisting the IAF over the supply of spares for the Mirage-2000 fleet.”

July 14/09: Negotiations. As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh leaves for Paris, The Times of India reports that India resolved their differences over the initial asking price of Rs 14,000 crore (INR 140 billion, about EUR 2.5 billion 2 years ago), and are now all set to ink a Rs 10,000 crore (INR 100 billion, about EUR 1.795 billion/ $2.475 billion) deal to upgrade the IAF’s 55-60 Mirage 2000s. The structure reportedly involves 4-6 aircraft upgraded in France, with the rest upgraded in India by HAL.

“Under the upgrade, the entire airframe will be stripped down to be re-wired and re-equipped with new avionics, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites and of course weapon systems to extend and enhance the operational life of the multi-role fighters.”

Indian troops led France’s big Bastille Day parade in Paris, and the visit is also reported to include discussions regarding civil nuclear energy cooperation, coastal security monitoring equipment, French proposals for joint development of short-range anti-aircraft missiles, and ongoing competitions involving French A330 aerial tankers and Rafale fighter jets. See also follow-on reports, many of which place the Mirage deal at Rs 9,500 crore: Calcutta Telegraph | Economic Times of India | The Hindu | Sify

Feb 8/09: Negotiations. IANS quotes Thales’ head of solutions for governments sector, Pierre-Yves Chaltiel:

“Pointing out that the technical and programme issues relating to the Mirage-2000 upgrade ‘have been discussed and agreed (to)’, Chaltiel said: ‘We have put everything in place with all our Indian industrial partners, through the transfer of knowledge and technology, for the Indian industry to be in full capacity during the execution phases of the programme.’ “

What’s still missing, are a decision and and contract.

Nov 7/08: Negotiations. IANS reports progress toward a deal. Thales has reportedly offered to deliver the first 2 aircraft from its facilities in France within 40 months of signing, while it helped HAL upgrade 2 more aircraft in India to gain familiarity. Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one aircraft every month, for 47 months. IANS:

“…the IAF is known to have been considering the upgrade for at least two years but floated a request for proposal (RFP) only in April, to which Thales replied in July. Price negotiations are set to begin later this month.”

Pierre-Yves Chaltiel, senior vice president for Thales aerospace government programs, is quoted in another report as saying that “The project is part of a broader strategic partnership between France and India to be implemented under a government-to-government agreement.” Even so, the IANS report adds that another 2-year delay is quite possible:

“…another Thales official pointed out that a decision on the upgrade would have to be taken by the end of this year so that the project could begin early 2009, ahead of the parliamentary polls that are due by May but could be advanced to February.

“Our experience, not only with India but with other countries also, has been that if an election comes in the way, a decision on a project like this can be delayed by at least two years,” the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.”

See: IANS, via Times of India’s Economic Times | Rediff | India Defence.

Aug 5/08: In 1982, Dassault and the IAF signed a maintenance contract for India’s Mirage 2000 aircraft. That agreement was due for renewal 25 years later, in 2007. Now, India Defence reports that a new agreement has been reached, after a 6-month negotiating stalemate that was moving toward court action:

“Ministry sources said a six-month stalemate between the two sides was finally broken when the Indian side acceded to the French company’s demands pertaining to charges on liquidated damages. Half of the Air Force’s 46 Mirage 2000-H aircraft faced grounding had the stalemate persisted, a service official said. Dassault had insisted on renewing the maintenance contract only if liquidated charges are calculated at the rate of 0.5 percent of the total contract on a monthly basis. The Defence Ministry wanted the 0.5 percent to be calculated per week.”

Dassault reportedly got its way on this issue after threatening to take the matter to the courts, which would have created very long delays to repairs and probably would have grounded the fleet.

Maintenance contract deadlock broken

Categories: News

Syrian Rebels to Get Beefed Up Weaponry | Saab Eyes UK; Hopes to One Day Replace E-3 Sentry | KAI’s KUH-1 Moves to Redesign to Correct Defects

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 23:59

  • Maintenance work carried out on USAF JSTARS aircraft by Northrop Grumman, has resulted in four of their fleet being grounded over concerns with the quality of the work. The four planes are being inspected for any possible safety of flight issues on the ground at Robins Air Force Base, GA, home of the 116th Air Control Wing. Assembly of an independent review team is also underway which will be tasked to “inspect and validate quality assurance processes at the contractor’s depot,” according to a service spokesperson.

Middle East & North Africa

  • Backers of Syrian rebels fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad are to send new types of heavy weapons following the collapse of a week long ceasefire last week. However the new arms, which include Russian-made rocket launchers and artillery, are believed not to represent any major shift in support. The USA, alongside neighboring governments, looking to topple Assad for a more friendly regime have sent military support to militias fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army for the last number of years. Even Islamist and Jihadist groups have often benefited (either directly or indirectly) from Western-backed patronage as the ever shifting ground of alliances and players in the conflict continue to muddy the waters of an increasingly complex conflict.


  • Angola is to receive the first of their refurbished Mi-24P helicopters from Russia later this month. Work completed by manufacturer Russian Helicopters includes rotor blade and tail rotor blade replacements as well as engine, transmission unit and avionics repairs. Sudan, Mali, and Nigeria will also join Angola in receiving refurbished Russian attack helicopters after it was announced at this year’s Africa Aerospace & Defense (AAD) Expo in South Africa.


  • While the UK doesn’t look set to acquire Gripen fighters anytime soon, Saab are keen that their GlobalEye AEW&C platform would be an ideal replacement for the RAF’s current fleet of six Boeing E-3 Sentrys. The company believes that products such as its EyrieEye ER system – or a larger package like the Bombardier Global 6000-based GlobalEye – are still in the running in the UK market, even though London looks set to keep the E-3s operational until 2035. Until then, recent GlobalEye purchaser UAE may provide some operational reviews before the UK decides to go the full monty on GlobalEye.

  • Leonardo-Finmeccanica could have their third consecutive head honcho face jail time as Italian prosecutors request a 16-year jail sentence for Mauro Moretti, the company’s current CEO. While Moretti’s predecessors’ main wrongdoings relate to 2013’s well publicized Indian helicopter bribery scandal (AKA Choppergate), Moretti’s troubles stem from his time as head of Italy’s railways. Prosecutors are looking to find top rail brass culpable for a 2009 crash of a cargo train carrying liquefied gas, which burst into flames and resulted in the deaths of 32 people. You can change your name, but the scandals follow.

Asia Pacific

  • Google are unwittingly getting themselves involved in geopolitics quite a lot recently. Following the recent hubbub over the apparent removal of Palestine from Google Maps, Taiwan has requested that the IT giant blur satellite images of their military installations on Taiping Island in the South China Sea. The latest Google Earth images of the island showed four three-pronged structures arranged in a semi-circular fashion on the beach next to an airstrip, unseen on previous images. A company statement states that the request is under review. Meanwhile, China frantically screencaps.

  • It’s back to the drawing board for KAI’s KUH-1 Surion as the Korean-made utility helicopter failed a number of extreme climate tests in the USA. If successful, the testing would have given the Surion an international standard and boosted export chances. Several parts will now be redesigned to rectify the defects found during the testing, which puts the helicopter through very challenging humid and freezing temperatures.

  • Well folks, it’s finally a done deal! France and India’s defense ministers inked contracts for 36 Dassault Rafale fighters on Friday, with pictures of French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, surfacing on Parrikar’s Twitter account stating “Rafale will significantly improve India’s strike & defence capabilities.” Due to be delivered over the next six years, the Rafales are estimated to be worth $8.7 billion, haggled down from an original figure of $13.47 billion.

Today’s Video

UBSortie: A Russian Su-25UB spotted during the renewed Syrian Army offensive last week. The aircraft had been originally withdrawn by Moscow from Syria in March:

Categories: News

Surion: Eurocopter’s Korean KHP/KUH Helicopter Deal

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 23:55
KHP/Surion rollout
(click to view full)

South Korea currently owns around 700 helicopters, but more than half are considered outdated, and they need to be replaced. December 2005 marked the endgame for a South Korean competition to produce about 245 utility transport helicopters, which would be developed and produced as a semi-indigenous program. The KHP/ Surion is in the 8-tonne class, and is designed to carry 11 troops. Industrial offsets were also important, as the program is designed to boost Korea’s ability to design and build its own rotary-wing aircraft. EADS Eurocopter was chosen as the cooperating partner.

The Korean government gave its final approval of the contract in June 2006, and the project is underway. Note that while company releases place the program’s value at $6-8 billion, the program hasn’t reached that level yet. The initial contract was for KRW 1.3 trillion ($1.3 billion), and is for research and development only. That development finished in April 2013, and the main production contract is next. It will proceed in parallel with additional contracts to develop Surion specialty versions for Korea’s federal police and Marine Corps, and all of these models will be offered for export through a joint venture with Eurocopter.

The KHP (now KUH) Program

In February 2005 the Ministry of National Defense announced that would launch a multi-billion-dollar procurement project to build utility helicopters in December 2005. A total of 5 trillion won ($4.5 billion) was budgeted for this Korean Helicopter Program (KHP), including research and development expenditures.

The project is aimed at producing hundreds of “Korean Utility Helicopters” (KUH) to replace the aging UH-1H Hueys currently in service. Industrial offsets are also important considerations, as the program is designed to boost indigenous industrial manufacturing capability for rotary-wing aircraft.

Making Surion
click for video

This was a cut-down project from the original effort, which aimed to create a core platform that could have utility or attack helicopter sections built onto it, creating a pair of helicopter types with significant commonality. That original effort was not necessarily an overstretch; the US Marine Corps new UH-1Y Hueys and AH-1Z attack helicopters already embody a high-commonality approach.

The KUH/attack approach does add complexity risk, however, and South Korea ended up buying the AH-64E Apache to address their attack helicopter needs. At the lower end, KAI is developing a Light Armed Helicopter, but commonality is limited to “utilizing technology acquired through KUH development.”

Program and Industrial DAPA: KUH
click for video

The KUH programme was formally launched in 2006. As of October 2007 the KHP project began to take the name “Korean Utility Helicopter,” and its July 2009 rollout saw reports that began to refer to it as the “Surion” (suri = eagle, on = perfection).

Korean Aerospace Industries (KAI) is the prime contractor. As the primary partner, EADS Eurocopter will provide technical assistance, and supply the rotor mast, transmission, and autopilot subassemblies. Eurocopter has a stake of 30% in the development phase, and 20% in the production phase.

The initial contract was worth KRW 1.3 trillion ($1.3 billion at the time), and covered research and development only. By the time development finished in 2013, it had spent just KRW 1.2 billion, despite running a bit more than a year past its deadline.

Contracts for the KRW 4.1 trillion production project will be struck separately. Full scale production was expected to begin in 2012, but development wasn’t finished until April 2013.

Initial market expectations were stated as 250 helicopters, indicating a very limited market beyond South Korea’s order. Eurocopter later revised this to 300 machines, and the business plan changed again when the partnership decided that they would offer a civilian version after 2011. This was a significant move, as the design would compete with existing Eurocopter offerings like the new 7 tonne EC 175. By 2013, expectations had grown again, to 400 civil government and military machines in South Korea alone.

In the military market, South Korea’s Yonhap News agency quoted an anonymous government source in July 2009, who said that:

“Seoul also aims to win 300 overseas orders for the KUH in the next 25 years, a government official said on condition of anonymity. That is roughly 30 percent of the projected global demand for Surion-type choppers, which are larger than the UH-1 Iroquois but smaller than the UH-60 Black Hawks.”

As of April 2013, KAI is still using those figures as its export target, even though the competitive field has become more crowded. That’s a tall order if you’re up against competitors like the AW189, Bell 525, and EC175, plus slightly larger de facto competitors like the EC Puma family, Mi-17, NH90, and Sikorsky H-60 family.

KAI’s Surion KUH Surion
(click to view full)

Some initial sources indicated that their KHP project bid would be based on the Dauphin-derived EC155/ AS 565 Panther, and the diagram initially provided in local media reports appeared to bear that out. The final design bears some similarities to the EC155 and the Puma family, but many differences.

The KUH Surion is 15m long x 2m wide x 4.5m high, with a maximum takeoff weight of 8.7 tonnes. It’s powered by 2 of GE’s popular T-700 turboshaft engines, and incorporates HUMS prognostics throughout the helicopter to provide constant monitoring and advance warning of mechanical issues. Range is reportedly around 480 km.

The cockpit and frame will be armored to handle 7.62mm strikes, while the fuel tanks will be armored up to resist 12.7mm or 14.5mm rounds. More active warning and protection systems are provided by a partnership between EADS Cassidian and South Korea’s LigNex1, and include the widely used AN/AAR-60 MILDS missile warning system.

Expected personnel capacity is 2 crew plus up to 9 fully-armed soldiers. There are some online sources that give the helicopters 4 hardpoints and weapons up to wire-guided TOW missiles, but KAI’s own materials say nothing about that, and there have been no reports of weapon trials.

Contracts & Key Events 2016

Surion ATH
(click to view full)

September 26/16: It’s back to the drawing board for KAI’s KUH-1 Surion as the Korean-made utility helicopter failed a number of extreme climate tests in the USA. If successful, the testing would have given the Surion an international standard and boosted export chances. Several parts will now be redesigned to rectify the defects found during the testing, which puts the helicopter through very challenging humid and freezing temperatures.

2012 – 2013

ROK certifications; Development complete; ROK orders maritime version.

Oct 16/13: Sub-contractors. Elbit Systems announces a follow-on contract for full production of improved ANVIS/HUD 24 Helmet Mounted Displays to equip production Surion helicopters. The initial order that made them part of the project (q.v. March 25/09) was for the system development phase, which ended in March 2013. Sources: Elbit Systems: ANVIS/HUD 24T brochure [PDF] | Oct 16/13 release.

April 16/13: Surion ATH. South Korea’s DAPA procurement agency announces a KRW 800 million (about $733 million) project to develop the ROK Marine Corps’ transport and utility helicopter, which will be a Surion variant. KAI is scheduled to complete development by the end of 2015.

The helicopters will serve on the ROKS Dokdo LHD, and the ROKN also possesses LST ships whose helicopter decks may be able to accomodate the 8-ton class machines. DAPA projects that the Surions “will help double the Korean military’s independent landing operation capability,” while offering greater range than their existing UH-1 Hueys.

KAI’s release is optimistic, forecasting a potential Korean demand of up to 400 helicopters over the 20 years for the ROK’s Army, Marine Corps, Police (vid. 2011 entry), a future MEDEVAC variant, and orders/variants for South Korea’s Coast Guard, Fire Department and Korea Forest Service. They’re also holding to their original forecast of 30% share within global segment demand of over 1,000 helicopters, even though several competitors have entered this segment since the Surion began development.

If KAI’s accompanying graphic looks realistic, that’s because they photoshopped a Surion on top of a real 2010 picture, replacing the USN SH-60F Seahawk that was actually flying over ROKS Dokdo. But they didn’t strip the picture’s metadata, which is actually kind of honest. KAI.

Surion naval utility: system development

March 28-29/13: KAI announces that the KUH/ Surion has completed its development, making South Korea the 11th country in the world to develop a helicopter. The firm says that total investments from KAI, DAPA, and the ROK Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy totaled KRW 1.2 billion (around $1.1 billion). The program involved a combination of KAI, Eurocopter, and government research bodies; and included 98 local vendors, 49 foreign partners, and 28 colleges/research institutes. Overall, about 62.5% of the KUH project budget was “localized” in Korea.

The 4 prototypes successfully completed around 2,700 hours of flight tests, and checked about 7,600 test requirements. KAI.

Surion base model development complete

Feb 21/13: Testing. The Surion finishes low-temperature testing in Alaska, USA. South Korea gets plenty of its own cold weather, but you might as well go where you’re guaranteed ultra-frigid conditions. The tests involved about 50 flights. KAI.

June 2012: Certified. South Korea bestows airworthiness and military certifications on Surion. That seems like an odd thing to do before development is complete. Even if it’s necessary to allow deliveries, certification often means that subsequent fixes are the government’s responsibility. Source: KAI.

2008 – 2011

Surion rollout and 1st flight; Police version SDD; Export JV established. KUH Surion-Police
(click to view full)

2011: Police version. KAI’s English press release is unclear, but they refer to an apparent agreement with the Korea Police Agency to develop a Surion version for them. The KNPA is a national police force under the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, and they have 10 “squadrons” of SWAT teams whose tasks include counter-terrorism and hostage rescue. Source: KAI | Shephard Media.

Police version

July 13/11: Sub-contractors. EADS Cassidian announces a “multi-million euro” contract from Korean Aircraft Industries to supply 24 of its AN/AAR-60 MILDS (Missile Launch Detection System) missile warning systems, with deliveries continuing until 2013. Each system uses about 4 passive sensors, which detect the ultraviolet radiation signature of approaching missiles. Cassidian was working with Korea’s Lig Nex1 to develop the helicopter’s overall electronic countermeasures system, and delivered 36 sensors during the development phase.

MILDS is widely used on a number of helicopter and aircraft models, and EADS’ cooperation in the Surion’s design made it an almost certain choice here.

May 3/11: KAI-EC. Korean Aerospace and Eurocopter establish the KAI-EC joint stock company, based in Seoul to export the Surion helicopter. KAI.

KAI-EC export JV

June 22/10: Official maiden flight. The official maiden test flight is conducted at KAI’s facility in Sacheon, South Chungcheong. Another 3 test helicopters will be built, and test flights will continue through September 2010. This will be followed by “mass production” beginning in March 2012, and “full-scale production” beginning in June 2012. DAPA Commissioner Byun Moo-keun reiterated the program’s core rationale during his speech:

“Despite the fact that our military ranks in seven in the world in operating the number of military helicopter, we have been relying on foreign countries in importing major technologies in developing functions and maintenance… The successful development of Surion has not only led in operating the military tactics efficiently but also formed the basis in improving our own aerospace industry technology.”

See: South Korean MND.

March 10/10: Fly! The Surion has its 30-minute 1st flight at Sacheon, including taxi, hover turns, and a stationary hover at 30 feet. KAI says the flight test program will see the helicopter flying at 140 knots and 2,000 feet by April 2010, and an official ceremony of the first flight will take place in May 2010. Defense News | Shephard Group.

1st flight

(click to view full)

Nov 2/09: Sub-contractors. Elbit Systems announces that KAI has named them as one of their top 4 Elite Suppliers for the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH) program, during the firm’s supplier symposium. Elbit supplies the helicopter’s ANVIS/HUD Helmet Mounted Displays, Vehicle Information systems (VIS) and a Data Transfer Systems (DTS). They’re also a subcontractor to KAI for systems engineering and integration of the entire KUH avionics system.

Oct 1/09: KAH delayed. The South Korean government decides to delay its proposed Korean Attack Helicopter program, which was expected to share some 60-70% commonality with the KUH/ Surion. Flight International.

July 31/09: KAI formally unveils the first KUH helicopter, at a ceremony in the southwestern city of Saechon. Attending dignitaries include South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The new helicopter will be called the “Surion,” and the Yonhap News report says that it sources 60% of its parts from local manufacturers, including the rotor blades and its prognostic health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS). The prototype is due to fly early in 2010, and will eventually be joined by another 3 flight test aircraft. Lee Jae-hong, head of the South Korean Ministry of Knowledge Economy’s machinery, aerospace and defense industry division, adds that:

“Even though it is a military helicopter, the KUH already satisfies 96% or 2,363 of the 2,460 international operational standards for civilian helicopters.”

KAI and Eurocopter also plan to pursue civilian sales beginning in 2011, in order to improve their return on investment. Yonhap | The Korea Herald | The Korea Times | Flight International | Rotorhub.

KUH rollout

March 25/09: Sub-contractors. Flight international reports that Elbit Systems has received a contract from Korea Aerospace Industries to supply “advanced helmet-mounted display systems” for the KUH program. The initial contract covers those development aircraft due to be delivered in 2009-10, but continued cooperation could lead to follow-on orders to equip the entire KUH fleet, and possibly other Korean helicopters as well.

Elbit’s ANVIS/HUD combines day and night vision goggles with key flight symbology, allowing “head up, look-out flying at all times. It has been used by the US military since the mid-1990s, and has equipped more than 5,000 helicopters belonging to 20 countries. Integrated platforms include the H-60 series, CH-53, CH-47, CH-46, V-22, AH-1, UH-1, Super Puma, Cougar, and others. Elbit’s HeliDASH system is a higher end choice.

The KUH HMD fits somewhere in the middle. Elbit personnel describe the Korean order as “…the ANVIS-HUD24 with additional capabilities which I am not at liberty to specify.”

2005 – 2007

Eurocopter wins deal; Contract approved; MoU for joint venture; Innovative fuel bladders; Defensive suite picked. Later KHP concept
(click to view larger)

Oct 18/07: Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) and Eurocopter sign of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to create a Joint Venture (JV) Company for the worldwide sales and marketing of the Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH). It will be in operation by 2010. With a shareholding structure of 51% for KAI and 49% ownership for Eurocopter. Eurocopter role is to provide technical assistance for the development of the helicopter as well as certain sub-assemblies, the transmission, and the autopilot. About 40 Eurocopter engineers are housed at Sacheon (Korea) with KAI.

The Eurorcopter release sets expected Korean orders at about 250 KUH helicopters, while estimating KUH production at “an order of 300 helicopters.”

Oct 15/07: Sub-contractors. EADS Defence & Security announces that it will equip the KHP helicopter with its MILDS AN/AAR-60 self-protection system. Over 5,000 AN/AAR-60 units have been produced and installed aboard a wide variety of rotary wing and wide body aircraft, often as part of a multi-spectral suite of sensors; a version for fighter aircraft is under development.

This advanced, passive imaging sensor detects and tracks the ultraviolet emissions of approaching missiles. All approaches have advantages and disadvantages. As Aramada Magazine’s “Fighting an Invisible Threat” explains, ultraviolet seekers tend to be more effective at lower and slower targets, and are less vulnerable to false acquisitions such as decoys. The sensors are also smaller, lighter and require less cooling. On the flip side, they are more vulnerable to atmospheric conditions, and tend to have poorer sensitivity and resolution than other options such as infrared.

EADS DS will provide the equipment for the development phase, but from 2008 onward the sensors will be integrated by the Korean company LIGNex1 into the KHP self-protection system.

Oct 15/07: KOIS reports that a real-size model of the KHP/KUH transport helicopter will be on display at the Seoul 2007 air show that opens in Seongnam Oct 16-21/07. This will be the first time the helicopter’s form and interior design will be unveiled publicly. The development program is now code-named “Korean Utility Helicopter (KUH),” and aims to produce a prototype in 2009 and begin mass-production in 2012. KOIS adds:

“Under the 1.3-trillion-won ($1.38 billion) program, Korea aims to produce 245 advanced transport helicopters. The DAPA also expects exports of the envisioned helicopters, each priced at around 15 billion won. The 14.7-meter helicopter can carry two gunners and nine other troops, along with two pilots.”

March 1/07: Sub-contractors. GKN Aerospace announces that they have been selected by Hanwha Corporation to supply fuel bladders for the Korean Helicopter Programme (KHP). This contract, awarded by Hanwha Corporation, has a value approaching $3.5 million and is the culmination of a lengthy collaboration. Phase 1 of the contract involves completing the development activity which will be finalized this year, followed by testing and initial production during 2008. Phase 2 commences in 2009, with preparation and first assembly activities at Hanwha’s facilities in Korea.

The fuel bladders will be manufactured using a GKN developed, MIL spec material, which is far more flexible than current materials. This flexibility eases and speeds installation and greatly reduces the potential for damage to the bladder during the installation process. The material is also lighter than current products and, critically, offers a faster self-sealing capability in the event of damage during helicopter operations. GKN release.

Initial KUH Concept
(click to view full)

Oct 31/06: MEP solicitation. KAI release:

“For the Korean Helicopter Program (KHP) propelled by Republic of Korea Government, notice of solicitation for korean/foreign industries participation is hereby issued in the area of Mission Equipment Package (MEP) whose development efforts will be led by Agency for Defense Development and procurement activities will be led by Korea Aerospace Ind., Ltd. (KAI) or Nex1 Future Co., Ltd.”

Full solicitation [PDF].

June 2/06: Final approval. The Korean government gives its final approval of the KHP/KUH contract.


April 12/06: DAPA OK. South Korea’s DAPA (Defense Acquisition Program Administration) formalizes the decision to acquire 245 utility helicopters to be developed by Korea Aerospace Industries Limited in partnership with Eurocopter, and produced as from 2011 onwards. EADS release.

Dec 12/05: Korean Aeronautics Industries (KAI) announces that it has wrapped up KHP negotiations with the French-German manufacturer Eurocopter, as opposed to Bell Helicopter of the USA or the Anglo-Italian firm AgustaWestland. The Chosun Ibo reports that “The Defense Ministry will finalize its decision after consulting a committee on the KAI recommendations and investigating the potential for technology transfer.” The next day, EADS Eurocopter’s release confirmed a win on the 245 helicopter contract, adding:

“The 6-year KHP development phase will run from 2006 to 2011; In the following 10-year production phase, 245 helicopters are to be manufactured… The KHP helicopter is in the 8 metric ton class and is capable of carrying 2 pilots and 11 troops with an endurance of well over two hours. The helicopter is equipped with the very latest technological advances.

Eurocopter and KAI have agreed to set up a 50/50 subsidiary to market the export version of the KHP helicopter. Forecasts needs for this utility helicopter on the world market are set at 250 machines over 20 years.”

Development actually takes until April 2013.

Eurocopter wins KHP

Additional Readings & Sources

Categories: News

JSTARS Replacement: Competition Opened Wide

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 23:54
E-8C JSTARS Connectivity
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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 Global Express. 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 2015-2016

Replacement competition. Inside the E-8C
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September 26/16: Maintenance work carried out on USAF JSTARS aircraft by Northrop Grumman, has resulted in four of their fleet being grounded over concerns with the quality of the work. The four planes are being inspected for any possible safety of flight issues on the ground at Robins Air Force Base, GA, home of the 116th Air Control Wing. Assembly of an independent review team is also underway which will be tasked to “inspect and validate quality assurance processes at the contractor’s depot,” according to a service spokesperson.

March 28/16: Raytheon and Northrop Grumman have been awarded “not-to-exceed” contracts by the USAF for $60 and $70 million respectively. The award is for both companies to further develop their competing long-range, wide-area surveillance radars systems as part of the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) program. One supplier will then be selected in either late 2017 or early 2018 to supply 17 units, to be attached to 17 yet-to-be-determined business jets built by one of three competing suppliers – Gulfstream, Bombardier or Boeing.

February 23/16: The USAF has pushed back the awarding of its contract for the Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System (JSTARS) program by as much as six months. It had been reported in January that sole-source contracts were soon to be awarded to both Raytheon and Northrop Grumman for the further development of their competing active electronically scanned array radars. The revision of the acquisition strategy has been said to reduce overall program risk by giving more time in the early stages of JSTARS development.

January 28/16: Northrop Grumman and Raytheon look set to be awarded sole-source contracts by the USAF for further development of their competing active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars as part of the Northrop Grumman E-8C JSTARS recapitalization effort. Foreign proposals for the radar development were ruled out by the government, but they are accepting foreign airframes for the plane’s replacement. Once the program is completed, the radars will form the centerpiece of the E-8C’s replacement aircraft, which will be based on commercial business jets.

October 7/15: A senior Air Force official has revealed that budgetary constraints may kill off the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) recapitalization program. William LaPlante, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, stated on Tuesday that given sequestration and competing priorities, the program could now face the axe, a particularly poignant point given that the Pentagon recently blocked the program from moving to its demonstration phase, known as Milestone A. The announcement will undoubtedly spook the three contractors currently working on the early development for the program, following the awarding of engineering and manufacturing development contracts in August.

September 30/15: The Defense Department has blocked approval of a move to advance the JSTARS recapitalization program into its demonstration phase, known as Milestone A. The program, intended to field a replacement for the Air Force’s fleet of E-8 Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System aircraft, kicked off in August, with the Air Force handing out three contracts to fund pre-engineering and manufacturing development work. The hold-up could be down to the Air Force’s funding strategy for the program, or potentially a changing requirement set.

September 14/15: Raytheon is remaining non-aligned as the competition for the Air Force’s JSTARS replacement program, offering its wide-area radar to the three competing industry teams. The three primes – Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman – were handed pre-engineering & manufacturing development contracts in August, with these now partnered with other industry partners to offer competing bids for the $6.5 billion program. The three teams are offering modified commercial designs, with Raytheon’s Skynet radar design expected to enter production in coming years.

August 11/15: The Air Force has handed out three one-year contracts to further develop competing designs for the JSTARS replacement program. The competition to replace the fleet of Northrop Grumman E-8Cs is scheduled to lead to a production contract before the JSTARS fleet is retired from FY2019. Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman were each awarded pre-engineering and manufacturing (EMD) contracts – Boeing and Northrop Grumman each approximately $10 million, with Lockheed Martin receiving the largest at $11.5 million – as a risk-reduction measure ahead of a planned production contract expected in late 2017. A Request for Proposal (RFP) is anticipated ahead of this date, with the Air Force planning to award two EMD contracts for test aircraft, followed by a further contract for three low-rate initial production aircraft.

June 17/15: Following Northrop Grumman, L-3, General Dynamics and Gulfstream’s lead, a competing team of Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Bombardier are now positioning to compete for the Air Force’s JSTARS recap program. Raytheon and Lockheed Martin had previously announced their intention to partner for the competition, with Bombardier set to bring their long-range business jet to the team, to complement Raytheon’s sensor portfolio and Lockheed Martin’s system integration expertise. The Air Force has also opened up the competition to European firms.

June 15/15: Northrop Grumman has partnered with General Dynamics, Gulfstream and L-3 to compete for work on the Air Force’s Joint STARS (JSTARS) recap program. In March the Air Force opened up the competition to European firms, with other US competitors including a Raytheon/Lockheed Martin team, with the JSTARS replacement program pushed back in February to a revised deadline of 2023. The newly-announced team will most likely base their replacement platform on the Gulfstream G550 business jet.

March 11/15: Air Force throws competition open to European aviation firms. Airbus, Dassault and Bombardier may now be invited to compete for a JSTARS replacement. The initial decision to attempt a replacement with a Boeing 767-based airframe with Northrop Grumman was cancelled due to gushing costs. The Air Force is opening it up to international competition. The service also indicated that it would like to see an airframe that is smaller than the original JSTARS Boeing 707 E-8C.

Feb 19/15: Lockheed teams with Raytheon. Lockheed is teaming with Raytheon in its bid for the JSTARS replacement program, bringing its active array sensor technology to the competition. Other competitors include Boeing, and incumbent Northrop Grumman. The JSTARS replacement program was pushed back a year to 2023 with the Administration’s initial budget announced a couple weeks prior.

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
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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
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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
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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

UAE Buys Saab’s Erieye AEW&C Aircraft

Sun, 09/25/2016 - 23:40
Arabian/Persian Gulf
(click to view full)

In November 2009, Saab announced a 1.5 billion SEK (about $220 million) contract from the United Arab Emirates for 2 of its Saab 340 regional turboprops, equipped with Erieye active-array radars that can scan large airspace volumes, and with related command and control systems. The Saab 340 AEW contract also includes ground equipment, initial spares, and support services.

The UAE is just the latest buyer of Saab’s Erieye system.

The Erieye, and Its Competitors cutaway view
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The Erieye family of Airborne Early Warning & Control aircraft offer of small size, lower purchase price, dual air/sea scan capabilities, and comparatively cheap operating costs are making it one of the world’s most popular AEW systems. The antenna reportedly provides coverage out to 450km, with a detection range of 350km even inchallenging conditions. The Erieye Ground Interface Segment (EGIS) provides a 2-way exchange of data via an associated “Link-E” datalink sub-system, and the plane’s capabilities can can also reportedly be used to support border control or even rescue operations.

The UAE joins Sweden, Pakistan, and Thailand, who have all ordered systems based on Saab’s S340/S2000 regional passenger turboprops. Brazil, Mexico, and Greece all ordered R-99As/ EMB-145 AEW&Cs that pair Erieye with Embraer’s ERJ145 regional passenger jets.

Key global competitors for Erieye systems include Boeing’s developmental E-737 ordered by Australia, South Korea, and Turkey; Israel’s Phalcon system (active on 707, IL-76, and Gulfstream G550 jets), and Northrop Grumman’s carrier-capable E-2 Hawkeye. That may become relevant, as some reports depict the Saab 340 Erieye as an interim system for the UAE, on the way to a final purchase of additional AWACS platforms.

The UAE’s aircraft order also fits into a regional trend, as the Emirates move to establish a leadership position within the Gulf Cooperation Council’s accelerating command-and-control efforts. Over time, the GCC’s ability to fuse the UAE’s efforts with local infrastructure like long range radars, Saudi Arabian 707-based E-3 AWACS/TASS planes, and other assets, may begin to produce cooperative situational awareness on a regional level.

Contracts & Key Events Thai S340 Erieye
(click to view full)

September 26/16: While the UK doesn’t look set to acquire Gripen fighters anytime soon, Saab are keen that their GlobalEye AEW&C platform would be an ideal replacement for the RAF’s current fleet of six Boeing E-3 Sentrys. The company believes that products such as its EyrieEye ER system – or a larger package like the Bombardier Global 6000-based GlobalEye – are still in the running in the UK market, even though London looks set to keep the E-3s operational until 2035. Until then, recent GlobalEye purchaser UAE may provide some operational reviews before the UK decides to go the full monty on GlobalEye.

May 25/16: Saab has announced increased interest in its configuration of a Bombardier 6000 business jet with the company’s GlobalEye system for the UAE. The $1.27 billion deal will see the heavily adapted Global 6000 to be capable of conducting airborne early warning and control (AEW&C), maritime and land surveillance, and electronic intelligence duties. Included in the package is Saab’s improved Erieye ER active electronically scanned array radar, now capable of a 70% greater detection range than its previous sensor, and the ability to spot challenging targets, such as cruise missiles, small unmanned air vehicles and hovering helicopters. Combining its below-fuselage mounted maritime search radar and electro-optical/infrared sensor will enable operators to locate surface threats and submarine periscopes, while its primary sensor’s synthetic aperture radar and ground moving target indication modes will be used to locate land targets.

February 18/16: Following a custom $1.27 billion two-aircraft deal to provide an early warning and control (AEW&C) system to the UAE, Saab has officially launched the new early warning aircraft to the wider market. The GlobalEye combines the Erieye ER active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with Bombardier’s Global 6000 business jet. The Erieye had been previously offered on the Embraer 145, Saab 2000 and Saab 340, but its incorporation on the Global 6000 will allow it much greater altitude and endurance capabilities, flying at 11,000 ft for 11 hours. The business jet will likely be armed with Saab’s RBS-15 anti-ship missile and a lightweight torpedo; possibly a EuroTorp weapon. Saab’s announcement comes as they look to provide maritime, land, and air surveillance capabilities to countries increasingly involved in anti-terrorism, anti-piracy, or territorial monitoring operations.

November 10/15: Saab has received an order for two additional Airborne Early Warning aircraft from the United Arab Emirates in a deal valuing $1.27 billion. The Swing Role Surveillance System (SRSR) will incorporate the company’s Erieye radar and other sensors aboard two Bombardier Global 600 business jet platforms. The UAE already operates two Saab Erieye-equipped AEW turboprop aircraft, ordered in November 2009 through a $220 million contract.

March 16/11: The Khaleej Times reports that Sweden’s Saab Group will deliver the 2nd S340 Erieye to the UAE slightly late, in April 2011. It quotes Swedish Ambassador Magnus Scholdtz as saying that “We’ve offered to the UAE to sell 4 more such aircraft… it is up to the UAE to decide.”

Nov 17/09: 1.5 billion SEK (about $220 million) contract for 2 of Saab’s S340 Erieyes announced. An official statement hinted at more orders to come, saying that:

“The UAE Air Force & Air Defence is currently evaluating several options to purchase permanent solution Command and Early Warning aircraft to meet the UAE Armed Forces operational requirements.”

Local defense media picked up on this theme amd noted the order’s interim status, pending a wider buy that could involve more Erieyes, Boeing’s 737 AEW&C, or Northrop Grumman’s new E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. Deliveries of the 2 Erieye planes are scheduled for Q3 2010, and Q1 2011. Saab [PDF] | Arabian Aerospace | Dubai Airshow 09 | Khaleej Times | UAE’s The National.

Additional Readings

Categories: News

Bell’s Vigilant Headed for USMC | Bill Blocking Sale of Armored Vehicles to SA Fails | Dassault’s India Fighter Deal Expected Be Signed Today

Thu, 09/22/2016 - 23:58

  • A fix has been found for a recently discovered issue on a number of F-35 fighters involving tubing insulation crumbling between the wing tank and fuselage tank. The USAF revealed last week that an unnamed supplier used the wrong coating for the insulation which deteriorated when it met fuel. A total of 15 USAF and Norwegian warplanes along with 42 models on the production line were affected by the issue with manufacturer Lockheed Martin fixed to cover engineering and modifications for all affected aircraft.

  • Bell Helicopter has unveiled its V-247 Vigilant, an unmanned tilt-rotor aircraft aimed at filling a USMC need for larger armed systems, as outlined in their 2016 Marine Aviation flight plan. Dubbed the Marine Air Ground Task Force – Unmanned Expeditionary Capabilities, also known as MUX, the service’s UAV concept envisions a multi-sensor, electronic warfare, C4 and strike platform that would complement the Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor and Lockheed Martin F-35B. While final details of exact requirements for MUX remain to be published, Bell believes that Vigilant will satisfy the USMC’s needs as outlined in the plan, and could make the aircraft ready for production as early as 2023.

Middle East & North Africa

  • A bill that would have blocked the sale of Abram tanks and other armored vehicles to Saudi Arabia has failed a US Senate vote, 71-27. The $1.1 billion sale has received much negative publicity amid growing concern of the Saudi’s use of Western-supplied weaponry to commit human rights abuses throughout its ongoing campaign in Yemen. Supporters of the deal claim that the Gulf kingdom is still an important US ally in a volatile region and deserving of backing.

  • Engineers working on Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI)’s Ofek-11 reconnaissance satellite have managed to fix some of the operational issues found shortly after its launch. As a result, Ofek was able to transmit back its first set of pictures to the ground control station. While officials have called the developments encouraging, engineers are currently trying to solve the remaining problems that the satellite is experiencing.


  • Saab has stated that an anonymous client has submitted a purchase order for RBS 70 NG short-range air defense systems. Delivery of the man-portable systems is expected to take place between 2018 and 2020 at a cost of $44 million. The company’s latest variant has garnered much interest from several international clients, with Lithuania and Latvia to integrate and test the weapon for their short-range air defense needs.

  • Self-propelled howitzers (SPH) intended for Norway will instead go to Sweden. 24 Archer (6×6) SPHs will instead be delivered to the Swedish armed forces next year, bringing Stockholm’s total inventory to 48. Both Norway and Sweden agreed to co-develop the Archer back in 2007, but Oslo backed out of the agreement in 2013. Plans for the extra howitzers will see half of the former Norwegian allocation placed in reserve while foreign buyers are sought for the remaining 12.

Asia Pacific

  • The US State Department has cleared the sale of four KC-46A aerial refueling tankers to Japan in what is estimated to be a $1.9 billion deal. All aircraft will come equipped with Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24(V) Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures (LAIRCM) system. Tokyo first announced its intention to purchase the new tankers last October, with the recent approval from the Pentagon moving it closer to becoming the aircraft’s first foreign customer for manufacturer Boeing.

  • It may have taken a long while to get to this stage, but the Indian government is expected to sign a deal for 36 Dassault Rafale fighters today after the Cabinet Committee on Security, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, cleared the inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with France. New Delhi had initially intended to buy 126 Rafale before several years worth of talks with Dassault broke down and Modi and Hollande stepped in last year to agree on the smaller purchase. Friday’s signing will see French defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian finalize the deal with his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, believed to be worth between $8.5 and $9 billion.

Today’s Video

Sweden’s Archer (6×6) Howitzer:

Categories: News

LM’s Legion Pod Tested Successfully on F-15C | USAF Awards $355.9M Support Contract for SA F-15 Fleet | 36th Anniversary of Iran’s 1980 Iraqi Invasion

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 23:58

  • Gen. Carlton Everhart, head of the mobility command of the USAF has said that the number of KC-46 tankers the service is set to procure by 2028 are not enough. 179 units of Boeing’s latest tanker will be delivered; however between 2028 and 2035, no KC-46s are scheduled for delivery, leaving a capability gap. To remedy the issue, Everhart suggested that the flying branch embark on a study this year for a new KC-Z aerial refueling tanker that will enter service in 2035, as well as looking into the possibility of developing a “KC-Y” tanker to fill the procurement gap.

  • Development is underway at the Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, for a new multi-purpose grenade for the US Army. The Enhanced Tactical Multi-Purpose (ET-MP) hand grenade is being developed by the Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and will provide US Army and USMC with a grenade that offers both fragmentation and blast overpressure through a flip of a switch. Fuze timing of the new grenade will be completely electronic and detonation time can be narrowed down to milliseconds. Until armed, the weapon is completely safe.

  • Lockheed Martin has installed and tested its Legion Pod on a US F-15C aircraft. The disclosure revealed that a fighter from the Jacksonville Air National Guard Base in Florida has been equipped with the new pod for testing. According to Paul Lemmo, vice president of Fire Control at LM, one flight successfully saw the IRST21 infrared sensor installed at the tip of the pod “successfully track multiple airborne targets in representative scenarios.”

Middle East & North Africa

  • Saudi Arabia’s Al Raha Group has successfully been awarded a USAF contract to provide support to the Saudi Arabian F-15 fleet. Valued at $355.9 million, Al Raha will provide comprehensive material management of unclassified spares, support equipment, and support services required to support base stand-ups and continued F-15 and F-15SA Royal Saudi Air Force flying operations. Work will be carried out both in Georgia, USA and in Saudi Arabia.

  • US officials have blamed Russia for air strikes on aid convoys outside the Syrian city of Aleppo earlier this week, a claim Moscow denies. The incident happened just hours after a tentative week long ceasefire had ended, and resulted in the destruction of 18 of 31 aid trucks, with about 20 civilians killed including a senior official of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent.


  • A deal has been signed between Latvia and Lithuania to synchronize military procurements for the two countries’ armed forces. Under the agreement, the envisioned joint procurements include deals to acquire fire-distribution centers for Lithuania’s and Latvia’s air defense, anti-tank missiles, and short-range anti-aircraft missiles. The agreement marks the latest development in the ongoing drama on NATO’s eastern region, as former-Soviet Baltic nations rush to enhance their military cooperation and boost merge defense capacities against Russia.

Asia Pacific

  • Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has dismissed claims that it has abandoned its Yun Feng ballistic missile program. Media reports had said Taipei had dropped the missile’s development in order to offer a goodwill gesture to China. The project, which was initiated in the mid-1990s, had been suspended in 2008 with media now reporting that the new administration of President Tsai Ing-wen had dropped it for good. Spokesperson Maj. Gen. Chen Chung-chi said the report was “mere speculation.”

  • Iran’s establishment marked the 36th anniversary of its 1980 invasion of Iraq with a huge military parade and a warning to the US to not meddle in the affairs of the Gulf. A televised parade in Tehran yesterday saw the military display long-range missiles, tanks, and the Russian-supplied S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system, while at the port of Bandar Abbas on the Gulf, the navy showed off 500 vessels, as well as submarines and helicopters. The muscle-flexing comes in a year when US officials claim that there have been more than 30 close encounters between US and Iranian vessels in the Gulf so far, over twice as many as in the same period of 2015.

Today’s Video

South Korea’s new AH-64Es:

Categories: News

KC-46A Pegasus Aerial Tanker Completes Firsts

Wed, 09/21/2016 - 23:48

KC-135: Old as the hills…
(click to view full)

DID’s FOCUS articles cover major weapons acquisition programs – and no program is more important to the USAF than its aerial tanker fleet renewal. In January 2007, the big question was whether there would be a competition for the USA’s KC-X proposal, covering 175 production aircraft and 4 test platforms. The total cost is now estimated at $52 billion, but America’s aerial tanker fleet demands new planes to replace its KC-135s, whose most recent new delivery was in 1965. Otherwise, unpredictable age or fatigue issues, like the ones that grounded its F-15A-D fighters in 2008, could ground its aerial tankers – and with them, a substantial slice of the USA’s total airpower.

KC-Y and KC-Z buys are supposed to follow in subsequent decades, in order to replace 530 (195 active; ANG 251; Reserve 84) active tankers, as well as the USAF’s 59 heavy KC-10 tankers that were delivered from 1979-1987. Then again, fiscal and demographic realities may mean that the 179 plane KC-X buy is “it” for the USAF. Either way, the KC-X stakes were huge for all concerned.

In the end, it was Team Boeing’s KC-767 NexGen/ KC-46A (767 derivative) vs. EADS North America’s KC-45A (Airbus KC-30/A330-200 derivative), both within the Pentagon and in the halls of Congress. The financial and employment stakes guaranteed a huge political fight no matter which side won. After Airbus won in 2008, that fight ended up sinking and restarting the entire program. Three years later, Boeing won the recompete. Now, they have to deliver their KC-46A.

Boeing’s KC-46A, and Its Team

KC-46A concept
(click to view full)

KC-46A Pegasus production takes place in 2 phases: the 767-2C, and then the militarized KC-46A modifications.

There are still a number of things we don’t know, though more details have emerged since Boeing won the competition. The first step is to build a 767 on the commercial production line with a cargo door and freighter floor, an advanced flight deck display borrowed from its new 787, body tanks, and provisions for aerial tanker systems. Initial Boeing graphics featuring upturned winglets on the wingtips are no longer part of the design, but Pratt & Whitney’s 62,000 pound thrust PW4062s remain their engine choice. This is the 767-2C, and it receives an FAA 767 amended Type Certificate.

The 767-2C is militarized in a separate finishing center by adding aerial refueling equipment, an air refueling operator’s station that includes panoramic 3-dimensional displays, and threat detection/ countermeasures systems. The resulting KC-46A receives an FAA 767 Supplemental Type Certificate given to substantially different variants, and must also receive USAF certification that clears the way for full acceptance.

Boeing’s refueling boom is derived from the KC-10’s AARB, but adds 3-D viewing and a slightly higher fuel offload rate of 1,200 gallons/min. The centerline and wing-mounted refueling pods will now come from Cobham plc’s Sargent Fletcher, who was also partnered with Airbus for this feature. Unlike the A330 MRTT’s systems, however, the KC-46A’s wing refueling pods still need to finish testing on the 776-2C. The USAF will buy 46 wing sets for its fleet, which will allow multi-aircraft (multipoint) aerial refueling when installed.

KC-46A cargo capacity lists as 65,000 pounds, in a mix of up to 18 cargo pallets, 114 passengers, and/or 58 medical stretcher slots.

Fielding a tanker built after the 1960s allows the USAF to include a number of new systems, which would be too costly to retrofit into the existing KC-135 fleet. The net effect is to make its KC-46As front-line refuelers. The cockpit and exterior lighting are night-vision compatible for covert rendezvous. Advanced communications and secure datalinks are big steps forward for the fleet, and their classified feeds will be used by specialized ESTAR and TCS systems designed to route the tanker away from threats. NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) protection will allow the planes to operate in contaminated environments, while EMP hardening reduces the effects of high-frequency radiation bursts on all those new solid-state electronics. On a more prosaic level, radar warning systems, infrared defensive systems, cockpit armor, and fuel tank ballistic protection will all be welcome.

KC-46A Industrial Team

Boeing’s KC-X 1.0 Team

Boeing’s industrial team has slowly announced itself over many months since the award. American KC-46A content has been touted as high as 85%, with British firms picking up much of the balance. Boeing reportedly looked hard for supply chain savings in Round 2, though, in order to lose less money with its under-cost bidding strategy.

That KC-46A design is a big change from KC-X round 1, whose KC-767 Advanced used a 767-200ER fuselage; a 767-300F freighter wing, landing gear, cargo door and floor; and a 767-400ER’s flaps and flight deck (derived in turn from the 777). A new design fly-by-wire boom with remote viewing would expand the tanker’s effective refueling airspace, and offload more fuel. Engines would be 2 Pratt & Whitney PW4062s, with 62,000 pounds of thrust each, instead of the KC-767A/J’s 60,200 pound CF6-80C2s.

Some of the suppliers also changed, as Boeing progressed from the canceled KC-767 lease deal, to KC-X, to its final design in Round 2:

Boeing’s production line had also progressed. Near the end of the KC-X bidding, Boeing added civilian 767 orders to keep its production line going. That was enough to create a cushion if KC-X faced further challenges and issues, but the reality is that civilian 767 production looks set to end soon. The US military will soon become the 767 production line’s sole support.

KC-X: The Program

A March 2012 GAO report summed up the risk driving the KC-46A program, and the current state of the USAF’s tanker fleets:

“According to the Air Force, the national security strategy cannot be executed without aerial refueling… the KC-135 Stratotanker, is over 50 years old on average and costing increasingly more to maintain and support. With… more than 16,000 flight hours on each aircraft, the KC-135s will approach over 80 years of age when the fleet is retired as projected in the 2040 time frame. In 1981, the Air Force began supplementing its fleet of KC-135s with [59] KC-10s… that transport air cargo and provide refueling. Much larger than the KC-135, the KC-10 provides both boom and hose and drogue refueling capabilities[Footnote 4] on the same flight and can conduct transoceanic missions. The KC-10s now average about 27 years of age with more than 26,000 flight hours on each, and their service life is expected to end around 2045.”

The $7.2 billion October 2012 development cost estimate includes $4.9 billion for the aircraft development contract and 4 test aircraft, $0.3 billion for the aircrew and maintenance training systems, and $2 billion for other government costs and some risk funds. The total procurement cost estimate of $40.46 billion in base-year dollars buys 175 production aircraft, initial spares, and other support items as priced in contract options.

Cost estimates as of April 2014 are stable, with an estimated $1.6 billion to cover other government costs like program office support, test and evaluation support, contract performance risk, and other development risks. That includes the cost of test flights, which will sometimes feature operational military aircraft of various kinds to act as receivers.

An accompanying military construction estimate of $4.2 billion includes the projected costs to build aircraft hangars, maintenance and supply shops, and other facilities to house and support the full 175-plane KC-46 fleet at up to 10 main operating bases (McConnell AFB, KS is MOB1), 1 training base at Altus AFB, OK; and the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex depot.

The KC-46A Development Phase: Budgets, Splits, & Dates

KC-46 development

The Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Report estimates a total KC-46A development cost of $5.615 billion, which would actually be $1.221 billion over the KC-X EMD phase’s original Target Cost of $4.394 billion. Fortunately for the USAF, they structured the contract so they can’t pay more than $4.7 billion, and the overall bid cost to the US government for development plus production remains below Airbus’ bid.

Here’s how it works:

  • Up to the $4.898 billion ceiling, the contract split for amounts over the $4.394 billion base price is 60/40. The difference is $504 million, so the government would pay $302.4 million ($4.696 billion total), and Boeing would pay about $201.6 million.

  • Costs above the $4.898 billion ceiling are all Boeing’s responsibility.

Current estimates show that there’s almost no chance of coming in under the ceiling. Boeing’s current cost estimate is $5.164 billion, which would raise its private liability for the cost increases to $467.5 million (201.6 + all 265.9 over the ceiling). If the government program manager is right, Boeing’s liability rises to $918.6 million (201.6 + all 717.0 over). The difference matters to Boeing, but the Pentagon doesn’t have to care which EMD Phase figure is correct, or how much higher EMD costs go. Their costs are set, at $4.7 billion, though actual dollars will be a bit higher due to inflation etc.

That’s if, and only if, the USAF doesn’t start asking for design changes. If they do, that would trigger a cycle of charges over and above the agreed contract.

As of December 2012, schedule planning looked like this:

Concurrence concerns

The USAF has maintained its Q4 FY 2015 (summer 2015) goal for a successful Operational Assessment and Milestone C decision, and this remains the official target. Success which would clear the way for 2 firm-fixed-price Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP) lots to deliver the initial 19 aircraft. Full-Rate Production options would follow beginning in FY 2017 as a firm-fixed-price contract with some adjustments for outside circumstances, and a not-to-exceed cap. The USAF will be assessing the possibility of breaking out the engines as a separate government procurement in FRP, instead of having Boeing provide them.

As Airbus predicted when the contract was awarded, however, Boeing has admitted to trouble meeting these development milestones. The schedule will need to be changed, but there’s no official replacement schedule yet.

The schedule may need to incorporate other changes as well. The Pentagon’s own DOT&E testers have doubted proclaimed Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) dates (Q3 FY 2016 – Q1 2017) for some time. Beyond technical issues that have slowed the new design, testing must avoid revealing significant problems.
Initial Operational Capability (IOC) was pegged for August 2017, with Full Operational Capability (FOC) expected by August 2019, but USAF Air Mobility Command is no longer giving official target dates.

The program as a whole is expected to end by 2028.

The KC-46A Production Phase: Risks & Numbers

KC-10 & F/A-18C

The current program calls for Boeing to begin delivering KC-46As to the USAF by 2015. Unfortunately, the KC-46A is too different from previous KC-767A models sold to Japan and Italy, so it will need its own development, testing, and certification time. That’s why Airbus and program skeptics have always doubted that Boeing could deliver 18 certified, fully developed and tested planes by 2017. Boeing disputes this, but the Pentagon’s own DOT&E office added weight to those concerns in its 2011 reports, which declared the KC-46A’s test program “not executable.” That continues to be a concern.

Beyond basic integration and certification considerations, a March 2012 GAO report cites 6 key technical risks to the program:

1. Weight limits. The KC-46A is close to its limit, and any more growth will start to take away fuel capacity, while increasing fuel burn rate. As of December 2013, Boeing remains confident that they will remain under the maximum take-off weight of 204,000 pounds.

2. New wing refueling pods. The KC-46’s pods will be redesigned to reduce buffeting of the aircraft’s wing, and change the way the refueling hose exits the pod. Still a technical risk as of December 2013.

3. 3-D display for the boom operator.

4. Threat Correlation Software. Used to help plot safe routes, along with the…

5. ESTAR software.

6. ALR-69 Radar Warning Receiver integration. Issues like figuring out precise placement, and antenna design, make fitting a large aircraft more challenging than many people expect.

Problems with these or other systems could delay the program further, and some of these issues could also make certification harder or longer. Even so, the actual risk that set the development program back wasn’t any of these. It was the need to redesign certain wiring sections for military-grade shielding requirements and mandatory separation distances.

Meanwhile, the USAF plans to respond to continued budget cuts by removing their existing KC-10 heavy refuelers entirely, adding tremendous risk by removing their inherent boom/hose versatility, and leaving no tanker alternative if the KC-135s develop a serious problem.

Fleet Risks

Over the longer term, plotting even a 3-year production delay against planned deliveries and KC-135 retirements never drops the medium tanker fleet much below present levels. The initial drop is slight, and the same final figure is reached in 2030 instead of 2027. On the other hand, RAND’s 2006 Analysis of Alternatives for KC-X highlighted a very different risk, which needs to be understood:

“The current (December 2005) assessment of the flight-hour life of the KC-135 fleet and the expected future flying-hour programs together imply that these aircraft can operate into the 2040s. It cannot be said with high confidence that this is not the case, although there are risks associated with a fleet whose age is in the 80- to 90-year range. It can also not be said with high confidence that the current fleet can indeed operate into the 2040s without major cost increases or operational shortfalls, up to and including grounding of large parts of the fleet for substantial lengths of time, due to currently unknown technical problems that may arise. The nation does not currently have sufficient knowledge about the state of the KC-135 fleet to project its technical condition over the next several decades with high confidence.”

In English, nobody knows if an airplane fleet that’s already 50 years old will remain safe, or avoid unforeseen mechanical or structural problems, because there’s no previous example of what they’re trying to do. Those kinds of sudden “age-out” problems recently grounded the USAF’s F-15A-D fleet for several months, and led to the unexpected retirement of almost 1/4 of the fleet. If anything similar happens to the KC-135, the USAF’s planned number of aerial tankers may not resemble its actual future fleet.

This risk, and the potential absence of the KC-10, is exactly why the KC-X program has been the USAF’s #1 priority. On the other hand, it’s an equally good reason not to trust the USAF’s own rosy projections for its future fleet size. The graph below shows how this kind of scenario could play out. In DID’s hypothetical example, we used actual data to the present day, plus all planned reductions in the USAF’s 2011 plan. Fleet problems lead to the forced retirement of 1/3 of the remaining fleet in 2021 over safety and cost-to-fix issues, followed by a second mechanical issue or budget crisis that grounds another 55 planes in 2029. The KC-10 fleet is not part of this calculus at all.

The USA’s looming fiscal entitlements crisis will begin to bite in earnest post-2020, and the pattern of cuts in the USA and in other countries shows a marked tendency to simply retire platforms with significant maintenance costs. KC-135 per-hour flight costs are already increasing, and a fleet that also needed expensive refits or fixes would be a prime target for future cuts. Here’s what this scenario looks like:

Finally, DID believes that there will be no KC-Y or KC-Z, so the timing of KC-135 problems and retirements isn’t critical. Any serious problems in the KC-135 fleet could create a similar end-point, even if the drops happened after 2030.

KC-46A Export Prospects


Once the KC-46As do enter service, they will join Italy’s KC-767A (4) and Japan’s KC-767J (4) small KC-767 fleets. Both customers have experienced long delivery delays while Boeing has worked to iron out technical problems, and their KC-767s will have a number of key differences from the KC-46A. Japan’s boom-equipped KC-767s were delivered form 2008-2010, but Italy’s aircraft with hose-and-drogue systems were only accepted in February 2011.

That’s one option, if Boeing will produce the planes.

The KC-46A’s schedule and dwindling civil 767 production are problematic for export orders, because the USAF will be Boeing’s sole focus until the EMD Phase is done in 2017 – or later. Countries that need aerial tankers before 2019-2020 will need to look elsewhere. Boeing declined to bid on India’s aerial tanker RFP, for instance. There’s also a customer commitment issue. Should customers accept the KC-767A, which is certified and in service, or wait for the KC-46A, and hope it’s on time?

Airbus sees this lock-up as an opportunity to add to its A330 MRTT customer list, of course, signing customers like India, Qatar, and Singapore. Ironically, the other big beneficiary may by Israel’s IAI Bedek, whose inexpensive KC-767 MMTT conversion of used Boeing freighters already has customers in Colombia and Brazil.

As of June 2013, Boeing was reportedly pursuing prospects for up to 20 aerial tanker exports. If so, they have been quiet pursuits. The next big opportunity will be in South Korea.

KC-X: Contracts & Key Developments FY 2016


Boom assembly

September 22/16: Gen. Carlton Everhart, head of the mobility command of the USAF has said that the number of KC-46 tankers the service is set to procure by 2028 are not enough. 179 units of Boeing’s latest tanker will be delivered; however between 2028 and 2035, no KC-46s are scheduled for delivery, leaving a capability gap. To remedy the issue, Everhart suggested that the flying branch embark on a study this year for a new KC-Z aerial refueling tanker that will enter service in 2035, as well as looking into the possibility of developing a “KC-Y” tanker to fill the procurement gap.

August 22/16: Last week ended on an extremely good note for both Boeing and Lockheed Martin after the companies were awarded major multi-billion contracts by the USAF. For Boeing, an impressive $2.8 billion award was granted on Thursday as part of the low rate initial production of the KC-46A following the tanker’s Milestone C decision earlier this month. 19 aircraft will be produced alongside spare parts, engines and refueling pods. However, this was astronomically dwarfed on Friday when Lockheed Martin was handed a $10 billion deal for all future orders of the C-130J Super Hercules production program as well as any foreign military sales for the aircraft.

August 15/16: After a long wait, the KC-46A tanker has been cleared for production. The Milestone C approval was awarded by US Under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, Frank Kendall, following a series of stringent refueling tests of various USAF and Navy aircraft. Contracts are expected to be awarded to Boeing within the next 30 days for the first two low rate initial production lots, totaling 19 aircraft.

August 12/16: A long awaited low-rate initial production decision for the KC-46 tanker is to be made by the end of the month. Secretary of the USAF Deborah Lee James informed the media of the upcoming meeting “We believe that the aircraft has met all of the wickets that are required to meet milestone C, but of course that remains to be seen, so I’ll say stay tuned on that.” Flight testing of the aircraft wound up in July following a number of hardware and software fixes to the plane’s boom following aerial refueling problems.

August 9/16: Ground has been broken on the new $44 million KC-46A Pegasus sustainment campus at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. The facility will be responsible for all the maintenance, repair and overhaul operations required for the tanker. The first KC-46A are expected to roll into Tinker in 2018.

July 25/16: Boeing has announced the latest in an ongoing saga of cost overruns with the company taking a $393 million hit on the KC-46 tanker program. Well published issues such as the fault with the aircraft’s refueling boom have resulted in delays to the aircraft reaching an important program milestone prior to initial production. The charges are to be formally announced on July 27 and brings the total value of penalties to almost $1.9 billion. Don’t worry Boeing, the next round of drinks are on us.

July 20/16: Following the refueling of an A-10 Thunderbolt, the KC-46 has completed the last in a series of in-flight refueling tests necessary before its Milestone C production decision. A selection of Navy, USAF and USMC aircraft were chosen including the C-17, F-16, F/A-18 and AV-8B. The Milestone C decision to begin low-rate initial production is expected in August.

July 15/16: A KC-46A fitted with its brand new modified boom has successfully managed a mid-air refueling of a C-17 with the previous axial loading issues no longer present. The testing was carried out on July 12 and the USAF also refueled an F-16 on July 8. Refueling attempts with the F-16 earlier this year were successful, although a higher than expected axial load on the boom was detected. The higher load was again present during the initial attempt with the C-17 which necessitated installation of hydraulic pressure relief valves in the boom.

July 12/16: “Bypass surgery” has been carried out on the KC-46A to fix problems with the the flying boom on the tanker. A hardware fix has been implemented by adding two bypass valves to lighten the load on the boom. Boeing describing the modification as similar to that used on the US Air Force’s current KC-10 tankers.

June 6/16: Setbacks to the KC-46A tanker program have been compounded as Boeing has admitted that a software solution to fix the load issues on the flying boom was not robust enough and the company will have to modify the hardware itself. The plane was initially aiming to have a low-production order to deliver 18 tankers by next August. Issues arose during refueling trials with larger aircraft such as the C-17 military transporters which caused unacceptable stress loads along the axis of the boom.

May 31/16: Following close on the heals of the F-35’s delay in achieving initial operational capability (IOC), the KC-46A tanker will miss its scheduled Spring 2017 delivery to units. Instead, deliveries have been rescheduled for late summer or early fall of next year. The KC-46 tanker program was already on a tight trialing schedule as part of its Milestone C demonstration in June, but will now be pushed back until August.

May 9/16: Boeing has announced that they have developed a hardware and software fix for the KC-46A aerial tanker, allowing it to pass fuel to C-17 aircraft. The company encountered problems regarding a boom axial load issue during an earlier test to refuel the C-17, causing a setback to the already delayed flight test program. A “milestone C” decision on low rate production by the Pentagon is now expected in June after initially planned for April and now May.

April 29/16: April 29/16: Legislation being considered by the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) could see the last external link of the USAF’s F-117A Nighthawk fleet sent to the scrap yard. Retired since 2007, a fleet of the pioneering stealth aircraft have been kept in special climate controlled storage hangers in the event they were ever needed again. Now, Congress is considering removing those mothballed aircraft and having them scrapped and gutted for hard-to-find parts.

April 28/16: The forth and final test aircraft of Boeing’s KC-46A tanker program has made its maiden flight. While not kitted out for aerial refueling, the 767-2C aircraft will be used to conduct environmental control system testing for the program. The arrival of the latest tanker comes as Boeing scrambles to complete a “milestone C” review by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). A favorable review will unleash additional funds needed for the program, including a seven tanker production order, which the manufacturer had already begun producing out of its own pocket.

April 13/16: Despite development setbacks and a recent Milestone C demonstration hiccup, Boeing believes that it can deliver 18 operational KC-46 Pegasus tankers within six months instead of the original 14. The plan has been labelled “optimistic” in a new report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). While the GAO notes that most of the issues have been amended successfully, the recent problems seen in the aircraft’s centerline drogue system and wing aerial refueling pods may make this optimistic projection nothing but wishful thinking.

April 5/16: The otherwise fast pace of the KC-46A’s aerial refueling demonstration phase has started to run into difficulty. Testing on refueling of Boeing’s C-17 heavy cargo lifter has resulted in higher than expected boom axial loads, caused by two large aircraft flying in line. This bow-wave effect has subsequently caused the system to indicate that the loads were too high to begin passing fuel. Subsequent delays caused by the issues have resulted in scheduled trials of the A-10 attack aircraft being pushed back, and any further issues may impact a low-production rate decision due to be made at the end of May.

March 24/16: The Defense Contract Management Agency has expressed its “low confidence” in Boeing’s ability to deliver the KC-46A on time. Delivery of the tanker to the USAF is expected by August 2017 and is currently in the process of undergoing its Milestone C Demonstrations. Despite this, the agency now believes Boeing can only deliver the 18 KC-46As by March 2018, and there is a possibility that the new date might not be achievable either.

March 7/16: Boeing’s second KC-46A aerial refueling tanker has made its first flight. The aircraft will be used to test mission system avionics and exterior lighting before moving onto sharing the air refueling effort with the first KC-46. With a second fully configured tanker, Boeing can move through “receiver certification” for 18 aircraft types a lot more quickly. At present, the KC-46 has already demonstrated functionality with the Lockheed Martin F-16, Boeing F/A-18 and refueling from a Boeing KC-10.

February 26/16: Despite a successful start to the KC-46 Milestone C demonstrations, Boeing is still under pressure to keep to its tight window to have 46 of the tankers operational by August 2017. The original schedule is at present eight months behind after a number of setbacks, and leaves little room for error until the delivery deadline. While funding of the program and technical difficulties are not a contributing factor, it’s feared that the Air Mobility Command (AMC) won’t have sufficient time for the 767-2C-based tankers to declare initial operational capability on schedule.

February 24/16: The KC-46 is halfway through its six aerial contact tests as part of the program‘s “Milestone C” demonstrations. The tanker has now successfully demonstrated all three of its major fuel systems after being successfully topped up by another KC-10 aircraft. The February 16 test follows the refueling of a F-16 and F/A-18 over the last number of weeks, and keeps the program right on track for a low-rate initial production decision in May. The three remaining tests will involve probe-and-drogue testing with a US Navy AV-8B Harrier II jump jet, followed by boom refueling of a Fairchild Republic A-10 and Boeing C-17.

February 16/16: Testing of the refueling capabilities of the KC-46 tanker has hit another target with the successful refueling of an F/A-18 fighter. This follows its first ever refueling flight on January 24, where it successfully refueled an F-16. While the first test utilized the tanker’s refueling “boom,” a rigid, telescoping tube that an operator on the aircraft extends and inserts into a receptacle on the receiving aircraft for fuel transfer, the F/A-18 test was the program’s first usage of the KC-46’s hose and drogue system. Located on both the plane’s wing and centerline, the hose and drogue system enables the KC-46 to refuel smaller aircraft such as the F/A-18 with up to 400 gallons of fuel per minute. All tests are part of the program’s Milestone C demonstration before a low-rate initial production decision is made later this year.

February 11/16: An Israeli news source has reported that the US government has cleared the sale for two of Boeing’s newest KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueling tankers to Israel via the security assistance package. The Pentagon had originally put a pause on selling new aircraft to Israel, initially offering them older models. However, Israel has been insisting on the latest multi-mission tanker with the deal only approved upon the completion of the nuclear deal with Iran. The tanker sale could have become a point of contention for Tehran as its specs allow for a range of 7,350 miles with in-flight refueling. With an average price tag of $188 million each, the addition of Israeli system modifications will see each aircraft cost a quarter of a billion dollars.

January 26/16: The USAF and Boeing have reached an important milestone in the development of the KC-46 tanker after it successfully carried out a mid-air refueling of an F-16 jet. Prior to the refueling, both had checked a number of test points during the flight, with a successful demonstration necessary before Boeing can enter the plane into low rate production. The USAF has ordered 176 of the tankers to replace their KC-135 Stratotankers with the first eighteen of the tankers needed to be operational and ready to go by August 2017.

October 26/15: In a not unexpected decision, the Japanese Defence Ministry has opted to buy three KC-46A Pegasus tankers, marking the first international sale of the aircraft, which is still in development. The three new aircraft will bolster the JASDF’s fleet of four KC-767s, with each of the new aircraft thought to value $173 million. The KC-46As are slated for fielding in 2020, with the Boeing bid fending off competition from Airbus’ A330 MRTT. Elsewhere in the region, South Korea selected the Airbus design in July, signing a contract for four A330-MRTTs.

October 23/15: The KC-46A Pegasus tanker EMD-1 development aircraft has arrived at Edwards AFB for two weeks of work, including Ground Effects and Fuel Onload Fatigue tests. The latter involves learning more about how the aircraft operates when taking on fuel from another tanker, such as a KC-135 or KC-10, while Ground Effects testing collects data to incorporate into the aircraft’s simulator. The other development aircraft (EMD-2) deployed its refuelling boom for the first time in October, with EMD-1’s maiden flight in September.

October 12/15: The KC-46A Pegasus tanker has deployed its refuelling systems for the first time, including its boom, hose and drogue systems. The tanker performed its first flight in September, following a delay in August. Boeing is working towards an initial operating capability – which will see 18 KC-46A and support available for operations – by August 2017.

October 9/15: Two Air Force pilots have been cleared to fly the KC-46A Pegasus tanker, which performed its first test flight in late September. The pilots will be used for military certification of the aircraft, which is also required to pass FAA regulations. The Air Force is eventually scheduled to receive 179 KC-46A tankers under a contract awarded to Boeing in February 2011; the fixed-cost nature of the contract means that Boeing has been forced twice to absorb development costs, with the Air Force’s costs capped at $4.9 billion.

FY 2015


September 28/15: A fully-configured KC-46A tanker completed its first flight on Friday, a month later than scheduled owing to the chemical mix-up in early August. The program is a year behind schedule, the first flight is a rare positive sign for a program hit by cost spikes and schedule delays, with Boeing scheduled to deliver 18 aircraft in August 2017.

September 18/15: With Airbus walking away from the competition earlier this month, the Japanese Defense Ministry has reportedly selected the Boeing KC-46A to supply the country’s next generation refuelling tanker. Price negotiations are now scheduled, with the number of tankers the Defense Ministry plans to procure not yet determined. Boeing lost out in South Korea to the Airbus A330 MRTT in July.

September 17/15: The first KC-46A tanker is expected to fly on 25 September, following a year-long delay. The trouble-hit tanker has become a headache for Boeing, which has been absorbing increasing development costs through a firm-fixed contract signed in February 2011 which capped Air Force costs at $4.9 billion. The most recent setback resulted from an accident involving the insertion of chemicals into the aircraft’s refuelling system in early August, pushing the tanker’s schedule back by a month.

August 19/15: The mistake earlier this month involving the accidental insertion of chemicals into the fuel system of the KC-46A tanker has officially delayed the aircraft’s first flight by a month. The tanker will now see its first flight in late-September or early October, with the program’s original timetable calling for this flight to have taken place last year, with this pushed back to April and then again to late August, before this latest setback.

July 1/15: South Korea has selected Airbus’ bid to supply the country’s Air Force with four refueling tankers, beating competitors Israel Aerospace Industries and Boeing for the $1.07 billion program. The winning bid – the A330 MRTT – dashed Boeing’s hopes of securing its first export order for the KC-46A, which saw a strong dollar raise its bid price compared with a weakened euro for the European bid. The four tankers are scheduled for delivery in 2019.

June 10/15: NAVAIR has been slamming missiles into the side of its KC-46 tankers as part of Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division survivability testing at the Weapons Survivability Laboratory. The tests used – among other sensors – ten high-speed cameras to capture the impact of the test missiles, themselves specifically designed to inflict maximum possible damage to the aircraft. The Air Force intends to buy 179 of the tankers to replace approximately a third of the current tanker fleet, which consists principally of KC-135 Stratotankers.

April 24/15: Tinker Air Force Base (Oklahoma) has been named as one of four potential locations to base the Air Force’s fleet of new KC-46A refueling tankers, alongside Seymour-Johnson Air Force Base (North Carolina), Westover Air Reserve Base (Massachusetts) and Grissom Air Reserve Base (Indiana).

Jan 26/15: Flight test. Boeing conducted a flight test from Payne Field in Everett, Washington. The four-hour flight was uneventful, but well-documented.

Dec 10/14: spares. Boeing is awarded a not to exceed $84.5M undefinitized contract action modification (P00054) to previously awarded contract FA8625-11-C-6600 for 4,880 production support equipment items and 6 production spare parts. Work will be performed at Seattle, WA, and is expected to be completed by June 30, 2016. $9.5M in FY14 aircraft procurement funds and $32.2M in FY15 aircraft procurement funds are being obligated at the time of award.

Dec 03/14: wiring. Boeing Dennis Muilenburg told investors during a conference organized by Credit Suisse that wiring problems that had led to delays and charges (q.v. Sept 17/14) were now “resolved and closed out.”

Dec 01/14: Training. The USAF intends to finalize its Maintenance Training System (MTS) RFP in January 2015. The draft, released back in September, is found under solicitation IDN-KC-46-MTS.

Nov 24/14: Personnel. The Air Force Personnel center announces that the aircrew of 41 officers and enlisted members from the active force, Reserve and National Guard have been selected to staff initial operational test and evaluation (IOT&E).

Nov 19/14: Schedule. The USAF publicly admits what KC-46A program watchers already know: Boeing is essentially out of schedule margin to deliver the 767-based KC-46As on time by 2017. The USAF is still describing the contract as “achievable,” but so many things have to go right that this isn’t a smart bet for outside observers. The USAF won’t really say anything else until disaster is certain, though, because the admission will make the service look bad (q.v. March 4/11). Sources: Reuters, “US Air Force sees challenges on Boeing KC-46 tanker program”.

Oct 16/14: Delays. Boeing finally admits that the KC-46A’s program schedule will have to be changed. They don’t know how many milestones will need adjustment, but they’re still holding to the idea that they’ll have 18 KC-46As delivered by August 2017.

Can they avoid proving Airbus’ March 4/11 prediction that Boeing would deliver late? It’s hard to see how Boeing’s on-time promise adds up now, given significant GAO and DOT&E concerns that the testing program as proposed is too compressed and can’t be executed (q.v. April 11/14, Sept 17/13). Boeing gets to try convincing Pentagon acquisition officials with an official submission early in 2015, and the USAF will then conduct its own “schedule risk assessment” to examine Boeing’s assumptions.

Most ways of speeding up programs involve spending more money, though that tends to have diminishing returns past a certain point. The program’s official cash reserve is expected to run dry in March 2015, but the USAF’s costs are capped, so it’s likely that Boeing will wind up spending more private funds on KC-46A development. Sources: Bloomberg, “Boeing Seeks Revised Schedule for U.S. Aerial Tanker”.

FY 2014

Competition in South Korea? Initial basing decisions; Boeing takes extra costs charge, announces delays.

Workers saluted

Sept 17/14: Flight delay. First flight for the KC-46A is in question due to the same wiring bundle technical issues that forced Boeing to take an additional $272 million Q2/14 charge on the program (q.v. July 23/14). USAF spokesman Ed Gulick:

“We are disappointed with Boeing’s current KC-46 production challenges and their inability to meet internal production milestones, but we do not see anything of great concern and are confident they will overcome the issues,” said Gulick in a statement to Puget Sound Business Journal. “The KC-46 program’s technical and cost performance are on-track; Boeing has met every contractual requirement to date.”

The baseline 767 has about 70 miles of wiring in the design, and the need for redundancy in certain systems pushes the 767-2C to 120 miles, including shielding requirements and mandatory separation distances for safety reasons. The redesign will address these issues, but it sideswipes plans for concurrent installation in the 4 test aircraft currently under construction. Given the program’s known issue with compressed test schedules (q.v. April 11/14), they had better be ready by April 2015. Sources: Aviation Week, “First Flight for KC-46 Tanker Platform Slips Further” | Puget Sound Business Journal, “Air Force ‘disappointed’ in Boeing tanker delays; issues cost Boeing millions”.

Sept 15/14: Training. The USAF issues a Draft Request for Proposal (DRFP) for the KC-46 Maintenance Training System (MTS) Program. It consists of various specific component trainers, e-learning materials, and Training System Support Center build-outs. Sources:, “KC-46 Maintenance Training System, Solicitation Number: IDN-KC-46-MTS”.

Aug 5/14: Basing. The USAF announces that the KC-46A’s MOB2 Air National Guard base will be Pease ANGB, NH, which beat Forbes AGS, KS; Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ; Pittsburgh International Airport AGS, PA; and Rickenbacker AGS, OH.

Pease has apparently been the preferred alternative since May 2013, owing to its location in a region of high air refueling receiver demand and successful ANG-USAF partnership. This announcement follows the required environmental reviews. Sources: Pentagon NR-409-14, “Pease Air National Guard Base selected to receive KC-46A Pegasus aircraft”.

Basing: MOB2 ANG picked

July 23/14: Cost. During a Q2 analyst conference call, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney says that they’re absorbing a $272 million unexpected charge related to problems with KC-767 wiring harnesses:

“We bid the EMD (engineering manufacturing and development) contract for the tanker aggressively, with zero margin, with planned profitability in the production phase. Despite our disappointment in encountering these challenges, the issues are well understood, and no new technology is needed to solve them…. We have a wet fuel lab, a lighting lab, those have all been put in place to de-risk the program. We have a wet lab where we are running fuel through pumps and valves to validate that on the ground.”

Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Reports Second-Quarter Results and Raises 2014 EPS Guidance” | Puget Sound Business Journal, “Boeing: We can fix Air Force tanker problems without new technology”.

July 14/14: Cost. The KC-46A development phase could end up costing Boeing more than expected. That may concern Boeing executives, but the USAF won’t pay any more and doesn’t care:

“Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall told reporters late on Sunday that Boeing was performing “satisfactorily” on the KC-46 tanker program, but several events – including water damage caused by a sprinkler malfunction at the company’s Everett, Washington plant – meant costs were higher than expected.”

Boeing says that they’ll be able to cut costs with their testing approach. We’ll see. Sources: Reuters, “AIRSHOW-Boeing may face higher than expected costs on KC-46 tanker”.

June 30/14: South Korea. 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 in the face of North Korea’s WMD arsenal, and ability to target ROKAF bases with missiles, they make a point of mentioning that:

“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”.

June 4/14: Infrastructure. The Ross Group Construction Corp. in Tulsa, OK wins a $17.5 million firm-fixed-price contract with options, to built the KC-46A Fuselage Trainer Flight Training Center and the Fuselage Trainer at Altus AF, OK. Option 4 for sidewalks and landscaping, and Option 5 for additional concrete parking stalls, are exercised at time of contract award. Altus AFB was recently chosen as the KC-46A’s main training base (q.v. April 23/14), and already operates in that capacity for the KC-135 fleet.

The estimated completion date is Oct 5/15. Bids were solicited via the Internet, with 7 received by the US Army Corps of Engineers in Tulsa, OK (W912BV-14-C-0015).

May 29/14: Infrastructure. MEB General Contractors in Chesapeake, VA wins an $8.4 million firm-fixed-price contract for construction services to alter the KC-46A apron fuels distribution system and supporting facilities at McConnell AFB, KC, and to relocate fuel vents/valves at the 3-bay hangar and 2-bay hangars.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 military construction budgets. Work will take place at McConnell AFB (KC-46A MOB1), with an estimated completion date of Dec 3/15. Bids were solicited via the Internet, with 2 received. The US Army Corps of Engineers in Kansas City, MO manages the contract (W912DQ-14-C-4010).

Flight Simulator

April 23/14: Basing. The Pentagon announces that McConnell AFB, KS will be is the KC-46A’s active duty-led MOB1 Pegasus main operating base. McConnell won because swapping in 36 KC-46As for 44 KC-135s involved the lowest military construction costs, and the base is located in a high-demand area. McConnell was also seen as “an ideal central location for the new KC-46A Regional Maintenance Training Center.” It beat Fairchild AFB, WA (2 KC-135 Sqns), Grand Forks AFB, ND (1 KC-135 Sqn), and Altus AFB, OK, all of whom will continue to operate KC-135s.

By default, Altus AFB, OK will continue in its FTU tanker training role, which it already performs for the KC-135. Advantages to keeping it in a training role include co-location with both tanker and heavy receiver aircraft for training purposes, and “considerably fewer” new construction requirements vs. McConnell. Altus will begin receiving KC-46A planes in 2016.

The Air National Guard MOB2 base (q.v. Jan 9/13) remains undecided, and will be picked in summer 2014. It will be 1 of Forbes Air Guard Station, KS (whose chances have probably dropped); Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ; Pease Air Guard Station, NH; Pittsburgh International Airport Air Guard Station, PA; and Rickenbacker Air Guard Station, OH. The winner will begin receiving planes in 2018. Sources: Pentagon, “Air Force Announces Bases to House New Tanker Refueling Aircraft”.

Basing: MOB1 & FTU picked

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF]. The KC-46A has seen the Pentagon’s program costs go down:

“Program costs decreased $2,181.5 million (-4.2%) from $51,642.1 million to $49,460.6 million, due primarily to lower construction estimates based on site surveys of initial bases (-$715.4 million), funding reductions in FY 2015-2018 given stable program execution and no engineering change proposals to date (-$655.6 million), and the removal of construction planning and design funding from FY 2014-2024 budgeted elsewhere (-$268.8 million). Additional program cost decreases included the application of revised escalation indices (-$222.7 million), accelerating the procurement buy profile (-$157.7 million), and sequestration reductions (-$142.9 million).”

Cost decrease

April 11/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables “KC-46 Tanker Aircraft: Program Generally on Track, but Upcoming Schedule Remains Challenging“. Flight testing is scheduled to begin in June 2014 for the 767-2C, and in January 2015 for the KC-46, but it will be a bit of a squeeze making that:

“The KC-46 program has made good progress to date—acquisition costs have remained relatively stable, high-level schedule and performance goals have been met, the critical design review was successfully completed, and the contractor is building development aircraft. The next 12 months will be challenging as the program must accomplish a significant amount of work and the margin for error is small. For example, the program is scheduled to complete software integration and the first test flights of the 767-2C and KC-46. The remaining software development and integration work is mostly focused on military software and systems and is expected to be more difficult relative to the prior work completed [which is generally on schedule]. The program’s test activities continue to be a concern due to its aggressive test schedule. Detailed test plans must be completed and the program must maintain an unusually high test pace to meet this schedule. Perhaps more importantly, agencies will have to coordinate to concurrently complete multiple air worthiness certifications. While efficient, this approach presents significant risk to the program. The program office must also finalize agreements now in progress to ensure that receiver aircraft are available when and where they are needed to support flight tests.”

The GAO and the Pentagon’s DOT&E group continue to believe that Initial Operation Test & Evaluation should be pushed back 6-12 months, in order to train aircrew and maintenance personnel and verify maintenance procedures. The USAF isn’t convinced yet, and knows that this move would delay the entire project for a similar period. Furthermore, the testing schedule itself is so concurrent that any problems found during test are almost certain to create delays to the program as a whole. One technical area that could still bite them involves “lingering instability in…. the centerline drogue system and wing aerial refueling pod,” but Boeing hopes to fix that before flight testing begins.

Finally, as of December 2013, the original $354 million program reserve budget has just $75 million (21.1%) left, leaving the program at risk of running out before testing begins. As long as the USAF doesn’t change the design, however, that’s Boeing’s problem.

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish.

The KC-46 Tanker program comes in for praise in a couple of areas. One has to do with the “should-cost” method for the final product, which will reportedly save $6.8 billion over the total program, with $6.4 billion listed as already realized. The other area that drew praise was the program’s use of all 4 best practices for development programs: (1) identifying key product characteristics; (2) identifying critical manufacturing processes; (3) conducting producibility assessments to identify manufacturing risks; and (4) completing failure modes and effects analysis to identify potential failures and early design fixes. Boeing should be motivated to do all that, because their contract makes them fully responsible for any fixes required in early production aircraft.

Costs remain almost identical to initial estimates, so far. The bad news is that test boom production has been delayed by almost a year due to design changes and late parts, but Boeing hopes to have it ready in time for initial KC-46A flight testing in January 2015.

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The KC-46A program’s revised totals are reflected in the article’s charts, and the USAF has worked hard to protect the program. What’s interesting is the program’s schedule. It hasn’t been changed officially, but Air Mobility Command isn’t giving an official Initial Operational Capability date.

Previous years had listed budgets for spares, but those have effectively been revised. A contractor service agreement for the initial planes will see also spares bought as part of the procurement budgets, until the USAF takes over all maintenance itself.

Feb 20/14: KC-46 Pegasus. USAF Gen. Mark Welsh announces that the KC-46A will be the “Pegasus”. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James had approved the recommendation from Air Mobility Command boss Gen. Paul Selva earlier in the week. Sources: AFA Air Force Mag, “Introducing the KC-46A Pegasus” | Everett Herald, “Air Force dubs KC-46A tanker ‘Pegasus'”.

KC-46 Pegasus

Jan 16/14: Industrial. Boeing has begun assembling the 4th and final KC-46A test aircraft, and says that the program remains on track to deliver the initial 18 tankers to the Air Force by 2017. According to the current schedule, the 1st flight of a KC-46 test aircraft will take place at mid-2014 without its aerial refueling systems, followed by the first flight of a full KC-46A tanker in early 2015.

The first delivery of a production aircraft to the Air Force is planned for early 2016, but of course that depends on things going well during testing. Official reports to date have been skeptical, so no matter how things turn out, someone is about to be proved wrong. Sources: Boeing, “Boeing Starts Assembly of Final KC-46A Test Aircraft”.

Nov 5/13: Infrastructure. URS Group Inc. in Mobile, AL receives a $13 million firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery contract for architect-engineering services to support USAF KC-46 beddown in the continental United States. The 767 is closer in size to the KC-135, which means that it needs fewer infrastructure changes than the A330/ KC-45.

There will still be facilities and features to build (q.v., Oct 2/13). Estimated completion date is Nov 14/18, with work location and funding determined with each order. Bids were solicited via the internet, with 57 received by the Army Corps of Engineers in Mobile, AL (W91278-14-D-003).

Oct 22/13: Industrial. Boeing announces that assembly of the 3rd 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 (q.v. Aug 7/13), 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.

Oct 2013: Basing. Public hearings scheduled at the end of the month in Kansas and Oklahoma are postponed on October 11 because of furloughs at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the government shutdown. As of Oct 23, a new date for the hearings had not yet been released. Meanwhile the Air Force Civil Engineer Center (AFCEC) and the US Army Corps of Engineers are preparing infrastructure work: AFCEC | Industry Day | Sources Sought.

FY 2013

Design finalized after CDR; State of the program reports; Sequester threat; Basing competition; Training aids picked.

KC-46A and B-2
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Sept 17/13: Testing. KC-46A program executive Gen. John Thompson offers a bit of clarity regarding testing plans. The first 4 planes will be split between the commercial 767-2C baseline, which is set to fly in January 2014, and 2 fully converted KC-46A tankers, which won’t fly until June 2015. Civil certification is an important precursor to the military supplemental certification (q.v. May 31/13), and the 767-2Cs will eventually become KC-46As to support initial operational test and evaluation.

Thompson sounds very confident about the intensive testing schedule, but then, he needs to. Past GAO and DOT&E reports have flagged it as a program risk (q.v. Jan 17/13, Feb 27/13), and have even called the test plan “not executable” (Jan 17/12). Sources: NDIA Magazine, “Newly Designed KC-46 Aerial Refueling Tanker to Undergo Strenuous Testing”.

Sept 4/13: Boeing announces that the USAF has validated the final design elements of the KC-46A, concluded that it meets requirements, and frozen the plane’s configuration. That clears the way for production and testing.

Design is set.

Aug 7/13: South Korea. 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”.

July 10/13: CDR. KC-46A Weapon System Critical Design Review takes place, and is successful. Source: Boeing, Sept 4/13 release.


July 3/13: Sub-contractors. Fleet Canada Inc. in Fort Erie, ON receives its 1st order from Boeing, for sub-assemblies of the KC-46A Camera and Boom Fairings. The contract is issued as part of Boeing’s industrial offset requirements for various Canadian defense buys, including the C-17A airlifter and CH-47F Chinook helicopter. Fleet Canada.

June 26/13: production. Boeing announces that production of the first aircraft has begun. The USAF’s Critical Design Review (CDR) will start in July 2013, as announced last year. Beyond that, the company is forecasting the following milestones:

  • First aircraft assembly: Nov. 2013-January 2014
  • First flight: 2015
  • First delivery: 2016
  • Delivery of the first 18 aircraft by August 2017

June 16/13: Exports. Boeing told reporters that Boeing is engaged in talks with several export prospects in Asia and the Middle East, for a total of 20 potential units. The company’s defense and civilian arms are working together to be able to make the aircraft available for sales abroad by 2017. Bloomberg | DoD Buzz.

May 31/13: Certification process. Boeing will seek FAA certification in 2 phases: first there is one for the commercial 767-2C aircraft, then a supplemental one for the military modifications to the commercial aircraft.

In March 2012, the GAOlisted the fact that Boeing planned to pursue some parts of these 2 certifications in parallel as a risk factor. John Howitt, the program deputy manager, told AIN that this is addressed with joint technical planning and work, even though the 2 certifications are separate from an administrative perspective. Sources: AIN.

May 1/13: Training. Berkshire Hathaway company FlightSafety Services Corp. in Centennial, CO wins a $78.4 million fixed-price-incentive-firm and firm-fixed-price contract to design, develop, and build the KC-46 aircrew training system, including delivery of courseware and simulator-based training systems. FlightSafety will design and manufacture the KC-46, Boom Operator, and Part Task Trainers at its 375,000 square foot simulation facility in Oklahoma; the first device is scheduled for delivery in February 2016.

FlightSafety is no newcomer to this role, with operations at 15 U.S. Military bases that include Flight School XXI; Training systems for the KC-10 Extender, C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster, AFSOC’s HC-130P Combat King, and the V-22 Osprey tiltrotors; and Contractor Logistics Support for the T-6 JPATS and T- 37/38 trainers. The KC-46A contract pays $1 million initially, with the rest to be paid over time, including additional production and operations options that could raise its value beyond $78.4 million. Warren Buffett will be glad to hear that.

Work will be performed at Broken Arrow, OK and St. Louis, MO and is expected to be complete by 2026 if all options are exercised. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition, with 5 offers received by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WNSK’s Simulators Division (FA8621-13-C-6247). See also USAF | FlightSafety International.

April 17/13: Sub-contractors. ITT Exelis announces a contract from Raytheon Company (NYSE: RTN) to supply its anti-jam N79 CRPA (Controlled Reception Pattern Antenna) GPS antennas, for use with Raytheon Navshield and Advanced Digital Antenna Production equipment on the KC-46A. Work will be performed in Bohemia, NY.

April 13/13: Restructure at peril. USAF AMC commander Gen. Paul J. Selva reiterates the KC-46A’s #1 priority status for the Air Force, and warns about the effects of restructuring this contract:

“…because we have a firm fixed-price contract for the development of that airplane, if we allow ourselves to get into the position where we don’t have the funds to pay for the initial development of the airplane, that contract gets reopened…. We’ll pay more…”

Probably. Boeing bid hundreds of millions of dollars below development cost to win KC-X, but 2 years into the contract, the US military’s ability to switch to Airbus is more limited. They’d have to delay their #1 priority program, while creating a lot of opposition in Congress. There are creative ways to charge more in total, and Boeing would be well placed to negotiate a few in any restructuring.

April 10/13: FY 2014 Budget. The President releases a proposed budget at last, the latest in modern memory. The Senate and House were already working on budgets in his absence, but the Pentagon’s submission is actually important to proceedings going forward. See ongoing DID coverage. For KC-X, it’s pretty much steady as she goes, hewing more or less to previous plans.

Total reductions from FY 2014-2017 are around $182 million compared to FY 2013 plans, but a fixed-price contract is going to have to reach the agreed total regardless. Current budgets show just $3.173 billion allocated for RDT&E from FY 2011 – 2018, but the USAF is near-certain to owe $4.7 billion for the EMD phase.

April 7-10/13: Basing. As the USAF prepares to make decisions about where to base its KC-46s, communities are competing. The catch is that there are really 2 initial competitions, and they’re mutually exclusive (q.v. Jan 9/13 entry). Grand Forks Herald | Lawton Constitution | Wichita Eagle.

Feb 27/13: GAO Report. The GAO’s annual in-depth look at the KC-46 program is out. The good news is that after 28% ($1.4 billion) in development work, the program costs and schedule haven’t changed much. The CDR is still scheduled for July 2013, albeit with some risks. The USAF and Boeing are evaluated as managing the project well, and have added the ability to track progress toward key aircraft performance goals.

Concerns fall into 3 areas: financial reserves, weight, and software. The GAO is one of several agencies that think flight testing and certification will need to take about 6 months longer, and the boom refueling system is changing a bit, but those are secondary risks right now.

The development contract set aside about 7% ($354 million) in reserves, and 2 years into a 7-year development program, 79.6% of those reserves have been spent, leaving less than $72 million to cover an expected $3.5 billion in work. Some of the issues driving this spending aren’t resolved yet. As we explained above, the government’s costs won’t change if this problem isn’t solved, but GAO is worried about technical problems growing and creating schedule issues.

Projected weight is now expected to exceed the KC-46’s target weight, and each pound above target reduces fuel payload by 1 pound. Extra weight could also affect operating requirements for takeoff, mission radius, and landing. The program has a mitigation strategy in place, and further weight reduction initiatives can create tradeoffs in areas like durability and cost.

Software is a good news/bad news story. They’ve cut total software development by 40%, but code reuse will be less than planned (52% vs. 76%), which means new and modified software has doubled to 48% from 24%. That means more work overall and more testing, though program officials are claiming that schedules won’t be affected.

Feb 22/13: KC-135Rs retiring. After more than 50 years of service and 22,500 flying hours, the 1st operational re-engined KC-135R Stratotanker retires from service, and heads to AMARG’s “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ. KC-135R #61-0312 first flew as a KC-135A on Aug 14/62, and was re-engined into a KC-135R on June 27/85.

This plane’s retirement is budget-driven, as 1 of the 16 scheduled KC-135 retirements in FY 2013. On the other hand, the KC-135 Program Office at Tinker AFB, OK used the Fleet Health Analysis Tool to pick the aircraft. Joey Dauzat, 97th Maintenance Directorate KC-135R sortie generation flight chief, discussed KC-135 usage patterns, which will become much more relevant if something happens to the KC-X program:

“[KC-135Rs] assigned to Altus Air Force Base fly approximately 1,820 sorties per fiscal year, which averages out to 91 sorties per aircraft…. Flight hours are approximately 7,030 hours per fiscal year, which averages out to 351 flight hours per aircraft. All sorties are required to have [refueling booms] on them, so every sortie flown is a boomer training sortie.”

Feb 2/13: A USAF presentation to Congress says that if sequestration takes effect, the KC-46A program may need to be restructured, along with the F-35 fighter and MQ-9 Reaper Block 5. Flight International.

Feb 2/13: High Usage. The USAF is planning to use KC-46As more intensively than their KC-135 counterparts. That makes sense on several levels: (1) As a way to save money by flying the more expensive-to-operate KC-135s less; (2) As a way to build in surge capability for the KC-46As if the KC-135 fleet has a problem; and (3) As a pre-conscious recognition that KC-X is probably the USAF’s entire future aerial tanker fleet.

The KC-135’s average of 2.5 aircrews per plane will rise to 3.5 aircrews for the KC-46A, adding about 60 full aircrews to the force, and costing about 11.2% more for KC-46A lifetime operations and maintenance because they will be flying more often. Total operations and support costs are now predicted to be approximately $103 billion, but the $10 billion or so rise would be offset by any savings from fewer flights of the more expensive KC-135Rs. USAF.

Higher usage planned

Jan 17/13: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The USAF has bought 2 767-200s for live fire testing, and is planning the survivability assessment, including LAIRCM tests. They do have one major concern:

“The ALR-69A RWR [radar warning receiver] was selected as Contractor Furnished Equipment by Boeing; however, integration and performance on the KC-46A are high risk. DOT&E recently completed an assessment of the ALR-69A RWR on the C-130H1 and assessed it as not effective, but suitable, in a separate classified report dated October 22, 2012. Not only do these effectiveness problems require correction, but the system is required to improve its geo-location capabilities as compared to the demonstrated C-130J capability.”

DOT&E also has some technical issues with the overall testing plan. The 750 hours of operational testing over 5.5 months can establish effectiveness, but getting 76% confidence of suitability (maintainability) would need 1,250 hours. This was also pointed out in last year’s report, and it will need to be worked out one way or another.

Jan 9/13: Basing. The USAF announces KC-46A initial basing candidates, while stressing that losing bases will continue to operate KC-135s. The USAF doesn’t mention this, but the FTU training and MOB1 operating base awards are mutually exclusive: you can win one, but not both. There’s no overlap at all with the ANG’s MOB2 locations, so those have to be separate. Candidates include:

Formal Training Unit: Altus AFB, OK vs. McConnell AFB, KS. Altus already performs the FTU role for the KC-135. Winner begins receiving planes in 2016.

Active Duty Main Operating Base (MOB 1): One of Altus AFB, OK (KC-135 FTU); Fairchild AFB, WA (2 KC-135 squadrons resident); Grand Forks AFB, ND (1 KC-135 squadron resident), and McConnell AFB, KS (4 KC-135 squadrons resident). Winner begins receiving planes in 2016.

Air National Guard MOB 2: One of Forbes Air Guard Station, KS; Joint-Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ, Pease Air Guard Station, NH; Pittsburgh International Airport Air Guard Station, PA; and Rickenbacker Air Guard Station, OH. Winner begins receiving planes in 2018.

Oct 16/12: Industrial. Boeing opens the KC-46 Boom Assembly Center on schedule at Boeing Field in Seattle, WA. Boom assembly marks the program’s shift to production from design activities, and the 1st fly-by-wire boom is scheduled to enter testing during Q3 2013 at Boeing Field’s System Integration Labs. Boeing.

FY 2012

Basing plans; Preliminary Design Review; Industrial decisions.

‘Paper airplane’ risks?
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Sept 12/12: Industrial. Boeing opens System Integration Lab 0 at Boeing Field, 3 weeks ahead of schedule. SIL 0 will be used to test commercial avionics and software for integration into the KC-46A Tanker. Another 3 SILs will open at Boeing Field and a 5th will open in Everett, WA by the end of 2013.

Boeing Field is also slated to house the program’s Boom Assembly Center, and the Finishing Center. The Finishing Center is scheduled to open in late 2013, and will be used to install military hardware and software onto the commercial 767-2C airframe. Boeing.

July 27/12: Sub-contractors. Eaton Corp. announces a supplementary contract from Boeing, which adds the aerial refueling pump system, the aerial refueling boom nozzle, and various airframe and aerial refueling system valves and fuel/ actuation components. See also June 18/11 entry.

June 13/12: Industrial. Boeing VP and KC-46 program manager Maureen Dougherty talks about moves Boeing is making since the announcement that it was closing the Wichita, KS facility. That closure creates added risk, but Boeing is sticking to its estimates and trying to offset it.

Three systems integration laboratories (SILs) will be located at Boeing Field in the southern part of Seattle, WA, but they won’t be operational until fall 2012. Flight testing, a full lab replica of the entire KC-46 fuel architecture, and the finishing center’s 2 workstations will also be there. They’ve also begun wind tunnel testing with Cobham regarding the shape of the plane’s refueling pods, a move that underlines the developmental nature of key items. Aviation Week.

May 14/12: Initial bases. The USAF decides that the KC-46A’s formal training unit (FTU) and first main operating base (MOB 1) will be led by active duty units, while MOB 2 will be led by an Air National Guard (ANG) unit. That may be one way to ease the transition. Many ANG pilots fly for commercial carriers, and many of those carriers already operate 767s.

Exact basing decisions will be based on location, capacity, environmental issues, and cost. The USAF plans to table a preferred base and shortlist for the active-duty FTU and MOB 1 in December 2012, so the environmental impact grind can begin and the base can begin receiving aircraft in FY 2016. The ANG-led MOB 2 is expected to get its preferred base and shortlist in spring 2013, and receive aircraft in FY 2018. USAF.

May 8/12: Sub-contractors. BAE Systems announces a contract from Boeing to develop and build the KC-46A’s Actuator Control Unit (ACU), which processes commands to control the aerial refueling boom.

Engineering and development work on the program will be conducted in Endicott, NY with manufacturing at the BAE Systems facility in Ft. Wayne, IN.

March 21 – April 27/12: PDR. Boeing’s KC-46 Tanker completes its Preliminary Design Review (PDR), confirming that it seems to meet system requirements and is ready to proceed with detailed design. In addition to the successful PDR, the Boeing KC-46 team has completed a System Requirements Review, Integrated Baseline Review, a PDR for the base 767-2C freighter, and Firm Configuration Reviews for the 767-2C and the KC-46A Tanker.

The program’s next major milestone is a Critical Design Review that will take place in the summer of 2013, and demonstrate that the KC-46A is ready for manufacture. Boeing.


March 27/12: Engine contract. Boeing formally signs a contract with Pratt & Whitney’s Military Engines division for up to 368 PW4062 engines (179 planes + 10 spares). It’s a private sub-contract, however, and the parties won’t discuss its value. Suffice to say that the cost of modern jet engines makes this a 10-figure contract, once all engines are ordered.

The 62,000 pound thrust PW4062 is the highest thrust model in Pratt & Whitney’s PW4000-94″ commercial engine family, which powers MD-11, early-model 747, and 767 aircraft. It’s offered for commercial freighter and military tanker applications. Pratt & Whitney.

March 26/12: GAO Report. The US GAO audit office releases report #GAO-12-366, “KC-46 Tanker Aircraft: Acquisition Plans Have Good Features but Contain Schedule Risk.” It cites “broad agreement that KC-46 schedule risk is a concern,” and especially cites overlap among development and production work. The USAF disagrees, citing FAA certification for the First Flight of the baseline 767-2C in June 2014, and promising 60% of FAA certification and military developmental flight testing before Milestone C production approval in August 2015. On the other hand, the GAO has usually been right about these risks, and the USAF has been wrong – most recently in the F-35 program.

Key information has been fed into other parts of this article, but this excerpt deserves especial attention:

“According to program officials, a change in system requirements, although unlikely… could increase the Air Force’s exposure to additional costs… the biggest risk to the KC-46 program is the Department’s ability to minimize changes to the contract… DOD has demonstrated limited ability to maintain stable requirements and limit changes to program technical baselines on previous complex weapon system programs, and that minimizing such change is essential to the success of the KC-46… any engineering or contract changes affecting system requirements or having the potential to impact program cost, schedule, and performance baselines must be approved by the Air Force Service Acquisition Executive in consultation with the Secretary and the Chief of Staff of the Air Force… Program officials maintain that… pricing will likely stay intact as long as the contract is not opened to negotiate modifications. […]

Boeing has to correct any deficiencies in the KC-46 discovered during the development program… on the four development test aircraft and all production aircraft… at no additional cost to the government. In addition, there is a special contract provision that requires each aircraft to demonstrate a certain fuel usage rate before the government accepts the aircraft. If any aircraft burn fuel above this rate, Boeing is required to propose a corrective action at no cost… if Boeing cannot meet the required usage rates, there are contract provisions allowing for a decrease in the amount paid to Boeing.”

March 7/12: Air Mobility Command chief General Raymond Johns at a House Armed Services Committee hearing:

“We continue to execute the program to cost and schedule baselines we established, along with Boeing.”

A Preliminary Design Review is scheduled later this month. Bloomberg.

March 7/12: Basing plans. From the USAF’s FY 2013 Force Structure Changes [PDF]:

The Air Force is currently developing requirements for the first two KC-46 bases, and expects to approve basing criteria in Spring 2012, identify candidate installations in Summer 2012, select preferred and reasonable alternatives by the end of calendar year 2012, and make final decisions in 2013.”

The Air Force expects aircraft deliveries to these first 2 bases in FY16. The next round of basing decisions is planned for FY14 at the earliest.

Feb 13/12: RDT&E budget. The Air Force asks for $1.8 billion in RTDE funds for fiscal year 2013 as part of the President Budget. This would be the peak of planned research and development spending on the program over 2011-2017, at 27% of the total. Air Force budget justification [large PDF].

Air Mobility Command (AMC/CC) has not yet determined an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) date, while Full Operational Capability (FOC) is expected approximately 24 months after IOC. The Air Force schedule as of December 2011 plans to reach Milestone C in Q4 FY15. These plans have been incorporated into the program briefing, above. See next entry below on the various risk assessments made about that schedule.

Jan 17/12: DOT&E doubters. When Airbus lost the contract, they placed 2 markers. One was that Boeing couldn’t deliver to their claimed price, and that has proven true (vid. Nov 27/11 entry), though their bid remains lower than Airbus. The other was that Boeing wouldn’t be able to make the delivery schedule, and the US Defense Department’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s FY 2011 Report adds weight to that belief. The report backs their position up with hard numbers, and bluntly concludes that “the KC-46 test program is not executable.”

To support that claim, DOT&E notes that military testing with past large aircraft averages under 30 flight hours per plane, per month. The Boeing/USAF TEMP schedule plans 42 FHPM, for flights that are “more specialized, higher risk, and more resource-intensive than FAA certification.” Worse, their planned 15% re-fly rate for military test items is even farther off; the 737-derivative P-8A, which is considered to be a successful program, has a current re-fly rate of 45%. Correcting to past averages adds 4 months to the 17-month testing schedule. DOT&E believes that even then, the 750 operational flight test hours aren’t enough, and 1,250 would be more realistic. That takes the testing schedule from 21 to 25 months.

Other serious omissions cited include no time for correction of discrepancies and/or deficiencies discovered during developmental testing, and no provision for the refueling boom control algorithm changes and/or procedural modifications that have been required for other new aerial refuelers. The report doesn’t say so, but the net takeaway is that Boeing is very likely to be late with its promised 2017 delivery. The USAF responded to Gannett’s Air Force Times with partial disagreement:

“The Air Force respects the opinions of the Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation, but does not agree with its assessment that the KC-46 test program is ‘not executable’… The Air Force does acknowledge that Boeing’s overall KC-46 program schedule is considered medium risk, in part due to its aggressive flight-test schedule.”

Jan 4/12: Wichita lineman, farewell. Boeing confirmed it’s going to close its Wichita, KS plant by the end of 2013. Wichita is currently the base for the company’s Global Transport & Executive Systems business, and its B-52 and 767 International Tanker programs. The facility also provides support for flight mission planning and integrated logistics.

Some of the 2,160+ Wichita jobs will be moved; others will be cut, beginning in Q3 2012. The move rankles hard in Kansas, as Boeing touted the jobs and state economic benefits if they won the tanker contract, and secured hard lobbying from state and federal representatives. Who now feel somewhat betrayed. The company counters that it isn’t entirely betraying those promises, as it spent more than $3.2 billion with approximately 475 Kansas suppliers in 2011, making it the 4th largest state in Boeing’s supplier network. That prominence is not expected to change, and the 24 Kansas KC-46A suppliers will still be providing elements of the aircraft as originally planned.

Once the Wichita plant closes, engineering work on the KC-46A will be placed at the Boeing facility in Oklahoma City, OK, instead. Work to convert 767s to KC-46 tankers will now be performed right on the 767 production line in Puget Sound, WA, copying a model first used with the 737-derived P-8A Poseidon sea control aircraft. Future aircraft maintenance, modification and support work will be placed at the Boeing facility in San Antonio, TX, which currently handles KC-135 and KC-10 maintenance and upgrade work. Boeing | NY Times | Congressman Mike Pompeo [R-KS-4, not happy].

Boeing closing its Wichita plant

Nov 27/11: EMD Overage rises again? Maybe. Media reports tout a figure of $500 million over maximum cost, but a breakdown says otherwise. The Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Report reportedly gives a program manager’s estimate of $5.3 billion, which would actually be $1.2 billion over the KC-X EMD phase’s original target cost. Up to $4.9 billion, however, the government pays $600 million more, and Boeing pays $400 million. Costs above that are all Boeing’s responsibility. Boeing’s current estimate is $5.1 billion, which would raise its liability to $600 million (400 + all 200 overage). If the government program manager is right, Boeing’s liability rises to $800 million (400 + all 400 overage), while its overall bid cost to the US government for development plus production remains below Airbus’.

The SAR report in question appears to be an advance copy, as there has been no public release yet. It allegedly says that KC-46A engineering, manufacturing and development are “progressing well with no significant technical issues.” Given the figures above, that must be a relief to Boeing’s management. As for the Pentagon, it doesn’t have to care which EMD Phase figure is correct, since their costs are now known: $4.5 billion ($3.9 billion + $600 million). Above $4.9 billion total split costs, they aren’t paying for anything, and the estimate spread shows that there’s almost no chance of coming in under $4.9 billion. Bloomberg News.

FY 2011

Boeing wins round 2. Interim baseline review. Suppliers and components.

KC-X options
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Sept 13/11: Sub-contractors. AmSafe Industries, Inc. announces that it will supply 9g-rated barrier nets, and stationary and movable smoke barriers, specifically designed for the USA’s new KC-46A 767 aerial tankers. AmSafe is a global leader in this sort of technology; they’re also known as the makers of Tarian cloth armor that can stop enemy rockets.

Deliveries of the KC-46A internal barrier systems are expected to begin in 2015, and could be worth more than $45 million for all 179 planned aircraft.

Sept 13/11: Sub-contractors. BAE Systems’ Attendant Control Panel (ACP) for Boeing’s new civilian 737 interior will be migrating to the KC-46A. The touch-screen, networkable panel is designed to control a variety of interior functions such as lighting, drinking water, and waste tanks. Prices were not revealed. Work on the KC-46A tanker touch-screen cabin control systems will be conducted in Johnson City, NY, and Fort Wayne, IN. BAE Systems.

September 2011: Sub-contractors. Vol. 16, #4 [PDF] of Rockwell Collins’ internal Horizons magazine, whose “Refueling Innovation” article discusses their development of the KC-46A’s flight controls and refueling systems.

The stereoscopic Remote Vision System, which will display the refueling operation on both standard and 3-D screens, apparently drew on internal experience that included the Mars Rover, UAVs, and a remotely-operated bomb-disposal robot. Overall, the article cites ruggedization of components, and information fusion from the wide array of sensors and datalinks, as the 2 key engineering challenges. TSAS, which emerged from the latter challenge, is even being tested on Android OS smartphones and tablet computers.

Aug 24/11: IBR. The U.S. Air Force completes an interim baseline review (IBR) for the KC-46A.

IBRs provide mutual understanding of risks inherent in contractors’ performance plans and management systems, and outline what resources are needed to achieve program goals. This IBR had to be complete within 7 months of contract award, which would be Sept 24/11. The next major milestone is the Critical Design Review, which is scheduled to happen by September 2013. Aviation Week.

July 14/11: Politics. Sen. John McCain [R-AZ], the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, sends a letter to the Pentagon that calls Boeing’s KC-X EMD bid “completely unacceptable”. His issue is that any increases between KC-X’s EMD target cost (revealed as $3.9 billion), and the $4.9 billion ceiling cost are split between Boeing (40%) and the USAF (60%). The net result is that Boeing’s lowball bid costs taxpayers an extra $600 million beyond their bid, and Boeing itself $700 million. Even that reported bid price still leaves Boeing lower than Airbus’ overall price, however, which was $2 billion higher for the combined EMD phase and subsequent production of 13 initial jets.

On the other hand, the practice of lowballing bids in order to secure contracts, then raising the real costs afterward, is correctly seen as toxic. The result is grave difficulty in budget planning, as other programs are sacrificed or compromised in order to pay for widespread overcharges.

In fairness to Boeing, it’s worth going back to the original contract bids. Reports right after the February 2011 award had EADS Airbus bidding $3.5 billion for the EMD phase, while Boeing had bid $4.4 billion for the EMD phase alone. That means the USAF knew of about $500 million beyond its target costs from the outset, for an aircraft that had not been fielded or tested yet, and involved more development work than EADS’ offering. That means added risk of future increases, but the swiftness of these cost revisions strongly suggests that they were known beforehand. Actual costs for Boeing’s EMD phase are currently $5.2 billion, and the amount of the cost breach tends to lower confidence in Boeing’s ability to meet the contract schedule, a point that was also raised by Airbus after the award.

The question is whether Sen. McCain’s opposition will have any effect at this point in time. That may seem unlikely, but then, it also seemed unlikely when he opposed the original KC-767 lease deal post-9/11. McCain release | Bloomberg.

June 24/11: Costs. Bloomberg reports that Boeing’s KC-X bid is going to be $300 million over the KC-X cost ceiling, which it reveals as $4.9 billion. Because it’s a fixed-price contract, Boeing is solely responsible for those extra costs.

According to Bloomberg, a USAF statement from Lt. Col. Jack Miller said that the USAF was told after the contract award that: “it proposed a ceiling price that is less than its actual projected cost to execute the contract… There is no legal barrier that prohibits pursuing a below-cost proposal strategy and Boeing’s met all rules.”

Recall that the Feb 24/11 contract award said only that Boeing’s Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase contract was “over $3.5 billion.” Subsequent reports had Boeing’s EMD phase bid at $4.4 billion, vs. EADS Airbus’ $3.5 billion. On the other hand, the total bids for EMD + 4 planes, and another 14 planes of initial production, was reportedly $20.6 billion for Boeing, vs. $22.6 billion for Airbus – who called Boeing’s bid an “extreme lowball.” If Bloomberg’s report is true, we now have an idea what Boeing was willing to pay, in order to prevent Airbus from setting up a production line in America, and to keep the 767 alive as a military export and commercial option.

June 22/11: After months of refusing to divulge details, Boeing announces major suppliers for its KC-46A team, and confirms the tanker’s fuel capacity at 212,000 pounds, with an offload rate of 1,200 gallons per minute. The KC-46 Tanker team will include more than 800 suppliers in more than 40 states and support approximately 50,000 total U.S. jobs. Major suppliers have been added to the article’s industrial teams section.

June 19/11: Sub-contractors. Raytheon announces orders from Boeing supply digital radar warning receivers, and digital anti-jam GPS receivers, for the KC-46 tanker. Its AN/ALR-69A is an all-digital radar warning receiver designed to work with both fighters and large aircraft, and its technical architecture will speed up signal identification amidst cluttered environments.

The digital anti-jam GPS receiver, with its multielement controlled reception pattern antenna, integrates both reception and high performance digital anti-jam capabilities into a single product.

June 18/11: Sub-contractors. Eaton Corp. announces a Memorandum of Agreement with Boeing to supply hydraulic and fuel distribution subcomponents, cargo door electro-mechanical actuation systems, hydraulic system components, electrical sensing and control devices, and cockpit controls over the life of the KC-46A program.

June 7/11: KC-46A details emerge. Flight International reveals more about the KC-46A, while outlining what we still don’t know, 3 months after one of the largest contracts in USAF history.

For starters, it’s based on a cargo variant. At over 188,000 kg/ 414,470 pounds, the 767-2C’s maximum takeoff weight is about 20,000 pounds heavier than the 767-200ER, making it even heavier than the stretched 767-300ER that Boeing rejected for Round 1. The 2C is slightly stretched itself, at 6.5 feet longer than the 200ER, with a cargo floor and door. Beyond this, the winglets, 787-based cockpit large display system, auxiliary fuel tanks and provisions for tanker systems, and more powerful Pratt & Whitney 4062 turbofans are all known changes from the 200ER.

To find out if Boeing has made any other changes from the basic 767-200ER, outsiders will reportedly have to wait until Boeing completes a USAF system requirements review, and an integrated baseline review.

May 6/11: Sub-contractors. Marshall Aerospace announces that they had been picked in 2010 to supply the KC-46A’s integrated Body Fuel Tanks, and that Boeing’s win has resulted in an initial contract for the design, certification and manufacture of an initial batch of development tanks. They expect production orders for “more than 650” tanks to follow over a 15 year period, in order to equip the KC-X program’s 179 aircraft, with a total value exceeding GBP 100 million.

Marshall Aerospace has previous experience producing integrated Body Fuel Tanks for Boeing, including the 747, 777, and the 737-derivative P-8A Poseidon programs. Boeing has refused to discuss its Round 2 partners, but Marshall appears to have elbowed Round 1 partner Sargent Fletcher aside for this role.

March 11/11: Aviation Week outlines what we still don’t know about the KC-46A. We still don’t know the actual development phase price. We still don’t know the plane’s configuration, either, which makes it impossible to evaluate the likelihood that Boeing can deliver on time. Excerpts:

“Neither the U.S. Air Force nor Boeing have stated what exactly “over $3.5 billion” means for the KC-46A development contract… [Boeing tanker VP Jean] Chamberlain acknowledged on the company’s Feb. 24 telecon post-win that this is “concurrent development” meaning flight test and developmental activities are taking place as the first aircraft are being built…Thanks to the three-time restructured F-35 development program, the term “concurrent development” has become a bit of a dirty word among some in Pentagon circles… There are a few things we do know: Somehow Boeing is putting a digital 787 cockpit into an analog 767 aircraft and there is a modified KC-10 boom to meet the gallon-per-minute offload requirement. But, we don’t know what the design entails in terms of risk reduction on the platform or on the mission systems. Finally, we don’t even know officially that work has begun on this contract. Neither USAF nor Boeing will confirm.”

March 4/11: No protest. EADS North America chairman Ralph Crosby expresses disappointment at the press conference, but says that EADS could not have undercut that “extremely lowball bid,” submitted to keep Airbus from securing a US production site. The company “will not take any action that could further delay the already overdue replacement of the Air Force’s aging tanker fleet… Much is promised by our competitor, whom we congratulate. However, should they fail to deliver, we stand ready to step in with a proven and operating tanker.”

More precise figures come from the US AFA’s report of the conference:

“…Crosby revealed – based on an hour-long debrief from the Air Force last week – that the price difference between the companies’ bids was 10 percent. Boeing bid $20.6 billion and EADS $22.6 billion on initial development and initial production of their respective KC-46A and KC-45 tankers… He expressed doubt that Boeing will be able to deliver all 18 aircraft by 2017 as called for… because Boeing will not have its first flight-test-worthy KC-46A ready until 2015. [Crosby] also revealed that EADS’ estimated cost for engineering and manufacturing development on the KC-45 – which the company would have modestly revised from the existing design – was $3.5 billion, while Boeing bid $4.4 billion for EMD on its design, which has not flown.”

The fixed price contract means that if Boeing fails to deliver, most of the financial risk is theirs. That leaves the USAF with the operational risk, if they can’t hold Boeing to its performance commitments. Read: EADS North America | Reuters | US Air Force Association | Warner Robins Patriot.

March 3/11: Flight International:

“Newspaper Les Echos published a small article four days after the contract award noting that the USAF’s decision on tankers will make it “very difficult” for Paris to purchase the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper unmanned air vehicle, which is competing against the EADS Talarion and a Dassault/Thales/Indra consortium offering the Israel Aerospace Industries Heron TP.”

The French do make another choice, at first, but costs and delivery times eventually do force them back to the MQ-9. See “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for full coverage.

Feb 28/11 – March 1/11: Debriefing session with EADS North America. Meanwhile, the government and Northrop Grumman/EADS still have not reached a legal agreement on the canceled KC-45 contract. Aviation Week.

KC-46A concept
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Feb 24/11: Boeing wins Round 2. The “KC-46A” win surprises many aerospace analysts, who expected an EADS win based on leaks that EADS had scored better in the USAF’s models, and expectations they could price their planes lower. The Pentagons says that both candidate aircraft met all required criteria, but Boeing’s adjusted price was over 1% less than Airbus’. That meant the USAF did not consider various “non-mandatory” bonus criteria, which could only have made a difference of up to 1%.

Note that these are adjusted prices. Rep. Norm Dicks [D-WA], for example, claims credit for successful pressure to change the USAF’s costing model from 25 years of expected fuel costs to 40 years, which he boasts cost Airbus “billions of dollars” in the respective calculations.

As a result, Boeing in Seattle, WA receives a fixed price incentive firm contract valued at “over $3.5 billion” for the KC-X Engineering and Manufacturing Development phase, which will deliver 18 of their KC-46A aircraft by 2017. The ASC/WKK at Wright Patterson AFB, OH, will manage this contract (FA8625-11-C600). A newly opened assembly line in Everett, WA will build the tankers, including all the military modifications to the airframe, right alongside commercial 767 airliners, rather than shipping 767s elsewhere for military modifications. This approach was pioneered by the 737-based P-8A Poseidon sea control aircraft program, and will now be extended to the KC-46A.

By comparison, the Feb 29/08 award to EADS & Northrop Grumman (FA8625-08-C-6451) would have involved 4 test KC-45 aircraft for $1.5 billion, plus 5 production options for up to 64 aircraft at up to $10.6 billion. Over 18 aircraft, that leads to a “base plus averaged” total of $3.819 billion. US DoD | Boeing release | Boeing feature w. video | EADS North America || Agence France Presse | Bloomberg | Chicago Mag | CNBC | DoD Buzz | Defense News | Flight International | Seattle Post Intelligencer.

Boeing wins KC-X EMD with 767-based KC-46A

Feb 14/11: The Pentagon releases its FY 2012 budget request, which includes $877.1 million in development funding for the KC-X program. The FY 2011 request for $863.9 million is still in play as well, however, thanks to the 111th Congress’ failure to pass a FY 2011 budget.

The 112th session of Congress is dealing with the FY 2011 budget as H.R. 1, and could explicitly delete KC-X funding if its disagreements with the USAF run deep enough. The other option would be more passive, and involves continuing all FY 2011 spending at FY 2010 levels. A “2010 Redux” option would be a problem for KC-X, because that would give the program just $14.9 million to work with. On the other hand, a passive approach by Congress would allow to USAF to “reprogram” some funds from elsewhere into KC-X, whereas an explicit rejection would not.

Feb 10/11: Final Bids. Boeing and Airbus delivery their final KC-X bids. Airbus | Boeing | Flight International.

Final bids

Feb 8/11: Turbulence ahead for EADS. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that Daimler plans to sell its stake in EADS when a consortium agreement expires in June 2012, in order to focus on its car manufacturing business. If they do, the move will have large ripple effects, which is why the news has provoked meetings at the highest levels of Germany’s government.

Daimler already dropped its stake in EADS from 22.5% to 15%, in a 2007 deal brokered by the government with a German bank consortium. Germany has since tried but failed to find a long-term German investor to take over the banks’ 7.5% stake, in order to keep the long term German-French shareholder balance at 22.5% each. The banks agreed to extend the current arrangement to 2013, and France’s Lagardere media group is looking to sell its own 7.5% stake at some point after 2012, but Daimler’s planned departure revives that issue of shareholder balance as a near-crisis. A German replacement firm with deep enough pockets, technical expertise, and enough of an interest in aerospace may not exist. Deutsche Welle.

Jan 31/11: WTO on Boeing. The World Trade Organization releases preliminary information its decision re: Boeing subsidies (DS 353), the other end of the trade dispute that has already seen a ruling concerning Airbus. The release took place to the 2 companies. A full public report will not be available for a couple of weeks – which matters, because accounts differ.

Boeing implies that the WTO rejected most claims, leaving only $2.6 billion in subsidies. They contrast this with the June 2010 decision that found $20.4 million in illegal Airbus subsidies: $15 billion in launch aid, $2.2 billion in equity infusions, $1.7 billion in infrastructure, and roughly $1.5 billion in R&D support, with $4 billion in illegal launch subsidies that must be restructured.

Airbus, in contrast, points to $5 billion of illegal subsidies to Boeing in this decision, with additional figures to be determined in later stages of this dispute, plus over $2 billion in illegal state and local subsidies that Boeing will receive in the future, and an expected WTO ruling that Washington State and the City of Everett must stop subsidizing Boeing. Airbus adds that they believe the WTO will find that Boeing subsidies were more distorting than Airbus’ loans, and float a $45 billion damages figure. Time will tell, but this sentence in Airbus’ statement is certainly clear:

“Taking the cases together, the WTO will be seen to now have specifically green-lighted the continued use of loans in Europe and commanded Boeing to end its illegal R&D cash support from NASA, DoD and the US taxpayers.”

Look for this case to continue, though the emergence of competitors in Russia and China could lead to negotiations, in hopes of setting global standards around subsidies. WTO DS 353 | Airbus | Boeing | Boeing WTO mini-site | Flight International | NY Times | Seattle Post-Intelligencer. See also Sept 15/10 entry.

WTO ruling on Boeing unfair subsidies

Jan 27/11: Italy. The Italian Air Force’s accepts the 1st of 4 delayed Boeing KC-767A tankers at Pratica di Mare AB near Rome. This KC-767 is registered as MM 62229, and will now enter a series of evaluations and other activities before being placed into operational use. There have been a number of issues with Italy’s tankers, so their acceptance is important to Boeing. Flight International.

Jan 19/11: During in-flight testing between an EADS MRTT tanker plane destined for Australia’s RAAF, and a Portuguese air force F-16 fighter, the refueling boom loses 1 of its 2 stabilising fins, making the device uncontrollable. The incident resulted in the detachment and partial loss of the refuelling boom from the MRTT, and the pieces fell into the sea. Fortunately, the plane itself made it back in one piece.

Airbus is investigating the mishap, and at least they have a flying platform to test, but the timing could hardly be worse. Australian DoD | Flight International | Reuters.

A330 refueling accident

KC-30 & F-16s
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Dec 13/10: Team EADS. Britain’s 1st A330 MRTT performs the type’s 1st fuselage-mounted hose-and-drogue aerial refueling dry contacts, using an F/A-18 Hornet fighter. Airbus Military. The 1st wet refueling took place on Jan 21/11, transferring over 6 tonnes of fuel at an altitude of around 15,000 feet, and at speeds from 250 – 325kt. AirTanker.

Cobham’s belly-mounted 805E FRU (Fuselage Refueling Unit) is part of the proposed USAF KC-45’s 4-point refueling system, which shares the 2 removable digital underwing hose-and-drogue refueling pods with FSTA aircraft, but also adds a fly-by-wire ARBS boom for UARRSI dorsal receptacles. Both the belly-mounted FRU and underwing hose-and-drogue refueling pods share the same modular architecture, and all 4 systems are controlled from the Remote Aerial Refueling Operator (RARO) console in the cockpit.

Dec 1/10: Delay. USAF Lt. Gen. Mark Shackelford, the military deputy from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition says that the final KC-X award will take until 2011, instead of being announced in November 2010. The USAF release adds:

“Air Force officials have said the KC-X source selection process will continue despite a mistake in November, where a limited amount of identical source selection information was provided to both KC-X offerors concerning their competitor’s offering… The information concerned was limited to a single page of non-proprietary data on a CD that did not include any offeror-proposed prices… Air Force officials have analyzed the information that was actually accessed by one of the offerors and have taken steps to ensure that both competitors have equal access to this information.”

Nov 21/10: Breach. A USAF error sends the wrong documents back to EADS and Boeing, giving them material from the other firm’s bid, The data sent by computer disk reportedly included pricing information, and both sides did the right thing and contacted the USAF immediately. Defense News | The Telegraph.

Protoccol breach

Oct 19/10: Tanker analysis. Iris Independent Research releases their KC-X competition white paper, “9 Secrets of the Tanker War.” One entirely unsurprising conclusion: KC-X’s 179 planes are it, and there will be no similar-sized KC-Y or KC-Z buys for at least 2 decades, if ever.

Given demographic and fiscal realities in the USA, that strikes us as a very safe prediction. Iris release | Full paper [PDF] | DoD Buzz.

Oct 6/10: No Antonov. The US GAO dismisses US Aerospace’s KC-X protest, leaving just Boeing and EADS. The core of the decision revolves around whether the bid was late, hence ineligible. The ruling that it was late offers an effective primer on bid delivery planning:

“In partially dismissing USAI’s protest, we concluded that, while many of USAI’s complaints were potentially relevant to the protester’s proposition that its messenger was understandably confused as to the location for submitting USAI’s proposal, such complaints did not support USAI’s allegations of intentional agency misconduct… it was USAI’s decision – not that of the Air Force – to have its messenger arrive at Wright-Patterson AFB entry gate 19B with less than an hour remaining before proposals were due; it was USAI’s decision not to seek advance agency approval for its messenger to be admitted to the AFB; and it was USAI’s decision not to confirm in advance the precise location of, and directions to, the building at which proposals were to be received. Based on our review of the protest allegations and the record submitted, we concluded that USAI’s allegations of intentional agency misconduct were insufficient to warrant further consideration…”

See: GAO statement | GAO B-403464 decision | Washington Post.

Oct 6/10: Team EADS. Airbus Military obtains A330 MRTT military certification from Spain’s Instituto Nacional de Tecnologia Aerospacial (INTA), which follows the European Aviation Safety Agency’s (EASA) civil Supplemental Type Certificate (STC) awarded earlier in 2010. The first 2 A330 MRTTs conducted more than 280 flights as part of the certification process, in addition to another 170 by A310 demonstrator aircraft.

As one can see by the number of flights involved, certification is an under-appreciated roadblock in the military delivery process. Fortunately certification in one jurisdiction makes subsequent certifications either much easier or unnecessary, depending on a jurisdiction’s standards and decisions. The INTA certification clears the way for Airbus Military to deliver Australia’s KC-30As, later in 2010, but the USAF would insist on its own certification process. Airbus Military | Agence France Presse | Australian Aviation | The Australian | Le Figaro [in French] | Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

FY 2010

Round 2 RFP and bids. WTO dispute.

(click to view full)

Sept 15/10: Early reports leak out that the WTO is about to find that Boeing’s aircraft have also been the recipients of illegal subsidies. Since Boeing had been pushing the subsidy point hard in Congressional debates, a finding of that sort would be significant. It will certainly make for a more difficult argument on Boeing’s part, both because the political argument becomes less clear, and because the USAF’s decision to exclude WTO issues from the competition becomes more defensible. Boeing remains on the offensive, arguing that:

“If today’s reports are accurate that some $3 billion of the EU’s claims were upheld by the WTO… the ruling… confirms that European launch aid to Airbus stands as the single largest and most flagrant illegal subsidy in the aerospace industry. Nothing in today’s public reports on the European case against the U.S. even begins to compare to the $20 billion in illegal subsidies that the WTO found last June that Airbus/EADS has received (comprised of $15 billion in launch aid, $2.2 billion in equity infusions, $1.7 billion in infrastructure, and roughly $1.5 billion in targeted research support). Nor are there seemingly any violations requiring remedy approaching the scale of remedy required of Airbus/EADS… Neither do the public reports suggest that Boeing’s traditional market based approach to financing new aircraft development will need to change; a distinct contrast…”

WTO cases DS 353 (vs. Boeing) and DS 316 (vs. Airbus) | Boeing | EADS North America | European Union | Agence France Presse | The Australian | Bloomberg | India’s Economic Times | Reuters | London Telegraph | UPI.

Sept 14/10: Team EADS. A pair of Australian KC-30A tankers hook up and transfer fuel at 1,200 gallons per minute through the A330’s boom. That figure meets the USAF’s maximum requirement, something Boeing has yet to do in the air. EADS North America Chairman Ralph D. Crosby, Jr. also went on the offensive with regard to fuel economy:

“In any likely Air Force operational scenario, Boeing’s concept tanker will cost 15% to 44% more, measured on the basis of fuel burned per gallon of fuel delivered.”

See: EADS KC-45 Now | Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Aug 4/10: No Antonov. US Aerospace/ Antonov is disqualified for late submission. Aviation Week quotes Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell:

“The proposal was late and by law we are not allowed to consider it. We are considering two proposals and U.S. Aerospace is not one of those being considered.”

The magazine adds that:

“According to an industry executive, the company’s messenger arrived at the Wright-Patterson AFB gate at 1:30 p.m. July 9 (30 minutes before the deadline) and was denied entry, given bad directions and told to wait by Air Force personnel. As a result, the Air Force stamped the proposal received at 2:05 p.m.”

On Aug 2/10, U.S. Aerospace filed a bid protest with the Congressional Government Accountability Office, citing “unreasonable” conduct by the USAF. The firm’s bid had reportedly revolved around an “AN-112” based on the 4-engine AN-70 turboprop transport.

July 13/10: Team EADS. The Hill reports that the KC-X bid cost EADS North America $75,000 in final printing costs alone.

July 9/10: Team Boeing. Boeing delivers its KC-X v2.0 bid. Its release mentions that its design will contain cockpit displays from the 787 Dreamliner, which may not be a change from the first round.

July 9/10: Antonov?!? US Aerospace announces that it has submitted a joint KC-X bid with Antonov at $150 million per plane, following SEC notification of an agreement with Antonov and intent to bid on July 1/10. That agreement would give US Aerospace lead contractor status and final American assembly rights only under a KC-X contract, while Antonov would be the technical lead and manufacture components.

Unlike the March 19-22/10 UAC/ IL-96 hoax, this report has much more backing behind its assertion of a bid. The question is whether it makes any more sense, or would even qualify under Round 2’s mandatory criteria. Reports indicate a bid based on the modernized AN-124-100 “Ruslan” super-heavy transport, which would offer heavy airlift options that beat the C-17 hollow, but terrible operating efficiency as an aerial tanker. Reports of a custom designed “AN-112” make even less sense, given the years-long development and certification timelines. Unlike Ilyushin, Antonov doesn’t even have a base civilian airframe in the right size category. Defense News may have the answer that explains the hype:

“…a May 24 SEC report filed by U.S. Aerospace signals it is in financial trouble. A number of factors “raise substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” the firm told federal regulators.”

See: US Aerospace re: bid submission | US Aerospace re: agreement | Defense News | The DEW Line | UPI.

July 8/10: Team EADS. EADS North America delivers its KC-X v2.0 bid, one day before the extended deadline, and highlights key members of its Round 2 industrial team. EADS.

July 8/10: WTO. The World Trade Organization has put off a ruling on the EU’s subsidy complaint against Boeing (case DS 316) from July 16/10 until mid-September 2010. As the Wall Street Journal put it: “While the panel is likely to find that the U.S. has provided improper subsidies, it isn’t known if the WTO will be as severe on Boeing as it was on Airbus.” Meanwhile, the delay leave EADS very exposed in the political battles over the US KC-X contract. The EU is unhappy:

“The time lag between this case, and the United States’ case against support to Airbus (DS 316) has constantly increased over the six years this dispute has been running and the gap is now at nearly a year. It creates the wrong impression that Airbus has received some WTO incompatible support, whereas Boeing has not. Only when we have received both panel reports will both sides have a more complete picture of the dispute… We now expect the Panel to issue its interim report in DS 353 without any further delay.”

EADS Airbus’ CEO Tom Enders said he was “surprised and disappointed” by “the last minute announcement of yet another delay,” and appears to question the capability of the WTO to play a meaningful role in the global trade order:

“We have said time and again that the complexity, interconnectedness and industrial significance of the Boeing and Airbus cases would strain the capabilities of the WTO. Since these cases were filed, the world has changed. In aviation, the previous duopoly marketplace is increasingly being populated by government-sponsored players, leaving Boeing and Airbus as those that, by any objective measure, benefit least from government support. The ongoing struggle of the WTO to address the world as it was in 2004 (the date the cases were filed) raises the question whether it can succeed in its basic mission to create a climate for a negotiated settlement on the basis of fair market rules in the interest of both the industry and the employees on both sides of the Atlantic.”

See: WTO cases DS 316 and DS 353 | EU release | Airbus release | Agence France Presse | India’s Business Standard | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | UK’s Telegraph.

June 30/10: WTO. Boeing hails the public release of a World Trade Organization ruling on Airbus subsidies (case DS 317), which will be a lobbying point in the current KC-X competition. Airbus has its own take, of course, and the WTO also has a case involving Boeing – but it hasn’t ruled on that one yet. A columnist in Boeing’s hometown of Everett, Washington even thinks the ruling could ultimately help both Boeing and Airbus, which have seen state-owned competitors enter the marketplace in recent years. WTO | Boeing | Airbus | Everett Herald op-ed.

WTO ruling on Airbus unfair subsidies

June 7/10: WTO. Boeing teams with AgustaWestland in the US Presidential Helicopter competition. Finmeccanica’s subsidiary has produced several Boeing helicopters under license in England and Italy (WAH-64 Apache, CH-47 Chinooks), and now Boeing will return the compliment with the AW101. The license will give Boeing full intellectual property, data and production rights, making its version of a Presidential AW101 bid a Boeing aircraft, built by Boeing personnel, at one of its U.S. facilities. This decision is likely to create several ripples. Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute points out that:

“Boeing’s bid could create some embarrassing moments for both itself and Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin spent years arguing that the AgustaWestland airframe was superior… By the same token, Boeing is engaged in a bitter dispute with Airbus concerning European aircraft subsidies, and [the AW101 has received them]…”

See: Boeing | Finmeccanica [PDF] | AgustaWestland | DoD Buzz | Lexington Institute.

June 7/10: Team Boeing. Finmeccanica subsidiary DRS announces a teaming agreement with Boeing for work on its KC-X “NewGen Tanker” offering. DRS will collaborate with Boeing on the console design and then manufacture the Aerial Refueling Operator Station (AROS), and will also provide the interconnect design and associated cable sets to integrate AROS into the Tanker. All this is contingent on a contract win, of course.

June 3/10: Team EADS. EADS says it has American partners for its KC-X bid, but won’t name them “because we don’t want to put them under pressure.” Defense News.

May 19/10: The House Armed Services Committee takes the first step toward introducing WTO subsidy rulings to the competition, as part of its recommended FY 11 defense budget (H.R.5136). The modified bill reportedly requires the Pentagon to submit an interim report, discussing the impact of government subsidies on the KC-X competition, at the instigation of Rep. Adam Smith [D-WA]. The implicit message in that name is lost on nobody. See: Congressional Quarterly | The Hill | Politico | bNet op-ed.

May 13/10: U.S. Senator Sam Brownback [R-KS] and Congressman Todd Tiahrt [R-KS] hold a bi-partisan press conference announcing the introduction of the bi-cameral Fair Defense Competition Act (H.R.5298 and S.3361). The bill attracts 39 co-sponsors in the House, and its Senate counterpart attracts 3.

These bills would require the Department of Defense to consider World Trade Organization (WTO) decisions for military acquisitions. Specifically, they would require the Pentagon to add the cost of illegal subsidies onto the price of a competitor’s bid proposal, following a ruling by the WTO. The WTO has already ruled that Airbus’ aircraft were built using illegal subsidies. A ruling on Airbus’ complaint concerning Boeing is pending, but would not come in time to affect the KC-X competition.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer says that Boeing lobbyists have been lining up legislators for these measures, and Boeing itself is making rather unlikely noises about not bidding over subsidy-related issues. See also: Defense News | ABC affiliate KAKE-10 | US NPR | Reuters | Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

May 12/10: Team Boeing. Rockwell Collins announces that it is part of Boeing’s Round 2 aerial tanker team, with negotiated terms to deliver the same flight deck technology it supplies for the 787 Dreamliner, along with the KC-767’s Communication, Navigation, Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) systems, aircraft networks, and other electronics.

May 8/10: A Minneapolis Star Tribune article provides a glimpse into Boeing’s PR offensive on the ground. Part of it involves a trailer with simulators for the KC-767’s new boom, and associated fighters, for some members of the public.

Ralph Crosby, EADS NA
click to play video

April 20/10: EADS back in. EADS North America announces that it intends to submit a proposal for the KC-X aerial tanker RFP based on the KC-45 tanker, a version of the A330 MRTT/ KC-30B design that won the original contract. The US unit of the European aerospace giant plans to submit the proposal on July 9/10, the last day of the Pentagon’s extended deadline.

The company said it is continuing discussions with potential US partners, but apparently the European defense firm is willing to go it alone, if need be. The company reiterated its earlier promise to build a Mobile, AL manufacturing line for global A330F sales, and KC-X finishing work, if it gets the contract.

April 1/10: Boeing issues statement critical of Pentagon’s decision to extend the RFP deadline if EADS agrees to bid:

“We are deeply disappointed with EADS-Airbus efforts to further delay this vital warfighting program and tilt the U.S. procurement process in its favor. EADS-Airbus has been fully engaged in the competition for four years and was always expected to provide the vast majority of its team’s work content…We do not see a legitimate reason for EADS’s bid deadline extension request, and we believe an extension that favors any individual competitor does not further the goal of ensuring fair competition.”

March 31/10: A group of US senators sends a letter to President Obama criticizing EADS Airbus division for receiving “billions of dollars in illegal subsidies.” The senators urge the president not to extend the KC-X RFP deadline:

“Finally, having relied on illegal subsidies to buy market share in the commercial aerospace market, Airbus now seems intent on further using subsidized aircraft to significantly increase its present in the U.S. defense market. This is unacceptable. We urge you to move forward on the Air Force tanker competition without delay.”

The letter was signed by US Sens. Patty Murray (D-WA), Sam Brownback (R-KS), Chris Dodd (D-CT), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Michael Bennet (D-CO).

March 31/10: Bid extension. The Pentagon announces that if EADS wishes to bid, they will grant a 60-day extension instead of the 90 days requested. This would move the deadline from May 10/10 to July 9/10. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also said that:

“Given that this plane is long overdue, and we do not want its delivery date to slip later than it already has, we are prepared to compress our bid evaluation period to stay as close to the original award schedule as possible so as to still award the contract early this fall… [but we have no] willingness to change any of the plane’s military requirements or the way bids will be evaluated.”

Boeing and some of its supporters in Congress group of US senators criticized the decision. Boeing statement | US Senators’ letter to President Obama (Seattle PI blog) | DoD statement | Reuters

March 22/10: Russians. A Reuters report suggests that John Kirkland, the Los Angeles-based attorney who told various news media that UAC would announce a joint venture and enter the bidding for KC-X, may have been the victim of a scam.

Kirkland sent Reuters copies of letters on what appeared to be letters on “OOO UAC” letterhead, saying that high-level Russian approval of a bid was imminent, but subsequent examination showed contained several grammatical mistakes in Russian. UAC vice-president Alexander Tulyakov drove the final stake in when he told Reuters that:

“John Kirkland is not a UAC representative and we have had no communications with him… We have had no discussions whatsoever with any party about the possibility of producing air tankers for the U.S. air force.”

March 19/10: EADS in, Russians in?!? EADS requests a 3-month extension of the May 10/10 bidding deadline, because it is re-considering a bid submission without Northrop Grumman. The firm’s main foothold in the American market is its successful UH-72A LUH helicopter program, but without an established A330F production line, EADS had previously considered its American base too shallow to handle a contract this big. The Pentagon is reportedly receptive to a bid extension, citing previous examples like BAMS UAV, VH-71 helicopter, Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) II, and LOGCAP IV, among others.

The same day, Russia’s state-owned United Aircraft Corp. reportedly drops a double-surprise. The first surprise is that the firm is supposedly set to sign a joint venture with a small American aerospace firm to market Russian-designed aircraft, including promises that the JV will be announced on March 22/10.

The second surprise is that the firm reportedly intends to bid a tanker version of its IL-96 4-engined, wide body jetliner for the KC-X competition. The IL-96 is civil certified, and can be fitted with Pratt & Whitney engines, but it faces significant disadvantages, despite a price tag that could be as low as half that of a base 767 or A330 airframe. The most prominent obstacle is that the key partner is a state-owned Russian firm. While relations are better than they were in Cold War days, the USA is a long way from trusting Russia as any sort of reliable ally – and the reverse is also true. Congressional opposition to any win would be measured on the Richter scale. Other issues include expected higher operating costs from a 4-engine jet, the low esteem in which Russian airliners are held, and the fact that under 50 IL-96s have been built so far.

Given the expected $100 million cost of a bid, the effort would appear to be quixotic at best, unless the USAF changes it mind and decides to reimburse bid costs. Aviation Week | Bloomberg | Chicago Tribune | CNN | Deutsche Welle | The Hill | McClatchy Newspapers | Politico | Pravda | Reuters | Seattle Times | Wall St. Journal | Washington Post.

March 11/10: As one might expect, political rumbles continue across the Atlantic, with veiled and not-so-veiled threats of a trade war, or retaliation in the defense field. EU release | Aviation Week Ares roundup | Defense News.

March 11/10: EADS out. Aviation Week reports that EADS did not feel confident enough yet in its American footprint, to bid for the KC-X project. Its main beachhead in the USA at the moment is the $3.5 billion UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter program, which is going well but is an order of magnitude smaller than KC-X.

March 11/10: Team Boeing. Spirit AeroSystems Holdings, Inc. announces that they’ve come to terms as part of Boeing Round 2 KC-767 NewGen Tanker Supplier Team. Upon a contract award from the United States government to Boeing, Spirit will build the Boeing tanker’s forward fuselage section in Wichita, KS.

March 8/10: NGC out. Northrop Grumman has apparently bowed out of the KC-X v2.0 RFP, leaving Boeing as the only bidder. The move is not unexpected, given the requirements and the estimated $100 million cost to bid, but it will create longer-term political issues for the program. The European Union is already issuing rumbles about protectionism, and an early blast from Sen. Sessions [R-AL] may be indicative on the domestic front:

“The unjustifiable overhaul of the Request for Proposals – which went far beyond the narrow problems raised by the GAO – completely abandoned the idea of a game-changing tanker in favor of a smaller, less capable plane. Of the 14 major changes to the solicitation, 12 favored Boeing’s smaller, older aircraft. In the end, the process was skewed, and no one can fault a private company for declining to participate in a government competition engineered to guarantee its failure… American taxpayers… could now be on the hook for the most expensive sole-source contract in history.”

Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn said the Pentagon was disappointed, but does not intend to change course. Boeing’s ardent backer Rep. Norm Dicks [D-WA], soon to be head of the House Appropriations’ defense sub-committee, advocates scrapping the bidding process now and negotiating a contract directly, while suggesting an increase in production from the program’s 15 KC-767s per year to 20-25 tankers per year. Northrop Grumman statement | EADS statement | Aviation Week | DoD Buzz | Miami Herald | Politico | Seattle Times | Washington Post early report | Agence France Presse early report | UK’s Daily Telegraph | Sydney Morning Herald | Seattle Post-Intelligencer reactions roundup.

March 5/10: Team Boeing. Boeing announces its RFP v2.0 offering. The new 767 “NextGen” aircraft add a modified version of the new 787 Dreamliner’s flight deck, with its larger displays and other design improvements. Engines will still be Pratt & Whitney’s PW4062s, but the fly-by-wire refueling boom looks different, and so do the wings. Aviation Week attempted to clear up Boeing’s exact offering, but:

“Boeing officials declined to comment on whether the wings, the doors and floors and flaps were being pulled from other commercial models [DID: as in the previous KC-X entry]. They declined interview requests as well…”

The 3rd thing Boeing’s official release emphasized was a pointed reference to the flight control computers that may have been a major cause of Air France Flight 447’s A330 crash over the Atlantic in 2009, with all hands lost:

“The Boeing NewGen Tanker will be controlled by the aircrew, which has unrestricted access to the full flight envelope for threat avoidance at any time, rather than allowing computer software to limit combat maneuverability.”

See also: Boeing | Pratt & Whitney | Aviation Week | DoD Buzz.

Feb 24/10: Final KC-X v2.0 RFP is out. Most of the changes made were narrow and technical, and do not change the structure of the competition. The need for a microwave landing system was scrapped, and Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasures missile defense systems will now be provided by the government as a separate item, certain items had specifications defined more tightly, etc. Proposals will be due within 75 days of the request, and there will be another 120 days after that for government evaluation.

Price remains the key factor, based on the draft proposal’s weighting system. The development contract is a fixed price incentive deal, with the contractor responsible for 40% of any overruns up to 125% of the contract value, and all overruns beyond that. Production lots 1-2 are fixed price. Lots 3-5 will see a new price negotiated, with the contractor responsible for only the first 2.5% of price inflation. Re-negotiation would happen again for Lots 6-13, but this time the contractor would only be responsible for the first 1% of price inflation.

While these provisions protect manufacturers from spiraling commodity costs, they also allow the USAF to make changes later, so long as they’re willing to pay for them. RFP solicitation on FedBizOpps | US DoD press release | DoD presentation [PDF] | Boeing statement | Northrop-Grumman statement | Seattle Post-Intelligencer rounds up politician reactions in USA | AvWeek reports that NGC is “96-98% unlikely” to bid | Aviation Week article collection | Gannett’s Air Force Times | Government Executive magazine | Miami Herald | Washington Post | Reuters: tanker chronology.

Final KC-X v2.0 RFP

Feb 22/10: Dual buy? Flight International’s Stephen Trimble looks for clues to the funding behind a new lobby group called “Build Them Both.” As one might guess, the group favors a dual-source, accelerated buy contract for the KC-X competition, with both firms receiving contracts but annual orders being determined by production readiness, pricing, and the needs of specific theaters. This was the essence of the late Rep. John Murtha’s position.

Feb 8/10: Dual buy? House Appropriations Defense subcommittee chair John Murtha [D-PA], Capitol Hill’s #1 proponent of a KC-X split buy, dies of complications associated with intestinal surgery. A Washington Post blog reports that Rep. Norm Dicks [D-WA], one of EADS Airbus’ most avid foes on Capitol Hill, is likely to succeed Murtha as chair of the subcommittee, and North West Cable News asks the obvious question.

Jan 6/10: At a Pentagon press conference, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell discusses the KC-X v2.0 RFP, among other matters:

“…we are shooting to have the RFP out hopefully by the end of the month, if not early next month. We’re in the process right now of reviewing the comments that were provided… I think we’re still on schedule to get this out in the next few weeks. …no final decisions have been made yet about the RFP, but I think it is safe to say at this point that there will be changes to the draft… We’ve gotten feedback, some of it quite helpful. Some of – some of this we just have realized ourselves. And so I think the team is in the process of correcting mistakes and altering the acquisition strategy a bit, and that will be reflected in the final request for proposal which will likely go out in the – in the next couple or few weeks.

I would add one thing, and that is that whatever changes are being made should not be construed as any attempt to favor anybody. It is — what is being done is we are trying to make the RFP as fair and as transparent as possible, while at the same time providing the taxpayers with the best value for their money and the warfighters the best — the best plane to support their operations… we hope that when this happens that we will have a full and hardy and thorough competition between multiple bidders.”

Jan 4/10: Leeham News offer their 2010 Outlook for Boeing and Airbus, which includes discussion of the KC-X competition:

“We also believe there is a strategic argument, as well as a political one, that supports buying both airplanes because there are simply different mission requirements. But the Pentagon is adamant that it will not split the order… Winning the contract is also critical to the Airbus strategy of establishing a commercial A330-200 production base in the US… Airbus pledged to build the A330-200F [in Mobile, AL] and expectations are that the A330P will follow. But no tanker contract, no US plant. And this is why we believe Boeing and its supporters are fighting so hard to block a tanker award to Northrop. This, we believe, is more important to Boeing than winning the tanker contract, though we also acknowledge Boeing wants the contract on its own merits.

“…The [A330] MRTT is running about 18 months behind schedule for delivery to launch customer Australia. About six months was due to customer change orders, according to the RAAF and EADS. The balance rests with developmental issues.

“…Because of the need for a 787 production Surge Line (see 787 discussion below), the current 767 line will be relocated to the aft part of the bay it now occupies. A Lean production line will be implemented, reducing unit costs by about 20%. Relocation begins this year and will be completed next year… If Northrop stays in, we still think Boeing will submit only a KC-767 proposal… We remain concerned that Boeing has yet to deliver the KC-767 to Italy, now some four years late. We are told problems remain with the centerline hose-and-drogue system… [and] that issues remain with the wing-mounted refueling pods, though Boeing says these have been fixed. Although Boeing intended to deliver the first of four tankers to Italy last year… that this still has not happened indicates all is not well. Since the US tanker is similar to the Italian tanker, we remain skeptical about the program… Boeing is still not forecasting any dates concerning these remaining milestones [for Italy].”

Dec 1/09: Northrop Grumman’s President and Chief Operating Officer Wes Bush sends a letter to Department of Defense undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics Ashton Carter. As written, it says, the terms of the KC-X RFP imposed a structure that, in Northrop Grumman’s opinion, favors smaller planes like Boeing’s, and:

“…places contractual and financial burdens on the company that we simply cannot accept… As a result, I must regrettably inform you that, absent a responsive set of changes in the final RFP, Northrop Grumman has determined that it cannot submit a bid to the department for the KC-X program.”

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman replied that both manufacturers wanted changes that would favor them, and contends that:

“The Department has played this right down the middle… [we] cannot and will not change the warfighting requirements for the tanker to give advantage to either competitor… The department wants competition but cannot compel the two airplane makers to compete.”

Alabama’s Republican governor Bill Riley has a different take:

“The Obama administration has corrupted the tanker selection process with a blatantly unfair competition… The question is why is this RFP so radically different than the one Northrop Grumman won last year?”

A final RFP is expected in January 2010, but each program has hundreds of suppliers across the USA. Refusal to submit would trigger a very large political battle in Congress, one focused on the acquisition process itself. It remains to be seen whether it is possible for a single-winner tanker process to successfully obtain American Congressional approval and funding for its choice, in the face of a transatlantic competitor whose American partners saw billions of dollars in concrete business snatched away, and a domestic heavyweight with its own deep supplier and congressional networks. Northrop Grumman’s Letter [PDF] | Agence France Presse | Bloomberg | NY Times | Politico | Reuters | Wall Street Journal | Aviation Week | Defense News.

Nov 25/09: Flight International reports that one of Australia’s KC-30Bs refueled a pair of Spanish EF-18A Hornet fighters at the same time, using its hose-and-drogue refueling system.

Nov 10/09: Aviation Week headline: “Boeing, Northrop Sour On KC-X Draft RFP.”

Nov 10/09: One of Australia’s KC-30B/ A330 MRTTs performs the 1st fuel transfers with its all-digital 905E hose and drogue system, using its left and right under-wing pods to transfer more than 9,200 lbs of fuel to a “NATO” (likely Spanish) F/A-18 fighter. The first of Australia’s 5 KC-30Bs will be delivered to Australia in mid-2010. EADS release.

Nov 2/09: The Lexington Institute’s Loren Thompson writes that the EADS/Northrop Grumman bid has become a question, rather than a certainty:

“Last week, one of the two teams competing to provide the Air Force’s future aerial-refueling tanker launched an unusual campaign to overturn the service’s strategy for buying the plane. Northrop Grumman and its European partner Airbus signaled that they don’t believe they have a plausible chance of winning under the proposed terms, and began building the foundation for a formal protest. What’s unusual about the move is that competitor Boeing hasn’t been all that happy with the revised tanker solicitation either, but Northrop has elected to pursue an aggressive strategy that is sure to anger its Air Force customer. Here’s why Northrop is willing to take that risk…”

Oct 29/09: Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] sends a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Pentagon acquisition czar Ashton Carter, and USAF Secretary Michael Donley, asking questions about the KC-X v2.0 source selection process. He asks about the use of fuel usage rates and construction needs, but not full probable lifecycle cost, in the cost calculations, asks if any of the requirements considered mandatory in Round 1 were discarded RFP v2.0, wonders if the pricing requirements in the draft RFP would “…not favor mostly smaller airframes, and asks how the proposed pass/fail rating can “provide for an assessment of relative developmental and integration risk among the offerings.”

The final v2.0 RFP was supposed to be released around the end of November 2009, but delays out to January 2010 are reportedly a possibility. Aviation Week.

Oct 21/09: Team EADS. An A330 MRTT equipped with the ARBS in-flight refueling boom passes fuel to an in-flight aircraft for the first time. A Royal Australian Air Force KC-30B flew a 4:30 test flight, with more than 3,300 pounds of fuel transferred to 2 Portuguese Air Force F-16s during 13 contacts. Other systems tested included the boom’s fly-by-wire stability and 3-D vision system. EADS | Australian Defence Magazine.

Oct 2/09: Sen. Jeff Sessions [R-AL] says he will introduce an amendment to the FY 2010 Senate defense spending bill (amendment 2610 to S. 1390, currently before the Senate Armed Services Committee). When introduced, it would block the use of funds for the U.S. Air Force’s KC-X competition, unless the service agrees to disclose pricing data about Boeing’s proposal in 2008 to rival Northrop Grumman, just as Northrop Grumman’s data was disclosed to Boeing after Boeing’ asked for an explanation of its loss. Sen. Sessions release | Aviation Week | See also Sept 29/09 entry.

Oct 1/09: KC-10. In a stunning upset, Northrop Grumman beats Boeing for a 10-year, $3.8 billion contract to service the global KC-10/KDC-10 tanker fleet. Boeing subsidiary McDonnell Douglas built the planes, modified them, and had serviced them since their induction in the 1980s. By all accounts and metrics, service quality was high – which is why some analysts see the loss as symptomatic of deeper problems in Boeing’s relationship with the USAF.

FY 2009

Draft RFP 2.0.

KC-46A & B-1B
(click to view full)

Sept 29/09: Major procurement error. As legislators connected with Boeing push the USAF regarding the recent WTO ruling, Northrop Grumman puts out a statement of its own, citing issues with the process:

“Northrop Grumman continues to be greatly concerned that its pricing information from the previous tanker competition was provided by the Government to its competitor, Boeing. Access to comparable pricing information from Boeing has thus far been denied by the Pentagon. With predominant emphasis placed on price in this tanker re-competition and Northrop Grumman again proposing its KC-45 refueling tanker, such competitive pricing information takes on even greater importance. It is fundamentally unfair, and distorts any new competition, to provide such critical information to only one of the bidders. The company will continue to work with its customer to fully resolve this issue.”

The USAF had provided this data to Boeing after Boeing had lost, as part of the USAF’s requested debriefing. The Pentagon has dismissed Northrop Grumman’s claim on the basis that the disclosure to Boeing was in accordance with regulations, and that “the data in question are inaccurate, outdated and not germane” to the new bid, which is a different competition. Clearly, Northrop Grumman continues to disagree; if the impasse continues, the question may become whether the GAO disagrees during a future appeal. Northrop Grumman | Aviation Week | recent Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Protoccol breach

Sept 29/09: Alabama’s Press-Register puts out an editorial supporting a split-buy and speeded-up production, which legislators like House Appropriations Committee Chair John Murtha [D-PA] continue to support:

“With a defense contract potentially worth $40 billion at stake, expect both sides to fight over every clause and nuance they think might favor their opponent. Right now, Boeing and Northrop have 60 days to comment on the draft guidelines; this is only the first stage of the contest… By the time the lawyering and politicking are over, at least a few years will have elapsed. So here’s one more plea for a split contract.”

Sept 25/09: The USAF releases the KC-X v2.0 draft RFP, re-starting the competition. The KC-X Round 2 RFP remains structured as a “winner take all” competition, and retains its target number of 179 aircraft, will full-rate production of 15 per year beginning by the 3rd year (Lot 3 of up to 13). Each contender will provide a fixed-price proposal to develop and deliver 4 Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) planes, followed by the first 64 aircraft and necessary spares. It will also submit an upper limit on the price of the remaining 111 tankers, and 5 years of initial support.

Assuming that legal and political delays don’t get in the way, first production delivery is now planned for 2015, with Initial Operational Capability in 2017. More information on the RFP’s evaluation structure can be found in the section “KC-X RFP v2.0: The New Structure.”

Next comes the 60-day comment period, after which the formal RFP can be expected. The bidders will then have 60 days after that final RFP release to submit their bids, and the government will have 120 days to evaluate them. A decision is currently expected in mid-2010. FedBizOpps RFP #FA8625-10-R-6600 | USAF RFP release presentation | DoD briefing re: competition, incl. Slides [PDF] and Q&A session | USAF | Boeing statement | Northrop Grumman statement | Agence France Presse | Aviation Week and AVWeek Ares re: selection process | Aviation Week re: people involved | Business Week | CBS WKRG in Pensacola, FL | Government Executive | The Hill | Leeham News & Comment aviation analysts | | Nextgov | Seattle Post-Intelligencer analysis | WSJ: Boeing brings flight simulator to Capitol Hill.

Draft RFP to restart KC-X

Sept 25/09: The USAF’s last serving KC-135E aerial tanker touches down at Davis-Monthan AFB near tucson, AZ, after its final flight. All remaining KC-135s are now KC-135Rs. USAF release.

KC-135E retires

Sept 16/09: US Secretary of Defense Gates says that he is giving the new leaders he’d installed at the Air Force the final say in the $40 billion tanker deal. This is a reversal from the Round 1 arrangements after the GAO ruled that the USAF had not followed its own criteria, and the US Department of Defense took over direct management of the program. On the other hand, it does put the USAF on the firing line instead of the DoD, in order to absorb any initial hits in what’s sure to be an intense political fight.

Other reports add that the revised KC-X proposal is due “in a few weeks.” USAF | Boeing statement | Defense News | Government Executive magazine | Inside Defense | Agence France Presse | Business Week | NY Times | Reuters | Seattle P.I. offers analyst’s view.

Sept 15/09: Aviation Week reports that keeping the existing KC-135 fleet in the air will become increasingly expensive:

“…at AMC, planners are wrangling with how to keep the KC-135s flying until as late as 2043… outgoing AMC chief [Arthur] Lichte points out that maintenance crews sometimes work 7 hr. for every hour of KC-135 flight. “Every year we don’t get tankers, it is costing us $55 million right off the top,” Lichte says. “When you get out to about 2018 and 2020, what started out as about $2 billion a year to maintain the KC-135 fleet goes all the way up to $6 billion… we continue to do everything we can to make sure don’t have an Aloha Airlines where the skin peels back or a TWA 800 [type incident] where frayed wires cause an explosion in the fuel tank… In total, aging-related costs are expected to add at least $17.8 billion to the price of maintaining the KC-135 for 40 years.”

The increase in projected maintenance costs is attributable mostly to fuselage skin and wiring checks, and corrosion issues which are already a significant contributor (30%-50%, by some reports) to depot maintenance costs. Meanwhile, access to KC-10 replacement parts is a worry, and the KC-10 boom control unit is becoming unreliable and should be replaced.

KC-135 costs rising

Sept 15/09: Flight International reports that KC-X Round 2 may see a supplier shakeup on the Boeing side:

“Boeing officials are determined to set “aggressive price targets” for selecting suppliers and even manufacturing locations… Boeing’s quest for cost-savings has also reopened the 777’s engine supplier to competition… all three certified engines – the GE90, Pratt & Whitney PW4000 and Rolls-Royce Trent 800 – will be considered if Boeing decides to offer the KC-777. However, engines that have not been certified on the 777, such as the GEnx family, have been ruled out. “We don’t think there’s enough time for a certification programme,” Lemaster says… If Boeing decides to propose the KC-767 in the next round, the structures and control systems will come from the same aircraft type, Lemaster says.”

Sept 14/09: US Ar Force Secretary Michael Donley says the WTO’s ruling will have no effect on the USAF’s process, as Airbus’ counterclaim is still pending, and so is the EU’s expected appeal.

A day later, 47 American politicians send a letter to President Obama that says: “Buying Airbus tankers would reward European governments with Department of Defense dollars at the same time that the U.S. Trade Representative is trying to punish European governments for flouting international laws.” Mobile Press-Register | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Reuters via Forbes | Business Week | Seattle P.I. re: letter | Seattle P.I. offers contrasting views re: finer points of WTO trade dispute.

KC-X past & candidates:
Boeing Slide
(click to view full)

Sept 14/09: In a briefing at the Air Force Association’s 2009 Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Boeing officially acknowledges that the Boeing 767 and 777 are both potential KC-X candidates. They also launch their own web site,, to promote their “KC-7A7” tanker bid. Boeing release | Boeing briefing [PDF]

Sept 8/09: EADS chief executive Louis Gallois tells the French newspaper La Tribune that: “Our objective is to be in the [KC-X] competition. We are totally determined to be in the running, unless it appears that the request for proposal is biased.” Source.

Sept 4/09: The World Trade Organization issues an interim ruling that the $4 billion in aid Airbus received from European governments to develop the A380 super-jumbo passenger jet constituted illegal subsidies.

Technically, the WTO ruling could empower the U.S. to levy tariffs either against Airbus or other European imports, equal to the amount of the improper subsidies. Legally, the EU is expected to appeal the ruling, Airbus has complaints of its own on tap, and any firm action remains years away. Business Week | bnet.

July 9/09: Stephen Trimble of Flight International highlights a recent podcast interview with Boeing tanker spokesman Bill Barksdale, which seems to show a lot of enthusiasm and prep work at Boeing around the KC-777. Excerpt:

“BARKSDALE: The 777 as a tanker is just so much more capable than anything it’s got as a peer. And I know that sounds like a bit of bravado, but… I’ll give you a couple of examples. If you compare them, the 777 would provide – deliver – however you want to say it – 23% more fuel than the KC-30. It could carry 44% more payload – more cargo – in the back. And it also would carry about 42% more passengers in the back as well. So those are very generic, very general kinds of numbers… If the air force really wants to go in that direction, the Boeing company has spent a lot of time in the last year preparing for that, knowing that we have a real, true, large tanker that, like I said, is comparable in size to the KC-30. And, yet, you get so much more for your money.”

June 16/09: Northrop Grumman CEO Ronald D. Sugar, and EADS CEO Louis Gallois, issue a joint statement re-affirming their joint commitment to the KC-45 Tanker team.

June 15/09: Bloomberg reports that Boeing is preparing to submit a KC-777 for KC-X v2.0, but a DoD Buzz story clarifies. It turns out that Boeing is preparing to offer a KC-777 option if the revised requirements put a premium on cargo capability or fuel offload amounts, but the firm hasn’t made a decision and won’t until the RFP comes out. The firm had considered a KC-777 before the initial KC-X RFP as well, but the RFP’s lack of extra points for exceeding USAF specifications led Boeing to go with its smaller, cheaper, and more fully developed KC-767 instead. DoD Buzz adds:

“Still, a Boeing 777 bid raises all sorts of questions. Given the problems Boeing has had reducing the vibrations afflicting its refueling pods on the 767, and the enormous technical and engineering challenges of refitting the 777, can the company get a plane in shape in time to fill the Air Force’s first tranche of 179 planes?… But it may be that Boeing is largely conceding the first tranche of planes to Northrop and aiming for the larger follow-on buy.”

The DoD Buzz report adds rumors that Northrop Grumman may walk if the revised RFP is seen as weighted in Boeing’s favor – again, a parallel with the firm’s rumblings before the initial KC-X RFP was issued:

“…there are rumors that Northrop is weighing its commitment to the tanker program, which has cost the company financially and politically. Two sources have told me that Ron Sugar, the company’s CEO, will walk away from the competition should the new RFP appear weighted too heavily in Boeing’s favor. This could, of course, be part of the company’s gaming efforts to ensure that the Air Force does include analysis such as best value as it makes its choice. Meyers made clear, as does his colleague Janis Pamiljans in the video below, that the Air Force must include “best value” as a key component of the service’s tanker analysis.”

June 9/09: The USAF’s role in KC-X v2.0 is still up for debate.’s DoD Buzz reports that Defense Secretary Robert Gates is still deciding whether the Air Force would lead the renewed competition, or whether it would remain with the Office of Secretary of Defense. Either way, however, Gates said that former Raytheon lobbyist and current Deputy Defense Secretary Bill Lynn would take a “very close interest” in the program.

May 27/09: The Project on Government Oversight NGO explains some of the hidden variables behind decisions about who should run the program:

“…this isn’t only a debate over who will be ultimately responsible for the program, but that it will also determine how much this program will be impacted by the new Weapons Acquisition Reform Act of 2009. One of the major revisions to the Senate’s initial version of the bill in the Senate Armed Service committee’s mark-up was changing language that would require the newly established Director of Independent Cost Assessment to conduct independent cost assessments for all major defense acquisition programs (MDAPs) to only those programs where the Under Secretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics (AT &L) is the Milestone Decision Authority (MDA)… But as a result of this change in mark up, if DoD chooses to give the Air Force management of the tanker program, there will be no mandatory role for the new Director of Independent Cost Assessment to provide oversight and implement policies and procedures to make sure that the cost estimation process is reliable and objective. One can’t help but wonder how much DoD had the tanker program in mind when requesting this change to the legislation.”

April 6/09: US Defense Secretary Gates announces his FY 2010 budget recommendations, which will include a KC-X RFP in summer 2009.

April 6/09: The Lexington Institute raises warning flags about the new acquisition process:

“Despite Obama Administration rhetoric about openness in federal contracting, the new and improved tanker selection process has all the transparency of the FBI’s witness protection program. The performance requirements for the future tankers were blessed by the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council with almost no input from industry, and now the acquisition strategy is being crafted in much the same way. If you were planning to spend $100 billion over the next 30 years on a new aircraft fleet, wouldn’t you want to check with the only two qualified suppliers to determine whether your terms and specifications were reasonable? We have been here before… Many of those problems could have been avoided if the industry teams had been kept informed on how the selection process was unfolding… The current buildup to a re-competition is being carried out with even greater secrecy.”

At this point, with Northrop Grumman and its suppliers believing that a huge contract was taken away from them, and Boeing treating the lobbying as a life-or-death issue, the impact may be tangential. The political reality is that lack of transparency can make the process worse, but even perfect transparency won’t remove the fundamental political bottleneck.

March 17/09: NGC endorses split-buy. A Northrop Grumman release offers figures from a KC-135 Economic Service Life Study, and claims that for each KC-45 that enters service, USAF operating costs would drop by $7 million per year, assuming replacement of 2 KC-135s with each A330 MRTT inducted. It adds:

“Congressmen John Murtha (D-PA) and Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) commented recently the only way to get badly needed tankers to our warfighters quickly is through a dual procurement acquisition process… According to Northrop Grumman analysis, a dual procurement scenario could replace the capability of the entire Air Force KC-135 fleet by the year 2022 – seven years sooner than best case single procurement strategy. Dual procurement eliminates the need to re-skin the KC-135 aircraft.

By procuring 24 aircraft per year from two contractors rather than 15 per year from a single source, as is the current Air Force budget plan, the service could save $7.2 billion in tanker Operating and Support (O&S) costs between 2012 and 2022 compared to the O&S costs associated with a single procurement strategy. Through dual procurement, the Air Force saves $10.2 billion in tanker O&S between 2012 and 2029, compared to the O&S costs associated with a single procurement strategy. [Our product is better, but]… if Congressmen Murtha and Abercrombie are correct the only way to get tankers to the warfighter quickly is through a dual procurement strategy, Northrop Grumman will support the effort.”

The crunch, of course, is that 9 more aircraft per year, at about $200 million each, adds $1.8 billion per year to actual spending. That’s another $19.8 billion from 2012-2022, or $30.6 billion from 2012-2029. The difference between those figures, and projected savings over the same time period, must come from somewhere. That means either expansion of the overall military budget, or dollars taken from other military programs. Both options are unlikely, and difficult.

March 13/09: An Inside the Air Force article entitled “Report: KC-135 Maintenance Could Reach $3 Billion Per Year by 2040” says that KC-135 maintenance costs will escalate by almost 50% over the next 30 years, and cost twice as much as new tankers. The KC-135 Economic Service Life Study claims that it will end up costing the Air Force more than FY2000$ 103 billion to operate and maintain the KC-135s between 2001-2040. Source.

March 11/09: Reports surface that the Obama administration will propose a 5-year delay to the USAF’s aerial tanker program, as US OMB recommendations leak to the general press. The Pentagon is not bound by those recommendations, and US Secretary of Defense Gates is quoted as saying that:

“In the days to come, any information you may receive about budget or program decisions will undoubtedly be wrong because I intend to wait until the end of our review process before making any decisions.”

Assuming that the documents really do propose a 5-year delay to the KC-X program, it is not clear whether this is a classic “Washington Monument” move, proposing a cut that the weight of Congress interests are almost certain to reverse, or a genuine decision within a zero-sum set of budget decisions. In Washington, of course, it could even be both. Washington Post | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Seattle Times | Grand Forks Herald | Bloomberg News | MSNBC | Agence France Presse.

March 11/09: Democratic Party congressmen John Murtha [D-PA] and Neil Abercrombie [D-HI] begin publicly proposing the split-buy idea that has been floated quietly in the background for several months now. Reuters | Reuters Update.

Feb 26/09:’s DoD Buzz reports that a Pentagon Joint Requirement Oversight Council met today to consider the new KC-X requirements:

“From what little I have heard about the requirements, it seems pretty clear that the Air Force has compressed and simplified the requirements to avoid the likelihood of another award protest but has not changed its mind about what capabilities are needed… But Rep. Jack Murtha’s plan to split the buy – and avoid what would seem to be an otherwise unavoidable second protest – would seem to allow both companies some breathing room… the Air Force’s opposition may be at an end – at least for the initial purchase.”

Murtha [D-PA] has been at the center of ethical investigations over his career, but he remains a powerful member of the Democratic Party. He chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee.

Feb 25/09: USAF Transportation Command leader Gen. Duncan McNabb testifies to a joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Air and land forces subcommittees. He reiterates KC-X as the USAF’s top priority, and says that further delays in replacing the KC-135 fleet would add significant risk to the U.S. military’s ability to quickly move troops and firepower rapidly to the globe’s combat zones. Reuters, via Forbes.

Jan 29/09: The US government’s Office of Management and Budget submits a list of potential defense program cuts in its guidance to the US Defense Department. One of the suggestions is reportedly a 5-year delay of the KC-X program. The Pentagon is not bound by these suggestions, but the recommendations will become news in March 2009, igniting controversy and lobbying. Source.

FY 2008

Boeing protest; cancellation.

Sept 22/08: Sen. Richard Shelby [R-AL] fires a broadside in a Washington Times op-ed:

“Two months from Election Day, politics seem to be everywhere we turn. However, one place we should not see politics is in our Department of Defense (DoD) acquisition process. The process to select the new Air Force tanker fleet has become so politicized that DoD allowed parochial and business interests to keep the Air Force’s top acquisition priority from the pilots who need it. The long fight over the tanker contract proves that the acquisition process is fundamentally and significantly flawed… Politics just cancelled a competitively awarded contract, solely because Boeing was not the winner. Defense acquisition policy has been stated: If it is not a Boeing plane, DoD is not going to buy it.”

Sept 18/08: A Washington Post story reports that:

“John Young, the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, said in an interview at the Pentagon yesterday that under the tanker proposal from Northrop Grumman and its partner European Aeronautic Defence & Space, developing the first 68 aircraft would have cost $12.5 billion, compared with $15.4 billion under Boeing’s plan.”

Sept 10/08: The Pentagon announces that Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has canceled the competition for the $35 billion Air Force tanker contract:

“It has now become clear that the solicitation and award process cannot be accomplished by January. Thus, I believe that rather than hand the next administration an incomplete and possibly contested process, we should cleanly defer this procurement to the next team… It is my judgment that in the time remaining to us, we cannot complete a competition that will be viewed as fair and competitive in this highly-charged environment… I believe the resulting cooling-off period will allow the next administration to view objectively the military requirements and craft a new acquisition strategy for the KC-X as it sees fit.”


Sept 3/08: Gen. Lichte of USAF Air Mobility Command says that he expects a protest after the final round 2 RFP is released. He hopes it doesn’t happen. But:

“I mean this is a lot of money, I understand the business nature of this. But I don’t understand how at some point you stop and say, this company wins, and this company loses, or this company is successful and this company is not. I don’t know how we get through something like that. With the poisonous nature of all the comments that are out there right now, I don’t know how we make peace with everybody to say, okay let’s go forward.”

He also said that he does not want a split buy…

“However, if you were to tell me that was the only way to get out of [the current situation] then I’d take it… We need a new tanker now. I don’t care which one it is. And we need to get on with this quickly.” | Agence France Presse | AP | CBS | Reuters.

Aug 14/08: Jerry Cox is a former procurement policy counsel in the U.S. Senate, and now holds the title of managing director of The Forerunner Foundation. At, least according to the article byline in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer for “Tanker choice in mathematical terms“. The core claim of the article is as follows:

“The Air Force knows a tanker accomplishes nothing by flying from Point A to Point B, so what really matters is the ratio of delivery. How many gallons will the plane deliver for every gallon it burns? That’s a tougher problem, but it’s hardly trigonometry. Northrop showed the Air Force it can deliver almost two pounds for every pound it burns, while Boeing delivers only 1.6 pounds. That’s a 22 percent edge for Northrop, and the numbers hold up, regardless of the trip length.”

What the newspaper did not mention is that Cox also heads up a lobbying firm called Potomac Strategy Associates. DID spoke to Jerry Cox, however, and he told us that his PSA has not been employed by any firm in conjunction with the aerial tanker competition.

Aug 11/08: Aviation week reports that Boeing is strongly considering a refusal to bid as its response to the revised KC-X RFP.

That response would leave the field open to EADS/Northrop Grumman in a formal sense, but the political weight of that kind of protest move would force the Pentagon to think long and hard before signing a contract under those circumstances. Until Boeing makes a firm decision, of course, its bid team must continue working full speed ahead.

Aug 6/08: New draft RFP. The USAF has issued a new draft of its RFP, and appears to be adopting an approach of minimum required compliance. On the surface, there are 2 major changes. Fuel costs over a plane’s 40-year lifetime will be considered, and full credit will now be given for exceeding the stated requirements in key areas like cargo capacity, fuel offload, et. al. Neither was true under the old RFP. The catch is that different levels of importance are being assigned to various types of costs, with development and production cost estimates weighted more heavily than long-term projections for maintenance and fuel costs. The second major change around exceeding performance limits simply makes the USAF’s original evaluation approach the competition’s officially announced approach, instead of a violation of the competition’s terms.

Under those terms, Boeing is likely to lose again – which may trigger a follow-on protest upon the release of the revised RFP. The planned time line for moving forward is as follows:

  • Aug 6-13: DoD officials will take a week to discuss elements of the draft with Northrop-Grumman and Boeing. Expect a lot of back and forth over the terms of the RFP, including efforts by members of the (currently recessed) Congress.

  • Mid-August: DoD plans to issue the final RFP amendment, with just 45 days for renewed submissions. Note that this time frame would make an airframe switch very difficult, due to the hundreds of pages of documentation, cost information, and design work required.

  • Early October 2008: Renewed submissions due.

  • October to late November: Discussions with the companies about their proposals.

  • Early December: Final proposal revisions for “best, final” offer.

  • Early January 2009: Decision made and announced. If Boeing wins, the existing contract is canceled and a new one is signed. If Airbus/NGC win again, the current stop-work order is lifted.

It’s important to note that the US DoD’s desired schedule, and what politics, appeals, et. al. actually end up dictating, may end up being 2 different things. On a political level, however, introducing the revised RFP when Congress is in recess, and not issuing a decision until after the elections, will help to lower elected representatives’ political leverage. What it will not do is provide full insulation, since the decision is certain to be an important election issue in some states. The first days in a new Congress’ term also tend to provide some political insulation for issues of this type, since members are busy with other things. Nevertheless, it can also be a double-edged sword. Exceptions do occur if the issue in question is a big enough priority for enough elected representatives. In that case, the first days of a term can also be the stage for dramatic political actions whose fallout would be considered much more carefully later in their term.

See also: KC-X RFP, revised draft | US Armed Forces Press Service |

  • blog*&par=RSS">Boeing statement et. al., via CNBC | NGC statement via MarketWatch | CQ Politics | Politico re: guerilla marketing | Leeham Companies LLC | Defense News | Aviation Week | Bloomberg | Business Week | Christian Science Monitor | Agence France Presse | Money Times of India | Seattle Post-Intelligencer | Seattle Times | Mobile Press Register | Birmingham News | Pensacola News Journal.

  • July 9/08: Let Round 2 begin. American Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announces that the KC-X competition will be re-opened, with at least one important difference: the Air Force won’t be running it. Meanwhile, Northrop-Grumman has been ordered to stop work on its contract.

    Undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics John J. Young Jr. will be in charge of the acquisition, and will appoint an advisory committee to oversee the selection process. , and a modified request for proposal could be issued before the end of July 2008, with a decision expected by year’s end.

    Boeing’s statement welcomes the news, and claims that life-cycle costs including fuel will now be considered in the competition:

    “However, we remain concerned that a renewed Request for Proposals (RFP) may include changes that significantly alter the selection criteria as set forth in the original solicitation. As the Government Accountability Office reported in upholding our protest, we submitted the only proposal that fully met the mandatory criteria of the original RFP… we will also take time to understand the updated solicitation to determine the right path forward for the company. It’s encouraging that the Defense Department intends to take steps …that, among other things, fully accounts for life-cycle costs, such as fuel…”

    The new competition will be challenging for all concerned, especially since it adds an element missing from the last round: European expectations, raised by the initial win, could create larger trade and defense industry ramifications if the new competition is perceived to be biased against Airbus’ offering. Meanwhile, political involvement and pressure within the USA is guaranteed to be intense, and every item from the selection criteria onward can expect contestation. US DoD | Boeing release | Northrop Grumman release | Alabama Press-Register | Montgomery Advertiser | Seattle Times | WIRED Danger Room | CNBC | Hartford Courant | AP | Aviation Week: L

    Categories: News

    B-21 A Tribute to WWII Doolittle Raiders | Senate to Vote This Week on Blocking $1.15B Sale to Saudis | France Delivers 2nd Mistral to Egypt

    Tue, 09/20/2016 - 23:58

    • The USAF’s new long-range strike bomber has officially been named the B-21 Raider. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James made the announcement on Monday in what is a tribute to the legacy of WW2’s Doolittle Raiders rather than a reference to the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Doolittle Raiders are known for their surprise attack against Japan during on April 18, 1942, which forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense, and boosted morale among Americans and US allies abroad.

    • Today, the US Senate will vote on a joint resolution seeking to block a $1.15 billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia over concerns about the conflict in Yemen. Sponsors of the bipartisan bill, which includes Republican Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee and Democratic Senators Chris Murphy and Al Franken, believe that even if it does not pass, a positive vote or a strong vote would send a strong message about continued US support for Saudi Arabia. Both Congress and the White House have already approved the sale, which includes a number of Abrams tanks.

    Middle East & North Africa

    • Egypt is to receive eight Sentinel AN/MPQ-64F1 radars following the foreign military sale approval by the US State Department. The package, including training and other associative equipment, is estimated to cost $70 million. Once delivered, the Sentinels will work toward improving existing Egyptian air-defense capabilities following a series of aviation disasters over the last year.

    • France has delivered its second Mistral class helicopter carrier to Egypt. The Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) vessel was handed over during a change of flag ceremony attended by the chiefs of staff of the Egyptian and French Navies on Friday in France. Dubbed the Anwar El Sadat, the ship, with its Egyptian crew, will now take part in an exercise with the French Navy before sailing to its homeport of Alexandria.

    • Israeli defense firms look set to take a hit after the recently concluded US military aid package will see the gradual phasing out of an existing clause allowing Israel to spend 26.3 percent of the (awarded) funds on its own defense sector, which competes actively with US firms such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon. The 10-year, $38 billion agreement, will take effect in Fiscal Year 2019 and means Israeli defense companies will miss out on up to $10 billion that might otherwise have been spent on home-made drones, missiles, tanks, and other equipment in favor of US weaponry. A US-only weaponry clause such as this comes at a time when exporting nations have found themselves racing to offer the best offsets in order to secure foreign orders.


    • Paramount Group has unveiled its latest fleet of infantry combat vehicles (ICV) in what they call their Mbombe line. The models on offer – the Mbombe 4, Mbombe 6, and Mbombe 8 share over 80 percent of common components which allows for the potential to be able to provide customers with a complete family of 4 x 4, 6 x 6 and 8 x 8 ICVs with reduced through-life costs, easier training and logistics. Key features of the Mbombe 8 include: a gross weight of 30 tons; a nine-ton payload, including its weapon systems; a six-cylinder turbo-charged diesel engine; a six speed automatic transmission; a maximum speed of about 60 miles per hour, and a range of about 497 miles.


    • MBDA UK has secured a $40 million deal to build a laser-directed energy weapon demonstrator for the UK MoD. The company had won a competition being run by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory to build the demonstrator several months ago, but the announcement was held up after rival bidder Thales UK lodged a protest against the decision. MBDA will lead a consortium, known as DragonFire, along with Qinetiq, Leonardo, GKN, BAE Systems, Marshall Aerospace and Defence, and Arke, to deliver a prototype for trials by 2019.

    Asia Pacific

    • Tuesday saw North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un oversee a ground test of a new rocket engine to launch satellites. The test, as reported by North Korean state media, is the latest in what has been a growing number of missile-related tests over the last 12 months. Amid widespread international condemnations, the hermit kingdom has been testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate this year under Kim’s direction, including the launch of a satellite in February that was widely seen as a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.

    Today’s Video

    Launch party of Klimov’s new TV7-117ST turboprop engine that will be the power plant for the Il-112V light tactical transport aircraft:

    Categories: News

    USAF New Bomber – B-21 – Gets a Name

    Tue, 09/20/2016 - 23:55
    B-52H, B-1B & B-2A
    (click to view full)

    The good news? 2006 saw a convergence of opinion within the USAF that a new long-range strike platform was needed. This is understandable given the B-52H Stratofortress fleet’s age (40-50 years), the B-1B Lancer’s internal power and electronics issues, both of these platforms’ low survivability against advanced air defense systems, and the B-2A Spirit stealth bomber’s very small numbers (21, of which 7-12 are generally operational). The unmanned J-UCAS program, meanwhile was seen as having inadequate range and payload (Boeing X-45C: 1,400 mile radius with 8 GBU-39 Small Diameter Bombs). The USAF decided that J-UCAS wasn’t a solution and pulled out, stalling American UCAV development until the Navy chose to go ahead with the carrier-based N-UCAS.

    The bad news? They seemed to have little idea of exactly what they wanted in their bomber. The FY 2010 budget killed those plans anyway, but in September 2010, pressure to field a new bomber began to rise again. By the time fiscal year 2015 budget planning was in motion, both DoD and the Air Force seemed committed to making the program one of the service’s top 3 priorities.

    Bad News, Good News FB-22: out
    (click to view full)

    BAD NEWS: Officials disagreed on what kind of aircraft or missile should be designed to meet the requirement. A single plane? A missile? A family of aircraft? Manned or unmanned? A fighter-bomber like the FB-22/FB-23 idea to fill the FB-111’s vacant shoes, or a full-reach heavy bomber? A traditional land-based platform, or should it be carrier capable? Something comparable to the $2 billion B-2s to take on the toughest strike missions – or more of a utility aircraft like some of the “arsenal aircraft” proposals, aimed at replacing the B-52s with a platform based on a passenger jet or C-17 that would be more economical to fly and maintain? And where do proposals to simply re-engine the B-52 fleet fit in?

    Until (unless) this was sorted out, R&D efforts could not succeed – and issues of future force structure remained open questions. An official Analysis of Alternatives was scheduled for Spring 2007, and the articles below chronicle developments in that process as it works its way forward. At this point, it appears certain that the new bomber will fly at subsonic speeds, and incorporate modern advances in stealth technology. Other elements are less clear.

    THE GOOD NEWS? Key technologies, from stealth to control of unmanned combat aircraft, have taken many steps forward since this discussion began.

    In September 2006, Inside Defense reported that the US Air Force was responding to ongoing Congressional pressure with a proposed $5 billion initial investment over the next few years. Their goal was to develop a next-generation long-range strike platform by 2018, with a fly-off before final platform selection.

    All of this work was effectively brought to a halt when US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announced his FY 2010 budget recommendations, and effectively suspended the competition. Research may continue in some related technologies under ‘black’ (non-public) budgets, but Sec 124 of the Senate’s S.1390 FY 2010 defense budget was clear:

    “On May 7, 2009, President Barack Obama announced the termination of the next generation bomber aircraft program in the document of the Office of Management and Budget entitled ‘Terminations, Reductions, and Savings,’ stating that ‘there is no urgent need to begin an expensive development program for a new bomber’ and that ‘the future bomber fleet may not be affordable over the next six years’.”

    By 2010, however, pressure began to rise again to field a new bomber. The breakthrough came, ironically, during a January 2011 speech about $150 billion in spending and program reductions:

    “Finally, a major area of investment for the Air Force will be a new long-range, nuclear-capable penetrating bomber. This aircraft – which will have the option of being piloted remotely – will be designed and developed using proven technologies, an approach that should make it possible to deliver this capability on schedule and in quantity. It is important that we begin this project now to ensure that a new bomber can be ready before the current aging fleet goes out of service. The follow on bomber represents a key component of a joint portfolio of conventional deep-strike capabilities – an area that should be a high priority for future defense investment given the anti-access challenges our military faces.”

    Competing Teams Phantom Ray rollout
    (click to view larger)

    On the contractor side, the program seemed to be shaping clearly, the picture has become muddy again.

    On Jan 25/08, Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced that they would be cooperating on a bid of their own. Their team will perform studies and system development efforts “in pursuit of the anticipated U.S. Air Force Next Generation Bomber program.” Their collaborative research and development efforts will include will include work in advanced sensors, future electronic warfare solutions, better networked awareness of the broader battlefield, command and control issues for stealth platforms, and virtual warfare simulation and experimentation.

    By March 2010, however, the joint team members were each going their own way. Boeing’s X-45C Phantom Ray provides them with a very useful test platform that could become a base for a new unmanned bomber, and Lockheed Martin’s own work on “black program” UAVs gives them growing expertise as well. They eventually got back together in 2013, once requirements began to clarify.

    Northrop Grumman is another obvious contender, as the designer and manufacturer of the B-2A Spirit Stealth bomber. The firm has moved away from designing full-scale manned military aircraft in recent years, but there are persistent rumors of black (secret) program contracts related to the design of a next-generation bomber, and NGC’s leadership has indicated that black programs are a growing strategic focus for the company. Taken in tandem, it seems likely that Northrop Grumman is already working on a next-generation stealth bomber design. CFO James Palmer admitted as much during a financial conference in November 2013.


    September 21/16: The USAF’s new long-range strike bomber has officially been named the B-21 Raider. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James made the announcement on Monday in what is a tribute to the legacy of WW2’s Doolittle Raiders rather than a reference to the Indiana Jones movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” The Doolittle Raiders are known for their surprise attack against Japan during on April 18, 1942, which forced the Japanese to recall combat forces for home defense, and boosted morale among Americans and US allies abroad.

    September 4/15: Northrop Grumman and competitor coalition Lockheed Martin and Boeing submitted designs for the new long range bomber, with a decision expected in October. The first versions produced are expected to be manned craft, with unmanned craft coming a few years later. Designs are said to be more detailed at the stage than is typical.

    Additional Readings

    tag: 2018bomber

    Categories: News

    USA: $162.7M for Sentinels to Watch the Skies

    Tue, 09/20/2016 - 23:48
    Improved Sentinel
    (click to view full)

    In September 2011, Thales Raytheon Systems in Fullerton, CA received a $162.7 million firm-fixed-price contract for 56 Sentinel AN/MPQ-64A3 radars, along with associated spares and fielding support. Work will be performed in Fullerton, CA, and Forest, MS, with an estimated completion date of June 1/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received. The U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, AL manages the contract (W31P4Q-11-C-0301).

    Their Sentinel radar was to be an integral part of the SL-AMRAAM surface to air missile system, until the US Army decided to assume more battlefield risk and cancel it. Even so, the X-band Sentinel pulse-doppler 3D radars can detect a wide variety of aerial targets, and are being bought for forward area air defense units of the U.S. Army and USMC. Raytheon refers to this buy as Improved Sentinel radars (MPQ-64F1), and conversations with Raytheon personnel confirm that the Pentagon’s “MPQ-64-A3” is the same radar. They also confirm its ability to pinpoint the origin of mortar and artillery fire, and note that its effective range has tripled over the original Sentinel, to 120 km/ 75 miles. Cargo HMMWVs are used as the companion/ towing vehicle, and are equipped with the requisite generator to provide power for the radar.


    September 21/16: Egypt is to receive eight Sentinel AN/MPQ-64F1 radars following the foreign military sale approval by the US State Department. The package, including training and other associative equipment, is estimated to cost $70 million. Once delivered, the Sentinels will work toward improving existing Egyptian air-defense capabilities following a series of aviation disasters over the last year.

    Categories: News

    Trudeau’s Vow to Ditch the F-35 Could be Tough | Denel & Poly Tech Join to Produce Naval Vessels for SA | Airbus to Introduce Digital Methods into Operations

    Mon, 09/19/2016 - 23:58

    • BAE Systems has been awarded a US Army contract for the upgrade and repair of 32 155mm self-propelled Howitzers for Brazil. Valued at $53.8 million, the deal is expected to be completed by March 2019. This follows the 2014 approval by the US State Department for the sale of up to 40 Howitzer upgrade kits to Brazil, along with the associated equipment parts, training, and logistics as part of a deal estimated to be worth $110 million at the time.

    • With nearly a year in office under his belt, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will have to make some tough choices over the next year with analysts warning they could effect popularity and political capital. The biggest question in relation to the defense industry is of course the decision over the replacement of CF-18 fighters following the valiant vow to drop of the F-35 during the election campaign. It’s expected that the Liberals will soon announce whether they intend to break this pledge to launch a new competition for fighter jets, with talk inside military circles believing that Ottawa could announce a sole-source contract.

    Middle East & North Africa

    • Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were accidentally bombed by Western warplanes in attacks supposedly aimed at militants of the Islamic State. The US-led coalition halted Saturday’s sorties once Russian officials notified the US of the mistake. 62 Syrian government soldiers were killed in the strike which involved US, Australian, Danish and British aircraft.


    • A memorandum of understanding has been signed between South Africa’s Denel and Chinese Poly Technologies in a deal aimed at “SA’s maritime rejuvenation.” The deal will see Poly Technologies, a division of the larger Poly Defense Group, take a stake in the Simons Town shipyard and join Denel in constructing three naval vessels. It’s believed that Poly is likely to make an investment in the recapitalization of the Simons Town dockyard as part of its management takeover by Denel Integrated Systems and Maritime (Denel ISM). Denel aims to have Poly help develop the naval vessels presuming Poly wins the SA Navy’s Projects Biro and Hotel for hydrographic, inshore and offshore patrol vessels.


    • The UK MoD has announced that they will purchase Leonardo-Finmeccanica’s BriteCloud decoy system in a deal worth $3.25 million. Speaking on the deal, defense official Tony Douglas said “flight trials planned for later this year will test the system’s effectiveness against a wide range of current and potential threats, helping to ensure that UK pilots have the tools they need to successfully complete their missions wherever they are in the world.” If trials are successful, the system will be operational aboard RAF Tornado fighter-bombers by mid-2017.

    • Airbus admits to planned cost-cutting measures as the European defense giant embarks on a project to introduce more digital methods into its operations. The company stated that “the envisaged cost-cutting aims at being a contribution to value creation and in particular to the digital transformation at Airbus Group,” but denied reports that they are working on new cuts as a result of cost overruns on their largest planes. Aircraft such as the A400M military transporter have undergone severe delays, cost overruns, and fines during its development, causing much ire from customer nations.

    Asia Pacific

    • Dassault Rafale fighters purchased by the Indian government are believed to operate as the platform to take over the nuclear strike role from the Indian Air Force’s current fleet of Mirage 2000 fighters. It’s expected that a long awaited Inter-Government Agreement for the purchase of 36 of the French fighter will be announced over the next few days after New Delhi dropped its initial plan to procure 126 Rafales. While there is a follow up clause for an additional 12 Rafales, the IAF’s capability gap will be filled by either the indigenous Tejas fighters, or another foreign fighter such as the Gripen or F-16, both of which have been offered in conjunction with the “Make in India” initiative.

    • Chinese media sources have reported that Thailand is looking to replace its fleet of C-130H transport aircraft. Quoting outgoing Air Force chief, Trithod Sonchaeng, likely candidates for the aircraft’s replacement include the Chinese Shaanxi Y-9 and Lockheed Martin’s updated C-130J. However, a procurement plan has yet to be finalized giving time for a third contender to potentially emerge.

    Today’s Video

    North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch:

    Categories: News

    Canada Preparing to Replace its CF-18 Hornets

    Mon, 09/19/2016 - 23:57
    CF-18, 20-year colors
    (click to view full)

    Canada’s 138 “CF-18s” were delivered between 1982-1988, but accidents and retirements have reduced the fleet to about 103, with only 79 upgraded F/A-18 AM/BM Hornets still operational. The CF-18s are expected to be phased out between 2017 – 2023. Maintenance and upgrades will remain necessary until then, and possibly beyond.

    Canada has been an active Tier 3 partner in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, participating in both the Concept Demonstration Phase ($10 million) and the System Development and Demonstration Phase ($150 million). This USD $160 million has included funding from both the Department of National Defence, and from Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC). In the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development Phase of the F-35 program, it is estimated that Canada’s contribution will exceed C$ 550 million (about the same in USD) over 44 years. As of September 2011, the government had disbursed about C$ 335 million toward participation in the JSF Program, and related support to Canadian industry.

    Now, 65 new CF-35As are Canada’s official choice to replace its Hornets – and estimates of the cost range from $17 billion to $45.8 billion. This article covers efforts to keep existing CF-18s fit for service, as well as Canada’s replacement fighter buy. As timelines continue to slip, these 2 programs have become more interdependent – and the F-35’s selection less certain.

    Canada and the F-35 Timelines: The F-35’s, and Canada’s

    Here’s the timeline as it has unfolded so far, along with Canada’s plans out to 2050. The timeline will change, but it’s unlikely to move F-35 fielding up to an earlier date. That’s a problem, because the CF-18s have a limited number of hours for safe flight, and they will reach those limits soon. Any delays to the F-35s will either raise costs again by forcing a major refurbishment of Canada’s CF-18s, or leave Canada with serious gaps in its fighter fleet.

    (click to view full) From Canada’s OAG, 2012
    (click to view full) F-35: Canadian Industrial Partners

    The F-35 has been designed on 3 levels: operational, industrial, and political. The tiered partnership model created initial commitments by member governments, and a sub-contracting model that spread industrial benefits among committed partners was designed to create constituencies that would lobby for the F-35’s selection and production.

    That approach has generally worked. It isn’t a coincidence that these industrial benefits have been the main defense used by Canadian governments whenever the F-35 purchase has been questioned, even though any other winner would also have to commit to a similar sort of arrangement. Existing recipients of public money will always fight harder, because the beneficiaries of any switch are only potential winners, who haven’t made big commitments that would be painful to undo. This political engineering approach saved the Dutch F-35 buy in the face of determined political opposition, even though the plane’s cost is forcing them to cut their planned fighter fleet by almost 2/3. Canada seems headed for a similar fate, and their industrial participants include:

    According to the government’s Industry Canada, contracts as of summer 2013 totaled C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: C$ 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters, plus another C$ 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities.

    Given the sharp order cuts we’re seeing in even Tier 2 partners like Britain and the Netherlands, and the USA’s long-term fiscal situation, Lockheed Martin might be lucky to produce half of the expected number of F-35s. Lockheed Martin would argue that one can only publish official figures using official estimates, and they’d have a point, but an honest debate can’t be blind to reality. This is a dilemma for all F-35 partners, and it needs to be kept in mind when reading estimates of the program’s long-term industrial value.

    A Word on Stealth The Stealthy Mosquito F-35A & F-22A
    (click to view full)

    Military discussion in Canada has been almost non-existent, beyond hand-waving and the grossest generalizations. The strategic requirements for new fighters, and whether the choices available can do those jobs at acceptable cost, doesn’t much concern Canada’s governing class. Such references as have been made generally revolve around the need for stealth, without explaining the concept.

    The thing to remember is that stealth isn’t invisibility, just a shorter detection distance. To use a very simplified and very Canadian analogy, a mosquito will have to be a lot closer to you before you’ll see it, compared to a sparrow. Hence all those “surprise” bites, as they exploit the gaps in your perception and get in close enough to strike. They aren’t invisible, though you might swear otherwise at times. On the other hand, if you use other parts of the spectrum by employing your ears, even a tiny mosquito can be detected at uncomfortably long distances in a quiet room.

    That’s just the beginning of your problem, of course. Awareness must be followed by pinpointing and tracking its location, and then it must come within your killing range.

    It’s basically the same sequence for enemy systems. A fighter can survive by defeating any one link in the detection – tracking – reach – kill chain. Stealth complicates all 3 areas, shortening detection ranges, making tracking more difficult, and frustrating or weakening final stage radar guided missile locks.

    Other manufacturers are correct when they respond that modern jets without the stealth marketing have much better radar cross sections that Canada’s existing CF-18s. Even so, the CF-35’s stealth will be a step beyond other fighters on offer to Canada, albeit a step below the USAF’s F-22A Raptors and F-35s. The thing is, modern fighters, missiles, and radars have been making their own parallel improvements over the last decade. To the point where even the F-35’s ability to prevail against high-end enemy air defense systems, and against fighters fielded after 2030, is a matter of controversy.

    Design Choices: America vs. Europe Eurofighter & Meteor
    (click to view full)

    The Americans had better hope that stealth continues to work in practice. They’ve placed their entire future fighter bet on stealth, and are paying the accompanying financial and operational costs.

    The Europeans, in contrast, looked askance at the added construction and maintenance costs of stealth, and at the huge expense of aerodynamic changes once a stealth design is set. They opted instead for radar cross-section reduction that stopped short of full stealth, plus high kinematic performance. Advanced electronic warfare and defensive systems integrated into the planes, non-standard sensors like Infra-Red Search & Track, and long-reach weapons like the Meteor air-to-air missile and stealthy cruise missiles, would all improve protection in other ways.

    Who is right?

    The answer to this question is very consequential to Canada, but it’s hard to say at this point, because the respective approaches haven’t been fully tested against top-end enemy systems. American stealth worked very well against Iraq, twice. Modern European fighters were more than sufficient over Libya in 2011, however; and the stealthless Israelis sliced through dense Syrian air defenses in 2007, using planning, jammming, and well-chosen weapons to destroy a nuclear reactor.

    If stealth remains fully or mostly relevant, even as a matter of faith rather than proof, Europe’s high-end jets will be unable to compete with American stealth fighters. Worse, the F-35’s full-rate production costs beyond 2020 would make it lethal in export competitions.

    On the other hand, if jamming keeps pace, or if stealth’s advantages can be beaten or watered down, the European approach can create cheaper planes with better aerodynamic performance.

    Changing the Game? PIRATE IRST:
    B-2, ICU
    (click to view full)

    Right now, modern ground radars are lengthening the ranges at which stealth aircraft can be detected, and AESA fighter radars are getting better. Those trends will continue, but neither will invalidate stealth on its own. With that said, there are at least 2 key technologies that could significantly change stealth design’s cost:benefit ratio.

    Infrared Search & Track (IRST) systems on planes like the Eurofighter and Rafale, on the F-35 itself, and on most Russian-designed fighters, already offers a potential alternative to radar in aerial engagements. The B-2 picture above was taken by a Eurofighter’s PIRATE IRST system, and used in a presentation to the Norwegian government. The mechanics of fuel circulation in the F-35 are intended to make heat-based lock-ons harder to achieve, and there are pilot-activated additives that can even frustrate locks from tailpipe exhaust, but processors will continue to improve, and so will infrared detection arrays. IRST will remain a potent and improving solution for detection and location, and the mere friction of an airplane cutting through the atmosphere at high speed is very hard to hide completely.

    The greatest long-term threat to stealth is probably a combination of “passive” radars that collect input from wider slices of the spectrum. They’d need to be paired with ever-expanding processing power that can separate anomalies from the clutter by collating multiple input types, and with networked analysis that collates multiple sensor systems. Early research and tests have begun in this area, courtesy of firms like Saab and EADS.

    Canada’s Choice Does Canada Have a Plan B? Canadian Parliament
    (click to view larger)

    At present, it does not. One could even say that it took until 2013 for the government to offer a Plan A.

    There’s an argument that Canada has no strategic need for a fighter in the F-35’s class, and might be better off spending the same amount of money on the same number of cheaper 4+ generation fighters, plus assets like MQ-9 UAVs that would deploy abroad with its troops, maritime patrol aircraft to improve surveillance, etc. To date, however, Canada’s military, governments, and media have all diligently avoided a strategic discussion that could separate, evaluate, and prioritize spending options. Instead, the debate has revolved around economic concerns, and the military’s wants.

    A rigid and secretive procurement system has only exacerbated these tendencies. In the wake of the 20+ year rolling fiasco of its Maritime Helicopter Program competition, multi-billion dollar, single-source buys have characterized almost all Canadian defense procurements over the last 5-7 years. Canada’s choice of the F-35 has been no different, and the only real debate has taken place in the realm of federal elected politics. Opposition critics have cited significant cost uncertainties for the F-35, the shift toward UAVs, and the availability of cheaper aircraft on the global market as reasons to avoid a sole-source purchase. In its place, they’ve alternated between favoring an open fighter competition with public criteria, and making noises about avoiding a fighter buy altogether.

    A 2011 election seemed likely to decide the issue, and the F-35 became a campaign topic. The results were indeed decisive, as the governing Conservative Party finally won its long-sought majority.

    F-35A: open doors
    (click to view full)

    That result left the F-35 with a number of elements in its favor.

    One is the structure of the Canadian Parliamentary system, in which a majority government has no meaningful checks and balances. If the current majority Conservative Party government wants a plane, it can force the sale through, easily. The Conservatives in particular will bear little political cost for doing so, because they have become the only party in the country with serious security credentials. The national security constituency largely lives within that party, and will be happy that something is being done after decades of neglect. The rest of the population isn’t overly interested. The Liberal Party found this out to their sorrow when they tried to make the F-35 an election issue in 2011, and watched the attempt fizzle. They had a solid case, but the messenger had no credibility with people who were interested in the issue.

    Another point in the F-35’s favor is its industrial program. It’s working as intended, by creating industrial constituencies with a strong interest in keeping the purchase. The power of that constituency is partly offset by the fact that Boeing, Canada’s largest aerospace player, is on the other side of the dispute. But only partly. Organizations billing actual dollars will always fight harder that those who might benefit at some future date. Which is why the F-35’s industrial benefits are the current focus of the government’s F-35 defense.

    A third point in the Lightning’s favor is the commitment of senior DND members, who have gone public with a very absolute commitment. Never mind the fact that this commitment seems to mask some shoddy work underneath. In that circumstance, there’s little alternative to a no-compromise stonewall defense, until and unless senior leadership at DND changes.

    Average flyaway cost estimates
    (click to view full)

    Barring a reversal in the next elections, therefore, only a large external shock can change Canada’s commitment to the F-35A. The F-35 program is busy providing that, as costs continue to rise, and major partner countries like the USA, Britain and Italy move to delay or cut their buys. Those moves will keep the plane at lower rates of production for a longer period of time, which makes each plane more expensive.

    Unfortunately, Canada wants to begin replacing its CF-18s by 2017 – 2018. Which means that it needs to place an initial order by 2014 – 2015. The net effect is a fighter whose purchase costs are uncertain, but are clearly set to stay very high in the near term. Worse, at the time of purchase, the operating and maintenance outlays that comprise 2/3 of total lifecycle costs will be extremely vague.

    The Harper government’s response has been to insist that the procurement budget is C$ 9 billion, period, and higher prices will just mean fewer planes bought. At some point, however, a low enough number of planes bought makes it impossible for them to cover their assigned missions. Canada’s air force is already close to that margin in asking for just 65 aircraft, in order to cover the 2nd largest country in the world and participate in international missions.

    Politically, a “wait and see” strategy makes a lot of sense under these circumstances. Which is exactly what we’re seeing. Statements by ministers like Julian Fantino telegraphed that approach, without changing Canada’s underlying commitment. Perhaps some sort of “group buy” approach by the partners will bring purchase costs down, or program news may improve. If so, the purchase goes forward easily.

    If the math continues to look grim, on the other hand, the difficult decisions can always be made later. The government’s shift of program leadership to the Public Works ministry, following a scathing 2012 auditor’s report, makes backtracking easier. The 1st real indication of cracks in the facade didn’t come until November 2012, when the government backed away from DND’s original tailored-for-F-35 fighter requirements. Would it matter?

    What If… Potential Competitors EA-18G & F/A-18F
    (click to view full)

    The F-35 offers Canada the best stealth, the most advanced array of on-board sensors, and the best “user interface” for presenting all that information to its pilots. Strategy has been absent from all Canadian discussions, so if Canada is forced away from its commitment to the F-35, it’s going to be a decision driven by costs. Handicapping for any prospective replacement needs to reflect that.

    The strongest competitor would be Boeing, with its twin-engine F/A-18E/F Super Hornet family. Its F-15E Strike Eagle family is arguably a far better fit for Canada’s military needs, but the Super Hornet is significantly cheaper at about USD$ 60 million flyaway cost, and offers perceived continuity with the existing CF-18 fleet. A Super Hornet buy also offers long-term commonality with the US Navy, ensuring that upgrades and improvements will be financed outside of Canada.

    Australia also flies the Super Hornet, and a 3rd option would be for Canada to take a leaf from their playbook, buying a mix of Super Hornets and F-35As. Australia is about to take the next step in their approach, and fit out 12 RAAF Super Hornets as EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft. That capability is unique to the Super Hornet platform, and it will always be in demand among international coalition partners. Fortunately, Canada is one of just 3-4 countries that could get EA-18G export clearance from the USA.

    (click to view full)

    Canada’s large and remote territories have traditionally pushed their air force toward twin-engine fighters, and the Europeans offer a pair of advanced options. Of the two, EADS/BAE’s Eurofighter Typhoon has far better odds, because it’s compatible with the American weapons that Canada’s air force currently stockpiles, and is used by a number of NATO countries who will help to modernize it over time. The cockpit’s sensor fusion and voice commands got high marks from Canadian evaluators, and Libyan operations demonstrated their ability to Mach 1.2 supercruise at 40,000 feet with air-to-air weapons mounted. On the industrial front, Eurofighter’s connections with firms like Airbus and Thales offer it a good starting point to fulfill industrial offset requirements.

    The Eurofighter’s flip side includes a cost that’s at or above current totals for the F-35A. It also has a very limited set of integrated weapons, with significant gaps in key areas like suppression of enemy air defenses and naval attack. Fortunately for Eurofighter, Canada’s arsenal is pretty basic, but the cost issue won’t go away as easily. Based on sales to date, Eurofighter costs are comfortably above USD$ 100 million. That will make it difficult for them to position themselves as a better deal than Canada’s existing F-35 commitment.

    Rafale with MICA
    missiles, Reco-NG pod
    (click to view full)

    Dassault’s Rafale is a capable, combat-proven multi-role plane, but it comes with a number of problems from Canada’s point of view. Industrial presence and offsets may prove to be a challenge for Dassault, and the plane has no confirmed export sales yet, despite promising signals from India and the Middle East. Unless that promise turns into orders by the time Canada needs to make a decision, long-term modernization costs must also be a serious concern for the Rafale.

    Then, there’s the question of absolute purchase cost. The Rafale was judged to be slightly cheaper than the Eurofighter by India’s evaluators, but it’s still a high-end fighter in the $100 million range. Worse, weapon incompatibilities mean that Canada would need either new stocks of missiles, or an expensive integration program. The combined purchase cost would be unlikely to beat the Eurofighter, let alone the F-35.

    JAS-39 Gripen Demo
    (click to view full)

    Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen could certainly beat the F-35 on price. It’s compatible with Canada’s existing weapons, has the requisite cold-weather pedigree, can be bought for around $60 million, and is built for very low maintenance costs compared to competitors like Eurofighter. It’s a single-engine fighter, like the F-35, but offsets that slightly with an exceptional reliability record in service. Saab’s undeveloped industrial presence in Canada will be a challenge, but using the same GE F414 engine as the Super Hornet helps, and their international record for industrial offset programs is good. The plane is fully NATO-compatible, and earlier model JAS-39C/D Gripens already serve with NATO countries Hungary and the Czech Republic.

    The Gripen’s problem is that its JAS-39E/F models won’t be available in numbers until 2023 or so, which is too late for Canada. The Swiss and Brazilians are solving a similar problem by getting leased JAS-39C/D aircraft on very attractive terms, until their more advanced JAS-39Es arrive. Sweden has cut its own active fleet size quite sharply, so there may be enough Gripens in storage to meet Canada’s needs. If not, a life extension program similar to the US Navy’s Hornet SLEP plans could keep 65 CF-18s flying for another 5 years, at a cost of about $1 billion. If the F-35’s schedule continues to slip, that may be necessary anyway.

    There are reports that Saab pulled out of the competition in June 2013. Saab’s issue, if it gets an opening, is how to compete with a Super Hornet option whose production volume gives it a similar price, plus twin engines, long-term modernization assurance, local allied and expeditionary commonality, and lobbying from Canada’s biggest aerospace firm?

    Contracts and Key Events 2014 – 2016

    CF-18 & VVS MiG-29
    (click to view full)

    September 20/16: With nearly a year in office under his belt, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet will have to make some tough choices over the next year with analysts warning they could effect popularity and political capital. The biggest question in relation to the defense industry is of course the decision over the replacement of CF-18 fighters following the valiant vow to drop of the F-35 during the election campaign. It’s expected that the Liberals will soon announce whether they intend to break this pledge to launch a new competition for fighter jets, with talk inside military circles believing that Ottawa could announce a sole-source contract.

    July 29/16: While Canada’s government continues to flounder on its CF-18 fighter replacement, it still continues to contribute to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Since the Liberal Party’s campaign promise to ditch the F-35 and launch a new replacement competition, they continued paying $33 million into the program. Meanwhile, consultations have taken place with fighter manufacturers which some see as simply giving the Liberals political cover to buy a plane other than the F-35 without holding a competition. If a fair and free competition were to include Lockheed Martin, a fair bet would be on the F-35 winning.

    July 12/16: A total of five defense manufacturers have expressed an interest in supplying the replacement to Canada’s CF-18 fighters. Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Eurofighter and Saab all took part in a conference call with Canadian officials last week, with Dassault planning to meet and discuss the matter at the Farnborough International Airshow this week. Lockheed, whose F-35 was dropped by the Canadian government, welcomed the meetings as a first step towards a new competition.

    July 8/16: Canadian Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan has called for a return to the drawing board on Canada’s CF-18 replacement by reaching out to fighter manufacturers for consultations this summer. The news comes amid reports that Canada was going to purchase Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets as a stop gap (or kicking the can down the road) without the new competition promised by the Liberals during the election campaign. However Sajjan refused to commit to a new competition or independent oversight raising concerns that the bold promises made to ditch the F-35 is causing a capability crisis.

    May 31/16: A new sense of urgency has been injected into Canada’s CF-18 fighter replacement by Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, saying that the issue “needs to be dealt with quickly.” Speaking at the CANSEC defence and military trade show in Ottawa last week, Sajjan didn’t forget to remind reporters that the issue was inherited from the previous government while seemingly forgetting that it was the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau’s promise to ditch its participation in F-35 procurement in favor of a more affordable aircraft.

    June 5/14: Decision, under wraps. Reuters reports from 3 unnamed sources that Canada’s NFPS report recommended sole-sourcing the F-35, but adds that the Conservative Party government is waiting until Parliament is dismissed for the summer before announcing the decision. That’s one way to try and avoid criticism.

    The next question becomes how quickly the government signs a contract. If the government buys the jets before the 2015 elections after all (q.v. April 6/14), the F-35 will become an election issue again, and this time it could hurt the Conservatives. That’s Lockheed Martin’s best situation, because high cancellation costs would likely force the next government to keep the contract in place. If the Conservative Party government doesn’t sign a contract, on the other hand, the election issue loses its bite, but the F-35 buy would be at very grave risk if the Liberal and/or NDP parties win. Sources: Reuters, “Exclusive: Canadian review will recommend buying Lockheed F-35 fighter jet – sources”.

    April 13/14: NFPS done. The Harper government has accepted the “options analysis” report from its National Fighter Procurement Secretariat (NFPS) panel, after more than 18 months. As noted earlier (q.v. April 6/14), Canada won’t be able to order F-35s until 2015, and probably won’t do so until after the 2015 elections, if they place any orders at all. Sources: Postmedia News, “F-35 decision back in government’s court as air force completes major study”.

    April 11/14: Stealth risks. The December 2012 report concerning Canada’s F-35 buy had a lot of cuts, including passages that highlighted ongoing problems with the program.

    “But the Citizen has obtained more than a dozen earlier drafts of the report showing defence officials had originally laid out many of the issues surrounding the F-35’s development, and their potential impact on Canada [only to have them removed later].”

    Issues that were removed from the Canadian report included fuel consumption that’s 26% higher than the CF-18s, problems with the Helmet-Mounted Display that have been cited in multiple US GAO and US DOT&E publications, and serious software delays involving the fighter’s 8+ million lines of code. That last item was the subject of a March 2014 report from the US GAO., “Final report on F-35 dropped references to fuel, IT problems”.

    April 7/14: CF-18 Engines. Magellan Aerospace has been responsible for F404 engine maintenance & repairs for over 30 years, and that isn’t changing. Their latest contract is a C$ 55 million, 1-year award with an option for an additional year. Sources: Magellan Aerospace, “Magellan Aerospace Awarded Engine Maintenance Contract for CF-188 F404”.

    April 6/14: Stall. Canada’s “buy profile” for the F-35 has been moved from 2017 to 2018, which means there won’t be a decision before the 2015 elections. That’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it gives the Conservative Party plausible deniability to say that it hasn’t made any decisions, which will keep the F-35 from becoming an issue again. On the other hand, the process itself has so alienated the other parties that unless the Conservatives win a majority, the F-35 buy will probably be canceled. Sources: Defense News, “Canada: No F-35 Buys Before 2018”.

    Jan 22/14: Rafale. Dassault SVP of NATO affairs Yves Robins is quoted as saying that they’re offering Canada unrestricted transfers of technology if it picks the Rafale, including software source codes for servicing the planes. That’s something Canada won’t get with the F-35, and it’s being touted as a long-term cost savings that will let Canadian firms do more of the required maintenance. They’re also pushing the government to declare a competition.

    CBC goes on to show that they don’t really grasp the issues, asking about the Rafale’s ability to operate alongside the USAF. France replies that this worked over Libya, but that isn’t the real question. The question is whether Canada could use its American weapons with the Rafale, without having to buy new weapons or conduct expensive integration and testing programs. In most cases, the answer is no. Sources: CBC News, “Dassault Aviation ramps up CF-18 replacement pitch”.

    Jan 15/14: DND’s former assistant deputy minister for procurement, Alan Williams, explains why he thinks the entire review is a sham. The government hasn’t released its requirements for the fighter buy, and hasn’t solicited the full cost and performance data that would be required for an informed comparison. Williams is probably correct in his conclusion, but full price data would only come about as a result of an RFP – which is to say, after a competition is declared. Sources: Embassy magazine, “Feds haven’t changed perspective on F-35: Williams”.

    Jan 2/14: Paperwork in. According to documents posted on a federal website on Thursday, the Canadian Forces have already prepared draft reports to the “National Fighter Procurement secretariat” on the price, the technical capabilities and the strategic advantages of the 4 fighter jets considered (F-35A, Eurofighter, Rafale, Super Hornets). Actually, the price isn’t included, except as a rough order of magnitude. That information wasn’t forthcoming from all manufacturers, and even Boeing would likely be quoting an Advanced Super Hornet model that isn’t being bought under its current multi-year Navy contract. A competition would be necessary in order to really know, and the key question from the start has been whether the Conservative government has ever had any genuine interest in a competition.

    The RCAF is also reportedly finishing up its “Integrated Mission Risk Assessment,” though the quality of their work has been less than stellar in the past. Source: The Globe and Mail, “Military’s fighter-jet reports to put ball in Ottawa’s court on F-35s”.


    EA-18G: key systems
    (click to view full)

    Dec 10/13: Industrial. The federal government’s Industry Canada department releases a report detailing Canadian contracts to date from the F-35 program, explaining their calculation approach, and estimating future opportunities.

    Contracts to date as of summer 2013 amount to C$ 503 million, while total future contracts are estimated at C$ 9.429 billion: 8.261 billion if existing contracts are extended over the scheduled number of fighters (a very dubious proposition, based on order cuts to date), plus another 1.168 billion in identified production & service opportunities. Sources: Canada IC, “Canadian Industrial Participation in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program”.

    Nov 7/13: Sub-contractors. One modification shared by Canada and Norway’s F-35As will be drag chutes, which help with landings on short and/or ice-covered runways. Airborner Systems, “Airborne Systems Canada Supports Development of F-35 Drag Chute Program”:

    “Airborne Systems is currently providing technical assistance to Lockheed Martin during the F-35 drag chute development. Their experience and expertise have contributed to the drag chute concept development which has led to the baseline design currently being finalized for the F-35A. Airborne Systems plans to continue supporting the drag chute development, flight test, certification and eventual production for the F-35 fleet.”

    June 4/13: This headline from the [Parliament] Hill Times sums it all up, which is good, because the rest is subscription-only: “Prime Minister Harper, Cabinet to decide on F-35 fighter jets without advice from Public Works Procurement Secretariat, say Public Works officials.”

    Saab’s decision looks very rational if this is true. Hill Times.

    May 31/13: No Saab. “Senior government officials” confirm to Quebecor’s QMI news agency that Saab has decided not to participate in Public Works Canada’s market analysis phase.

    That doesn’t keep Saab from entering a competitive process later, if there is one. Saab has told QMI that they will re-evaluate the decision once there’s a clear way forward in Canada. QMI, via Sun News.

    April 28/13: Expected losses. Canada’s Postmedia News reports:

    “In December 2011, the Defence Department’s research arm, Defence Research and Development Canada, published a report in which it said “that the probability of having 63 or more (F-35s) remaining at this time (when the last one is delivered) is approximately 54 per cent.”

    Canada plans to order 65 F-35As, for delivery from 2017-2022. Their expectation is 7-11 destroyed aircraft over the fleet’s expected 42-year lifespan, with losses fitting the standard fighter pattern and being heavier in the early years. So they’re claculating a 46% chance that 2 or more F-35As are crashed or lost in the first 6 years. Not unusual, or unreasonable.

    Where the math becomes more questionable is the expectation that Canada can order 65 F-35As plus accompanying spares, training equipment, etc. with its budgeted funds, while placing orders in the program’s early production years from 2014-2020.

    March 3/13: RFI. Canada’s issues its official RFI/ “Industry Engagement Request”:

    “Five identified companies with aircraft in production—The Boeing Company, Dassault Aviation, EADS Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin and Saab Group—were previously sent a draft of the questionnaire on January 25, 2013, for comment. The National Fighter Procurement Secretariat received input from all five companies and their feedback is reflected in the final questionnaire, which the companies are being asked to complete within six weeks. A second questionnaire to obtain information on costs will be sent in draft form to the five companies for comment at a later date.”

    See: Release | Final Industry Engagement Request: Capability, Production and Supportability Information Questionnaire.

    Feb 27/13: Lifetime costs. Media traction for the Super Hornet, as Boeing has an opportunity to publicly tout their Super Hornet in a CBC TV report, which feature Boeing’s (Canadian) lead Super Hornet test pilot. The report also brings sustainment costs into Canada’s public debate for the first time, claiming $23 billion in lifetime savings from a Super Hornet buy:

    “[Half] sounded too good to be true – so CBC News dug into Boeing’s figures to see how credible they are. According to the GAO, the Super Hornet actually costs the U.S. Navy $15,346 an hour to fly. It sounds like a lot – until you see that the U.S. Air Force’s official “target” for operating the F-35 is $31,900 an hour. The GAO says it’s a little more – closer to $32,500. CBC also asked Lockheed Martin to say if it had any quarrel with these numbers – and it did not…. Super Hornets, which Boeing says are 25 per cent cheaper to run than Canada’s “legacy” CF-18s.”

    At this late point in the CF-18’s life, that’s certainly possible. At Lockheed Martin, they won’t publicly argue with the GAO, but they’re hopeful that its estimate will drop as the jet gains experience. At the same time, F-35 program manager Lt. Gen Bogdan has publicly pegged F-35 support projections as “just too high”, and vowed to bring them down.

    With that said, the math using KPMG’s F-35 estimate as a starting point, and the GAO’s figures as the relative baselines, is that a Super Hornet buy might save Canada around $19.53 billion in ownership costs to 2042 ($37 – 17.47 billion operations). It will actually be less than that, because upgrades should be assumed to factor in at the same cost. So let’s say $15 billion. CBC also mistakenly assumes that an F/A-18E/F purchase price of around $60 million would also save half of the F-35 program’s $9 billion maximum purchase price, but it wouldn’t. Rather, it would allow Canada to buy all 65 fighters that the RCAF says are the minimum required, including 12 EA-18G electronic attack aircraft, instead of buying fewer than 65 F-35As. Of course, even $15 billion is a large enough figure to make a dent in the public debate. CBC article | CBC video: The Super Hornet.

    Feb 14/13: More estimates. Canada’s government orders another cost estimate connected to their fighter replacement program:

    “In December 2012, KPMG presented the Next Generation Fighter Capability: Life Cycle Cost Framework to the National Fighter Procurement Secretariat—a life-cycle cost framework for the F-35 program. The purpose of this new review is to ensure that the framework is appropriately applied by National Defence and that the cost estimates in the upcoming 2013 Annual Update are sound…. The notice of proposed procurement about the review is posted on the Government of Canada’s tendering system hosted on MERX. The contract is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks.”

    Feb 13/13: Library of Parliament Report. Canada’s Library of Parliament issues “Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets,” which chronicles the various cost estimates submitted to Parliament and in major published reports. One interesting change is noted by The Globe and Mail:

    “The amount National Defence has set aside for weapons has been cut to just $52-million for the estimated 30-year operational life of the jets, compared with estimates in two previous reports of $270-million and $300-million.”

    The key driver is a December 2012 Public Works report that said existing weapons in Canadian stocks wouldn’t be adequate over the fighter’s full 40-year life cycle. Which is reasonable. Compatibility with American weapons saves money in the near-term, but doesn’t change the need to buy items over the long term. Paveway laser-guided bombs last a long time, but existing AIM-120 missiles will need upgrades at the very least, and new weapons will become necessary over the next 40 years. Hence the statement that “over the life cycle of the replacement fleet, the acquisition of newer weapons will be considered and funded as separate projects.”

    So, on the one hand it’s reasonable. On the other hand, weapons are a reasonable part of a fighter fleet’s cost, and the sudden change in terms is an obvious way to lower the published cost by a quarter billion dollars. Sources: Library of Parliament, Estimating the Cost of Replacing Canada’s Fighter Jets”, Globe and Mail, “National Defence to buy fewer bombs if F-35 selected as new air force fighter”.

    Feb 12/13: Whitewashed report? Comparing a Nov 1/12 copy of the draft Parliamentary Public Accounts committee report with the final November 2013 product shows the removal of important information that was shared during Spring 2011 hearings. Opposition members are incensed.

    CP chronicles omissions including references to the F-35’s selection without competition, a caveat that the price tag per aircraft could almost double from the claimed USD $75 million to $138 million, and passages critical of the F-35’s industrial benefits program. More explosively, it dropped Auditor General Michael Ferguson’s testimony that the Conservative Party government had seen the full cost of the plan, as opposed to the final report that blamed DND for omissions. Ferguson’s stated concern that F-35 ownership costs could create problems for future defense budgets was also edited out, along with a passage of cost-related testimony from Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page, who has an unfriendly relationship with the current government. Sources: CBC News, “F-35 committee report strategically edited, draft suggests”.

    Feb 11/13: Postmedia obtains documents from Canada’s 2005-2006 look at its fighter options, and discovers what DND thought of each option.

    Eurofighter: “Remarkable” sensor fusion and fine cockpit, a powerful aircraft with effective air-to-air capabilities and reduced RCS, though it isn’t a full stealth aircraft. Might even be considered a borderline “5th generation” plane. The report worried about interoperability, and it also talked more bluntly about buying aircraft from anyone other than the USA. Relayed contents don’t mention Eurofighter’s low variety of integrated weapons and sensors, which is still an issue in 2013.

    F/A-18 Super Hornet: Credible option with a lot of integrated weapons and bolt-on sensors, seen as a smaller shift for Canadian CF-18 maintainers. It seems to be the default backup for many nations that were considering the F-35 – and since then, the USN and Australia have proven them right. On the other hand, “It makes several compromises between approach speed, weight and structure.” The EA-18G electronic warfare option pursued by Australia is not reported, and seems not to have been mentioned.

    JAS-39 Gripen: A “fairly stealthy” platform due to its small size, design, and use of radar-absorbing materials, but not a full stealth aircraft. They also liked its low maintenance costs. Its system for emergency landings and landings on short airfields is different from Canada’s, which would require changes. Doesn’t seem to have discussed the new JAS-39E/F, but then, the design was unclear at that time. It’s a lot clearer now.

    Rafale: Seen a fast and maneuverable, with above-average range that’s a plus for Canada. Weren’t so impressed with the cockpit, and wondered about the Snecma M88 engine’s cold-weather performance. Relayed report contents didn’t focus on Rafale’s unique weapon incompatibilities with the American gear that fills Canada’s existing stores, and which can be diverted from US stocks for emergencies and joint efforts. That’s a big omission, but the relayed contents also missed Rafale’s strong SPECTRA electronic protection system, which proved itself over Libya 5 years later.

    F-35: Saw its stealth features as unique. Flip side of this is that security at Canadian bases would become more elaborate and expensive. Worried that “many of the capabilities and performance features (of the F-35) such as signature, payload, speed, range and manoeuvrability, could change due to the U.S. focus on keeping the costs down.” Which is indeed happening. On the other side of the coin, F-35 sensors and sensor fusion are uniquely excellent, but that isn’t in the relayed report contents.

    Canada’s competitor conclusions

    Jan 29/13: Bridge buy? Canada’s Hill Times reports that Canada is considering a short-term bridging fighter buy. The key piece of information comes from the letter announcing the Industry Engagement Request, which also asked respondents to talk about options in to the 2020-2030 frame, and then options beyond 2030:

    “The evaluation of options will review and assess all available fighter aircraft and will result in a comprehensive report with the best available information on the capabilities, costs, and risks of each option, including bridging and fleet options…”

    That would put them in the same boat as Australia’s RAAF, which also flies upgraded F/A-18 Hornets. They’ve already received 12 F/A-18F Super Hornet fighters as a bridge, plus 12 more that will be converted to EA-18G electronic warfare and air defense suppression planes. Australia is finding that F-35 delays are creating the need for a longer bridge, and the RAAF could end up with a 50/50 long term split between the Super Hornet family and the F-35. In practice, a similar logic is likely for Canada: every “bridging” fighter bought is 1 fighter subtracted from their eventual F-35 order. Hill Times | CDFAI.


    F-35A, eh?
    (click to view full)

    Dec 16-17/12: Trust busted? An article in the Hill Times magazine quotes former DND assistant deputy minister for procurement Alan Williams, who says that “We know that the fiasco certainly started by the bureaucrats hijacking the process,” while ministers simply went along and didn’t ask questions.

    The British TV hit “Yes, Minister” was based on that very premise, but this instance doesn’t seem to have the same comic value. Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page has had a publicly hostile relationship with the Conservative Party government, and he has been very critical of the CF-35 decision process (q.v. May 3/12), but it still matters when he says things like:

    “Trust is broken. I don’t think you get, in terms of a reset, that trust back until you have that debate in front of Parliament…. From my view, the (F-35) process that we had up to date, certainly our experience in 2010-11, was a complete failure, and, I think, a lack of leadership both politically and I think by public servants as well…. There were numbers that existed at DND (Department of National Defence) that were much higher than what was presented to Parliament. Canadians saw the lower set of numbers… So in that sense, they were misled”

    Dec 7/12: KPMG’s cost estimate. The precise figure for KPMG’s cost estimate is reported to be C$ 45.802 billion, based on an in-service life of 42 years. Current F-35 industrial participants are becoming worried, and a soon-to-be released companion study will take a second look at real figures for industrial benefits. Those estimates have already been quietly scaled back from C$ 12 billion to C$ 9.85 billion, and may drop further. The government defends their 20-year cost estimates, and they do have a point. Former treasury board official Michelle d’Auray:

    “Going beyond 20 years is considered too high-risk to ensure that the value in contracting with industry would be sustained, or the costs would be going beyond the 20-year mark… So that, for us, is considered to be reasonable, and as the deputy minister of National Defence indicated, all of the submissions to date have been presented to the Treasury Board have used a 20-year cost estimate.”

    Periods over 20 years are chancy for contracts, and wide potential variations in core inputs like fuel prices makes those estimates little better than guesses. Even guesses can still be of value, but only if they’re comparing components like fuel costs with other alternatives, using the same baseline pricing assumptions. See: Canadian Press | CTV | The Globe and Mail | National Post.

    KPMG’s F-35A lifetime cost estimate

    Dec 6/12: Not cancelled. Postmedia, which usually has good sources within the government, says Canada will pull out of the Joint Strike Fighter program. It turns out not to be true. Canada is about to analyze its options, and as noted earlier, Public Works has thrown out the specifications straightjacket. Early reports indicate that Boeing (Super Hornet) and Eurofighter have been approached for detailed information, with the possibility of broadening the invitation.

    The other revelation in their article is that KPMG is done with their audit, which exceeds even the $29 billion maximum estimate from previous studies. Reports are pegging the potential 36-year lifecycle cost at C$ 40+ billion, though that involves a longer service life than previous estimates, and includes fuel costs. CBC | The Globe and Mail | National Post | Flight International.

    Nov 30/12: Stealth. Gen. Tom Lawson, a former fighter pilot and Canada’s new chief of defence staff, tells a Parliamentary committee that the F-35 isn’t the only aircraft able to meet stealth requirements. The F-35 is better, he says, but when asked by Liberal defence critic John McKay whether there is only 1 airplane that can meet the Canadian military’s requirements in this area, Lawson said “no.” He later added, correctly, that “Fourth and fifth generation is not a very helpful way of looking at that aircraft.”

    Canada’s exact “low observability” requirements, such as they are, have never been made public. It is true that even 4+ generation fighters like the Eurofighter, Gripen, Rafale, and Super Hornet will all have significantly smaller radar cross-sections that the current CF-18 fleet, even though several of them are bigger aircraft. The F-35 will be smaller again. See above for a more detailed discussion of “stealth.” CBC.

    Nov 22/12: 1st cracks. Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose tells Canada’s House of Commons that Canada’s “review of options will not be constrained by the previous statement of requirements.” That seems minor, but it isn’t. DND’s requirements had been crafted to make the F-35 the only available choice, per the department’s standard pattern over the last 7-8 years. Breaking that lock opens up other options for consideration.

    A serious analysis hasn’t been performed yet, but this statement is a sign that it could start. Much will depend on the exact people chosen to do the analyzing. CBC | CDFAI |

    Oct 22/12: New RCAF chief Lt.-Gen. Yvan Blondin tells the Canadian Press that DND hasn’t really begun looking at other fighter options beyond the F-35. A thorough examination of other possible aircraft would require a more detailed study by military planners, and he said that the order hasn’t been given. Blondin was asked twice during the interview whether other aircraft had been considered, and he replied: “No.”

    That examination was central to the government’s promises after the negative 2011 Auditor General Report, so the government replied by saying that “work continues on the evaluation of options… The options analysis is a full evaluation of choices, not simply a refresh of the work that was done before.” None of which actually means that a serious evaluation is underway.

    DID’s verdict: Lt-Gen. Blondin told the truth, and the government is being dishonest. There isn’t a serious analysis taking place. To date, any analysis has been a hasty and less-than-professional justification for a decision that’s already made. There is no sign yet that this pattern is changing. Canadian Press | Canada DND.

    Sept 28/12. Requirements. Canada’s CBC obtains a redacted copy of Canada’s official Statement of Requirements for its next-generation fighter, and makes it available for download. As they explain:

    “The Statement of Operational Requirements for Canada’s next jet fighter was produced by the Royal Canadian Air Force Directorate of Air Requirements in June, 2010. It wasn’t submitted to Canada’s Public Works department until after the government announced its decision to purchase 65 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft in July, 2010. Normally Public Works is responsible for procuring hardware for the military after they have submitted their statement of requirements. [CBC Program} The Fifth Estate obtained this highly redacted copy through an Access to Information request.”

    Sept 7/12: Auditor hired. KPMG has been given a $643,535 to review/audit projections for the CF-35. Their offer was 1 of 2 bids reviewed by Treasury Board and Public Works and Government Services Canada. CBC.

    Aug 9/12: Delayed audit. Almost 2 months after its self-imposed deadline, Public Works quietly re-issued a tender, asking for an audit firm to come forward and take on the politically explosive task of verifying the F-35 figures provided by DND. The minister’s office tells Postmedia that the original tender was the problem, as it didn’t give accounting firms enough flexibility to sub-contract portions of the project. This might be important, in order to gain in-depth expertise in defense procurement.

    The new tender doesn’t close until the end of August, which means the review might not even arrive in 2012. Postmedia.

    May 24/12: Industrial. Lockheed Martin vice-president Steve O’Bryan talks to Canada’s Postmedia News about the F-35. They’re working on the understanding that Canada will place a production order in FY 2014

    “Right now we will honour all existing contracts that we have. After that, all F-35 work will be directed into countries that are buying the airplane… What we have is the official statement out of the government and we’re working with the government. They’re committed to the F-35, they’ve selected it, and we haven’t had any change in that official position.”

    That commitment has underpinned the JSF program’s work with Canadian firms, which the National Post reports as C$ 435 million to 66 Canadian companies since 1997. Even if those partnerships stop, however, Canadian procurement policies will require industrial offsets from the winner worth 100% of purchase value. The industrial question for the F-35 involves the perceived long term technical and financial value of their work to Canada’s aerospace industry, vs. the offsets their competitors might offer. That makes for a complex evaluation, but it’s often a component of big-ticket defense competitions around the world. Postmedia.

    May 15/12: Gone Rogue? Following a round of Parliamentary hearings, in which senior DND bureaucrats are grilled about their CF-35 program estimates and conduct, NDP MP Malcolm Allen goes so far as to say that:

    “This is a department that’s really gone rogue… [the minister] has totally lost control of that department… There’s no faith in this department anymore. None whatsoever.”

    Allen is the Official Opposition party’s shadow minister for Agriculture, but he’s involved in the F-35 issue through his role on Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee. It’s expected that opposition members will oppose the government of the day, and the NDP’s socialism has always been coupled with an aversion to the military. With that said, for an MP in his position to level that kind of criticism at a government department, and use words like “no faith” and “out of control,” is a very rare thing. No political party rules forever, and if DND is seen as institutionally untrustworthy and dishonest by Canada’s other major parties, they will have created very dire future for themselves. Postmedia.

    May 3/12: Was DND honest? Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page tells its Public Accounts Committee that the government withheld key information about the full costs of the F-35 in 2011, against explicit requests, in an effort to present a lower price tag to Canadians.

    “Over the past few weeks, it has become clear that the Department of National Defence provided the PBO with figures that did not include all operating costs… The PBO understood that it had been provided with full life-cycle costs from DND as required… It seems difficult to understand how there could have been any confusion as to whether or not the PBO included operating costs within its estimate.”

    DND officials say they understood that operations and maintenance costs should be excluded, but Page drew attention to the November 2010 committee motion that prompted PBO’s report. It specifically called for the release of all documents that outline life-cycle costs. Postmedia.

    April 3/12: Auditor General report. The office of the Auditor General of Canada delivers its 2012 Spring report, including a chapter covering Canada’s process for selecting and then budgeting for the F-35. Based on previous stories concerning leaked drafts, the report has been softened and made more vague.

    On the one hand, it describes how the F-35 program itself was built to circumvent normal procedures in participating governments, and make any subsequent competitions difficult to execute fairly. This is true, and beyond Canada’s influence. On the other hand, the report describes a number of instances where Canada’s DND has deliberately misled Parliament, a situation that past OAG reports have now detailed in almost every major Canadian defense procurement program over the last 5 years. Beyond deliberate deceptions, DND also made repeated assertions about both the F-35’s costs and its air needs that were not backed by any substantive analysis. Public Works Canada, which is supposed to serve in an independent oversight role, utterly failed in this duty, and was often hampered by DND’s refusal to provide information when it did attempt to act.

    In response, the government “accepts the Auditor General’s recommendation and conclusions,” and commits to a number of steps. None of them imperil the F-35 program yet, or punish past misconduct, but the government is leaving themselves an official out.

    The biggest apparent commitment is a freezing of funding at C$ 9 billion procurement and C$ 7 billion for support, followed by a statement from Associate Minister of National Defence Fantino that they “will acquire the F-35 only if and when we can operate within that budget.” This is less of a concession than it seems. First, it reiterates stated policy. Second, it freezes only the purchase cost. Support costs are even more likely to see serious cost inflation, but are the easiest to falsely assume away in advance. If they double to C$ 14 billion in real costs, Canada would have no option but to pay. Finally, it offers no other fighter options, or even preparation to make another fighter option feasible. Canada’s DND will “continue to evaluate options,” but the C$ 16 billion is still described as an F-35 acquisition budget, not a fighter acquisition budget. Likewise, the program’s new coordinating Secretariat in Public Works Canada is the F-35 Secretariat, though the effect clearly shifts authority out of the Department of National Defence, and away from Minister for National Defence Peter Mackay.

    Annual updates to Parliament have now been promised, to be delivered within 60 days of receiving revised costing forecasts from the USA’s F-35 program. The question is whether these Parliamentary reports will continue to omit pertinent information that is not mentioned by the US office, or will otherwise improve the past record of incomplete and misleading reports. It’s more encouraging that Canada’s Treasury Board Secretariat will have to commission an independent review of DND’s acquisition and sustainment project assumptions and potential F-35 costs, and make that public, before a purchase contract is signed. OAG 2012 Spring Report. | Canada PWGSC/DND response | Canada’s CBC: video of OAG presentation.

    OAG criticizes the program

    April 3/12: F-35 schedule & costs. Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman takes a deep look into the Pentagon’s latest Selected Acquisition Reports, which was released on March 30/12. Some of the conclusions are very relevant to Canada’s choices:

    “Another three-year slip to initial operational test and evaluation, the culmination of system development and demonstration, which now is due to be complete in 2019 – the target date is February but the threshold date is October… it appears that the main culprit is software and hardware, mainly in terms of… sensor fusion and emission control – that take place in the fighter’s main processor banks… In what follows, I’m going to use average procurement unit cost (APUC)… recurring flyaway is the lowest cost, but neither the US nor anyone else can put an aircraft on the ramp for that money. And all numbers are base-2012… The APUC for the F-35A in 2013-14 is $184-$188 million, versus $177m (2009 dollars) for the last F-22s. And that is at a much higher production rate.”

    Most ominously for the F-35’s future cost structure:

    “Although the basis of the numbers has been changed, the SAR still compares the F-35A with the F-16, and shows that the estimated CPFH [DID: Cost Per Flight Hour] for the F-35A has gone from 1.22 F-16s in the 2010 SAR to 1.42 today – versus 0.8 F-16s, which was being claimed a few years ago. Where is that operations and support money going to come from?”

    March 20/12: Plan B? As Canada’s government gives conflicting signals about its F-35A commitment, and braces for a scathing Auditor General report about their pledged buy, other planes may get an opening:

    ” The likeliest contenders, should there be a competition, are U.S.-based Boeing, maker of the F-18 Super Hornet, and Dassault of France, maker of the Rafale… “In our world we’re already in a competition,” one industry insider said. “(Associate Defence Minister) Fantino himself said we’re basically looking at our options. There’s a team at (Department of National Defence) looking at the market. So it’s already on.”

    Despite this report, Canada’s considerable stockpile of American-made air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons adds huge additional switching costs to an already-expensive Rafale aircraft, and makes it a very unlikely challenger. Post Media.

    March 15/12: Auditor General. Canada’s Auditor General is carving out a respected niche in Canadian politics, and that may be bad news for the F-35. The office is due to deliver a report on Canada’s F-35 plans by April 3rd, and a draft copy has been circulating. It reportedly says that the air force relied more or less exclusively on Lockheed Martin for all key pricing and performance assertions, even as government officials failed to follow procurement rules. Globe and Mail | Macleans magazine | National Post | Post Media | UPI.

    March 13/12: If? Deputy defense minister Julian Fantino tells the House of Common Defence Committee that Canada has made no commitment to the F-35A, and uses the word “if” with respect to any proposed buy. While he maintains Canada’s interest in the aircraft, the comments are seen as a marked change in tone. A later release by Canada’s DND highlights Fantino’s March 16/12 CADSI speech, in which he affirms the industrial benefits of the F-35 program. Canadian Broadcasting Corp. | Globe and Mail | | Toronto Star | Reuters || Canada’s DND.

    March 2/12: Canada hosts a meeting of international F-35 program partners in its Washington Embassy, to discuss the future of the program. Canada’s DND | Canadian Press | Post Media | Reuters.

    F-35 summit


    CF-18 ACES sim
    (click to view full)

    Nov 24/11: Norway’s costs. Norwegian MP Roger Ingebrigtsen [Troms, Labour Party], and Rear Admiral Arne Røksund, head of their Department of Defence Policy and Long-Term Planning, visit Canada. They respond to Canadian MP Christine Moore [Abitibi-Temiscamingue, NDP], who asks about Norway’s planned F-35 purchase:

    “Mr. Roger Ingebrigtsen: It’s about $10 billion U.S. That’s for 51 or 52 air fighters. That’s $10 billion today…

    RAdm Arne Røksund: …The life cycle costs will be, I think, about–this is not public yet, so I have to be careful – $40 billion U.S. over 30 years. So that’s life cycle costs over 30 years, all included.

    Ms. Christine Moore: …So the $10 billion is simply to purchase the aircraft themselves.

    RAdm Arne Røksund: That is for the planes, initial logistics included, repair kits, and so on, for the first few years.”

    The purchase figures are consistent with accounts of NOK 61 – 72 billion, but the 30-year sustainment costs are new. Ottawa Citizen Defence Watch.

    Oct 28/11: Canada’s National Post reports that Canada’s F-35A purchase may not be a sure thing, even though the majority government could easily force the sale through. Excerpts:

    “This minister has a knack for projecting blithe confidence. But in this instance he is increasingly offside with other members of the cabinet and with the Prime Minister’s Office, sources familiar with the situation say… Indeed in defence circles, it is believed that Julian Fantino was installed as under-minister in charge of procurement partly to offset MacKay’s tendency to defer to the senior military brass… “The reaction is, where’s the competition, where’s the bidding, and what do you mean you don’t know the price?” acknowledges Senator Colin Kenny, former chair of the Senate defence committee and a strong proponent of the F-35… there are three elephants in the room…”

    One is Canada’s 20-year, C$ 33 billion national military shipbuilding strategy, which is politically untouchable. The 2nd and 3rd issues refer to the effect of a possible slowdown and/or cut of F-35 buys in America and in Europe, which would raise the price for Canada’s planes. Our analysis: it’s too early to call Canada’s F-35 deal into serious question. On the other hand, if these reports are true, it’s no longer the sure thing that it seemed to be when Prime Minister Harper won his majority government.

    Oct 23/11: Communications frozen? A Global TV News article reveals that the F-35 will have issues communicating during arctic patrols, because its satellite communications capability will be worse than the current CF-18 fleet’s when it’s delivered:

    “Military aircraft operating in the high Arctic rely almost exclusively on satellite communications… The F-35 Lightning will eventually have the ability to communicate with satellites, but the software will not be available in the initial production run, said a senior Lockheed Martin official, who spoke on background… It is expected to be added to the aircraft when production reaches its fourth phase in 2019, but that is not guaranteed because research is still underway.”

    Sept 6/11: CF-18 Sims. L-3 Link Simulation & Training announces a foreign military sale contract through US NAVAIR’s Training Systems Division, to upgrade Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) CF-18 flight simulators located at Cold Lake, AB; Bagotville, PQ; and Ottawa, ON. The contract’s value was not disclosed.

    L-3 Link is the original supplier for Canada’s 6 existing CF-18 Air Combat Emulators (ACEs), and 10 CF-18 Part Task Trainers, plus instructor/operator stations and brief/debrief systems. They will be upgraded with the latest F/A-18 training system capabilities, creating a common F/A-18 training solution with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps’ Tactical Operational Flight Trainers. Key upgrades to the trainers will include a new photo-texture visual system database, and enabling the Mission Operation Center to conduct multi-plane training. The CF-18 training systems will also include Canada-specific modifications.

    Aug 31/11: CF-18 support. Canada adds up to C$ 111 million (currently around $112 million) to its CF-18 Primary Air Vehicle contract with L-3 Military Aviation Services (L-3 MAS), converting the previous arrangement to a full Optimized Weapon System Support program.

    The contract breaks down as another C$ 80 million to 2017 in the base contract (now C$ 547 million), plus a set of extension options that could extend the additional work out to 2020 and raise the total by C$ 111 million, taking the overall contract to C$664 million (currently $676 million). OWSS adds new items to the previous contract’s list of maintained components (vid. Sept 1/10), consolidating them under this 1 contract, but doesn’t change contract length or other particulars. Public Works Canada | L-3 MAS [PDF].

    CF-18 support extensions

    May 2/11: Election. Canada’s Conservative Party wins an election forced by the opposition parties, and ends a string of minority Parliaments by taking 167 seats and gaining a Parliamentary majority.

    The structure of the Canadian system ensures nearly complete party discipline. The Prime Minister can refuse to sign the nomination papers for any party candidate, forcing them to run as an independent or quit. Canada also requires whole-party leadership conventions to remove a party leader or Prime Minister, as opposed to the British tradition where it can be done by a majority of party MPs. In other words, Canada will buy any jet the Prime Minister approves. That means the F-35A. CBC Election Day coverage.

    Majority government

    DND shoots back
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    March 10-21/11: As Canada’s upgraded CF-18s join allied operations over Libya, Canada’s government and Department of National Defence exchanges fire with the Parliamentary Budget Officer over the F-35 report, in the media and via detailed statements. Bottom line? Both parties are standing firmly by their figures. The Canadian DND’s F-35 mini-site includes release and comparison of figures table, among others. See also PBO’s detailed rebuttal [PDF] | Macleans magazine | Ottawa Citizen’s “Let’s be honest about the price tag on those planes“, written by the person who signed the F-35 Phase 2 MoU on Canada’s behalf.

    March 10/11: PBO F-35 report. Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer releases its independent report on the F-35 buy. Its conclusion: that the government’s figures for buying and maintaining the plane were based on essentially no research, and that instead of costing $16 billion ($9 billion to buy 65, and $7 billion for 20 years of operations and maintenance at $350M/year), the total will be more like $29.3 billion. They forecast $9.7 billion or more for 65 fighters, plus $19.6 billion in operations and maintenance over 30 years ($1.7 billion initial logistics and setup, $14 billion O&M, plus $3.9 billion upgrades & overhaul over 30 years, or about $650M/year). That works out to a total package cost of about $450.75 million per fighter over 30 years, exclusive of weapons and other ancillaries. This passage was especially interesting, with implications well beyond the F-35, or Canada:

    “There has been an exponential increase in the cost to manufacture one kilogram of fighter jet over the last six decades. This cost has risen from under US$ 1,000/kg in 1950 to approximately US$ 10,000/kg today (both in 2009 dollars). This represents a real [DID: inflation-adjusted] annual rate of increase of approximately 3.5%.

    During the same period, the average weight of jet fighter aircraft has increased by about 0.5% per year. Given this, the cost of fighter aircraft has increased 4% per year in real terms since 1950 – doubling roughly every 18 years.”

    The report’s impact is magnified in 3 ways. One is that it states that its own purchase and maintenance figures are likely to be revised upward if its 75% confidence level fails, based on program trends and official reports from the USA, as well as elimination of the competitive dual-engine program. The 2nd is that an election is now imminent in Canada, and the F-35 purchase is a key source of differences between the minority Conservative Party government and its opposition parties. On the flip side, Parliament’s dissolution will end opposition attempts to see the program’s statement of operational requirements justifying the F-35’s sole-source choice, which was classified by the DND in 2010, around the time the F-35 became a major political controversy. The 3rd factor is that the report was peer reviewed by a panel of experts that included the US Congressional Budget Office and Australian Strategic Policy Institute. The unintended result of that peer review has been wider publicity and impact around the world. “An Estimate of the Fiscal Impact of Canada’s Proposed Acquisition of the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter” | Liberal Party release and pre-election ad | CTV News | Globe & Mail | Postmedia’s | SunMedia’s Canoe | Aviation Week.

    C$ 29.3 billion?

    Jan 6/11: As part of a plan detailing $150 billion in service cuts and cost savings over the next 5 years, Defense Secretary Robert Gates states that he is placing the Marine Corps’ F-35B on the equivalent of a 2-year probation, extends the program’s development phase again to 2016, and cuts production of all models over the 2012-2016 time period, including 47 fewer F-35As. During the low-rate initial production phase, cuts in the number bought mean that the price for each plane doesn’t drop as quickly, making purchases more expensive. Canada’s DND responds directly to these changes, saying:

    “Canada is not purchasing the STOVL variant. Canada will order the conventional take off and landing (CTOL) variant, which is the lowest-cost option that the majority of JSF partners will also acquire. The CTOL variant is progressing very well. Canada does not anticipate the announcement by the US Government regarding the STOVL variant will affect the schedule or cost of Canada’s Joint Strike Fighter Program.”

    See also: Pentagon release re: overall plan | Full Gates speech and Gates/Mullen Q&A transcript | F-35 briefing hand-out [PDF] || Aviation Week | Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Sky Talk blog.


    (click to view larger)

    Oct 14/10: CF-18 support. The Canadian government has contracted Calgary-based Harris Canada Inc. to continue avionics and electronics maintenance of its CF-18 fighter jets, until their replacements are ready to fly. The contract is worth up to C$ 273.8 million (currently at rough parity with American dollar) until 2020, and covers nearly 2,300 components.

    It is more focused than the larger L-3 MAS contract (q.v. Sept 1/10), which covers the entire aircraft, but it’s a similar sort of extension. Public Works Canada | Canadian Press | The Globe and Mail.

    Sept 20/10: According to 2009 Defence Department documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen, Canadian officers working on the Next Generation Fighter Capability project called for a “competitive process” for both the aircraft and the long-term maintenance contract. The aircraft competition was to be run in 2010, with a contract to be awarded by 2012, aircraft delivery in 2015-16, and operational fighters between 2018 – 2023. The revelations will place further pressure on the Conservative government to justify their sole-sourcing decision, which has become the crux of a political controversy. Postmedia News via Montreal Gazette.

    Sept 15/10: Hearings begin in Parliament, as the Standing Committee on National Defence calls witnesses to discuss the F-35. SCND/NDDN page | Canadian Press, via Winnipeg Free Press | CBC | CTV News (incl. video) | The Globe and Mail | Postmedia interview with Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose | Toronto Sun.

    Sept 12/10: Sitting MP Laurie Hawn [Cons – AB – Edmonton Centre] will be an important voice in the upcoming Parliamentary fighter debate. He’s a former CF-18 pilot. Postmedia, via Montreal Gazette.

    Sept 1/10: CF-18 Support. Canada needs to keep its existing fleet flying, and that cost money, too. A late F-35 means a longer set of support contracts, and so the Prime Minister’s Office announces the extension of its CF-18 Systems Engineering Support Contract to L-3 Communications MAS of Mirabel, Quebec, until at least 2017. This 7-year contract extension is valued at C$ 467 million, and 3 additional 1-year extension optionscould add another C$ 86 million (C$ 553 million total). the options would also stretch the contract until the end of the fleet’s estimated service life in 2020.

    The contractor’s primary responsibility for the CF-18 Hornet fleet is development and maintenance work that includes mission software, structural testing, depot-level inspections and repairs, technical support teams, and other engineering services. In addition to their Canadian maintenance work, they’ve also been involved in Australia’s HUG [PDF] Hornet upgrade and life-extension program. Canadian PMO | L-3 MAS [PDF] | CBC | National Post.

    CF-18 support

    July 16/10: Sole-source F-35, eh? Canada’s Conservative Party government declares that it will buy the F-35A, without a competitive process. The jets would begin to enter service around 2016, and the initial budget is C$ 9 billion for 65 F-35 aircraft and associated weapons, supporting infrastructure, initial spares, training simulators, contingency funds and project operating costs. That budget has not been confirmed by an actual contract, however, something that reportedly led to unpleasant surprises when Canada bought C-130Js from Lockheed Martin. DND statements indicate that an F-35 contract would not be negotiated until about 2014-2015.

    The government’s defense of its decision revolves around economic and industrial benefits:

    “To date, Canada has invested approximately CAD$168 million in the JSF program. Since 2002, the Government’s participation in the JSF program has led to more than CAD$350 million in contracts for more than 85 Canadian companies, research laboratories, and universities – meaning that Canada has already seen a two-to-one return on its investment.

    Now that Canada has committed to purchasing the F-35, Canadian industrial opportunities could exceed CAD$12 billion for the production of the aircraft. Sustainment and follow-on opportunities for Canadian industry are emerging and will be available over the 40-year life of the program. For instance, in accordance with the industrial participation agreements, all 19 Canadian companies manufacturing items for the F-35 will also repair and overhaul those components for the entire global fleet.”

    The government needs that defense. They’re a minority government, and the opposition Liberal Party objects to the lack of competition and the cost. The Liberals are promising to freeze the agreement if they take power, and an election will be due by 2013 at the latest. This sort of thing has happened before, when an incoming Liberal government froze Canada’s EH101 helicopter contract, leading to a 20 year delay in fielding Sea King replacements. See: DND backgrounder | DND release | Lockheed Martin | Magellan Aerospace | Canadian Press (CP) | CTV TV | Toronto Star | Winnipeg Free Press re: local industry | BBC | NY Times | Reuters || Political angle: CBC | National Post | Toronto Star.

    F-53A, yes. Competition, no.

    June 11/10: The Globe & Mail newspaper reports the contents of secret documents it has acquired related to Canada’s F-35 purchase. For starters, the purchase price is expected to reach C$ 16 billion once 20 years of maintenance are factored in. The report adds:

    “According to secret cabinet documents obtained by The Globe and Mail, officials are well aware that any move to open up the process to a competition could push the manufacturers of rival jets, such as the Boeing Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon, to lower their prices. In addition, the government is expecting a “negative reaction” to the fact that the contract is set to be awarded without a competition… One of the government’s major arguments is that a competition could hurt Canada’s reputation among the other countries that have been involved in Lockheed-Martin’s massive Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) program since the 1990s…”

    June 7-8/10: Canadian media reports indicate that the government is about to launch single-source negotiations to buy up to 65 F-35A fighters, at a cost of about C$ 9 billion. The government says that its rationale is to “lock up the cost,” but the jet’s maintenance costs would be a moving target. Canada had a similar experience with Lockheed Martin and maintenance costs when it sole-sourced its C-130J buy.

    The move is politically controversial, to the point that the topic was removed from the cabinet committee on economic growth’s June 9 agenda, then reinstated. CP | The Globe and Mail | The Globe and Mail re: controversy | Winnipeg Free Press | UPI.

    Jan 4/10: Reporter David Pugliese’s sources say that Canada’s Harper government, which is currently running a $55 billion deficit, is not moving to start the CF-18 replacement program, or to make a sole-source commitment to Lockheed Martin’s F-35. Boeing, which has a substantial industrial presence in Canada, continues to lobby for a competition.

    According to Canadian Air Force documents, any competition needs to start no later than 2010. That allows a contract with the winning aircraft manufacturer to be signed by 2012, in order to receive initial deliveries in 2015-2016, and reach initial operating capability in 2018. That would be 38 years after the F/A-18 Hornet won Canada’s last fighter competition, and 36 years after initial Hornet deliveries. Under this timeline, full operating capability for the Hornet’s successor would be achieved by 2023.

    2009 and Earlier

    Sniper pod on CF-18
    (click to view full)

    Oct 8/09: Canada’s Ottawa Citizen newspaper reports that Boeing has stepped up its lobbying to create a competition:

    “Some DND officials are concerned that a competition would drag on for too long and because of that Canada would not have new fighter aircraft in place when the current fleet of CF-18s is ready to be retired starting in 2017.

    But representatives with U.S. aerospace firm Boeing are arguing that it makes more sense to hold a competition and let the best aircraft win. It has been involved in meetings with defence officials.

    In addition, Canadian industry representatives who support Boeing have approached government officials to question the idea of a sole-source deal.”

    Aug 22/09: Canada’s Ottawa Citizen newspaper reports that the government is preparing a presentation to cabinet for approval of a sole-source, multibillion deal to to buy 65 F-35s, even though military leaders had earlier claimed that a competitive process would be followed in any replacement of Canada’s F/A-18A/B Hornets.

    The Ottawa Citizen cites Lockheed Martin officials who say they expect Canada to make its decision over the next 12 months. Canada is currently a JSF Tier 3 member, who has committed $150 million to the project thus far. Meanwhile, officials from Boeing (F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet) and Gripen International (JAS-39NG) are interested in competing for Canada’s follow-on order.

    Dec 11/06: F-35 Production MoU. In a ceremony at the Pentagon in Washington, DC, Canada’s Department of National Defence formalizes their continued partnership in the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter program. Canada was the 2nd of 8 partner nations to sign the MoU for the Production, Sustainment and Follow-on Development phase. The Department of Industry also signed MoUs with Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, Pratt & Whitney and the GE Rolls-Royce Fighter Engine Team.

    The Canadian Department of National Defense had this to say regarding the F-35’s status as the follow-on to its current CF-18 (F/A-18A) fighter fleet:

    “While participation in this next phase does not commit the Department to purchasing the multi-role aircraft, it is helping to define and evaluate DND’s future requirements for the next generation of fighter aircraft to replace the CF-18 and its capabilities. It is also contributing to improved interoperability between Canadian, American and allied forces and is enhancing the competitiveness and technological capability of Canada’s aerospace sector.”

    See: DID coverage | Pentagon DefenseLINK | Canada’s DND: release | Canada’s DND: Backgrounder.

    F-35 Production MoU

    Additional Readings The Program

    The Fighters

    Competitive Possibilities

    Official Reports/ Presentations

    News & Views

    Categories: News